Last week was the Spring Fair here in Seville – officially called the Feria de Abril (April Fair), but this year held in May. It’s a fantastic event, utter mayhem of crowds and horses and heat and manzanilla sherry, where you need stamina and a strong head for drink, a decent grasp of Spanish, but above all you need friends. Friends with casetas. These are the small stripey tent-houses (or large, for companies, and the public casetas, for areas of the city and political parties) where all the action takes place.
After this year’s Feria, which was a vintage one for me, even though I didn’t even manage to meet or visit everyone I had intended to, I came to the conclusion that there are three experiences of the Seville Feria, all completely different.
The first Feria is for those who have a caseta. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your own – casetas are owned (and the costs are shared) by groups of people – friends, family, associations. It could be your in-laws’ (the commonest option among the Sevillanos I know) or your company’s. You have your own base where you can invite friends, or mention you’ll be there on a certain day if they would like to drop by and visit (you’ll also go out caseta-hopping to visit your friends in theirs). The doormen can be informed if you’re expecting guests, so he knows to let them in even if you’re not there at the time.
Each socio (member) has a tab for food and drink at the bar, and you tend to be generous about entertaining visitors to your caseta. If you’re canny, like some casetas owners I heard about this year, you can rent your caseta out by the hour to Chinese or German tourists for a four-figure amount which will substantially reduce the annual fee paid by the caseta’s socios.
The second Feria is when you have friends with casetas. As always, it’s a case of not what you know, but who you know. Invitations are carefully sought and cherished in the weeks leading up to this extraordinary event, the mother of all ferias (for many towns in Spain hold their own, scaled down accordingly from the 1,000-odd casetas at the Seville event). If you’re lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s caseta (or their parents’, or company’s), once you’ve called/texted/WhatsApped to check they’re there and found them, you will be plied with food and drink, and when you try to respond to your hosts’ generosity by repaying in kind, your offer may or may not be accepted (in some casetas only socios can pay).
As a Brit who is very aware of courtesy, and the importance of getting one’s round in, especially as a guest, I find that a little difficult to get used to – while not for a moment complaining about the wonderful Sevillano hospitality. You just have to accept it – it’s part of the Feria protocolo (code of behaviour).
The third Feria is for those who, sadly, don’t know people with casetas (or who didn’t get an invite). Obviously they can still come to the Feria – entrance is free, they can watch the procession of magnificent horses and carriages, walk around the streets, and soak up the atmosphere, as well as going to one of the public casetas – for the six Seville barrios, plus political parties and trade unions. Tourists who come must find it an extraordinary sight, if rather closed-off – women dressed in frilly flamenco frocks partying away behind closed doors (well, canvas awnings). I have heard more than one person describe the Seville Feria as “1000 wedding receptions you’re not invited to”.
Many feel it is too exclusive, and only for the “have”s (or have-a-friends), when it should be for everyone. My husband is in that camp, although he’ll go to his trade union’s caseta. I noticed that this year, when it got to the small hours, there were many more young people having a bottelon (drinking in the street from bottles they’ve brought with them) than in previous years, Note that other Ferias, apart from the Seville one, don’t have the same system of private casetas as here – all are open to everyone.
This year I went one night with a friend of a friend, who had already been at the fair for three days on his own, taking photos for a project. He hadn’t even been inside a caseta. We took him round to meet our friends at their casetas, and he was bowled over by the friendliness and hospitality shown to him by the Sevillanos, and astonished by the world of difference between la Feria en la calle, and la Feria en las casetas.
What’s your experience of the Feria de Sevilla? Have you been to a private caseta, or a public one?
Next year’s Feria is 21-26 April 2015.
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