Editors' Choice

The Marvel of Seville

by Jennifer Arin

Flamenco performance, Gypsy life, it's all part of the scene.

Que cara! What nerve! I mutter, exiting the cab with two heavy bags. It’s almost midnight, and I’m exhausted from the long journey: eleven hours from San Francisco to Madrid, followed by a six-hour wait at the Madrid airport, as the staff of Iberia Air practiced civil disobedience: a strike that left the other passengers and me hurrying from gate to gate, our flight to Sevilla delayed, then canceled, rescheduled, delayed, and canceled again. Finally, a Sevilla-bound plane carried us off. “Thank you for flying Iberia,” the flight attendants said, without irony, when we deplaned. One more reason I’ll never use this airline again, I thought.

Now the taxi I hailed at the aeropuerto de Sevilla seems on strike, too. Coming to an abrupt stop, the driver tells me to get out, though we’re still several blocks from the pension I hope is holding my room. Barely granting me a glance in his rearview mirror, the chofer grunts that cars can’t enter the callejones – narrow lanes – of the Barrio Santa Cruz, the oldest neighborhood in this southern Spanish city. A friend later told me he’d had the same problem in Sevilla, but he’d argued with the driver, insisting the cab keep going – only to be told, Nada mas que te pongas aretes: if you only had earrings.

My own danglers don’t seem to make the difference. Nor do the years I’ve spent dancing flamenco. Though that art has sharpened my sense of balance, a couple of steps tell me that walking these cobbled lanes will be as hard as driving them. How slippery and uneven the streets’ stones are, worn down over centuries. Wobbling along in the night’s diminished light, I look down to keep from falling, then up at the city’s rich shapes. They form a grand amalgam of East and West: Moorish doorways shaped like enormous keyholes; a billboard with a sombreroed fellow drinking Snapple; and in a shop window, a ceramic head in a pool of blood-red paint, the whole of it on a silver platter and titled San Juan Bautista Degollado – Saint John the Baptist Beheaded. In this deeply Catholic country, bloody portrayals of the saints are as common as corrida bullrings. Neither gore nor being gored seems to faze Spaniards.

I can’t claim the same, but during an earlier trip here, I couldn’t resist witnessing the bullfight blood sport for myself. Amidst thousands of spectators, I watched a prize toro – magnificent, muscled creature – collapse after a series of wounding, calculated jabs. The picador, a large man on horseback, stabbed the bull in the back of the neck with his pica, or lance. Three more men on horseback followed, and thrust banderillas – barbed sticks – into the bull. How it survived such an attack, I don’t know; the bull was bleeding severely after these first rites. Why, I wondered, is the matador such a star in this fixed spectacle? When he finally entered the ring, in splendid gold garb and to immense applause, his role was clear: the word matador comes from the Spanish matar, to kill – a descendant of Latin’s mattare, to beat senseless.

Though flamenco is a relatively innocent art, the bullfight and flamenco intertwine. Guitar chords dramatically announce each fight’s start, and dancers’ moves copy the matadors’. My dance teachers often made the comparison, telling us to turn the torso one way, then cross it diagonally with both arms, as if maneuvering a cape. Now, at the bullfight in Sevilla, the matador’s movements look instantly familiar to me. Maybe the bond between these two arts explains the bullish behavior I’ve often seen among flamencos. During one friend’s juerga – a flamenco fiesta – a singer found himself in the company of a more talented one and shouted, “Everyone who wants to hear me sing, follow me to the other room!” And at another gathering, one dancer rebuked another trying out new steps: “This isn’t a rehearsal!”

Tonight, far less graceful than any dancer, matador, or even bull, in the meager moonlight I stumble, baggage-clad, through the stone streets. Two familiar silhouettes come into view: the immense Cathedral, and its tall minaret. From that pink-stone tower – a grand remnant of the Moors’ eighth-century invasion – a muezzin, or crier, once called the faithful to their prayers. When King Ferdinand III and his soldiers, Spanish Christians, reconquered Seville five centuries later, the king ordered his men to protect the minaret, awed by its ornate arabesques. Gazing upward, I’m as entranced as the king must have been – so the sudden voice startles me:

Dinero para leche?

A light from a closed shop dimly illuminates the woman in front of me. In one thin arm she carries a child – a girl about a year old. The other arm stretches toward me, palm up, and too close. I take in the woman’s dark hair and pale skin, and her disturbing eyes. They look strangely glazed, glassy: likely from hard drugs. Lo siento, I mumble in quick apology, and walk away. She follows, repeating with growing urgency and pitch, ¡dinero para leche! I hurry on, suitcases knocking against my knees, until the voice finally fades (after one block? two?). Daring at last to look back, I see only distant clusters of people strolling.

My heart calms when I find the long snaking street, Calle Sierpes, and my pension. Its young manager – tanned, with curly black hair and a green sweater – extends a warm and reassuring Buenas noches, senorita. He takes my passport and copies down its information, then hands me the key to a third-floor room high above the darkened street. I climb the three flights, wend my way through halls of multicolored ceramic tiles, and unlock the door to my room. It’s filled with posters of toreadors, each one sporting a crimson cape and matching purple socks. Never fight a bull unless you’re impeccably dressed.

The room’s walls, like the corridors, reflect the Moorish design still found throughout Andalucia: green, blue, yellow, and red tiles in a pattern of flowers, or maybe stars. The Moors were keen astronomers, using their minarets not only to worship the heavens, but to observe them. Whatever added meaning the tiles may hold, their geometry symbolized a harmonious universe. In the smaller universe of my room, this symmetrical, starry design sweeps across each wall's lower half; solid white paint covers the upper half, except where posters of caped toreros hang: the quintessential blend of two cultures.

I unpack – mostly sundresses, in anticipation of the city’s intense summer heat. By the time I slip beneath the soft white sheets, the face of the beggar woman has loosened its imprint. I drift to sleep, grateful to be back in the city where flamenco’s intricate rhythms were born.

Sevilla preciosa! I open the shutters. On this first morning, the room is instantly steeped in light, heat, and guitar music from the Plaza de la Alianza, an old and lovely town square visible from the room’s balcony. Pulling on a yellow sundress, I stroll to the plaza and seat myself at a cafe with a large patio: a perfect perch. At the square’s far corner is a tiny public garden, with willowy trees and a green statue of some proud hero I don’t recognize. Sifting through my knowledge of Spanish history proves useless, so I abandon the honored, oxidized fellow in favor of the current scene: nearby, the guitarist – fine-featured and copper-complexioned, with dark shoulder-length hair – comes over to ask the other customers and me for coins. I give him a few, and he soon starts to sing a lively rumba. A few deep breaths, and I’m on the verge of dancing to the music’s alluring beat (TAM takka tak tak, TAM takka tak tak).

Here, unlike in other parts of Spain – or the world, I imagine – people spontaneously sing and dance in public. I first witnessed this festive aspect last summer, while following a wrinkled map to El Corte Ingles: a mega department store that carries flamenco music, traje or costumes, and fans that really do open with a flick of the wrist. Even before reaching the store, I found myself immersed in flamenco: a few steps in front of me, a sevillano began to sing loudly, and the friends with him to dance. A group of nuns stopped to cheer and clap so vigorously, it seemed they’d been hitting the sangría.

It’s one thing to sing and dance with friends – but what about a woman by herself dancing now in the plaza? Would I be within the norm, or outside it by my very effort to fit in, like a tourist prancing around Paris in a beret? Well, what the hell. I drum up my nerve and do a few steps next to – all right, behind – my table. The guitarist turns towards me and, when he finishes, walks over and introduces himself: Antonio. Hearing my accent, he pulls up a chair and asks, Como aprendiste a bailar flamenco? How did you learn to dance flamenco?

El ano pasao, I explain, dropping the “d” in pasado as Andalusians do, last year, I went to La Candela, a club just across the river Guadalquivir. How much detail does Antonio want? Am I on borrowed time? He keeps looking at me, silent, so I go on: Everyone was dancing in perfect union, their arms rising together, hands forming gorgeous flores: flower-shaped movements. Their bodies turned and twirled and stamped in sync. I ached to learn the movements. A young man next to me at the dance floor’s edge must have sensed my frustration, because he offered to give me a lesson on the spot. Imagínate, he’d said, imagine yourself reaching up into a tree to pick its fruit, then eating the fruit, then throwing it away. His advice was fruitful in the best way: as we danced, the pattern of gestures and steps began to make sense.

Antonio asks, Me compras una cerveza? Will you buy me a beer? Did I hear him right? The question comes out of the blue – and would he really ask it of a stranger? He interprets my hesitation as a sign I don’t understand, and asks again, slowly, for the drink. So much for the traditional gender roles of southern Spain! They’ve probably been trumped by his perception of me as a rich American tourist. I’m hardly saddled with cash; this trip, like the others to Spain, has been funded by maxed-out credit cards. A continent away, I can feel the interest accruing. But I order the beer; I want something from Antonio, too.

While he drinks his cerveza, I confess a desire to learn flamenco lyrics. In dance classes, there is often no guitarist, and almost never a singer, so as we pound our feet into the floor, we grasp flamenco’s rhythms but little else. I want to understand the words and emotions at the music’s root. Antonio nods and, beer consumed, asks me to buy another. What nerve! But I order that second beer, too, because Antonio is the real deal: a gypsy guitarist. Like every American flamenco dancer, guitarist and singer I know, I want to absorb any musical aspect I can from the gypsies, who helped give birth to flamenco, and who still carry its flame. At gypsy fiestas, I’ve seen parents clasp their babies’ hands and press them together to make palmas – claps that accent the music’s rhythms – while everyone sings, dances, or strums a guitar. Those of us who chanced upon flamenco after the choreography of childhood was over travel here whenever we can, to study with the best teachers and to visit clubs where Spanish musicians, dancers, and singers perform. They have an ease with the music that the rest of us have to work hard for.

Sometimes, to little avail. One spring, during the grand April festival La Feria de Sevilla, I ended up sharing a horse-drawn carriage with a mother and her two teen sons. The three of them greeted me warmly when I climbed in, and we began to chat. They were flattered an American would travel to their city to study flamenco. I couldn’t resist showing them I knew a local, popular song. Simple as that song would have been for anyone of the region, I was proud to have learned what, for me, were its difficult lyrics and tune. When I finished belting it out, the mother, meaning to praise the effort, said, “That was beautiful. Is it a Mexican song?” “No,” I sighed, completely deflated, “it’s a sevillana sung by an American.”

That family: no ear at all! Just the same, I hope Antonio can teach me more about the music – and sure enough, I get my first lesson. He explains that flamenco songs can be about anything, then proves the point by singing a tango, in the music’s unconventional grammar:

El otro día fuí a por cole, The other day I went for cabbage,
El otro día fuí a por cole, The other day I went for cabbage,
Y me encontr’a mi comare, And there I met my godmother,
A mi comare Dolores. My godmother Dolores.

Glad to learn this new song, its words so simple, its tune within reach, I listen, focused – until at the square’s periphery, a familiar figure appears. She crosses the plaza, asking for money from each café patron. I hope Antonio will stay; I don’t want to face this woman by myself again. But, both beers consumed, he returns to playing guitar. She soon arrives. Without recognizing me, she voices that request so like a demand: dinero para leche.

Braced, I look squarely at her sable hair and, as I see now, emaciated shape. She’s smaller than I’d remembered, and her eyes seem clearer than they did last night. Her fine dark features, similar to Antonio’s, signal that she, too, is gypsy. In daytime’s brilliance, she seems more sad than threatening – especially in light of one particular feature: her T-shirt. It swirls with multicolored splotches of paint no doubt bright once, but now faded to pink, blue and yellow ghosts of what they must have been; and the shirt’s sequins have been reduced to a few, just barely hanging on.

The girl is in her mother’s arms again, pressed against those last sequins. Small hoops adorn each tiny ear. Her baby-fine hair, combed into a ponytail atop her head, spouts fine tufts in all directions, like a fountain; and the sweater she wears is clearly of her mother’s making, or at least taste: a hot-pink pullover with a furry, boa-like blue-and-white collar. Dressed and combed with care, if strange taste, the girl seems unexpectedly tended to, loved. This time, when the woman asks for money, I offer a handful of heavy coins. She thanks me shyly: a surprising response. I’d expected a harsher encounter. Curious now, I ask her name.

Maravilla, she tells me. I recognize its meaning: Marvel.

Que nombre bonito – what a pretty name! Probing, I learn that her daughter is one-and-a-half years old. Maravilla looks away, ready to go. Grasping at the only other conversation piece that comes to mind, I compliment Maravilla on her shirt.

Again she quietly thanks me, looks down, then slips away. This time I’m almost sorry to see her go. She walks toward Antonio. As gitanos sevillanos – Sevilla gypsies sharing the plaza’s terrain and tourists – they probably know each other: a notion confirmed by their open postures, and by the way Antonio stops playing to exchange a few muted words with Maravilla. She moves away from him, then disappears into an alley I hadn’t noticed before.

So bewildering in her mix of humility and aggression, so sad in her burdened circumstance. I want to talk to Antonio about her, but he starts another song. Minor chords and chromatic half-notes saturate the air. I sit down again, trying to listen carefully.

It seems there’s always something elusive about flamenco and gypsy culture. Last year in Sevilla, I visited Rincón de Concha Vargas, a dance studio and bar (one-stop shopping, flamenco style), owned by Concha, a gypsy dancer. Late at night, it was rumored, other gypsy flamencos would go to Concha’s to sing and dance – but these “shows” were impromptu and, like everything in flamenco, depended on the perfomers’ mood. Taking my chances, I arrived around midnight. The place was half empty, and wholly stark: a few tables, a small raised stage, a bar with six stools. Someone I took to be Concha – a plump, confident woman – was conversing cheerfully with a couple of friends.

I stared at the clock, its hands circling slowly to morning’s first hour. For sixty minutes more, I tried to draw energy from some recorded flamenco music in the background, and wondered if I’d missed the crowd. At two o’clock, a group of what I was sure were flamencos arrived: men who wore their vests shiny and their hair shoulder-length. But they just sat around having drinks with Concha. I sat there, head nodding, until at 3 a.m. one of the men finally walked onto the stage. He started singing in raspy, exuberant notes. A second man followed, and began clapping in explosive rhythms. Concha joined them, accompanied by a guitarist whose fingers flew across the frets: a match for the fiery footwork Concha burst into. The flamencos sang, stomped and strummed hard. Concha tossed her head back – flamenco is as much about attitude as technique – and the guitarist and singer found again their major chord. Concha stamped out a final round, and her accompanists brought the number to a heated close. Then they all coolly strolled off the stage and got more drinks. It was over. As I headed towards the door, Concha waved in my direction. Had I done something wrong – maybe left too little for the drinks I’d had?

Te ví palmeando al ritmo de la musica, Concha called cheerily: I saw you clapping to the music’s rhythms. She invited me to sit with her and the other flamencos. I hardly felt worthy of such company, but suddenly there we all were, belting out songs – some I knew, more I didn’t – until morning’s light emerged through the high windows.

Sometimes, we’re given the privilege of being brought into another culture. And sometimes, we’re given only the illusion of it. Antonio is glad to help me with flamenco lyrics, as long as I buy his cervezas; and Maravilla seems unsure whether to talk with me or just ask for money. How different they are from Concha, and from the woman whose home I’d stayed at once. The mother of a gypsy flamenco singer who’d moved to California, she’d generously offered to lodge me. One evening, she asked if I would read her a letter from her son. He wrote often, she said, handing me the latest missive.

Illiteracy is common among the gypsies. What I’ve noticed – what any traveler to Spain will notice – is that some of the poorer gypsies send their children out begging, instead of to school. Could this explain why my host never learned to read? And – a disturbing thought – will Maravilla keep her own daughter out of school? A non-gypsy sevillano once told me most gypsies don’t stay in school because they dislike its rigid structure. I don’t know if that’s true, but do know this: soon after the gypsies’ fifteenth-century arrival in Spain, one law after another forbade their dress, language and way of life – often by penalty of death. What “way of life” appears to mean, in each historical account, is nomadism, beggary and theft.

Constantly on the move, the gypsies did work that could take place anytime, anywhere. “Blacksmith” was high on the list. Among the most poignant of flamenco songs, in fact, is the martinete: song of the blacksmith. Its name comes from the word martillo – hammer – because the singer’s only accompaniment is a blacksmith's hammer striking an anvil: lovely and austere. Another profession, if you can call it that, was fortune-telling. I can’t help wondering if the earliest gypsy palm readers were like one I encountered in Sevilla – or rather, who encountered me. Picking me out of the crowd, she charged toward me like a seasoned matador, seized my palm, mumbled a few incomprehensible predictions and, still gripping my hand, ordered me to give her papel. Only paper money would do: no coins. When I finally shook her off, in the most literal sense of that phrase, she cursed me loudly.

Of course, no single culture has the market cornered on behavior, either good or bad. Strolling along the banks of Sevilla’s Guadalquivir River one night, I heard a loud flurry of notes and, as I approached a row of buildings, a crowd of voices behind a deep-green door. Putting a hand on the thick knob, I entered a foyer that led to a nightclub packed with satin-shirted men, and women in micro-skirts. Their clothes confirmed that in these post-Franco years, a once ultra-conservative Spain had moved on, its oppressive past stored as history and memory.

From a seat at the bar – a perfect spot for watching couples twirl to the music – I didn’t notice, until he stood before me, the fellow asking me to dance. He wore a tight white shirt, muscles visible through its thin fabric: a fine picture, but with sandy close-cropped hair and pale skin, he wasn’t my type. Still, I took his hand, glad to be lured to the dance floor. We moved to a few fast-paced songs, and then to the slow music that d.j.’s everywhere like to spring on the unsuspecting. Our bodies close, his arms around me, he asked me back to his apartment. Politely, I declined. Unwilling to give up the chase, he pursued:

Vas a hacer el amor después con otro español? Will you make love later with another Spaniard?

Startled, I replied teasingly, quizás – maybe.

Ah, he countered, then I am just a panadero!

It took some explaining before I understood that a panadero was a baker, and that my dance partner was complaining of a gross injustice: doing all the work of kneading and preparing the bread – me – only to have someone else eat it. Laughing, I declined again – at which point, of course, he left. At least he’d been a man with a mission. I returned to the bar to buy a drink, and discovered my money and I.D. gone. Frantic, I looked around just in time to see my dance partner exit quickly. Running outside, I caught a last glimpse of him, head tilted back in laughter as he disappeared into the crowded, anonymous streets.

This morning, those streets are filled, in part, with Antonio’s music; I can hear his voice from my room. Appealing as it is to go talk with him, the celebrations of Semana Santa – Holy Week – have their own allure. Today, Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), a week-long Easter procession begins. Day and night until next Sunday, Domingo de Resurreccíón, floats commemorating the life of Christ will travel through Sevilla’s streets.

I join a thick mass of spectators as a float with the Virgin goes by. The men in the crowd all shout at her, in unison, Guapa, Guapa …Guapa, Guapa, Guapa, repeating five times the word Spanish men use – Beautiful – to hit on women. I’ve been on the receiving end of that phrase. One fellow who said it to me repeatedly came so close, while staring steadily at my breasts, that I punched him in the stomach: an impulse that stunned even me. The man recoiled from the injury to his gut and pride. That was probably his last Guapa for a while. How strange now to hear that word flung at Mary herself!

As the floats pass, parents hoist their children onto their shoulders. Most of the girls have the same fountain-top ponytail as Maravilla’s daughter, and the same hoop earrings. I wonder if that other mother and child are here, lost among the procession. Or maybe Maravilla is wandering the city in search of alms. I can’t help clinging to an American perspective which even ample travel hasn’t erased: that anyone with enough ambition can lift herself up from the muck and mire. But Maravilla, what will become of you?

Around me now are throngs of elderly women, dressed in black to signal their mourning. Fronting the floats are male nazarenos – penitent sinners – cloaked in high-peaked white caps and dark masks. For me, those tall pointed hats and thick masks recall wretched episodes from American history; but for Spaniards, with their different (though hardly less bloody) past, such attire hides the identity of those who know they’ve sinned, and who hope that, come the afterlife, their penitence assures them an ascent, rather than fiery downward spiral.

Hidden behind the heavy canvas “skirt” around the base of each float, twenty young men lift the paso with their hands and, incredibly, their heads, which are wrapped in bulky white turbans. Every few blocks, the men put the float down, stretch their legs, and take a swig of water. In what can only be an early atonement plan, they train all year for this hard privilege; the floats weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

The pasos are beautiful to behold, but a sudden voice from above leads me to follow the crowd’s upward gaze. From a balcony, a white-haired man is singing to the figure of Jesus on a float below him. The man intones the most beautifully sad notes, letting them catch in his throat with emotion and skill. In these packed, noisy streets, every one of us quiets for his saeta, his sung lament, over Christ’s death. I discern the words Jesús, sufrimiento, lágrimas – suffering, tears. While the floats press on from street to street, more men and women step onto their balconies to offer their own saetas to the Mother and Child.

These heart-rending wails reach to the core, not through their words but through raw emotion, with the same bittersweet half-notes all flamenco melodies scale. Even as I trail the Madonna, I realize why it’s always been the cante, the singing, that draws me most: those anguished cries remind me of the songs from the temples of my childhood, each cantor intoning his own lament over a painful history. It makes perfect sense; every book about flamenco traces the art’s roots to Spain’s gypsies, Jews and Moors. The music’s Jewishness rings through as clearly to me now as all the world’s church bells.

Day and night, I watch the procession and absorb each saeta. The songs, kindred spirits, fascinate me. At dawn, when I return to my pensión, the rituals of Holy Week are still filling the air, sung lamentations seeping into me like rain into the earth.

Between the songs of Semana Santa and Antonio’s tangos, this city is steeped in music. Roused from bed by early notes floating through my open window, I head for the plaza where Antonio is playing and, by turns, collecting change. Taking my usual place at the café, I look for the mysterious Maravilla. Even with flocks of tourists arriving, the square feels almost barren without her. That feeling dissipates when Antonio comes over. He greets me warmly. Then the conversation takes its familiar turn: Antonio asks me for a beer. All right, I’m still game.

When he gets up to play again, I notice it’s already noon, the time Maravilla comes to the plaza. Sure enough, from the far diagonal corner she enters the square, again with her daughter, and begs for money at each table. Upon reaching me, she stretches out an upturned hand, then retracts it and asks, Como estás?

We’re forming a connection, even if a tenuous one. Noticing she wears the same psychedelic tee, the sun now adding its flash of fire to the sequins, I tell her how lovely it looks. She timidly accepts the compliment. Nearby, Antonio strikes up a rumba. Maravilla settles her daughter in a chair from the café, and begins to sway. That song does beg to be danced to.

Bailemos! I invite Maravilla. Let’s dance! After all, she knows well both Antonio and this music. She shakes her head no.

Sí, bailemos! I urge her once, twice more, with growing vigor.

Instead, without a word, she picks up her daughter and bolts. Darting into an alley, she disappears. I turn to Antonio:

Qué le pasό? What happened to her?

For the first time, he speaks to me harshly.

Porqué pierdes el tiempo con ella? Why are you wasting time with her? Carrying her child everywhere so she can get money for heroin … Olvídate de ella! Forget about her! Emphasizing his point, he spits on the ground – then goes back to playing guitar.

Antonio’s remark reminds me of my first, frightening meeting with Maravilla: her aggressiveness and disturbing eyes, the suspicions I’d dismissed after seeing her gentle demeanor the next day. I feel duped and, more than ever, I feel my foreignness. Until I realize that of the two of us, Maravilla may be the more out of place here. Though achingly aware of my distance from a culture I strive to understand, I’ve also been welcomed in this city by sevillanos with a shared passion for flamenco. From the moment of my arrival, I’ve freely placed myself in the midst of this city, this scene – all while Maravilla is reduced to begging in the streets where she probably was raised.

Standing in the vast square, I look over at Antonio, who is absorbed in his songs, then at the alley Maravilla vanished into. What should I do – wait around? How long? And for what?

What saves me from my stupor is the sight of Maravilla coming back. Alone this time, she runs up to me. I want to ask her what happened, but she doesn’t give me that chance. Instead, she pushes something soft and folded into my arms, turns, and runs away again. I call to her, but the fleeing figure gets smaller and smaller, then disappears once more. I unfold the mysterious bundle in my arms: the psychedelic shirt.

Maravilla thought I admired it. For the first time, I genuinely do. She must have dashed into the alley – her home? – so she could change clothes and give me this gift: an act more marvelous to me than the miracles of Holy Week. Maravilla, though impoverished, chose to give away something she clearly loved. I don’t know what moved her to do so; the bit of kindness I showed hardly deserved such generosity. Whatever the reason, we rose above our visions of each other, becoming more than mere embodiments of our separate lives.

I wonder if Antonio noticed Maravilla’s gesture, or would care. Looking toward him, I see a second figure has appeared as quickly as Maravilla vanished. A gypsy woman, tall as Antonio and slightly darker, with long hair and a slender waist, stands very close to him – not, I imagine, for the first time. Estrella, I hear him call her – Star – and apparently she is his. I glance at Antonio a final time, then exit the plaza before they both ask me for a beer.


Jennifer Arin lived in Paris for four years, and often returns to Europe. Her essays and poetry have been published in the U.S., France, and England, most notably in The San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Book Review, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Poet Lore, ZYZZYVA, Puerto del Sol, Gastronomica, and Paris/Atlantic. Her awards include a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Poets & Writers' Writers on Site Residency, a PEN Writers' Fund Grant, a Poems of Joy poetry award, and an Ardella Mills essay award. Arin teaches literature and writing at San Francisco State University. "The Marvel of Seville" won the Culture & Ideas Bronze Award in the Fourth Annual Solas Awards.

About Editors' Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we've received from travelers around the world and present it here as our "Editors' Choice." For more about the editors, see About Travelers' Tales Staff.




Read more from Editors' Choice, Jennifer Arin

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