Monday, March 26, 2007

"My Eye! I'm not supposed to get juice in it!"

From 2 Camels:

In 2001 the carnival celebrated its 194th edition, but the area had started celebrating the events as early as the 1600s. Its main history dates back to the end of the 12th century, in 1194 to be exact. The earliest beginnings of the Carnival are shrouded in the mists of the past, in the 17th and 18th centuries. At the time, each of Ivrea's five districts celebrated the grand occasion according to its own lights, but at the beginning of the 19th century, the libertarian spirit to which this season gives ample vent, eventually became a cause of concern to the French officials now in charge. In 1808, therefore, a grande alliance was imposed: a single city carnival would replace those celebrated in its several districts. The originator of this unification was to be most meetly underscored by allowing a chosen townsman to deck himself out in the rig of a General in Napoleon's army, no less, and surround himself with a staff bearing an evident resemblance to Bonaparte's entourage.

But... let's get back to the real history of the Carnival. The first revolt was that of Violetta in 1194, a second revolt appears in the annals for 1266, when the men of Ivrea "expelled" the Marquis of Monferrato. This event is enshrined in the "Preda in Dora" ceremony described in the account of the Carnival of Ivrea that follows. But the most important and remembered event took place in 1194. At that time a Count that ruled the town, (Conte Rainieri di Biandrate) had made a new law to sleep with every new bride, he called it the "right of the first night" (yes...that story in "Braveheart" is true!!). Well, he got away with it until a miller's daughter named Violetta rebelled against him. Violetta's father ran one of the floating mills that once exploited the waters of the Dora. She killed him with a sword she had hidden under her dress, and then she proceeded in showing his cut off head to the people, she then started a fire in the castle (Castellazzo), which started a revolt against the tyrant's troops. They fought by mainly throwing stones to them, and they won.

That fight for liberty is recreated with the Battles of the Oranges, which substitute stones. Italy exceeds its production quota of oranges as agreed within the EEC (the European Economic Community) , so the excess needs to be destroyed (just to keep up the retail price). My co-citizens cooperate in the difficult path towards a unified Europe by helping to smash some oranges...

Imagine about 10,000 people dressed with colorful costumes, with a large blouse with a deep V opening in front: that's where they keep the oranges they're about to throw. They're supposed to protect themselves from incoming oranges with their non-throwing arm. These people on foot are recreating the people of Ivrea revolting against the tyrant. The Count's soldiers are represented by people on horse-pulled trucks (about 10-12 people on each carriage); these people are padded with american-football-type suits, and wear fencing-like masks. Since such a small number of these brave men have to fight hundreds...possibly even thousands of people on the ground, they have two advantages: the extra padding, and throwing downward from above, rather than upward from below. With the mask, their eyes can't be directly hit. However, imagine how amusing it is to get freshly squeezed (on impact against the grid) orange juice right into your eyes... An interesting fact is that this representation only started after WW2, beforehand, and only starting in the mid 19th century, people threw oranges from the balconies to the people walking by underneath...and viceversa. Anyone can become "Eporediese" (someone that lives in Ivrea) during carnival time and become an orange-thrower just for fun. A lot of people in fact, do just that. The Battle of the Oranges is a quite interesting event, and oranges fly all over the place, some being thrown by people several meters away, and will hit just about anything: the enemies, the horses, the horse driver, the spectators on the other side of the carriage who think they're safe, the buildings nearby (whose owners take special care in sealing all windows with wood panels; those who have recently repainted the outside walls, cover the endangered side with a net). A red hat is the symbol of liberty, and a sign of the carnival, everyone is supposed to wear one...and if anyone is guilty of not wearing it is considered an enemy, and quickly becomes the target of the carnival police, who punish the culprits with some well aimed oranges. Yikes!

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