Monday, January 31, 2005

Don't mind the screams

It's that time of the year again; the time when all the 'paysans' in the area take their pink pride and joy, (touchingly fed boiled potatoes and scraps for the past three or four months) out for some fresh air. It is a significant date in the calendar, not least for the pig, who's last view of the world will not be the usual one of happy paysan carrying a bucket of steaming spuds. No. Not today.

Today, yer pink pig will be invited out, harnessed by snout and rear trotter and suspended from a tractor or barn lintel. His pink snout will be secured to some solid earth-born object, and, just as he is beginning to enjoy the unusual perspective on the world, rather like the growing pleasure we might experience from the millenium wheel as it rises majestically into the air, just then, a neighbour with the right reputation sticks a knife in just the right spot, and pinky feels his life drain away into a plastic bucket.

Now I was a vegetarian for 10 years. I am an ex-vegetarian. Lapsed. Denatured. Fallen. But I was invited to this little jamboree, and thought I would attend a genuine piece of rural tradition. I thought I would try to maintain some unconditional positive regard for both the paysan and the pig. An impartial witness. With my camera.

Although I took some interesting photos, the thing that stuck in my mind was the screaming pig. And why it stuck in my mind was that the whole knife and bleeding thing didn't do the business with the vocal chords. It was the rope on the snout. Which, paradoxically, is there to ensure pinky doesn't swing about and make it hard to get a clean cut. Once pinky is airborne and the single decisive cut is administered, peace descends on the scene, and if I were to record just the sound, you woudl swear that pinky was in piggy heaven, for all the world like a purring pig. And frankly, I'm not sure what to make of it all.

This pig has a specific role with a track record dating back many many years. Eat the spuds and other autumn harvest that we can't get through before it goes off, and turn it into something else edible - meat. Everything except the hard surface of the trotters and the hair, both of which are burned off after piggy has truffled off this mortal coil, everything is used for something. For this is France after all.

And I have to say, the saucisson, saucisses and cotes de porc were very nice.

Each paysan kills his pig on a different day at roughly the same season; and a few folk help out at each other's pinky-killing. In the great dying rural tradition, a few drinks are had, and a meal is served afterwards. Today, around the table I shared a meal with people who have done this all their lives. Lovely people who have helped us, and who we have helped, over the past year or so. People who have killed their pigs to provide themselves with food in a harsh climate on indifferent land. They know how their pig has lived, what it has eaten. They've scratched its back. They've killed it themselves, butchered it and transformed it into fresh and cured meat. And they've shared it with their neighbours.

Frankly, I have nothing more to say.

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