Since moving back to the UK last year, I am reminded with alarming regularity that, Toto, we’re not in Spain anymore. I’m reminded every time I pay more than a Euro for a beer; I’m reminded every time I stand nicely in a queue; and I’m reminded with every breakfast, lunch, and 6pm-sharp dinner. But there’s no time of year I am more harshly reminded of my residency than this week: the Feria de Abril (that’s April Fair to you and I). I was lucky enough to experience Feria in Seville: its birthplace and biggest fan. Feria in Andalucia is a pretty big deal. Don’t make the mistake of going in unprepared or you might find yourself face down in some flamenco ruffles after too much rebujito while a man named Paco violently does tacones around your lifeless body. Not that I speak from personal experience or anything. It’s scary out there for a guiri in Spain.
The Guiri’s Guide to Feria
Talk the Talk
So, what is Feria? Well, truth be told: I don’t really know, but I do know that it’s a lot of fun. I imagine that it started out as some sort of agricultural fair, but has transcended into a weeklong party that everyone can come to, regardless of age. Its site – a huge lot in the Los Remedios area of the city – stays vacant all year until Feria, where it is filled to the brim with fairground rides, churros stalls, and casetas. Casetas (little houses) are essentially the most sophisticated wendy houses you will ever see, complete with their own kitchens, bathrooms, and cheesy baroque décor.
The only problem is that they are privately owned and cost more than a small African country, so if you, like me, don’t belong to a wealthy Spanish family, you have two options: beg local friends and colleagues for a pity invite, or degrade yourself by attending a “public” caseta, which I imagine is what it felt like to sit at the back of the bus during the Civil Rights movement. If you’re lucky, maybe one of the rich kids will toss you some calamari.
Walk the Walk
You didn’t think you were going to just turn up and have a good time, did you? Oh no. Feria is serious business, and there’s nothing more serious than learning the moves to the traditional dances (or Sevillanas). There are four Sevillanas, which are repeated one after the other to the tune of angsty flamenco music. It would appear that Andalusian girls have Sevillanas built into them inherently the same way that I have an inherent appreciation for fried food. Us guiris don’t quite have that Latin flair but, happily, there are a number of free (or very cheap) Sevillanas classes around the city in the weeks running up to the event. Like all Spanish dancing: you’re lured into a false sense of security with some easy claps and side steps before the music suddenly kicks in and you’re expected to perform some sort of Riverdance with added stamping. For bad dancing comes the perfect remedy: Rebujito. The traditional Feria drink is a potent combination of Manzanilla (sherry) and sprite that will have you leaping around the dancefloor like Julio Iglesias before propping yourself up on a table and telling your colleagues’ friends that you can tell they’re really in love by the way they dance, man. But, again: that might just be me.
Frock the Frock (…sorry)
Now onto serious business: the outfit. It seems to me that the same amount of effort is put into sourcing an outfit for Feria as most people would put into finding a wedding dress. As I was unable to spend thousands of pounds on a bespoke flamenco dress, my work gifted me a lovely blue number from their charity sale. Any warm feelings about Andaluz generosity soon dissipated as my colleagues paraded me in front of a mirror, tutting that they’d have to adjust the dress due to the fact that “you British girls carry all your weight here”, while grabbing my love handles for effect. While it’s acceptable for my male guiri friends to shove on a shirt and be done with it, the dress was the least of my worries; There were the shoes, the flower for my hair, the earrings, the shawl, even a little plastic pin to keep the shawl in place: all of which had to abide by a strict colour code. All in all it was a very stressful process, but one that was totally worth it when I twirled and my dress did that swishy noise.
Unwelcome comments about my waist aside: Feria is the epitome of good, Andaluz hospitality and it deserves a spot on your bucket list. I challenge any guiri to get through the week without being dragged into someone’s family’s caseta and forced to dance, eat, and drink until morning. And then do it all again the next day. And the next. And the next…
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