Sunday, April 28, 2019

Remembering my visit to the Feria de Abril in Seville, Spain (I)

The 2006 portal to the Feria de Abril (April Fair) in Seville, Spain at night

I recall reading somewhere that it is incredible that the city of Seville, Spain celebrates two large festivals within two weeks of each other: first, the solemn Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions; and then the joyous Feria de Sevilla or Feria de Abril (April Fair), with all the planning that goes into each. Four of us, Julia López (then the director of a flamenco troupe in Philadelphia called Flamenco Olé), two of her flamenco students, Tomas (Tom) Dura and Nancy Hill, and myself, took this trip in April 2006 to do research on the Feria, which our local arts organization Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas (Latin American Cultural Roots) was going to present the following year at the International House of Philadelphia, with support from the dance program of the Pew Foundation on the Arts. Of course, our festival would not approach the size of Spain's Feria, which attracts over a million people each year, but our goal was to absorb as much as possible from Feria to be as faithful as possible to detail in our much smaller event.

My plane arrived in Madrid early in the morning, and from there I had to take a taxi to the Atocha railroad station. After the all-night flight and the change in time zones I was really sleepy, but managed to see at least some of the countryside on the way south to Seville. I recall seeing wide open plains in between snoozes.

When I arrived in Seville, I was really fortunate because Julia, Tom and Nancy had arrived ahead of me and had already settled in the apartment we were renting. Tom was available to help me get acclimated, but Julia and Nancy had gone to a flamenco show. Nancy begged Julia to show her what fake flamenco looked like, and so they went to a place where glassy-eyed, emotionless dancers went into their routines. Unfortunately for them, they got caught in a thunderstorm walking back to the apartment at night and were thoroughly drenched.

The apartment was modern and slightly north of the center of Seville, so for the most part it was convenient for us to walk into town and ultimately cross over the Guadalquivir River to Barrio Triana, the site of the Feria grounds and the subject of many sevillanas (traditional songs representing Seville). Feria has existed since the 1840s and over the course of the years has outgrown its locations, but this Feria site was more than capable of handling the million or so tourists who visit it every year.

Julia López (left) and Nancy Hill presenting a gift from Philadelphia to Antonio Silva, director of the Feria de Sevilla

One of our first activities was meeting the then-director of the Feria, Antonio Silva, and learning about the history of the Feria, which is fascinating. One of the interesting aspects of Feria is that there is an annual competition among the city's architects for the portal design. The goal of the design is to incorporate some aspect of Seville into the portal. The top photo shows the design that won the competition for 2006.

The official start time of the Feria is midnight Monday going into Tuesday, so when I went to the Feria grounds on Monday afternoon, the people who were there were busy setting up their casetas or tents for the six-day celebration. It was fun watching the preparations and some friendly people who were just walking around.

Young people at the Feria grounds prior to the start of the celebration

As the bulk of Feria activity would take place at night, we had the daytime to do a variety of activities. From our apartment it was easy to walk through Seville and take in some of the sights. We had to be mindful that the hours of stores were reduced due to the Feria, and that it was best to shop in the morning. The department store El Corte Inglés was an exception, as it had afternoon hours and was a great place to find books and CDs.

On Monday night, as Tom and I approached the Feria grounds, there was a huge crowd waiting for the alumbrao, or lighting of the Feria portal, which would take place at midnight. As the entrance to the Feria was closed until this occurrence, the crowds were pressing on us. When midnight did arrive, there was a huge cheer with the crowds flooding the entrance and grounds to take in all the sights.

We learned that most of the casetas or tents at the Feria were private affairs with particular clubs or groups of people who had reserved their space and took care of their decoration and food sales. There were also public casetas in specific locations, which were much noisier. Tom and I presented ourselves at Seville's municipal caseta. My goal was just to say hello to Antonio Silva, whom I had met earlier in the day, but much to our surprise, we were invited in and were able to take in all the activity, including the delicious fish that was served along with plenty of manzanilla (a variety of sherry) to wash it down. Tom felt somewhat like a fish out of water because he didn't speak Spanish, but he came alive when some women approached us to invite us to dance sevillanas, and he went off to dance with them while I continued my Spanish conversations, not being much of a dancer myself.

The Feria celebration continues well into the night. Tom and I finished up at around 4 am and went to the bus stop to pick up one of the well-organized free buses that ran continuously and took people from the Feria grounds to the center of Seville across the Guadalquivir River. From there we walked back to our apartment.

Interior of a caseta with its lanterns or farolillos

You can learn about the 2019 Feria de Sevilla, which actually takes place between May 4 and 11 because Easter Sunday was later this year than in most years (April 21), at the website .

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