Preguntas Ardientes: Can I Enjoy the Feria de Abril as a Tourist?

The azahar bloomed while I was away. Even in Valencia, home to the famous oranges of the same name, the smell was cinged off by firecrackers and smoke during Las Fallas. And as I watched a gigantic Merlin burn from a towering statue to a small pyre, marking the end of my first Fallas, my next thought was immediately on the next big event: the Feria de Sevilla.

Sunshine and Siestas at the Feria de Abril

I am a dedicated feriante – I try on my traje de gitana weeks before to ensure its fit, attend flamenco fashion shows and a sevillana was the third song played at my wedding. I wait for the alumbrado with as much nervous energy as I pine for the last day of school. Feria is my jam, and everyone knows it.

But what if you’re a tourist, or passing though Seville during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year? I get this question often, and not just from tourists, but from those living elsewhere in Spain. I may live the sevillana version of high life when it comes to horse carriages and caseta invitations on occasion, but I also freak out in the days leading up to the fair, thinking that I may not have a place to go, or I may be stuck wandering the Real while I wait for a friend to answer their GD phone. In no other moment do I feel as foreign as I do local.

Know Before You Go

Spain is definitely a country that, on the surface, seems welcoming. The sunshine! The fiestas! The people! But in Seville, lo señorío and el postureo run deep, meaning that anyone outside of posh social clubs, religious brotherhoods or the Duquesa de Alba’s inner circle can get left in the albero.

farolillos

Begun as a cattle fair several centuries ago, the Feria de Abril marks the first of Andalusia’s springtime fairs. It’s the largest, most popular, and the place to see and be seen. During one glorious week of the springtime, makeshift tents, called casetas, are erected on a patch of land that is unused for 51 weeks of the year. This is called the Real de la Feria, and in the weeks leading up to the event, workers log in hours setting up the casetas, stringing up lights and building an enormous main gate, called the portada.

The party starts on the third Monday following Resurrection Sunday with a socios-only fried fish dinner, known at the pescaíto. At midnight, the mayor turns on the lights of the entire fairgrounds, ending with the portada, and sevillanas immediately tumble out of the tents. The Feria continues every day from about 1pm until the wee hours of the morning, officially shuttered on Sunday night with a fireworks display at dusk.

alumbrado feria de sevilla 2010

The casetas are owned by religious groups, social clubs, political parties and groups of wealthy friends. A whopping 90% of them are privately owned and run, so you’ll usually see someone guarding the entrance and asking for proof that you’re in association with the tent’s dwellers that week. And the list for securing your own caseta is over a decade long, so it’s best to make friends before the fair starts.

Making the most of Seville’s most exclusive party

Feria is an expensive party – from the horse carriage rentals to the tent memberships to the clothing – but it’s free to attend, and gawking doesn’t cost a cent. But to truly enjoy it, you may have to lower your expectations.

La Feria en Crisis

First, know that there are two sides to the fair: Feria de Día, and Feria de Noche. Daytime fair is far more demure, as this is when most socios spend their time at the fairgrounds; the fair at night becomes borderline hedonistic, where tent flaps are drawn and sevillanas disappear.

Should you choose to go in the daytime, you’ll be treated to carriage parades and striking Andalusian horses until dusk – not to mention the daily bullfights happening in La Maestranza, bringing in some of the biggest names in bullfighting. This is the fair at its purest, with flamenco music playing and castanets clapping. Be aware that this is also when it’s the most difficult to gain access to the private tents. I have a less-than-stellar reputation of inviting my friends to Los Sanotes, which means side eyes and a stiff greeting from a few of the more traditional socios. But once night falls, most of the older crowd has gone home, making it easier to pop in and out of the casetas.

Free Casetas  – the city operates a number of public access Distrito tents, which are larger and a bit more raucous than a traditional tent. Those also open to the general public are casetas belonging to political parties, labor unions and, in some cases, religious brotherhoods.

A Map of the Seville Fair fairground and free public casetas

If you know someone who is in the local police force or works for a large, locally-based company like Abengoa or ABC, ask them if you can buy entrances from them. These sorts of places don’t operate using cash, but rather tickets in various denominations for food and beverage.

Or, you can always use the, “My friend is back at the bar and not answering my phone calls” trick to sneak into a crowded tent! Not that I ever have.

Dressing Up – On my first Feria, the Novio invited me to his best friend’s family’s tent (a rather estrecha relationship for Feria) for the Alumbrado. Knowing that the fairgrounds were full of albero, a chalky dirt than lends well to both bullfights and horse poop, I dressed as if I were doing housework – ratty jeans and tennis shoes.

I may never live that or the baby-sized complementos down (ugh, not to mention both a mantoncillo and a gargantilla wrapped into one outfit):

Vamanos a la Feria Carino Mio!

Remember that this is an event where you’re to see and be seen. Even if you’re not planning on donning a pricey traje de gitana, women should wear a dress or dress trousers. I don’t know how, but heels are a must. Men, in many private casetas, are required to wear a suit and tie after 9pm, regardless of the heat.

And please none of those souvenir-shop dresses or hair clips – that screams guiri more than getting too drunk off of rebujito!

Etiquette – That brings me to my next point, or fairground etiquette. On Seville’s biggest stage, you’ll notice that despite the abundance of alcohol and atmosphere, no one is outwardly drunk until nighttime. I was once kicked out of a caseta for being with a friend who’d imbibed a little too much!

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

If you receive an invitation to a private caseta, don’t bring 10 more of your friends without asking. It’s customary to buy the first round of drinks, though you’ll more than likely be turned down. If the tent is crowded, don’t immediately take a seat, as it’s an unwritten rule that those tables are reserved for paying members. Instead, make friends with the bartender – just don’t forget to pay your tab or overstay your welcome!

Some casetas will simply ask you who you’re with, as it is up to that socio or family to split the bill at the end of the week.

Spanish and Flamenco dancing – I’m often asked how necessary it is to dance sevillanas to enjoy the fair. While it’s definitely my favorite part of the whole experience, you do not have to know this four-part dance. Sitting and watching is fun, and people will often break into the dance on the streets, as well.

Should you be in Seville for a few weeks and want to learn, dance studios and gyms have intensive courses for 10-15€/hr. Check out Cuesta Sport, Látidos or Helena Pachón to learn how to coger la manzana, la comes, la tiras.

Flamencas on a horse carriage

As for knowing Spanish – it’s helpful. How else will you insist upon buying a whole round of montaditos de lomo for your generous hosts?

Fairground Tours – if you’re a little freaked out for a first-timer, find the information booth just under the main gate on Antonio Bienvenida. The city’s tourism board offers tours around the fairgrounds, culminating in a drink in a public caseta. Let the rebujito flow!

My advice for a Feria first-timer

I was completely unprepared for my first Feria, from my lack of proper clothing to not saving enough money to truly enjoy it. If you’re visiting Seville for the first time, don’t let the Feria be your only plans – since the fairgrounds aren’t in the city center, you’ll find that it’s less intrusive than Semana Santa.

Portada de la Feria 2013

Take one day out to go to the Real after lunchtime and a siesta. Dress up nicely – long, dangly earrings and a shawl are fine, but don’t overdo it if you don’t have a traje de gitana, ladies. Walk across the Puente de San Telmo and the entire length of Calle Asuncion, which leads right to the main gate. Take a stroll around the Real to marvel at the horses and the elegant costumes before popping into a public caseta – the Fiestas Mayores (Costillares, 10) and Partido Popular (Pascual Márquez, 66) tents are a bit pricier for food and drink, but often have live music from 8pm or 10pm on. If you can’t score a private tent invitation and sweet talking gets you nowhere, skip dinner and have hot chocolate and fried donuts on Calle Manolo Vázquez.

How To (3)

Read more of my posts on the Feria de Abril, Seville’s most flamboyant celebration, from how to dress and dress up your dress, a list of vocabulary you’ll encounter and the Dos and Dont’s.

Have you been to the Feria de Sevilla as a tourist? What were you thoughts – I would love to hear the negative!

The A-Z of the Feria de Abril

It’s the happiest time of the year – now that the azahar has bloomed and the gold-laden Holy Week floats have been stored, Seville takes a week to celebrate Andalusian horses, Andalusian sherry and Andalusian music at the April Fair.

The Feria de Abril’s origins lie in a former cattle and livestock fair in the Prado de San Sebastián, though you’d never know it – the biggest and most traditional fair is all about appearances and connections, and it comes with its own set of vocabulary.

Feria de Abril Glossary

For a first-time fairgoer, your senses will be put to the test. The grounds smell of fried fish and horse poop and the music coming from the tents all begins to mix together into a raucous jumble of flamenco, but it’s a visual feast with the lights, the garb and the horses.

I was completely underprepared for the fair my first year – I wore jeans and a ratty shirt, and then wore the wrong types of accessories with my flamenco dress and didn’t know how to dance sevillanas – but look forward to it each year. Like everything in Seville, there are traditions and rules about how to dress and how to act, and the vocabulary that’s used to describe every aspect is used increasingly in the weeks leading up to the big event.

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

You’ll already stick out as a foreigner, but here’s a list of 20 indispensable words to know if you’re heading to the Feria de Abril:

Albero: Albero is the sandy mix of terrain that lines the sidewalks of the fairgrounds.

Alumbrado: Happening at midnight on the Lunes (Monday) of Feria, the main gate is lit by the city’s mayor. There are hundreds of thousands of bulbs covering both the portada and the lights along the streets, but they’re all LED!

Amazona: Women choose to wear either a traditional gypsy dress or don a riding outfit to ride side-saddle. An Amazona is a way to call the latter.

Calle del Infierno: Literally translated as ‘Hell Street,’ the Calle del Infierno is located at the western edge of the fairgrounds and has carnival rides, booths and food stands. Keep an extra eye on your purse here.

feria casetas tents farolillos lights in seville spain

Caseta: The makeshift tents that line the streets of the Real. These small structures are owned by families, political parties, businesses or organizations, some of them being private while others public. Each caseta has a kitchen, bathroom and room to dance or eat.

Coche de Caballos: A central element of the fair is the Andalusian horse, and horse carriages circulate on a city-mandated route from noon until 8pm. The permission to bring a horse carriage is only granted to several hundred official carriages, and the licenses are pricey! Just be sure to watch for horse poop!

feria horses april fair seville

Complementos: A traditional dress is nothing without its larger-than-life accessories. Women don shawls (mantoncillos), earrings (pendientes), combs (peinetas) and large flowers, and it’s not uncommon to see bracelets of necklaces, either.

Corrida de Toros: Big-name bullfighters come to Seville during the fair to practice their sport at the Maestranza bull ring. Tickets are pricey and seats are limited. In fact, the names of the streets in the real are named for Andalusian bullfighters, like Juan Belmonte or Curro Romero.

El Pescaíto: The opening meal of the fair, open to members of the casetas, where fried fish is served. This dinner usually commences at 9pm. The day itself is called the lunes de pescaíto.

Enchufe: A catch-all word that means plug in a literal and figurative sense, having connections and invitations to a caseta means you’ve got enchufe. Start asking around a few weeks before Semana Santa to see who has access and who can invite you (in exchange for food and drink, of course!).

Farolillo: Paper lanterns that are strung up in the fairgrounds and lit at night.

me and luna in the door of the caseta

Feriante: an adjective referring to anyone who is a fair-goer. As in, Cat es muy feriante.

Fino: Sherry wine made from Palomino grapes that is consumed by the bucketload. See also: rebujito.

Portero: The doorman in private casetas reserves the right to let you in or not. Flirting sometimes works, but you’re better off saying you know someone inside and will just nip in to look for him.

Portada: Taking on a different design every year, the portada is the main gate that crowns Calle Antonio Bienvenida. It’s covered in lightbulbs and is known as a meeting point (even though ‘Let’s meet under the portada‘ is like saying, I’ll try to look for you somewhere in the city center).

Portada de la Feria 2013

Real de la Feria: The recinto ferial isn’t enough of a name – Seville’s fairgrounds has an upgraded moniker known as the Real de la Feria, or simply el Real. It’s often referred to this way in the press.

Rebujito: This sherry and 7-up hybrid is the drink of choice for many sevillanos during the week. Served in a pitcher with ice and small glasses for sipping, it’s concocted from a half liter of dry sherry and two cans of the soft drink. Be careful – it’s a lot more potent than you’d imagine!

Sevillanas: Locals are known for being rancios – overly traditional – and the only music you’ll hear spilling out of the casetas are rumbas or sevillanas. Sevillanas is a four-part dance in which partners court one another. The basic steps repeat over and over again, but the difficult increases from the first to the fourth parts (and after too much rebujito).

Socio(s): Those with enchufe will likely know socios, or card-carrying members of casetas. Individuals will pay a yearly fee – in addition to whatever they spend – for the maintenance and decor of the caseta. Each one usually elects a president who must hire the food and entertainment, along with the people who erect the tent before the festivities. When the Novio and I were socios, we had to show a special card plus a yearly pass to be able to enter!

Traje de Gitana: Women tend to wear a flamenco dress with ruffles and polka dots, known as a traje de gitana or simply a traje. These garments can cost 500€ or more depending on the fabric, designer and number of ruffles, or volantes, and they are worn with complementos. Some women have multiple dresses so as not to be seen twice in the same traje. The only rule is that the dresses are not worn on the Lunes del Pecaíto.

And a word I taught my Spanish students after my first Alumbrado? Hangover.

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Did I miss any words on the list? What are your favorite feria-esque words?

Tapa Thursday: 10 Typical Foods You’ll Eat at the Feria de Abril

I’ll just say it right away – sevillanos do not flock to the Real de la Feria for good eats. In a week dedicated to drinking and dancing, food is often an afterthought and sure to make a dent in your wallet faster than a new traje de gitana or registration for your horse carriage.

What to Eat at the Feria de Sevilla

Each of the marquees, called casetas, have a makeshift kitchen in which a contracted restaurant and bar keeps function. Typical favorites end up on the list in ración forms, so friends usually get together a common purse, known as a bote, to pay for food and drink. Because different restaurants are contracted out to feed them masses, food choices differ between venues. One thing you can expect anywhere, though, is to pay 2-5€ more for a plate of food at the fairgrounds, and beers will run 1.50€

Typical Sevillano

If the fair is a celebration of Andalusian culture, its most typical foods are regional dishes. From meats to fish to creamy salmorejo, eating at the fair means chowing down on hearty dishes synonymous with Southern cuisine.

Pescaíto

The fair officially kicks off with a dinner amongst caseta members, called el pecaíto (peck-eye-ee-toe). Traditionally beginning at 9pm on Monday and ending when the main gate is lit at midnight, fried fish is served. For the rest of the week, you can find friend cuttlefish, monkfish, baby squid and other seafood like shrimp on menus.

choco frito Sol y Sombra

It’s no wonder I always come home reeking like overused olive oil.

Cola de Toro

The bullfighting season in Seville reaches a fever pitch during the festivities, with big names in the taurino world squaring off against horned opponents during daily afternoon faenas. Each part of the beast is then used for something.

Bar Sol y Sombra Cola de Toro

Among one of Seville’s star dishes is cola de toro, or stewed bull’s tail. The tender meat is served still on the bone and with vegetables, often over fried potatoes. If you splurge on one thing at the fair that isn’t jamón, let it be bull tail. 

Solomillo de Whiskey

A dish for the less adventurous, solomillo is a versatile cut of meat from the part of a pig between the lower ribs and the spine. Usually served with a sauce, whisky and garlic is one of the most common ways to serve it. Pro tip: grab some bread and make a sandwich, or mop up the left over oil.

Cash Savers

When the economic crisis hit in 2008, Cruzcampo capitalized on a phenomenal marketing opportunity by turning a sour note into a moment to enjoy sharing food with friends (and a hilarious sevillana).

jamon y queso

Jamón may be delicious, but it’s not wallet-friendly. 

In all of my years in the recinto ferial, I’ve learned a few things about where and what to eat, and how to save money – one year, I even brought a turkey sandwich in my purse and, embarrassed, scarfed it down in the bathroom! I will usually eat one big midday meal at the fair, preferring to eat at home to save money, though the bars will serve food in the wee hours of the morning when you’ve had too much rebujito. It’s also not uncommon to see people eating at restaurants in the area in full Feria garb!

If you’re looking for a cheap way to mop up the booze apart from picos or bags of potato chips, try:

Caldo de Puchero

This warm broth is not only a cheap way to load up on calories during a binge, but local lore says it will also help you coat your stomach to keep drinking. The broth is made from the drippings of pringá meat – blood sausage, chorizo, chicken thigh, a salted bone, lard and morcillo de vaca – with a hint of peppermint.

Tortilla de Patatas

Tapa of Tortilla Española

Spain’s most universal dish is served all around the fair, often for 5€ or so. It’s easy to eat, pairs well with bread and is a good choice for vegetarians, as it’s made of egg, potato and salt, and often has onions or peppers mixed in. A tortilla lover’s condiment of choice is mayonnaise, which is usually available in individual packets.

Montaditos and Pinchos

montaditos

A budget lover’s go-to food at the fair are small sandwiches, montaditos, and meat skewers, or pinchitos. Available for about 1.50 – 2€, you can fill up on pork loin sandwiches and pork or chicken skewers. This will leave you with more money to ride the attractions at Calle del Infierno or invite your friends to another round – the Feria de Sevilla is all about appearances, after all.

For the Goloso

Once you’ve had your fill of savory foods, head to the periphery of the recinto ferial for a cheap dessert. There are sweets stalls standing just outside of the fairground limits, and on the western edge you can find Calle del Infierno, an area dedicated to sugary goodies and rickety looking amusement park rides, ferris wheels and game booths.

I’d just suggest going on the rides before consuming a questionable waffle or plate of churros.

Buñuelos and Churros con Chocolate

There’s nothing better than gooey, fried doughy foods in the middle of the night. Buñuelos are small dough balls with a chocolate, caramel or jelly sauce, whereas churros are long rods of dough that get dipped in hot chocolate.

bunuelo

Apart from the sevillanas music and horse carriages, a staple of the fair is the gypsy family who serves up hundreds of buñuelos an hour, just under the main gate. Even the most presumptious of sevillanos get their sweet fix there, so it’s a prime place for people watching!

Chucherías

Gummy, sugary candies are classified as chucerías, and they come in every imaginable size, shape and flavor. Check out the long ‘chuche brooms’ that are nearly a meter long and challenge yourself to eat one on your walk home.

Beverages

Drinking is a central part of any Andalusian fair, with special drinks taking center stage. You can still get your standard beer, wine, soft drinks and coffee, though sherry wine is drank by the bucketful (and I mean literally – 1/2 liter bottles are served in a bucket full of ice!).

Fino or Manzanilla Sherry

The April Fair has its origins in the livestock trade, though I like to believe it gave locals a good chance to imbibe in sherry wine of the fino sort. Palomino grapes lend a dry flavor to this beverage, which is produced in the Sherry Triangle of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puero de Santa María and Sanlúcar la Barrameda.

fino sherry

Sherry is an acquired taste for many, with fino being a dry taste and a pale appearance, whereas manzanilla is a bit sweeter and darker. When you ask for a bottle at the Feria, you’ll be served a half liter in a bucket of ice and will be asked how many small glasses you’d like. Sherry is meant to be sipped.

Rebujito

If you’re looking for a way to take the bite out of the sherry, mix half a liter with two cans of 7-Up and add ice, and you’ve got rebujito. This drink is crisp, refreshing…and more potent than it looks! 

rebujito at the Feria de Sevilla

A ‘jarra’ of rebujito is about 8-10 euros and served with small plastic glasses. Though it looks like a shot, it’s meant to be sipped and you should probably share it with an amigo. Again, this drink is toxic in large quantities, so you’d do well to order a few montaditos or a tortilla long with it!

Have you ever been to an Andalusian fair? What are your favorite eats? 

I’m what you might call a feriante – I love the April Fair. If you want to learn more, check out these posts:

The Do’s and Don’ts of the Feria | the Feria de Jerez | My Five Favorite Feria de Abril Moments | Buying a Flamenco Dress | Buying Accessories for your Flamenco Dress

I Bought a Flamenco Dress, Now What?!: a Guide to Buying Complementos

My phone buzzes just as I’m hopping on my bike, telling me I’ve got a photo in my whatsapp. M has sent me a photo of two different earrings, set side-by-side with a series of questions marks.

I know where she’s coming from.

Buying a flamenco dress every two years and figuring out how to deck it out has become my adult version of dress-up (who needs Halloween when you can wear ruffles? And big flowers on your head! And side-eye anyone wearing an outdated dress design!). I’m probably just as excited to shop for complements than I am for the actual flamenco dress.

I confess that my first Feria was rife with mistakes: I wore jeans and a ratty tee to the alumbrado, bought baby-sized accessories and – gasp! – wore my mantoncillo around my hips because I didn’t know you had to buy a brooch for it. Hey, no one helped me, and the lady in the Don Regalón probably laughed when I chose demure earrings that only an infant should have been wearing.

Shame is having a six-month-old show you up on Calle La Bombita while she’s napping in her stroller, trust me.

Oh, and did I mention I also wore a purse and a WINDRBREAKER?! Guiri, no.

I sent M the cardinal rule of flamenco accessories – BE BOLD. When else can you wear ridiculously oversized jewelry? When else is risk-taking so handsomely rewarded? Her dress is black, so the obvious, traditional choice is red. When I suggested gold, fuschia or even neons, I think I confused her even more. Having options makes sticking to a color palate really, really tough.

Let it be known that I am quitting my job for the next month to become a flamenco accessory consultant. 

First, you have to know the basics. Two months before the Greatest Week Ever begins, flamenco dress and accessories stores begin to pop up in the center of town, and you’ll hear the word traje spoken with a word density that makes your head spin (that, and azahar, playa, pasos and vacaciones, four sacred words in the sevillano lexicon when spring arrives).

Look for the stores near Calle Francos, Calle Cuna and Calle Asunción for both dresses and accessories. Your shoes can be bought on Calle Córdoba or any Pasarela store around town. If you’re looking for a deal on a dress, trajes are sold at warehouse prices in the towns outside of Seville, as well as older models at El Jueves flea market. A dizzying variety of complementos can be found at El Corte Inglés, Don Regalón and a number of specialty shops. Chinos also sell bargain items in plastic and sometimes beads.

Rule of thumb when it comes to your accessories: the bigger, the better. I mean it. No color, shape or size is off-limits. My new traje de gitana (you only get a preview below, sorry!) is a greenish turquoise color with cream-colored lunares, complimented by cream-colored encaje under the bust, where the sleeves open at the elbow, and at the ruffles. Since I didn’t pay for the dress, I was willing to splurge on complementos this year.

My advice is to browse before you buy. Because there are endless combinations of colors and styles, it’s easy to lose your head. When you have a dress made for you, ask for a swatch of fabric to take to the accessories stores for matching colors. I beelined straight for Isabel Mediavilla, a local designer who is friendly and helpful when it comes to suggesting possibilities. When she and I had come up with a color palate – dusty purple and gold – it was time to get to work.

Here’s your basic kit:

El Mantoncillo: The Shawl

I always buy the shawl as soon as I’ve got the dress nailed down. These shawls can cost up to 100€ or even more, given that some are hand-painted, hand-embroidered, a mix of patterns and textures. Buying the shawl will help you have an idea of what accessories will pair best.

Some women choose a gargantilla (a choker with flecos, or the fringe that hangs down) or simple flecos that are sewn to the neckline of the traje de gitana.

Mine: Bought from Raquel Terán (Calle Francos, 4), 75€

La Flor: The Flower

The flower is a gitana’s hallmark, meant to look like a rose or carnation and worn either on top of the head or tucked behind the ear. The flowers are made of cloth and have a flexible “stem” with which to secure it to your head with bobby pins. Flowers can be big or small, but you should probably just go ahead and get a big one if you’ve got “la altura” according to the snotty lady at the Corte Inglés.

I went back to Isabel Mediavilla, as she has literally a wall full of flowers of every imaginable color and style. I’m going big this year – BIG.

Mine: Bought from Isabel Mediavilla (Calle Francos, 34), 20€

Los Pendientes: The Earrings

In one of my less memorable Feria moments, I let a cheap pair of earrings I’d bought at Don Regalón get the better of me – I pouted when one slipped out of my ears while dancing (hey, the 13€ they cost meant an entire hour’s private lesson!). I love the bold, intricate earrings that women wear during the fair and am constantly looking for ones that aren’t too heavy.

I bought these ceramic beauties, but they’re a bit heavy, and my earlobes may not be able to handle them!

Mine: Bought from El Corte Inglés (Nervión), 23€

El Broche: The Brooch 

Many times, you’ll find brooches that match with your earrings, particularly at the Corte Inglés. A broche is mega important if you’re wearing a mantoncillo, as this will attach the  shawl to your dress and making dancing, eating and drinking hands-free.

Just, please, don’t tie the ends of the shawl together. Spend a few bucks on a brooch and you’ll not regret it!

Mine: Bought from El Corte Inglés, 9€

La Peineta: The Comb

Even in the age of bobby pins and hairspray, many women choose to add plastic or metal combs to their hair. They often don’t serve any sort of purpose, but many women wear them just behind the flower or to capture the whips of hair that aren’t shellacked to their skull.

When matching your combs, try and be consistent with your other accessories. If you’ve got plastic earrings, stick with a plastic peineta. Same goes for metal and for colors.

Mine: Bought two years in a chino, 12€

Los Tacones: The Shoes

Although I’d argue that shoes are the least of your aesthetic worries during the fair (hell, they’re covered by your ruffles!), it’s important that you wear something comfortable for all of those hours on your feet. Women opt for espadrille wedges or even cloth flamenco shoes that have a thick heel for support. Calle Córdoba, near Plaza del Salvador, is a narrow alleyway full of zapaterías, so make that your first stop.

Let me just say this – if you’re wearing stilettos, you’ll be doing very little dancing and probably a lot of pouting!

Mine: Bought from Pasarela two years ago, 15€

Lo demás: Everything else

You’ll also need to buy hairspray and bobby pins to secure the flower’s stem and the combs without a doubt. I’ve also got a donut for making a big, thick bun, as well as a fan because this year’s fair goes well into May.

 

Flamenco Complementos

Some women opt for necklaces, bangles, mantoncillo or no – what it all comes down to is feeling comfortable and wearing your accessories confidently. Remember that the flamenco dress itself is heavy and it can get hot under there!

As for M? I sincrerely hope she went with hot pink. Lo dicho: go big or stay at home!

Want to read more on the Feria de Sevilla?

On my first time buying accessories successfully // The Dos and Don’ts of the Feria de Sevilla // The Music of the Feria de Sevilla

Guiri, Whoa: Buying a Flamenco Dress in Seville

Anda ya! 

Jose Manuel drops his hands in desperation as I paw a gorgeous, pale pink flamenco dress with a cascade of ruffles. No hay quien pueda with this guiri.

Nearly two hours into a search for the perfect flamenco dress, I was more undecided than ever. I got the last one in 2011 and knew immediately it was the right one for me, but this year has my head spinning. Jose Manuel dutifully pulls one dress after another, then hangs them up once I’ve ruled them out.

This flamenco dress business is a big deal.

When the Novio’s mother announced she’d be floating the bill for my traje de gitana this year, I jumped at the opportunity to design my own. I sketched out what I wanted – a one-color, sleeveless dress with three volantes and encaje around the bust and waist to make my boobs smaller and accentuate my small cintura.

I called Taller Los Príncipes to ask about pricing, trying to find something for less than 300€ so that the Novio, his mother and I would all pay 100€ each. The woman started asking me a flurry of questions. How tall was I in centimeters (….uhh…..)? What kind of ruffles did I want? Would I bring my own fabric?

I politely said I’d call back. But I was way in over my head and with not a single seasoned guiri around to help me. In the past, I’d always bought my dresses off the rack and had them taken in (or out) as needed.

A bit of vocabulary so that you understand how confused I was.

A flamenco dress is known around these parts as the traje de gitana, or simply a traje. They’re worn during local festivals like the ferias and romerias such as El Rocío and can cost anywhere from 100€ to 500€, or ever more, especially those that are tailormade.

The dress is composed of a body, sleeves and a train of volantes, or ruffles. Made of tela, you can get high-quality fabric or normal and the detailing is called encaje. Lace is especially popular this year. The seamstress, called a modista, assists you in designing your dress and then sews it for you. The most traditional sort of fabric has lunares, or polka dots, but they can also me liso (one color) or with pattterns.

Next to the academy where I work, there’s a flamenco dress shop that’s only open from January until June. The first day I heard the heavy reja go up, it was a sign. I peered in the windows, lights off, when I opened the school and saw the exact dresses I wanted – lisos, con volantes graduados, encaje por un tubo. One color, big ruffles, details in all the right places. Either a deep magenta, turquoise or a pale green.

Later that week, I eat a light breakfast and showed up at Marqués Diseño de Trajes Flamencas. Jose Manuel is on the phone but immediately introduces himself as he hangs up (on his mother, oops!).

I fumbled for the words to tell him what I wanted. Tú no eres de aquí, verdad?

Stupid accent always giving me away as a foreigner.

He ushers me over to the racks of dresses, each slightly different from the next. Grabbing my arm, he shows me the sale dresses, available for just 175€ – una ganga, if you ask me. They are bold – bright reds and blues – but I shy away from wearing something so loud. Jose Manuel assures me that a pale, blue-eyed person would need something crazy to call the attention away from the Andalusian beauties.

So, verde agua is out.

I show him my sketch and tell him I am dead-set on a single color, to which he scoffs. “Those are dresses for women who have nothing better to do during the fair but sit pretty in a horse carriage and look bored in their casetas.” I laugh, and admit that I am far more likely to drop greasy fried fish on my dress than abstain from eating and drinking so as not to get dirty.

Jose Manuel hands me traje after traje, zips me up, and leads me to a full-length mirror with each one, quick to judge the styles that make me look anything but fabulous. Easy-to-move-in cañastera ruffles are ruled out, as is the encaje that call too much attention to my chest and belly. I soon accumulate a pile of half a dozen dresses to discard (as well as my original design).

As it turns out, Jose Manuel da en el clavo: I am extremely traditional when it comes to flamenco dresses. I need color, lunares, volantes, a classy dose of cleavage and tight in all the right places. After narrowing the field down to two thanks to the miracle of whatsapp groups and my American friends, trying them on with a shawl and pulling my hair back to get the full effect, I make a decision before even asking the price.

It’s the tronillo design (pictured on the left and only 220€!) and in a size smaller than I usually get, and we set to the task of selecting the colors. What sets many dresses apart, even with a similar design, is the color chosen and the small details in the encaje. I already have a celestial blue dress with cream and coral accents, so I wanted to go bold.

Choosing the color palate for the dress takes nearly as long as trying them on. I hold up square samples of color, searching for the right combination, peruse back through the racks for inspiration. The smaller lunares, called lentejuelas, are better for big busts because they draw less attention to that area, so I stick with the pattern combination of the original dress I tried on and decide on turqoise. I momentarily consider a paisely, but Jose Manuel’s side eye when I mention it sets me back in place.

A week later, Jose Manuel raps on the window of the academy and asks if I could step out to OK the color patterns and pay a deposit on the dress. The original color I had in mind was not available, so he chose a shade darker, a bit more towards a green hue. I sign the receipt, paid 40€ and quickly scamper over to the academy (those ruffles start at the knee and make it hard to move swiftly) to have María José give me the thumbs up.

Jose Manuel hands me my receipt and says, “un mes largo” for the dress to be ready for its first fitting. Starting three months ahead of time means I’ve got a buffer for those extra weeks in a long month, but true to form, it is five weeks to the day. Nervously, I pulled the fabric over my hips and zipped it into place. It needs to be taken in a bit in the stomach and hips (success!), but it’s perfect.

Traje de Gitana

Chicas, have you ever bought a flamenco dress in Spain? Need help with your complementos? Click here for a guide to buying accessories! 

 

Seville Snapshots: The Horses of the Feria de Abril of Sevilla

“Cat, estamos en Feria, ¿vale?”

Luna, the Novio’s god-daughter, is not quite three and already a declared feriante. We were sitting in a horse carriage, her teeny hand stroking the ruffles of my traje de gitana. In Spanish, “I’ve been to three Ferias. ¿Y tú?” Six, I replied, getting a puzzled look. Before I could explain, she drew in a deep breath and pointed at the team of horses pulling us along the fairgrounds. ¡Mira, Cat! ¡Un caballo!

photo by Hayley Salvo

There are so many things that are muu d’aqui about the Seville April Fair – the drinks, the dance, the dress (not to mention the etiquette). While it’s not for everyone, Seville’s social event of the year celebrates Andalusian beauty of all sorts, including its Jerezano stallions. Horses, riders and their carriages are allowed to circulate the fairgrounds until about 8pm, paying nearly 80€ an hour for the official license plate. Seeing the pale grey stallions, women dressed as amazonas perched on top with their legs dangling off the side and a crisp sherry in hand, adds an air of the past.

The caballos get gussied up for the event – their tales and manes are braided, balls of yarn and bells hang from their  bridles. I actually prefer seeing Feria during the day and admiring the creatures, as my family has always owned a horse and I’ve known how to ride since I was a kid.

Are you a horse lover? I’ll be going to the Feria del Caballo in a few weeks with my guiri friends – a whole week dedicated to horses and sherry!

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