Letters to Strabo — Columbus in Seville

The Archivo General de Indias, “General Archive of the Indies”), housed in the ancient merchants’ exchange of Seville, the Casa Lonja de Mercaderes, is the repository of extremely valuable archival documents illustrating the history of the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. It forms the backdrop for the next stage in Finn’s journey round the Mediterranean after Lisbon:

“I was anyway determined to visit the famous Archivo de Indias while I had the chance, a treasury of maps and relics that was fabled to contain drawer after drawer of documents from Seville’s great period of exploration. I’d read that Columbus’s plan to cross the Ocean westward to India had been supported by several notions in Strabo; the passage that reputedly influenced him the most was a quotation from Eratosthenes.”


“It was mid-afternoon by the time the train finally pitched into Seville. Exhausted, we took a pony-trap to a small hotel in the Calle Rodrigo Caro, nestled in a courtyard near the cathedral. On one side our room overlooked a patio shaded by orange trees, on the other a balcony opened on to the street.

That evening, we ambled through endless alleys and squares till we reached a stone villa right on the outskirts of the city center. It was surrounded by a high brick wall within a small clearing in a grove of olive trees. There was a large, gaudily painted wooden gate at the front. She unlatched the gate as if she knew the place and we passed through.

Inside was a charming patio, fringed tidily with palms and bright geraniums. There were a number of docile-looking dogs lying chained and disinterested along one wall. I could hear the sound of running water from a fountain nearby and the clear and perfectly enunciated plucking of a guitar within the house. Françoise called out and the music stopped. A man in an open white shirt walked out of the shadows to greet us, holding the guitar. I recognized him at once.


‘Such a delight to meet you, Mr Finn,’ he said, kissing me on one cheek and then the other. ‘Of course I normally detest Americans, but for the delicious Françoise, of course, I will make an exception, just for this one evening.’

‘It’s just Finn,’ I replied testily. No ‘mister’ and we’ve met before, remember? I thought to myself. ‘My surname’s Black,’ I added, trying to ignore his rather strange idea of a welcome. 

‘Ah Black, that I can see already, mi amigo negro,’ he replied. ‘Does your girlfriend avoid pleasure, too?’

‘Raul, sois sage,’ she barked. ‘It’s well-known that most anti-Americanism has its roots in l’impuissance sexuelle.’

‘El beso de la mujer araña (the kiss of the spider woman),’ he laughed. But she seemed to have won that round. And it kinda set the tone of the conversation for the rest of the evening!”

Letters to Strabo

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