A dry, sapping breeze that blows in from Africa and engulfs the city in shimmering heat.
It’s a heat like no other, they say. It has a personality all of its own, this breeze.
Beware the levant…..
I’ve been waiting for it to blow in ever since I arrived in mid-May.
Waiting for this terrible apparition to manifest itself.
At the weekend it came.
Until now the heat has been bearable by Sevilian standards. While temperatures have nudged 38 degrees, there’s always been a breeze somewhere which has whipped up the air and kept it circulating, kept things pleasant.
It has always been possible to breathe.
But the levant. The levant is indeed a merciless creature.
It is a suffocating breeze. A rare, stiffling thing. A contradiction even.
A wind that seems to suck out the air rather than blow it towards you.
So that to walk the streets now is to walk in an ilussion. Is to swim in a shimmering, underwater dream.
The air moves around you, rippling and white, reverberating under the strain as it transforms and takes on a more solid form, moving from gas to liquid.
I breathe in, and as the air hits my lungs I feel it solidify. My arm is prickling, and when I look at it, I see small white lines.
Encrusted salt. The salt of my sweat, baked there on my skin.
Air to gas to solid. Right there on my arm.
I pause under a tree thinking the shade will help, but it makes little difference.
A bird on the pavement is gaping in front of me, its throat fluttering and throbbing as it tries to cool itself.
I wonder if it will make it to the end of the day. It seems so small and helpless in the heat. So easily cooked.
On a clock in the street the temperature pops up.
I stare at it and gape like the bird.
So hot it’s meaningless. 43, 48, 52…..who cares?
I need an escape.
When the Levant blows, people here head to the coast, because escape is the only option.
They lie on the beaches and think of the folks left behind in Seville and Cordoba.
Those unfortunate souls who are unable to flee, and who must survive the heat any way they can.
The beach seems like an impossible place to me as I stand there in the street.
Some imagined Shangrila created by my brain as an illusion, a sweet mirage that fools me and offers me solace before I collapse and shrivel.
No, the beach isn’t real. It isn’t an option.I have work to do, and can’t afford the luxury of a long
sojourn to more temperate climes. I have to stay here and find a way to survive.
But the good fathers of Seville were generous men. They understood the value of public places.
In the haze my brain kicks into survival mode and I realise that the Museum of Belle Artes is very close by.
And what’s more, it’s FREE!
The tourist guides of course, will dazzle you with the facts regarding the wondrous treasures that this museum holds, so I won’t delve into that here, save to say that the works it holds truly are amazing.
It’s religious art of course, so saints and sinners, gods and monsters, pietas and madonnas prevail.
In one room an intricate carving of the decapitated head of St John The Baptist greets the unsuspecting visitor, the windpipe jutting out in a red gash of horror. I heard the young American that followed me into the room, gasp at the sight of it, though whether it was in horror or amazement I cannot say. Needless to say, it was one of the exhibits that drew my attention.
But the most beautiful aspect of the museum is the architecture. The building itself is enchanting.
For one thing, its thick impenetrable walls offer cool solace from the heat. A place where you can sit and recuperate.
Where you can regain your strength.
Little courtyards lie inside, shaded by fruit trees and vines, their fountains trickling gently and quietly.
It’s possible to sit there in a shady alcove and listen to the water, to lay your back against the cool stone of the cloister walls and simply breathe.
What I suggest, to the overheated visitor, is that you perhaps do this first.
Sit for a while in a courtyard and doze a little in the coolness. Dream a little perhaps. Imagine you are in some palace of old. Some idyl designed for a sultan to come and rest his weary head. A languid, exotic place that nurtures the soul.
Rest up, cool down, empty your mind.
Then, when you’re ready, go examine that head of John The Baptist.
It really is very, very good.