Monday, 28 April 2014

Faralaes - the dress for feria.

One of the most distinctive aspects of feria is the dress worn by women and girls to show that this is a special time and to create a party atmosphere. The dresses are called ‘faralaes’, and they were first worn in Seville at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since then, they have not only been adopted as standard feria wear, but have been taken up by female flamenco dancers as their traditional costume.

Faralaes are usually ankle-length, though shorter ones can be seen and are often worn by children. They often have elbow or bracelet-length sleeves, finished with ruffles or frills and the neckline is usually V-shaped. They are fitted to below the hips and then explode into a froth of ‘volantes’ – frills.
Feria dresses exist in an endless variety of colours and patterns, though the emphasis is generally on creating a bright and celebratory effect. It is usual to find two different patterns in the same dress, hopefully of a harmonious nature. Dresses in one colour are also popular, and these are very elegant. 

Along with the dress goes a particular style. The hair is pulled back into a bun and fastened with coloured slides while extravagant earrings balance the exuberance of the dress. An artificial rose stands upright on the wearer’s head, a feat which only Andalucían women can perform and which is not attempted at any other time of year. You will rarely see a feria dress teamed with flat shoes. 

Feria dresses are expensive and some women save all year to buy something beautiful for themselves and their daughters. No female is ever too young or too old to wear a 'traje de feria'. The cost of a feria dress depends on the number of frills, as they represent the most time-consuming aspect of making the dress.
Vejer’s main faralaes outlet is ‘La Boutique de Antonio’ on the corner of San Ambrosio and Torrero Juan Conde. Here you will find dresses in all sizes, ranging in price from a little over 100 Euros for a bargain-basement dress to around 400 Euros for the most expensive examples. At the moment, the shop does not have a signboard, but it is very easy to find should you wish to make a purchase.

It is usually cheaper to have a dress made using your own choice of fabric. I was lucky enough to persuade a local dressmaker to share some of her secrets with me. This year, she has made about 12 dresses, some for a dance school. While a full-sized dress takes at least 20 hours to make, she told me, the children’s’ versions are a bit quicker, though not much.

An adult's dress might cost 120 Euros, depending on the number of frills, but members of her large family usually expect a 50% discount, which reduces her income.  Children’s’ dresses cost about 40 Euros. Feria and Carnival are her busy times, and nobody gives her much advance notice, so she often works around the clock. For a fully qualified craftswoman (she studied for four years at college to acquire her skills), the rewards are not very large.

Despite their distinctive appearance, she tells me, feria dresses are made in the same way as other dresses and there are no special techniques. After measuring the client, she adapts her pattern to their size and generally achieves a pleasing result with only one more fitting.

There is no restriction on the kind of fabric used for a feria outfit, though nowadays, a lot of people like stretch fabric because it holds its shape and gives a little room to move. Cotton and glazed cotton are popular, and silk is sometimes used though it is expensive, but mixed and synthetic fabrics are now predominant.

Not every dress you encounter at feria will be the typical faralaes. My dressmaker friend also showed me a dress she was making especially for the Garrotín. This flamenco palo is based in Asturian folklore and is one of the very few palos to have developed outside Andalucía. Its rhythm is similar to the flamenco tango and it is usually danced in a wide-skirted dress with fewer frills than the traditional flamenco dress.

A special design is required for the Garrotín

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The feria of 2014: Photos by Kelly Lawlor


I love taking photographs and many of these end up on my blog, but when my friend, Vejer photographer Kelly Lawlor, gave me some of her photographs of last year’s feria, I was reminded of my amateur status. She has captured the atmosphere of the occasion with some beautiful and original shots which you can see on this page.

In the form we know it today, feria began in Seville in 1847 as a larger and more formal version of the cattle fairs which had previously been held every spring, and which were common to most rural areas. The Seville feria is the most famous in Spain, with millions of visitors every year from all over the globe. There will be over a thousand ‘casetas’ – private tents used to entertain family and guests - and daily carriage parades.

 Vejer’s Feria begins this week and forms one of the most important social events of the year. Vejer is almost unique in having two ferias, one in the summer and one in August, and the August feria is said to be the longest in all Spain. Clearly, the town is high up in the celebration stakes - we take enjoyment seriously here!

Feria also exists in southern France, though its traditions there are a little different. Though the original purpose of feria was to show horses and cattle, the event rapidly developed into something more elaborate and took on a similar identity to the state fairs and county shows you will see in the USA and the UK. 

Naturally, though, the atmosphere here is particularly Spanish, with bullfights, a special dance – sevillanas – and the ‘faralaes’; the long, frilled dress which is worn by hardcore feria celebrators. Men and boys wear the 'traje corto', a suit with a short jacket and sometimes a wide hat. Every day this week, I will add a blog about these different aspects of feria.

During feria, the town grinds to a halt and many shops and restaurants close. Vejer’s feria will include all the traditional ingredients, though the casetas, run by local businesses, are all open to the public. There will be fairground attractions and flamenco and folk-dancing as well as a cattle show and displays of horsemanship. Dancing and partying will continue until dawn and the whole town will let its hair down.

I once asked my friend, the flamenco dancer Adrián Brenes, what people actually DO at feria. He took the question quite seriously.

 ‘If you are older,’ he explained, ‘you meet your friends, have a drink and a chat, look at the events, the dance for example, and enjoy the atmosphere, the dresses and the fact that winter is over at last. If you’re young, you do the same thing but it’s more like a party and we stay out till dawn.
'Most people have a personal interest in feria – maybe some of their family are dancing or taking part in events. And it’s here that you run into people you haven’t seen for ages, make new friends and hear all the gossip.’

Adrián has a particular interest in feria himself. He has danced there since he was a child, and though he now lives and works in Madrid, he will return to Vejer on Sunday to perform as an invited artist.

Since that conversation, I’ve been to many ferias in different parts of the region and I have found them welcoming and enjoyable events. Vejer’s feria begins on April 30th and continues until Sunday May 4th. You can download a copy of the schedule here:






Monday, 21 April 2014

El Antiguo Correo - Aladdin's Cave on Juan Bueno

In the last week, Vejer has processed, partied and finally dashed out of the way of two hefty bulls who didn’t enjoy the wet weather any more than we did. With Semana Santa over, there’s just long enough to get your breath back before it’s time for Feria in about two weeks.
Meanwhile, with the celebrations over, Vejer is preening its feathers ready for the summer. Last week I wrote about the new shops and restaurants opening up for the season, but it was purely by chance last week that I discovered El Antiguo Correo , a gorgeous shop on Juan Bueno which sells beautiful things from all around the world.

El Antiguo Correo  is so new that the sign hasn’t even gone up over the door but already it’s attracted a lot of interest from visitors and vejeriegos alike. The owners, Pablo and Diana, both Latin American imports themselves, with  their daughter Zoe give a warm reception to everyone who comes through the door and are always ready to talk about their new venture with customers and friends.

El Antiguo Correo sells rugs from Morocco, shawls from Turkey, jewellery from Peru and many other delights from the faraway corners of the world, as well as  a range of books and other items of local interest.
It also stocks a range of colourful and well-designed picture books for children, in various languages, something which Vejer has lacked until now. The shop is an elegant Aladdin’s Cave, in which every item has a unique fascination and its own story to tell. I expect to visit there many times, and I know many others will do the same.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Tradition of Semana Santa in Vejer and elsewhere.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) has been in progress since Sunday, with nightly processions beginning in different locations around Vejer.
Easter celebrations in Spain and Spanish-speaking countries are highly distinctive, most of all in Andalucía, where affected bystanders can sometimes be seen to weep as the processions pass by. The first Semana Santa processions were recorded in the 12th century
Two features dominate the Semana Santa parades; the ‘tronos’ – large floats depicting members of the holy family and the ‘penitentes’ or ‘nazarenos’ in their pointed-hood robes. There may also be a marching band to urge things along, though in some towns, the procession is conducted in spectral, spooky silence.
Semana Santa procession, Vejer
Some ‘tronos’, (sometimes also known as ‘pasos’) may have considerable value, having been created by well-known artists. Although some of the large ‘tronos’ in Malaga and Seville are carried through the streets by up to 250 ‘costaleros’, counting the feet, I’d guess that Vejer’s 3 ‘tronos’ each require about fifty men to carry them.
This requires a significant investment of manpower, and in the past, costaleros were recruited from dock workers and other muscular types. Nowadays, they are drawn from the many different religious brotherhoods. Surprisingly, even in our less religious age, the supply of volunteers does not seem to dry up.
The ‘penitentes’ are also members of religious brotherhoods, and their other name, ‘nazarenos’ derives from the robes they wear, which were developed to allow medieval penitents freedom from recognition. The different colours of the robes reflect the colours of each individual brotherhood. Many walk barefoot, sometimes dragging crosses or chains. Participation in the processions is a matter of family tradition - actor Antonio Banderas returns to Malaga almost every year to take part in the ‘penitentes’ parade, the only time in the year when he can walk the streets of his home town unmolested.

Semana Santa, Lorca
Although the most dramatic processions can be seen in Andalucía, Spain’s most unique Semana Santa celebrations probably take place in Lorca in Murcia. Casting aside all pretence of brotherly reconciliation, their  processions take the form of a fierce contest between two of its fraternities,  the Royal and Illustrious Confraternity of Our Lady of the Rosary, the ‘White’ group  and the Brotherhood of Farmers of  Lorca, the ‘Blue’ group.

Disdaining the logical preference for Christian images on this occasion, the Lorca celebrations feature large scale depictions of scenes from the Roman Empire, using horses, chariots and enormous floats. The event is so spectacular that it has been nominated as part of the Intangible Heritage of Mankind.

Easter is also marked by Passion plays, often involving the whole community, though Vejer does not have one of its own. One of the most famous takes place in Riogordo, Malaga, on Easter Saturday and Sunday, but there are smaller events in the province of Cadiz.

Maximón of Guatemala

The Passion Play of Riogordo

Naturally, Semana Santa is celebrated in Latin America, which has evolved some
 fascinating traditions of its own, sometimes influenced by pre-Christian religions. One of the most interesting examples is Maximón, from Guatemala, a puppet who eats, smokes, drinks and likes to wear silk scarves. He is given great respect during Semana Santa.

Another, most beautiful feature of the Guatemalan Holy Week is the ‘alfombras’, ornate carpets of dyed sand or sawdust which are laid down in front of the great processional floats. They take hours to create, yet are destroyed in just a few minutes.

Guatemalan 'alfombra'

Vejer’s Holy Week celebrations will continue until the weekend, the main procession leaving the Parish Church around 22.00 hrs on Thursday.
On Easter Sunday, the theme of sacrifice will be further emphasised with a bull-running along Juan Relinque, with accompanying music and other entertainment. The following party will continue in La Hoya until 6 am.


Monday, 14 April 2014

April - new places to eat, drink and shop.

The new 'Chokolata' tea shop
I've been away for a while, so it was good to get back home and see what's been happening in Vejer in my absence. Most of the town's shops and restaurants are now open for the summer, with a few new additions to make things interesting.

First, I'd like to mention the new Chokolata tea-shop, which opened last week on Calle Altozano, a few steps away from Juan Relinque. Turn past the 'Calle Alta' shop and 'Chokolata' is on the left. When you climb the stairs, you'll find an elegant and inventive interior which even provides a cosy room for children to play in while their parents enjoy a quiet cuppa.
The establishment supplies a wide range of crepes, cakes and beverages as well as hot soup. Chokolata is a new enterprise from the owners of the retail shop of the same name on Juan Bueno, and has the same classy and colourful 'feel'.

 Chokolata, which became a very successful meeting-place and hosted numerous community and arts events, closed its Vejer cafe in November 2015.  The cafe reopened in Chiclana in 2016.

Another fascinating new shop is 'Amouna' at Calle Corredera 43. The owner, Silvana Bertotti, who has moved across from Conil to share the Vejer experience, named it after a favourite hammam in Morocco, whose atmosphere she now tries to share with her customers. The shop is a treasure house of Moroccan and Andalucían textiles and artifacts, as well as some locally produced and original pieces of furniture.
Chantal Zwanenburg's new clothes shop 'Zahir' also opened last week at Calle José Castrillon 1, just under the Arco de la Villa off the Plaza de España. 'Zahir' sells designs by 'Max and Jan', Moroccan based designers with a commitment to creating beautiful and affordable clothing in gorgeous colours, most of which are 'one-size' - the perfect answer when you want something pretty to slip into after an exhausting day on the beach.

It's also lovely to see the return of some old favourites. La Brasa de Sancho, Calle Sancho IV el Bravo, with its quiet street tables and a bird's-eye view of the Plaza de España also has a peaceful indoor patio for those days when, like today, the Levante blows.

Down on the Plaza España, Garimba is now open again, with plentiful outdoor tables and a cool and colourful interior.

The popular Casa Varo, Sra. de la Oliva 9, has re-opened with high-quality local cuisine and sheltered tables at the foot of Vejer's ancient parish church.

The Casa del Califa tapas bar on Calle Corredera has been open for a few weeks - it's a good place to sample the Califa's famous Moroccan cuisine when you haven't booked a table.

La Piccolina Italian restaurant and coffee bar is now open on the Plaza de España.

'La Pajara' which sells custom-printed t-shirts is now open on Calle José Castrillón.

The Bar Arriate on Calle Corredera, often the first stop for day visitors to the town has now reopened.

Bar Arriete is now part of the Califa group and has been renamed 'Correders 55'.