In concert with my last blog post "A trip to the countryside" I am again writing about the countryside with this post. In the last post I was in a small village in the foothills of the Retezat Mountains in Southern Transylvania, this time I ventured into the cold, flat, south of Romania to a part of the country better known as Oltenia. In the last post I went to the countryside seeking the traditional experience of making tuica. Once again I went out seeking another traditional experience practiced in villages all over the country just before Christmas, cutting the pig. I had been in Petroşani less than 24 hours after being gone for 10 days when I left for the village. Though I was tired of traveling with Romania's sometimes uncertain train system I jumped back on a personnel and headed south. It was an experience that I really did not want to miss.
Site-mate had invited me to the countryside with his Director and her husband. It was a chance for me not only to witness one of Romania's traditions(something I wouldn't be able to see anywhere else), but also to meet some new people and spend time with friends. I arrived on a Tuesday and the main event was on Thursday, giving me a day to relax and get accustomed to my new, temporary environment. That day was mostly spent watching TV and eating delicious food. The extreme weather was the topic of discussion on all of the news stations as Romania was getting hit pretty hard with snow that week. Site-mate and I did get to spend some time out in the cold splitting some wood. In the evening we talked about events to come the following day and our emotions about it. We were both pretty nervous. For me, it was the first time that I would actually take part in the killing of an animal. We had seen the pig. It was a large, strong animal and we were worried about what it would take to hold it down when it was being cut. An early morning awaited us.
It was still dark when we woke up and had our coffee. Before I was done with it we were herded out of the kitchen toward the backyard where the pigpen was. Pisto was the conductor. He had done this sort of thing many times before during holidays and special events. The day before, we had watched him sharpen the knives and at that moment we were to watch him put them to use. The neighbor entered the pen with a rope. Still dark outside I couldn't tell what he was doing in the pitch black pen but I began to hear the pigs reaction. I noticed what was happening when he emerged tugging on the rope. We all put a hand in to help pull the pig out of the pen and drag it to a post nearby. After the rope was securely tied to the post our task was to flip the pig over. I grabbed at one of the hind legs and in unison with the others we managed to get the pig on to its back. It was hard to secure the hind legs. The pig was strong and kicking, and the legs were wet and slippery. I also had some trouble getting my footing in the snow. It took both of us, site-mate and I, to get a good hold on the back legs when Pisto cut the pig. From that point on it got easier, though a good hold was needed for the last strong kicks. It was 6 or 7 minutes after the neck was cut when we saw the final spasm and a pool of blood stained the snow around its head. The sun had risen.
The slaughtering of the pig took the entire rest of the day. First we moved the pig closer to the house and positioned it on its belly so that it could be torched. The first time around with the torch burnt the hair off and the next couple of times were meant to clean the skin. I was able to lend a hand in during this part, scraping the skin with a knife. After the entire pig was clean, the slaughtering began. First the hooves came off, and then the head came off. A stench rose out of the body when it was cut open and the intestines were exposed. The intestines were cleaned out and used later as casing for the meat. Pisto knew exactly what to do and when. He knew where each organ was, were to put it, how to cut the pig, what to do with each section, I just sat back and watched. Before long, all the meat was separated and ready for the next step. After dinner Pisto mixed up the meat and put it through the processor that he had hooked a motor up to. Next he mixed the correct spices into the different processed meats, and finally we all worked together to put the meat into the casings(intestines). It was a long day and I simply watched through most of it, but I gladly lent a hand when I could. With some things, the best way to learn is to participate.
I spent the next three days doing what I did on the first, relaxing and eating delicious food. We also did some shoveling as the snow continued to fall and the wind continued to blow. My newly learned Romanian phrase from the week was bate vântul (strong wind). In Petroşani the mountains shield us from strong winds but in the south where it is flat there is nothing there to stop the wind from blowing you over, or at least piling snow up against your gate.
I understand that to many people the idea of killing a pig sounds horrible and maybe a bit barbaric. In Romania it is a widely accepted tradition that takes place in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It is not a form of sacrifice, or pleasure, it is simply what it is. In about a year's time the pig is raised to be killed and eaten. It is fresh and healthy. Many Romanians that I have talked to since coming to this country take pride in their food. They have welcomed me into their homes and fed me some of the best food that I have ever eaten. They talk about how their food is fresh and made at home. Everything that I have eaten over the past week has been either made there at that small home in the village or made by a neighbor, from the wine in the basement to the fresh pork in the backyard. Being able to get to the countryside to observe, learn, and participate has already made PC Romania a very valuable cross-cultural experience for me.