Posted by: Cat of Sunshine and Siestas | December 16, 2007

ignore this….my word isnt working

Jessi grabbed me by the arm so hard, I was convinced she’d leave fingerprints on my easily bruised bicep. The look on her face was the most serious I’d ever seen in our three years of friendship. “This is not happening,” she said. “What is with the locura here in Sevilla?” I shrugged and finished my beer, knowing that this moment would stick around in my memory far longer than we’d be in Spain.

If you get to know me well enough, you’ll find that I personify Type A personality. I’ve got a regiment for everything and rarely stray from it. I believe in planning everything, every detail. Hell, I know the exact minute I can leave my apartment to arrive at the bus stop as bus M270 is pulling up to the flimsy plastic shelter with broken benches.

But being in Spain has made me slow down and just let things flow the way they’re flowing. After all, my grandma and I may never have been invited into a jewelry maker’s workshop in Toledo if the El Greco museum wouldn’t have been closed for renovations, nor would my roommate and I would have experienced Sevillian nightlife if we chose our beds over cute business men from Zaragosa inviting us out for a drink. And Kait, Lynn, Jessi and I certainly wouldn’t have found ourselves in the company of less-than-stellar characters if we would have allowed ourselves to stick to the schedule. Spain is not a lazy country – its economy has improved and its governmental institutions are more reliable than ever. But the people revel in long lunches, close up shop as soon as the midday heat begins to get unbearable, and believe in putting things off until manana. This year may just have prevented my neurotic self from going over the deep end, and an afternoon with a merrily drunk band of ministrels reminded me why I’d come to Spain in the first place.

The shadow cast from the massive stone cathedral provided a clear view of the rows of tourist shops and overpriced restaurants along Calle Alemenes. Lynn, my wide-eyed friend who is as excited about Spain as an eight-year-old boy would be in a dinosaur museum, spotted a group of minitrels standing on a nearby street corner. I was trying to rush the girls to see the Alcazar before it closed that afternoon, but Lynn was more interested in checking out this attraction. The group, in a myriad of ages, were dressed in velvet jackets with puffy sleeves, black capes with ribbons decorating them like prized thoroughbreds and orange sashes. “Look!” she shrieked, grabbing my hand and tugging me across the street. “Let’s listen for a bit. We’re not in a hurry, are we?”

The tuno wasn’t really playing, just drinking beer and occassionally sturmming guitars of varying sizes or tapping out rhythms on bongos with their doughy fingers. Guitars not in use sat in strollers. But, being a group of four girls in Spain made the men take notice. After inquiring our ages (22 and 23) and where we were from (Chicago, Iowa, Iowa and Seattle), and what we were doing in Spain (teaching English), the only thing left to do was go have a beer at another bodega.

I didn’t know then that these men were of less than satisfactory character, so we accepted their invitation to head to the next bar to have a beer. The pack was wandering the city center trying to promote their festival the upcoming weekend in which all of the facultades would face off against one another. I have to admit I wasn’t sure whether or not we should accompany them, but who resists a beer and the pleading looks of friends?

Completely smitten with a moreno named Paco, I followed him past the dozens of horse carriages that wait for passengers around the cathedral and down the lively Calle Mateos Gagos. At 4 p.m., the street was already full of people enjoying an afternoon copa. The weather was unseasonably warm, perfectly pairing with our cold Cruzcampo beers. Despite being heavily touristed and overpriced, Bodega Las Columnas somehow retains an authentic flair. While the bars sang traditional songs in a circle, we danced as tourists took our pictures and stayed behind the barricade that had been set up in front of the bar. The beer never tasted better, and my Spanish never tumbled out of my mouth so perfectly. Jessi kept telling me she felt like she was in a movie, and I constantly wondered outloud, “Is this really happening?”

Jose Maria, the leader, or perhaps the biggest skirt-chaser, told us in a low voice that the men chose only a few very special groups to serenade each year, inquiring if we’d like to have the honor. Lynn immediately found a piece of paper and got a few phone numbers while I stared at her, eyes open as wide as they possibly could stretch in the bright Iberian sunlight. I had my reservations – after all, inviting a group of strange men into my house wasn’t something I would normally do back in the States. But then again, I had graduated college in search of something new, and I was stuck in a moment I knew I would never get back. I needed to attempt to be spontaneous. “Me da igual,” I said, writing my phone number and explaining to JoMa where I live.

We stayed at Las Columnas, drinking and dancing until we were almost too tired to see. After buying the appropriate beverages and snacks, we waited on the first floor balcony for the men to serenade us at midnight. Nine tunos showed up at 12:30, on time by Spanish standards. They sang a few songs and performed the bunny hop in the little streams of light leaking from from lampposts before we invited them up for a drink. Once upstairs, I laid down the house rules: no smoking indoors, flush the toilet after each use, and try to keep the noise level to a minimum. We spent the early morning hours crammed into my tiny apartment, singing and dancing.

I was falling in love with Paco, who was playing Elvis songs and “Sweet Home Chicago” for me, when Alfonso, a friend’s boyfriend, came into the kitchen and tapped me on the shoulder. “Cat, hay policia.” I checked the peephole and, sure enough, two short officers were standing behindd the heavy wooden door, ticketbook ready. Immediately, the lightheadedness I was feeling evaporated. I was the repsonsible party. I had to present my foreigner’s number, and they wrote me a ticket but didn’t charge me a fine. When they left, I was upset and in shock. How could I cause so much trouble at my university and never get a ticket, but land one in Sevilla after just a few weeks? Paco told me, “It’s not a good party until the cops come anyway. Let’s go somewhere else because the whiskey is gone.”

One of the men, Bernardo, owns a flamenco bar in my neighborhood. We walked through a stinging cold night to find more cold beer waiting for us. Inside the tiny bar, a man played the guitar while a woman sang honda, the most heartfelt and passionate kind of flamenco, from a couch in the back. Women dressed as if they’d come from a wedding swayed and clapped in accompanment to the singer. Paco invited me to dance Sevillanos with him, and thought I didn’t quite get the hang of it, it was fun to stare intensly at a really good looking man. We walked home that night, ready to drop from exhaustion and sore feet, laughing at the random occurrences of the day.

It was only after the weekend ended that I realized how dangerous tunos are – they don’t sing because they love music; rather tunos sing to attract women and have an excuse to drink. I was almost embarassed when I recounted the story to my coworkers and received disapproving looks and had to tell my roommate about the ticket (her bigger concern was that someone had used her hairbrush). But even as this realization sunk in, I couldn’t help but shake my head and smile at the events that happened that day. Spaniards are notorious for not planning, and while this can be difficult for me, I’m finding it’s making me relax. It’s making me stop and enjoy this year I’ve got to learn and grow and experience new things. I may even return to the States as a whole new person. But isn’t that the point?

Cat Gaa has a knack for running into tunos – even in Belgium – and is using her journalism degree to outwit them, steal internet and barter for chestnuts around Plaza del Duque.


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