More fuel for a feria junky

2016-05-26 07:00:00

I am developing a theory about Andalusian ferias - or, more specifically, about how best to enjoy them. As I follow them around the region in order to write this series (someone has to do it, right?), I am enjoying each one a little more than the last. In other words, when it comes to experiencing Andalucía’s ferias, the exact opposite of overkill applies. The more of them you attend, the more you tune into the atmosphere of refined hedonism that is at the heart of all of these annual celebrations, no matter how different they may be in heritage or detail. This week, two of Andalucía’s great cities run their ferias in parallel, so I had plenty of opportunity to test my theory - first in Cordoba, then in Granada.
Like so many Andalusian fairs, Cordoba’s owes its existence to the trading of livestock. Dating from the end of the thirteenth century, when it began as a cattle market held on Pentecost Sunday, Cordoba’s Spring Fair, which runs until Saturday, is one of the oldest in southern Spain. In the light and colour of the day, horses and carriages are on display just as much as they are during Jerez’s Feria del Caballo, parading up and down a sand-covered recinto that feels as capacious as Seville’s. Though there are far fewer casetas in Cordoba than Seville, all of Cordoba’s are public. This is another truly democratic fair, where anyone can duck into any caseta they like for a hit of fino or rebujito and a blast of the addictive rhythms of the Sevillana.
It was in Cordoba on Sunday that I really grasped the key to getting the most out of these fairs - namely, caseta-crawling. Extending beyond a grand entrance styled on the multiple arches of Cordoba’s mezquita - breathtaking day or night - this fair offers a pulsating mini-city of possibilities.
A marquee bearing the name of a famous twentieth-century matador could be smelt long before being reached, because in one corner a medieval-style feast was being prepared. Bull, chicken, pork and lamb sizzled on a huge circular BBQ over a pit of glowing charcoal next to the biggest paella I have ever seen. I thought ‘mouth-watering’ was just a phrase before I arrived at this caseta. Chatting to the chef, though, was rendered difficult because of the tremendous noise emanating from the neighbouring tent, which was offering a nightclub-style experience at 4pm. In the middle of the hot, dusty afternoon, its packed dance-floor was full of revellers for whom it was permanently 3am.
Dancing is a key element to any southern Spanish fair, of course, but in Cordoba at the weekend it was more joyful and vital than ever. Moving on from the disco-caseta, plastic ‘vaso’ of rebujito in hand (this is the essential accompaniment to caseta-crawling in 25+ degrees, incidentally), we came to another in which the huge dance area looked like an impressionist’s canvas. Swirling gypsy dresses created a hypnotic haze of colour and movement. And always, pumping from the speakers, the decisive and elemental Sevillanas.
Unlike in most Andalusian cities, Cordoba’s Spring Fair also spills out into the town itself. For the whole of May, the central courtyards and patios characteristic of so many buildings in Cordoba are on display, with locals competing for the honour of having the most beautiful (the prize is awarded at the end of May). Started in 1918 and sponsored by the town hall, this charming tradition is a unique celebration of Cordoba’s distinctive architecture.
This week Granada is also holding its annual Corpus Cristi feria (until Saturday), a fair with a religious rather than commercial heritage. Celebrations on the day of Corpus Cristi itself - always the eighth Sunday after Easter, this year it falls on Thursday - take place all over Andalucía, but in the seventeenth century Granada became the only city to fuse its annual fair with this important religious fixture.
By that time, though, Granada’s Corpus Cristi had long been about a good party just as much as a rather maudlin style of procession. In the sixteenth century, dual monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella made fervent attempts to wipe Granada’s Arabic heritage from collective memory, using Corpus Cristi to this end. They instructed the town hall to pour large sums of money into the annual celebrations, and apparently ordered Granadinos to party until they were in a (strictly Catholic) frenzy. The monarchs’ attempts at wiping out the legacy of hundreds of years of Islamic rule were not wholly unsuccessful; to this day, the city hosts no annual celebrations of its great Muslim era.
Several hundred years later, though the fun is far from forced, one can’t help concluding that the budget for Granada’s Corpus Cristi fair is not what it once was. The site of the feria itself offers the usual plethora of casetas and a garish fairground - but Granada’s is the smallest I have seen so far. At perhaps half the size of Cordoba’s, the site feels a little unloved and neglected: on the edges, illuminated as though ready for action, some streets stand empty, denuded of both people and casetas. And given that Granadinos’ sartorial style is perhaps best described as ‘bohemian chic’, you will see far fewer ‘trajes de gitano’ at Granada feria than you will at most other Andalusian fairs, although the locals still dress for the festivities with style and elegance.
Relative absence of ‘trajes’ aside, Granada’s flamenco heritage is perhaps the strongest in Andalucía. In addition to the ubiquitous Sevillanas, therefore, there is much more flamenco to be heard at Corpus Cristi than there is at the region’s other big fairs. One caseta belonging to a flamenco school was showcasing its students: a class of boys and girls no more than nine or ten years old put on a display of remarkable assurance and intensity.
With Cordoba and Granada’s fairs now swinging, feria season is in full rebujito-fuelled flight. And so far my developing theory about Andalucía’s fairs - that the more you go to the more you want to go to - has yet to be disproved. I am in danger, I fear, of becoming a feria junky.source surinenglish