I went to the fair yesterday in Seville, took the high speed train, 250 kilometres per hour, through las huertas of the valley of the Gaudalquivir, one of the five major rivers of Iberia, joining together and feeding Córdoba and Seville. Las huertas surround every city, town and village in Spain. They are the market gardens and orchards that feed the local population. In the villages, of course, they are simply the private and community gardens of the locals. Through the centuries, these cities had to be fed locally and Spain has ample good land and the weather to eat locally. The 5 kilometre diet! I did not recognize them at first, orchards with later maturing dates, but then it was clear. I was surrounded by orange groves, stretching out in all directions, not quite as extensive as the olive groves between Córdoba and Granada, a bushy, dwarf variety to make the harvest so much easier. Now I know the source of my morning, and at times, afternoon freshly-squeezed orange juice.
The Feria, ‘fair’ sounds prosaic for this event, takes place every spring and dates back to the mid 19th century, but comes from much older traditions. The focus is horses and carriages and Sevillanos parading throughout the afternoon, continually from around 2 to 8 o’clock. I’ll start with a video; I was comfortably sitting in the shade on the ground, enjoying the passing show.
There is a popular expression in Spain, dar paseo, simply means to go for a stroll. But strolling is a fine art here, practiced down through the centuries, particularly in the cool of the early evening and on weekend afternoons. To be out and about, to be seen out and about, and to notice your neighbours who are out and about. (I am from the Valley, you know!) And dressed to the nines. The Spanish and Madrileños in particular have quite the reputation for the necessity of making a good impression. The Feria is clearly a variation of this. The horses and carriages, of all descriptions, dan paseo through the avenues of the Feria site, a large permanent site, the equivalent of 15 to 20 normal city blocks. Casetas, not homes or shops, line these streets, meeting places for eating, drinking, singing and dancing throughout the afternoon and well into the evenings of this week-long event. The carriages with their passengers simply circulate on a prescribed route for as long as they desire throughout these afternoons. No sense of a competition. Gradually the casetas fill up; most are private, associated with clubs, associations, societies, whatever. Enough are open to the public.
The horses wear distinctive head decorations of different colours and often bells; close your eyes and ignore the heat and it is time for a sleigh ride. Just kidding! 35 degrees! I’m delusional.
They come in all colours; my favourite were the teams of black ones, short, not many hands high, and with amazing tails. Breeds of horses developed since the time of the Caesars for conditions in Spain.
The men wear their traditional outfits, a short to mid-torso jacket, tight pants that come up to mid-torso (a curious look), leather boots (at times, leg chaps), and a distinctive hat. We are probably more familiar with this look from what we know of ranch culture in Argentine. The ships to the New World left from Seville, the river was navigable in those centuries, and the people of Andalucia would have been prominent in the waves of Spaniards heading out to make their fortunes and to find new lives for themselves.
The young son continuing in the tradition of his father and grandfathers, anticipating many years of the Feria in Seville.
And the women of Sevilla are in their absolute glory.
A whole carruaje full, all dressed alike. Inevitably there are shops devoted to this style; El Cortés Inglés, the very upscale national chain of department stores, has its own department. A young woman I met on the train back to Córdoba, from Jerez, the home of sherry (how the Brits dealt with the pronunciation of the town – phonetically, Hay (very aspirate)-raithe, proudly showed me a photo on her phone of her outfit.
Some even made it up to sit behind their novio – always discreetly side-saddle.
A feeling of comfortable joy permeated the grounds, an affirmation of a culture that has endured for centuries and will continue to endure into the future. Happy to be an observer, clearly aware that I was in the presence of interconnecting, overlapping families, societies, parishes, neighbourhoods, villages, etc. Each seemed to be very present and probably very much mindful of their lifetimes of coming to the Feria. Nothing needed to change, to be different from all the years before. We can get so caught up in the ‘I wonder what’s new at the…..’.
I made my way back to the historic centre of Seville and enjoyed a plate of shrimps with a glass of manzanilla, a type of sherry from that town down the road, Jerez. Recommended by my friend, Antonio, from the north. When in Seville……
Tonight I am going to an equestrian show at the Royal Stables and then a special nocturnal tour of the Mezquita.