How Seville stole my heart, part one

(Here's some personal writing about what made me stay and teach English in Seville).

“Whatever you do,” said my mum as I left for Seville, “don’t come back with a Spanish wife.”

I brushed her off and laughed, after all, I’d only planned on teaching English in Seville for a year or two. I was unaware just how much my life was about to change.

The Moat in Plaza España
A tough start
Seville was nothing like I’d expected. I arrived in 2005 at the end of August (a month before the school term started) and headed straight to the main square behind the fourth largest cathedral in the world. I sat on a bench under a weeping orange tree to shade from the blistering sun and counted the four dongs coming from the Giralda tower. Where is everyone? I thought, scanning the desolate square. A group of red faced tourists wandered over to the fountain and splashed their faces. A horseman whistled and pointed at his empty carriage. The tourists walked on, the horseman went back to his siesta. How was I going to live in such a dull place?
Within forty-eight hours I’d found a place to live in a shared flat in Triana, one of the most traditional barrios – neighborhoods - in Seville, and a month’s work teaching an adult intensive course. I found the flat on mundoanuncio and the job by walking round to a few language academies with my CV.

“Seville is the best city in the world,” my first student told me. “The weather, the people, there is so much to do, and the food is delicious.” I was wary though. The almost 50 degree heat was suffocating, I couldn’t understand my bossy Spanish flat mate’s strong Andalucía accent, and I’d already seen the Cathedral, the Royal Palace; the Alcazar, and a tacky museum at the top of the Tower of Gold.

After living an adventure while travelling the world and teaching in Ecuador, Brazil, Australia, and Thailand I was unsure Seville was for me.  

“Don’t worry mum,” I said over the phone after a couple of weeks. “I don’t think I’ll be staying long.”

Meeting my wife
Towards the middle of September the temperature dropped to a comfortable 40, and the tanned locals began to drift back from the beaches and livened up the city. I was slowly picking up Spanish and was also offered three months extra work.

My wife says it was love at first sight, but I’m not so sure. To start with, she was late to class. As an Englishman I like my students to be punctual. I’d begun my first lesson with a new group and she burst through the door and interrupted my momentum. That wasn’t all she interrupted.

We both felt attraction during that first lesson. For me it was her smile and the cute way she went red when she spoke English. For her it was my light brown wavy hair and strange London accent; I was exotic compared to the usual Spanish men. By the end of the first week sparks were flying. Shy of asking her out directly, I invited the whole class for drinks. Only she and another female student turned up. Thursday night drinks became a regular thing, and she was always there.

The first time we went out alone was Halloween. I took a mask and my camera and we sat in a flamenco bar looking at photos from my round the world trip. For someone who had never left Andalucía, she was in awe of my adventures. I didn’t know at the time, but she’d always wanted an English boyfriend.

We hung out together at the weekends. She took me round all the tapas bars to feast on the variety of Spanish dishes. Her homemade tortilla de patatas – Spanish omelet was the best though. She taught me how to dance salsa, or at least hold on to her while she spun round me. My favorite moments were while we were sitting in the cafés, or chilling on the benches by the River Guadalquivir, teaching each other Spanish and English. That’s where we really bonded. That’s when we fell in love.

Should I stay or should I go?
Despite being in love, I was unhappy living in Seville. After travelling the world I found it too claustrophobic and unvaried. The academy I was working for didn’t give me a proper contract, the day was long, and wages were barely enough to get by. I felt like a guiri – foreigner - and couldn’t really get to grips with the society. I found Sevillano people narrow-minded and a few times I got short changed in shops or charged extra in restaurants.

I missed my family too and part of me wanted to return to England. It was a bit awkward teaching a student I was crazy about too; we had to keep it secret from the boss. When her course finished we were relieved as we didn’t have to sneak about anymore. I was offered six months more work and we decided to give it a go.

A paso in Semana Santa
Getting to know her family and culture
To begin with her family was hard to crack. Her parents saw me as a wandering Englishman trying to steal their baby. As my Spanish improved we were able to chat more, but I really got to know them during Seville’s religious festival; Semana Santa – Holy Week.

At first I thought the event was bizarre. During the week before Easter, each of the city’s fifty brotherhoods walk a penitence from their church to the cathedral and back again. Some brotherhoods have as many as 2,000 followers; all dressed in long capes and tall pointy hats, and can walk for up to ten hours. Each paso – procession - has their own unique uniform and style and some are accompanied by loud musical brass bands. The most impressive part is seeing thirty or forty of the members carry their Christ or Virgin on huge heavy stages around the city. They have the equivalent to 40 kilos on their backs.

After two days of watching the festival with my girlfriend and her brother I was bored, confused, and a bit daunted by such a radical change to the city. I enjoyed the loud music and smell of incense, but the tight crowds and waiting around were a bit annoying, especially as I didn’t really understand what was going on.

When my girlfriend’s dad came and explained the history and reasons behind the festival in more detail and how each paso depicted a moment leading up to Jesus’ death, I became more interested. The day of the family’s paso was emotional for everyone and after witnessing the father and one brother participate I saw just how important the event was for them.

“You never know,” said her father. “You might do it one year.”

“What me?” I said, laughing. “I doubt it somehow.”

My girlfriend and I bonded even more after a trip back to England for my uncle’s wedding. It was her first time on a plane and my family welcomed her with open arms. She was bewildered and amazed by London. We began to get closer.

Part two will be out next Tuesday...

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