The Heart of the Traveler

Carlos González y Reyero with a customer at El Viajero Sedentario / IVANNA QUICENO

Carlos González y Reyero is the heart of the cafe, El Viajero Sedentario, which is located in the popular Alameda de Hércules in Seville, a homey place where everyone can relax and enjoy themselves.

It is Sunday afternoon, and the light is now leaving the sky. Walking in the Alameda de Hércules, to your left, you see a café with a small outdoor patio filled with brightly colored tables. Once inside, you meet Carlos, who, to- day, is wearing a yellow sweater, a color that fits his cheery disposition. He is the manager of this place where he works every day, except for Mondays because they are closed. (However, if they were open, he would be there). While he is carefully cleaning some cups, he greets Ana, who has just come in. “Hello! How are you? It’s been a while since you’ve been here.” Carlos goes on his tip toes behind the bar to speak with her. After a couple of minutes of chatting, she tries to order, but before she can, Carlos smiles and waves his hand, “I know, I know.” Ana raises her eyebrows, questioning if Carlos really does know her order. “Chamomile tea with lots and lots of sugar, right?” Ana laughs, “You know ev- erything, Carlos.”

In the middle of a long line of bars and restau- rants, El Viajero Sedentario is a small and eclectic oasis, both because of its aesthetic and its custom- ers. Inside, the smell of coffee invites you to have a cup, and different languages mix together with the music, which is always chosen in good taste; but, the most interesting thing is that the walls are lined with books. There are 516 books that clients can choose from, which draws upon El Viajero’s roots of being a specialized library that focused on travels: La Extra-Vagante. People of all ages, nationalities, and professions can come together here to spend time with friends, study, and even play board games.

From the many stories that pass through this café, the one of Carlos, the manager and link between El Viajero and its clients, is one of the more interesting. Carlos, always smiling and joking around, is twenty-seven years old, but his ethereal spirit makes him seem much younger. He is agile, always moving and serving someone a beer, waiting tables, dancing with a coworker, or doing inventory. The only time he does not smile is when he is concentrating on making the per- fect foam heart to decorate a cup of coffee. His eyebrows scrunch together, and his hands slightly shake, with great care so that it comes out great.

Sometimes, he can seem reserved and com- pletely immersed in his work while he is behind the bar preparing a cup of tea. However, in the blink of an eye, he is outside on the patio talking with friends, sitting with his legs crossed while he balances a cigarette in between his thin fingers. He knows every nook and cranny of this coffee shop as if it were a part of him, and he knows ev- eryone that walks through his doors.

Carlos was born in Naples, Italy, and has Spanish roots on his father’s side, which is a testi- mony to the time period when Spain dominated that area. At sixteen, he decided that he did not want to continue his studies of science. Being a doctor or researcher was just not for him. In order to keep living with his mother, however, he needed to start working. His first job was in a bakery because it was close to his home and, more than anything, because it was the only place that offered him a position. But, it was here is this seemingly random and unimportant first job that he discovered his love of gastronomy. After that, he went to work as a waiter in luxury hotels until, one day, when he was twenty-two years old, he went to visit his sister in Marseilles, France. Carlos’ family is very close, and it had been a while since he had seen his sister because of how demanding his job was. He was only going to visit for a week, however, “a week turned into a month, and I just decided to stay there,” Car- los recalls, with a nostalgic smile. He stayed in Marseilles for four years, working and perfecting his craft. He learned French, how to be a maître d’hôtel, and everything he could about wine and how to pair it with food. His free spirit turned a quick visit into a prolonged stay, and it is what inspired his move to Seville.

This bohemian lifestyle does not make it easy to find a girlfriend. “It is hard to find someone who likes to travel and especially hard to find someone who is willing and ready to leave at any given moment to move to a different country or city. Since I am single, I can do it because I only have to think about myself. However, when I have a girlfriend, I have to think about her too.” After he finishes explaining this, he shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “oh well.”

One day in June this past year, Carlos re- ceived a call from his brother-in-law, the owner of El Viajero Sedentario, asking Carlos if he could come and help with the store. “I told him, yes, of course. The truth is, I did not think it all the way through, but for now, I am very happy,” he says, as a laugh escapes from his lips, a mischievous look in his eyes. For Carlos, it is important to always evolve and try new things, and because of that, two weeks after that call he hopped on a plane to begin his new life in an unfamiliar city. Since doing so, he has had a steep learning curve. Car- los looks into the distance, deeply inhales from his cigarette, and explains, “I don’t know much” – he exhales slowly while he turns to face me and crosses his legs – “but I am always studying, and when something interests me, I really research it so that I can know everything about it.” In this moment, his main focus is coffee and learning Spanish, since when he came to Spain, he knew almost nothing about either subject.

After five months situated behind the bar, Carlos can speak Spanish fluently. Besides Span- ish, in a period of fifteen minutes, one can hear Carlos also speak French and Italian. Right now, he is speaking with Juan while he finishes dry- ing some cups. Like always, he never breaks eye contact as he concentrates on every word that the other person is saying. That’s why Carlos learned Spanish so quickly, and it’s also why people love talking to him. “I learn a lot from other people, Juan.” Juan laughs, remembering how Carlos would always ask everyone to repeat or, some- times, explain what they were saying. This collab- orative way of learning the language also allowed for him to learn other things. “I think I learn a lot about life and..,” Carlos looks up and shakes his head slightly, as if the words to explain what he is trying to say will appear, “well, I learn a lot about myself, too.” Juan looks at him and nods his head while he slowly sips his coffee. “I learn by get- ting to know the customers on a personal level,” says Carlos. “If I get to know them, then I will able to serve them better, and then they will have a fantastic experience.” He points to a man that is sitting in the patio, concentrated on his book. “I know that he likes his coffee with cold milk and that he comes here to read in peace because there is too much noise in his house.” He points again to a girl who is doodling in her notebook. “She always asks for chamomile tea and a lemon cookie, and she likes to draw the people who pass by.” Juan begins to laugh, “You know everything, Carlos.” When he finishes his break, Carlos says goodbye to Juan and goes back to work.

Although none of the people in this coffee shop actually know each other, Carlos knows them all by name and interests; he is their friend. María Belén just arrived at the coffee shop where she sits down at a table. She is a student of the University of Seville, and is exhausted after a long day, full of exams. She closes her eyes for a mo- ment, and when she opens them, she sees Carlos carefully setting a latte with a foam heart on her table. María’s shoulders immediately relax and her tired expression transforms into a sweet smile.

Inside of El Viajero Sedentario / IVANNA QUICENO

It is now seven at night, and in a few mo- ments, many people will be walking through the doors, looking for a place to relax after a long day. Carlos goes outside El Viajero to quickly roll his last cigarette before things pick up. He lights it, inhales, reclines back in his seat, and exhales slowly, looking fondly at his coffee shop. “It is a lot of work, but this is what I love to do,” Car- los says as he motions to his store. His eyes seem tired, and his spine is curved after a long day of standing on his feet. He explains that, at times, it is difficult to always be happy and friendly with people and to always repeat the same thing. He taps the ash off of his cigarette into the small ashtray on his right. “Today we have carrot cake, chocolate cake, banana cake, etcetera, etcetera.” He looks towards the street and smiles, although the happiness does not reach his eyes. “I talk to people all day, every day, and many times when I go home, I don’t want to do anything. My friends and roommates will call me to go out, but I can’t. I’m tired and I want to be by myself,” he says with a pensive look on his face. All of a sudden, how- ever, the happy Carlos returns. His fingers bring the cigarette up to his lips, but before he can take another puff, he pauses and looks at me, “But, I truly do love what I do.”

Carlos likes to always be busy. “When no- body comes, it’s really boring.” He takes another hit of his cigarette, and when he exhales, a cloud of smoke forms in front of his face. He smiles mis- chievously and says, “There’s no one to talk to.” •