Friday, 8 December 2023, 12:56
John Julius Reel will already be a familiar name among anyone who tunes into Las Mañanas de Andalucía with Jesús Vigorra, Gente de Andalucía with Pepe da Rosa, and Anda Levanta with the Malaga presenter José Antonio Domínguez on Canal SUR radio.
Originally from Staten Island, New York, John moved to Seville 18 years ago, in November 2005 having had a career as a writer and teacher in the city. John explains that he decided to learn Spanish as half of his students were native Spanish speakers and he "wanted to have access to the Latino side of New York City".
He admits though that he was "always fascinated by Europe more than central or south America". So he decided to come to Spain. Looking to move away from large cities, but not give up urban life altogether, he chose Seville, but confesses he knew nothing about it beyond the opera Carmen and a Bugs Bunny cartoon. "I knew nothing about bullfighting, flamenco or the heat," he admits.
John's story will resonate with many readers: he came to teach English, met his now wife, Virginia, with whom he has two teenage sons, and the rest, as they say, is history.
He admits though that his first meeting with Virginia didn't go too well. Having been told by a colleague that she was interested in doing a language exchange with him, when he approached her to arrange one, she told him, "I'm looking for someone with a British accent." Slightly crestfallen, having plucked up the courage to approach the Sevillana, John recalls, "I was apologetic about my American accent."
However, a week later they went on their first date and John says that Virginia has since forgiven him for having the wrong accent, although he reveals that she "loves British pubs" and says, "She's so happy when she finds a British pub and loves that they are so homey."
Although it was always John's intention to learn Spanish, it was when his first son was born that John decided he really needed to do so seriously. "They took him away and put him in an incubator and I didn't understand anything that was happening. That's when I decided I would do everything in Spanish for five years. I would read nothing in English. Only Spanish."
Following this commitment to himself and in less than five years, John plucked up the courage to send off his first piece written in Spanish to the newspaper Diario de Sevilla in 2009.
It worked out well as they offered him a weekly column, La Sevilla del Guiri, seeing the city through the eyes of a foreigner. This led to a book in Spanish, ¿Qué Pinto Yo Aquí? published by Confluencias in Almeria. That led to the radio shows which are all in Spanish and look at life in Seville and Spain in general through the eyes of a foreigner.
John talks candidly about the experience of having a well-known writer and journalist as a father, especially as he was trying to make his own way in a similar field. Bill Reel was a columnist for New York Daily News and John says that people would compare him with his father and tell him, "You will never be the writer your father was."
Part of the reason for coming to Spain was to "get away from his shadow" and follow his own path as a writer, John admits. "I had all these perks - Frank Sinatra would call him up, I met Mohammed Ali," John says, but recognises that this pressure "weighed" on him.
John was offered the column with Diario de Sevilla shortly before his father passed away, so Bill was able to see what his son had achieved. "I have achieved what I have achieved without my father's help. I wanted to do it without those connections, so that is so much more satisfying," John says.
In 2022 he landed a supporting role in Nonio Parejo's feature film 6 Toreros Yankees 6, which premiered at the Seville European Film Festival.
John has gone back to English for his latest project, My Half Orange: a Story of Love and Language in Seville. The book is a memoir which reflects on the 18 years he has spent in Andalucía. "I talk about falling in love with the city, the language and my wife at the same time. It was a tremendous change for me, a new culture, a new language and a new way of life."
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