Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reflections on Feria de Abril

May 2 - 8

I had been in Italy for the first part of Sevilla's biggest celebration of the year.  But, I returned on Thursday to enjoy at least three days of the festivities.  Immediately upon returning from the airport, I could sense the excitement.  Women strolled the city streets in their traditional "gitano" (gypsy) dresses, tightly fit and long, usually ruffled from the knees down.  Everyone's hair is up and topped off with a flower while hoop earnings hang from the ears.  Men wear less traditional outfits, preferring their best suit, no matter how hot it may be.  Arriving to Feria in style means taking a horse and buggy from the city center.  Clara, Nicole, and I saw several parties taking their carriages as we arrived from the airport. 

As I learned from a CIEE Spanish guide (Alejandro), Feria began as an annual livestock exchange held outside the old city center.  Farmers from around Southern Spain met for a week to do business and party.  Sevilla has since been the first in Southern Spain to revive the tradition (leaving the livestock behind), and today is the biggest and best.  In no other town do nearly all the women dress traditionally.  Like Semana Santa, Feria is a huge part of Sevilla's annual income.  Not only do nearly all Sevillanos participate, but the other Spaniards come as well. 

 Painting of the Feria Campus when it was a livestock exchange (with the Catedral in the background)
(Photo from

The campus of the Feria is located across the river from the old city center.  It acts as a little town during the week-long celebration with is dusty streets named after famous bullfighters.  Nearly 4,000 tents or "casetas" are built on the campus.  The choice of red and white stripes or green and white stripes are fittingly representative of Sevilla's two soccer teams.  Each one is owned by a group, whether it be a business, organization, church, etc.  The group members make a contract with a bar in town to build a separate bar within the tent and sell food and drinks to the groups' invitees.  An invitation is required to enter the caseta, although four public casetas exist on the campus.  An invitation does not come with the right to food, only the right to purchase food (which can be substantially more expensive than what you can get in town) and party for as long as you want.  What most cannot help but purchase are jars of Feria's festive drink of choice called "Rebujito."  It is a mix of 7UP and dry sherry ("manzanilla") and it is only enjoyed the week of Feria.  The week begins with a fish fry dinner ("pescaito frito") of the caseta members and an illumination of the campus at midnight on Monday.  

It had been a goal of mine to become close with Spaniards.  One of the reasons was the chance to enter a private tent at Feria.  My dream came true the day I returned from Italy.  My friends Juan and Virginia, with whom I had spent several occasions practicing English, invited me to join them at Feria.  I brought Clara along too and together we entered a dream world.  We got stuffed on a bus with other eager Sevillanos and arrived direct to the front gate ("Portada") of the campus.  Its bright lights, imposing size, and unique design were stunning.  As it turns out, Sevilla takes the Portada quite seriously.  Each year a contest determines the architect that will design the gate.  This year's design disgusted many locals who had preferred traditional designs of years past imitating famous Sevilla structures.  The 2011 Portada celebrated some anniversary of Columbus passing through Sevilla.  It did not matter to me, although the controversy made for good conversation. 

With Juan as our guide we entered the miniature city.  It seemed that the whole town had descended on this place.  Other places in Sevilla seemed like a ghost town in comparison.  Bars ditched their permanent locations and sent their entire staffs to their corresponding casetas at the Feria.  The dream world overwhelmed us: the lights lining each sidewalk, the colors of the dresses, and cheers, laughter, and music blaring from each caseta.  Looking down you saw empty bottles of sherry and 7UP strewn about; looking up you saw everyone with a little cup of the "Rebujito" mixture in hand.  We peered into the casetas, each one filled with locals dancing flamenco (the local version being the "Sevilliana").  The emotional and passionate flamenco music that fuels the dance came from all directions.  Girls of all ages showed off their dresses, which here mean more to them than wedding dresses.

First we entered Juan's caseta.  It was packed, but we fought our way to the bar and ordered a tortilla (potato omelet) and bocadillos de solomillo (pork on sliced baguette).  To wash it down, we ordered our first jar of Rebujito.  Clara and I were wide-eyed at the taste and looked forward to many more that night.  We absorbed the scene as we ate.  We left to meet up with Virginia and her friends who would take us to their tent.  Inside, more Rebujito was enjoyed.  Two Spanish children who knew Viriginia offered to teach Clara and me the Sevilliana. I stumbled through the basic steps, as I laughed and took it all in.  The Spaniards always love seeing uptight Americans take it easy and embrace the Spanish culture.  At 4:00 AM I was finally back at the apartment where I collapsed.  I am grateful that Juan and Virginia provided us a unique night. 

 Learning the "Sevilliana" from Spanish children in Virginia's caseta

Although I had arrived at the apartment "late" at 4:00 AM, it was child's play compared to Ceci's (my host sister) schedule.  Obsessed with Feria, she left the house at 3:00 PM every day and did not return home until 7:00 AM the next day.  She would sleep until 2:00 PM, eat, and head back to Feria and return again 15 hours later.  Not surprisingly, she had a cold by the end of the week and had to spend the last two days bedridden.  No regrets, though.  Marta, her closest friend and frequent visitor at our apartment, had designed and made her dress by hand.  It turned out to be one of the most unique dresses I had seen all week.  Ceci had restricted herself to a diet the whole semester.  It was clear that she lives for this one week.

 Ceci with her "gitano" dress made by her friend Marta

I returned to Feria the next night with Nicole and Lara.  This time we had no invitations but entered the public caseta to order our jar of Rebujito.  We continued to stroll and take pictures.  Montse had encouraged me to bring my camera, saying that the Spanish girls loved being photographed by foreigners ("guiris").  We crossed over into the adjacent section of campus containing the rides.  Like all state fairs in the United States, this area contained the bumper cars, prize stands, and Ferris wheels.  We mounted the tallest Ferris wheel and enjoyed a view of the whole campus at night.  We then succumbed to a midnight snack of Churros con Chocolate, the Spanish answer to elephant ears.  The prizes here?  Legs of jamón, of course.  I could not believe it.  What was also extraordinary was the sight of the Spanish youth, dressed at their best, getting on the rides.  You would not find anyone in a suit at the Indiana State Fair.  

 Nicole and Lara with cups of "Rebujito" (7UP and Dry Sherry)

I had another night of Feria on Saturday with Salima to say goodbye to the dream.  On Sunday, the event culminated in fireworks, which I watched from the rooftop of my apartment building.  To see pictures of Feria, click "Feria de Abril - 5-2 - 5-8" at

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