Seville Snapshots: The Horses of the Feria de Abril of Sevilla

“Cat, estamos en Feria, ¿vale?”

Luna, the Novio’s god-daughter, is not quite three and already a declared feriante. We were sitting in a horse carriage, her teeny hand stroking the ruffles of my traje de gitana. In Spanish, “I’ve been to three Ferias. ¿Y tú?” Six, I replied, getting a puzzled look. Before I could explain, she drew in a deep breath and pointed at the team of horses pulling us along the fairgrounds. ¡Mira, Cat! ¡Un caballo!

photo by Hayley Salvo

There are so many things that are muu d’aqui about the Seville April Fair – the drinks, the dance, the dress (not to mention the etiquette). While it’s not for everyone, Seville’s social event of the year celebrates Andalusian beauty of all sorts, including its Jerezano stallions. Horses, riders and their carriages are allowed to circulate the fairgrounds until about 8pm, paying nearly 80€ an hour for the official license plate. Seeing the pale grey stallions, women dressed as amazonas perched on top with their legs dangling off the side and a crisp sherry in hand, adds an air of the past.

The caballos get gussied up for the event – their tales and manes are braided, balls of yarn and bells hang from their  bridles. I actually prefer seeing Feria during the day and admiring the creatures, as my family has always owned a horse and I’ve known how to ride since I was a kid.

Are you a horse lover? I’ll be going to the Feria del Caballo in a few weeks with my guiri friends – a whole week dedicated to horses and sherry!

My Chicago Soundtrack

I am a Chicago girl, born and bred. I love my all-beef Kosher hot dogs, had a Chicago Bulls three-peat T-shirt, sport a Jewel-Osco card in my wallet. Leaving the Windy City was a choice that almost never came to be, with a job offer on the table and plenty of young friends convincing me that my life was not in Spain.

But I chose to board the plane and to take my Chicago roots with me to Spain, preaching the Cubbie way of life and claiming that there are lakes the look like oceans in the middle of the Midwest. As Spain became more and more like home, I became increasingly proud of where my parents, grandparents and I come from.

Now that I’m back in Chicago for the month of August, every trip to the City of Broad Shoulders has my heart pumping out the songs that bring me back to the countless summers, bitter cold winter afternoons and rides along the rails of the L. Songs that remind me of seeing punk rock shows at the Metro, of childhood shopping trips on State, of what makes this city so damn great. Wikipedia lists over 400 songs about Chicago, and while “My Kind of Town” and “Sweet Home Chicago” would be obvious choices, mine are a little unexpected (and seriously throwback to my love of punk rock days. Lucky Boys Confusion, Fall Out Boy and The Dog and Everything CDs are still in my car!)

Kanye West – Homecoming

While I can’t say Kanye, like R. Kelly, is a favorite Chicago musician, this song echoes through my brain every time I fly in over Lake Michigan and the skyline, which stretches further than my window can hold.

Allister – Somewhere Down on Fullerton

Why I’ve never taken a madcap dash around Chicago like Allister does, this song was the first I ever crowdsurfed to at a show at House of Blues with my friend Amanda. It was her first visit to Chicago, just after our freshman year of college, and I remember the rush of feeling like I was going to get dropped while getting groped. I still have the shirt I bought that  night to commemorate a Chicago band playing to a Chicago crowd as only a great Chicago venue can allow.

Arranmore – Southside Irish

My family first came to America during the mass wave of immigration that gives America its heritage as the Land of the Free. Settling in Chicago, my Irish great-grandfather, who had owned a still-operational woolen mill in Foxford, County Mayo, worked as a tailor. I feel most proud of my Irish heritage, even though I’ve got Scottish, Welsh and German roots. As a kid, I participated in Irish parades around Chicagoland, so this Saint Paddy’s Day anthem reminds me of those mornings, the wind biting my pink cheeks, as we marched through the streets in the name of the Emerald Isle.

Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah – Lake Shore Drive

There have been countless times where I’ve speed down one of Chicago’s grandest avenues, Lake Shore Drive, as twilight was falling. Window open, wind on my face and the lights of the Loop in the rear-view mirror, those are the nights where summer is at its peak and I remember how fun being young is. This song, from the time when my parents were young, brings back summer memories of the Oak Street beach, drinks at Castaways and belting out whatever’s one the radio with girlfriends.

Alkaline Trio – I’m Dying Tomorrow 

I can’t say I remember who introduced me to the local band Alkaline Trio, but I love him for it. Among my favorites is “I’m Dying Tomorrow,” which ask the age-old question: Do I have any regrets?

The Loving Spoonful – Hot Town, Summer in the City

Now that I’ve made living in Spain a reality, I usually only get summers in Chicago. Fine by me, as the city is replete with festivals, concerts and events that play to its patchwork heritage – and one of the things I love best about it. What I love about this song is that it talks about the balance between night and day in Chicago, no unlike a summer in Seville: the days are long and scorching, while the nighttime relief is when everyone comes out to play. This city feels young.

Fall Out Boy – Chicago is So Two Years Ago

The first time I ever heard this song, I was packing up my dorm room freshman year to go home for the summer. “There’s a Light on in Chicago, and I know I should be home,” still rings true whenever I arrive home after a Spanish sojourn. Being able to come back to the place where I grew up helps keep me grounded when I’m away, knowing that there’s always a Portillo’s around the corner and that the Cubbies have still not won the World Series. Ahhh, home.

Hey, Chicago, whaddya say (Go, Cubs, Go was not in my list; too obvious)! What would be on your Chicago soundtrack? Leave me a message in the comments, or leave me a birthday note since I turn 27 today!

Seville Snapshots: Flamenco Recital

It’s 9:32 when Carmen strolls in, still tightening the straps on her flamenco shoes.

Bueno, chicas, empecemos. An air of confidence has blown in with her, though you’d hardly know on such a hot night. The cante cracks on the old stereo, and we roll our heads and stretch our fingers. I’d argue that they’re the two most important conveyors of emotion in the baile, so we spend extra time making sure they move gracefully but with tension. One of flamenco’s contrasts.

I roll my ankles, tapping out a tiki-tat, ending with a golpe, the stomp that produces a great, flat sound. It’s Tuesday night flamenco class, and I’m ready for the arte, the duende and the emotion that accompanies flamenco.

A year later, I’ve bowed out of the class, but Cait is still tapping away three or four nights a week with Carmen. The outdoor stage is set up with an array of microphones, lights and gadgets, but flamenco needs no introduction or fancy equipment. Carmen’s master class takes the stage and I raise Camarón to my face. Lights, camera, arte.

If you’re new here, check out my first few entries in a series on photogenic Seville, which will be posted every Monday. If you’d like to participate with your photos from Spain and Seville, please send me an email at sunshineandsiestas @ gmail.com with your name, short description of the photo, and any bio or links directing you back to your own blog, Facebook page or twitter. There’s plenty more pictures of the recital on Sunshine and Siesta’s new Facebook page!

For the Love of the Dove: El Rocío

I’ve never been one for Bucket Lists, but often set travel goals for myself. When I was 20, I decided to do a 25 before 25, making a list of my top-five destinations when I moved to Spain two years later. Twenty-twelve meant no resolutions, just a few ideas for travel goals during 2012: one new country, one off-beat travel activity and one nationally recognized festival, in Spain or not.

It’s the end of May and I’ve just completed my goals. I think I shall hashtag this as #travellover. Last weekend, my sevillana half orange, La Dolan, and I went to visit Spain’s lushiest Virgin Mother, La Virgen del Rocío.

The festival of El Rocío is one-part religious pilgirimage, one-part full-blown fair and two parts party: those devoted to the Virgen, known as the Lady Of the Marshes or the White Dove (Nuestra Señora de Las Marismas, for the hermitage’s proximity to the protected swampland of Doñana National Park, or the Blanca Paloma), make a pilgrimage from their towns to the immaculate white church outside the village of Almonte. This can be done on foot, on horseback, or by riding in oxen-driven carrozas, a type of temporary covered wagon. Arriving on or before the Saturday of Pentecost, often sleeping and eating outdoors, the rocieros then gather in El Rocío for a series of masses, parades and the famed salta a la reja.

We arrived just before noon on Pentecost Sunday. I wore my celestial blue traje de gitana, coral flower on my head, while Cait opted for a breezy skirt. It was over 90º out, but the rocieros were in their typical costumes: the women in trajes de gitana or faldas rocieras, a skirt with ruffles suited for walking, and high leather boots. The male counterpart is a traje corto, with tight cropped pants made for horseback riding. I made a face at Cait, suddenly very hot with the sleeves of my dress and restricted in movement.

The whole village of El Rocío is like a town straight out of a Wild West film set - hitching posts set in front of modest houses, horses clopping gallantly around the sandy streets. It was difficult to walk with my espadrilles while dodging carriages, and sand soon filled my shoes.

As we neared the stark white church, a beacon against the bright blue Andalusian sky, we decided to visit the village’s most famous resident before going any further. As we neared, the tamboril drums and simple flutes that characterize the sevillanas rocieras grew to a furor, and the crowd standing under the scalloped entrance of the hermitage suddenly parted. The Pentecost mass had just ended, and a parade of the simpecaos, the banners carried by the different religious groups, had begun.

The knots of people ebbed and moved as the 110 hermandades, yes the same kind from Holy Week, from around Spain presented their faithful before the church and moved around the village’s dusty streets. From simple to elegant, each carry a symbol of the Virgen del Rocío. The pilgrimage dates back to the 17th Century, with the hermandad from Almonte, el Matriz, being the oldest. Following the banner come women in two straight lines on either side of the simpecao, carrying long silver staffs topped with images of their brotherhood’s virgen. Their necks were emblazoned with the same silhouette in the form of heavy pendants on the end of multi-colored rope cords.

The festival at the Aldea is characterized by religious devotion, of course, but there’s much more to it. As Cait and I reflected over our first action-packed hour, we listened to other bar-goers recount their tales. Once the hermandades arrive to El Rocío through the various routes from the East, West and South, they settle into houses that look like a giant corral or hotel around a central patio, with room for the carrozas and horses behind. Gines, Olivares, Villamanrique and Triana have enormous patios, and we peeked in to see the merriment between beers. People sing, dance and pray for up to one week during the pilgrimage and the celebration.

Feeling refreshed, we decided on visiting the Virgin herself. The temple is simple, white-washed, save the golden retablao and a few frescoes in the corners of the nave. Cola de batas, the boundy ruffles of the traje rociero, showed under confessional booths, and the romeros prayed to the Virgen Mother, who was kept safely behind a cast iron gate, called a reja. After praying the rosary that night at midnight, she would “jump over” the reja and be paraded around the village on the shoulders of revelers, called the salta a la reja. This is the culmination of the week’s events, and it signals the abandonment of the recinto and the camino back home.

Outside, we bought candles in the gift shop to take to the adjacent prayer chapel. There’s a life-sized statue of the Rocío that people press their candles to before lighting them and finding a place to prop them up. The whole chapel was cool, smoky and silent – a far cry from the music emanating from the casas outside.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the streets, popping into bars for a beer (and relief from the hot midday sun), visiting my students from Olivares and trying to keep the sand out of our shoes. We got on the bus six hours after we’d arrived, absolutely exhausted and still bigger feriantas than rocieras.

Have you been to El Rocío or done the peregrinación? What was your experience like, especially on the road towards the Aldea? For more pictures, be sure to check out my Facebook page and become a fan for up-to-date photos and posts about Spain and Seville.

¡A Vivir, que son (seis) días (de Feria)!

I’ve written for Backpacking Matt and The Spain Scoop about my favorite fiesta of the year: the Feria de Sevilla. Curve-hugging dresses, horse carriages and thousands of bottles of manzanilla sherry characterize the fiesta más alegre of the South just weeks after the gold-laden pasos are stored in their temples.

While in my surrogate caseta, Los Sanotes, my friend Susana’s cousin came to look for me. Yanking my beer out of my hand, she introduced me to a 60-something couple who were standing, dumbfounded, against the wall of the temporary tent. Introducing myself, they fired a million questions at me (whereas I asked just one: Would you like anything to drink?) about the history of the Feria, what it costs to be a member of a caseta and how to best go about enjoying themselves. For as much as I know about Feria – pescaíto etiquette, the names of the streets and how much a jar of rebujito costs – Feria is all about viviéndola. Being with friends, having a buen rato while wearing an enormous flower on yourself and admiring the trajes de gitana are all just a part of the week at the Recinto Ferial.

If the Feria is all about living it up, I’m all lived out. Three rides in horse carriages, two broken shoes and having to wash my flamenco dress three times to get all of the dirt out must mean that this ferianta did more than her fair share of dancing sevillanas and capturing the essence of the fair in pictures. Below each picture is a line from a sevillanas song (a four-part flamenco lite that’s heard emanating from each of the 1000+ casetas) with a link to the song on youtube. As the popular sevillana, A bailar por Sevillanas says, Si Ud. no ha visto la Feria, se la voy a enseñar (If you’ve never seen the Feria, I’m going to show it to you):

Ya huele a Feria, y olé, ya huele a feria

Once the somber processions and palios-encased Virgins are safely back at their churches, the construction of the main gate, called La Portada, is nearing completion, dry cleaners are working overtime to press volantes (ruffles), and the talk of Feria is imminent. Ya huele a Feria, it smells like Feria, and ¡olé!

La Feria se ilumina con su belleza

While the carnival rides and casetas are open, the fair doesn’t officially begin until midnight on Monday, after the traditional pescaíto fried fish dinner. The mayor waits until precisely the right moment to flip the switch that lights up the main gate, called the portada, and the thousands of paper lanterns, farolillos, that illuminate the street. Almost immediately after this moment, called the alumbrado, the bands start up and everyone starts dancing. ¡Olé, esa feria!

Vámanos pa la Feria, cariño mío

I’ve worked out a math equation: the less days that remain until the alumbrado, the more antsy I am. This year, as in years past, we’ve gone to have a few drinks before dinner on Sunday and enjoy the fairgrounds without people or horse carriages. The Calle del Infierno, with its circus tents and carnival rides, is the only really lively part, which means we get special treatment in the caseta. This year, I decided to skip out on the alumbrado and get a good night sleep, only to be restless and not fall asleep until 3am. I wanted to shake Kike awake and say, ¡Vámanos a la Feria, cariño mío!

Debajo de la portada, se la voy a enseñar

Imagine this: a maze of more than 20 streets, all named after bullfighters, more than 1000 red-and-white-and-green-striped tents, and a mess of people wearing brightly colored dresses. Add in all of those pesky horse carriages that clog the streets until 8pm, and there’s simply just one place to meet: under the main gate. There’s a whole lot of public casetas clumped nearby (PSOE, Garbanzo Negro, San Gonzalo), so this is a good place to begin your afternoon if you’re waiting to meet friends.

Me gusta el mosto en noviembre, y mirar al cielo azul

Feria is about as propio to Seville as the Taste of Chicago might be to my native Chicago. It’s a whole big gathering of people admiring beautiful Andalusian women, Jerezano stallions and drinking local wine. One of my favorite sevillanas is Los Amigos de Gines’s Yo Soy del Sur, I’m from the south, which pays homage to all of the best things about Andalucía – the bullfights, the crops, the never-ending blue sky, the pilgrimages. I get chills listening to its slow compás, these are my customs, and I never want to lose them. Ojalá

Se enamoró mi caballo de una yegua de Castilla

If I could bring two people to vivir la Feria, I’d have my dad chugging beers with Kike by night and my mom riding in Leonor’s horse carriage by day. From the early morning hours until the last call of 8pm, the streets jingle with cascabeles as hundreds of horse carriages parade around the Real. It’s not cheap – the little licence plate needed for circulating on the streets costs 86€ an hour!! I love living the feria by day to admire the stately Andalusian stallions which carry manzanilla-wielding men and gorgeous gitanas on their backs, and am lucky enough to have friends who bring carriages! Now if only I’d spot the Duquesa de Alba!

Me gustan los toros serios y los toreros con arte

Apart from the horses, the toros de lidia bravely stare down toreros six times a day during the week’s corridas. Nothing says Feria like a stroll around the fair in the morning, mantilla firmly on your head, with an afternoon at the Maestranza. From this point in the year, the Sunday afternoon bullfights officially start. While I’ve been just once to a bullfight in Seville, we do get to enjoy a mini session at my school: the preschoolers dress up as the toros and bullfighters, and we all chant, ¡Torero, torero! as the jury decides to award the valiant baby bullfighters with an oreja or two. Arte, pero arte.

Me metí en una caseta que estaba llena de pijos, todo el mundo en traje y hablando de su cortijo

As I’ve talked about the casetas before, it’s important to note that they’re private and guarded by door guys. I once invited my friend Lindsay to Susana’s, and she told the portero that she was friends with the guiri inside. He shook his head and said, no foreigners here! Most of the tents are owned by businesses, political organizations, the armed forces and big groups of friends, but there’s no denying it – most of the people who own the tents are rich enough to pay for them. It’s not cheap – Kike and I pay 75€ for the year, but we’re just two of the hundreds of socios . Whenever I am invited to a new caseta, I like to take in the ambience of the people who are talking about their horses, wearing nice suits, and have obviously come from money. I’ve been to some of the bigger and nicer tents in Feria, but prefer the less pretentious ones (and this hilarious sevillana – I went in to a tent full of preppy people, everyone wearing a suit and talking about their horse farm).

Mírala cara a cara, que es la primera

Once night falls and all of the socios have had dinner, the flamenquito bands arrive for live music and two lines of dancers form to dance sevillanas. This four-part dance is like a coqueteous encounter between two lovers: each step, they seem to get closer and more sensual. You can dance with up to four people, either boy-girl or girl-girl (but who care if you dance boy-boy!) and the music doesn’t stop until 5am. My favorite memories have been dancing – with friends, with socios, with my partner, with my students – and each year I feel more confident in my dancing. In Los Sanotes, I’m often invited to dance, and I swear it’s the least American I feel during the entire year.

Esa gita, esa gitana, se conquista bailando por sevillanas

When Susana first took me to try on my very first flamenco dress, I knew not to expect anything else but a lot of drinking and feeling very awkward in my tight dress. I was a hot gitana mess, but each year I feel just a bit more flamenca and love that the Novio has some amazing moves when it comes to dancing sevillanas (even if I have to drag him onto the dancefloor!).

Pasa la vida, pasa la vida y no has notado que no has vivido

Before you know it, the tents are coming down and the fairground is vacant. Seven days pass by in a blur of sherry and polka dots, but some of my most treasured times in Seville have been had at the fairgrounds. The famous sevillana Pasa la Vida by Albahaca talks about how life moves by so quickly and often we forget to live it, but the opposite happens to me during Feria. I can sleep four hours a night and stand dancing for 14. I feel sexier shaking my culo in my dress. I feel confident in calling everyone I know and finding them somewhere in the Real to have a drink.

When it’s all over and life goes back to normal, some little spark inside me seems to kind of flicker out, like my Amigos de Gines sing in my absolute favorite, Algo se muere en el alma. I’ve got to wait 51 excruciating long week to pin the flower back atop my head and my espartos to my feet. Something, indeed, does die in your soul.

Ever been to the Feria de Sevilla? Any good stories to share? Celebrity sightings?

A Dance for Every Heart

I’m going to take the liberty to break from my normal roundup of life in Spain, teaching baby English and enjoying the sunshine (and biting cold) and siestas of Spain for the next few minutes.

Back in college, I rarely pulled all-nighters. Hello, I studied journalism, and few sources were up that late. Every first weekend of February, however, I did stay up for 24 hours without sitting, sleeping or drinking alcohol all in the name of pediatric cancer. This was, of course, after raising $425 or more to get in the door, spending hours at morale meetings, visiting kids at the hospital and connecting with other dancers.

Dance Marathon was, by far, the most important student org I ever belonged to.

Imagine your little sister is diagnosed with cancer. You don’t live near a children’s hospital, the bills are piling up, and you can’t go to school. That’s where Dance Marathons – organized at college campuses, elementary schools and in cities across America – step in. Apart from providing research opportunities and providing better facilities for kids, my alma mater also provides emotional support for the families who are coping with childhood cancer.

The child assigned to me was Kelsey. She served as my contact family for my morale group and my sorority for years during her initial battle with bone cancer, then her secondary leukemia, and the relapse that occurred just a few months ago. At 14, I felt a connection with Kelsey and her family that made me feel like I had another cousin or sister. We wrote each other through email, talked occasionally on the phone and met when she came to Iowa City for check-ups.

After repping Kelsey for two years, she was passed onto another sorority sister, but stayed in the family – literally –  a sister from two pledge classes above me’s father married into Kelsey’s family. When I moved to Spain, we kept in touch through Facebook and the numerous postcards rumored to be kept safe in her bedroom. She went to technical college, took trips to Iowa City to see the Child Life Specialists and pretty much won the affection of everyone around her. She even made it to her 21st birthday and sent me pictures of her first time out with friends.

“You’re so much braver than anyone I know,” she wrote me in an email just before Christmas. “I really have to come visit you in Spain to see why it is you’re still there.” I promised to call her once she was out of surgery for some build-up in fluids around her lungs, an effect of her current treatment. She was supposed to watch the bowl game, as she loved the Hawkeyes like I do, and then be operated on.

The following day, she passed away.

I always said I’d never have to be one of those dancers who had to remember a child through a memorial candle that burns during the 24-hour event, claiming the child is dancing in my heart. As the  DJ gets the crowd going at 7pm CST tomorrow (2am in Spain), Kelsey will be one of the children honored by that candle.

I lost two friends to cancer in 2011, so I’m asking those of you who follow my blog to consider learning about Dance Marathons (there’s one in Chicago), dancing in one, or even donating a few bucks to kids like Kelsey and her family that spend holidays in the hospital and can’t live a normal life like most of us enjoy. If you donate anything, please let me know via personal message or in the comments, and I’ll be sure to send you a postcard from Spain (be honest, it’s For The Kids!!).

Our morale dance in 2006, the year I suited up in red ended with the now well-worn mantra of Iowa’s Dance Marathon: A dream for every child, a dance for every heart. I sure take it to my own little heart, so please consider a small donation to make miracles happen for kids across the Midwest.

Donate now

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