Blood & Orange Juice
What would you do if some dark knight rode into town and tried to steal your fiancée’s virginity? Pelt him with an orange is what. In fact, several hundred thousand if you feel like it. This is what happens in the northwestern Italian town of Ivrea every February. The normally sedate village 40 minutes north of Turin becomes a seething mass of fruit hurling maniacs, intent on whacking opposing teams with oranges that end up mulched and stomped into the ground, leaving the town looking like it has been hit by a monsoon of vitamin C. The citrus carnage has a medieval appearance as tall box carts dressed up like castles trundle through the city streets and plazas. Inside are a line of men dressed up like a juicy version of the Praetorian guard with sinister black helmets and padded suits. They are deluged by volleys of oranges from the thoroughfares packed with slinging participants, themselves dressed like aggressive court jesters with checkered scarves, grey tights, and scorpion adorned shirts. Spectators, buildings, and windows are protected by large net canopies and those wearing red scarves are deemed neutral and thus protected against a hard whack of sunny delight—in theory. In fact, everybody is at risk of getting a bruising—including the insanely unprotected riders and the unfortunate horses.
There are actually several versions of the festival’s origins, one including a tale of a girl on a balcony trying to attract a boy’s attention by smacking him with an orange. It is unrecorded if this come-on worked. The most compelling story comes from Medieval times when the local tyrant Count Ranieri of Biandrate used to insist on bedding every local maiden on the eve of her wedding. One such girl stood up to him however and cut his head off, hanging it from his castle battlements which was then promptly stormed by a baying crowd and burned to the ground. The veracity of this story is as shaky as the story behind the Turin Shroud on display in the nearby Turin cathedral, but it does not stop the locals and whoever else from pouring onto the streets to reenact the battle of good over evil for 3 days before Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. There are nine competing teams and up to 3,000 spectators. Fifty horse carts are pulled through five flag bedecked districts that become major battlegrounds as the locals come out to defend their turf. The spectacle is open to all but you must join a team if you wish to become a true blue orange slinger. Team names include the Scorpions, the Chessmen, and the Ace of Clubs. Participants get a free meal of beans before the skirmishes commence and prizes are handed out at the end to the most valiant and accurate. Fired up on mulled wine, the participants turn an orange into a lethal projectile and injuries are not uncommon with blood and orange juice streaming down more than one head.
Carnival of Ivrea (www.carnevalediivrea.it).
When to Go: Feb.
Turin (53km/33 miles).
$$$ Grand Hotel Sitea, Via Carlo Alberto, 35 ( 39/11/517-0171; www.thi-hotels.com). $$ Hotel Master, Corso Grosseto 366/7 ( 39/11/455-5482; www.masterhoteltorino.it).