Tomato hurling. Chucking tomatoes at your nearest and dearest or, if your throwing arm is good enough, at your furthest and worstest, or indeed complete strangers. Covering everyone and everything in sight with squishy red pulp and sticky scarlet juice. Such is the Tomatina festival held annually in Bunal, Valencia. This effectively dyes the populace, streets and all surroundings a brilliant red.
The festival is kicked off with the polo jabon in which participants attempt to dislodge a ham from the top of a greasy pole. In the meanwhile, non-pole climbers are singing and dancing whilst being hosed down with water. As soon as the ham is dislodged, a shot rings out signalling the start of the sixty minute battle. This is not, however, as completely disorganised as a fruit frenzy could potentially be. Tons of tomatoes are specially supplied by the city council (open minded lot, the Italians). Participants must throw tomatoes by hand, not catapults, as enthusiastically used in the past. Goggles are recommended. The tomato must be squeezed before being flung, to make them softer. Amazing to think that rules are needed to luzz a tomato or two (million). A second shot signals the end of vegetarian vengeance. The throwers, victims and any innocent bystanders are then washed down with fire hoses, along with the town square, which amazingly looks better than before, owing to the acidity of tomatoes. This is clearly such a brilliant municipal cleaning tip that similar events are held in Chile, Nevada, China and Costa Rica.
One best spectated,not participated in is the battle of the oranges in Ivrea, northern Italy. Here battle is drawn between nine teams of Aranceri (orange handlers), some riding in carts, others on foot. Combat occurs over three days. Luckily as a visitor, on enlisting into a team, immunity from oranges being thrown at one is conferred by wearing a red hat. Oranges seem a rather bizarre/anachronistic choice of weapons as oranges do not grow in the region and therefore have to be imported. Previously beans were thrown, which seems a less painful option as well as less messy and more economically sound.
Less painful still although considerably more messy, is the flower throwing festival in Galaxidi, Greece, in which tons of coloured flour is thrown on locals and tourists alike. It takes place on the day that marks the start of 40 days of Lent, known as Clean Monday.
Throwing things during festivals dates back a very long way. Ovid notes that in ancient Rome they had the Lemuria, which was a feast to perform rites to exorcise malevolent ghosts from homes.. The head of the household had to walk around at midnight barefoot throwing black beans over his shoulder. Today this could get you committed to a secure institution.
Less throwing, but as much a dig at life, is the gloriously named King Mango Strut in Coconut Grove, the motto being ‘putting the nut in Coconut Grove’. It started as a parody of the annual King Orange Jamboree Parade, humour remaining its central theme. One of the founders appeared in it the year after he died, represented by an urn with ashes being sprinkled around his float. Humour over-rode taste; so his spirit lived on.
Intrigued by the concept of the Up Helly Aa, I am tempted to whistle up to Shetland. This torch procession is one of a series of fire festivals. The spectacular finale is setting fire to a replica Viking longship. Seems a waste of a perfectly good boat. I’d find it depressing to spend months working on building one then find myself the wrong end of deliberate nautical arson. However if somebody is happy to have their version cremated, I’d be happy to chuck torches with the best of them. They also dress up in costumes, have parties and perform little acts or skits, so what’s not to like? The only problem is remembering where on earth I have left my horned helmet. So difficult to store aren’t they?
I’m strangely attracted to the Dragging of the Gut Festival in Oregon which turns out to be a cars cruising downtown, pootling along in the classical way. Although I remain concerned that this is just vintage curb crawling.
Sometime I may try my chances at becoming the Slug Queen, the unofficial ambassador of the city of Eugene. Slug Queens are selected on the basis of their costume, doubtless on how sluglike it appears, as well as a talent competition, presumably showing one’s ability to crawl through slime. Bribery is not only acceptable but encouraged. In a wonderfully supportive move, past Slug Queens are referred to as ‘old’ not ‘former’, eventually becoming Very Old Queens and finally Exquisitely Old Queens. I feel therefore that my being significantly over 21 would doubtless be an advantage. Recent Slug Queens included Queen Marie Slugtoinette, Queen Frank Slugnatra, Queen Anislugsia, Queen Glorious Gastropause and Queen Slugretha Latifa Uleafa Gastropodia Jackson. I might be only a ridiculous name away from fame. Perhaps I’ll be Queen Slugg and wear slouch boots at all times.
The festivals I will not be attending include the Vermont Quilt Festival, True/False Film Festival, Gilroy Garlic Festival, Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival (in case they start throwing pumpkins), Schmeckfest or Yambilee (I have no idea what a Schmeck or Yambilee is, but I don’t want to spend an entire festival finding out). Although I am attracted by the Bumbershoot, the Gathering of the Juggalos, the Bamboozle and the Bonnaroo Music Festival. FunnyFest Calgary has got to be done.
There are many whose titles are confusing. What is a Monolith Festival? Does everyone have to turn up with a single stone? How about the Mucklewain? Buzz Bake Sale? Featuring bee muffins or wasp sponge? Or the Nerdapalooza or Lollapalooza? Both dancing festivals? One centred on nerds know the other on lollipops? The Woollybear Festival has gone be on the list; presumably bring your own woolly bear.
Or maybe I’ll start my own. Grape throwing, anyone?