A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Seville, Oranges, La Giralda, Spooks, Robert Wilson & A Sumo Wrestler
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Manila born grandmother always talked about her Valencian mother and for many years I confused Valencia with Sevilla. My grandmother Dolores set me straight, “La ignorancia es atrevida.” (ignorance is daring). She told me many stories about Seville which she had visited as a little girl. Seville has captured my imagination since. From this city’s port, el Puerto de Triana, Spain’s ships sailed down the Gualdalquivir to the New World. It was at the Archivo de Indias, designed by Juan de Herrera, who also designed the Escorial, where “all that was known” of the Americas was housed. My uncle, Don Luís de Miranda y Gimenes, a scholar who specialized in the naos de Manila , the Manila galleons, that sailed back in forth to Acapulco in New Spain often told me of its wonders. Particularly wonderful were the electric blue quetzal bird feathers he had seen.

But my abuelita Lolita's favourite story was of an event that happened during the Castilian reign of Enrique IV of Trastámara. Alonso de Fonseca, a nephew of the Seville Archbishop, was himself designated Achbishop of St James Compostela. Because there was a Galician uprising there, Alonso de Fonseca’s uncle volunteered to go in his place as long as the nephew consented to warm his seat in Seville. When the Archbishop returned to Seville Alonso de Fonseca refused to give up his seat and only did so after the pope’s intervention. Since then the saying in Spanish “El que se fue de Sevilla perdió su silla,” or “ He who leaves Seville will lose his seat,” is used as reason for taking over a seat unknowingly left vacant at a movie or theatre.

I finally did make it to Seville in 1985 with Rosemary, Alexandra and Hilary. My grandmother would have told me, “ Asomaste el rabo,” or that I showed my monkey tail (ignorance). I went up to the lovely Moorish bell tower of la Giralda , which is part of Seville’s cathedral and I took many photographs of the bell including one where Alexandra is seen as a shadow. I did not know then that the tower is not named after its bell but after its weathervane or giralda, a beautiful woman who represents faith that is on top. From the Giralda I was able to look down on the Patio de los Naranjos , with its long rows of orange trees and glimpses of the cathedral cloisters.

In the middle you can see the shadow of the Giralda and part of the weathervane on the top.

We were never able to take a ride in the yellow wheeled horse drawn carriages because Hilary, 14, cried and told us the horses were being ill used.

All in all our stay was unpleasant as the city was extremely hot and the staff of the Alfonso XIII hotel, used to earlier and more opulent times when bullfighters of renown stayed there, thought that we Americans (Spaniards then had no concept of Canada) were scum.

But it is only now that I am enjoying my grandmother’s Seville. Her magical Seville is a bit on the gritty side and horrible murders happen in it with unusual frequency. It is fascinating nonetheless. It is the Seville of British author Robert Wilson's police procedurals featuring the urbane and complex Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón whose father was a famous painter with ties to Spanish Morocco.

I had to wait for two years for Robert Wilson’s The Hidden Assassins which is the third novel featuring Javier Falcón and his Seville which Falcón calls the hottest city in Europe. The other two novels are The Vanished Hands (2004) and The Blind Man of Seville (2003). What I find most interesting is that Wilson has done his homework. He explains the almost alien (but very practical) Spanish legal system. Every murder case has a Juez de Instrucción or instructing judge. He is in charge of the crime scene and works with the homicide squad from the beginning to put together the best evidence in order to secure a conviction. When one of these jueces cuckolds Javier Falcón the Seville Fair heats up.

This latest installment features Arab terrorists and spies who communicate through secure blogs. It is so realistically told and explained that I wonder if Robert Wilson was present in Washington DC when our very own Atom powered Tim Bray was there to brief spooks as to the methods to be used.

Wilson’s Javier Falcón reminds me of Michael Dibdin’s Venetian born Aurelio Zen. Falcón’s views on death are similar. Here from The Hidden Assassins:

Seville – Monday, 5th June 2006, 16 hrs

Dead Bodies are never pretty. Even the most talented undertaker with a genius for maquillage cannot bring the animation of life back to a corpse. But some dead bodies are uglier than others. They have been taken over by another life form. Bacteria have turned their juices and excretions into noxious gas, which slithers along the body’s cavities and under the skin, until its drum tight over the corruption within. The stench is so powerful it enters into the central nervous system of the living and their revulsion reaches beyond the perimeter of their being. They become edgy. It’s best not to stand too close to people around a ‘bloater’.

Normally Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón had a mantra, which he played in the back of his mind when confronted by this sort of corpse. He could stomach all matter of violence done to bodies– gunshot craters, knife gashes, bludgeon dents, strangulation bruises, poisoned pallor – but this transformation by corruption, the bloat and the stink, had recently begun to disturb him. He thought it might just be the psychology of decadence, the mind troubled by the slide to the only possible end of age; except that this wasn’t the ordinary decay of death. It was to do with the corruption of the body – the heat’s transformation of a slim girl into a stout middle-aged matron or, as in the case of this body that they were excavating from the rubbish of the landfill site beyond the outskirts of the city, the metamorphosis of an ordinary man to the taut girth of a sumo wrestler.

Robert Wilson


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