Fall continues to march on here in Tuscany. We’re roughly at the same latitude as Boston, so the darker mornings and earlier sunsets sit right with me—this is how my autumns have always been. But most of the trees are still green, or only turning slightly yellow, and the incongruity of crisp air, thin light, but verdant landscape feels odd to me, like nature has forgotten something important. Some trees do have a slight tinge of yellow, as if they’re considering a change, but that’s about it—no fiery reds or oranges, no yellow with conviction. I miss my maples.
I’m a strongly seasonal person, tuned to the pitch of Massachusetts, and I feel a deep unease whenever there’s a variation. In 2008 I spent the spring in Northern Ireland, where the difference between spring and summer is slight and the changes between the seasons are so subtle as to be unnoticeable on a daily basis. There, I had near-constant low-level anxiety, as I waited for something that never seemed to come. I felt like I’d been suspended above time, and everyone else was moving forward in life and I was stuck in a place that never changed. Here, I’m not having quite the same level of disquietude, but still—this new kind of autumn feels a bit strange to me, and even though I want to embrace it, I still feel homesick for New England.
I’ve been on dinner duty this week, which means I find myself counting pigs in their pens during the day, and then counting plates at night as I set up for dinner, and my days are long, starting at 8 and not getting back to Pulcinelli house until nearly 10 at night. Like last time, I find dinner duty highly stressful, but also exhilarating—I want to reflect more on this in future posts. But for now, let’s get to the subject at hand.
Spannocchia has a bit of a wild boar problem. Other places might have a mouse problem, or a deer problem, but no—here, it’s the wild boar, or the cinghiale (chin-gee-all-eh) in Italian.
Twice week, the animali team goes around to all the remote pig pens to fill the feeding containers with flour. The containers are heavy metal boxes, about four feet tall, with an opening at the bottom for the flour to flow out into its trough, and a removable heavy metal lid to pour the flour in. We latch them back to back (with wire, everything with wire always), then use more wire to tightly tie them to solid wooden posts that we’ve hammered into the ground.
My first day here, we went to the pig pen called Curva (it’s on the curve of the road) and the feeding containers had been ripped from their posts, torn from each other, and tossed around the feeding area like tin cans. The flour for our Cinta Senese was completely gone. “Il cinghiale,” Giulio grumbled. “How did it get in?” I asked, and he pointed to a mangled bit of fencing by one of the posts. This fencing is made with iron half an inch thick, welded into a grid of six-inch squares, and it’s really sturdy stuff. But the lattice was completely destroyed, with its rusty rods bent and pointing threateningly outward at odd angles, reminding me of Medusa’s hair. I instantly felt fear for this beast with not only the strength to wreck this fencing, but the indifference to pain, as getting past would surely cause punctures to its skin in the process. I imagined a monster as tall as me, nothing but pure muscle, with skin like leather. And does it get tetanus? I wondered.
We righted the containers, now smeared with mud, wiggled them back to their spots, wired them together, hammered the posts back in, and wired them to the posts, then filled them up with flour. And this is a ritual that we perform several times a week. This, or rounding up pigs that got out of their pens because the wild boar came and tore holes in the fences, and then fixing those fences. Occasionally the cinghiale impregnates one of our sows; the cinghiale-cinta senese cross piglets can’t be kept for breeding, and it’s too expensive to raise them to maturity, so instead they are eaten (I’ve been told they’re delicious.) I mentioned in the Vendemmia how the wild boar came and ate much of the red grape harvest. Spannocchia used to grow its own cereals to feed the cow and pigs, but the cinghiale kept breaking in and eating the crop, so now we have to buy it.
In short, the cinghiale is a goddamn nuisance. I’ve never so badly wanted to kill something out of spite. I have had the pleasure of eating cinghiale on a few occasions, and it’s delectable, though perhaps it tastes better because it tastes of revenge (though I do prefer it hot.)
Despite the fact that the cinghiale has negatively affected so many parts of the farm, and has been so disruptive, it’s very rarely seen, making it all the more maddening. In my mind it’s taken on mythical proportions—a terrifying creature that’s comes out at night, tears down our best defenses with ease, wreaks havoc, but is gone by morning. But its presence is always felt. Whenever I’m alone and I hear a rustle in the woods, my mind first flees to the cinghiale.
In my mind, Spannocchia is at war, except that it’s not a fair fight—Spannocchia is located on a nature reserve, where hunting or killing cinghiale is illegal. But elsewhere in Tuscany, hunting the cinghiale has been illegal for the past six years—I’m not sure of the specifics, but some sort of lawsuit between one hunting group and another, and not all hunting permits have been suspended. Now, without being kept in check by hunters, their population has exploded. With more cinghiale but the same amount of wild forage, there’s fiercer competition for food, and so they are getting ever more brazen—for example, breaking down fences that may be protecting a nice store of caloric flour. But it’s not just Spannocchia, it’s a huge problem all over Tuscany and beyond.
So, what does this menace actually look like? Honestly, it looks like how you might expect, and those that have seen them say they’re not much bigger than our pigs, just harrier and broader in the shoulders. It seems impossible to me that it’s not colossally large, but as I’ve not had the pleasure of meeting one, I have to accept it as true. Despite my understandable fear of the cinghiale, I would like to see one before I leave Spannocchia, and hopefully shoot it, too (with my camera). They come out at dusk, and I’ve been told about certain areas where they can be found digging for food, though it also seems crazy to seek out something so dangerous for the sole purpose of having said I did it, with photographic evidence to boot. Still, maybe I will find it, and photograph, and live to tell the tale!