Antonio shows a portrait of his wife, Eloisa, from the time they met. PHOTOS: KYLE TIZIO
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WHAT IS PLAINLY VISIBLE IN OUR LIVES—BE IT THE OTHER CUSTOMERS AT A SUPERMARKET OR A CAFÉ, MASSIVE ADVERTISEMENTS DEMONSTRATING THE LIFE-CHANGING CAPABILITIES OF A NEW UTILITY, OR COMPANIONS WITH WHOM WE INTERACT ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS—WILL ULTIMATELY CEASE TO ENRICH; RATHER, IT IS IN THE MOST UNEXPECTED PLACES, SUCH AS A BAR MANOLO, SITUATED IN A QUIET CORNER OF PLAZA DE LA ALFALFA IN SEVILLE, WHERE YOU CAN MAKE THE GREATEST DISCOVERIES. THIS IS WHERE YOU MEET ANTONIO JOSÉ MORILLO ALCALÁ, A REGULAR THERE AND A FRIEND NOW, TOO.
YOU MEET ANTONIO on a sunny yet chilly Tuesday afternoon in November purely by chance. Having attempted to profile a homeless man, multiple chestnut vendors and a small shop owner, the streets of Seville have proven to be of little help in finding a character on whom to write; and so you walk under the blue and green banded awnings of Bar Manolo, lean on the aluminum bar for a drink and a break from your efforts and begin to express your frustrations. Hearing the disappointment in your voice as he serves your daily café con leche, Juan beckons you toward a man on the other side of the bar. The man is a generous 5’6’’ and wears a pair of blue jeans along with a red- and yellow-striped button-down shirt, accompanied by a beige cardigan and a polished pair of brown shoes complete with tassel-knots. Three pens—black, blue and red—line his breast-pocket, and as he loosens his belt to more comfortably fit the girth of his stomach, having just eaten, you make eye contact—he through a pair of thinly-wired prescription lenses and you through the vision of an eager student—and like this, you become acquainted. This is your lucky day, for the peculiar, original and jovial Antonio José Morillo Alcalá has a fascinating story to tell. Walking to your side of the bar to shake your hand, he proves that he is a book so willing to be read—an encyclopedia, a novel of action and romance and an anthology all wrapped into one—and you are the lucky reader who has decided to open right to the first chapter.
HE HAS ILLUSTRIOUS ANCESTRY. His grandfather was Antonio Alcalá Venceslada, two-time winner of the Conde Cartagena award from the Royal Spanish Academy of Language for his book El Vocabulario Andaluz (1933), and a man who would later represent Andalusia as a member of this national institution.
ANTONIO JOSÉ’S YOUNGER LIFE was marked from his birth in 1944 in Jaén, situated in the hills of the Santa Catalina Mountains of south-central Spain, by competition amongst eight other siblings and aspirations to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, with whom he had only nine years to spend. Mesmerized by the stories and poems of a man who, today, has both a street and college in the town of Andújar (located in the province of Jaén) bearing his name, Antonio desired early on to pursue studies in language and philosophy.
AFTER MOVING TO SEVILLE at age 16 to reside in the neighborhood of Nervión, he attended the Jesuit school Portaceli, which is located a stone’s throw away from Estadio Ramón Sánchez- Pizjuán, home of soccer team F.C. Seville to which he’d devote his loyal fandom for the rest of his life. After completing high school he continued on to the University of Seville, where he would progress in his already-proficient abilities in French as well as study both philosophy and modern languages. Falling in love and choosing work over school, he discontinued his studies and his dreams of writing, marrying Eloisa Rodriquez Rosario in 1972, at 28 years old, and beginning life in the working world in order to support two daughters, Eloisa and María, as well as a son, Antonio José.
HOWEVER, the magic of Antonio’s story is ascertained not through his telling of experiences in various jobs—working at the Santander Bank in Huelva or at the factory of Zanussi as the Head of Commercial Administration in Seville, managing the inventories of refrigerators, air conditioning units, washing machines, and more—nor does it come from his various travels throughout the world, ranging from the oceans of Portugal to the sands of Egypt and the mountains of Turkey. Rather, “the knowledge that he has,” says Diego, another waiter at Bar Manolo, “and to know what he knows…. It is only present in someone who has suffered and learned.”
FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF HIS WIFE IN1991, Antonio began viewing life a bit differently. As he holds the sepia-toned portrait of a dark-haired, smooth- and olive-skinned, attractive woman, you cannot help but feel the air of nostalgia that subtly permeates even Antonio’s most radiant of smiles as he says, “It was January 2 of ’91. She was only 43 years old.”
AND ANTONIO FURROWS HIS BROW, searching for the memories of dates and events, piecing together a story that he insists be his own and not the result of the well-intentioned interjections from Juan across the counter.
RETURNING TO THE WRITINGS of A.J. Cronin and G.K. Chesterton, which he’d read years before, after his wife’s death Antonio began to approach others with a more open mind. Books like The Keys of the Kingdom began to leave a bigger imprint on his attitudes and views of the world. He began to understand stories like these as “metaphors for life,” and thus was able to determine his favorites: the books that he’d go back to, time and time again, as a way to further understand that no longer was money the issue, nor replacing the love taken from him too soon. “It is simple,” he says. “You must realize that there are other ways of looking at the world. With an open mind, you will find that others see things differently than you. Things are not the same all over—customs, traditions and cultures—and you must accept that. Every person forms a part of something bigger. This is the way of the world.”
IN STRUGGLING TO FILL THE VOID in his life left by his wife’s passing, Antonio found great peace and comfort in the words of G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. As Gabriel Syme, the book’s protagonist, is about to partake in a duel that may be his last, he experiences a feeling that Antonio says is what he needed to overcome the loss of his wife: “He felt a strange and vivid value in all the earth around him, in the grass under his feet; he felt the love of life in all living things.” This, along with the comfort of his family, was something that he has carried throughout his years and still values today in his perspective on life: treasure the little things.
THE LOOP THAT ANTONIO MAKES every afternoon, going from café to café, is well-known by those in the neighborhood—from his first-floor apartment in Plaza de la Alfalfa to Bar Kiko, where he eats his daily lagrimitas de pollo, to Donaire and Alamine and finally to Bar Manolo, chatting with the waiters at each who know him by name and drinking Cruzcampo beer throughout.. His smile, lacking a few teeth but nothing in amicability, brings golden rays of sunshine wherever he goes; not a day passes when he is not willing to chat and tell jokes from La cocina de Karlos Arguiñano, which he watches on his home television and writes down to tell Diego “because he’s the only one who laughs.” Antonio’s radiant eyes and his signature response of “Very well!” when you ask him how he’s doing, even as he sometimes struggles to place a face with a name, are never short of an invitation to talk and learn. He is more than happy to describe the two notebooks that he has, left behind by his wife and filled front-to-back with recipes of different sauces, though he knows how to cook not one of them. Furthermore, he will lend you, no questions asked, his USB flash drive containing 157 typed pages of these recipes and insist that you take your time reading through them, and when you return in a few days to give him back this valuable bundle of electronic keepsakes, he will ask “Have you learned?” before he launches into his own excitement over the variety of sauces and their respective uses with different Andalusian foods.
ANTONIO’S ADVICE is, as he will tell you, just like everything else in his life—very simple. “Search for the good, the happy; for there is plenty. The bad will come regardless.”