Tag Archives: musing

Bearded Woman

I looked sheepishly around the empty central courtyard of Pilates House, permanent residence of the Dukes of Medinaceli, right in the centre of Seville, and quickly pressed the shutter button again. Click click. The sound of the double shot is usually drowned by the noise of busy city dwellings, but there, in the quiet winter’sp1060689 air, it hung just that little bit longer.

We’d arrived early to pay our entrance fee, which included an audio guide and a guided tour of the upper floor. We were keen to roam the place before it filled up with other visitors. After all, we’d been waiting a few years for this day to arrive. 

During our last visit to Seville in December 2010, we were disappointed to find this 16th-century Mudéjar style gem closed.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are here! They’re filming an action movie, we were told just after ordering, Dos cañas, media ración de croquetas de salmorejo y media ración de albondigas de choco, at a nearby bar. This spontaneous (the closure turned out to be a perfect excuse to stop for a small glass of beer and some tapas) but nonetheless vital break allowed us to ponder where to head next. And then the all too familiar tourist-native exchange followed as soon as one of the two cheerful Sevillanos behind the bar picked up on my non-native Spanish accent:

¿De dónde eres?

De Austria, pero vivo en Londres.

Ah, Austria  ¿Es la primera vez en España?

No, pero aquí, en Sevilla, sí, es mi primera vez.

I’d learned, that sometimes, for the sake of conversation flow, it’s best to stick to the polite ‘conversation script’. So, I left out my usual enthusiastic talk about Madrid and the small villages and towns of Castilla y León, and continued with my part:   

Me encanta Sevilla. Siempre fue un sueño para mí ver los naranjos.
(That is very true, and besides, I love Seville orange marmalade thinly spread on my breakfast toast, and the next time I return, it’ll have to be in March because I want to see the trees in bloom and take in their subtle fragrance.)

Tienes que venir durante la Semana Santa. 

Sí sí sí. Hay  que venir, sí sí sííí…, I nodded as the image of me bumping into Cameron Diaz in the narrow streets of Seville crept into my mind and …

Anyway. Back to January 2017 and Pilates House. We had about one hour to wander around the house to absorb the wonderful architecture of the central courtyard, its adjoining rooms and two gardens, a fusion of Italian Renaissance and Mudéjar-Gothic styles, before our guided tour started on the upper floor.

pilatospatio  p1060738

For twenty-five-or-so minutes, I listened diligently to the man and woman trapped inside the audioguide picking up interesting information, such as why the palace became to be known as ‘Pilates House’. Then I decided to have a quick walk around one of the gardens. When I returned to continue with the tour,  patient partner called me inside a small room next to the Praetor’s Study. The room was furnished with a desk, a couple of chairs and on the wall behind the desk and …there she was, La Mujer Barbuda by Jusepe de Ribera, 1631.p1060698

Oh, what a portrait, I cried out and hurried towards it to have a closer look and read (yes, I admit, my audioguide concentration span had at that moment elapsed) to read the plaque below it. How utterly fascinating, I thought when I read the story of its protagonists, and how beautifully executed was the composition in its entirety. I absorbed Magdalena Ventura’s feminity, highlighted by a large breast – perhaps a bit too centred on her chest? – and her breastfeeding an infant. Her thickly grown beard, the one prominent feature of her masulinity. Apparently, Magdalena started to grow a beard only at the age of thirty-seven after having given birth to three sons.
Some may find the portrait disturbing, but I stood in front of it in awe. I was surprised that other visitors, who have slowly started to arrive, entered the room without looking at the painting.
An interesting article, La Mujer Barbuda by Ribera, 1631: a gender bender, by W. Michael G. Tunbridge can be found here

For me, Pilates House is all about fusion, that of Christian and Islamic workmanship. Thus, I thought it was the perfect place to have stumbled upon Ribera’s portrait of Magdalena Ventura, who herself – her body – is meeting point, that of male and female.




The Truck

English song title, ‘In order to be happy, I want a truck.’ 

‘You’re the least patriotic person I’ve ever met.’
I take a sip from the steaming fennel and mint tea and look at my friend who I met in Pret.
‘Mm-hmm,’ is all I manage to reply before I start running after my mind, that has decided to ramble down memory lane to find relevant and recent evidence of my still existing emotional support of Austria. A few hundred meters later, I saw … 

1. Taste of the Alps Week, when unaware of this exciting fact, I entered my local Lidl. Nostalgia didn’t hit me hard – bang! boom! bang! – when I discovered packets of Austrian sliced sausages and hams in the refrigerated cabinet, but I did grab, albeit mistakingly, a fellow happy shopper’s arm and pointed frantically at some pink boxes of wafers that sat on a shelf near the freezers, shouting ‘Mannerschnitten!! I can’t believe it. They have Mannerschniiitteeennn!’ I was surprised to hear a friendly ‘Ah, they look nice,’ from a smiling lady with Eastern European accent, who didn’t mind that I’d grabbed the wrong arm.
‘Why don’t you buy some ?’ I heard patient partner’s calm voice from my other side, clearly oblivious of the mixed-up arm affair.
‘Na, not really interested’ I replied quickly. And that was that.

The following day, early evening.
‘Gerdiiitaaa, there are ten packets of that Austrian meat selection in the fridge…um, and six 4-packs of Mannerschnitten in the kitchen cupboard!’

2. Euro Cup 2016. I watched Austria vs Portugal. I have to add that I’m not at all an overly enthusiastic football lover, despite the fact that I’ve been a longstanding member of la peña de Atletico de Madrid of Belmonte de Campos. In fact, I did not have a choice but to join the club when its chairman Luis shouted excitedly, ‘Somos INTERNACIONALES,‘ thrusting a red and white membership card firmly into my hands.
So, after Austria’s second qualifying game my voice was hoarse for a couple of days thanks to all the cheering. What amazing result…0-0 for those who are interested.

3. ‘The’ truck. Late morning last Friday, before walking into the office for the usual language training sessions…20161014_104617

Alas, homeland! Sweet homeland!

How strange is this sigh,

Fifty yards from my

work destination

I see a truck stuck  

near St. Lawrence church in a narrow lane.


It sure looks impressive:

High sides  almost touching

the adjoining building 

that’s raised in the City.


A few steps later

I startle and scurry back,

to fish out my phone

from its protective sleeve

and take a picture of

its registration plate: A‘s the Country 


Then a double L,  

three numbers, two letters –

Austria, Linz-Land,

my birthplace, even

homeland? Now I realise it still is,

and look for the driver to ask how he is.