Sevilla. The name evokes a blend of passionate images: Flamenco dancing women clad in vibrant, polka dot-studded dresses, their feet striking a floor with thunderous blows… A matador de toros poised to enter a ring facing possible goring or death… Spirited bodega-goers clinking glasses overflowing with jewel-toned sangria and amber cerveza… On a balmy long weekend earlier this summer, Shawn and I journeyed to Andalucía to witness it all, resulting in our own mixture of intense emotions.
Arriving first at Jerez de la Frontera’s train station, we were delighted to see Feria revelers of all ages donning colorful flamenco dresses and charcoal suits with top hats. Mothers and daughters sported coordinated ensembles with matching dresses and floral hairpieces. Their spirited energy was contagious.
We soaked up the procession of polka dot ladies until our bus for Sevilla arrived. Once we crossed the threshold into the city, we treated ourselves to refreshing sangria and cervezas along with rich Iberian cheese and toasted bread tapas treats.
Suddenly, there came the roar of brass instruments, coupled with the shuffling of feet in a procession to honor a saint. Weary-faced children carried candles, incense and gold-embroidered religious banners. Gilded relics were carried by a sea of parish members; only their sneakers and shins were visible. It was the first of many processions that would traverse our paths in the coming days.
On our second day, we strolled throughout the city, admiring palm trees, ceramic tiled façades and the soul-soothing tunes of charismatic flamenco guitar players. Despite our limited knowledge of Spanish niceties, the locals warmly welcomed us. We were also impressed with the elegant manner in which young and old dressed. Adult women wore smart silk suits and dresses, some with lace mantilla veils; young children donned clothing reminiscent of 1950s or 1960s Americana (sweater sets, hair bows, patent-leather shoes). We noted that families with young children almost always dressed the little ones like Doublemint Twins. This was regardless of whether or not the children had twin status.
In a black and white image, bordered in a simple silver frame on my piano, she is seated behind the wheel of a classic roadster. Coyly sporting a riding cap, cream-colored driving gloves, and her trademark smile is a woman who not only taught me arpeggios, flats and sharps, but about life, its remarkable coincidences and values that we should hold dear.
We first met in March 1987. I was nearly ten, and my piano-teacher to-be, Mrs. Erna Blonek, was 86. I remember thinking that the diminutive elderly woman, with wavy hair as white as snow, spoke with a funny accent. My mother later explained that Mrs. Blonek was originally from Czechoslovakia. Over time, I learned that she had been widowed in the 1960s and that she and her radiologist husband, František, had immigrated to the United States in the late 1930’s.
It is no wonder why Bourgogne, or Burgundy, is known as the Côte d’Or. During our July sojourn in France’s ‘Golden Hillsides,’ the region’s fields were ablaze with vibrant tournesols (sunflowers), freshly-groomed wheat, and vineyards – where still-maturing grapes glistened with dew.
In the villages of Burgundy, sand-colored stone homes were accented with shutters painted in hues of Williamsburg blue, deep ivy green and terracotta. Delicate geraniums overflowed from window boxes, while the tantalizing aromas – from toasted baguettes, boeufbourguignon and a Dijon vinaigrette – swirled down the streets. In cafés and restaurants, blond Chardonnay flooded glasses. The scintillating wine seemed tailor-made for such balmy Burgundian summer evenings.
From the weathered buildings, friendly faces and individuals with lively personalities emerged. Periodically, vintage Citroëns rolled onto the scene, creating circa 1940 vignettes that were quintessentially French. One such classic voiture even ushered in a serendipitous moment that would be one of the highlights of our time in Burgundy.
One glorious afternoon, my husband, Shawn, and I turned onto a back road seemingly forgotten. As it was Sunday, most of the village’s homes and shops were shuttered and quiet. A few children kicked about a soccer ball under the protective shade of graceful, old Sycamore trees. Near a small town square, there was a statue erected to honor France’s sons who were lost during the past century’s world wars. I hopped out of our car to play shutterbug before a rustic home with windows that were wide open. A creamy Citroën stood guard.
Out of nowhere appeared Régis, a gregarious Frenchman who was happy to share travel tips with us. He mentioned that the subject of my photograph was his ancestral home – a somewhat-dilapidated structure formerly belonging to a vintner. The home was more than 700 years-old. The clumsy old Citroën was also his.
“Voulez-vous partager une bouteille du vin de 1982?” he asked.
“Mais oui!” we exclaimed. It was difficult to decline such a generous offer to share the wine. And so it was that we were welcomed into the home that Régis and his son dreamed of restoring.
Wishing to reciprocate the hospitality that he’d been extended in past times while traveling through Africa and the United States, the agricultural engineer dusted off the 1982 Cabernet, removed its steadfast cork and unveiled a ruby red stream. As we later inched up chatty wooden stairs and ceramic-tiled hallways with glasses in hand, Régis proceeded to share tales from his life in La Réunion, where he spends most of his days. He showed us a creaky, old, wooden beam resting precariously on a disintegrating stone in the attic.
“I have nightmares,” he explained, “that someday that rock might crumble.” If it were to do so, the home’s terracotta roof would crash.
As the wine flowed, Régis mischievously led us to a hiding place in the garage’s brick wall, not far from where a dismembered Citroën stood. It was there, he explained, that he found a cartridge of 10 mm bullets. He explained that the home had been taken over by the German military in World War II. Items were broken by the German soldiers, who had also consumed much of the family’s wine. The village’s mayor would later pass on reparations in the form of a check, but the bullets would remain hidden in the wall until Régis uncovered them decades later.
As we meandered through rooms seemingly forgotten for centuries, Régis explained that the wine had been destined for the United States two and a half decades earlier. For whatever reason, it did not make it across the Atlantic to the country France helped achieve its independence.
It only seemed fitting, then, that the 1982 Cabernet would later be shared with two Americans, a day before Independence Day, under the golden Burgundian sun.
Where in the World?
While in Burgundy, Shawn and I spent the bulk of our time in the pretty city of Beaune (with its celebrated medieval hospital with a gorgeous tiled roof) as well as the villages of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. For more information about the region, see the official tourism site of Burgundy.