Europe 20 – La Tomatina

La Tomatina (2)

The tomato fight

As the church clock begins to chime noon, the rumble of the trucks bringing the ammunition can be heard in the distance. The sea of people begins to part, and everyone plasters themselves against the walls as the trucks edge their way into the narrow streets leading to the plaza. A rocket explodes into the sky, and scores of self-appointed helpers clamber onto the back of the trucks loaded with their cargo of ripe tomatoes and begin to pelt the waiting crowd with a volley of crimson grenades. Hostilities have commenced, and immediately the trucks disgorge the remainder of the tomatoes onto the dusty streets. Then all hell breaks loose in what must be the closest most of us will ever come to all-out, no-holds-barred warfare. There are no allies, no protection, nowhere to hide; everyone – man or woman, young or old is out for themselves; and it is, quite simply, unbelievably fantastic fun. The first five minutes is tough going: the tomatoes are surprisingly hard and they actually hurt until they have been thrown a few times. Some are fired head-on at point-blank range, others sneakily aimed from behind, and the skilled lobber might get one to splat straight onto the top of your head. Liquid oozes down your neck, seeds and skin plaster your body. The tomato targeted at the ear is a devastating experience; temporary deafness is certain until you remove the fruit remains. One in the eye leaves you blinded and, well, literally seeing red until, that is, the sting of the mildly acidic juice wears off. The effect of this orgy of violence is impressive, as the tomatoes spatter against white T-shirts, walls, hair and faces, leaving their blood-like trail as they explode. Ears, eyes, mouth, nose and hair are all filled with the red pulp. As flying tomatoes block out the sky, you begin to feel as if you’re in a giant food mixer, preparing a colossal portion of tomato soup.

The air is thick with the powerful aroma and the gutters begin to run red like some medieval battlefield. After what seems like an eternity the battle dies down as the tomatoes disintegrate into an unthrowable mush. The combatants slump exhausted into a dazed ecstasy, grinning inanely at one another and basking in the glory of the battle. But the armistice is short-lived, as another truck rumbles into the square to deposit its load. Battle commences once more, until the next round of ammunition is exhausted. Six trucks come and go before the final ceasefire is marked by the firing of another rocket high into the blue sky above Bunol.

Insider info Try Agua de Valencia – it tastes harmless enough but this lethal cocktail based on cava and orange juice fuels the party well into the balmy Valencian night.

Official rules of La Tomatina

  • Throwing must start and finish on the sound of the rocket.
  • Only throw tomatoes.
  • Always squash the tomatoes in your hand before throwing them. In fact, after the first few minutes of the fight most of the tomatoes will have disintegrated anyway.
  • Don’t throw any of the rock-hard stray green tomatoes.
  • Don’t rip any T-shirts or clothes – a rule that is completely ignored by participants.

La Tomatina tips

  • Wear something white – your battle scars will show up much better.
  • Bring a spare change of clothes in a plastic bag and stash it somewhere safe before heading for the Plaza del Pueblo.
  • Wear a swimsuit under your clothes handy given the T-shirt ripping ritual that occurs during the nervous wait for the tomato trucks.
  • You’ll be a prime target if you look like a tourist – don’t be surprised if you seem to be receiving more than your fair share of squashed tomatoes if you’re sporting a baseball cap and snapping away with your camera. In fact, don’t even think of getting your camera out unless you want to spend the next two months cleaning out tomato seeds.
  • Bear in mind that you will also attract more attention if you have large breasts, or are wearing extra-skimpy clothing or any form of protective gear like swimming goggles.
  • The real danger is not from the tomatoes, but from the lorries – keep your wits about you as they approach.

Hone your throwing technique – the well- aimed grenade lob or the crushed tomato in the ear are infinitely more satisfying than the point-blank firing-squad shot.

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