A 1952 Feria de Abril poster
“TRAVEL – SEVILLA: A Must in Spring” (Part 1)
by Ben Jones
Photos in the original article and GUIDEPOST cover
by Ben Jones
First published in GUIDEPOST
13 April 1984
For easier read, “Sevilla: A Must in Spring”, a lengthy but enchanting piece, has been split into two parts.
Seville, as every tourist guide in Europe likes to remind us, is the most Spanish of this country’s cities: passionate gypsy ladies and their bullfighting beaus, orange blossom scented nights, the grandeur of the old Moorish buildings, blood red vino and airy patios so thick with bougainvillea and roses that they make the Garden of Eden look like a vacant lot in Houston during high summer. All the stereotypical images of Spain that come to mind when one hears a snatch of tinkling flamenco guitar come alive in this memorable city.
The Spanish themselves rate Sevilla as the most beautiful city in their country and the best time to witness this beauty is during the Feria de Abril or the April Fair (this year from April 30 to May 7) when for a week the city becomes magic.
The Feria de Abril had its beginnings as a livestock air centuries ago when farmers and itinerant gypsy horsetraders came to Seville to sell their ponies and cattle. In the 1840’s, the ruling classes of the city, distraught over the foreign influences taking hold in their country, decided to turn this rustic swap meet into a celebration of Spanish culture.
Performances of traditional music and dance were put on for the masses, the Seville noblemen swaggered about in their riding togs, copious amounts of wine and food were served and everyone had a ball. Now the fair is an event drawing visitors from all over the world, part carnival, part bullfight festival, part social event and all fun.
The fair’s day begins at noon with a great parade of Spanish horsemen and their señoritas trotting through the city streets astride their handsome steeds. The men are rigged out in vaquero outfits of wide brimmed hats, short jackets, waist sashes, chaps, and tall boots. These are the same clothes which the ancestors of these gentlemen took to the ranchos of California a century and a half ago so Americans owe a lot of their cowboy heritage to the Spanish: Rodeo is a Spanish word of course, as is lariat (la reata): chaps were originally known as chaparreras and buckaroo is an Americanization of the Spanish word for cowboy, vaquero.
Riding sidesaddle behind the men on little leather pads are the womenfolk done up in “gitana” or gypsy dresses of red, blue, orange, or pink with white polka dots and wide, ruffle pleats. The costume is completed with a lace or string shawl over the shoulders and big hoop earrings with the young ladies hair tied back in a severe bun. Watching this procession sauntering past the stately Seville mansions built on the plunder and profit of the New World is like being back in the days when Spanish galleons ruled the waves and the Spanish grandee was the finest example of manhood on earth.
Following behind the riders are the real nabobs of Seville society in their ornate carriages lovingly preserved and restored for this annual moment of glory. The teams of two, four and sometimes six horses are splendid in their trappings of silver and gold and polished leather, tassels and bells hanging off of them like ornaments on a Christmas tree.
After a circuit of the city is made, the horse riders and carriages head for the “Real” or fairgrounds on the opposite side of the river. For days beforehand this area has been transforming into a fairland of paper lanterns, colored lights, gaudy banners and huge plywood and canvas shelters called “casetas” or little houses. These casetas are run by families, fraternal and union organizations, banks and political parties or their members and guests to drink and revel the week away. When a rider approaches the caseta of a friend, the host must bring out a glass of sherry or wine to his guests and it’s “saludos amigos” all around.
After a heavy lunch and a siesta at home, the Sevillanos awaken around four to attend the bullfights in the Maestranza bullring near the river. There are eleven fights held over the six days and the best bullfighters in Spain come to start off the summer season. The Sevillanos are perhaps the most knowledgeable and demanding of fans in the country and the men in the spangled suits do their damnedest to please the crowd. If there’s any sign of cowardice or shrinking on the bullfighter’s part during a performance, his reputation and honor end up in the dust. It is almost impossible for a tourist to buy tickets well in advance but scalpers do sell them in front of the bullring about an hour or two before the fights begin at five.
At nightfall, when the lights along the Guadalquiver river come up, everyone returns to the fairgrounds for the real fun of the feria to begin. Now the Real is a riot of light and music as each caseta competes with it’s neighbors to provide the best music, the most wine and the tastiest snacks for their guests. As most casetas are for members only, the visitor may find it difficult to join in the fun. But the city government (Ayuntamiento) and some political parties have casetas open to the general public. A typical caseta will have a plywood bar along one side of the wall, a small stage and lots of chairs and tables for the guests. The food served is simple and hearty, usually sandwiches of ham and cheese, grilled shrimp, chorizo sausage and omelets. Wine is by far the most popular drink but beer and soft drinks are available.
As everyone knows everyone else, there is a lot of table hopping and the children, dressed in miniature vaquero and gypsy costumes, scamper about tasting the grown-ups’ drinks and adding to the general din of music, laughter and snoring drunks. There are two types of music offered in the casetas: “pop” and flamenco. “Pop” is the same stuff a visitor is familiar with back home: guitars, drums and a singer in shirt and trousers three sizes too small warbling into a microphone crackling with feedback. Lyrics in Spanish don’t make the songs any more palatable than in Las Vegas so it’s wise to give these places a miss.
Featured image/milo 3oneseven, CC BY-SA2.0 via Flickr
Portada/CarlosdeHabsburgo CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Horsemen’s parade/ Dimos Paraskevas, CC BY-SA2.0, cropped
She-nabob in her carriage/Anual via Wikipedia, CC BY SA4.0
Matador at the Maestranza/Ввласенко, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Party by nightfall/CarlosVdeHabsburgo via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA4.0
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