You know what they say about expectation being the mother of all let downs? Well, it’s just as well I harboured very little of the sort when it came to the moment that’d been the talk of the staff room since I arrived here eight months ago – the Cordoba Fair.
I was far from disappointed. Quite the contrary in fact, I was blown away. Despite the enthused descriptions from friends and colleagues and my attempts to imagine such a beast, I really couldn’t have anticipated just how big the occasion is for the people of this city.
The Feria de la Salud, or as it’s more widely referred to here as simply, the Feria, is without a doubt Cordoba’s most significant festivity – a week long fiesta of music, dancing, traditional costume and merriment – it is one to truly be celebrated.
I can tell already that myself I am going to struggle to paint a clear picture of this event, and perhaps it’s better that way should in the future you ever decide to venture down this part of Spain during May. However, my best attempt will be made for those of you who don’t.
The Feria makes itself at home once a year at the end of May in Arenal district, alongside the river Guadalquivir. And has done since 1284 when it started out as a livestock market. Casetas – literally, little houses, they are more than a marquee, more than a stand; enclosed, air conditioned and equipped with a bar and in many cases, toilets too – line the streets, which are laid out in a grid-like pattern and mimic the names of the main streets in Cordoba.
On one side of the fair grounds you will find typical fairground attractions, such as the houses of terror, plenty of roller coaster rides, games, crazy-spinny-wheely-upside-downy-go-rounds (who knows what you call them), log flumes and, of course, what fair would be complete without a Ferris wheel?
Might I add that the Spanish give the meaning of Ferris wheel a new take? You know the way they usually slowly make their way around, stopping a fair bit to let people on and off at the bottom? Umm, not this kind. I’m renaming it the Speedy Gonzales Mobile for the rate it which it rotates. It was enough to make my stomach drop on the way down.
On the other side of the fair grounds, you will find a more adult scene (actually you couldn’t really call it that when you see your teenage students out and about), where people gather to eat, drink and dance, and look absolutely gorgeous darling in their traditional dress.
The Feria by day is completely different than it is by night too. The atmosphere during the day, perhaps owing to the 40-degree heat, is much more slow-paced and relaxed. You go at this time if you want to watch the Andalucian horses trot their finest, or to see the women and families in their bright and cheerful best. Have a cold drink and maybe if you’re harbouring an inner-child, jump on a log flume to cool off – that’s about all that most of us would handle.
At night, as you’d expect, the energy of Feria really comes alive. Frenetic, busy. I loved it. In true Spanish style, the people are out in their droves, the young and the old and until all hours of the morning. Pick your caseta according to your taste and mood of the moment. What’ll it be? There’s a variety of music choice – everything from rock or pop to traditional.
And just as the atmosphere ebbs and flows throughout the day, it does too throughout the week as different people from different social echelons and age groups frequent the Feria. For example from Wednesday onwards, the crowd in the casetas becomes much more young as the teenagers break from school for a brief Feria holiday. Really, they’re everywhere.
Similar to the Feria in Seville (if you’ve ever been), the Feria has a magnificent entrance, which is huge and wonderfully lit at night. However, unlike the Feria in the Andalucian capital, almost all of the casetas in Cordoba are free and open to anyone. I like this. It reflects the warm and open nature of the people in this city. After all, why shouldn’t everyone get a chance to experience what Feria really has to offer?
So there, in a nutshell, that’s Feria. I had an amazing time, I am sure that much is clear but I stand by my word that it is one that can’t quite be envisaged until it’s experienced. I suppose that’s like a lot of things really, it’s just we have nothing like this that I could compare it to back home. Yet another cultural gem that is unique to this place. You gotta love Spain.
For now, I’ll leave you with a nice, cheesy beat that reminds me of Feria. I like to call it “So shyte it’s good”. Enjoy. Oh and if you make it here next year, don’t forget the obligatory waffle stop at 5am on your way home.