21 August 2010

All the Fun of the Feria

The people of Alcalá are gearing up for the annual Feria, which takes place in the last week of August.  The women are frantically finishing off the frills on their flamenco dresses and raiding the shops for fans, combs, silk flowers and giant candelabra earrings.  The horses are being groomed, their manes and tails brushed and their working harnesses swapped for the decorative fiesta gear.  The younger kids can hardly contain their excitement at the prospect of unlimited candyfloss and vertiginous fairground rides, while the older ones are looking forward to five consecutive nights of consuming vast amounts of rebujito (dry sherry and lemonade), flirting and dancing the night away.  Only the old men seem unperturbed, as they sit outside the bars on the Alameda sipping fino and playing dominoes.

The word feria comes from the Latin for "free day", or public holiday, when slaves got the day off and there were no court sessions.  With the spread of Christianity across Europe they were hijacked by the Church and turned into religious occasions, often associated with Saints' Days.
FERIA EARRINGS

In modern Spain, every town has its feria and they can last over a week.  Their origins are diverse; some (like the Alcalá feria) are dedicated to the local incarnation of the Virgin Mary, others coincide with horse or cattle fairs, or the end of the harvest of some crop or other.  Whatever its origins, these days the feria is mainly just an excuse for a party: music, dancing, fairground attractions, dressing up, drinking and generally having a good time.  If the town has a bullring there will be toros - Death in the Afternoon.   Some places erect a special portable bullring for the occasion.  (Fortunately Alcalá's bullring was long since decommissioned, and the building now contains some interestingly shaped flats.)  In Eastern Spain the ferias often include theatrical re-enactments of battles between moros y cristianos, dating back to the Christian reconquest and the expulsion of the Moors from Spain.   In many places, Pamplona being the most famous, bulls run loose through the streets.   In the fallas of Valencia, they throw fireworks around and burn giant effigies.  In Buñol, also in Valencia, they throw several tons of ripe tomatoes at each other.

Alcalá´s celebrations seem mercifully tame in comparison, but it is still a big deal for the locals. Many small shops and businesses are closed during the feria.  There will be an opening ceremony in the park on Wednesday night, with a speech by a local bigwig; senior and junior romeras will be appointed in the local equivalent to the Rose of Tralee contest, and the brass band will lead the way down to fairground site where the bigwig will turn on the lights.

At the big ferias like those in Jerez and Sevilla, the serious revelry takes place in private casetas, marquees sponsored by private companies, entrance by invitation only.  Alcalá's casetas are sponsored by peñas, or social clubs, and apart from on Members' Night they are open to all.  They serve food and drink, and some will have live bands.  Last year I saw a notice in one, apologising for having to close at six - a.m. that is, not p.m.!

DANCING SEVILLANAS IN THE
 CASETA MUNICIPAL
The caseta municipal, sponsored by the local council, will be providing on a big lunch for the town's pensioners on Thursday, and on Friday - el día de las mujeres - it is the turn of Alcalá's women to let their hair down.  The concurso de sevillanas, a flamenco dancing contest, takes place after lunch - how can they do that on a full stomach?  For me that will be the highlight of the week. Just as an observer of course, as I have two left feet and I haven´t been here long enough to shed my Anglosaxon inhibitions.  Maybe one day ...
LUNCH ON LADIES´DAY

IN THE 1920s THE ALCALA FERIA TOOK PLACE ON THE ALAMEDA
THEN IT MOVED TO THE PASEO DE LA PLAYA
NOWADAYS JUST THE GATE IS IN THE TOWN CENTRE ...
... IT ALL HAPPENS ON THE RECINTO DE FERIA
OLD-STYLE CASETA
TOMBOLA!

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