Some families choose to work the land and they resist gentrifying themselves by moving to town. Over time and generations, these rural families can grow quite large and form veritable small villages, or in contrast, the attrition rate of family members can be almost total, and the remaining “country” nucleus may dwindle to one or two people. In the years since I have been here, the preference for city living, once very strong, has shifted, and more people are moving back to their farmland plots. The life of the contadino, once considered a necessary evil, is now looking better and better. Although these days it requires a larger investment in money than in time.
A family I know of— and I will justify my sources only by saying that they are in the grapevine and therefore as believable as any—was preparing for the winter by slaughtering a pig. The process is intense, as you know, and only slightly more traumatic for the pig than for the perpetrators. This small family consisted of mother father and son, the others having moved back to town. The pig had just been divided into two parts and hung for further division into butcher-sized cuts, when an urgent phone call arrived. There had been a death in the family, and in a neighboring town a wake and a funeral requested their presence. It was very cold, and the parents packed the car and headed off, leaving the son to guard the house and prepare for eventualities of bad weather.
The son was in his early twenties, and a healthy example of what fresh air and abundant food can do for someone, even with relatives averaging under five and a half feet tall. In other words, he was a large guy, “nu frigoriforuh,”* as they say here. It snowed that weekend , a rare occurrence in this valley even in full winter, and the parents were unable to return for two extra days. Upon their reentry they were immediately mystified by the disappearance of all things pertaining to the slaughter, and quite pleased that evidently the son had carried out the necessary conservation and cleanup in their absence. But they were met with furtive eyes and a baffling lack of smugness in reaction to their praise.
As it turned out, the cold weather had whetted his vigorous appetite. The son, foreseeing that groceries probably were not to be forthcoming that weekend, had started in on the pig, sampling various cuts and preparations. One serving led to another, and over the course of 72 hours the two-hundred pound carcass grew progressively slimmer. A moral might be that you can make your own bacon instead of bringing it home, but that won’t necessarily make you any richer. Not when you are dealing with temptation and a large appetite. Over the weekend the young man had eaten the entire pig!
painting: “The Importance of Dinner” gouache and pencil on paper, 2004