A Mess of Fests – La Tomatina
(originally published in Bootleg magazine, August 2007)
By Lance Mitchell
If you’re looking for a little more action than usual this summer and you just happen to be in Spain, head to the village of Bunol near Valencia for La Tomatina 2007. On the last Wednesday of every August the town hosts the event that can best be described as marinara mayhem.
What originated as a silly tomato fight between friends in the village square some sixty three years ago has become a national treasure to more than 10,000 tomato tossing tourists. The main event begins in the town center known locally as the Plaza del Pueblo; it’s here where the action really heats up. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. the village of Bunol becomes the sight of the world’s largest food fight.
Although most of the party-goers arrive here for obvious reasons, celebration of the town’s Patron Saint ignites fireworks in the sky during the week preceding the boisterous brawl. The village comes alive with music and the aromas of wine and Spanish cuisine fill the dense summer air.
Throughout the morning hours on Wednesday local shopkeepers and restaurant owners make battle preparations by hanging large sheets of plastic over their windows and doorways. Additional readiness includes the clearing of one’s throat so to better insight the revelers. Closing in on high noon, the Plaza is met with throngs of fruit fighters from near and far. Trucks carrying some 90,000 pounds of tomatoes begin offloading their goods to a drunken and easily excitable mob.
“Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes,” the crowd chants, the shopkeepers taunt, the fight begins! One rule though, the tomato must be squashed before thrown.
Throwers peg the masses from the back of their Lorries, the masses return fire; in seconds the village square is drenched in tomato juice from head to toe. Gooey red missiles stream back and fourth, high and low. Every one is a target: men, women, veterans, and newbies. Here, every one is fair game.
But it’s all in good fun; there is no record of incident in the festival’s history. In less than two hours, the tomato tousle winds to a close. Warriors, both defeated and victorious, make their way to the temporary showers put in place near the river specifically for the event, and cleanup of the village streets begins forthright. In a matter of hours, the streets are returned to normal, the crowds disperse, and local trains are packed full of travelers on their return to Valencia and onward. So if you’re in search of a raucous good time this summer, cross the pond and experience this month’s messiest mess of fests.