I know, I know Easter’s hardly over, but if you live in Seville and two of the most important cultural events of the calendar fall within two weeks of the other, there’s no room for resting on your laurels, particularly when it comes to La Feria (the April Fair) where if you snooze you most definitely lose.
You see Feria is not something that you just stumble into, in a devil-may-care, spontaneous kind of way. Do this, and you’ll spend the day crying into your over priced Rebujito, crammed into a public caseta with the rest of the guiris and out-of-towners or aimlessly trudging the dusty streets as all around you a party is going on, to which you have not been invited. And if by chance you do manage to make it into a private Caseta (a sort of wooden marquee bedecked in frilly gingham), the endless soundtrack of Sevillanas, at first charming and worthy of an appreciative clap or foot tap, will eventually cause you leave of your senses, as you run out screaming into Calle Inferno head on into a collision with a passing horse and carriage.
Ok, I am painting a rather apocalyptic vision of the whole Feria experience, but if you don’t put in the preparation beforehand it will all end in tears. But fear not, it’s not too late for ‘Operacion Feria’ to begin and here’s how to make the most of your Feria experience.
1. Learn Sevillanas
For me Feria doesn’t make sense unless you learn Sevillanas. For the uninitiated Sevillanas looks a bit like Flamenco, from the stamping feet to the sensual arms and hands. Luckily for the dancing novice, it’s a million times easier, that said, it still needs a bit of work to master. Basically there are four separate, choreographed parts danced back to back that gradually build up in difficulty.
If you’re reading this and have never danced sevillanas, right now your best bet is coercing a local into giving you a last minute crash course. If you don’t know any locals than you should have signed up to a class at least 3 months ago. Note to self for next year.
But if you’re stuck, there’s always ‘baila con Hans.’
2. Get a dress
Speak to the average Sevillana woman and she will freely admit to having a wardrobe stuffed full with very expensive flamenco dresses. As a foreigner at Feria, personally I think there’s no point trying to ape the locals to the letter. We are guiris and no amount of flowers stuck on the top of our heads, gypsy shawls and dangly earrings are going to hide that. In fact just making a bit of an effort, i.e. wearing a secondhand dress and a flower in your hair generally gets gasps of appreciation and an invitation to a plate of prawns. So if you happen to be friends with one of the aforementioned Sevillana women and share the same dress size, see if she’ll lend you one of her ‘trajes’ and don’t forget the matching accessories. Or failing that, get yourself down to ‘El Jueves’ Market on Calle Feria one Thursday morning where this time of year you’ll find lots of secondhand dresses on sale. You can also check out the Humana charity shop or vintage stores also on Calle Feria.
3. Customise what you’ve got
Ok, you’ve got your dress, it sort of fits and more less hangs in the right places. But it all could be so much more fabulous. My favourite Feria outfit was a second hand dress I bought, which seemed ok when I tried it on, but on the day of the Feria, I ended up feeling a bit like the poor, dishevelled relation. The following year I took it to local designer Marilene who after working her wonders, I was dressed for action and ready to go. Designers and dressmakers tend to be pretty busy this time of year, so you could also try the girls at the Osa Mallol.
Ok so you’ve got your dress, but that’s just the start of it. Then there are a dizzying array of flowers, combs, shawls and earrings to accompany your outfit. Possibly the most important decision after what dress you’re going to wear is where the hell to pin that flower. If you want to ignore my advice and try to look like the local ladies, the last few years have seen a lone, giant flower stuck dramatically on top of the head being the stand out look. Who knows what will be de riguer this year, but I always tend to go for a more coquettish tucked behind the ear option, which is a bit more forgiving if you’re not cut from local cloth. And don’t forget your feet. Espadrilles are the footwear worn by most, just remember the three inevitable factors: trudging through sandy streets, horse poo and 12 long hours on your feet.
5. Get some Caseta invitations
It’s all very well getting all dressed up, but if you’ve got no where to go you may as well not bother. The next two weeks before Feria is all about networking your little arses off. If you’re an English Teacher get chatting to your students, or the parents of your students. Bring up Feria in conversation, stare at them expectantly ignoring that uncomfortable silence as they realise you’re waiting for an invitation to their private caseta. Start storing caseta addresses in your phone and the days when your contacts will be there. Treat it with the seriousness it deserves, as without a handful of invites, it will be Feria suicide.
Oh and then there’s all the obvious stuff, be careful with your bags, expensive cameras etc, drink water between your rebujitos, check you don’t get overcharged by the donut sellers at the end of the night and most have all, have fun!
And to bring this post up to date, I am going to leave you with a very non-feria, Sevillanas – ‘La Periferia de Sevilla’ by Daniel Mata and friends.