Starcat 1 by my favourite artist

Monday, 15 April 2013

The noblest prospect a right-minded Englishman living in Seville ever sees is the road that leads him to anywhere outside that particular nest of complacent narrow-mindedness.

A truly welcome sight for escapees from
Miarmaland (Seville)
Please excuse my misquoting Samuel Johnson's famous saying "The noblest prospect a Scotsman ever sees is the road the leads him to England".

So, this weekend I escaped yet again to Cádiz and have had many an adventure. Perhaps the most memorable was a 1-hour long conversation with 3 cooking-wine-drinking gentlemen in a small square near the municipal market and who between them boasted a grand total of 9 teeth - 3 each. How about that for share and share alike?

Conversation ranged from the wisdom (or lack of same)of mixing Coca Cola with gin, instead of Tonic,  to the Spanish Civil War, the Phoenicians, and the use of Sherry barrels to age Scotch whisky. One of my new-found friends used to be a cellarman in a Sherry bodega until it went bust. I suspect that he probably took most of the production home with him in his gut, leaving the empty barrels to be sold onto Scotch distillers.

They invited me to share their cheap white wine and hard-won ciggies. I declined both, claiming that I didn't smoke and that 10.30 in the morning was a tad too early to be drinking alcohol. Both refusals were taken in good part. I did however share in their breakfast brought to them by a waiter from a nearby bar. A rather disconcerting question: did I look like I might be a new addition to the band? Perhaps I was going to be inducted into a secret brotherhood whose initiation ceremony included the chiselling out of all of one's teeth except for 3 front lowers! 

Walking through the narrow, yet luminous, streets of Cádiz you can perceive a certain feeling of expectancy; the feeling that anything is possible. Whatever it is, there is a certain surreal undertow to the situation. You feel that things are not quite right, that time or reality is slightly out of kilter. I insist, I did not drink any of the wine! My theory is that this is due to the fact that we are talking about a true seaport; there is a refreshing openness here - a stark contrast to the inward-looking city of Seville where time stopped in the 16th century. The Sevillian mentality has fossilised, while Cádiz, like my own beloved Liverpool, is quite simply mental. There is a refreshing madness in the air and you suspect nothing is quite what it seems - except,  perhaps, the dog poo if you step in it.

A good example of how Seville is a self-centred city full of self-centred people (the Spanish word is ombliguista, literally navel-staring) is its April Fair. This is a celebration of all that is Sevillian - closed groups who save up all year to rent a small marquee with a security guard on the door prohibiting entry to all who are not members or who do not have invitations (unless it's the guard's own cousins). The result? crowds of people wandering about the Feria ground, threading their way through vomit, puddles of horse piss and and steaming piles of equine shit. Meanwhile the fortunate ones look on impassively from behind a fence and drink overpriced Sherry and beer, and are deafened by low-quality music played on even lower quality stereos. 

Another example - and one that really grinds my gears even after 27 years in Seville: people simply push past you without so much as an excuse me. Not so in Cádiz where people open doors for each other and even say "excuse me".  

I must, in all fairness however, mention the breathtaking arrogance and bad manners of a Gibraltarian Bobby who whistled to me and snapped his fingers at me like a dog the last time I went to Gib (the Spanish can have it for all I care. Full of money-launderers and drug traffickers, it is a scandal to the good name of Great Britain). After obediently pulling over, I remonstrated with him. He apologised and told me he had thought I was Spanish because of the plates on my car, thus compounding his offensiveness. I immediately demanded to see his superior officer. 

The next post will be less vitriolic and will concentrate either on my journey down to Cádiz or on its magnificent provincial museum.

1 comment:

  1. Though I spent some time in Seville (and the image of the privileged drinking behind fences at the Feria rings a bell), I have never been to Cadiz. It will be interesting to see what you make of it in future posts.

    Politeness, it seems to me, is disappearing everywhere. When people do say "excuse me" or "thank you", it now comes as a pleasant surprise. One of my pet hates is the way people barge into you with bags and cases. While there might be some slight excuse for this in the confined conditions of the bus or the tube, there is none out in the street where people, despite having room to pass without making contact, nevertheless come so close as to hit me with their baggage and then pass on without a word. This behaviour mystifies me even more than it annoys me.

    Your possibly being taken for an apprentice wino reminds me of the day I went to a local charity that distributes clothes the the needy. I was taking some old garments we no longer needed. As I stood there uncertainly while folk scrabbled among the stock, a charity worker emerged from the back of the shop, looked me up and down and asked "Have you come for clothes?"

    This sartorial challenge unnerved me further so that I muttered "No, I've brought some", dropped my bag and fled!