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Spanish use tomatoes to get saucy with strangers

August 29, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 a.m. EDT

BUNOL, Spain (CNN) -- You say "tomato." They say "Cuidado!" That's Spanish for "Look out!"

And that's good advice at "La Tomatina," an annual excuse to pelt friends and strangers alike with red, ripe tomatoes.

Wednesday's event attracted about 20,000 people to this village in eastern Spain, many of them from abroad. About 100 tons of tomatoes were trucked in for their pleasure.

"I never saw anyone, I never saw anything. You could just feel the tomatoes flying at you and nothing else," said one visitor, sitting waist-deep in raw tomato sauce.

A single firework shortly after midday signaled the start of the fruit-throwing frenzy, which lasted an hour.

Some festival veterans were spotted wearing armor, including a motorcycle helmet, a swimming cap with goggles and even a bucket over the head.

Local historians say the tradition began in 1945 when discontented residents spontaneously started pitching tomatoes at the priest and mayor at the annual fiesta.

It's not exactly the running of the bulls, but fans of author Ernest Hemingway can take solace in the fact that the flying fruit satisfies at least one definition of "A Moveable Feast."

"Actually, I love tomatoes," a California woman said. "But I'm going to take a break (from eating them) for a while."

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