I’m not saying the experience left me scarred for life, but my first visit to Seville’s Casa de la Ciencia (House of Science) was sufficiently unnerving to make me bolt out the exit, shuddering and vowing never to return. This was in 2012, when I’d just started this blog, and I went directly home and composed a post titled “The Little Science Museum of Horrors.”
“The main hall is filled with exhibits that look like they belong in the laboratory of a mad scientist,” I wrote. “Yes, those are stuffed armadillos, and the jars hold baby armadillos, a clutch of bats and a chipmunk, suspended in some viscous liquid. Egad! Moving on...”
The setting — the gorgeous Peruvian pavilion built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 — provided an incongruous backdrop for a collection that just kept getting more and more grisly. Birds on a slab with toe tags, like corpses in an avian morgue. A buzzard with its beak scotch-taped shut. “Torture?” I mused. “Gang initiation gone wrong? A warning to others not to talk?” A rare Iberian lynx lay with its eyes sewn shut, surrounded by skulls. The whole creepy atmosphere soon sent me fleeing, with Rich hard on my heels.
I spent the next decade trying not to think about Casa de la Ciencia, but then last year I learned the museum had been completely revamped. Like kids daring each other to visit an old house rumored to be haunted, Rich and I egged each other on. We should go. It was a museum for kids. How bad could it be? Last Thursday we finally ventured inside.
The House of Science 2.0 turned out to be far less horrifying than the original (admittedly a low bar) but curiously challenging to navigate. Giant plywood models of crystals, life-size reproductions of whales and their skeletons, enormous photos of poisonous insects, and a fake cave at the head of the basement stairs all jostled for attention. Much of the floor space was devoted to huge posters with simple graphics and lots of academic verbiage. Science was never my best subject, and this was like walking around inside the pages of my high school science textbook, if all the topics were jammed at random into a single, mind-numbing chapter.
“Let’s start upstairs, with the Antarctic exhibit,” I suggested. It was a subject that Rich has been (let’s call it by its true name) totally obsessed with ever since he read about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated yet inspirational effort to cross Antartica in 1912-1915. Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, was crushed by ice floes, and the story of how he kept his men alive, rowed a tiny boat across the stormiest sea on the planet, and mounted a rescue operation reads like an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
The museum’s Antarctic exhibit, on the other hand, managed to suppress any hint of drama. It gave the impression of being written by career scientists who had secured government funding, traveled south, collected a bunch of specimens, turned in reports, and headed off to the corner bar for a round of well-earned cervezas. There were tiny models of the base camp, an emergency suit for survival in the coldest place on earth (-144 Fahrenheit on a brisk day), two penguins, and a handful of bones and shells. Even Rich couldn’t find reason to linger.
After touring the other exhibits, Rich and I descended into the basement to view the mineral collection. There were allegedly 200 specimens, but I can’t confirm this because somewhere around rock #35, my eyes completely glazed over.
As we stumbled back upstairs I said, “Take me to lunch or lose me forever.”
Knowing we were likely to need some serious recombobulation after any visit to Casa de la Ciencia, we’d already planned to visit one of Seville’s most delightful eateries, Casa Ozama. Where the House of Science was intended to stimulate the mind, Ozama was a feast for the senses, and I, for one, was ready to indulge. Luckily for us, getting there required nothing more strenuous than a 14-minute walk across gorgeous Maria Luisa Park.
Maria Luisa was the princess who gave the vast pleasure gardens of the Palace of San Telmo to the city for a public park in 1893. (Thanks for that, Your Highness!). The park’s centerpiece is the Plaza de España, a romantic curved building designed as headquarters for the 1929 Expo and used as a film location for such movies as Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars. During the time I’ve lived here, the plaza’s delightful little moat has been fully restored, so you can row around it if you’re feeling energetic. I prefer to stroll past it to the far side of the park, where Casa Ozama awaits in a magnificent 1912 mansion.
There was a huge amount of buzz when Casa Ozama opened in 2021, during the waning days of the pandemic when nobody was 100% sure we should be dining out at all. The attitude seemed to be that if we were going to risk our lives in a restaurant, it might as well be here, in this gloriously over-the-top homage to the pleasures of life.
Tenderly escorted to a table on the second floor beneath an enormous smokey mirror, Rich and I settled in, opened our menus, and began discussing our options. At the back of the menu they’d printed the restaurant’s motto: “What happens in Ozama stays in Ozama,” apparently to offer additional encouragement to excess. As if any more were needed.
After some serious discussion we agreed to begin with the cogollo a la brasa, grilled lettuce heart topped with a sauce of avocado, chicken, and parmesan cheese. After that the sea bass from Conil de la Frontera topped with salsa sanluqueña featuring the manzanilla (fortified wine) for which the port of Sanlúcar is famous. For a side dish, we were curious to try the boniato al carbon, charred sweet potato. To accompany the meal we’d have a simple white verdejo wine. But before any of that appeared, we were presented with a complementary dish of pâté de foie gras to alert our taste buds and tummies that something wonderful was about to happen.
It was easily the best meal I’d had in recent memory.
“Why don’t we eat here more often?” I asked Rich in a haze of post-prandial bonhomie.
You’ll have gathered Ozama is not dirt cheap by Seville standards — although if we were in New York or San Francisco, we’d have easily spent the same amount just going out to breakfast in a diner. (See the menu here.) The cost bracket encourages us to view the restaurant as a place for special occasions; until now, we’d always been there for birthday celebrations and business dinners. Today, it had provided a safe haven in which to recover our equilibrium after the return visit to the House of Science. And that, for me, was absolutely priceless.
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