There are rare, sublime moments when city planners bring together the perfect combination of vaulting ambition, wasteful spending and designed-by-committee bad taste to produce an architectural landmark so stunningly wrong that it will give everybody something to gossip about for generations. In Seville, ours can be found in the Plaza de la Encarnación.
Photo of Seville's Metropol Parasol Building, popularly known as the Setas, by Rainerkruckenberg via Wikimedia Commons
Picture six randomly spaced towers a hundred feet high and topped with amoeba-shaped, open-weave waffles that provide little protection from sun or rain. The impression is enough like gigantic, interlocking toadstools that they inevitably became known as the Setas (mushrooms). The styling is pure 1960s, so much like the overblown set of some pseudo-hip sex comedy from that era that I keep expecting to see Peter Sellers and David Niven grooving under the magic mushrooms in Nehru jackets.
But as soon as the Setas opened in 2011, even their most outspoken detractors flocked to them. The structure is a perfect rendezvous point, being centrally located and impossible to miss. And it does have some cool features, such as the subterranean Antiquarium — or ANTIQVARIVM, as the sign puts it, to emphasize the fact that there are ROMAN RVINS down there. A skywalk provides sweeping vistas of the city’s rooftops, church towers and the private lives of residents who have neglected to close their curtains. At ground level there are several bars, a farmer’s market and a scattering of shops, including one called Mr. Shoe.
When Mr. Shoe first opened, Rich and I used to stand at the window display and mock their goofy footwear, the kind with rounded, Frankenstein-thick soles that claim to be great for your knees, posture, circulation – and probably your IQ as well, if I ever read all the way down to the fine print. The flagship brand is MBT, which stands for Masai Barefoot Technology, although anything less like naked feet would be hard to imagine. “But then again,” I said to Rich, “you wouldn’t have to worry about…you know…”
Rich has had a singularly unfortunate history with certain shoes. There was the time in the Amazon jungle, when he left his mud-caked hiking boots outside our tiny tent. During the night, a passing local spotted them and decided to upgrade, taking the boots and leaving Rich a pair of ancient sneakers with threadbare canvas tops and no soles whatsoever. Just a year and a half ago, on the way to a restaurant where we were hosting a party, Rich began complaining that his newish and not inexpensive dress shoes felt funny. Since I was hobbling along in high heels, I have to confess he got little sympathy from me. As the night wore on, the soles of his shoes began to crack and crumble, scattering black scraps around the dance floor. By the time we were walking home at four in the morning, the last shreds of the soles had disintegrated, the insoles had dropped out onto the pavement, and Rich was rambling through the streets of Seville in his socks.
“That would never happen with Mr. Shoe’s shoes,” I pointed out. We decided – just for the hell of it – to go in and try some on. Stepping across the threshold, my feet suddenly felt soft and springy and supple. What wizardry was this? Glancing down I saw that I was standing on a mat that proclaimed, “This is what Joya shoes feel like!” And just like that, I was hooked. We tried on various brands, but the extra bounce in the Joyas made me feel as if I could walk from Seville to Bulgaria and back again, then go out dancing afterwards. When we discovered them online for less than half Mr. Shoe’s price (sale models start at $99 as compared to the store’s 169€/$225), we knew they were meant to be ours.
Thanks to his new footwear, no one will ever call Rich soleless again.
For more of Rich’s shoe adventures, see my very first post on this blog, How to Lose a Bet in 10 Seconds.
This post was written in response to questions I've been asked about packing for long and varied trips. Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained any free or discounted gear or supplies in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know what products Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel. Watch for future posts about the garments, gear, gadgets and supplies that find their way into our suitcases and on our feet.
Coming soon: my book Dancing in the Fountain: How to Enjoy Living Abroad. The title comes from the story about a blazing hot night when my husband and I were sitting on the edge of a big stone fountain. We began dabbling our feet in the cool water, and the next thing I knew, we were wading then dancing in the fountain. An old man passing by growled, “Hey you two, is that any way to behave? You wouldn’t do that back where you come from.” And that’s my whole point. Living overseas, I feel free to try things I’d never do back home.
Naturally, my first thought was to shoot the cover photo at the actual fountain. But here's how it looks, with the addition of shoes (chosen by my Facebook and blog friends) to suggest the dancing part:
Not very colorful or romantic, even if we use PhotoShop to get rid of the cars. (It was much prettier in the moonlight on the night in question.) And it could be anywhere: Seville, Rome, Cleveland.
Then I found this gorgeous tile fountain, put colorful shoes on it, and took dozens of pix like this:
Love all the color, and it really says Spain, but it also sort of suggests a shoe ad. I keep expecting to see $89.95 printed above the sandals. Then Rich casually grabs the camera, steps up on a chair, and tries one shot.
And that was by far the best photo of the entire day. It almost gives the sensation you could step into the fountain and start dancing right now.
So here are four cover options we're considering, with cropped versions of Rich's photo.
1: White lettering
2. Black lettering
3. Yellow box
4. Red bar
SO THERE YOU HAVE IT!
Which of these covers do YOU think we should go with? Send me your comments!
So Rich says to the horse, "I bet you five dollars I can tell you where you got your shoes..."
This horse doesn't like losing the five dollars. Here, he appears to be eating Rich. .
So Rich and I are walking along a deserted street in New Orleans, and this tall, good-looking young man comes up to us and remarks, in a charming Southern drawl, that he hopes we are enjoying his fair city. A bit warily (we’ve read a lot of stories about untoward events that start this way) we agree that yes, we love New Orleans. The young man gets a twinkle in his eye.
He says to Rich, “I bet you five dollars I can tell you where you got your shoes.”
Obviously, this is a bet we can’t lose. Obviously, there is a catch.
“OK,” says Rich. “It’s a bet.”
The young man grins. “You got your shoes on your feet.”
Rich is laughing so hard he can barely extract the five from his wallet and hand it over. It’s the best bet we ever lost.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
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