A Tribute to Sevilla, Spain & Mi Gente

If Paris was the intense, elegant, somewhat intimidating sister, Sevilla was her charming, beautiful sibling. But when Spring came, they both transformed. Paris into a seductive dream of warm, playful decadence, and Sevilla into an exotic fantasy of colors, music and the intoxicating smell of orange blossoms.

In the thick of writing an academic article about child marriage in Pakistan…so revisiting one of my favorite places in the world, my second home, was a welcomed reprieve.

Today is the last day of La Feria, the spring festival that embodies so many of the things I love about Sevilla. So here are some fun pictures of Ferias past and ‘mi gente’-dear friends, now family- I’ve known and loved for over two decades…

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Mi gente from this year and Ferias Past (mejor amigo, Oscar and I, his wife and daughter, Alejandro & Valen dancing ‘the Sevillanas’, and ‘los chicos’…

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La Giralda

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My first Feria in ’98

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My beautiful friend, Araceli…a patient soul who taught me the Sevillanas

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El toro de oro

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The source of one of my favorite smells: orange blossoms

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My Spanish niece, Esther, and her beautiful mama…

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My Spanish mom and sis…my two favorite ‘Maites’.

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Manolo, my favorite trouble-maker

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Bringing Briya (my company) to the streets of Sevilla (photo by the extremely talented Alvaro Rodriguez Galan

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Searching for Words, Finding Hope

I’ve lost them, my words.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I know where they are. They’re in my head, racing around at a dizzying pace.

They spend the day building up momentum for the seemingly endless night ahead- unleashing with a force that is as deafening as it is despotic.

And they’re tired and pissed and terrified that they’ll be trapped in there forever.

As am I.

I first blamed their retreat on the holidays. Maybe I was just depressed. Or maybe it was because I was editing other people’s words all day and I didn’t have the energy to come up with my own.

Or maybe I was actually never a writer at all. Maybe it was just a phase or a lifeline to keep me from drifting off to a point from which I couldn’t return.

I tried to exercise patience. I decided, if I couldn’t write, I would spend my time learning how to write instead.

Terrible idea. Everything I read only confirmed it: I have no idea what I’m doing.

Technique, imagery, character development, piecing together a plot? Yeah, I haven’t really been doing any of that. I’ve just been trying to keep my protagonist from falling apart.

Although I did discover that I at least have the five essential elements of ‘a story’ in place: all the characters are ready to go, I have an interesting mix of settings to work with, my plot is established, and there’s most definitely a conflict… in desperate need of a resolution.

It’s that last one, however, the resolution part, that’s the problem. I was sure this whole mess would be resolved by now. Or at least enough of it that any real threat of another maelstrom taking me down was minimal.

But it’s been a year. And things are still so fucking messy. And it still feels bizarre to laugh. And making it through the day without fighting back tears at some point feels equally bizarre.

I push through it. I make sure to smile and do what it takes to distract everyone from noticing what feels like a gaping hole in my chest. But I’m tired, and now, it seems even my words are failing me.

I do, of course, have good days, quite a few in fact. But when they happen, I find myself looking over my shoulder, waiting for disappointment to catch back up with me. It seems I can’t keep ahead of it. And for the first time in my life, I’m wondering if I ever will.

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But it finally hit me last night, why they’ve been trapped. I was walking home, mad at myself for forgetting my gloves and wishing I could better embrace this whole ‘no car’ thing. I was just about to dart across the street to beat the approaching cars when something made me stop.

I turned around to retrace my steps and breathed in as deeply as I could, feeling the cold air scraping against my lungs. But nothing.

I realized how ridiculous it was and turned around to head home, then stopped again. There it was.

The smell of orange blossoms.

I closed my eyes.

and felt the uneven cobblestone beneath my feetI gathered up the bottom of my dress to better navigate my way through the crowd, seizing every opportunity to forge ahead without slamming into one of the orange trees lining the street. Flamenco music spilled out of every bar- all packed with locals sipping on manzanilla as they made their way to Feria.

An old man stopped, smiled and tipped his hat as I walked by. His words- infused with the sweet smell of orange blossoms- trailed behind me…

“Ahh, las maravillas de Sevilla’.   (Ah, the wonders of Sevilla)

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I looked around for the source, tilting my head back to study the tree sprawled out above me. Fluorescent lights clung to its thin, rigid branches, turning them an ashen shade of brown that rendered any sign of life impossible.

Reality set back in and the only thing I could smell fumes coming from the cars behind me. The relentless heaviness that’s been lodged in my chest resumed its place, extinguishing any trace of what had taken me back to a time when desperation seemed impossible.

So this is why I’ve lost my words. Not because a resolution hasn’t surfaced yet, but because I’m starting to believe one never will. I’m starting to lose hope.

When I smelled the scent of orange blossoms, when I thought back to Sevilla, I got the same feeling I do when I see the first tiny buds appear on the trees after a long winter. Or when I’m walking down the street in a far-off country- foreign words, enchanting music and exotic smells swirling around me. Or when I see the person I love light up when I walk in the room.

Those moments when I want to take everything in all at once, feel it as deeply as I can, and savor the magic of it all.

But going to Spain isn’t an option right now and it feels like it never will be. And green is nowhere to be seen. And the thought of ever falling in love again feels impossible.

Hope is powerful. As opposed to its dark cousin, despair, which paralyzes us, hope energizes and mobilizes us. Beyond that, hope affects those around us, lifting them as well as us.
~ Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D.

The thing is, I don’t write just for me. And I had convinced myself when I got to the other side of this, I could maybe be a source of hope for those who had lost it.

But that was when still had hope, when I still truly believed all that would remain at this point would be a scar- a substantial one to be sure- but the pain would be a distant memory.

Despair is not what I thought would be commanding my thoughts, keeping me up at night and stealing my words. And despair is not what I want to elicit with my words.

I waited for a break in the traffic and darted across the street, landing on the patch of grass underneath my favorite tree.

He had been the highlight of my walk in the fall, greeting me each morning with a new display of colors that were more enchanting than the day before. But now he was stripped bare. He looked cold and lifeless. He looked desperate.

This morning I made it a point to stop again and give him the benefit of daylight.

He didn’t look lifeless at all. He looked strong and peaceful.

And I realized, he isn’t bare. He’s covered in leaves that are growing just beneath the surface, building up the momentum they need to unleash with a force that will allow them to flourish.

They are there and have been all along, full of hope and wonder. I just can’t see them yet…but they are there.

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“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.” ~ Maya Angelou