It’s April, and, if you’re an aficionado, you’re planning to head to Sevilla and the spring feria. Where else would anybody want to be?
Sevilla’s noble silhouette violates the evening’s cloak of darkness, a shining island, rising amid a lethargic sea of olive trees, grape vines, and fields of cotton. Bright flowers, defying the lack of sunlight, bloom stubbornly from window sills and twisted, black, wrought iron balconies, providing a startling contrast to the dimming street lights that threaten to shed their last moments of life in fractured patterns upon the cobblestone streets. Austere, yet somehow festive and just a bit clandestine, Sevilla’s foreboding alleys invite exploration, if only to verify that some dark eyed señorita, with brown hair and black lace mantilla, isn’t beckoning, suggestively, from any of a thousand shadowy doorways.
It’s nearly midnight, yet the streets are filled with people. Lanterns hang gaily from tree branches. Vendors of balloons and cotton candy are everywhere. The pungent aromas of sherry, beer, saffron, and frying meats waft from every cafe. Families parade in their finest garb, displaying their pride of the city and their love of her feria. Small children and babies nest in their parents’ arms, oblivious to the noise and music that surrounds them.
Restaurants spill onto the sidewalks. Waiters with white towels over their arms work at a frenzied pace, carrying tin trays, bearing tall glasses of La Ina sherry, perspiring bottles of cold beer, stubby snifters of Terry or Fundador brandy, and baskets of fried squid rings, to those who occupy impossibly tiny tables.
Here and there are remnants of the morning’s parades, when spirited horses of flaring nostrils were ridden proudly and elegantly by handsome young men, beautiful, young señoritas, and paunchy, once-handsome fathers and grandfathers, all of whom contribute still another element of the city’s allegiance to its heritage.
The outfit of the horsemen is the traditional traje corto, the apparel of the gentleman rancher. Short, bolero type jacket; vest; high waisted, form fitting pants; riding boots of the finest leather; and the ever-present symbol of Andalucia, the flat crowned Cordobés hat.
The sounds of flamenco guitars, accompanied by raspy gypsy voices and sharp castanets, fill the air. They sing of love and death, as if one were a portent to the other. Their songs are passionate, sobbing, pleading, and joking as they relate stories of womanizing, bullfighting, and unrequited love. Joyfully, mournfully and tearfully, they sing their tales of happy remorse.
Sevilla is always a special place. But, at spring feria time, her Moorish heart fills the spirit, infecting those who have yet to be intimate with her, but are destined to be so. Sevilla demands it. At feria time, every visitor is a Spaniard. Every Spaniard is a Sevillano. Every Sevillano is a gypsy. Every gypsy is a flamenco. Every flamenco is a lover. And, all are toreros.
Each Spanish city’s annual fair is unique, but Sevilla’s spring fair is the most joyful and elegant. It’s a celebration of the very soul of Andalucia, a feria of long, black hair, calico combs, delicate lace mantillas, boots, castanets, flamencos, and proud, noble-blooded horses.
It’s a delightfully schizophrenic feria, with one personality for the daytime and another that is born after the sun sets. The mornings are as regal as a minuet in the king’s palace. The noble horsemen and demure señoritas greet friends and neighbors formally and with a degree of restrained enthusiasm.
But, the gypsies own the nights. Almost as jesters, employed to entertain the royal family, they moan and cry, plead and laugh. The color of the city changes from monarch red to gypsy green, and the feria becomes passionate, even slightly rowdy.
At all other times in Spain, a whore is accepted as one of life’s necessary evils. Even the church forgives, without openly condoning, as long as she attends mass and confession, and she’s generous when the collection basket comes her way.
But, in Sevilla, at feria time, that same whore becomes the subject of song and legend. She’s cast in a mysterious, foreboding, compassionate role. Her pulse beats in cadence to metal tipped heels on dusty floors, and callused fingertips on vibrating strings. By the light of day, she’ll be just another puta. But, after sunset, she’s a tragic, romantic lady, whose heart harbors dark secrets and intensely personal pain, as poet Garcia Lorca labeled it, “a tear, falling from a rose.” It’s good to be a whore in Sevilla at feria time. The money is excellent.
Sevilla is always patient with visitors. She allows them to observe and enjoy, even take photos and videos. Yet, like the mysterious whore, she remains tantalizingly aloof, rarely allowing more than just a brief, delicious peek at her superstitious heart.
The common denominator of Sevilla’s feria dichotomy is Plaza de la Real Maestranza. On the outside, she is nondescript. Those unfamiliar with her might walk by, without even realizing that, just beyond the walls, the magnificent plaza’s Moorish arches quietly invite men and bulls to prove their worth, while the aficionados quickly condemn anything that is less than courageous and honorable. Failure to achieve is acceptable, but failure to invest total integrity is intolerable.
A triumph in La Maestranza is special, something that can translate to many contracts. But, rejection is reason for suicide. Careers can be established or destroyed, in just one afternoon.
Corridas de toros in La Maestranza are held at the hour in which Sevilla’s dual personalities meld in the stands. Before long, those who purchased sunny side tickets will also enjoy the relief of shade. Day and night embrace. Church bells segway to falsetto requiems.
Sevilla uniquely empathizes with the burning desire of toreros. A real taurinos’ town, a city whose arteries pulsate in a tortured rhythm that is akin to a heartbeat. Even the honking of taxi horns seem to sound in concert, as if orchestrated by the towers of Cathedral La Giralda.
Every morning, Sevilla awakens in a flurry of activity, like a child shaking off a nightmare. The bells of La Giralda herald the beginning of a new day and the start of mass. In a couple of hours, the morning’s hangovers will be forgotten, as fresh ones are initiated. The spires tower over her subjects, who move, ant like, through the city streets.
Two, dark haired girls, their heads still covered by black lace mantillas, leave the cathedral. They grip their missals and trot toward the bus stop. A long whistle causes them to lower their heads, blushing.
A coal vendor beats his donkey, unmercifully forcing the club footed beast to strain under its heavy load, while fighting to keep from falling on the slippery cobblestones.
Amid the confusion, an organ grinder, whose monkey has long since died of old age, cranks the handle of his once brightly-painted, but now faded and peeling, music box. Smiling at all approaching pedestrians, he mutters dark curses at the backs of those who dare to ignore his grand musical talents.
Ah, Sevilla! Ah, Sevilla at feria time. The most Spanish of all Spanish cities, and the most beautiful of all Spanish ferias. A marriage, made in taurine heaven.