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MUSHROOMS AND APPLES: PLAYING THE WAITING GAME IN SEVILLE

MUSHROOMS AND APPLES: PLAYING THE WAITING GAME IN SEVILLE

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IF YOU WANT proof that the people of Seville know how to wait, then you only need go to the Metropol Parasol in Encarnación Square. I know this because we have been waiting 15 minutes for two apples in the markets to be found beneath one of the most impressive pieces of sculptural engineering in Europe.

Why bother to wait so long? To not do so would be the act of an impatient tourist, socialised into the soulless efficiency of the supermarket; a brute who has simply failed to understand that the simple act of buying a couple of bits of fruit at the market is at the very heart of urban living. Clearly this was a sentiment shared by the locals contentedly standing around waiting for their oranges and apples and potatoes and plums.

Actually what’s interesting is that we’ve finally twigged that the people of Spain don’t queue while they’re waiting for their fruit and veg (and presumably anything else). Instead the queue is established by each newcomer enquiring of the others who is the last in line. Once that’s sorted — regardless of the fact that everyone isn’t standing in the sort of orderly line which the inhabitants of the British Isles find comforting — order and fairness prevail.

Not that this was a particularly long queue on this Spring morning in Southern Spain’s biggest city (there are six people waiting at most), but it takes so long because noone is allowed to touch the merchandise except for the proud fruiterers. And the fruiterers have displayed their wares in magnificent tiered rows in front of their counter and they have to loop back behind the counter to bag the bounty and ring each sale on their till.

It’s great street theatre. And it takes ages to unfold.

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They finally settled on a special glue strong enough to withstand the withering attention of the Spanish sun.

And that’s entirely appropriate because the extraordinary architectural confection to which these markets belong is itself a huge and theatrical sunshade and it too took an age to build. Much longer than you’d imagine would be deemed acceptable in many other places in the world.

But if it takes 15 minutes to buy a couple of apples …

That’s not to say this in any way instructive of the languid nature of the Spanish national character because the architect of the Metropol Parasol — or what is know locally as Las Setas de la Encarnación (Encarnación’s mushrooms)  — was a German firm and it took 4 years longer than expected to build.

Looking at it, that’s hardly surprising.

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And that’s because Las Setas looks like its been built the same way as one of those timber Tyrannosaurus Rex’s that you slot together. Only this is a different organism altogether — possibly a gargantuan amoeba — hovering majestically over this unprepossessing square in a quiet corner of Seville.

Why it actually took so long to slot the thing together meanwhile is apparently down to the fact that it took them years to settle how they were going to actually stop it coming apart. They finally agreed upon a special glue strong enough to withstand the withering attention of the Spanish sun.

Work began on the structure in 2005 and it was originally due to be finished in 2007. It was eventually finished in 2011 at a reported cost of 90 million Euros (it was originally projected to cost around 50 million Euros).

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Designed by the Berlin-based firm J. Mayer H. Architects, the Metropol Parasol is around 28.5 metres high, takes up a building area of 5,000 square metres and was built from concrete timber and steel. The square had featured a market in the 19th and 20th centuries but it had been earmarked for redevelopment for years. In the 1990s work was begun on an underground car park and old Roman and Andalusian ruins were discovered. The Metropol Parasol development includes a large museum exposing and displaying artifacts and the remnants of these ancient stuctures, together with restaurants, bars and a farmer’s market.

A highlight of the visit is to take a lift up on the structure itself, where you can explore its remarkables curves via a series of gantries, look out across the rooftops of Seville in a panoramic 360 degrees (and hope that the glue holds out while you’re up there).

It’s not something you’d want to do under the heat of the Summer sun — the obvious effectiveness of the glue notwithstanding — but because you’d fry. At any other time of year, it’s a trip worth more than the couple of Euros it costs for admission.

Besides that it’s also a good spot to buy a few supplies at the market down below — just as long as you’ve got the time to spare and enough Spanish to negotiate the complex etiquette of queueing for a couple of Braeburns.

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GUY ALLENBY

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Guy is a past design editor of Belle Magazine and was a feature writer and section editor at the Sydney Morning Herald for a number of years. His work has also been published in The Australian newspaper plus a host of magazines internationally. He is the author of a couple of architecture books and a best-selling biography of mind-body medical pioneer Ian Gawler entitled "The Dragon's Blessing". He is the editor of the generalist.

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