One day remaining in our two week experiment of living in a Spanish city on our own and I hadn’t found the perfect setting for my annual travel photo. Yes, I must be in the photo, ideally with my hair combed, but more importantly the picture must tell a story about where I am. Last year’s, from our trip to Scandinavia, featured me and a troll, a perfect couple and symbol for that part of the world.
I was stuck on how to represent Seville. I didn’t want to pose under a taxidermied bull’s head in a bar, or be dwarfed by a bell tower as tall as a football field is long, or ask a male flamenco dancer with no hips and weighing what I did in high school to pose beside me.
What else could I find that typified this beautiful Andalusian city? The answer came to me last night. Every street in our neighborhood has at least one small shop dedicated exclusively to flamenco-style dresses, none of which appealed to my middle-class or life-as-a-retiree clothing tastes. But the dresses were ubiquitous, which made them the perfect symbol for Seville. The next question was how to put myself in a picture with them.
“I’ll pose in front of a rack of dresses,” I told my husband, feeling uncomfortable as I walked into one of the hole-in-the wall stores knowing I had no intention of buying a dress, or even looking at one. I hid from the shopkeeper behind a pillar, he took the photo, and we fled.
As I looked into the next store, with the shopkeeper sitting at a desk facing the door, I realized that lurking was not getting me anywhere. I walked toward her, glancing at the racks of dresses on both sides of me.
She must have sensed my amazement at the size of her stock because she said, “Una semana, We wear these for only one week a year.” She went on to explain that the occasion is the annual Feria, the Seville Spring Fair, an event that occurs every April. She said that everyone — rich and poor, old and young — dresses up. Maybe not too poor, I thought, as she showed me price tags on the least expensive and most expensive dresses, 250 and 500 Euros, respectively. She works alone now but keeps the store open for Christmas shoppers looking for next year’s dress. Starting in February, the shopping season begins and she hires eight others to help out. I don’t know how the eight could fit in the shop. Where would they put the customers?
I asked if she’d mind our taking a picture of me in front of her dresses. “Wait,’ she said as she came out from behind her desk and walked over to one of the racks. “Here. Put your arms through it.” She moved my hands to my waist and signaled to my husband that I was ready for the photo.
All of a sudden, the dresses didn’t look so ridiculous. “It’s really heavy,” I said, still wearing a t-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes and my multi-colored polka dot compression socks.
“Yes,” she added, “and harder to walk in when you’re wearing high heels.”
I was thrilled to have my photo, but it now seemed less important than having made a connection over an important element of Sevillana culture. “I hope to see you again,” she said. Today’s our last day here, but if there’s time I’ll drop by again and ask what they do during those seven days while wearing their heavy dresses in eighty-degree temperatures.