Thursday, August 25, 2011

One year ago today

A year ago today, on a hot summer's day in a relatively remote, white-washed Spanish village, I got in a fight.

A tomato fight.

Buñol, before.

La Tomatina is celebrated annually on the last Wednesday of August in the town of Buñol near Valencia, Spain. My friend MDM and I were going to Spain already, and decided to make sure we'd be there for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. And it was. Oh man.

We woke before dawn in Valencia (not much in the way of accommodation in Buñol itself for the 30,000 influx) to walk to the subway, to get to the train station to take us the 45 minutes to town.

Up before the sun in Valencia.

Sadly, cheap cerveza and sangria, scorching heat, and thousands of people compressed within the very narrow confines of winding Spanish streets, does not a lucid combination make. Add to that a multitude of languages being spoken, and you have a rather chaotic crowd, all pressing towards the town's main square, where it was rumoured the polo jamón would be, literally: ham pole. The tomato-throwing cannot commence until some brave (?) soul retrieves the ham placed atop the greasy pole. When this happens, a canon fires signaling the start of the fight, and you fight fight fight until you hear another canon, about an hour later.

Even though we were already crammed uncomfortably and no longer making forward progress, the crowd crushed forward, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the tomatoes. Chants and cheers erupted throughout the crowd as we were sprayed with hoses from the rooftops above us.

In the end, we never found the ham pole, and I actually left (fled? escaped?) the overly crowded area, after getting separated from MDM in the fray and having my shirt torn by a drunk guy who had just de-shirted a girl beside me. It was just too much for me. On the way to quieter ground I helped an Australian girl haul her partner who had passed out, upstream through the madness, until we reached a miraculously quiet (well, relatively quiet) side alley. There we parted ways and I circumvented the crowds along lovely, still whitewashed village streets, until I unexpectedly found myself on the street where the tomato trucks were arriving.

Blasting their loud horns, the dump trucks filed past, full to the people-lined brim with tomatoes in various states of wholeness. As the first truck past by me on the narrow street, I was shocked horrified by the smell; I don't remember having thought about what it would smell like, maybe tomato sauce? tomato soup?... but nope, it smelled like vomit. Yup, vomit. There's no delicate way of describing it, it smelled like puke.

I was startled from holding my breath by a rogue tomato—thrown by one of the people sitting on the edge of the next truck—hitting my back hard, like a baseball, then running and oozing down my back. Awesome. I had heard that one of the few (etiquette?) rules of this event was to squish the tomatoes before throwing them, to minimize injury. Clearly this did not happen. Though after being thrown, scooped from the street, thrown again, scooped again, and thrown again the tomatoes disintegrated all on their own, but those first few hits...

Many a fine flip-flop lost their owners that day...

I don't remember hearing the canon, but before the trucks had even finished driving by, the streets were coated with tomatoes, and within a very small amount of time, so was I. What quickly became a tomato slurry was slung, flung, whipped and hurled in every possible direction. It was crazy good fun.

And after a too-short amount of time, another canon fired, all throwing ceased very calmly, and the hoses came out to start the clean-up. Streets, walls and people were blasted with garden hoses by the locals, erasing all evidence of what had just unfolded for another year. (Though it did take a concerted effort and multiple showers to remove all the bits of tomato lodged in my hair...)

1 comment:

  1. Few people ever get a chance to be a part of something as ridiculously cool as Tomatina! Lucky, lucky lady (minus the rogue tomato, and puke smell..)

    Kate xo