Judy’s Sevilla : A Quixotic Affair by Judy A. Cotter

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Judy’s Sevilla: A Quixotic Affair
By Judy A. Cotter

Madness?  Who knows where madness lies?
Too much sanity may be madness
And the maddest of all: To see life as it is,
And not as it ought to be
Man of La Mancha

I was in kindergarten when the spell began to take its effect.  The initial potion was a song:  “Once you have been in Andalucia and gone away, your heart will live in Andalucia both night and day.  Such is the story they tell and I know so well that its magic spell can impart…”  At age five, the word “Andalucia” was nothing more or less than a lovely sound conjuring up images of my own particular “Neverland”. Judy by the waterThe brew was enhanced by my witnessing a flamenco performance by Jose Greco in Southern California. I was captive. When the rest of my young friends were listening to Elvis and the Beatles, I was collecting recordings of flamenco “cante” and playing them at full volume to the consternation of family and neighbors. It was the beginning of my Quixotic Adventures of the Spirit which continue to envelop me as I live my illusion in Sevilla, Spain.

I had jumped through all the hoops of a more traditional, “earth-bound” trajectory before moving to Sevilla several decades ago: degrees in Spanish Language & Literature from Stanford University, a home in Northern California, a tenured teaching position. . . . I left it all to “come home to Sevilla” where I am currently a writer, translator and professor of Spanish Culture & Society and Spanish Art History. My classroom is Sevilla. The city is my passion and my constant inspiration. My joy is to share my love with students and visitors and my abiding aspiration is that I might be contagious. Sevilla is not a jealous lover — she embraces all who find themselves caught in the labyrinths of her ancient perfumed cobblestone streets.

Judy A. Cotter

 

Seville tower The Spanish call “love-at-first-sight” a flechazo (a blow with Cupid’s arrow). That arrow found its mark the first time I visited Sevilla during Christmas break from my graduate studies at the University of Madrid.  I fell in love with Sevilla’s rhythms: the lifestyle of her people, the cadence of their speech, the flamenco music of her perpetual fiestas, the delicious bacchanalian ritual of tapas and copitas, the murmur of her river, the incandescent blue of her sky.  I was touched by her spirit, her duende and by her culture, whose roots dig deep into her European, African and Middle Eastern profile.  I felt as though I had “come home”.  To stretch the imagination a bit (as the sevillanos love to do), there is a hereditary, albeit remote, connection between my Rumanian grandparents, Sevilla and myself.  The Roman Emperor Trajan, born in the city of Itálica, a few kilometers from Sevilla, incorporated what is now Rumania into the Roman Empire — hence my Latin roots!

* * *

This Quixotic Spirit is a living presence in Sevilla.  In fact, Cervantes engendered his protagonist while imprisoned in a Seville jail “where all discommodities have taken possession and all doleful noises made their habitation….

“Sevilla, La Maravilla”, is without question one of the world’s greatest “Living Museums.”  The sights, sounds, smells, tastes and personality of the people are a compendium of cultures that span more than three millennia and four continents – Europe, Africa, the Middle East and America. An Arab poet, enamored with this city where almost anything was deemed possible, exclaimed:  “Sevilla, you are no city, but a world!  The scattered marvels of other capitals have come together in you.  Oh part of Spain, so much greater than the whole!”

Sevilla is one of the best places in the world to experience this confluence of cultures.  The ancient Phoenicians, (from what is now Syria and Lebanon), the Greeks, Carthaginians (from Africa), Romans, Jews, Visigoths (from Northern and Eastern Europe), Muslims (Berber tribes from North Africa and Arabs from the Middle East), the Hapsburg Dynasty (from Austria and Flanders), and the Bourbon Dynasty (from France) have all left a profound mark upon Spanish culture and society.  Here in Sevilla, these imprints are palpable in every facet of the city’s life — in its food, music, customs, celebrations, traditions, architecture and especially in the character of the people.

The word “convivencia” comes from the Spanish: con (with) and vivir (to live), thus… “to live together.”  For the last 3,000 years, groups of people from all the places cited above have been particularly attracted to Andalucia’s shores.  Many who came originally enticed by climate, coastline, natural resources and trade, stayed and established roots that dug deep into the Andalucian subsoil.  Some of them made Spain their home for many centuries: the Romans (600 years), the Arabs (800 years), and the Jews (1200 years).   Culturally speaking, every Andalucian is an heir to the Romans (both pagan and Christian), the Muslims and the Jews.

* * *

Late last night, while strolling home through the old city center of Sevilla, a familiar scent caused me to stop and catch my breath, as it always has during the more than twenty years that I have resided in this magical city.  I looked up into the branches of an orange tree illuminated by one of Sevilla’s wrought iron street lanterns and saw a leafy green canopy speckled with hundreds of pungent tiny white flowers, in full winter-night bloom.  The perfume of the azahar, the orange blossom, both announces and then cloaks this city in its spring festival finery.  The intoxicating aroma of these perpetual little lords of Sevilla’s plazas, streets and gardens is the harbinger of Sevilla’s millenary spring celebrations — Holy Week (Semana Santa), the April Fair (La Feria de Abril) and its flamenco and bulls, the Fiesta of Corpus Christi and the Pilgrimage to El Rocío.

When the orange blossom releases its perfume in every corner of the city, the people of Sevilla will exclaim: “Ya huele a Semana Santa” – “It now smells like Semana Santa!”  However the translation doesn’t begin to address what emotions lie beneath the words.  The aroma awakens memories, stirs the blood, renews hope and for precious moments makes life exhilarating.  It heralds people coming together in a spirit of community, co-operation, joy and love that no laws could ever decree, but that are part of the DNA of the inhabitants of this city.  Beware – the spirit is contagious!  It infects people of all ages and across all cultural bounds.  Japanese bullfighters and flamenco dancers have become part of the richly woven fabric of eternal Sevilla.  Jews as well as non-believers have become captivated participants in the Holy Week celebrations.  And grandmothers in flamenco dresses dance the “Sevillanas” with great grace and flair in the April Fair.

Sevilla is, however, immeasurably more than a city caught in the amber of its ancient traditions.  This modern and comfortable metropolis of the 21st Century confronts its future while temporarily side-stepping the obstacles of the construction of a new underground rapid transit system.  The 1992 World Expo brought updated infrastructure to Sevilla, a new airport and train station, a fast train, the AVE that speeds people comfortably from Madrid to Sevilla in less than 2½ hours.  Sevilla is home to some of the finest, most charming and unusual hotels and restaurants in Europe.  It continues to serve, as it has for centuries, as a magnet for visitors, students, artists, writers, performers and residents from all parts of the Orient and the Occident.  Life expectancy is longer here – the low fat diet, fruits, vegetables, wine, year-round celebrations and the siesta all work their magic.

I have adopted Sevilla as my home because I think it is the only place in the world where one can feel so strongly the pulse of the “Collective Unconscious.”  This gazpacho of cultures — the ancient Iberians, Phoenicians, Tarsish, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Arabs, Jews, the parade of kings and queens, explorers, writers, artists and musicians have left a deep imprint on the life of this city.  Aside from the visible artistic and architectural reminders of their presence, daily rituals allow the Sevillanos and visitors to continue to commune with these ancestors in a very visceral way.  The flamenco cry recalls the Oriental tonal scale of the Muslims and the Jews; the omnipresent olives, wine and fish are reminiscent of the Greco-Roman heritage; the Pilgrimage to the Virgin of Rocío reconnects to pre-Christian fertility rites.  And the symbolism of the bullfight harkens back to the Paleolithic hunter-painters and to the Roman events celebrated in Italica’s amphitheater, just outside of Seville.

I am certain that had Carl Jung ever spent springtime in Seville, he would have found an authentic “Living Museum” of his “Collective Unconscious,” transcending cultures and time!

* * *

In a very real sense my “Quixotic Affair” with Sevilla has involved three protagonists: myself, Sevilla, and the person the “sevillanos” call my “media naranja” (“the other half of my orange”), the American artist and “torero” John Fulton.  A veritable and overt “menage a trois”!

John is the only American to have become a full “matador de toros” in the prestigious “Maestranza Bullring” of Sevilla – an honor John deemed tantamount to a Korean tenor being given all the lead roles in the La Scala Opera Season in Milan. This quest to break into Spain’s taurine world often led John to consider himself a 20th Century “John Quixote,” whose windmills were the Spanish stereotypes of what a bullfighter should or should not be… not tall, not blonde, and definitely not a rich American.  He never surrendered his illusion.

John was at the age at which time most rational individuals contemplate retirement when he prepared to fight the last two bulls of his life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (the same bullring where he had first donned a “suit of lights” forty years previously).  In preparation for this momentous and singular event, he had been working out on a “Nordic Track” over the course of a year; he had assembled an exhibition of his art which would be featured at a special show in the San Miguel Art Institute; he had designed and fashioned his own beautiful taurine costume; and he had invited friends and admirers from all over the world to witness his farewell performance.

His triumphant encounter with the bulls that afternoon awarded him the maximum trophies. As he was being carried out on the shoulders of the crowd to the shouts of “To-re-ro, To-re-ro!”, John’s “Dulcinea” bestowed upon him a magnificent bronze statue of Cervantes’ knight, bearing the words “John Quixote”.  As I reached down to hand the image to an exultant John, I repeated the words from “Man of La Mancha” that so resonated with him, particularly so since many of John’s friends had concluded that the ultimate madness was to have an encounter with two bulls at this particular time in his life:  “Madness?  Who knows where madness lies?  Too much sanity may be madness, and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it ought to be!

John’s other artistic talents (he always considered bullfighting an art) comprised paintings (taurine & equine themes and imagery from Spanish poets), etchings, bullfight “carteles” or posters, jewelry, sculpture, miniatures, books and illustrations on the taurine arts, acting, flamenco dancing, and his innate ability to mesmerize with his story-telling.  John and I met in Sevilla as a result of my falling in love with his artistic images (particularly those based upon the poetry of Garcia Lorca) and my having read his book “Bullfighting” in an attempt to understand a spectacle that was viscerally unacceptable to my Anglo-Saxon soul.

Not only did John’s book enlighten me, but our more than twenty years together enriched my life through the quixotic journey that continues today.  In the course of our adventure, we discovered that my grandparents and John’s mother were all born in the same little village in Rumania. We both grew up with tales of gypsies and memories of the same special foods and expressions.  Indeed, our DNA may have had a common link: two descendants of Trajan, the Roman “Sevillano,” coming together over two millennia later in his native Sevilla!

John’s terrestrial quest ended on February 20, 1998 but he remains a living presence in Sevilla.  I have all of his accouterments (capes, swords, even bull’s horns) and continue to give talks and demonstrations on the taurine arts to students and visitors.  I am often accompanied in these presentations by a professional matador, John’s “Sancho”, Curro Camacho.  I play the part of the bull, (always pardoned), while Curro demonstrates the passes, encouraged by the shouts of “Olé!” from the audience.  The following is an excerpt from a homage I composed for John on the tenth anniversary of his death:

“A decade has passed since your departure from this millenary city of Sevilla.

Another spring is dawning and the ancient goddesses await their moment to transcend the barriers of time and to confront the sacrifice which promises renewed life.    Your Sevilla continues to don its “suit of lights”:  the orange blossom preparing to release its perfume, the ruffles and adornments of flamenco finery, the equines and bovines ready for their moment to shine.  All of the art, grace and soul that are part of the DNA of every “Sevillano” are protagonists today, just as they were when they first took you hostage so long ago.  You would recognize the face of your Sevilla, John.  You would smile and would fall again into the lap of her eternal rhythms….

If you were to pay us a visit now John, you surely would walk proudly into the ring among a multitude of friends that have never forgotten you.  And you would again dedicate your triumph to this Sevilla that curses in your blood and that now retains you captive in the amber of her memory forever.”

* * *

Deeply woven into the fabric of what is in the avant garde metropolis of Sevilla, there persist tangible and transcendent ancient rhythms of what ought-to-be.  These spirits or “duendes” perform daily and exercise their siren call in serendipitous moments that take one prisoner evermore.

Convivencia is alive . . . in the Alcázar, a 10th Century Muslim fortress, constructed over a Roman Forum, restored by a Christian King with the help of an Arab ruler and a Jewish advisor, a palace in constant use for over 1,000 years.

Flamenco . . . pulsating with Oriental tones brought by Jews, Arabs and gypsies from India, the dance movements reflecting those performed by ancient Cretan fertility goddesses.

Youth and age…celebrating together in the street, in bars, in parks, along the riverbank . . . a little gypsy toddler moving to flamenco rhythms while her grandfather marks the beat and  her grandmother intones the passionate wail that seems to stem from a collective DNA.

The Spring celebrations . . . Holy Week, the April Fair, the life-death drama of the bulls, all with their universal symbolism of life’s renewal.  The senses are enlivened: wine tastes sweeter, music pulsates and friendships deepen.

. . . the way it ought to be!

Like Sevilla’s Guadalquivir River, a transcendent lifeline linking cultures across the millennia, the Quixotic Spirit, arising from its shores, lives today in “Judy’s Sevilla”.  The presence of the knight, his squire and his lady is palpable.  The “flechazo” (the “blow with Cupid’s arrow) finds its mark and comes to dwell in a new generation of Don Quixotes, Sancho Panzas and Dulcineas — “Living Legends” like the city itself.

* * *

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21 thoughts on “Judy’s Sevilla : A Quixotic Affair by Judy A. Cotter”

  1. Judith, from the time you arrive to Sevilla, we are richers in many aspect, your wisdom, all your studies, but the most we got from you are your tenderness, your hospitality with every body request you anything, your disponibility for all, and your always smile than it make brighter the light of Sevilla.

    Manuel, a sevillian had the luck to discover you from the begining you fall in love on Sevilla.

  2. This captures the beauty, the charm of the place and the people, and the heart of Sevilla…I want to book a flight there right now, but since I can’t do that, I will read this again and feel like I am there. I loved this piece and thank you, Judy, for sharing it with all of us.

  3. Judy, you manage to capture the wonder and beauty of Seville in a way few readers ever could. I look forward to reading your enlightening words more in the future. . . and it is my privilege to know you!

  4. Judy- What a beautiful, eloquent tribute to your wonderful city, to John and to the culture you have so lovingly embraced. While I think it would take way longer than the 2 weeks we were there, to truly absorb all of Sevillas charm and history, it was my favorite city, due in a large measure to you and your fund of knowledge. Much love and thanks, again.

  5. Hello Judy

    Remember me at the Flamenco evening with the beautiful Ann and her family? Just to say that I read your amazing love story with Sevilla. I also looked at John’s Society website. What an amazing life he had. Were you part of it when he met these interesting people? Is the art gallery still open? Is this a picture of you above? How glamourous! Anyway, thank you again for organising such a great evening.

    Love
    Evelyne

  6. Senora Cotter, or I guess with the passage of time, Judy, your love of Spanish culture continues to guide many of your students from the days you spent guiding us at Aragon. I cannot crunch into a tender morsel of calamari without thinking of my first bite in Spanish class, nor can I hear “Guantanamero” without singing the entire song.

    I have encountered a few friends over the years with whom you have kept in contact and have envied their connection with you. My new wife and I travel to Spain and France frequently and we have been meaning to look you up. Having found this profound recitation of your decades in Spain, we are recommitted to visit and partake, in your long love affair with Sevilla and Spain. May we contact you when we next visit Espana? Jim Foley, Aragon 1970, and sadly only three years of your classes. [email protected]

  7. Judy,
    I often the think of you Judy. I came to Sevilla in 1990, in your class and on the streets my love affair with Sevilla began. I remember once you told me, “do have an affair with a Sevillano but never marry one.”. And that I did, a glorious affair with Perico. It lasted for almost 5 years before the cultural differences made it too difficult and my heart broke. At the time he told me he loved me more than I could ever love him. I believe that was true. Now many many years later, I miss Sevilla everyday. And some day when my beautiful daughter is old enough I will take it Sevilla and repeat your words to her. And then I will enjoy Sevilla with the love of my life…my husband whom I would have never met if my Spanish lover did not love me more than I could ever love him.:) thank you Judy…and I was so sorry to hear about about the loss of your love more than a decade ago. He was truly amazing and I will forever love bullfighting because I shared my first one with John. What a wonderful gift both of you gave to thousands of students over the years!

  8. Judy,

    What a beautiful tribute to my favorite city and most of all to John. I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I met you years ago in CA. The three of us had dinner. I knew John and Robert during their early years in Spain. So many memories I will cherish always. So much fun recalling old times with John. I’m so glad you were in his life you seemed like true soul mates.
    On my last visit to Seville my daughter and I celebrated our birthdays at Robles’ Placentines. I hope on our next visit we can perhaps arrange to get togther.

  9. What a wonderful article, and a wonderful way to find you after so many years! Please send me your e-mail so that we can re-connect. Lynda Shimoff Valles Barron. (I have re-married a Chilango!)

  10. The magic of Seville through Judy’s eyes is something to be cherished. I spent a couple years in her Spanish classes in high school and even spent a Spring break with her in Madrid and Seville getting a first-hand taste of her passion for this land, its people and its history. We attended a bull fight in Seville with Matador John Fulton on that trip, and I still possess personally signed copies of his legendary 4 Lorcas which are the treasured centerpieces of a pretty decent art collection. This article, as amazing as it is, only scratches the surface of what Judy brings to others through her teaching. I am lucky to have had this experience! Judy, I’d love to connect again one of these days!!! Un abrazo…

  11. Judy:
    I had the privilege of spending a memorable evening (and on into the early morning hours) with you and John shortly before his untimely passing. The dinner at La Parra, the visit to his art studio, the conversation about Lorca…all are indelible in my mind and I am most grateful for that experience. I will always treasure my copy (#13) of the artist’s deluxe edition of James Michener’s “Miracle in Seville.” The book that you and Curro Camacho put together is an extraordinarily fine tribute to his memory!
    I hope you are well and still enthralled with Seville. On my next visit to “your” country (to visit with relatives that I still have in Barcelona, and/or with Robert Vavra at Canada Grande), I may try to contact you.
    Abrazos,
    Dick Boera
    Essex, Vermont

  12. OMG I have been wondering forever where you are!? We all adored you and I was just listening to some 80s music remembering Happy DOnuts runs in Spanish class! I have been very happily married for 8 years to Jerry. BOth of us are elementary school teachers (for the last 15). Many of us are on facebook from Aragon! CHeck us out!

  13. Hello,

    My name is David Falcon and I was a Spanish language student of Judy Cotter in the Mid 1970’s at Aragon High School. Judy, if this reply makes it to you, I just wanted to let you know you inspired me to sing – you would sing Spanish songs to us in class on your guitar and I have followed your example as best as I could. I hope to hear back from you – my family and I are going to be in Andalucia for a week (family reunion) from June 30, 2013 and I would be honoured if we all could meet you. Take care!
    Espero oír de usted

  14. Dear Judy,

    You may not remember us but in 1993 on the 8th May my wife and had lunch with you and John Fulton in Sevilla. We had first met John in May 1968 when we visited Sevilla with our two young daughters. It was our first trip abroad and John was very kind to us all having accommodated us at Villa Santa Cecilia and extending his unlimited friendship during our stay. We had, therefore some debts to repay during that latter visit. Today I celebrated my 70th birthday and have just had delivered a copy of your and Curro Camacho’s “Our Friend John Fulton Quixote”as a very special present. It was good to remember you and I am so proud to have known John.

    Best wishes,

    Mike and June Bithell

    1. I was your prize student of 1992 and was out with you and the late Mr. Fulton many times. I was usually too drunk to drive, but I didn’t have a car; but I always managed to hit on Regla 6-20 times a day. Is the Institute still on Calle Cuna?

      I was actually inspired by the late Matador, jungle weed, 8 friends a cheering, and Tequila to ride a bull in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Mr. Fulton would have been proud, or at least down near the ambulance when I was lifted over the gate. I was thrown from the bull, and running from it when the rodeo horse ran me over. I had a horse foot print on my head, and one on my ankles and as I stood up with my concussion to bow to the roaring crowd I kind of forgot about the bull. I took 4 or 5 bows anyway. They were screaming for me to get out of there. I did…. Yep, and fast….

      The ambulance was waiting as were the news cameras as I was covered by blood. An American doctor was in the stands and luckily there as well.

      The blood wasn’t mine. Apparently, it was from the horse. Some say it was the bull who got the horse. The legend is: That American had a damn hard head.

      The police drove me home and told me that I should go to a hospital. For that day I was a national hero; so I went bar hopping.

      The next day I dealt with my 7 broken ribs.

      Why run with the bulls, when you can get run over by the horse!

      I hope all is well.

  15. Hola Judy,
    I was one of your student back when i studied abroad in Sevilla (around 1998 or 1999). You were such an inspiration, i loved your class. I still remember you always! I will visit Sevilla in June 2015, since i left. I cant wait to kinda “relive” one of the best moment of my life was during my studied in Sevilla. I heart Sevilla! please let me know if you are still in Sevilla? abrazo, joon

  16. Señora Cotter!
    Like others who wrote to you here over the past few years, I too have long wondered of your whereabouts. It is so wonderful to know that you are still living in Sevilla.
    I was a student at Aragon and lucky enough to attend the Spring Break trip with you back in 1987. Two years later I spent my freshman semester abroad at the Spanish American Institute with my then boyfriend, now husband. Mike and I were incredibly influenced by our experience in Spain. We also fell in love with Sevilla.
    Mike is a Professor of Colonial Spain in the Anthropology Department at Stanford. Our three children are all fluent in Spanish and our youngest is currently attending a Spanish Immersion elementary school.
    Thank you for introducing me and my family to Spain, it’s wonderful culture, language and beauty!
    Julie Wilcox (Trangmar) Aragon class of 1988

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