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 And side-eye anyone wearing an outdated dress design!).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

Climbing the Via Ferrata of Archidona

Something hard hit my boob. I watched a rock about the size of a plum careen down the grassy knoll before rolling to a stop. I squinted up at the rock face. There was a lot of mountain to go, and it had already beaten me up.

The via ferrata is the Italian name given to the iron railings the Italian army used in WWI to scale the Alps and the Dolomites, which may have existed a century or two before. The peñón of Archidona is certainly not the Alps, but as a first time climber, my legs were shaking before I had even strapped my kit to the long wires extending more than 140 meters vertically.

Franci explained the procedure to us once more –  to use the mountains, take off one carabiner at a time and don’t panic. I watched Meg Spiderman crawl over the first half a dozen before I took a deep breath and pushed off the ground, grasping the iron peg above my head.

Reaching the top a few hours later (there were periods of waiting for slower climbers or turns to cross the bridge that spanned a canyon) was a tad anti-climactic because my legs were tired and I’d already seen this view of the town below and the mountains that enclose it. My hands were red and raw and I could feel my nose burning under the hot sun.

We started down the mountain – this time walking – and snaked back around to the cars.

Facing things that make me nervous gives me just as much satisfaction as a really good meal and a glass of wine. Yeah, I like being outdoors and trying new things, but I’m not an adrenaline junkie. That said, I’d consider doing other activities that Ocioaventura offers, like spelunking or rafting. Anything that allows me to keep my two feet on the ground!

Ocioaventura offers a half-day Via Ferrata pack, which includes equipment rental, insurance and a basic training course, plus the climb, for 45€. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes, put on sunscreen and eat beforehand. You’re able to carry a small backpack for water. The course in Archidona is for beginners and can be climbed in 2-3 hours.

And if you’re looking for a place to stay, be sure to check availability at Almohalla 51, a beautiful boutique hotel that will only require a quick uphill trek from the main square.

Andalusia: Off the Eaten Path

Spring is here, and while it brings all the things I love – sunny afternoon coffees over charlita, the springtime fairs and romerias and renewed ganas to trip around Andalucia, there’s one thing that I despise: my allergies. I cough and hack and sneeze my way into ERs throughout Seville thanks to being allergic to nearly everything in the air here but postureo.

The biggest culprit? Olive trees. This from my substitute to butter, the shame!!!!

I’ve been itching to visit Jaen, a province in the northeastern part of Andalucía, for years. Home to Renaissance villages, natural parks and….never-ending olive groves. While I’ll have to wait to get there, Anna Frisk of the blog Cut the Kitsch takes us on a visual journey of this oft-forgot province.

 Sniffles guaranteed.

A mesmerizing sea unfolds from the perch of Cazorla. The mountainside village in Jaen is not surrounded by water, but millions of olive trees. This ‘sea’, as its name implies in Spanish (El Mar de Olivos), is an endless dotting of green.

 

When I first came to Spain, my teaching placement situated me right in the heart of Andalusia’s olives. My previous knowledge of Spain consisted of little beyond the expected: wine, flamenco and tapas.  The region’s hefty haul of olive oil production (more than 20% of the world’s supply) hadn’t registered until I saw the blur of green from the train’s windows.

Throughout Jaen province, the sprawling pattern of olive trees gives the landscape a dual dynamism: an admirably esthetic and a pragmatic purpose. Yet in a country garnering great media attention for its culinary creations, Jaen has gotten little to none, especially outside the peninsula.

Moreover, in a world increasingly consumed by the health merits of the Mediterranean diet, Jaen holds its liquid gold, extra virgin olive oil. Enter Jaen and you enter a world consumed by the olive.

If you visit, here are a few musts to follow.

>Stock up on the liquid gold

Each town offers shops specializing in olive oil throughout the region. Walk in one, but make sure to ask. Chances are you don’t know what you should be looking for; ask the experts. They’re here.

>Taste it

Sure, it’s not wine country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t taste your way through the region.  This is perhaps my greatest olive related regret of Jaen; I never did a proper tasting. Google search “olive oil tasting in Jaen” and myriad of favorable results pop up.

>Tapa crawl through the UNESCO World Heritage jewels

The region represents more than its principal fruit. Tucked within the heart of Jaen are two UNESCO World Heritage cities, Baeza and Ubeda. I had the fortunate of living in the former. While the rest of Andalusia flaunts its Moorish details (of which the two small cities still have), Baeza and Ubeda proudly tout Italian Renaissance architecture, some of the best in Spain, too.

Moreover, it’s a tapas haven. If you’ve traveled through Spain before you may have realized that free and generous isn’t the rule, but the exception.

>Hike Cazorla

This is wild Spain at its arguable best. With a park profile that includes alpine meadows, mountain ridges, pine forests, waterfalls, wild animals and more, Cazorla (nearly) has it all. In fact, as Spain’s largest protected land tract, it quickly beckons those with any inclination toward nature.

It’s also tagged with the prestige of an UNESCO biosphere reserve, which means it gets additional international importance. If you visit, make time for a post-park stop at its namesake, a mountainside village that sits picturesquely beneath a castle.

After snapping a photo, sit down, order a beer, and enjoy the region’s favorite aperitif, fleshy and fresh olives.

Anna Frisk is a blogger and photographer who considers herself a vagabond with a day job. Anna first found the world via Okinawa, Japan. Since then, she’s trampled through mountains, temples and deserts to arrive here. Check out her blog at http://annafrisk.wordpress.com. 

Have you ever been to Jaén? What should I visit when I go out there?

Andalusia: A Love Letter in Photos

The immortal Amigos de Gines sing, Andalucia es mi tierra, yo soy del sur. Andalusia is my home, I’m from the South. While I can’t claim to be a full-blood sevillana, I have certainly grown to love my adopted home. My skyscraper-dominated landscape at home now has just church spires and the Giralda piercing the sky, my all-beef hot dogs replaced by acorn-fed ham.

Tomorrow is Día de Andalucía, the day in which Andalusia was ratified as an autonomous state within the newly formed Spanish Republic just 33 years ago (fun fact: Andalusia is six months younger than the Novio!!). We get a day off of work, and many private places open their doors to the public, like the Town Hall or the Congressional Palace.

And why not celebrate? This is the land that has given us the Iberian Lynx and Jerez Stallions, given rise to Antonio Banderas and Paz Vega, cultivated olive oil and sherry. García Lorca wrote homages to his native land, Washington Irving made the Alhambra famous, and Velázquez and Picasso left Andalusia to become two of the most famous Spanish painters in history. Steeped in history and architecture, folklore and culture. Columbus set sail for La India from its very shores, and the last Muslim emperor was expelled from Granada, signalling the reconquest of Spain. Camarón put flamenco on the map from his chabola in San Fernando, while David Bisbal rocketed to fame with the pop hit, Bulería. It’s a place where a si, claro because a ahi, aro illo!

My visual homage to lovely Andalucía:

The landscapes and cityscapes

Seville

Granada

Santa Cruz, Sevilla

Estepa (Seville province)

The beach at Bolonia and ruins of Baelo Claudia

The pueblos blancos, or white villages

Tarifa (Cádiz)

Iglesia del Carmen, Zahora de los Atunes (Cádiz)

The food and drink (and la marcha!)

The folklore and culture

La Manera de Ser

Have you ever visited Andalusia? What do you like about this region? Can you believe I’ve actually never been to Jaén or Almería?

LUXE: Seville’s Luxury Hostel

When  I first moved to La Hispalense, I was in touch with Shawn, the woman behind Seville Tapas Tours, about an apartment. The balcony overlooked the bustling Mateos Gago Street and was within earshot of the Giralda’s massive church bells. I could image the smell of orange blossoms wafting into my bedroom window at night as the sounds below lulled me to sleep, but the apartment was not meant to be. Living right in the middle of the historic quarter would have been lovely, but perhaps a bit noisy.

When visiting, my friends who prefer to stay in the city center always look for a place near the Cathedral for its proximity to tapas bars and attractions. Tucked into a side street just steps off of the Plaza de la Virgen de los Reyes is Grand Luxe Hostel, a hostel concept offering premium accomodation in the middle of Spain’s most vibrant city.

The cobblestoned alleyway leads you to the heavy wooden door of Grand Luxe Hostel. The building, restored in the late 19th Century, is modern and fully-quipped, featuring in-suite bathrooms and rooms especially for families. Grand Luze features 64 for beds in a mix of private double, mixed dorms, girls-only dorms and private twin, all at afforable prices right in the heart of Seville’s quaint Santa Cruz neighborhood.

The building has several ammenities – such as an elevator, free wi-fi, a kitchen with complmentary breakfast, and even free gym access at nearby Cuesta Sport in the morning. What’s more, the open areas are comfy and condusive for mingling.

Owner Kate’s eye for design makes the space modern, bright and fun, while the building still retains its charm. In each room, guests enjoy free reading lamps, personal cubbies and private lockers.

The hostel’s best kept secret? The terrace views of the Cathedral and Giralda, which can be enjoyed with a complimentary glass of wine at dusk. The hostel is a prefect jumping off point for Seville’s famous nightlife – great tapas bars, flamenco peñas and cocktail bars are only a stone’s throw away from Grand Luxe, and it’s also within walking distance of the bus station for a quick getaway.

Owners José Luis and Kate

Rooms and bed are available from December 16th, 2012. You can find LUXE on Hostelworld, Hostelbookers or their personal website. They’ve also got a Facebook page, or you can look them up on twitter at @grandluxehostel.

I was not compensated in any way for this article. All views and opinions are my own.

You Know You’re in Small Town Spain when…

I’ve lived in just three cities in Spain, all de-facto capitals of their respective comunidades autonomas. While cities offer all the amenities that make living abroad un pelin easier – from vegetarian options to world-class entertainment – Spain’s pueblos are its soul.

It seems that every Spaniard has his or her pueblo. Kike’s family has had land in teeny San Nicolas del Puerto, a hiccup of a village in the Sierra Norte de Sevilla, for centuries. The mountain air, fresh meat and raucous fiestas – among them, a haunted house in the middle of the summer – make it our preferred destination on the weekend. This is the kind of pueblo where everybody knows your name and all of your business.

Apart from San Nicolas, I spent 12 days living in a monastery outside of Madrid. The town of Uclés had, apart from the commanding monastery, one church, one bar, one plaza and one house converted into the “super club” during the months the guiris were up the hill. We happened to be there during the village’s super fiesta, a pilgrimage which allowed the village to swell to nearly twice its size.

While every pueblo has its trademarks, there are some things you just can’t escape. You know you’re in small town Spain when…

…eating, drinking and merry-making are dirt cheap

…saint is being exalted 

…all roads lead to the church

…there’s a low-budget charanga butchering every Bisbal song in existence

…mixed drinks look like this:

…everyone knows your name and your business

…someone throws a chicken in the air for fun (or does anything else strange)

What’s your favorite village in Spain? Why do you like it?

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