My Five Favorite Feria de Abril Moments

The horses are still clip-clopping in my head, the piercing cascabeles echoing throughout the street. At the first hint of azahar and Spring in the air, my feet find themselves marking out the steps to sevillanas, and I start making plans for Seville’s fiesta más alegre.

Every experience at the Feria de Abril is different, and each year I live it in a different way.  It has to be said – the feria isn’t for everyone. Several other blogging friends of mine cry out about the private casetas, open by invitation only, about the inflated prices of food and drink, and even about the dusty alberothat gets onto their dress ruffles.

But I love it. I’ve been to other ferias in other cities – Córdoba, El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera – but nothing quite compares to first time you see the portada lit up, or the feeling of waltzing into a caseta without a word to the door guy. I adore Feria during the day and I rock out at el Real until the wee hours of the morning.

As the date of the alumbrado gets closer, the ganas I have to dress up and dance seem to skyrocket exponentially. At no other point in the year do I feel more sevillana or ready to drink it all in (and I don’t just mean the rebujito).  You know what they say: Yo quiero cruzar el río para bailer sevillanas!

5. Watching the Alumbrado at Josele’s house (2010 and 2011) For several weeks leading up to the fair, workers construct a huge wooden gate, erect temporary houses and string paper lights up on streets named for bullfighters. Ya huele a Feria, y olé, ya huele a Feria.

When I gave class at Edificio Presidente, which sits just in front of the main gate, during my first few years in Seville, I would watch out Javi’s living room window as the Recinto Ferial began to take shape. “Javi, do you like living so close to the Feria,” I asked him one morning before he went to university classes nearby. 

“It’s the best during the alumbrado and when you want to stumble home, but you can get so crazy with the sevillanas music.”He had a point, but I made a mental note to find a friend with a house close to the portada to watch it light up – I’d previously seen it while being crunched between a million other people.

The following year, my friend T was dating a sevillano whose family lived in the building next to Javi’s, and Josele invited us to bring a bottle of fino, plastic cups and 7-up to have a few drinks before midnight. I watched in awe as the larger-than-life NO8DO was lit up, piece by piece. People cheered and bands struck up all at once. I gulped down the rest of my rebujito and went to join the party.

4. My first ride in a horse carriage (2010)

I waved at Leonor from across Gitanillo de Triana street. I would never forget the address of her caseta, as she’d texted it to me half a dozen times and repeated it over and over again in the months leading up to the fair. As it turns out, she and her family were across the street and one door down from Los Sanotes.

It must have been six o’clock and just after lunch when I went over with TJ, who was visiting from Aragón. Leonor disappeared in the caseta and came out wielding a plate of jamón, a jar of rebujito and a few plastic cups. I reached my hands out for them, threatening to drop them into the albero, but she nudged me away with her hip.

“I called Jaime, he’s on his way to pick you up.”

Jaime was my student and just 14 at the time. He came with a sleek horse carriage and climbed down to help me into it in my traje de gitana. Tim followed, and Leonor handed us the food and drinks. I tried to refuse the plate of ham, but she insisted, saying we would need it to reverse the effects of the sherry and 7up mix.

Jaime and his two horses took us along the official carriage route, which snakes its way around the fairgrounds from noon until 8pm. From this vantage point, we could see the whole party comfortably while snacking. Taking a spin with them is something I do yearly, but I’ll never forget how cool it felt to be sitting high up, close enough to touch the farolillos that line the streets.

Plus, I saw the Duquesa de Alba and FLIPPED out. 

3. La Noche Más Larga (2010)

I’ve had my fair share of tipsy moments during the fair. Ha, oops. Even those “Oh, I’ll just go for dinner and come back at a reasonable hour” days seem to stretch on forever.

There was the time Fernando’s nephew took Kelly and I around the fairgrounds for 12 hours, or when I was invited into the largest caseta of them all, or when my students treated me like a princess (as in, they fed me jamón and beer for a few hours). The same day that I rode in a coche de caballos for the first time, I went from classy to trashy in what is, without a doubt, the best night of Feria in my six years going to the Real.

As soon as Jaime had whisked us around, I called to meet up with my guiri girlfriends. Meag, Jenna, Bri and Tiana were all at the same caseta, where the socios was one of T’s friends. There were no sevillanas playing when we arrived – instead, people were doing body shots off of one another in something more reminiscent of Spring Break Acapulco than the Feria de Abril. I resisted the body shots, but we were given mixed drinks for only 3€. For the rest of the night, we bounced around from one tent to the next, chattering away, sharing plates of food and  passing around jars of rebujito.

Around 4 or 5 in the morning, just as the tents were closing down, Meag, TJ and I strode to the churros stands at Calle del Infierno. Exapserated, Meag wished for “la penúltima” beer, a common Andalusian phrase when your real plan is to keep drinking all night.

The carny who was coiling the fried dough of the churros smiled. “I have a six-pack,” he said, “and I’ll sell you each can for a euro.”

We drank down the cold beers with the greasy churros (yeah, I know, ick), bought some gummies and started the slow procession home. Slow in the sense that it took us TWO HOURS to walk a kilometer back to my apartment in Triana.

I blame Joey the Little Chicken for such antics.

2. The birth of Club Social “Aqui No Hay Guiris” (2008)

Susana handed me another beer and asked if I was enjoying my first Feria. Despite dressing like a complete fool, I was enchanted and thrilled to have a place where I was welcome, regardless of whether or not I was a socio.

Llama a unas amigas,” she said, “so that they can see what Feria is like.” I pulled out my archaic mobile phone and sent a few messages around. Lindsay responded and said she’d be on her way shortly.

I finished my beer and asked Isra for another. He made yet another tick on the Novio’s tab and gave me a wink. “A que esto de mola, eh guiri?”  Thirty minutes later, an exasperated rubia sidles up next to me at the bar.

Tía!” Lindsay was sucking in air as I order her a beer. “I’ve tried calling you! I kept telling the guy at the door that I was a friend of the guiri inside!”

I glanced at my phone, which had not been plastered to my body to feel it vibrating. She gulped down some Cruzcampo and related, “He said there weren’t any foreigners here. You know, waved his hand and said ‘Aquí no hay guiris.'”

And thus, the greatest social club of my fellow extranjeros was born. We’re considering putting our names on the list for a caseta just as soon as the fairgrounds are expanded to Charco de la Pava. No more chico frito or tortilla – we’re stocking that tent with chicken fingers and hamburgers!

1. “Tu, que eres, de Chicago de la Frontera?” (2009)

My most memorable Feria de Abril moment came from a drunk socio of Los Sanotes, who has forever immortalized me – at least to my sevillano friends – and still makes my students laugh when they ask me to retell it.

Late one night during my second fair, I asked Manolo at the bar for another beer. “Should I add it to your boyfriend’s tab?” he asked, winking.

Not a second later, a drunk, balding socio who reeked of whisky and fried fish was offering to pay for my drink. He looked me up and down and made kissy noises while the Novio snickered behind me.

Oye,” drunken socio cooed, “I don’t know you. Are you from around here?” I tried hard not to laugh the beer right out of my nose as he shimmied and answered, “No, I’m from Chicago.” 

Olé, from Chiclana, right near the beach. That’s nice. Olé.” Drunk socio had confused my hometown with a beachside resort town called Chiclana de la Frontera, thousands of miles away from my beloved Sevilla.

I could see the Novio and his friend Alfonso making a slow exit to leave me to my own devices. By now, I was wedged in between the bar and one of drunk socio’s sausage arms. Avoid his gaze (and whiskey breath), I answered: “Nooooo, de She-cah-go!” I corrected him.

“Ya, ya, ya. De Chicago de la Frontera, quilla.”

And that’s how I became known as the gitana from the American town with the most rate, a nickname that sticks with me to this day.

Feria begins officially on May 5th at midnight when the mayor switches on the main gate’s 10 thousand plus lights. Don’t be fooled by the local name – Feria de Abril – we stick to tradition and start partying two weeks after Easter Monday. If you’re going, remember to dress sharply and bring enough money to cover your food and drinks. For more, check out my Dos and Don’ts of Feria, or how to buy a flamenco dress and its accessories.

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

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!

¡A Vivir, que son (seis) días (de Feria)!

I’ve written for Backpacking Matt and The Spain Scoop about my favorite fiesta of the year: the Feria de Sevilla. Curve-hugging dresses, horse carriages and thousands of bottles of manzanilla sherry characterize the fiesta más alegre of the South just weeks after the gold-laden pasos are stored in their temples.

While in my surrogate caseta, Los Sanotes, my friend Susana’s cousin came to look for me. Yanking my beer out of my hand, she introduced me to a 60-something couple who were standing, dumbfounded, against the wall of the temporary tent. Introducing myself, they fired a million questions at me (whereas I asked just one: Would you like anything to drink?) about the history of the Feria, what it costs to be a member of a caseta and how to best go about enjoying themselves. For as much as I know about Feria – pescaíto etiquette, the names of the streets and how much a jar of rebujito costs – Feria is all about viviéndola. Being with friends, having a buen rato while wearing an enormous flower on yourself and admiring the trajes de gitana are all just a part of the week at the Recinto Ferial.

If the Feria is all about living it up, I’m all lived out. Three rides in horse carriages, two broken shoes and having to wash my flamenco dress three times to get all of the dirt out must mean that this ferianta did more than her fair share of dancing sevillanas and capturing the essence of the fair in pictures. Below each picture is a line from a sevillanas song (a four-part flamenco lite that’s heard emanating from each of the 1000+ casetas) with a link to the song on youtube. As the popular sevillana, A bailar por Sevillanas says, Si Ud. no ha visto la Feria, se la voy a enseñar (If you’ve never seen the Feria, I’m going to show it to you):

Ya huele a Feria, y olé, ya huele a feria

Once the somber processions and palios-encased Virgins are safely back at their churches, the construction of the main gate, called La Portada, is nearing completion, dry cleaners are working overtime to press volantes (ruffles), and the talk of Feria is imminent. Ya huele a Feria, it smells like Feria, and ¡olé!

La Feria se ilumina con su belleza

While the carnival rides and casetas are open, the fair doesn’t officially begin until midnight on Monday, after the traditional pescaíto fried fish dinner. The mayor waits until precisely the right moment to flip the switch that lights up the main gate, called the portada, and the thousands of paper lanterns, farolillos, that illuminate the street. Almost immediately after this moment, called the alumbrado, the bands start up and everyone starts dancing. ¡Olé, esa feria!

Vámanos pa la Feria, cariño mío

I’ve worked out a math equation: the less days that remain until the alumbrado, the more antsy I am. This year, as in years past, we’ve gone to have a few drinks before dinner on Sunday and enjoy the fairgrounds without people or horse carriages. The Calle del Infierno, with its circus tents and carnival rides, is the only really lively part, which means we get special treatment in the caseta. This year, I decided to skip out on the alumbrado and get a good night sleep, only to be restless and not fall asleep until 3am. I wanted to shake Kike awake and say, ¡Vámanos a la Feria, cariño mío!

Debajo de la portada, se la voy a enseñar

Imagine this: a maze of more than 20 streets, all named after bullfighters, more than 1000 red-and-white-and-green-striped tents, and a mess of people wearing brightly colored dresses. Add in all of those pesky horse carriages that clog the streets until 8pm, and there’s simply just one place to meet: under the main gate. There’s a whole lot of public casetas clumped nearby (PSOE, Garbanzo Negro, San Gonzalo), so this is a good place to begin your afternoon if you’re waiting to meet friends.

Me gusta el mosto en noviembre, y mirar al cielo azul

Feria is about as propio to Seville as the Taste of Chicago might be to my native Chicago. It’s a whole big gathering of people admiring beautiful Andalusian women, Jerezano stallions and drinking local wine. One of my favorite sevillanas is Los Amigos de Gines’s Yo Soy del Sur, I’m from the south, which pays homage to all of the best things about Andalucía – the bullfights, the crops, the never-ending blue sky, the pilgrimages. I get chills listening to its slow compás, these are my customs, and I never want to lose them. Ojalá

Se enamoró mi caballo de una yegua de Castilla

If I could bring two people to vivir la Feria, I’d have my dad chugging beers with Kike by night and my mom riding in Leonor’s horse carriage by day. From the early morning hours until the last call of 8pm, the streets jingle with cascabeles as hundreds of horse carriages parade around the Real. It’s not cheap – the little licence plate needed for circulating on the streets costs 86€ an hour!! I love living the feria by day to admire the stately Andalusian stallions which carry manzanilla-wielding men and gorgeous gitanas on their backs, and am lucky enough to have friends who bring carriages! Now if only I’d spot the Duquesa de Alba!

Me gustan los toros serios y los toreros con arte

Apart from the horses, the toros de lidia bravely stare down toreros six times a day during the week’s corridas. Nothing says Feria like a stroll around the fair in the morning, mantilla firmly on your head, with an afternoon at the Maestranza. From this point in the year, the Sunday afternoon bullfights officially start. While I’ve been just once to a bullfight in Seville, we do get to enjoy a mini session at my school: the preschoolers dress up as the toros and bullfighters, and we all chant, ¡Torero, torero! as the jury decides to award the valiant baby bullfighters with an oreja or two. Arte, pero arte.

Me metí en una caseta que estaba llena de pijos, todo el mundo en traje y hablando de su cortijo

As I’ve talked about the casetas before, it’s important to note that they’re private and guarded by door guys. I once invited my friend Lindsay to Susana’s, and she told the portero that she was friends with the guiri inside. He shook his head and said, no foreigners here! Most of the tents are owned by businesses, political organizations, the armed forces and big groups of friends, but there’s no denying it – most of the people who own the tents are rich enough to pay for them. It’s not cheap – Kike and I pay 75€ for the year, but we’re just two of the hundreds of socios . Whenever I am invited to a new caseta, I like to take in the ambience of the people who are talking about their horses, wearing nice suits, and have obviously come from money. I’ve been to some of the bigger and nicer tents in Feria, but prefer the less pretentious ones (and this hilarious sevillana – I went in to a tent full of preppy people, everyone wearing a suit and talking about their horse farm).

Mírala cara a cara, que es la primera

Once night falls and all of the socios have had dinner, the flamenquito bands arrive for live music and two lines of dancers form to dance sevillanas. This four-part dance is like a coqueteous encounter between two lovers: each step, they seem to get closer and more sensual. You can dance with up to four people, either boy-girl or girl-girl (but who care if you dance boy-boy!) and the music doesn’t stop until 5am. My favorite memories have been dancing – with friends, with socios, with my partner, with my students – and each year I feel more confident in my dancing. In Los Sanotes, I’m often invited to dance, and I swear it’s the least American I feel during the entire year.

Esa gita, esa gitana, se conquista bailando por sevillanas

When Susana first took me to try on my very first flamenco dress, I knew not to expect anything else but a lot of drinking and feeling very awkward in my tight dress. I was a hot gitana mess, but each year I feel just a bit more flamenca and love that the Novio has some amazing moves when it comes to dancing sevillanas (even if I have to drag him onto the dancefloor!).

Pasa la vida, pasa la vida y no has notado que no has vivido

Before you know it, the tents are coming down and the fairground is vacant. Seven days pass by in a blur of sherry and polka dots, but some of my most treasured times in Seville have been had at the fairgrounds. The famous sevillana Pasa la Vida by Albahaca talks about how life moves by so quickly and often we forget to live it, but the opposite happens to me during Feria. I can sleep four hours a night and stand dancing for 14. I feel sexier shaking my culo in my dress. I feel confident in calling everyone I know and finding them somewhere in the Real to have a drink.

When it’s all over and life goes back to normal, some little spark inside me seems to kind of flicker out, like my Amigos de Gines sing in my absolute favorite, Algo se muere en el alma. I’ve got to wait 51 excruciating long week to pin the flower back atop my head and my espartos to my feet. Something, indeed, does die in your soul.

Ever been to the Feria de Sevilla? Any good stories to share? Celebrity sightings?

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