Conversations about Pigs

One year when my brother and I were teenagers my father sent us to Greece in December. The trade-off for going to spend 3 weeks in the village was a few days skiing in Seefeld, Austria. Two years before that my father had taken my brother alone on a winter trip. All I remember from that is the fact that it was so cold in the old stone house with no central heating or fireplace that my father covered my brother with newspapers to keep him warm.

So we arrived in Kakouri for December and as tradition has it we went to visit all the family and friends we knew. At each stop we were given a liqueur to drink accompanied by a rich sweet. Being so cold, the alcohol helped warm me up. It also helped that my brother did not drink, so I had to finish his drinks as well. So by the time we returned home from our rounds I was completely drunk and warm. It also helped that everyone we visited had a wood burning stove in a room they lived in for winter, which was usually held at 40 degrees Celsius. It was terrible coming in from the cold to the hot steamy rooms, shedding layers of clothes and reapplying them before we left.

That year we were invited to a pig slaughter. It had something to do with Old Man Vlachos, but I do not remember as the gory details of the killing blotted out any memories. Being from Africa everyone thought we were the Great White Hunters. So did we, I suppose. This huge pig let out a squeal like a human baby being tortured as its feet were tied together. It knew what was about to happen. A quick slit of the throat and the squeal became blood curdling before it stopped. The village men celebrated with the equivalent of high fives and cut out the larynx and thyroid and started grilling these on a fire on which a huge blackened cauldron was boiling. This was a delicacy, offered first to the visitors. Then they took burning logs and singed the hair, after which they rubbed the blackened white skin down with boiling water to remove the hair. The smell was horrific.

After that they hung the pig by its hind legs from the ubiquitous hook that lived in the rafters of all the buildings on the plots of farmland. They systematically butchered the animal with old wooden handled knives that had been sharpened on a block of stone that looked like it had been taken from the nearby Ancient City of Mantinea’s walls. The liver and kidneys were extracted and the liver was cut into little squares and deep fried. The day was wearing on and this butchery was becoming a full miniature panigiri, or festival. Wine was being passed around. The strong retsina helped wash away all these flavours that were so new to my palate. All I had eaten from a pig before was bacon wrapped in a neat plastic package at the supermarket.

Now I would be happy to spend a few days in the village, without the trade-off of time in an Austrian ski resort.

Sweet offerings at the village

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