Tuesday 16 July 2013
Early the next morning, Ruby caught a taxi to the train station where she would pick up a bus to the airport and thence a flight to Valencia, en route to Benicassim for a music festival. It was not so hard to say goodbye this time because we would be meeting up with her again at home only ten days hence. Ruby herself was preoccupied because she was unsure how she would be able to locate her friends among the tens of thousands of young people who were at that moment converging on the East coast of Spain, hell-bent on destroying their eardrums and their livers.
Susie and I hung around the apartment that morning and then enjoyed a lunch of tomato, tuna, salad greens, “buffalo mozzarella” (a.k.a. bocconcini cheese), onion, red capsicum and a light, home-made salad dressing. After lunch we headed again towards the tower at the end of our street to check out the camera obscura.
At the base of the tower we encountered the man who operated the camera. We paid him a modest fee for our visit, and we ascended with him in a lift to the top of the tower. He explained to us in kindergarten Spanish that the tower was once part of an ammunition factory: molten lead was dropped down the inside of the tower to make shot for small arms. The factory was long gone, but the tower remained, and it now provided a home for a remarkable piece of equipment and a remarkable operator.
While he set up the equipment and tended to another couple who were visiting at the same time, we walked around a diminutive balcony that ran around the outside of the tower. The views were spectacular, but the drop was vertiginous.
The camera obscura was operated by means of an overhead periscope which could be turned in any direction to capture views of Seville. The images were transmitted via mirrors onto a shallow, concave disc about 6’ in diameter at waist height. The operator pointed the periscope at different parts of the city and focussed the image on the white disc by lowering or raising it using mechanical means that were hidden to us in the dark room. The lens could focus on a building seven kilometres away and cast a positive image of it in colour onto the disc in front of us in sharp detail, albeit with a slightly distorted perspective.
The visual images were only part of the show, however. The operator’s performance had been polished like a pearl. He spoke at a pace that we could understand. We missed about 20% of the content due to our limited comprehension, but he tailored his discourse to his audience, who were native speakers of English and Italian, and he provided a “meta-commentary” about how his knowledge of European languages allowed him to accomplish this. This charming chimera—part linguist, part historian, part tour guide—was every bit as fascinating and entertaining as the views, and Susan and I bathed in the glorious feeling of being immersed in Spanish without the drowning feeling. It was wonderful flattery to make us feel like we could swim. We didn’t want it to end.
But it did. It ended in a fruit shop down the road where we struggled to buy some big, gorgeous cherries. We then had a siesta, and afterwards went out shopping to make Susie happy. It was our last night in Seville, and we were determined to give the place a great big kiss goodbye.