Tuesday, November 27, 2007

17 November is a date of great significance in the Czech calendar. In 1939 it was the day on which the Nazis closed down all Czech universities, executed some student leaders and took over a thousand more off to concentration camps in response to student protests against the occupation. As a result, in 1941 it was declared International Students’ Day. Then in 1989, ostensibly to mark this event, student protesters took to the street, starting off the Velvet Revolution. So it’s a time, perhaps, for patriotic and sombre reflection on the successes and failures of 18 years of democracy in this country.

And how did I spend the day? In very Czech, or to be more accurate, Moravian style. Thanks to my friend Martin and his extended family out near the Slovak border in a village named, I kid you not, Police, I attended a traditional pig slaughter.

The Czechs are heavily into their pork and pig-related products. Pig slaughters are celebratory occasions in this country (though the pig didn’t seem in particularly festive mood), one of those rituals that bind families together. Some foreigners tend to be a bit squeamish at the prospect of being so close to the death of an animal, all the blood etc. It would be gratuitous of me to go into detail, but on the other hand, unless these people are vegetarians I find this squeamishness rather hypocritical. I could even get moralistic about it and suggest that if people want to eat meat, they ought to confront the reality of what it’s about and get their hands dirty.

Not that I did much of that, I have to admit. Beyond scraping a few hairs off the body, my extremely generous hosts refused to allow me to do any real work and instead insisted on getting me drunk on slivovice (and I’m not complaining here). On the other hand I have got my hands dirty in the past, back in my student days, when I had a truly revolting summer job in a turkey factory for a month or so. Many of the students who went to work there came back vegetarians. I personally went the other way, considering that since I had been prepared to do such foul work, I bloody well had the right to eat meat – although I still do have serious ethical qualms about eating any meat produced in such a manner. After that, really, the pig slaughter seemed nothing to get squeamish about. As far as I could see the pig, unlike the factory farmed turkeys, lived in reasonable conditions. In addition it had a relatively quick and painless death. Compared to the experience of the turkey factory, the whole occasion seemed heart-warmingly natural, rustic, even healthy (maybe I’m romanticising and kidding myself here, but despite the cholesterol there was probably a great deal less crap in the meat than there is in the majority of commercially produced poultry).

Bon appetit!

And as any red-blooded carnivore would expect, the results were delicious. Brain omelette for starters, followed by the best Czech national meal of pork, cabbage and dumplings I’ve ever had, washed down with beer and slivovice. After which we went back to Martin’s place to watch the Czech Republic beat Slovakia at football (at least my adopted national team are going to Euro 2008). A truly patriotic day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah i see that almost all slavs share
this beautiful custom....here its
on the 29th of november, national
holiday in the former country, but
the real reason behind all these
holidays is that the weather is cold
enough for the sloughter.Bon apetit!

10:13 PM  
Anonymous jitka said...

Lovely. And the annual Christmas carp slaughter to look forward to. No wonder the creators of Pinky and Perky were Czech emigrants. Funnily enough, my husband turned vegetarian after having a summer job in a chicken factory as a student (but then he met me and Czech sausages and that was it).

5:26 PM  

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