Spain Snapshots: the Feria del Caballo in Jerez de la Frontera

Call me a purist, but I love Seville’s April Fair, classism and all. Friends of mine had always talked about the jerezano equivalent, held a few weeks after Seville’s famed fête in mid May. Last year, M and I took the train to nearby Jerez de la Frontera for a day to experience the festival.

Being a celebrated horse breeding and training city, el caballo takes center stage at the fair, with both exhibitions and a horse auction. The biggest difference between the two is that the streets aren’t choked with horse carriages, so there’s less of a chance you’ll get hit by one or drag your dress through horse poop.

But there was plenty more: Jerez’s fair was a fun mix of eclectic and traditional casetas (we danced in a caseta run by a biker bar and drank margaritas at the Mexican restaurant’s tent), many different types of music, and much more wallet friendly. Not having to worry about appearances, we could just enjoy ourselves with all of the adorable, sherry-drinking abuelos.

Not much can hold a candle to Seville’s fair, but Jerez is as damn close as you can get.

If you go: The Feria de Jerez is held over seven days in May, typically during the second week of the month (this year’s festival is the 11th – 18th of May). You can take the train from Seville’s Santa Justa or San Bernardo stations straight to Jerez, with a round-trip ticket costing 17€. Entrance to the fairgrounds in Jerez is free. For more information, check the city’s festivals page.

Have you been to any Andalusian fairs?

My Five Favorite Feria de Abril Moments

The horses are still clip-clopping in my head, the piercing cascabeles echoing throughout the street. At the first hint of azahar and Spring in the air, my feet find themselves marking out the steps to sevillanas, and I start making plans for Seville’s fiesta más alegre.

Every experience at the Feria de Abril is different, and each year I live it in a different way.  It has to be said – the feria isn’t for everyone. Several other blogging friends of mine cry out about the private casetas, open by invitation only, about the inflated prices of food and drink, and even about the dusty alberothat gets onto their dress ruffles.

But I love it. I’ve been to other ferias in other cities – Córdoba, El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera – but nothing quite compares to first time you see the portada lit up, or the feeling of waltzing into a caseta without a word to the door guy. I adore Feria during the day and I rock out at el Real until the wee hours of the morning.

As the date of the alumbrado gets closer, the ganas I have to dress up and dance seem to skyrocket exponentially. At no other point in the year do I feel more sevillana or ready to drink it all in (and I don’t just mean the rebujito).  You know what they say: Yo quiero cruzar el río para bailer sevillanas!

5. Watching the Alumbrado at Josele’s house (2010 and 2011) For several weeks leading up to the fair, workers construct a huge wooden gate, erect temporary houses and string paper lights up on streets named for bullfighters. Ya huele a Feria, y olé, ya huele a Feria.

When I gave class at Edificio Presidente, which sits just in front of the main gate, during my first few years in Seville, I would watch out Javi’s living room window as the Recinto Ferial began to take shape. “Javi, do you like living so close to the Feria,” I asked him one morning before he went to university classes nearby. 

“It’s the best during the alumbrado and when you want to stumble home, but you can get so crazy with the sevillanas music.”He had a point, but I made a mental note to find a friend with a house close to the portada to watch it light up – I’d previously seen it while being crunched between a million other people.

The following year, my friend T was dating a sevillano whose family lived in the building next to Javi’s, and Josele invited us to bring a bottle of fino, plastic cups and 7-up to have a few drinks before midnight. I watched in awe as the larger-than-life NO8DO was lit up, piece by piece. People cheered and bands struck up all at once. I gulped down the rest of my rebujito and went to join the party.

4. My first ride in a horse carriage (2010)

I waved at Leonor from across Gitanillo de Triana street. I would never forget the address of her caseta, as she’d texted it to me half a dozen times and repeated it over and over again in the months leading up to the fair. As it turns out, she and her family were across the street and one door down from Los Sanotes.

It must have been six o’clock and just after lunch when I went over with TJ, who was visiting from Aragón. Leonor disappeared in the caseta and came out wielding a plate of jamón, a jar of rebujito and a few plastic cups. I reached my hands out for them, threatening to drop them into the albero, but she nudged me away with her hip.

“I called Jaime, he’s on his way to pick you up.”

Jaime was my student and just 14 at the time. He came with a sleek horse carriage and climbed down to help me into it in my traje de gitana. Tim followed, and Leonor handed us the food and drinks. I tried to refuse the plate of ham, but she insisted, saying we would need it to reverse the effects of the sherry and 7up mix.

Jaime and his two horses took us along the official carriage route, which snakes its way around the fairgrounds from noon until 8pm. From this vantage point, we could see the whole party comfortably while snacking. Taking a spin with them is something I do yearly, but I’ll never forget how cool it felt to be sitting high up, close enough to touch the farolillos that line the streets.

Plus, I saw the Duquesa de Alba and FLIPPED out. 

3. La Noche Más Larga (2010)

I’ve had my fair share of tipsy moments during the fair. Ha, oops. Even those “Oh, I’ll just go for dinner and come back at a reasonable hour” days seem to stretch on forever.

There was the time Fernando’s nephew took Kelly and I around the fairgrounds for 12 hours, or when I was invited into the largest caseta of them all, or when my students treated me like a princess (as in, they fed me jamón and beer for a few hours). The same day that I rode in a coche de caballos for the first time, I went from classy to trashy in what is, without a doubt, the best night of Feria in my six years going to the Real.

As soon as Jaime had whisked us around, I called to meet up with my guiri girlfriends. Meag, Jenna, Bri and Tiana were all at the same caseta, where the socios was one of T’s friends. There were no sevillanas playing when we arrived – instead, people were doing body shots off of one another in something more reminiscent of Spring Break Acapulco than the Feria de Abril. I resisted the body shots, but we were given mixed drinks for only 3€. For the rest of the night, we bounced around from one tent to the next, chattering away, sharing plates of food and  passing around jars of rebujito.

Around 4 or 5 in the morning, just as the tents were closing down, Meag, TJ and I strode to the churros stands at Calle del Infierno. Exapserated, Meag wished for “la penúltima” beer, a common Andalusian phrase when your real plan is to keep drinking all night.

The carny who was coiling the fried dough of the churros smiled. “I have a six-pack,” he said, “and I’ll sell you each can for a euro.”

We drank down the cold beers with the greasy churros (yeah, I know, ick), bought some gummies and started the slow procession home. Slow in the sense that it took us TWO HOURS to walk a kilometer back to my apartment in Triana.

I blame Joey the Little Chicken for such antics.

2. The birth of Club Social “Aqui No Hay Guiris” (2008)

Susana handed me another beer and asked if I was enjoying my first Feria. Despite dressing like a complete fool, I was enchanted and thrilled to have a place where I was welcome, regardless of whether or not I was a socio.

Llama a unas amigas,” she said, “so that they can see what Feria is like.” I pulled out my archaic mobile phone and sent a few messages around. Lindsay responded and said she’d be on her way shortly.

I finished my beer and asked Isra for another. He made yet another tick on the Novio’s tab and gave me a wink. “A que esto de mola, eh guiri?”  Thirty minutes later, an exasperated rubia sidles up next to me at the bar.

Tía!” Lindsay was sucking in air as I order her a beer. “I’ve tried calling you! I kept telling the guy at the door that I was a friend of the guiri inside!”

I glanced at my phone, which had not been plastered to my body to feel it vibrating. She gulped down some Cruzcampo and related, “He said there weren’t any foreigners here. You know, waved his hand and said ‘Aquí no hay guiris.'”

And thus, the greatest social club of my fellow extranjeros was born. We’re considering putting our names on the list for a caseta just as soon as the fairgrounds are expanded to Charco de la Pava. No more chico frito or tortilla – we’re stocking that tent with chicken fingers and hamburgers!

1. “Tu, que eres, de Chicago de la Frontera?” (2009)

My most memorable Feria de Abril moment came from a drunk socio of Los Sanotes, who has forever immortalized me – at least to my sevillano friends – and still makes my students laugh when they ask me to retell it.

Late one night during my second fair, I asked Manolo at the bar for another beer. “Should I add it to your boyfriend’s tab?” he asked, winking.

Not a second later, a drunk, balding socio who reeked of whisky and fried fish was offering to pay for my drink. He looked me up and down and made kissy noises while the Novio snickered behind me.

Oye,” drunken socio cooed, “I don’t know you. Are you from around here?” I tried hard not to laugh the beer right out of my nose as he shimmied and answered, “No, I’m from Chicago.” 

Olé, from Chiclana, right near the beach. That’s nice. Olé.” Drunk socio had confused my hometown with a beachside resort town called Chiclana de la Frontera, thousands of miles away from my beloved Sevilla.

I could see the Novio and his friend Alfonso making a slow exit to leave me to my own devices. By now, I was wedged in between the bar and one of drunk socio’s sausage arms. Avoid his gaze (and whiskey breath), I answered: “Nooooo, de She-cah-go!” I corrected him.

“Ya, ya, ya. De Chicago de la Frontera, quilla.”

And that’s how I became known as the gitana from the American town with the most rate, a nickname that sticks with me to this day.

Feria begins officially on May 5th at midnight when the mayor switches on the main gate’s 10 thousand plus lights. Don’t be fooled by the local name – Feria de Abril – we stick to tradition and start partying two weeks after Easter Monday. If you’re going, remember to dress sharply and bring enough money to cover your food and drinks. For more, check out my Dos and Don’ts of Feria, or how to buy a flamenco dress and its accessories.

I Bought a Flamenco Dress, Now What?!: a Guide to Buying Complementos

My phone buzzes just as I’m hopping on my bike, telling me I’ve got a photo in my whatsapp. M has sent me a photo of two different earrings, set side-by-side with a series of questions marks. 

I know where she’s coming from. 

Buying a flamenco dress every two years and figuring out how to deck it out has become my adult version of dress-up (who needs Halloween when you can wear ruffles? And big flowers on your head! And side-eye anyone wearing an outdated dress design!). I’m probably just as excited to shop for complements than I am for the actual flamenco dress.

I confess that my first Feria was rife with mistakes: I wore jeans and a ratty tee to the alumbrado, bought baby-sized accessories and – gasp! – wore my mantoncillo around my hips because I didn’t know you had to buy a brooch for it. Hey, no one helped me, and the lady in the Don Regalón probably laughed when I chose demure earrings that only an infant should have been wearing.

Shame is having a six-month-old show you up on Calle La Bombita while she’s napping in her stroller, trust me.

Oh, and did I mention I also wore a purse and a WINDRBREAKER?! Guiri, no.

I sent M the cardinal rule of flamenco accessories – BE BOLD. When else can you wear ridiculously oversized jewelry? When else is risk-taking so handsomely rewarded? Her dress is black, so the obvious, traditional choice is red. When I suggested gold, fuschia or even neons, I think I confused her even more. Having options makes sticking to a color palate really, really tough.

Let it be known that I am quitting my job for the next month to become a flamenco accessory consultant. 

First, you have to know the basics. Two months before the Greatest Week Ever begins, flamenco dress and accessories stores begin to pop up in the center of town, and you’ll hear the word traje spoken with a word density that makes your head spin (that, and azahar, playa, pasos and vacaciones, four sacred words in the sevillano lexicon when spring arrives).

Look for the stores near Calle Francos, Calle Cuna and Calle Asunción for both dresses and accessories. Your shoes can be bought on Calle Córdoba or any Pasarela store around town. If you’re looking for a deal on a dress, trajes are sold at warehouse prices in the towns outside of Seville, as well as older models at El Jueves flea market. A dizzying variety of complementos can be found at El Corte Inglés, Don Regalón and a number of specialty shops. Chinos also sell bargain items in plastic and sometimes beads.

Rule of thumb when it comes to your accessories: the bigger, the better. I mean it. No color, shape or size is off-limits. My new traje de gitana (you only get a preview below, sorry!) is a greenish turquoise color with cream-colored lunares, complimented by cream-colored encaje under the bust, where the sleeves open at the elbow, and at the ruffles. Since I didn’t pay for the dress, I was willing to splurge on complementos this year.

My advice is to browse before you buy. Because there are endless combinations of colors and styles, it’s easy to lose your head. When you have a dress made for you, ask for a swatch of fabric to take to the accessories stores for matching colors. I beelined straight for Isabel Mediavilla, a local designer who is friendly and helpful when it comes to suggesting possibilities. When she and I had come up with a color palate – dusty purple and gold – it was time to get to work.

Here’s your basic kit:

El Mantoncillo: The Shawl

I always buy the shawl as soon as I’ve got the dress nailed down. These shawls can cost up to 100€ or even more, given that some are hand-painted, hand-embroidered, a mix of patterns and textures. Buying the shawl will help you have an idea of what accessories will pair best. 

Some women choose a gargantilla (a choker with flecos, or the fringe that hangs down) or simple flecos that are sewn to the neckline of the traje de gitana.

Mine: Bought from Raquel Terán (Calle Francos, 4), 75€

La Flor: The Flower

The flower is a gitana’s hallmark, meant to look like a rose or carnation and worn either on top of the head or tucked behind the ear. The flowers are made of cloth and have a flexible “stem” with which to secure it to your head with bobby pins. Flowers can be big or small, but you should probably just go ahead and get a big one if you’ve got “la altura” according to the snotty lady at the Corte Inglés.

I went back to Isabel Mediavilla, as she has literally a wall full of flowers of every imaginable color and style. I’m going big this year – BIG.

Mine: Bought from Isabel Mediavilla (Calle Francos, 34), 20€

Los Pendientes: The Earrings

In one of my less memorable Feria moments, I let a cheap pair of earrings I’d bought at Don Regalón get the better of me – I pouted when one slipped out of my ears while dancing (hey, the 13€ they cost meant an entire hour’s private lesson!). I love the bold, intricate earrings that women wear during the fair and am constantly looking for ones that aren’t too heavy. 

I bought these ceramic beauties, but they’re a bit heavy, and my earlobes may not be able to handle them!

Mine: Bought from El Corte Inglés (Nervión), 23€

El Broche: The Brooch 

Many times, you’ll find brooches that match with your earrings, particularly at the Corte Inglés. A broche is mega important if you’re wearing a mantoncillo, as this will attach the  shawl to your dress and making dancing, eating and drinking hands-free.

Just, please, don’t tie the ends of the shawl together. Spend a few bucks on a brooch and you’ll not regret it!

Mine: Bought from El Corte Inglés, 9€

La Peineta: The Comb

Even in the age of bobby pins and hairspray, many women choose to add plastic or metal combs to their hair. They often don’t serve any sort of purpose, but many women wear them just behind the flower or to capture the whips of hair that aren’t shellacked to their skull.

When matching your combs, try and be consistent with your other accessories. If you’ve got plastic earrings, stick with a plastic peineta. Same goes for metal and for colors.

Mine: Bought two years in a chino, 12€

Los Tacones: The Shoes

Although I’d argue that shoes are the least of your aesthetic worries during the fair (hell, they’re covered by your ruffles!), it’s important that you wear something comfortable for all of those hours on your feet. Women opt for espadrille wedges or even cloth flamenco shoes that have a thick heel for support. Calle Córdoba, near Plaza del Salvador, is a narrow alleyway full of zapaterías, so make that your first stop.

Let me just say this – if you’re wearing stilettos, you’ll be doing very little dancing and probably a lot of pouting!

Mine: Bought from Pasarela two years ago, 15€

Lo demás: Everything else

You’ll also need to buy hairspray and bobby pins to secure the flower’s stem and the combs without a doubt. I’ve also got a donut for making a big, thick bun, as well as a fan because this year’s fair goes well into May.

Some women opt for necklaces, bangles, mantoncillo or no – what it all comes down to is feeling comfortable and wearing your accessories confidently. Remember that the flamenco dress itself is heavy and it can get hot under there! 

As for M? I sincrerely hope she went with hot pink. Lo dicho: go big or stay at home!

Want to read more on the Feria de Sevilla?

On my first time buying accessories successfully // The Dos and Don’ts of the Feria de Sevilla // The Music of the Feria de Sevilla

Guiri, Whoa: Buying a Flamenco Dress in Seville

Anda ya! 

Jose Manuel drops his hands in desperation as I paw a gorgeous, pale pink flamenco dress with a cascade of ruffles. No hay quien pueda with this guiri.

Nearly two hours into a search for the perfect flamenco dress, I was more undecided than ever. I got the last one in 2011 and knew immediately it was the right one for me, but this year has my head spinning. Jose Manuel dutifully pulls one dress after another, then hangs them up once I’ve ruled them out.

This flamenco dress business is a big deal.

When the Novio’s mother announced she’d be floating the bill for my traje de gitana this year, I jumped at the opportunity to design my own. I sketched out what I wanted – a one-color, sleeveless dress with three volantes and encaje around the bust and waist to make my boobs smaller and accentuate my small cintura.

I called Taller Los Príncipes to ask about pricing, trying to find something for less than 300€ so that the Novio, his mother and I would all pay 100€ each. The woman started asking me a flurry of questions. How tall was I in centimeters (….uhh…..)? What kind of ruffles did I want? Would I bring my own fabric? 

I politely said I’d call back. But I was way in over my head and with not a single seasoned guiri around to help me. In the past, I’d always bought my dresses off the rack and had them taken in (or out) as needed.

A bit of vocabulary so that you understand how confused I was.

A flamenco dress is known around these parts as the traje de gitana, or simply a traje. They’re worn during local festivals like the ferias and romerias such as El Rocío and can cost anywhere from 100€ to 500€, or ever more, especially those that are tailormade.

The dress is composed of a body, sleeves and a train of volantes, or ruffles. Made of tela, you can get high-quality fabric or normal and the detailing is called encaje. Lace is especially popular this year. The seamstress, called a modista, assists you in designing your dress and then sews it for you. The most traditional sort of fabric has lunares, or polka dots, but they can also me liso (one color) or with pattterns.

Next to the academy where I work, there’s a flamenco dress shop that’s only open from January until June. The first day I heard the heavy reja go up, it was a sign. I peered in the windows, lights off, when I opened the school and saw the exact dresses I wanted – lisos, con volantes graduados, encaje por un tubo. One color, big ruffles, details in all the right places. Either a deep magenta, turquoise or a pale green.

Later that week, I eat a light breakfast and showed up at Marqués Diseño de Trajes Flamencas. Jose Manuel is on the phone but immediately introduces himself as he hangs up (on his mother, oops!).

I fumbled for the words to tell him what I wanted. Tú no eres de aquí, verdad?

Stupid accent always giving me away as a foreigner.

He ushers me over to the racks of dresses, each slightly different from the next. Grabbing my arm, he shows me the sale dresses, available for just 175€ – una ganga, if you ask me. They are bold – bright reds and blues – but I shy away from wearing something so loud. Jose Manuel assures me that a pale, blue-eyed person would need something crazy to call the attention away from the Andalusian beauties.

So, verde agua is out. 

I show him my sketch and tell him I am dead-set on a single color, to which he scoffs. “Those are dresses for women who have nothing better to do during the fair but sit pretty in a horse carriage and look bored in their casetas.” I laugh, and admit that I am far more likely to drop greasy fried fish on my dress than abstain from eating and drinking so as not to get dirty.

Jose Manuel hands me traje after traje, zips me up, and leads me to a full-length mirror with each one, quick to judge the styles that make me look anything but fabulous. Easy-to-move-in cañastera ruffles are ruled out, as is the encaje that call too much attention to my chest and belly. I soon accumulate a pile of half a dozen dresses to discard (as well as my original design).

As it turns out, Jose Manuel da en el clavo: I am extremely traditional when it comes to flamenco dresses. I need color, lunares, volantes, a classy dose of cleavage and tight in all the right places. After narrowing the field down to two thanks to the miracle of whatsapp groups and my American friends, trying them on with a shawl and pulling my hair back to get the full effect, I make a decision before even asking the price.

It’s the tronillo design (pictured on the left and only 220€!) and in a size smaller than I usually get, and we set to the task of selecting the colors. What sets many dresses apart, even with a similar design, is the color chosen and the small details in the encaje. I already have a celestial blue dress with cream and coral accents, so I wanted to go bold.

Choosing the color palate for the dress takes nearly as long as trying them on. I hold up square samples of color, searching for the right combination, peruse back through the racks for inspiration. The smaller lunares, called lentejuelas, are better for big busts because they draw less attention to that area, so I stick with the pattern combination of the original dress I tried on and decide on turqoise. I momentarily consider a paisely, but Jose Manuel’s side eye when I mention it sets me back in place.

A week later, Jose Manuel raps on the window of the academy and asks if I could step out to OK the color patterns and pay a deposit on the dress. The original color I had in mind was not available, so he chose a shade darker, a bit more towards a green hue. I sign the receipt, paid 40€ and quickly scamper over to the academy (those ruffles start at the knee and make it hard to move swiftly) to have María José give me the thumbs up.

Jose Manuel hands me my receipt and says, “un mes largo” for the dress to be ready for its first fitting. Starting three months ahead of time means I’ve got a buffer for those extra weeks in a long month, but true to form, it is five weeks to the day. Nervously, I pulled the fabric over my hips and zipped it into place. It needs to be taken in a bit in the stomach and hips (success!), but it’s perfect.

Chicas, have you ever bought a flamenco dress in Spain? Need help with your complementos? Click here for a guide to buying accessories! 

 

Seville Snapshots: SIMOF and the Moda Flamenca Industry

A few years ago, I had this moment where I had to pinch myself – I was sitting seventh row at a flamenco fashion show. I couldn’t tell you anything more than it’s name in Spanish, let alone rattle off the colors, fabric, cuts and even the numerous ways to style those ruffles.

SIMOF, short for Salón Internacional de Moda Flamenca, is one of the world’s greatest flamenco fashion shows. Showcasing more than 50 designers (including kids!), Seville’s convention bureau rocks to bulerías as the year’s top designs go down the runway.

When I went three years ago to a Friday afternoon to see Loli Vera’s designs on show at SIMOF, I was drawn into a design world, Tim Gunn style. Even though the models looked like they couldn’t have been more bored as they strutted (well, it’s hard to strut in a traje de gitana) in front of fashion bloggers and video cameras. I began to take interest in desginers – not just of dresses but also shawls and accessories – and giddily begin planning my Feria look a few months before the big event.

The Reyes Magos came a bit late this year, but they left me a fantastic present – money to go towards a new flamenco dress for the Feria de Abril, which I started designing last week with a modista. It was both nerve-wracking and exciting!.

If you go: SIMOF 2014 takes place from this Thursday to the following Sunday in the Convention center of Seville, FIBES. Entrances to the fairgrounds and stands, where you can buy fabrics, trajes and accessories, is 5 and each fashion show costs 10. You can find all the information you need at FIBES Sevilla’s official site for the event.

Have you ever been to SIMOF, or own your own flamenco dress?

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!

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