Drum beats stirred the air as I finished the last bite of my mystery meat panino and started heading to the battlefield with my comrades. It felt like we had stepped back into the Medieval era and were preparing for battle as formations of men and women dressed in traditional garb and beating large drums passed us by.

We were in the small village of Ivrea for their traditional Orange Throwing Festival. Most people have heard of the Spanish tomato fight called Tomatina, but not many have heard of Ivrea’s Carnevale. Essentially, both battles use fruit as weaponry. Though the Spaniards are wimps and use tomatoes instead of oranges.

So how did this tremendous spectacle get started? Well, it has its roots in the medieval age. During this time the Feudal lords of the area which is now Ivrea, out of the goodness of their humanitarian hearts, would give the peasant families a pot of beans twice a year. However, the commonersMe going face up decided that this gift was more disrespectful than helpful and began throwing the beans into the street. These beans later became the missile of choice for throwing at unsuspecting adversaries at festivals. Then, in the 1830s girls began lobbing oranges into passing carnival carriages to get the attention of the young men they thought were cute. Well, the boys decided, out of the immense depths of their maturity, that they should begin throwing the oranges back at the lasses. Eventually this gesture became less and less flirtatious until it evolved into the full on brawl of today. It also took up new meaning during this transformation as the event became a symbol of the Italian battle for liberty, where the cads in the carts represent the tyrannical guards and the people on foot symbolize the rebellious commoners.

The rules of this brawl are relatively simple. Basically, you join one of nine teams and go to that conglomerate’s territory (which is usually a piazza). Once there, you do your best to use oranges to destroy the horse drawn carriages filled with produce chucking, villainous Knights. But don’t attack the parades of the miller’s daughter that periodically pass through, they’re the good guys.

How you choose to engage in battle is up to you. Some people prefer to stand at a distance and snipe the foes while others, such as myself, prefer to go “face up” and get as close to the cart as possible; like real men. Most of the time this means you get caught in the crowd and wind up with your chest pressed against the carriage looking straight up (hence the term “face up”) in quasi hand-to-hand combat. While more dangerous, I found this method much more effective.

So, once we got to our team’s chosen territory, we honestly were not sure what to do. We had been told before arriving that we would not be allowed to partake since we had not paid the one hundred euro entry fee. So we stood there, excitedly waiting to watch the spectacle but not clenching any fruit. However, the Italians had other ideas and one gentleman came over to us, handed us some oranges, and said “Have a good time!” We needed no further enticing as we stripped off our valuable clothing items and joined the ranks of anxious hordes.

Soon, the first carriage rounded the bend and entered our combat zone. Everything went absolutely berserk! All the warriors began yelling and chanting and either hurled oranges or sprinted to the cart to go face up. The first wagon or two my comrades and I held back since we weren’t sure how welcome to join in we were. But after some encouragement by the Italians we had met, all bets were off and we began joining the surge to go face up when the oversized chariots arrived.

I’ve never been involved in anything like this before. I honestly felt like William Wallace attacking the armored knights in nothing but my t-shirt and jeans. In fact, after a few rounds of the fight, people began calling me names like “Thor,” “Rambo,” and “Braveheart” since the orange pulp and mud smeared all over my face, combined with my long hair, apparently made me look like a crazed barbarian.

This brutal skirmish lasts for three hours, with the action coming in about forty-five minute waves as cart after cart rolls into your combat zone. When there isn’t a carriage everyone heads to the tents to enjoy some vin brule’, which was almost as cool as the festival itself. Essentially, vin’ brule is red wine that is kept simmering over a fire with fresh fruit and spices stirred into it. All the warriors grab a cup between boughts and sing Italian drinking songs with their comrades in arms, though no one is actually drunk because then they couldn’t fight honorably. And honorably everyone did fight, you could tell this just by looking around. All the contestants had some sort of black eye, swollen nose, fat lip, or other injury by the end of the day. I myself wound up breaking my nose, though not terribly badly. My friends were all impressed that I managed to reset it perfectly straight myself, and did not even have to miss the next cart full of rapscallions.

By then end of the day, orange pulp and mud was so thick on the ground that you basically slid from place to place, or got stuck in slop half way up your shins. Everyone was exhausted but still going strong as we painfully slung oranges at our oppressors. My team, the Tuchini, won the day and we were all ecstatic about that. Everyone was in good cheer as we compared battle wounds and waited for our train. I took second in the best-battle-wounds category with my broken nose and black eye. I’ll take the lumps though, that festival was THE best carnival I have ever attended in my life. County fairs will never seem the same again when I return to the States. I’m going to end this blog now though, since my forearm and throwing arm are still incredibly sore three days later.