Tapa Thursdays: Sol y Sombra

Some places have now become tradition with me and the Novio when we have guests – everyone from a sorority sister and her husband to my own mother have had lunch in Sol y Sombra, a restaurant in the northern end of Triana.

The dimly-lit bar is remniscent of establishments from ages past – yellowing, cracked century-old bullfighting posters, a menu written by hand on the wall, dusty wine and brandy bottles resting under them. Those thin napkins that don’t lap up anything aren’t found – instead, you wipe your hands with rolls of toilet paper.

And there’s ham.

Like, dozens of hams hanging right over your head with little plastic cups for catching the sticky fat that rolls off the meat as it matures.

When the Nov and I took Danny and Javi last week, the mournful saetas were echoeing throughout the long, thin bar. At 2pm, the place was empty, so we set up along the bar, feet covered in albero.

The menu is replete with sevillano favorites – revueltos, fried fish, hearty meat stews. Food is only served in half or full rations, and not tapas, and vegetarian options are slim.

The one dish we always order is stewed bull tail, cola de toro. The tender meat comes with the bones and fat in all its glory, served with potatoes. On the last trip, we went all out – a round of croquetas, choco frito, pan-seared pimientos del padrón and the cola de toro.

If you go: Sol y Sombra is located on Calle Castilla 151, just around the corner from Ronda de Triana. Open Tuesday – Sunday from 1pm to 4pm and 8pm until midnight. Expect to pay 10-15€ a head with drinks.

 

Seville’s Best Terrace Bars for Summer

When the days in Seville heat up (which should have happened, um, six weeks ago), the streets empty out. Buildings are hugged for shade, gazpacho and cold beer are chugged by the gallon. Sevilla literally becomes a ghost town in the summer months, and those of us unfortunate enough to be here have only one option (unless you count day-long showers while eating popsicles as a feasible option, which I totally and shamelessly do):

Terrace bars, called terrazas.

Seville is nestled in the Guadalquivir River valley, one of the flattest parts in all of Spain. This means that all of the hot air sits in right on top of the city, creating an effect called er borchorno. During the evening, the Guadalquivir is just about the only place where we can get some relief, so many of the discos take their booze bottles down to the banks and take advantage of the breeze. I have tons of great memories of nights where I’d roll out of bed at 8pm when the night was finally cooling down, grab some drinks with friends and head to the discos.

Here’s a few of my top picks:

ROOF: This concept bar opened in Spring 2012, staking claim on a multi-storied roof in the Macarena neighborhood. An acquaintance was in charge of the set-up and social media, so I took advantage and dragged La Cait along with me. The design is part-sevillano-bar, part-Moroccan-bungalow, and ROOF serves up imaginative cocktails along with pretty decent food. Just be aware of the long lines for a drink, and bring your camera – the views are incredible. (ROOF is located on the top floor of the Hotel Casa Romana at Calle Trajano, 5. Cocktails will run you 6-8€. Open daily from midday.)

Terraza at Hotel EME – The hip hang at a terrace bar that’s right next to the Giralda, making it a perfect place to watch the sun go down while having a gin tonic. Electronic music pulsates at pretty much any hour of the day, and cocktails are wildly expensive, but treating yourself to an overpriced mojito when your best friend visits it acceptable, right? (Calle Alemanes, 27, on the 4th floor of the Hotele EME Cathedral).

Hotel Inglaterra – I was introduced to this bar when Gary Arndt, the blogger behind the successful Everything, Everywhere, had tapas with Sandra of Seville Traveler and me. The terrace doesn’t have a ton of character, with fake grass and plastic chairs, but it does have some of the best views of the center of town and a bird’s-eye view of Plaza Nueva. (Plaza Nueva, 7. Open from 5:30pm daily).

Capote – having a beer at Caopte takes me back to my days as an auxiliar de conversación, long before adult responsibilities like a full-time job and master’s. Nestled just below the Triana bridge, the open-air bar has great parties and promotions, and it’s often a good place from which to start the night. Famous for their mojitos, the bar’s always full of an eclectic mix of people, and they offer cachimbas and ample seating. They’ve even done a huge re-design this summer. (Next to the Triana Bridge, open from 1om until 4am from Semana Santa until mid September)

Embarcadero – I wasn’t clued into Embarcadero until a few summers ago. Crammed between two riverside restaurants, a steep staircase leads right down to the water, and the bar has a nautical feel. Embarcadero actually means pier, so lone sailboats rock gently with the current of the Guadalquivir, and heavy ropes are all that separate the water from the wooden planks of the floor. Live music, good service and unobstructed views of the Torre del Oro make this bar one of my favorites. (Calle Betis, 69. Open daily from 5pm until around 2am)

Alfonso – When the summer months get too hot to bear, two discos open at the foot of Plaza de América in María Luisa Park. With the dramatic backdrop of the lush green space and its museums, Alfonso’s breezy terrace rocks into the wee hours of the morning. This is a place to see and be seen without feeling so stuffy, and it’s as close as my friends usually get to my house! (Located at the South end of Plaza de América in María Luisa park, just off Avenida de la Palmera. Typically open mid-June to mid-September from 10pm).

There’s a whole loads of other – Puerto de Cuba, Chile, Ritual, Bilindo, Casino – but I’m too low key to ever go to them (or get into them!).

Have any favorite terrace bars in your city? Please have a sip in my honor – I’m buried under master’s work until July 1st!

The Do’s and Dont’s of the Feria de Abril of Seville

Recently, Shawn of Azahar Sevilla and the mastermind behind Seville Tapas tweeted that I have a reputation of being feriante, a lover of Seville’s famous festival, the Feria de Abril. We may have only met briefly, but mujer gets me. What’s not to love about a week dedicated to revelry, horses, wine and curve-hugging dresses?

Two weeks after sevillanos have dried their tears after another washed out Holy Week, a makeshift city of temporary tents is erected at the southwest end of the city. Known as the Real de la Feria, this pueblecito comes alive during six days of the year, from 9pm on the Monday two weeks after Resurrection Sunday to the following Sunday’s fireworks show.

The dizzying, vibrant week can be characterized by a whirl of polka dotted dresses, the jingle of horse bells and the sound of sevillanas, a type of flamenco music, and it’s one of Spain’s most well known festivals. But as a city deep-rooted in tradition, even the April Fair has its set of unofficial rules. I consider myself a fairly well-weathered feriante after five years of teaching class after late nights, of using my enchufe to my advantage and of lasting through six days of partying.

DO bring your wallet

One of the biggest pitfalls to Feria is that it falls two weeks after Holy Week (my perfect excuse for traveling during 10 days). Feria is a wallet drain.

First is the costly flamenco dress and everything that goes with it – the flower, shawl, earrings and shoes. I got my most recent dress during the July sale season for a mere 125€ and the accessories, called complementos, cost me another 60€. Styles change de feria en feria, so some wealthy women get a new dress each year!

My caseta membership costs Kike and I 150€ a year (we alternate who pays, this year me toca, while he’ll pay the cheaper gym membership), and then there’s the food, the drinks and the need to buy a new pair of shoes when I dance the others right into the trash. Tapas are not served in casetas, but rather raciones that can be 6 – 12€, while a jarra of rebujito can cost up to 10€! What’s more, hotels and taxis operate on a holiday price, so rates will be sky-high like during Holy Week. City buses have a 2€ day pass, and they’ll extend working hours – look for the “Especial Feria” bus.

To keep costs down, I usually eat lunch at home and walk to the fairgrounds and always ignore my dwindling bank account for the sake of un buen rato. Feria only comes once a year!

DON’T only see Feria by night

The fairgrounds open daily around 1p.m. and most casetas stay open until the wee hours, meaning the Feria de Abril is an exercise in stamina, and not just for your wallet. My first few years in Seville, I worked outside the city and therefore had to run home, change into my traje de gitana, eat and get to Calle Gitanillo de Triana. I’d alternate dancing sevillanas with sips of rebujito and riding the carnival attractions in Calle del Infierno, arriving home in the early morning hours and collapsing in my bed hoping to get a few hours of sleep.

I may have inadvertently taught my high schoolers the word “hangover” in English my second year in Olivares.

There are two different sides to the fair – during the day, horse carriages and riders crowd the streets, even parking their horse next to their caseta and drinking sherry by the glass atop the stallion. Music spills out of the tents at all hours, and kids roam the streets with plastic toys and cotton candy the size of their torsos. The ambience is festive and cultural.

As night falls, the carnival rides at the Calle del Infierno begin to light up, and the round paper lanterns, called farolillos, come on. While you’d be pressed to find a caseta that isn’t playing a rumba or sevillana, everyone switches from rebujito and beer to mixed drinks, and casetas are often open all night long. I’ve had mornings where I’ve ended the long day of partying with chocolate con churros!

I’m also partial to weekday visits. During Friday and Saturday, other villages in the area get a day off to enjoy the fair, which means that it’s difficult to walk and navigate around the streets, all named for bullfighters.

DO dress up

Feria is the pinnacle of pijo culture – women will don the traditional traje de gitana, a tight, ruffled dress that cost upwards of 500€. If you’re not keen on dressing like a wealthy gypsy, be sure to look nice. I went to the alumbrado, the lighting of the main gate and the official start to the festivities, wearing ratty jeans and sneakers, not fully aware of how the event worked. I’ve since wizened up and now make it a priority to have a few nice dresses on hand in case there’s a chance of rain or I can’t bear wearing my traje.

If you’re a chico, wear a suit and tie. Caseta etiquette is very important, and you’ll be expected to follow suit (literally!). If you’re planning on riding a horse, a traje corto, a short jacket and riding pants with a wide-brimmed hat called a cordobés. I’ve ridden in horse carriages, but never on the back of a jerezano stallion, kind of my dream!

DON’T forget the caseta etiquette

Casetas are the temporary tents that act as houses, kitchens, concert halls and lounges during the Feria. Since the private spaces come at a commodity (there’s even a waiting list for when a family or organization decides not to continue paying), a certain type of behavior is expected – you can’t be overly drunk, improperly dressed or smoking within the walls.

One year, a friend of a friend was visiting, and I took them to the Novio’s friend’s caseta. This girl, K, was not sipping the lethal rebujito, but instead treating it like a shot. She bumbled around like an idiot and starting making out with the Novio’s youngest brother, causing quite an escándolo and getting us banned from the caseta.

There’s also an unspoken rule that you can’t bring your twelve friends with you. The Novio’s best friend’s wife, Susana, often encourages me to invite some pals, but I try and keep it limited to two, maybe three. Even my own caseta has a one-buddy-per-socio rule!

DO set limits on consumption

If Feria is a marathon for your wallet and feet, it’s no stroll through the Real for your liver, either. The drink of choice is rebujito, a refreshing mix of half a litre of dry sherry and 7-Up, and it is potent. The sugary drink is usually served in enormous jars and drunk out of plastic shot glasses or sherry glasses between friends. Drinking water and curbing the intake often helps, as well as getting some fresh air every so often. During my first year, the only kind of connection I had was in Los Sanotes, and Kelly and I made sure to be there every day. Susana’s uncle finally reminded me that there was more to Feria than one caseta out of over 1000, and a break in the dancing and drinking will allow you to take in the ambience.

Be sure to eat during the day, too. I usually don’t want to stop dancing for a montadito or fried fish, but spacing out your drinks and punctuating them with some heavy food like carrillada or tortilla will help you last longer.

DON’T be pesada with your contacts, and try and make them early.

Feria is a time when enchufe, the age-old connections game that lives and thrives in Seville – nearly all of the casetas are private and protected by a doorman. I usually have to say the name of the person who I’m meeting or offer to drag that person back to the door after I’ve found them to prove that I’ve been invited. Phone lines collapse and batteries run dead, or someone is too drunk to get to their phone. Make your plans with friends ahead of time to avoid the letdown of arriving to the fairgrounds and having to wander around while you wait for an invitation.

I’ve have several invitations to casetas where I’m brought food and drink outside, though I’ve never actually psychically been inside of them. But that’s alright with me…as long as there’s rebujito and a plate of ham waiting, that is!

While I’m busy with pouring over relaciones institucionales or dancing my brains out on Calle Gitanillo de Triana, here are a few of the articles I’ve written in the past about la semana más bonita:

How to dress up a flamenco dress

A vivir! Que son dos días!

The Feria during the economic crisis

My first Feria experience 

Any other tips and tricks for enjoying the fair?

Seville’s Best Neighborhoods for Living

So, you’ve gotten the visa, packed your bags and moved to Seville. The first order of business (after your cervecita and tapita) is looking for a piso and a place to call home while you’re abroad. While living in the center of Seville can mean a long commute or blowing half of your salary on rent, it is undoubtedly one of the most liveable and lively cities in all of Spain.

Choosing a neighborhood that’s right for you is imperative for your experience in Seville. Each has its own feel and character, and not every one is right for you and your needs. Ever walk in a place where you can see yourself – or not? Here’s a guide from a five-year vet to the most popular neighborhoods in Seville’s city center, from what to expect from housing to not-miss bars and barrio celebrations.

El Centro

photo by Christine Medina, run on Sunshine and Siestas

Seville’s beating heart is the most centric neighborhood, El Centro. Standing high above it is the Giralda tower, the once-minaret that guards the northeast corner of the third-largest Gothic cathedral in the world. This, along with the Alcazar Royal Palace and Archivo de Indias, forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site (whose status was threatened by the controversial Torre Pelli recently). Life buzzes in these parts, from the public meeting point in Puerta Jerez to Plaza Nueva’s Town Hall. Housing costs tend to reflect the fact that you’re smack in the center of it all, hence the apt name.

Not to miss: having a drink at Hotel Dona Maria next to the Cathedral or in Plaza del Salvador, the interior patios of Salvador which was once home to a mosque, the windy Calle de Siete Revueltos, cheap and oversized tapas at Los Coloniales, the fine Museo de Bellas Artes and the art market out front on Sunday mornings, Holy Week processions, having a pastry at La Campana Confiteria, the view from Las Setas.

Santa Cruz

The traditional Jewish neighborhood of Seville borders the historic Center and oozes charm. That is, if you like Disneyland-like charm. The narrow alleyways are now lined with tourist shops, overpriced bars with lamentable food and hardly a native sevillano in sight. For a first-time tourist, it’s breathtaking, with its flamenco music echoing though the cobbled streets. For the rest of us, it’s to be avoided as much as possible.

Not to miss: chowing down a pringa sandwich at Las Columnas, Las Cruces festival in May, the Jardines de Murillo and its fountains, free entrance for students to the Alcazar and its gardens, Extra Verde’s selection of fine olive oils, the beautiful Virgen del Candelaria church (one of my favorites in all of Seville), having a beer at La Fesquita surrounded by photos of Christ crucified.

El Arenal

The neighborhood, named for its sandy banks on the Guadalquivir, boasts a number of gorgeous chapels, the bullring and the Torre del Oro, as well as the gintoncito crowd sipping on Gin & Tonics at seemingly every hour. Wedged in between the Center and the Guadalquivir River, the houses and apartments here tend to be cramped and overpriced, having belonged to families for years. Still, the neighborhood is lively and the taurino crowd ever-present. This is the place for you if you’re too lazy to walk elsewhere and are attracted by the nightlife, which is as varied as old man bars and discos.

Not to miss: the cafe con leche and tostadas at La Esquina del Arfe, a bullfight at the Maestranza (or at least a view of those trajes along C/Adriano), the churros lady at the old city gate, the tranquility of Plaza  El Cabildo and its stamp stores and turnstile sweets, the 4,50 copas at Capone.

Triana

Disclaimer: I’m 100% biased that Triana is the best place to live and wish the lure of free rent and hanging with my Novio on a daily basis didn’t take me away from my querido barrio. Trianeros believe that the district west of the Guadalquivir should be its own mini-nation, and with good reason: everything you could need is here.

Once home to the Inquisition Castle (Castillo San Jorge, at the foot of the Triana Bridge) and the poor fisherman and gypsy of Seville, Triana is emblematic of Seville. Quaint homes, tile for miles and churches are Triana’s crown jewels, and it’s become a favorite among foreigners. While it boasts few historic sites, Triana is all about ambiente – walk around and let it seep in, listening to the quick cadence of the feet tapping in its many flamenco schools. Some of the city’s most beloved bars, shops and even pasos are here, and the view from the river-flanked Calle Betis is gorgeous.

Not to miss: Calle Pureza’s temples and hole-in-the-wall bars, slurping down caracoles at Bar Ruperto (or try the fried quail), the Santa Ana festival along Calle Betis in late July, the ceramics shops on Antillano Campos, Las Golodrinas’s punto-pinchi-chipi-champi meal, the afternoon paseo that the trianeros love so dearly.

Los Remedios

Triana’s neighbor to the south is Los Remedios, where streets are named for Virgens. The apartments are enormous and suitable for families, so don’t be surprised if you have three other roommates. While there’s not much nightlife, the barrio is located along the city’s fairgrounds and comes alive in April, two weeks after Easter. If you’re looking for private classes, this neighborhood is where a lot of the money is (so ask up!), and the many schools and families mean there’s no shortage of alumnos.

Not to miss: Asuncion’s pedestrian shopping haven, the VIPS boasting American products on Republica Argentina, Parque de los Principes’s lush knolls, the ambience in the surrounding bars during the Feria, Colette’s French pastries.

Alameda

source: ABC online

My host mother once warned me not to go into the Alameda, convinced I’d be robbed by the neighborhood’s hippies. While dreads and guitars are Alameda staples,  the barrio is, in fact, one of the trendiest and most sought after places. By day, families commune on the plaza’s pavement park and fountains. By night, botellones gather around the hip bars and vegetarian restaurants. From the center, it’s a nice ten-minute walk. This does, however, lend to litter and noise. The pros are obvious: close to nightlife (and most of the city’s GLBT scene, too) and the center, and well-communicated (especially for the northern part of the city).

Not to miss: Viriato’s gourmet hamburger, the cute shops on nearby Calle Regina, Cafe Central on a Friday night, Teatro Alameda’s offerings.

Macarena Sur

source: Dominó por España blog

Ever heard that famous song by Los del Río? Yep, it was named for Seville’s most famous life-sized statue of the Virgen Mary, whose basilica and procession in the early hours of Holy Friday draw crowds and shout of “¡GUAPA!” Rent prices here are lower, bars more authentic and fewer tourists. The markets bustle, and the winding roads beneath plant-infested balconies are breathtaking. It´s also not uncommon to see processions or stumble upon a new boutique or pop-up bar. It’s also located just steps away from Alameda.

Not to miss: Plaza de los Botellines, Calle Feria and its market (and the most frequita Cruzcampo I’ve encountered!), numerous kebab shops for a late-night snack, the Macarena basilica and old city fortress walls.

Nervión

The city’s business center is located in Nervión, where houses are meant more for families. This means they’re bigger, newer and better-equipped (most apartments for rent come already furnished with the basics). Still, Nervión is well-connected to the center, airport and Triana, is sandwiched between the central train stations, and boasts a shopping mall and the Sevilla Fútbol Club stadium.

Not to miss: n’Ice Cream cake and ice cream shop, the Cruzcampo factory, El Cafetal’s live music on weekends, Nervión Plaza Mall.

Where do I live? Um, in none of these. Where are you planning on living, or live already? What do you like (or not) about it?

Please note that not all of Seville’s neighborhoods, districts, urbanizaciones or barriadas are listed here; rather, I wanted to include the most popular among foreigners. This is evident in the fact that mine is NOT included in this list!

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?

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