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New Europe

Day One Hundred and Eight: The Tatra Mountains

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At the village of 仕iar, hot water's bubbling up in the stoves, a freshly slaughtered pig lies in its wooden bath tub, and Alena's asking if there's anything we can do to help out.
Michael Palin - New EuropeIt's hard to know how politics affects these traditional, change-resistant Gorale areas. Wages are low and many need a second job to survive. Since the fall of communism, the people of this struggling rural economy have found fewer jobs in farms and sawmills and more in tourism and the Tatra National Park. They still cling to old ways though, such as slaughtering livestock at home, something that European Union legislation would like to see outlawed, but which has been going on here for centuries.

In a barn attached to a log-cabin home, a very large pig is hauled out of its sty and despatched with a bolt between the eyes from point-blank range. It tips to one side, but doesn't lie still for an uncomfortably long time as the muscle spasms work through the nervous system.

Three men are in charge of the slaughtering. All are into middle age; one is short and portly with a blue cap and little moustache, another has a belly so round and prominent he could be carrying twins. The third is tall, thin and gawky, with the face of a northern comedian of the 1950s. There's no embarrassment about the killing. Indeed, once the throat is cut, two of the executioners, grinning from ear to ear, sit astride the pig to squeeze the blood out.

'Good job I worked in a hospital,' Alena mutters.

The tall one fetches his accordion and plays a tune or two, as children run in and out to take a look.

The pig is carried out by hand, no mean feat as it weighs 240kilos, and into a hollowed-out wood bath. Then a long and complex shaving process begins. Resin is rubbed into the bristles and water boiled on two wood-burning stoves is poured over the carcass. The hair is further loosened by running a chain beneath the body whilst the boiling water is poured on, after which the skin is scraped with knives and abrasive scrubbers. The pig lies back in the bath, legs akimbo, chalk-white and very naked, like some huge industrialist in a massage parlour.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day One Hundred and Eight: The Tatra Mountains
  • Country/sea: Slovakia
  • Place: 仕iar
  • Book page no: 254

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  • Miscellaneous
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  • Day 34 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 22 
  • Pole to Pole