We’ve been to La Feria in the day, but we’ve never been there at night. And honestly, other than pictures of the lights, we had no idea what to expect. So we made a plan to have dinner on the Triana side of the river and then trek down to the fairgrounds once it got dark.
The sun was just setting when we crossed the bridge. It hadn’t rained in a few hours and we figured perhaps it was finally over. Far downriver, towards the ocean, big pink clouds were still boiling up, indicated there was weather brewing somewhere. Turning onto the promenade where so many restaurants set up open-air tables each night, we got dragged into the first one with heaters and tents by the very aggressive greeter. We remembered him right away from last year, and recalling a decent meal we sat down without protest. There were few customers, put off perhaps by the fair but more likely by the threat of rain and the stiff cool breeze that had been bad on the bridge. Here it was blocked by the buildings.
After a long discussion about why there is no cod available (it all goes to the casetas at the fair) and whether or not it was possible to get the fried fish mix without shrimp, and if it’s okay that the non-shrimp components are fried in the same vat as the shrimp, we settled on the racion of fried fish and a tapa of tomato slices with fresh tuna. It took a while for it to show up, but we were in no hurry. Puente Isabel II slowly sank into darkness, only to be illuminated by soft blue light. Four local customers came and sat near us, each smoking but we were saved by being upwind. We ate, ordered the bill and when no one came to collect the money I went over to pay at the actual restaurant.
The place is run by 2 guys, the one that grabs you off the street and a short guy who delivers the meals. I handed him the money, got my change and tipped him. He thanked me and said “Bonjour.”
Okay, so that caught my attention. I asked him in French if he spoke it, he replied “Une petite” which of course means “One small.” I corrected him with “Un peu” and he smiled and agreed. We finished off our departure in a mixture of English and Spanish. I reminded him that we come each year. He handed MLW a bar coaster and said “This is the name of our place.” I laughed about that exchange all the way down the river.
When we had walked down to the fair a few hours earlier, the throng of people had grown and grown as we got closer to the gates. Tonight it was even worse – more people walking faster and no one paying attention. Just about everyone was now in full regalia and all the little restaurants along the way were jammed with people eating and drinking, including the only Burger King in the world where all the patrons were dressed in blue suits or Flamenca dresses. Once again the looming gate deceived us by appearing closer that it was, but this time it was illuminated by thousands of little 40 watt light bulbs. The effect was of a giant illuminated gingerbread castle. It reminded me a bit of the Ice Festival in Harbin, only not nearly so cold.
Somehow we got across the street and into the place. People were everywhere, going this way and that, stopping me to take their photo of them in front of the gate, which of course was a failure because of the overwhelming brightness of the lights. I managed to get one and the woman thanked me and told me it was the magic of her iPhone 6.
Every single lane, including the main boulevard, was strung with lights, and the casetas were brightly lit by internal lights. Bands of teenaged boys, mostly drunk but not rowdy, were crisscrossing back and forth across the streets. There were bands, and giant video screens, and singing and dancing in each of the casetas, some of which spanned the entire width of their block. Flamenca, Euro-Pop, folk songs everything you can imagine. For lack of a better description, it was like the biggest, rowdiest family wedding you’ve ever been too. Only it was going in in all four directions for as far as the eye could see.
We did about the same pass we’d done earlier before realizing there was nothing more to see. We left and took a quieter route home, passing a long line of city buses chartered to take everyone home. According to Angel my ceramics friend, the party usually winds down around 4AM. It was 11:30 pm when we left and there was no indication that it was ever going to end.
It began to sprinkle a bit as we walked home, first along the river and then through Puerta de Jerez towards the cathedral. The streets were almost completely abandoned and remarkably silent in comparison to where we had come from. It was an interesting evening, and certainly unlike any I had had before.