What is La Tomatina?

tomatoLa Tomatina is celebrated on the last Wednesday in August, in the Plaza del Pueblo, Buñol, Valencia.

Nobody remembers for definite the origins of this grand-scale food fight, but there are many suggestions ranging from a local food fight amongst friends, to residents pelting the council as part of a political protest, to a joke when a lorry shed its load of tomatoes. Regardless of how it began, it has developed into such a popular event that these days participation is strictly ticket-only.

It was banned for a period under General Franco, and participation was punishable, but the festivities were reinstated in the 1970s at the end of his regime.

The event begins at about 10am when someone has to climb up a tall greased pole to claim a ham which has been secured at the top. In theory the main event doesn’t start until this has been achieved. In practise, no matter what, it begins at about 11am with the firing of a water cannon to signal the start of the fight. To reduce the possibility of injuries there are some rules such as crushing the tomatoes before throwing them. By the time the water cannon is fired for the second time, exactly one hour later, to signal the end of the fight, around 150,000 tomatoes will have been thrown. They are grown in Extremadura especially for this annual event.

The town itself is cleaned by fire trucks hosing down the streets. Participants have to rely on local residents hosing them down, or go down to the river to clean themselves up.

Why do they have upside down question marks in Spanish?

upside down question markWhy do they have upside down question marks in Spanish? Unlike English, Spanish doesn’t have a question form for many types of question.
For example, in English I would say “You have a pencil.”
If I wanted to ask whether you had one I would either add the word “do” to the beginning – “Do you have a pencil?” or I would change the word order and ask, “Have you (got) a pencil?”

These subtle changes are clues that I’m asking a question. In Spanish the first statement would be
“Tienes un lapiz.” and the question would be
“Tienes un lapiz?” where I use my intonation to indicate that this is a question.

Similarly I could say
“They saw the film last night.”
and ask
“Did they see the film last night?”

In Spanish these sentences would be
“Han visto el películo ayer.” and
“Han visto el películo ayer?”

See the problem? This is fine for spoken language, but when it is written down there is no way of knowing whether you are reading a statement or a question until you get to the end of the sentence and see the question mark. To solve this problem, and for ease of reading, they decided to put an upside down question mark at the beginning of the sentence as a sign that the next thing you read will be a question. It saves you having to read the sentence twice!

upside down exclamation markSo – why do they have upside down exclamation marks in Spanish? For the same reason: an upside down exclamation mark indicates that the next thing you read will be an exclamation. If you think about it, it’s far more logical than our English system where you don’t know the exclamation is coming until it’s too late!

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