the sunday read why are these italians massacring each other with oranges

One Sunday in February, in a northern Italian town called Ivrea, the facades of historic buildings were covered with plastic sheeting and nets. And in several different piazzas, hundreds of wooden crates had appeared. Inside them were oranges. Oranges, the fruit.

Over the next three days, 8,000 people in Ivrea would throw 900 tons of oranges at one another, one orange at a time, while tens of thousands of other people watched. They would throw the oranges very hard, very viciously, often while screaming profanities at their targets or yowling like Braveheart. But they would also keep smiling as they threw the oranges, embracing and joking and cheering one another on, exhibiting with their total beings a deranged-seeming but euphoric sense of abandon and belonging — a freedom that was easy to envy but difficult to understand.

The Battle of the Oranges is an annual tradition in Ivrea and part of a larger celebration described by its organizers as “the most ancient historical Carnival in Italy.” Several people in Ivrea told the writer Jon Mooallem that as three pandemic years had passed in which no oranges were thrown, they grew concerned that something bad would happen in the community — that without this catharsis, a certain pent-up, sinister energy would explode. And on that day in February, three years of constrained energy was due to explode all at once.

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Additional production for The Sunday Read was contributed by Emma Kehlbeck, Parin Behrooz, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Jack D’Isidoro, Elena Hecht, Desiree Ibekwe, Tanya Pérez, Marion Lozano, Naomi Noury, Krish Seenivasan, Corey Schreppel, Kate Winslett and Tiana Young. Special thanks to Mike Benoist, Sam Dolnick, Laura Kim, Julia Simon, Lisa Tobin, Blake Wilson and Ryan Wegner.

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