Sunday, May 4, 2008

Barcelona's April Fair - Feria de Abril


Today is the last day of the 37th edition of Barcelona's April Fair. Some of you may be thinking, “Why does a so-called April fair happen in May?” – and those of you who know Spain may be asking, “Isn't the April Fair held in Seville each year?”
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Well, the original April Fair, which was first held in 1847, is the one that occurs in Seville each year. It usually starts two weeks after Semana Santa (Holy Week). There are also smaller April Fairs held in several Andalusian cities and towns at around the same time.
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In 1971 immigrants to Barcelona from Andalusia, and their descendants, began their own version of this rite of spring. Today Barcelona's is the second largest April Fair in Spain, rivaled only by the one in Seville. This fair typically runs from the last week of April through the first week of May.
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So, just what is an April Fair? Well, first and foremost, it is fun. Secondly, it's an opportunity to revel in Spanish, especially Andalusian, culture – flamenco, sevillianas, rumbas, boleros, pienetas, mantillas, shawls, riding jackets, castanets, cantaores, bailaoras, Jerez sherry, manzanilla wine, tapas, gazpacho, ham, and, my favorite, the Spanish confection churrrrrrrrros!
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In Barcelona's version, the April Fair is also a celebration of multiculturalism. This is in recognition of the fact that Catalonia absorbed hundreds of thousands of “internal immigrants”from Andalusia, Murcia and Extremadura during the 50s, 60s and 70s and is now absorbing a new wave of immigrants, but this time from Latin America, Morocco, Pakistan and Eastern Europe. Indeed the current President of the Catalan government, José Montilla, was one of these “immigrants” from Andalusia, having relocated with his family to Catalonia when he was 16.
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Because of all this, aside from the typical pavilions (casetas) dedicated to towns in Andalusia, you can find others like the Casita Latina, the Centro Cultural Gitano La Mina (The Gypsy Cultural Center of La Mina) and the Moroccan pavilion, with food, drink and gifts on sale in support of El Colectivo para la Defensa y la Protección de las Constantes Sagradas del Reino de Marruecos (The Collective for the Defense and Protection of the Sacred Attributes of the Kingdom of Morocco). In addition, visitors to the festival are a mosaic of people from around Spain and the world. However, there are usually not very many tourists. For that last reason, I find it a particularly authentic experience.
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Another difference between the events in Seville and Barcelona is that in Seville the pavilions are privately owned and one must be an insider of sorts (e.g., a family member or friend, a member of an organization or willing to pay a lot of money) to gain entry. While in Seville members of the public can walk around and “press ones nose to the glass,” metaphorically speaking, at Barcelona's more egalitarian event anyone can walk into a pavilion, sit down and, if they dare, dance! In Seville, the pavilions are decorated, but tend to all look similar from the outside. In Barcelona pavilion interiors and facades are colorfully, often cleverly, decorated -- and in Barcelona, there is a even a contest for best decor!
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Each year the sponsoring organization, FECAC (Federación de Entidades Culturales Andaluzas en Cataluña = Federation of Andalusian Cultural Groups in Catalonia), chooses the top three pavilions, as well as the best interior and best facade. This year there were 58 pavilions and the prizes went to:

All the pavilions of Barcelona's Feria de Abril are welcoming places where members of the public can rest from walking around the fairgrounds, buy a drink, eat a meal, snack on tapas, listen to music, watch dancers, or get up and dance. Most of the pavilions are sponsored by cultural associations created by and for Andalusian immigrants and their descendants. There are also pavilions sponsored by political parties from just about the entire spectrum. In addition to pavilions, there are stalls selling clothing, arts, crafts, and food items from around Spain. There is also a fun-fair for kids, with a Ferris wheel and other rides, as well as little stands selling hot dogs, ice-cream, cotton candy, drinks and, of course, churrrrrrrrros!
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Admission to the fairgrounds is free. Prices in the pavilions are regulated by the fair organizers, but prices in the stands and stalls are not. So, the best deals are on food and drink often in the pavilions.
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The entire thing is an 11 day feast of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. And the joy is contagious – whether its that of the professional dancers on the stages, the colorfully costumed bands of singers & dancers who roam around the grounds or the civilians strutting their stuff on the pavilion dance floors.
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¡Viva la feria de abril!
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Carloz
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P.D. Y, ¡viva los churrrrrrrrros!

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