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Friday, June 9, 2017

Sevilla Without Losing Our Seat: The Trip of a Lifetime, Part 11

There's always time for a fangirl moment. 
There's a rhyming saying the Spanish use in a musical chairs situation: Quien va a Sevilla pierde su silla (Whoever goes to Sevilla loses his seat). Stanley and I went to Sevilla, and did not lose our seats; on the contrary. However, there were many moments when I lost my mind with too much happiness. 

Monument to Don Quijote in Valdepeñas 
We got up groggily the day after the life-changing Valencia concert, although my head was pretty clear. No cobwebs could come in with all those neurons firing. We had debated exactly what to do about the laundry, and in the end we went to a lot of trouble to get our car out of the garage at the mall early, threw our clean laundry in the back, and felt very satisfied. Clean clothes! At last! 

Once we were on our way to my city (Sevilla! I thought I wasn’t going to see you! You sly gal.), I drowsed, but the smile never left my face. All the events of the past day kept replaying for me in the most delightful way. We had brought our mp3 disc with all of Manolo's songs, and listened to about six hours of it. The beautiful countryside looked so familiar. We zipped past Córdoba and I had a straight shot to see down the Guadalquivir to the Mezquita. Be still my heart! 

When we arrived, it was like an embrace from a beloved friend. I soaked in the sights, got to practice my Andalusian accent, and the enchantment of Sevilla tugged at me all night. 

We woke up early considering how late we were going to stay up. Happiness doesn’t let me rest. It was cloudy, which is weird for my Sevilla, and we consulted the weather report and it was supposed to rain! I agonized over my hair, which responds poorly to humidity. We wanted to know what was going to happen that day, so I called Marta. She said Manolo was very tired, and I said I understood. Stanley insisted I mention the coffee Manolo had invited us to, and we had to wait and see, but with the knowledge that the sound check would be delayed because of the rain. Even in the absence of news, no one could be sad in Sevilla, where all three of my true loves were converging (Stanley, Manolo, and Alfonso X, el Sabio). We thought we’d go have some lunch and come back so as not to miss anything. 

It was weird to have the sky grey. Was this really Sevilla? We started at the Corte Inglés, department store par excellence, where we looked in the tourism section for an umbrella. It was hard to decide—how many times are you going to need an umbrella in Sevilla?

Stanley wasn’t sure where we were—we'd only been in Sevilla a few hours on our honeymoon—but I led us fearlessly, using the new umbrella against pitterpats of rain. We found the nicest traditional shop, and I went in on a mission to get new fan. It was a complete shopping experience, not unlike wedding dress shopping, with me telling the saleslady what I wanted, and she showed us what she had, and I made more specifications, and there were loads of lovely fans, but I ended up with a fantastically gorgeous red one with polka dots and flowers. The fan is too pretty. The only thing I've used it for was to spruce up my display at the Spring Into Art event this last April. 

750 Years in Sevilla 
We passed an elaborate temporary archway near the town hall celebrating 750 years of the Catholic Church in Sevilla (since 1266!), and Stanley took my picture with the Alfonso X statue in the Plaza Nueva. That completed my trinity of brown-haired men. We made it to the cathedral and here might be the first time I noticed my own break with reality. Alfonso X is buried in the royal chapel in the cathedral, and it's only open to the public during masses. I wanted to check the schedule so we could spend some quality Alfonso time the next day, after staying up who knew how long at the concert. Stanley was so scandalized by the thought that I would be trying to do anything except get out of Sevilla to make it to Madrid the next day that I took a step back. Too much pleasure had skewed my reason. There was much more pleasure to come, I knew it, so who cared if it drove me crazy.

Jessica and perhaps the most bookish of her loves, Alfonso X 
I saw a British couple walking and the lady was talking about shopping, needing to get something “preferably with polka dots.” Ah, yes, my Sevilla satisfies everyone’s idea of Spain. Polka dots? Bring ‘em on!

We wandered down some of the side streets around the cathedral and passed an empty bar. I could see inside and there was a lone barkeep, and “Pájaros de barro,” Manolo's most popular song, was playing. Stanley heard it, too, and it’s out of character for me to play a joke, but the spirit was upon us. I came up with a whole fictional scenario of Manolo García playing music in a little bar for three people because that’s the kind of intimacy vibe I got from him. “Is he in there?” I said. And Stanley looked! But I wasn’t laughing at my love, because at that moment anyone could’ve done the same to me. With everything that had happened so far and the fact that we were going to another Manolo concert later, there was magic in the humid air.

Our plan was to rest up at the hotel for the long night ahead, but not a lot of rest took place. I called Marta to get the scoop, with Stanley egging me on, but again, Manolo was too tired. “He won't be at the sound check?” I concluded. I couldn’t help my voice rising a bit. But Marta gave lots of apologies and I maintained my understanding because how can you not when everyone’s so nice? She said Manolo would meet with us before the concert, and to be there for 7 p.m. I didn’t have a chance to picture what that might look like because as I was hanging up, comfortable with my Spanish phone manner by now, I heard Manolo say “Hasta luego” in the background! Surreal. Why wasn’t he taking a siesta? 

La Barqueta Bridge 
We returned to the front desk to ask if there was any good ice cream nearby. Stanley used the word gelato and the receptionist had no idea what he was talking about. “Helado al estilo italiano,” I said, and that worked, and was the perfect thing to do under the clearing skies before trekking to the auditorium. 

Stanley with bougainvillea on the Expo side of the river 
After a lot figuring, we decided we would take the trusty bus to the banks of the Guadalquivir to the correct bridge, La Barqueta, then walk. And did we walk. The auditorium wasn't on the map, so we had only faith to guide us. 

The 1992 Expo grounds, of which the auditorium is an integral part, were run down, even more than when I’d last seen them in 2004. After the Expo, it appeared to be neglected. We were there during the dead of siesta, which added to the ghost-town feel. It was hard to tell which buildings were closed for the afternoon and which closed forever. We walked and walked, our spirits never flagging, but doubt was creeping in. The map wasn’t too helpful because I wasn’t sure where we’d gone straight when we should’ve turned—there had been nowhere obvious. Then we came out of the alley created by buildings into an opening and far to the left, there appeared to be an auditorium, and we could hear music—the sound test! I’m not sure how far we went out of our way, but it wasn’t terrible because nothing was terrible. Todo es ahora

At the special guest entrance, segregated from the huge line 
We were amazed at the number of people in line already, but I knew we needed to find a place where there was a sign for press and special guests. It was just beyond the regular entrance and no one was there. We made it there around 6 p.m., way too early, as usual for us. We stood in the shade of a tree full of lovely bright yellow blossoms and looked through the gates and imagined what was beyond.

After the bullring chat, Stanley and I had batted around the idea of where in the world could a person actually have a Cola Cao with Manolo García? It would be madness anywhere public. He gives the impression he can move about freely, but I don’t know that he could honestly have had a quiet time with his new best friends. The world may never know. 

We chatted and waited patiently while the wind buffeted us. Some guards came out and gave us bottles of water and little posters advertising the concert in Badajoz, in June, much too late for us. A certified groupie arrived and acted as if she was on the special guest list. She wore a white t-shirt elaborately printed in black with “Mira Manolo lo que tengo pa’ ti solo” (Manolo, look what I have just for you). Yowza! I told Stanley what it meant and we both had the impression that nothing like that would move him. A friend of hers wearing the same shirt stopped by but didn’t stay, showing us that there’s more than one person who not only thinks of Manolo as a sex object, but also thinks he might cast his sexuality toward his fans. The idea didn't belong on the Planet Manolo we'd experienced. 

Sometime after 7, I called Marta again and we learned that Manolo was still resting (understandable, of course, after giving it all in Valencia) and he wouldn’t be there until 8 p.m., which was the time they were going to open the gates. I hope I didn’t seem too pushy. I asked her if we could come in and just sit down because we’d been standing and there was a lot of wind (whine whine). But she said okay, and kept calling me guapa. The whole thing was the most civilized and goodwill-filled experience anyone’s ever had.

Miguel came out to the gate, and we went through and the groupie and some others tried to come, too, but Miguel said, “Solo ellos.” 

Our VIP bracelets led to a pun that led to a huge compliment to my Spanish! 
He walked us in with the usual “qué tal” stuff, and before we went through the doors, he taped bracelets around our wrists that said “Manolo García en concierto auxiliar.”

I made a silly pun based on auxiliar in Spanish that made Miguel chuckle. “¿De dónde eres?” (Where are you (just me) from?) he asked. 

“Los dos somos de California” (We're both from California), I replied. 

“Sí, pero ¿de dónde en España?” (Yes, but where in Spain?)

I just shook my head.

“¿No eres española? Creía que eras española” (You're (just me) not Spanish? I thought you (just me) were Spanish.)

Yay! I told Stanley what had just happened—a Spaniard thought I was a Spaniard! He imagined Miguel had been wondering what this Spanish lady was doing with some American dude. That would’ve been a headscratcher. Best compliment ever! I’ve had people make assumptions before, but this is the longest anyone has heard me speak while maintaining that mistaken conclusion.

Backstage to catering, where the VIPs go 
He walked us through the backstage areas—I couldn’t get back there with a GPS now, there was too much stimuli—and it seemed like the catering tent was literally behind the stage. It was big, with a large kitchen area and maybe as many as ten tables. Miguel sat us down at an empty table, but there were several people eating at the next one, and they said to come sit with them, so we did.

A red-haired lady whose face was all smiles said, “¿Sois amigos de Manolo García?” (Are you friends of Manolo García?)

I was taken aback. Were we? What universe had we entered? “Sí.” And saying it made it so.

Someone brought bottles of water and we nibbled discreetly on some bread rolls, but soon enough Spanish extraversion, mainly Pilar's (“Pili”), took over. They were from Málaga, and we talked about being from the United States, and pretty soon I was regaling them with the long story about 2008 and the letter and the watercolor and this year’s letter and Valencia and now Sevilla. Talking about things I love and understand. Is it any wonder I felt in my element?

Manolo García's amigos are all amigos, too. 
It turned out that the older couple had had a son who was a huge Manolo fan, and then he passed away from an aggressive cancer. They struck up a relationship with Manolo after the initial shock and have met Manolo a few times in setups like this one. It gave me the idea that once you’re an amigo, you’re always an amigo in this universe. My tenuous grasp on sanity couldn’t stand up against it. I followed these friendly people down the rabbit hole, as it were.

We talked about how much Spanish Stanley knew, and he cleverly replied, “Café con leche.” 

We're even amigos with the caterers! 
They took a few pictures, including with the caterers, because everyone was a friend there, and they encouraged us to get something from the catering. I ordered a salad for Stanley, thinking I would eat my sandwich we still had in the bag if my head ever reattached to my body, but they brought a salad for each of us—flavorful lettuce, nice tomatoes, and peppers. Stanley was well occupied while I kept jabbering with the malagueños.

They said the American band had just been there, after I said I preferred the Spanish band. We talked about PhDs and teaching and editing. Then Pilar's husband got into telling us to come visit them and they would feed us and they would invite Manolo (invite, but not see) and they would take us to a national park near them with incredible gorges and dangerous-looking bridges. 

A much bigger venue than Valencia, the better to fit all the creative genius in. 
All the while the anticipation was building. They started talking about needing to grab our seats, they’re letting people in soon! They made sure we were going to sit with them, and I was thrilled to lay the responsibility for choosing at anyone else’s feet, because we’d seen that it wasn’t going to be as close as Valencia—you could fit a couple of bullrings into the open standing section—and we had left the binoculars behind.

When there were murmurings that in another five minutes, Manolo would be there, Pilar brushed her hair, “Pa’ que me vea guapa” (So I look pretty for him). “Yo también” (Me, too), I said, trying to undo the rough texture my hair had picked up in the rain, which was long gone. A simple comb can't do that. 

The American band must be on the ground floor? 
At last, Marta came through and led us all with our VIP wristlets to an elevator with a printout of which mythical beasts were on each floor, through some run-down hallways, and to a long, plain dressing room. The light poured in the windows that looked out onto the concert area. Manolo was standing next to these windows and was backlit the whole time, natural halos imitating the ones I detect are hidden on him, anyway. The Málaga people swarmed him. They all had bags full of something: Stanley thought they had presents for Manolo and wondered what we should’ve gotten him. Trust my true love to imagine something so nice. They were actually things for Manolo to sign. I already have two signed items from him, and it never occurred to me to use this meeting in such a manner. I must be unusual. Or demented, like the lollipop! 

Backstage! Photo by Jessica Knauss 
I wish I’d brought Carmen’s CD with me so she could sign it. Who knew she would be there? She ran through and Stanley tried to talk to her because he missed out the first time. She said thank you and “Hasta luego.” The Spanish have a severe aversion to saying adiós (goodbye).

Marta the magnificent, Jessica, Stanley. Photo by Pilar 
While I was hanging back there, Marta came by and chatted a little. We thanked her so sincerely for everything she'd done, and she was all, “A ti,” which is “No, thank you,” but I can’t imagine what we did that was thankable. Just enjoyed ourselves!

Listening to the maestro. Photo by Stanley Coombs 
Once the Málaga contingent left, promising to find good seats, it was time to say something to Manolo. What could it be? What would be appreciative and poetic and memorable? He was holding forth to a bunch of people I didn’t recognize, but later focused on me. I felt like the only human who mattered in the entire world for those few minutes. Stanley was hanging off to the side trying to get pictures. Manolo reminded me to read Lucia Berlin's stories, so I scribbled the name down later, taking it to heart. (And I'm not sorry I did! Great stuff!) 

The photographer who took the picture that's the cover for Saldremos a la lluvia (the first album Stanley heard) was there and Stanley took a picture of the three of us, and then got one of me with Manolo in which I put my arm around his slim waist and he returned the gesture. Because we’re amigos, right?

Amigos. Photo by Stanley Coombs 
When it was time, he shook Stanley’s hand again, and I went in for the two Mediterranean kisses I wanted so bad. I was so overwhelmed feeling that smooth-shaven cheek against mine that I whirled away, choked up, to grab my purse. It felt like the end and we hadn’t said half the things we’d hoped to. We waved goodbye with loads of smiles and hasta luegos all around, and found our way to the elevator. 

All the VIP amigos sat together. 
The auditorium was completely full by the time the show started. 
Valencia was meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime concert event. Sevilla didn’t make it less special because, in spite of the identical set list, the experience was totally different. Twice the wonder, or even more, because all was unique. 

I've always loved tortilla de patata and Stanley did, too! 
For one, it was a more social experience because we found our Málaga friends and conversed while we waited, and even ate with them. We didn't eat the sandwiches we'd bought, but gladly accepted their hospitality and chowed down on homemade tortilla de patata baguettes. Pilar in particular got a kick out of the Americans eating such iconic Spanish food. 

It was just as exciting when the show started and I took just as many videos of the unique performances. I tried to keep up with what my Málaga friends were doing, and they in turn were amazed that I knew all the words to all the songs. No casual listener, this American! So, they asked, Manolo García is your favorite performer? "I have two great loves in my life," I answered. "My husband and Manolo García." (I skipped Alfonso X for simplicity, but he wasn't far from my thoughts.) That utterance got a lot of olé mileage! 

Because he had so recently expended so much energy in Valencia, I thought Manolo seemed a little tired, loopier at times, missing a couple of musical cues. I couldn't believe it at the end, when people were already filing out, when he unhooked all his earpieces and leapt off the stage to bodysurf in the crowd. He used to do that all the time, but as I had mentioned to my new friends, he might want to consider doing it less, since he's getting up in years. That night, no one had any age at all. We were nothing if not innocent children. 

I thought I'd loved it when Manolo talked to the audience in Valencia, but in Sevilla, during the second half, before they played "Para que no se duerman mis sentidos," he came to the mic stand, very solemn, to deliver the speech to end all concert speeches. "My musical companions and yours truly... I know some of you have come to our concerts for many years, since you were little. We're grateful, we treasure it, we enjoy it, I promise and swear. Thank you very much. You've come from Cáceres"—here Pilar yelped and grabbed my leg: "He's gonna say it! He's gonna say it!"— "from Albacete, from every part of this peninsula, and even, even... from the United States. Thank you very much, truly."

"You've come from Cáceres... from Albacete..."
"and even, even from the United States."
Of course I stood and threw my hands in the air and yelled as if my life depended on it. I wanted everyone there to know who Manolo García was talking about. Stanley asked me what was going on and I said, "Manolo García gave us a shout out on stage! He's up there performing his heart out, thinking of us!" 

I've seen a closeup video of this incident, and while Manolo's expression is pleasant throughout, the smile that crosses his lips when he says "Estados Unidos"—priceless. 

Left: Ricardo Marín, guitar and voice;
center back: Nacho Lesko, keyboards;
center front: Olvido Lanza, violin;
right: Manuel García, voice and guitar. 
"We saw the show in Málaga at the start of the tour and we thought that was great," Pilar said after the finale but before Manolo jumped into the crowd. "This was even better!" I could just about believe it. I couldn't compare Valencia and Sevilla because they were parts of one amazing whole, but if a musical event ever got better than that, I was sure the universe would implode. 

(Marta and Carmen can be seen in this short video looking after Manolo's athletic welfare.)

We spilled out of the auditorium afterward and followed the flow of people as they gravitated to the nightclubs and other music venues that were now open. If the Expo '92 area seemed like a ghost town before, now it was all flashing lights and activity, as if we'd been transported to the world of The Jetsons—but with no taxis to be had in the sky or on the ground. We said friendly hasta luegos to our Málaga amigos and pushed against the crowd, facing the fact that we were going to have to walk all the way back to the hotel. It was more than two kilometers, for sure, and remember that even if we weren't aware of it, my husband was suffering from Stage IV lung cancer. Knowing that, you would never believe the brisk pace he kept up the whole way. I explained that we were actually safer then, in the middle of the night, than we had been during siesta. "Why is everyone out now?" Stanley asked. "Are they trying to prove something?" While there is a bit of bravado in how little sleep you can get by on, in southern Spain, culture takes place at night because before air conditioning, it was unquestionably too hot during the day. We didn't get back until three in the morning, but we were safe and happy. 

In the hotel room, I got a flash forward of being back in the United States. It seemed unbearable. How could that life be real? This life, here in Spain, full of joy and belonging, that should be real. 

Next: the Trip of a Lifetime comes to an end with a friend. 

Catch up with the rest of the posts in this series here