Clean Monday is a hell of a misnomer in the Greek port town of Galaxidi. Indeed, by the time the day comes to an end, the coastal town, located some 200 kilometers west of Athens -- and just down the hill from where the Oracle of Delphi used to predict the future -- is covered in sticky, brightly colored flour. Villagers there mark the end of carnival season and the beginning of Greek Orthodox Lent by throwing over 3,000 pounds of flour at one another.
Preparations for the war -- also known as alevromoutzouromata or "people throw flour at each other" -- are intense. Locals dye bag upon bag of flour with food coloring and paint their faces with charcoal. Authorities cover historical buildings with plastic tarps so they are not damaged by the clouds of dyed flour. And revellers, at least those who know what they are in for, bust out goggles to protect their eyes from the flying starch.
On the day itself, the ringing of cowbells marks the start of the war and Galaxidians and visitors from across Greece march through the town, dance to traditional music and, of course, pummel each other with flour. People wear rags, surgical masks and overalls with some keeping windbreaker hoods tightly cinched around their faces to ward off potentially severe cases of dry mouth. Afterwards, there is hardly a carnival-goer not covered from head to toe in flour. Many jump into the sea to wash off -- prior to a long evening out in the town's tavernas.
The flour fight dates back to the very beginning of the 19th century, according to the Greek tourism bureau. Villagers began celebrating Carnival in defiance of the Ottoman occupiers, painting their faces with ash and dancing in decorous circles, one for women, one for men. Now the fun is co-ed and the flour throwing non-discriminating. Why flour instead of the usual Carnival streamers and confetti? That part is still a mystery.
Officials say it takes weeks to clean up the town after the fight. Too bad they don't lay the tarps down along the streets and gather up the leftover multi-colored flour when the party's over. Unhygenic rainbow bread, anyone?
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