Once upon a time, before my Granada days, I lived in a much quieter, saltier and crispier part of Spain:
El Puerto de Santa María. Land of sherry wine, fishy tapas and bewildering-to-beginners Spanish.
I arrived feeling completely unschooled yet blithely naïve and willing to embrace a huge change in my life. However, the language barrier obstructed my social life during those first few months, so I often had to look to my environs to remind myself of what a great decision I had made to come to Spain.
The beaches, for instance, are just gorgeous. All of them– unlike Granada’s –are sandy, sunbathable virtually all year round and flanked by a thick-green, sweet-smelling pine forest. Then there are the countless freshly caught and fried fish tapas bars, stocked full of uh-mazing chocos fritos (larger calamari). It is a feast for the senses. However, it was the warmth of the people I met that really left its mark on me, despite the barely comprehensible Spanish which anyone I spoke to had to endure. Sadly, all but two have now moved on in search of work– la crisis has left them no other choice –but that doesn’t stop me from visiting when I am able to (only twice since moving to Granada!) I also have Meghann of Hola Matrimony to keep me adrift of what’s going on Puerto side.
Last week I decided to make the trip for the annual Feria– a five-day long fiesta occurring each May, which sees the whole town show up at one stage or another, most dressed elegantly in traditional, frilly Sevillana dresses or chic shirt-and-tie combinations. It’s the busiest and noisiest period of the year for any Andalucían town, particularly those with their ferias just minutes away from the centre by bus, like El Puerto.
I took E along for the ride, eager to show her my Spanish ‘roots’. I’d been to Feria that first year and had spent most of it drunk off Negrito Ron y Cola (lethal stuff) and joyriding bumper cars in a sort of sad, older guy among children kind of way. I’d enjoyed las casetas (public tents with bars and music) as well, but had embarrassed myself horribly when attempting to dance Sevillanas, the traditional Feria dance. This year I was happy to let the Spanish boys do the dancing. I would watch.
We’d arranged to stay with Pilar, a local lady advertised on Airbnb who’d apparently just turned 60, though you’d never have guessed; she was the prime example of how years of sunshine, a healthy Mediterranean diet and not smoking makes a life last years longer. She shared her apartment with her father, who was 88, but yet again, looked about fifteen years younger and was nimble enough on his feet.
Pilar would get on well with my mum, were either of them able to speak the other’s language. She never stopped to draw breath, and just sort of pottered about in that mother-like way, pouring us glasses of tradtional fino (sherry wine), mopping up after a leaky tap and drawing extremely detailed maps of how to find things that were literally five minutes away on foot. We decided that we liked her very much almost immediately, but could never have anticipated her most gracious gesture of the weekend: an authentic, bright orange Sevillanas dress that she had worn as a girl, laid out on the bed after we returned from our first night of Feria fun (presumably meant for E, not me– that would be a disturbing image, let alone catastrophic for the dress). It was wonderful and fit E like a glove, so was duly worn– with an enormous smile I might add –for our second night at Feria.
Quite by chance we stumbled into a caseta (none are private like in Seville) for a great big, rehydrating jug of rebujito– a traditional Feria drink made up of fino sherry and either lemonade or soda water –and were followed by a surge of Sevillanas-dressed women before a live Sevillanas band started playing. Judging by the dancing, popularity and quality of the music we hardly saw any point in moving on, though we eventually did, in order to meet the only two friends who had stayed since we all met there in 2011.
We found them in a pop/reggaeton-heavy caseta– not really my thing but I can usually pull through providing that there is enough alcohol to hand, and since I’d managed to find a bar selling litres of rebujito for €2.50 this was not a problem. At least not until the Sevillanas started playing. The rebujitos had given me the belief that I was actually able to dance Sevillanas, so, grabbing E with the élan and tenacity of the bloke standing next to me, I attempted to copy his steps and sync my spins and twirls. However, in exactly the same way as I had done that first year, I banged, bumped, trod on and at one point almost flung my dancing partner to the floor– in this case E (sorry E) –before making my exit, horribly embarrassed once more.
There was only one thing for it: bumper cars.
I drove, E watched, I drove again, E watched again. E started to walk home. I decided I better go too, but not before buying and devouring a sticky white chocolate gofre, which I deserved for driving so well.
Next day we spent a few hours lazing on Playa de Muralla–my favourite of El Puerto’s beaches –to conclude a wonderful weekend before driving back to Granada (no bumping this time) high on nostalgia:
Pilar had reminded me of the goodness of El Puerto’s people, the beaches had reminded me of the long lazy days we spent there, the fino sherry of the bodegas we frequented in the summer and I had reminded myself of how terrible a Sevillanas dancer I truly am.
Next time I will stick to the bumper cars
Have you ever been to a Feria in Spain? What was your experience like?