Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

¡Viva la Feria!

Las guapas de la feria de Rota
My mother would hate the Feria.  A mild agoraphobic, she sometimes has trouble going into a supermarket, and the packed-wild hubbub burbling cacophony that are Andalucia’s Ferias makes even the stoutest non-Spanish heart tremble a little.  

¡Ole!  Feria de Jerez de la Frontera, with friends Victoria and Ana

A little background on the ferias of Andalucía: the origins of feria or “fair” in Spain, England and the U.S. (as well as elsewhere) began with a mercantile slant sometime in the 12th century; the intent was to allow vendors to move from place to place to sell their wares at set times during the year.  The modern Andalusian version of feria, which traces back to the Feria de Abril in Sevilla in 1846, now has no selling of ordinary livestock.  Instead, they have extravagant shows of the beautiful Andalusian breeds, old-time carriages drawn by matched sets of horses, and men and women decked in traditional costumes parading through the temporary streets of the feria grounds.  Casetas, or temporary structures similar to a tent, but extravagantly decorated inside complete with a full bar/tapas restaurant and bathrooms, line these streets.  Sevilla’s casetas are mostly private, which means you need to know someone to get in, but the other towns’ casetas are public or have a dedicated public space open to everyone. Most women wear a traditional Andalusian costume, while the men just dress dapperly (for the most part!).  Huge lighted gates mark the entrance, and at night the grounds glow with thousands of decorative bulbs.  Food and drink, in particular rebujito, are sold at stands and in the casetas, and there is of course a huge area of carnival rides for kids and adults alike called the Calle del Infierno.  Flamenco music of all types—but everywhere the sevillanas—compete with each other for your attention.   It is a raucous, crowded, happy, wild, noisy craziness, a temporary city of fun and fiesta, and yep, my mom would last about a minute.
Sasha in expensive feria dress
Dressed-up horses in Jerez
But we loved it.  Why?

First, the sheer joy of seeing an entire town turn out.  Puerto’s downtown has been virtually deserted since the start of its Feria.  Teachers plan for low attendance for the two weekdays of Feria, and sure enough, they combined Tia and Sasha’s 3rd and 4th grade classes and had a grand total of 15 students.  Despite a bus strike that crippled the usually-efficient bus system ferrying thousands of feria-goers to the casetas, the portuenses (people from Puerto) took it in stride good-naturedly, ambling in huge groups down the sidewalks of the highway out to the feria grounds, and patiently waiting (and paying) for parking if they couldn’t walk.   Women dressed to the nines made this a hugely colorful spontaneous parade, and I couldn’t stop gaping at the sheer number of people out, happily squeezing through the crowds with their strollers, stopping to chat and blocking the pathways through the casetas and carnival rides, laughing and chatting and cheek-kissing and hugging and paying exorbitant prices to ride the impressive-sized cacharritos, the kids squealing and screaming with delight. 

The dresses take a prancin' and keep on dancin'

Even the weather couldn’t dampen the portuenses’ fiesta; despite a weather report that predicted a constant drizzle for the first three days of Feria, and heavy downpours on the fourth day, as soon as the weather let up the people showed up, not minding the mud and puddles, ducking into the casetas during the showers.  On one of the rainy days, I mentioned to my friend Luis how crowded it was.  “Crowded?”  he said.  “Oh, this is empty.”  And sure enough, the sun finally shone the last two days, and you could barely move, it was so full.  I didn’t even know there were that many people in Puerto!

With friends Isabela, Daniela, and Guillermo
Second, we are ardent horse-lovers (except for Todd, who is afraid of them), and there couldn’t be a better place to horse-watch.  In fancy places like Sevilla and Jerez de la Frontera, the horses are often better-dressed than many of the people, and that is saying something in Spain.  Shampooed, groomed and braided and wrapped and curried until they shine, these gorgeous Andalusians prance and paw through the streets, necks arched and jaunty, with their riders stiffly showing off, the women mostly sidesaddle, and everyone in the traditional caballero costume.  Carriages drawn by 2, 3, 4, 5, or even 6 horses wheel through the streets picking up and dropping off passengers just like in the days of old.  Tia, Sasha, and I are determined to ride in the feria next year; we’re already taking side-saddle lessons!

Best-dressed horses
Dressed head to tail!

Cinderellas at the Feria
Third, there are the sevillanas.  A courtship dance from the 15th century, the sevillanas as they are known today were part of the first Feria de Abril de Sevilla, hence the name.  Consisting of 4 separate sevillanas, which we as a family dutifully learned before the Feria, each sevillana indicates a different phase of the courtship:  first sight, falling in love, the fight, and making up.  We congratulated ourselves on learning all four sevillanas before the Feria, only to gawk in disbelief when a friend played the sevillana music at Feria speed!  Nevertheless, we practiced and practiced until we had it down.  “Are you SURE your kids don’t have some Spanish blood from somewhere??”  a friend asked me after seeing Tia and Sasha dance, dance and dance, going from one lady to another to find a partner to dance with.  Want to hear the music?  CanalSur has a special channel online dedicated to 24-hour sevillanas, just hit the Feria button in the upper righthand corner of their website:

(Sevillanas movie coming!)

To fuel all this dancing, you need food and drink.  A fourth reason I LOVE Spain, and the Feria in particular, is because I fit right in.  The official drink of choice for Feria is rebujito, a cool, refreshing mixture of fino sherry and Sprite!  This sweet concotion is right up my ally: it goes down easy, not too strong, it’s served in little wine or plastic cups, and you buy it in pitchers to share with friends.  Put rebujito together with tapas—Spanish tortillas, jamón bellota, eggplant with manchego y salmorejo—and you have the perfect setting for a delicious fiesta, all night long.  And that’s the average span of feria:  arrive in the afternoon, after siesta, and amble from caseta to caseta, meeting different groups of friends along the way, nibbling tapas and sipping rebujitos from the pitcher that you take along into the street, dancing and drinking and eating in turn, until all of a sudden you realize it’s four in the morning.   

Risas, rumba, and rebujito in a caseta

Finally, and by far the most awe-inspiring reason I love Feria, is the Andalusian national costume, the traje flamenco.  The only regional costume that gets updated EVERY season (so everyone knows who bought what that year?), these dresses outdo wedding dresses in their extravagancia (and so does their price tag!).  Not only that, the accessorizing that goes with them puts a bridal veil to shame:  huge outsized fabric roses of all colors is de rigeur, as are the largest earrings you can find that your ears will tolerate (mine this year hung past my collarbone).   Brightly beaded necklaces, 12-inch-long fringe collars, and/or a mantón (shawl) complete your look.  I found a flamenco consignment store behind the Mercado in a hardware shop (of all places!) and went nuts.  I own five of these dresses so far, and am far from finished with shopping!  Tia and Sasha are just as crazy for them; one of our favorite pastimes is perusing the dresses that have just been brought in, and trying to figure out the year and whether we want THIS one or THAT one!



So enjoy the pictures—and plan to come visit during Feria next year!
A wide variety of feria outfits...not everyone dresses up


  1. Stephanie, I just LOVE your insight of Feria! It's amazing how you're soaking up our culture and enjoying it! Me alegro de que sepas enriquecerte y aprovechar las oportunidades que te brinda la vida...¡¡ENHORABUENA!!

    1. Fernanda, estoy tan enamorada de España y la cultura latina. Que suerte tuve tambien encontrar amigas aqui como tu!

  2. OMG, we are SO coming next yesr--and we'll stay! I am so jealous I can't stand it. It's a grey day here in LA and I'm off for a meeting with a clinic director. Sigh. I want to be drinking spiked Sprite and sashaying around in my fancy dress. And who is that lovely young lady in the photos who looks like Tia???? Unbelievable. Thanks for the journey!
    Love you,


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