It was her smile that invited me to choose the table that I did, a shaded spot in the café at Seville’s Alcázar. She had one of those eye sparkling smiles that light up the whole face, giving her a blissful buoyancy as she sat. So, I took a chair nearby, happy for the rest and an espresso.
The lady, I observed, was an Australian, perhaps in her early sixties, with wavy strawberry-blonde hair. She wore a certain freshness, with her blue and white striped cotton t-shirt and a halo of calm.
As she waited for her husband to come back with their drinks she struck up conversation with a pale young German who was sharing her table. Kitted out in khaki shorts that gave way to some very solid calves, he appeared a weary tourist as he, too, waited for his partner to return with fuel for their afternoon.
The queue inside was a hefty one, and a good ten minutes passed with these two very different individuals sharing their experiences of Andalucia. I began to get a feeling for the kind of travellers they were, one very optimistic in her storytelling, the other a little burdened with the unexpected nature of a very foreign culture.
The husband of the Australian lady was the first to return. She didn’t look away from her new German friend as he finished a story about his travels, however she clearly sensed her loved one’s presence and reached a hand out to touch his arm as he took his seat. When the tale reached its end, she nodded in acknowledgment before turning to give her husband a tender and silent thank you for their coffees. His compassionate eye contact suggested he appreciated her thanks and was glad to be back by her side. Then he, too, beamed at their table buddy.
Soon the German’s wife arrived to join the affectionate scene.
“Oh, the queue, it was longer than the Great Wall of China, and ‘she’ tried to charge me for two pieces of black forest gateau when I only wanted one. And do you know how much a ham sandwich would have set us back? Five euros, yes, five! Daylight robbery, I tell you. But here you go, cake. Cake and a coke. I’ve only bought myself a water although I’ve certainly earned myself a good portion of that cake. But, let’s be honest, it won’t be as good as the black forest gateau we make at home.”
Her partner looked at her blankly while his new Antipodean friends acknowledged the German lady with warmth and a chuckle.
I pondered a little as I finished my coffee. Does their behaviour reflect a different level of intensity in their relationship, or simply a cultural contrast? I’m sure social anthropologists will have explored this for centuries and would likely surmise a mix of the two, alongside age, environment and the type of discriminating eavesdropper hovering close by.
Whatever their conclusions, though, my snooping has certainly taught me one very sure thing – never order a black forest gateau in Seville.