It was one of those bright clear sunny days that Spain is so famous for, and the people of Seville were taking advantage of it--jamming the parks and promenades and packing the outdoor cafes of this ancient city founded centuries before the birth of Christ.
My wife and I sat comfortably in the half shade at a delightful but crowded little outdoor cafe on the banks of the Quadalquivir, munching bacarones, those delicious tiny deep-fried minnows, sipping sangria and savoring the magnificent view of the "old town" across the river.
On the opposite bank the formidable Gold Tower, built in 1220, stood guard over the harbor, and several blocks beyond the belfry of the massive Cathedral of Seville pushed toward the heavens, dominating the city skyline.
Of all the world's Christian churches, only St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London are larger, and few can match the Gothic beauty or historic richness of this exquisite edifice that is the burial place of Christopher Columbus.
Cathedral a "Must"
Along with the Alcazar, the cathedral is ranked as a "must" for visitors and so my wife and I, somewhat reluctantly, surrendered our cafe table, climbed into our rented Spanish Panda, one of the world's most basic cars, and drove across the bridge into old town.
It was to be the unforgettable experience of our visit but for completely unexpected reasons.
Winding our way through a labyrinth of dark, narrow streets and alleyways, we emerged into the bright sunlight of the Plaza Nueva. It was barely 3:30 p.m. and the Plaza was crowded with people--families out for a stroll, children playing kickball, young lovers embracing.
Alongside the plaza, four-lane Calle Madrid was bumper-to-bumper with cars, Sevillanos out for a Sunday drive.
We were barely two blocks from the cathedral but it was hidden from our view. So I took out the map to locate our position as my wife stopped for a traffic light directly across from the Seville City Hall.
At precisely the same time, another California family had stopped for a traffic light on the city's outskirts six or seven miles away. Norman F. Jacobs, his wife, Ethel, and son, Edward, were on their way to Cordova.
What happened to us and to them in the next few seconds most vacationers can do without.
As my wife and I sat there, each briefly distracted, a young man emerged from the shadows, hurled a stone through the closed window on the passenger side and grabbed hold of the nylon daypack in my lap. It contained camera lenses, passports and other valuables.
Although cut by a shower of broken glass, my wife grabbed the bag in a tug of war with the bandit who was armed with a razor and began slashing her hand to break her grip on the pack.
Looking down and concentrating on the map, my first reaction when I heard the crash and my wife shouting "No! No!" was that she had hit another car. But when I looked up and saw an arm thrust through the broken window, I knew at once what had happened.
Grabbing the young man's arm, I jammed it against the shards of glass still clinging to the window frame and at the same time my wife stepped on the gas, swiftly moved forward and then abruptly jammed on the brakes.
The young man, blood streaming down his arm, pulled free, ran into a nearby alley and disappeared empty-handed as quickly and silently as he had come.
We could be counted among the lucky ones.
Jacobs, of La Mirada, had stopped his Peugeot for a red light just before entering the freeway to Cordova. As he sat waiting for the light to change, two men on motor scooters pulled up and stopped in front of him, blocking his access to the on-ramp.
Simultaneously, two accomplices darted from the curb, wrenched open the car door, grabbed Mrs. Jacobs' purse, jumped on the motor scooters and escaped, riding double across an open field.
Jacobs said they lost $8,000 in travelers checks, $400 in cash, passports, airline tickets and an expensive camera.
Jacobs and I, who live maybe 20 miles apart in Los Angeles, by coincidence met when we arrived to file our official complaints in Seville's Central Police Station.
His wife, Ethel, was still numb from the experience.
"They worked like lightning," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. "We didn't even know what was happening until it was over."
It was the kind of experience most tourists say "will never happen to me."
But even those who guard against it run a high risk of being victimized by Los Tironeros of Seville.
We had been warned repeatedly every time we told anyone that we were going to Seville. The car rental agent in Torremolinos, several hundred miles away, innkeepers along the Costa del Sol, even the travel book (a 1982 edition) that we used to plan our trip emphasized the danger.
Nothing of Value
So we heeded the advice. We rolled up the car windows, locked the doors and left nothing of value visible on the seats. My wife left her purse and jewelry in the hotel safe.
But police officer Carlos Pazos Garga told us that none of those precautions is effective as he took us for medical treatment to Casa de Socorro, an emergency clinic.
We were bloodied from the encounter. Our wounds mostly were superficial cuts, but one swipe of the razor had cut my wife's right little finger to the bone. It took four stitches to close it.
In the city's central district alone, Garga said the purse snatchers rob 40 to 50 tourists every week, and he said it doesn't matter whether the tourist is on foot or in a car or whether the car window is open or closed.
Muggings Near Cathedral
A big percentage of the muggings take place in and around the cathedral where almost every tourist winds up sooner or later, he said.
He said it's been going on for years but the police have been unable to do anything about it because the thieves vanish into the maze of old town seconds after they strike.
An annoying aftermath of the incident was the necessity to replace the broken car window first thing Monday morning.
I wound up at Jaime del Pozo's Fabrica de Espejos, a glass factory at No. 15 Guadalupe on the far side of town, and what I saw there drove home what I had been told about Seville being the purse-snatching capital of Europe.
Pozo's shop was full. Besides 12 or 14 cars inside, half a dozen impatient motorists were waiting in line outside on the narrow street.
Many on Mondays
Pozo's counterman said about 50 cars show up every Monday for repairs. To accommodate the overflow, Pozo has a second shop a half block down the street.
He sent me there. My car was 10th in an egalitarian line of vehicles driven by Swedish, German, English and French tourists. The muggers, it seems, do not discriminate on the basis of national origin.
It took only a few minutes to replace the glass in my car and the cost was cheap, about $12 American.
But the price of the experience ran much higher: two days of vacation lost and a life-long love of Spain seriously damaged.
As soon as we paid Pozo's bill, we got into our car and left Seville.
We never got to see the cathedral.