27 February 2009

¡TeamSevilla! takes the alcázar

Seville, Spain -- It may not be the most opportune time academically, but I´m spending a long weekend in the south of Spain with four wonderful Gates people. ¡TeamSevilla!, as I affectionately call our posse, consists of the group that went to Paris in November minus one. (By the way, I love the fact that the characters ¡ and ñ have their own buttons on keyboards here.) In the less than 24 hours since landing, we´ve largely adjusted our lifestyle to the rhythms of Andalucia, which basically means doing everything late: 10 am is wakeup time and 10 pm is dinnertime, and so far we have had every meal alfresco. Midday temperatures top out in the high 60s, so it´s not exactly sweltering, but compared to Cambridge it feels glorious.

The timing of this weekend is also a little bit strange because next week I have final exams for the French class that I have been taking all year. So after adjusting my brain to Spanish, I will be hurriedly switching back to French. The oral part of the exam will consist of me making a 5 minute presentation to my class au sujet du Cameroun on Wednesday, and I´m a little bit afraid I might inadvertently throw some español in there. The Spanish has been coming back with relative ease, and I´m feeling like the stereotype that Spanish is an easier language has some truth to it.

By coincidence, three of my courses at Cambridge have been turning to the subject of Islam in the last week or so, so it´s quite interesting to be here in what was the northern outpost of high Islamic civilization. Today we visited the Alcázar, a glorious hodgepodge of palaces and gardens whose showpiece building was constructed by Muslim artisans in the employ of Mohammed V, the 14th-century sultan of nearby Granada, for his buddy the Christian King Pedro I. Pedro was known as Pedro el Cruel or Pedro el Justiciero (the dispenser of justice), depending on whom you asked, and he had a colorful life to say the least. His father was quite the philanderer, leaving Pedro to compete with a slew of half-siblings, some of whom he unfortunately had to dispatch to keep his grip on power. Later, when Mohammed V was briefly deposed, Pedro lured his friend´s successor over for a dinner party at the Alcázar, where he captured the illegitimate Sultan and his retinue. Mohammed V was restored to his throne and received his rival´s head as a gift from Pedro I. Hey, at least the Christians and the Muslims were getting along back then. But the gory history aside, the Alcázar is a magnificent place, and it provided me with what must have been the most shutter-happy hour of my life.

Stay tuned for more on Andalucia, and hopefully some good pictures when I get back to the UK.

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