Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"We Three Kings Pigs of Orient Are ..."

"It will be cold and there will be many little pigs."

Such was the augury pronounced by our personal sibyl Rosa (or Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrosa), our Spanish tutor. All because we offered a "we're going to Segovia for the long weekend!" in faultless faulty Spanish as we parted last Wednesday afternoon. It was not the response we had expected. "Pshaw," we said (not really). "The forecast is 16° with sun and a few cloudy periods," (that we did say). And as our weather report said nothing about little pigs and we really had no opinions or expectations about them, we chose to ignore her so-called prophetic ramblings. But then didn't Apollo place a curse on the sibyl Cassandra that no one would believe her? (He did). Those gullible Trojans didn't heed a word she said; we were in good company.

So off to Segovia we go in search of its famed Roman aqueduct, Templar castle, Romanesque churches and Alcázar which we were unable to find because of the impenetrable fog that enveloped the city. An impenetrable fog that was broken up intermittently by rain. Punctuated by bone-chilling damp and cold. This didn't come as a total surprise. A) We had Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrosa's prediction. And b) On the train ride in, we watched in horror as the outside temperature - which blips before passengers on a pixel screen - dipped progressively lower as we left Madrid: 16°, 15°, 14° ... all the way to 4, and the sky - which blips before passengers as the sky - darkened progressively.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrosa 1: Los Gatitos:0

Then there were the little pigs. I've mentioned elsewhere that Spain's totem may be the bull (which it is), but the animal which truly wears the crown in the barnyard is the pig. The pig is King in Spain. True, there are no giant silhouettes of pigs lining the country's highways, exhorting travellers to have a snort of brandy while en route, but nonetheless, the pig rules. And since every king requires a royal residence, our pig claims Segovia.

Pigs can be found all over Segovia. And by all over, I mean everywhere. And by pigs, I mean baby pigs. Pigs that are plucked from their little piggy homes when they're exactly 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days old (=114 days). It would seem that pig farmers in Castilla-León are not only very much into numerology but are keen counters - at least up to 114. Maybe even 115. But 115 has no place in the world of baby pigs. The little piggies must also be unblemished by Biblical standards; their colouring must be "white, creamy or waxen, clean and homogeneous, without strange spots of blood or other discolourations." Flawed little piggies presumably don't go to market (and go wee wee wee all the way home).

Every restaurant offers a host of little piggy dishes but the pièce de résistance is the local speciality: cochinillo asado, or roast suckling piglet, slow-cooked in wood-fired ovens and basted with lard until crispy. Windows of restaurants are festooned with either images, replicas or actual roasted piggies cut open along the stomach and spreadeagled in a pigs-can-fly posture or rows of dead little piggies all white, creamy or waxen, clean and homogeneous, without strange spots of blood or other discolourations.

Segovia is a holocaust of pigs. Even in my most carnivorous days - and in truth pork was my meat of choice - I couldn't have imagined a table set with a 3 month, 3 week, and 3 day-old little piggy. This is veal for pork eaters.

But amid all this porcine carnage, there was a bright spot. And it wasn't the weather. At the visitor information centre - which our guidebook indicated was beside the aqueduct we never saw because of the fog - we were somewhat taken aback with the city's belén. Instead of the ubiquitous plaster Holy Families, the visitor centre offered a cochinillo nativity scene, enlisting the stuffed pink piggies sold to tourists for their Sagrada Familia. Either the stuffed pink piggies weren't selling very well or Segovians have a very wry sense of humour for, there before us, was:

*the Virgin Mary (
stuffed pink piggy in a blue robe)
*Joseph (
stuffed pink piggy with a staff)
*baby Jesus (
stuffed pink piggy wearing a diaper).
*a group of shepherds (
stuffed pink piggies with little sheep)
*an angel (
stuffed pink piggy with halo) suspended from the ceiling, and
*the Three Kings (
stuffed pink piggies with crowns) arriving from the East.

In a culture that places far greater celebratory weight on the Visitation of the Three Kings (los Reyes Magos) than on Christmas Day - after all, baby Jesus (stuffed pink piggy wearing a diaper) didn't get any gifts until the Magi appeared on the scene - I was tickled (pink) that the city was able to deconstruct the over-the-topness of the country's belénes, the sanctity of the Christmas season, the metamorphosis of the Three Kings into the Three Little Pigs, and its own iconic gastronomic piggy in one fell swoop. Although I think my grandmothers may have both rolled over in their graves.

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrosa 2: Los Gatitos:0


knarf said...

As vegetarians, you and Senor Gatto must have been very queasy at the sight of all that carnage...

La Gatita Gringa said...

More sad than queasy ... although there was a Madame Tussaud quality to it all.

knarf said...

Wax museums always give me the creeps...

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