PRESS SECTION - Medlife



SEVILLE SEDUCTION

Famous for Flamenco, Carmen, Fine Food, Moorish Architecture and Dark-eyed Beauties, Andalucian city Seville quite simply seethes with passion, and in spite of its searing midsummer heat, Conservative MP Michael Portillo, a regular to Seville, can't resist the lure of this vibrant Spanish City.

 

Famous for Flamenco, Carmen, Fine Food, Moorish Architecture and Dark-eyed Beauties, Andalucian city Seville quite simply seethes with passion, and in spite of its searing midsummer heat, Conservative MP Michael Portillo, a regular to Seville, can't resist the lure of this vibrant Spanish City.

Sometimes when in Seville it's hard to believe I'm in Europe. In August the city's a frying pan, and the heat drives all sane life from the streets. Even mad dogs and Englishmen fanatically hug the slender shadows cast by the buildings. The trellised brickwork of La Giralda, the bell tower of the cathedral, tells you that its architect was an African, and the Christian makeover doesn't disguise that it's designed to be a minaret. Those throaty laments of the flamenco singers surely cannot be from the same continent as yodelling and Morris dancing. Nowhere else do women ride on grey stallions, wearing flowing dresses of crimson and polka dot, with burning eyes, heaving breasts and an expression of absolute disdain. Any one of them could echo the operatic Carmen. "If you fall for me beware!" Carmen it was who in Seville seductively rolled tobacco on her bare thigh and was stabbed outside the bullring by a man demented with jealousy.

I love to be lost in the narrow streets of the Santa Cruz quarter. Occasionally a mother's piercing yell calling her children, shatters the siesta, but as it echoes off the whitewashed walls, it's impossible to pinpoint is origin. Most houses are shuttered against the heat. If there are crimes of passion in this city of passion, we don't see them. But now and again, through a gate of decorative ironwork there's a glimpse of a patio, with marbled floor and wall tiles in orange and blue and white, and a fountain and geraniums. It's a world built against the heat, a private existence that the tourist can never know, but which haunts our minds after we've left.

I do my best as an outsider to enter that world I stay at Casa No. 7 hotel, a charming Seville townhouse built around a courtyard with just six bedrooms, owned by a sherry aristocrat, who speaks perfect English, lie the BBC in 1940. From the roof you can look out across the cupolas, bell towers and washing lines, that together make up Seville's skyline. I eat dinner under a spreading vine but a well in a courtyard called Corral del Agua. Or at the restaurant Modesto, sitting outside on a wide pavement. I let the waters inundate me with varieties of seafood beyond number. Or in order to study those beautiful wall tiles close-up, I go for a Tio Pepè sherry at the wonderfully opulent, gloriously detailed, Alfonso XIII hotel.

You must do battle with the heat as the Sevil1ians do, seek out the fountains. There's a beauty by the cathedral, from which the horse-drawn carriages take you clipping and clopping through the din of the traffic into the shady tranquillity of the Maria Luisa Park. Fountains abound in the gardens of the Reales Alcazares Palace, and the very sound of tinkling water brings you relief and refreshment. The palace itself is of almost hypnotic beauty, with its delicate woodcarving, gilded ceilings, sculpted plasterwork and patios of serenity and peace.

You can't tire of Seville, but I usually can't resist visiting Córdoba. It's just 40 minutes by high-speed train. La Mezquita is a mosque half-heartedly converted to a cathedral. Walking among its columns and arches is like exploring a forest, with unexpected avenues and vistas. It humbles me to think that La Mezquita dates from the Eighth century, and that so long ago hose invading Moors were inspired to create such calming beauty.

On Seville and Córdoba's hottest days every living thing scurries for shade. But hidden from view, the energy is sizzling and the intense rawness of the flamenco betrays the true character of these whitewashed cities. The smoulder in the heat and beckon everyone who have a pulse, and whose veins run with something thicker than water.