La Tomatina (3)
All in all, it only lasts about an hour, but it’s probably the most stupidly childish hour you’ll ever enjoy as an adult. The clean-up operation is nothing if not efficient, though, and as you squelch through the streets extracting the remains of the pulp, seeds and skin from every conceivable orifice, an army of volunteers springs into action and starts washing down the whole town. Firemen spray high-pressure hoses over the streets, old women emerge from their homes to scrub the Pavements in front of their houses, and the protective plastic sheeting is stripped away.
Most participants head to the makeshift showers in the local swimming pool and then retire to a local bar to boast about their exploits, describe their best shots and exhibit their battle scars. The majority then disappear as quickly as they arrived, but if you can, it’s worth hanging around and joining in the fully blown fiesta that has grown up around La Tomatina taking the opportunity to try some great paella cooked over a wooden fire, or the traditional local soup, El Mojete.
Ivrea: Battle of the Oranges
Giant fruit-fights aren’t limited to Spain. Ivrea, a small town in the northeast of Italy. 35km from Turin, hosts one of Italy’s most historic carnivals, a quirky mix of grandiose costumes, tradition and a humungous fruit- fight, this time with oranges as the missile of choice. The festival officially starts as early as Epiphany (January 6), when pipers and drummers make enough noise in the old town to wake the dead – or alert the greengrocers to stock up on their oranges.
Each Sunday afterwards sees some grand and noble custom played out by old men in feathered hats in the town square, but it can all be bypassed until the Thursday before Lent, when the cobbled streets are filled with masked partygoers romping from bar to bar, with the scent of carnival in their nostrils. On the Saturday, cloaked university students mount a series of raids on the local schools to “liberate” the kids from lessons, and later that day the organizers announce who has been chosen to play the carnival mascot, “Violetta” – who, back in the Middle Ages, refused the advances of a lecherous lord, and so forever more became the symbol of freedom from tyranny.
On the Sunday, the town fills with revellers wearing traditional floppy red bonnets who tuck into bowls of beans ladled out from giant cauldrons in the town square. Meanwhile, the Battle of the Oranges commences – several thousand people take part in a massive orange fight that lasts for a full three days. Anyone and anything is fair game here: visitors, bus drivers, ceremonial horses, buildings, the Mayor… By Shrove Tuesday, everyone is covered in fruit pulp and drenched in freshly-squeezed juice, there’s nowhere to walk that’s not swimming in vitamin C, and the air is full of the bitter smell of oranges. A huge procession winds its way through the streets, culminating in a celebratory bonfire in the square.
For more information on Ivrea, check out the official carnival website at ®www.carnevalediivrea.com.