Sevilla. The name evokes a variety of passionate images: Flamenco-dancing women clad in vibrant, polka dot-studded dresses, their feet striking a floor with thunderous blows…
A matador de toros poised to enter a ring facing possible goring or death…
Spirited bodega-goers clinking glasses overflowing with jewel-toned sangria and amber cerveza…
On a balmy long weekend earlier this summer, Shawn and I journeyed to Andalucía to witness it all, resulting in our own mixture of intense emotions.
Arriving at Jerez de la Frontera’s train station, we were delighted to see Feria revelers of all ages donning vibrant dresses or charcoal-colored suits with top hats. Mothers and daughters sported coordinated ensembles with matching dresses and floral hairpieces. Their spirited energy was contagious.
We soaked up the procession of polka dot ladies until our bus for Sevilla arrived. Once we crossed the threshold into the city, we treated ourselves to refreshing sangria and cervezas, along with rich Iberian cheese and toasted bread tapas treats.
Suddenly, there came the roar of brass instruments, coupled with the shuffling of feet in a procession to honor a saint. Weary-faced children carried candles, incense and gold-embroidered religious banners. Gilded relics were carried by a sea of parish members; only their sneakers and shins were visible. It was the first of many processions that would traverse our paths in the coming days.
On our second day, we strolled throughout the city, admiring palm trees, ceramic tiled façades and the soul-soothing tunes of charismatic flamenco guitar players. Despite our limited knowledge of Spanish niceties, the locals warmly welcomed us. We were also impressed with the elegant manner in which young and old dressed. Adult women wore smart silk suits and dresses, some with lace mantilla veils; young children donned clothing reminiscent of 1950s or 1960s Americana (sweater sets, hair bows, patent-leather shoes). We noted that families with young children almost always dressed the little ones like Doublemint Twins. This was regardless of whether or not the children had twin status.
Lunchtime found us creating a siesta of our own at La Raza, an elegant restaurant situated in the Maria Luisa Park. Under a canopy of wise, old trees, seated on swirling iron chairs in the courtyard, we sampled refreshing gazpacho and latte macchiatos. There, we watched three mischievous boys – in Bermuda shorts and knee socks – as they coyly dipped wine glasses into a nearby fountain. Even though the waiters repeatedly scolded them, the stubborn boys persisted in splashing each other. The heat was so intense that I don’t think our fellow diners would have minded had they gotten doused just a little.
The controversial topic on my and Shawn’s mind, despite the peaceful atmosphere, was the bullfight for which we had purchased tickets the evening before. To attend or not to attend was a difficult choice. Though rather certain that we would be disturbed by a bullfight, we thought it important to better understand the history, the setting and the tradition before conclusively making judgments about the practice. I had many questions in my mind. I was curious what demographic regularly filled the stands. Did Spanish boys attend with their fathers as a rite of passage of sorts? Would the spectators be comprised of equal numbers of tourists and locals? Would there be more men than women in attendance?
We sought advice from several locals prior to committing to attend the bullfight. Not surprisingly, the elderly gentleman at the ticket office was overtly enthusiastic about the tradition. He told us that he had attended many bullfights and that the bull was raised for that purpose alone, so that it was not cruel. A refined, older woman working at a boutique selling Feria fans and ladies’ accessories had said that it would be “impressive and theatrical” so long as we could “separate the death” from the pomp and circumstance. She had attended one or two bullfights in her lifetime.
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.