One of my favorite books ever, and for sure my favorite holiday book is "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote. It's a beautiful, autobiographical tale about Capote's relationship with an elderly aunt, Miss Sook Faulk, during his childhood years in Alabama. Beautifully illustrated by Beth Peck, it is full of, well, Christmas memories of the sweetest and most touching kind.
It starts with the elderly aunt making the proclamation, "Oh my! It's fruitcake weather! Fetch the buggy!"
I woke up last Friday to discover that it's pork weather here in Maberga. Fetch my fork.
Yep. It's that time of the year when pigs go to heaven, or where ever dead pigs go, so that our friends can make some sausage.
Last friday we got 2...count 'em, TWO, not one but TWO invitations to share in all the head stew, blood pudding, liver, brain, fatty festivities.
David and I have been going to these events since we moved here. At first they were a really fascinating cultural and culinary experience. I remember my apprehension the first year. I was so excited to have been invited to take part until, on the day of, I heard the 6am squealing and subsequent silence after the single gun shot. I remember telling David that I had watched that pig grow up and there was no way I was going to be able to eat ANY of it. (you'll notice I didn't say I would never eat pork products again, I just wasn't going to eat that pork's products. I'm a hypocritical carnivore...I'll eat meat as long as I didn't know it when it could smile at me). And then after seeing the care and attention that our friends gave to this pig, how much they valued every dead part of it, how each piece of, well, ALL OF IT was going to be eaten or used in some way, it was really impressive. My feelings changed dramatically over the course of that one day.
At this point in the story I'd really like to wax poetic and philosophical and sentimental and all that, telling you that chewing on a big pig's ear that morning 6 years ago was the tastiest pork experience of my life. I'd like to say that I've never before or since eaten anything so wonderful. I'd LIKE to say that but it would be a lie. Have you ever eaten a pig's ear? Yeah, well, it's just what it sounds like. I can, however, tell you without lying that my respect for the pig, his life and the process of the slaughter was so profound that I actually did eat that big freakin, bristly ear.
I noticed at this Saturday's slaughter that the experience, while still the same, has changed.
After 6 years of attendance neither David nor I are able to help in any fashion, with anything. That will probably never change. I've watched the ladies cleaning those intestines in the ice cold water for long enough that a) it doesn't gross me out any more and b) I actually know the process. And still? No doing. I'm not allowed to touch the shit, so to speak. And David, far as I can tell, hasn't progressed too far from his initial responsibilities of slaughter photographer and general comic relief.
The schedule and menu were the same. Work from 6am-11am when some pork steaks come off the grill. They are consumed standing up (usually at the grill) with pieces of bread and the first jug of wine of the day. Then there's a lull in the action for the men, who usually stand around drinking, while the women simultaneously clean the intestines and prepare lunch. They wash their hands a lot. By 1.30pm we are seated at the table with sauteed liver and onions, cabbage in tomato sauce, pasta in tomato sauce, and a huge pot of pork... in tomato sauce. By 4 or so we are on the 3rd jug of wine and are still munching on the fruit, cheese, nuts, and panetone (italian fruitcake). The day ends with coffee and grappa and discussion of what time to begin the sausage making on the following day. David and I are still not included in the second (or third) days' events since they involve work.
While all that was the same, I noticed that this year I didn't feel like I was taking part in some Medieval Times dinner spectacular. It wasn't some show that was staged for my education and entertainment. It's no longer a field trip to Old World Italy where I get to see how things used to be done before the supermarket craze. Nope. This year I saw it for what it is: some folks, working together, and sharing their abundance with friends and family by gorging through a pork marathon.
There were some other things I noticed this year, too. Like, I don't feel the need to eat the ear any more. I don't need to prove to the pig or anyone else that I value his life. I know now that I value the pig - so much so, that it's a waste for me to eat his ear. I don't like pig's ears.
And I noticed how grateful I felt when the blood and the brains were saved for some special dinner that I'm not invited to.
But the biggest thing that I noticed this year was that the festive feeling of the pig slaughter is fading, if not gone all together. I don't mean for me. but rather for the folks doing the slaughtering. The one we attended last weekend was its hosts' last. They will not keep pigs any more. They've become more aware of the work involved than the value and abundance of the food.
This could be because each year the celebrations are smaller, attended by fewer and fewer people. A lot friends and family now just don't want to spend a day eating pork. It was explained to me that the older generation's diabetes, cholesterol and heart problems and the younger generation's complete lack of interest keeps them away in increasing numbers.
At the end of "A Christmas Memory", Capote is shipped off to military school so he and Miss Sook Faulk's fruitcake seasons come to an end.
I'm afraid the same fate is awaiting pork season in Maberga.