Some cities are made for business, others by bohemians, there are some for the hip and others for the classical, many have been sold to tourism and most are all the same. But Jerez, Jerez de la Frontera, is a city for romantics, for the wide-eyed and wine-eyed lovers of all that comes from the heart and soul.
It is, arguably, a city just as influenced by the East as it is by the West. “Here we are all Arabs” insists a friend – the beer in his hands exaggerating his arguments in his head – reminding me that this city’s very name is Arabic, originally Sherish. The Muslim kings of Al-Ándalus who built this city left behind an architectural legacy still present today, with the Alcázar – the old Muslim fortress-palace – standing out as the exemplary Moorish landmark. But beyond the architectural, this city’s roots can be seen in the street design, in the songs, even in the surnames. The countless orange and palm trees that line this city’s boulevards, streets and parks were a welcome parting gift from the Moors. But today Jerez is a fusion city, a mestizo town blending its Arabic origins with the Mediterranean manners of the Latins and the song and dance of the Gypsies.
Just as Jerez unashamedly mixes its cultures, so too does it unashamedly mix its wines. Long a wine-loving city, here blood is slowed to a languid flow with the help of fortified amontillados and olorosos, cooled by finos and warmed by creams depending on the season. Sherries they are all called, Sherry wines, again coming from the Arabic term Sherish, and here wine culture ferments throughout the city, perfuming its streets with the floral aroma of fino, and intoxicating, enchanting, dizzying its happy inhabitants, famed across Spain for their cachondeo, their joking, their laughter and cheek. With handkerchiefs tucked in their shirt pockets and toes tucked into heels, the jerezanos go about dressed to impress, indulging in their favourite past time of eating, drinking, and repeating.
And wherever you find the wine flowing there will be flamenco echoing, a musical form that best exemplifies jerezano cultural fusion. In the tabanco wine bars, the peña flamenco clubs, in the bars and the plazas, there is flamenco for your eyes and ears to be heard and to be felt; its painful cries, its soft pleas, its drama and laughter. This art form is one firmly anchored in the tried and trusted techniques of yesterday’s song and dance, but made fresh every time by the individual interpreter of the genre, by their flare, their individuality, their presence. As a horse rider here once told me, any art is not so much about what you’re doing, but rather it is about who is doing it and how they do it; their character and command. This insight, I think, gets to the heart of Jerez.
Because here the flamenco expression ¡que arte! – meaning something like ‘such art, such skill!’ – in Jerez can be applied to life itself, a life lived with colour and intensity. It is a life marked by annual celebrations to keep track of the progress of the year. Here the year ends, or begins?, with the Zambomba Christmas celebrations – the best expression of community in this town – when friends and family, young and old, gather around a fire on the street to sing their Christmas songs. Once winter eases, then the Semana Santa comes along, a religious celebration where groups of faithful men shuffle through the labyrinth city centre carrying atop their shoulders a Virgin Mary or a Christ facing his crucifixion, two figures which, you will remember, came to Europe, to Jerez, from the desert. Semana Santa you observe, but come Spring and come Feria, you immerse and lose yourself under a sky of fairy lights, dancing around and around to the addictive sound of Sevillanas, and there, I promise you, then, you will fall madly in love with Jerez.
It is impossible, of course, not to fall for Jerez. It is impossible not to be lured by its beauty, impossible not to be charmed by its character, be drunken by its wine, enchanted by its art. Because in a world of sterility, Jerez offers pungency; in a century of homogeneity, it offers difference; in contrast to cosmopolitanism, it has community; and against all that is postmodern, Jerez yet retains what all the world once had: romance.
Enchanted by Jerez? Read more here…