Carnevale and the Killer Citrus Spree: Orangemageddon in Ivrea…

Allora, I’d like you to stick with me and keep your senses sharp for this one. I promise you, it’s worth sticking with. It’s worth sticking with because it ends in an ultraviolent epic food fight and the Orangeocalypse. Yes, it does. ORANGES.

I’m going to write a retrospective blogpost discussing something that happened several weeks back. I’ve discovered that this is a legitimate and acceptable thing to do. Looking at other people’s travel blogs I’ve discovered that they’re all about things that said people did months ago because, naturally, they don’t have time or space to keep things in-the-now. (I guess that’s what Twitter is for, but why would you want to be on Twitter when you’re in the middle of globetrotting adventures?) Funnily enough, I was speaking to my man Drake (dragon-sailor legend, not the rapper who sits courtside at Toronto Raptors games) recently and he told me he’s thinking of blogging his circumnavigatory voyage around the globe. That happened (is happening?) over 400 years ago, so my ‘let me tell you about stuff from over 4 weeks ago!’ post isn’t as late. Anyway, enough digression and let’s get to down to oranges…

The aftermath, after the Orange War. Oh man, here comes a flashback...

The aftermath, after the Orange War. Oh man, here comes a flashback…

Carnevale is a very important annual event in Italy. It marks the start of Lent, just like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Rio Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Pancake Day back in Blighty and in Ireland. Italians, by the way, don’t really comprehend the significance of Pancake Day and looked at me like I was simple when I talked excitedly about “one of our most important festivals“. “We have pancakes as well,” they shrugged, or they simply said “oh” and that was that. (Flat, like a pancake) On Shrove Tuesday some friends and I got high on crêpes by the canal while the crêpe-maestro watched on with a mildly troubled expression but, hey, I digress again. Erm, there was marmalade on one of those quasi-pancakes. Marmalade? ORANGES…

So, Ivrea: a small town in Piemonte near Torino (Turin, if you like) which for the early part of the year holds the highest oranges-per-human ratio in the world. (Citation not necessarily needed) Other Italian towns celebrate Carnevale with masquerade parades, confetti, silly string and clowns (invisible and/or chronically depressed clowns in Milano, or Milan if you like). Venezia (Venice, if you like) hosts the most iconic Carnevale, but when I heard about the unique festivities in Ivrea I ventured over there in the snow and sought to see it for myself.

There’s a lot of fascinating history but I know that you only came here for the oranges so I’ll keep it brief. A long time ago (not in a galaxy far, far away ’cause, Princess, I’m talkin’ ’bout Ivrea) the tyrannical Duke of this beautiful little town had the right to sleep with every newly wed women (or rather ‘soon-to-be-wed woman’) in the locality on the eve of her wedding. Legend has it that a Miller’s Daughter (known as ‘Mugnaia’) refused the Duke and chopped his head off so hooray for her, hooray for period drama proto-feminism and hooray for decapitating rapist despot autocrats. To commemorate this medieval tale of rebellion against the cruel nobility, every year during the extended Carnevale festival one woman is chosen to be the honorary Miller’s Daughter and they ride around in a horse parade throwing flowers to the masses. It’s lovely, and everyone’s in antique costume and all the gathered attendees are wearing Phrygian caps (‘Berretto Frigio’) to show their revolutionary sympathies.

In theory, the red caps also ensure that you won’t be a target of the rebels’ orange attacks. (Ha, nice theory.) The main attraction of the Ivrea Carnevale experience is ‘Battaglia delle arancie’ – ‘The Battle of the Oranges‘. Sorry, I can’t say that without echo sound-effects and a mighty power pose – THE BATTLE OF THE ORANGES. Indeed, ’tis an epic spectacle. It rides, flies and almost-dies like this: there are nine combat teams and the citizens of Ivrea are all aligned to one of them. They have badass names like ‘The Ace of Spades’, ‘The Devils’, ‘The Panthers’ and ‘The Chess Pieces’ and they all have a long history and their own insignia and team colours. These ‘Aranceri a piedi’ (orange-throwers on foot) all wear their colours proudly and, in total, their costumes look like a mix of court jester, football hooligan and rugby player dressed for midwinter Tuesday night training covered in heavy metal patches. The look is topped off, of course, by the red cap and these mixed-gender tribal mobs (I love the progressive politics of this whole thing) gather in the streets and piazzas and some of them chant very aggressive-sounding songs.

Enter the armoured guards: this is where citrus gets real. The armoured guards – ‘Aranceri Carri da Getto’ sport ridiculous-but-utterly-necessary amounts of protection and ride their heavy-duty horsedrawn carts through the streets pelting the crowds with oranges. The orange throwers on foot – their target – respond in turn. The result is all-out orange-flinging chaos. It’s complete carnage: a juicy Battle Royale; a zesty clash for the end of ages; a fruity Ragnarök.

Orangeocalypse Now... "the horror... the horror..."

Orangeocalypse Now… “the horror… the horror…”

Spectators are ‘shielded’ from the Full Mental Racket by nets surrounding the piazzas and streets, but they don’t offer much in the way of protection. While observing from behind these nets I got dusted by stray flecks of zest, skin and juice and got bopped right in the middle of my forehead by a rogue projectile. I also had my phone knocked flying out of my hand and the Romanian tourist next to me got her designer label handbag soaked in citrus juice (the Orangeocalypse is no place for haute couture). The cars kept on a-comin’ and the orange throwers kept on turning back to pick up more missiles from the towering boxes packed with fruit (most of it surplus from the south of Italy, so really the whole exercise is creative recycling). Wave after wave after violent, angry, orange wave. It was mesmerising.

After watching the Battle I departed the city, shaken and stirred. Taking a step aside to look at this thing from another angle, here’s how it plays out: I’d been stood in that square for an age before tip-off, freezing and finding no comfort in a bag of dried oranges (dried orange doesn’t taste very nice) and feeling quite confused. More people gathered, there was a sense of looming and the ritual procedures occurred and I felt very confused. Somehow I’d ended up in a strange town in Piemonte wearing a silly red hat and that confused me. Then everything erupted into a orangemageddon and abject insanity and that was very confusing. Observe the insanity. (Ah, you can’t observe the insanity because I’m not allowed to upload videos. Never mind, ’cause that’s adds a more esoteric edge to the mysteries of Ivrea. One day I might try and re-enact the most epic and messiest role-play exercise I’ve ever seen in my life in your living room, if you ask me nicely…)

Everything here is confusing, insane, shockingly violent and a bit silly...

Everything here is confusing, insane, shockingly violent and a bit silly…

Madness. Madness. But it was beautiful madness and beautiful confusion and an immense experience to behold and sort-of-participate in. It’s this kind of inspired and creative insanity that has made Italy such a great nation, and such an important one in the development of our global civilisation and culture. The ‘Battle of the Oranges’, then: absurd and unbelievable. And very orange. ORANGES.

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  1. 2015: A Brief Blast Back Through the Year Fantastical… | ENTER... JAMES CLAYTON

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