Wild Boar with Olives
Light cast on the asphalt invites me to slow down the car. I turn my head and peek into the garage that I know so well, its interior a fluorescent wound in the darkness.
A wild boar hangs upside down from a hook on the ceiling. Eviscerated, innards robbed, her fur seems to stand on end in indignation. The hunters that circle her look over their shoulders.
“Drive on, lady,” their eyes warn me.
So I obey.
I wake in the night to a dozen dogs howling. A fox must have slinked past their cage on the hill close to my house.
“Why can’t the owners keep their dogs at home instead of letting them yap all night near us? I haven’t slept for a week,” I ask Sergio while he waters my plants the next morning.
“Yes, but if the children petted them all day, they would lose their edge. Germano keeps them locked in the cage so they become mean for the hunt.”
I have a mind to call the Humane Society, but Sergio advises against it.
“You don’t want to get on the wrong side of this man, believe me.”
Later that afternoon the dogs go bonkers again, their yelps piercing every village in the vicinity.
I take out my husband Peter’s binoculars to get a better look. Germano is in the cage now, with a bucket in one hand and a stick in the other. He slings slop onto the ground and the dogs pounce on their dinner. His stick then rains down on their backs as they try to eat.
“Bestia, bestia,” he screams.
I stroke the coat of Kate, the golden retriever that I am taking care of for my friend Daniel in Zurich.
“Thank God this sadist lives in the village next door and not here,” I whisper in her ear.
Empty chestnut husks lie all over the road to Bardellone, a sure sign that the wild boars have feasted the night before. A group of hunters has gathered at the crossroad that leads to Vignana. Chatting and smoking, they nod hello as I walk by. A Mercedes SUV with a Milano license plate parks right behind their truck, and the dogs in the back ram their snouts against the grid of their cage in rage. The local Levantese eye this “forestiere” with resentment.
“Who gave him permission to hunt here? Couldn’t he play golf instead?”
It is time to claim their turf. They pick up their rifles and position themselves on top of the slope covered in brush. No beast below has a chance in hell. When I return two hours later, they are still staring into the abyss. This pastime may appear brutal and absurd, but it gets the men out of the house during the bleak months of November through January. What is good for the gander also serves the goose.
On New Year’s Day, we decide to take Kate with us to Sarzana. The moment I open the front door she bolts out of the house to explore the path leading to the well. I fumble with my keys and call her name. As a champion thoroughbred, she has not forgotten her training in the UK and lopes back as soon as she hears my command.
Kate vomits outside the finest tea salon in town. Embarrassed, we clean it up and head home. “Did we feed her too many treats the day before?” we wonder. She continues to be sick around the clock. I panic and call Sergio, who advises us to take her to the vet in Brugnato.
“They won’t open until 5 o’clock. Keep her warm until then.”
By the time we arrive, the sky is black and pelting sheets of water into the valley.
Peter and I peer through the glass window of the vet’s waiting room. It is only 16.45, but a human bottom covers every plastic chair and their animals have taken over the floor. Without an inch of room to stand amongst this ménage, we wait outside in the storm. I could care less about getting wet, but Kate heaves and vomits on the sidewalk again. A man bursts out of the waiting room and hurls a bucket of water over the muck.
“We’re so sorry, Signor,” Peter says.
The man shrugs. “This isn’t a perfumery,” and returns inside for further emergencies.
We finally slip into the waiting room. A contadino with silver hair exits the surgery carrying his pointer. The dog’s tongue hangs out of the side of his mouth and the stitches on his belly look like the railroad to San Francisco.
He bounces his baby up and down. “Lupo put up a great fight, but the boar charged and got the better of him.”
“What a shame!” says the woman whose parrot suffers from influenza. “Surely he will be out of commission for the rest of the season…”
“Nonsense. The Dottoressa promises me that Lupo will be in top form for the final hunt.” He turns on his heel and dashes out into the storm.
Peter and I glance at each other. The hunting season will close in three weeks. Will Lupo be strong enough to corner a wild boar again? We doubt it.
We lay Kate on the gurney and the Dottoressa inserts an intravenous catheter into her vein. She is dehydrated and too weak to drink.
“Poor dear. She might have eaten a cadaver, but this looks like a case of poison to me.”
I am horrified. “But she was only out of my sight for a moment while I locked the house!”
“Not that I advise making any accusations, but is there anyone in your village who does not share our love for dogs?”
I think for a moment. Yes, Sergio has mentioned that he suspects Attilio of leaving poison on his property for trespassing hounds, but he lives on the other side of the village. Would he drop poisoned meat near me? Could it be someone else closer by?
Kate makes a speedy recovery. When I return her to Daniel in Zurich, he is thrilled that his darling looks so sleek and has shed her holiday weight.
I never discovered the culprit. The wild boar have grown bolder and now enjoy ransacking the village gardens during the night. They devour everything except the eggplants, whose bitter taste offends their palates. The hunt is gory and I fear for both dog and pig. But when I slice into my bloodless chicken breast, do I have the right to judge?
The hunters do not like to be observed while they butcher their prey. I find plenty of wild boar salami and prosciutto in the shops, but have to drive inland to eat it fresh in a restaurant. Establishments on the coast prefer to play it safe and cater to tourists’ tastes. Today, I give you a recipe for wild boar with olives from The Silver Spoon, Italy’s equivalent to The Joy of Cooking.