Seville's annual fair in full swing
Flamenco, tapas and white wine from morning to evening: the Feria de Abril in Seville attracts thousands of tourists, despite their frustration at being excluded from private parties thrown by locals.
After the Baroque fervour of the religious processions of Holy Week, the six-day April Fair which wraps up Sunday gives free rein to the legendary love of celebration in this southwestern region of whitewashed houses.
Daily routine comes to a standstill. Schools are closed for the week. People of all ages perform Sevillanas, an upbeat regional dance, sing and play the guitar.
Residents of the Andalusian capital desert downtown plazas to invade the El Real, a grounds of over 400,000 square metres where 1,047 "casetas" or small colourfully decorated bars have been set up.
"Our whole family took a vacation this week to experience the fair as intensely as possible," Olga, a 35-year-old mother, told AFP.
Inside the fairgrounds, the only way to get around is on foot or on horseback, a tradition that dates back to 1847 when the event was only a cattle fair.
Women and girls wear flamenco dresses, with a red carnation in their hair and large earrings. They usually get a new dress for the fair every year. Many dresses are made to measure.
Bright colours, polka-dots and lace: the aisles of the fair resemble a huge flamenco fashion show.
"A dress can cost from 100-500 euros," said Sarai, who wore a black number decorated with pink flowers.
According to a consumer association, the average expenditure for the fair is 800 euros (1,070 dollars) per head, a significant outlay in the region hardest-hit by Spain's recession, where unemployment is running at over 25 percent.
At one caseta, Maria Angeles, 62, presides as hostess. Her husband, a mover, decorated the interior.
At the bar waiters serve the finest dishes of ham or fried aubergine with glasses of sherry or "rebujito", an iced cocktail of white wine and lemonade.
Flamenco rhythms can be heard around the clock. At the sound of the first notes of "Sevillanas", Maria Angeles, her daughters, nieces and a handful of men stand up to perform the dance, which is divided into four sections representing approach, confrontation, escape and love.
The downside to the festival for tourists is that the vast majority of "casetas" are private, reserved for families or groups of friends who set them up.
So it is difficult for someone who does not know anybody in Seville to fully participate in the fair.
"It is very nice, simply I was very surprised not to be able to enter the stalls. It seems that it is completely private, so we walked the aisles," said Benedict, a French tourist.
Last year the fair attracted 1.1 million people over six days, including 380,000 tourists from other regions of Spain and outside of the country.
This year local officials fear the air travel chaos caused by the eruption of a volcano in Iceland last week may have repercussions on the number of foreign visitors.
When night falls and the 370,000 lamps light up the fairgrounds and the alcohol has been flowing freely for several hours, the festival has often just begun.
"The fair is mainly about being with my friends, and drinking plenty of whisky," said Rafa, as he rode a white horse, holding a glass in one hand.
© 2010 AFP