There’s a town around here that calls itself the “Quality Tomato Capital of the World.” I highly doubt the truth in that, but I understand the basis given the fact that it’s known we have really rich soil in the area that’s good for farming and, apparently, good for tomatoes because of its acidity.
This town, Pittston, is full of old-school Italians that, to their credit, make friggin’ awesome food, as well as farmers who truly have perfected the art of the tomato. A tomato festival is held yearly to celebrate the heritage and the awesome eats that come from local shops, and one of the big draws for it is the tomato fights. Hundreds of people split into two teams, taking to each side of a netural zone in the middle of a parking lot. For five full minutes rotten tomatoes are chucked between them.
La Tomatina, a festival that takes place in the Valenican town of Buñol, has been traditional tomato fighting grounds since 1945. This tradition has been a part of our festival for years and, although I’ve lived here almost all my life, I’ve never been a part of it, until now.
I hate tomatoes. I do not like chunks in sauce, on pizza, or just slices of tomato on anything. I have a major problem when it comes to food texture and the slick skin of tomatoes and surprise seeds that pop up in a gooey mess just do not do it for me. I only braved the fight because my friend Kristin from Philly was coming in and I wanted to give her a taste of my hometown. So when we walked into the parking lot and saw this? I gagged.
Thankfully, they slice the tomatoes up so they aren’t whole ones being thrown, but some are just not sliced at all. The rule is that you must squish them before chucking them, but do you think the 16-year-old hardass local football players listened to that rule? NOPE. Good thing they were standing directly across from Kris and I, putting us right in the line of fire of some seriously deadly projectiles.
When the horn blew to start the fight Kristin and I found ourselves armed with one measly box of tomatoes, getting pelted from not only the people on the other side of the “war line,” but from the idiots behind us who didn’t have the strength to chuck the tomatoes up and over the people on their own team. Within the first 20 seconds my nightmare came true: a tomato piece hit me square in the mouth, and I could taste tomato guts on the corners of my lips. I was almost positive I was going to throw up and stood frozen, contemplating which way to direct the bile that was rising in my throat. I had almost decided on the balding middle-age man to my left who kept yelling “CHARGE!” when one of the amped-up highschoolers made me shift my focus completely.
A nice ripe, full, firm tomato hit me square on the left side of my face, right in the jaw.
The pain that I felt can only be compared to what I’m sure it would feel like getting hit in the face by Mike Tyson. I thought my jaw was broken, along with several of my teeth. I was still recovering from this shock when another tomato hit me in the left shoulder and hurt just as much as the first.
There are times when we’ve got to decide whether to stay and fight or flee. I would be damned if I was going to let those little teenage shits across the line get away with it, so I ended up picking up the roundest tomato in our box and straight whipping it at the boy who I knew was responsible for my injuries. It hit him right in the stomach and he doubled over. I had to fight the urge to stick my tongue out at him as he straightened up with a bewildered look on his face. Yes, I swear, I’m 26.
From that point on Kristin and I just wanted to get rid of the tomatoes in our box, as well as the remainer of the five minutes, which may have been the longest in my life. I threw on, the whole while feeling the swelling of my jaw happen. Kristin finally had the idea to pick up the box and use it as a shield, but by the time we figured that out most of the tomatoes had been thrown, and the fight was over.
Next year, I am wearing a helmet and bringing a shield. If I do it at all.