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!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ser Una Feriante

Battling for the Title:  Queen of the Feria 

The feria season lasted a solid month this year.  Rota started out the month with its Feria de Primavera, followed by the exquisite dresses and casetas of Sevilla, then the splendor of horse-driven Jerez.  Hometown Puerto followed (my personal favorite), and Sanlúcar’s feria in the middle of town wound up the month. 

El Puerto de Santa María: Dedicated to the U.S. of A.

I have officially achieved feriante status.  To be a feriante, you must 1) go to the opening of the feria  2) go to all the days of the feria, and 3) close down the feria.  I managed to do this in Puerto, MY feria, where this year it seemed like I knew someone on every feria streetcorner. 

Rocking Rota
Splendid Sevilla

My family does not know what to make of me.  “Why do you like feria so much, Mom?” my girls ask me.  They want to go to the cacharritos, the horrible city of amusement park rides aptly nicknamed the Calle de Infierno, or Street of Hell because of the top-volume noise-music blaring from every speaker—a different song for each ride.   I, on the other hand, want to stay in the casetas, or cruise the dusty streets, avoiding the horses and carriages and searching out the casetas that are playing live flamenco—although I did take 15 kids from La Merced, the kids’ school, to feria this year for the afternoon!

This is what we love!

I am joined by a number of feriante friends who have taught me something about the feria.  And being a feriante is an art form, something that must be learned and observed, even apprenticed.  A clear master is my friend Carolina, a Venezuelan by birth who has made studying flamenco and feria her passion.  I learned the sevillanas from her, and I dog her tracks in each feria as much as she will let me! 

Carolina:  Perfect from any angle

And a superb dancer as well!

Carolina's apprentices

There are several guiding principles for maximum feria enjoyment.  First and foremost:  go with good friends, and find more friends there.   Gawking at dresses, dancing sevillanas, sharing rebujito (a sherry-Sprite concoction) and tapas all are far more entertaining when paired with conversation and laughter.   

Feria + Friends = Fun

When we went to our first feria in Villamartin back in 2011, it was just Todd, me, and the girls.   It was incomprehensible.  What were these people doing, dressed in these crazy dresses (or not) and staying up until all hours of the dawn enduring such cacophony pouring out of each caseta and cacharrito?  We were out of there by 10:30 pm.  It wasn’t until 2013, when I went with Carolina and her group of 25 friends , mostly my age or older, dancing our way from caseta to caseta in Jerez, that I started to realize just how enjoyable the feria could be.

Every year they have a group this size--or bigger! See if you can find me...

We all pitched in to a vaquita, a purse where everyone contributes 20 or 30 euros.  One person holds it, and everyone follows the vaquita.  This keeps the group together (that’s your food and rebujito walking away there!) and ensures that drink and tapas flow your way all night long.   We perused the streets, with Andrea bursting into song spontaneously and creating a crowd around us to watch her and Carolina dance. 

Sevillanas, Jerez-style
We traded partners for sevillanas constantly, and ended the night at 5 am for chocolate and churros before heading home.  This year I joined them again and it was just as wonderful, a group that sees each other just once a year but takes the time to truly enjoy the whole experience. 

A delicious way to end the evening

Which leads me to principle #2:  You need to take TIME to enjoy feria.  It’s not something that can be scheduled in two-hour blocks.  In fact, don’t even consider going to the feria for just two hours—it just doesn’t make sense.  Things move slowly—crowds move slowly—lines at the cacharritos can move slowly, and a large group definitely moves slowly.  

I love to see the kids in their dresses on the rides

This point was driven home to me when I went to the feria with my friend Conchi.  She brought her two-year-old in a stroller—No WAY!  I thought, when I saw the crowds.  But she and Luis, her husband, calmly navigated the throngs with such good nature and relaxed attitude—at times moving at a snail’s pace—that it calmed ME!  And that’s how the Spanish are—they have such a live-and-let-live attitude that you can’t help but be affected by it.

Sevillanas with Sasha

This year we decided to see the feria on horseback.  Not just any horses, of course—the marvelous Andalusians we’d been riding, and not just any saddle, but sidesaddle!  The Spanish call it a silla amazona, or amazon saddle, which suits me just fine.  We rounded up the traje amazona, the traditional outfit complete with hat, and sashayed around the feria.  Tia and Sasha won a prize for their style!

First time astride in Jerez!  With Jesús, our favorite horse guy

Watch us on horseback:  Click here  and   Here

Seeing the feria from the back of a horse forces you to take the time to enjoy the scene.  And anyway, rushing around ensures that you will miss something wonderful and spontaneous that will happen if you just give it time.  Rushing to a caseta that is playing bulerias usually results in being on the outside looking in, without a prayer of getting to dance.  On the other hand, if you show up early and hang out with friends, you not only get a good seat but you make friends with those around you, and you will be invited to dance!  

Click here and here for this year's attempts at bulerias!

Bulerias con Montse al cante

I have stumbled on the most wonderful spontaneous events at feria:  Dancing sevillanas while Enrique plays a huge tambor and flute simultaneously; Carmen singing a rumba and jumping up to dance at 2 in the morning, and dancing bulerias as a pair with my friend Ana (we practiced first).  

The more, the merrier: Late night ops
Cousins Dana and Bill came over to get in on the action!

Which, of course, leads to the third critical principle:  learn to dance.   The sevillanas are old courtship rituals and human emotion concretized in dance.   They look complicated, but are actually fairly easy to learn—even Todd has them down pat after three seasons and looks sharp on the dance floor.  

Watch us dance: Click here

Todd cutting the rug--uh...wooden planks

The first sevillana describes the lovers’ first meeting—the blazing attraction, the infatuation.  The second sevillana epitomizes the smoldering focus as they come to know each other.  In the third sevillana, the lovers fight and clash, turning away from each other—only to reconcile and twirl into each others’ arms in the fourth sevillana

Patriotic in red, white, and blue...and purple and green

Dancing makes the feria multiples of times more enjoyable.  I watched in fascination after having learned the basic steps from my friend and teacher Carolina—where were the steps she taught us??  The women I was watching were amazing, spinning and posturing with Spanish attitude—but I hardly recognized anything I’d learned, except for the eventual pasada where the pair changes places.  

Fast-moving action

Three feria seasons and three teachers later, I have learned several dozen variations on the sevillana theme, and have stolen as many steps as I have paid for!   The countless different ways to dance this simple dance make it endlessly fascinating (next up for me: castanets!) and I can watch and dance for hours, trying out what I see and goofing around with friends.  Tia and Sasha get it, too—they spent an afternoon at the feria making up the ugliest, most ridiculous, most outrageously clownish version, executed perfectly in time to the music. 

Future feriantes:  All dressed up

The final principle, which I take more or less seriously, owning now approximately 14 trajes gitanos:  Dress up!  The traje gitano, or feria dress, also known as a traje flamenco, is one of the most wonderful parts of feria.  I can people-watch for hours, intrigued by the colors and combinations that these women come up with.  This year the Puerto feria was dedicated to the Americans (USA!  USA!) and we had a ball with the red-white-blue theme.  

A perfect blend of cultures
Our band Vale That also played at the American caseta, and I tried out my latest look, complete with sombrero.

Rocking the USA caseta

Our friends tease me mercilessly about how fascinated I am with the feria, but I don’t care.  It is a cultural event that combines many of the things I adore about Spain and Andalucía—dance, friends, horses, food, hanging out, community—and I’m already looking forward to next year.  May it not be my last!

Feria 2050

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