Every spring, as the blossoms of azahar and the temperatures rise, something happens to Sevilla. After the bleachers from Semana Santa have been packed away, the atmosphere begins to crackle with a heady anticipation. I read once that every April, Sevilla erupts into Feria, and, after having experienced it, I believe that’s the best way to describe what happens. Feria doesn’t just arrive; it parades, with coaches and bells and dresses and music.
I arrived back into Sevilla on Wednesday morning, so exhausted from a night spent in the airport that I couldn’t even feel. As we rode the bus into the city, an advertisement flashed onto the television screens, with the cheery message, “Ya es la primavera!”(It’s spring!) and an image of a woman and a man astride a horse.
“I’m too tired to feel anything,” I told my friends. “But after I sleep, I’m going to be really excited.”
So I slept for four hours, hopped out of bed and was about to charge out the door to buy my accessories when my host mom stopped me.
“Today is a holiday,” she explained. “All the stores are closed.”
The problem was that I couldn’t wear my flamenco dress without–at least–a flower. It just isn’t done. I already look enough like a guiri (a foreigner) with my blue eyes, blonde-ish hair, and general face shape. At that point, I didn’t have anything, no shawl (called a “mantocillo”), flower, or pendants.
I had resigned myself to wearing just a normal dress, when my host mom suddenly exclaimed that she had accessories in her closet. She opened up a drawer and pried open a rusty box.
“I haven’t opened this for ten years!” She laughed.
Inside, lay a purple flower, earrings, necklace and combs, which looked perfect with my bright yellow dress. She helped me tie my hair up into a bun and affix the combs and flower onto my head, the smile on her face recalling old times of staying out late, eating and dancing the night away.
After I was deemed Feria-ready, Nicole and I headed out to the fairgrounds, which lay about a twenty minute walk away on the other side of the river. About ten minutes in, after the sweat began to collect oh-so-beautifully on our faces, we found a lady selling fans near the Parque María Luisa.
“Shannon,” Nicole said. “You’re going to want to buy a fan.”
“Nicole,” I told her confidently. “I don’t have my own flower yet. The fan I buy might not go with my new accessories.” (This is also important. Coordination is key.)
“Trust me,” she assured. “The Feria is boiling.”
I found a yellow fan that was pretty cheap, so I went ahead and bought it. Probably one of the best investments of my life. By the end of the week, I was convinced that there was just a giant aluminum funnel that channeled all heat and sunlight onto the Feria, making it about ten degrees hotter than everywhere else. Besides just relief, a fan is also a great way to make friends. You see someone desperately waving a pathetic napkin at themselves? Offer your fan, with a smile. Instant friendship.
After our fan purchase, we crossed into a fairytale.
“I think I’m going to cry,” I said to Nicole as we walked across the river. It was magical. The fairgrounds in Los Remedios is lined with rows and rows of tents, called casetas. These range from tiny to ridiculously huge, each one similar in appearance, but unique in interior design. Some are lined with lace, others covered in lanterns, some have pictures and others plaques. Within each caseta, there is a space with chairs and tables for dancing, eating, socializing, and of course, drinking. Usually behind this area there is a large kitchen, where workers tirelessly shuffle back and forth, cooking up tortillas, fried fish, pinchitos (delicious grilled chicken shishkebabs), and mixing the ever important rebujito. I was warned about this before, but I didn’t quite understand it until I tasted it. Rebujito is made from some type of sherry called “manzanilla” and Sprite swirled into a dangerously refreshing drink. Warning: this is not water. You probably shouldn’t treat it like water.
The majority of casetas are private, but there are some public ones sponsored by political parties and districts of the city. I was told that it’s not about having a caseta (which can cost up to 800 euros), it’s about knowing someone who has a caseta. I had the fortune of not only having multiple friends with casetas, but friends who had friends who had casetas. This meant that we went caseta-hopping every night, trading one dance floor for another, drinking, talking and eating. The casetas play mainly sevillanas, which is a type of folk dance that branches from flamenco, and has its own corresponding dance. Sevillanas is composed of four pasos or steps and they are always the same. The only thing that changes is the tempo and sometimes your partner.
Whenever you get tired of staying in a caseta, you can stroll along the streets which are full of beautiful horses. I am obsessed with these animals, so you can imagine my excitement knew no bounds. The well-groomed equines toss their heads proudly, setting of the red and gold pom-poms that decorate their bridles as they trot down the cobblestone street, pulling a coach full of gorgeous women. My favorite part was caballeros. I’m not actually sure what they were called, but that’s what I named the strapping men astride their steeds, dressed in sharp suits and hats dipped rakishly to the side.
Whenever they passed by, my fan waved faster to cool down my beating heart.
Once you make it past the parading horses, you walk into Calle de Infierno (Hell’s Street), which looks like your typical carnival except 10x more intense. We’re not talking about your average carousel and Ferris wheel, people. Two giant wheels, legitimate roller coasters, log flumes, live-pony carousels, bumper cars, arcades, scramblers, a circus…that’s right. There’s even a circus! Around the edges of the Calle are tons of churro stands–but these aren’t frequented until 5 in the morning!
The Calle is pretty overwhelming, with music blaring at you from every angle and little kids running around like little monsters. And you can forget about changing–everyone wears their dresses on the rides! Although, make sure to secure any loose adornments, or they will join the graveyard of combs and clips that lay at the bottom of every ride.
We all got dragged onto a ride called “Top Gun,” which flips you upside down multiple times and then sprays water on your face. Besides being ridiculously terrifying, it really offered a great view of the Feria. After that, I picked out the next ride I wanted to try out: Super Kangaroo. This is like a mega-scramber, except that it violently bounces you up and down. When I told my friend that was the one I wanted to ride, he shook his head disapprovingly.
“That’s a soft ride. You like soft rides.”
Whatever–Super Kangaroo provided some of the best four minutes of my life.
After two rides, however, we were done. The rides are diverse and awesome, but they can set you back quite a few euros.
Feria during the day is brilliant, but Feria during the night is wildly romantic. The streets are strung with lanterns that softly glow above you and the Calle de Infierno beckons with its neon lights that pulsate into the dark sky.
(Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this. I was enjoying myself too much to take photos.)
I danced and danced until I could barely walk. There was one moment on Saturday when we were all lined up in our partners, while the men clapped and beat the drum, singing the line in a popular song “¡Yo soy del sur!” I think that’s what represents Feria for me. It’s more than just the raw visual–which is stunning, don’t get me wrong. But Feria is a dream, a dream that never seems to end; where your head spins from dancing and laughing, your heart full with the happiness of being with friends and feeling beautiful. Time ceased to exist…there was one point when we were in the Feria for 12 hours and I barely noticed. It had only felt like four!
Feria was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Add it to your bucket list. In a form, it captures what Andalucía is–colorful, vibrant, loud, alive with music, beautiful. At the same time, the reality of today’s Spain is visible within this festival. Although it is difficult to tell in the display of good fortune and wealth, the Feria has changed with the economic crisis. We were told by our friend that this year the Feria was less crowded, and even a little less lively than in more prosperous times. And yet, if no one had told me, I never would have realized. Even in the face of hardships, the sevillanos can sing and dance and take pride in their rich culture.