Flowing red under the hot summer sun

The narrow streets run deep red in the blistering mid-day sun as twenty five thousand sweat-soaked, semi-naked combatants fight hand-to-hand, or hurl their missiles into the surging rosé stained crowd.

From the first gun, battlers from Argentina, Italy, Japan, Germany and all points of the globe will join with those from the four corners of Spain in sixty minutes worth frantic warfare, which will result in no more serious injury than the occasional bruised ego. 

It’s not blood that flows, it’s the sodden pulp of tomatoes – 140 tons of them. In a country that has more weird fiestas than America has ‘howdy-doody’ theme parks, Buñol’s Tomatina must be one of the weirdest.

At least the town doesn’t try to claim that the slinging of over-ripe fruit has any deeply hidden religious significance, but is the result, as one of the many stories of its origin goes, of an early form of karaoke. 

In the nineteen forties a resident of the town was wandering across the square in front of the town hall on market day singing – badly –  ‘Amada Mio’ from the Rita Hayworth film, ‘Gilda’, using a funnel as a megaphone. Shoppers and stall-holders alike objected to his raucous rendition and began to pelt him with fruit, and as some of it missed the intended target and hit other promenaders, a salad battle soon filled the square.

The following year a local civic dignitary was in the wrong place at the wrong time and found himself the centre of unwanted attention as youths gathered in the square (this time with their own tomatoes) to celebrate what was already becoming known as ‘the day of the tomato’.

Through bannings, prison sentences, public uprisings and even a parade for the ‘funeral of the tomato’, when a giant fruit was paraded through the town as a demonstration against yet another clampdown on their bizarre celebration, the people of Buñol fought to keep their annual mush fest.

On the dot of eleven on the last Wednesday in August, a single shot gives the signal for the group of men roped to the insides of enormous wagons full of ripe tomatoes to heave their rapidly decaying cargoes onto the eager crowd cramming the Plaza del Pueblo, the main square of Buñol. 

The orgy of squashing and slinging begins as an avalanche of tomatoes are gathered up and hurled around the square. For an hour the crowd, dressed in the robes of bhuddist monks, wearing huge Mexican sombreros, luminous waistcoats, and any other outrageous outfit it deems suitable for the occasion, slithers in the bright red slush, until on the last chime of twelve a second shot is fired and the exhausted throwers sink wearily into the puree.

They don’t get long to settle though, before a swarm of town hall staff, volunteers and neighbours swoop down on them with hose-pipes, buckets and brooms. While the worn out revellers drag themselves to the showers in the Municipal swimming pool, the Plaza del Pueblo is scrubbed spotless in less than an hour. Picture a strip of tomato burnt onto edge of a pizza, and then imagine what a hundred and forty tons of the stuff would do if left to dry in the scorching August sun.

 

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.

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