It is said that a wind always whips up for feria weekend driving the villagers loco. Certainly you can detect a little feria madness in the air.
Gaucín’s feria kicks off on the first Thursday in August and runs throughout the weekend culminating in a paella party in the pabellón on Sunday afternoon. The Mayor announces the feria formally open just before midnight when the procession arrives at the fair site on flat ground on the outskirts of the village.
The procession starts some 30 minutes earlier outside the convent the other side of the village where the feria Queen and her entourage, the village band, and horsemen on their impressive mounts gather in a boisterous mass.
Mothers cluck around their daughters pushing a strand of hair in place or straightening their dresses.
Everyone is dressed to the hilt, the women in beautiful dresses – and in the case of the feria queen a tiara – and cool themselves with exquisite fans. Many of the spectators wear flamenco dresses with the little girls in miniature replicas of their mothers’ and the boys in tight high-waisted trousers, little cropped jackets and flat topped felt fedoras.
The bars heave all evening, as they will continue to do so throughout the weekend. Every family member who can balance a tray is roped in to help out and some I’m sure have their own unorthodox ways of keeping going! It is big business for the village bars but they will all be able to collapse on Monday when the village turns into a post-feria ghost town.
Village sons who have made good in Malaga or Madrid come home for the feria – every couple of years a new baby on their hip – and they do the rounds of the bars catching up with friends and neighbours whilst beaming matriarchs trail behind them looking after the growing gaggle of older children.
People from neighbouring villages and outlying fincas also come to town. Sometimes a minibus is hired to bring in the campo kids – large groups of privately educated kids – the girls are beautiful and willowy, looking stunning in a slip of a dress with long pre-Raphaelite hair that they flick and toss like the manes of the thoroughbred processional horses. The boys wear a uniform of white jeans and pastel shirts.
In generations past when the only way of getting from one mountain village to another was by donkey, the annual feria was a way of widening the gene pool, bringing fresh blood into the village and encouraging inter-village romances.
Finally the crowd are assembled into some form of a line and the band strikes up to lead the way through the streets. It has always impressed me that a village so small can put together a band. Okay, they are sometimes a little off-key but I doubt many communities back in the UK could rustle up so many musicians.
In recent years the feria has scaled down in extravagance, due no doubt to the village falling on harder times. There are no carriages any more; the queen and her entourage walk the route from the convent to the pabellón, followed by the horses, which are highly strung and kept on a short rein. They are beautiful and powerful beasts but to be so close to an animal that could cause significant injury if uncontrolled is a little scary, truth be told. Over the years I’ve come to recognise the horsemen from seeing them around the village carrying out their day jobs as electricians and painters, van drivers and bin men. Lastly come the villagers who follow the procession through the streets. When the procession arrives at the entrance to the feria site they stop whilst fireworks are set off – rockets shooting into the sky and erupting into an explosion of multi-coloured stars – the switch is pulled for the feria lights, the horses prance before heading home and the villagers spill on to the site heading for the pabellón at the far end and the ceremony where the outgoing queen passes the mantle to the newly crowned queen.
Inside the pabellón (in reality little more than an enormous shed) a makeshift bar lines one wall and a fully equipped stage fills the far end. Plastic tables and chairs crowd the room and are quickly taken by large animated groups whilst the bar is three deep with customers. A row of chairs are set up on the stage and one by one members of the entourage are invited onto the stage to take their seats leaving the central pair for the outgoing and incoming queens. Finally the ceremony comes to an end, the music starts and the party begins.
Outside the attractions and rides are in full swing and the tables set up on the pavement outside El Portesuelo – the bar at the other end of the fairground – are in huge demand with Antonio and his staff darting between the tables, constantly replenishing glasses and bringing out plates of food.
The feria continues in this vein for two more nights until on the Sunday afternoon the pabellón is packed once again for the paella party. Flamenco singers entertain the partygoers whilst trestle tables are set up in one corner and enormous paella pans are set to simmer with rice, saffron, rabbit, garlic, onions and peppers.
Around three o’clock when the paella is ready, a long queue forms as everyone lines up for their food. All are welcome and the queue is friendly if a little rowdy.
Whilst waiting a venenciador pours sherry into small plastic cups with an elaborate flourish, offering a glass to everyone that passes him by. The festivities last for several more hours until finally the speakers are shut down; the bars close and the villagers wend their weary way home to sleep off four days of feria madness…
All images ©Pip Art