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Archive for December, 2007

Well, the last couple of days have been one HECK of an experience for us because we were invited to our first ever Matansa …… YIPES!

We got up very early on Friday morning – mostly because my seven year old son came rushing into my bedroom at 6.30am saying “Come on Mummy we´ve got to go to the Matansa!!!” He was so excited and had struggled to sleep the night before AND had got up an hour early ….. but I got up all the same and didn´t bother showering as I figured I was likely to get a bit dirty during the course of the day…. Ho ho ho, little did she know … !

We arrived at the house of Solidad and her husband Antonio just before 8am. For them, the Matansa is an ancient tradition, a necessary and utterly unemotional process – having needed to do it over and over during their lifetimes in order to eat meat. For me, having never in my life done more than wring a pheasant´s neck, I really didn´t know if I would be able to handle it or not, but knew that I felt it my duty to go, to be there for a small boy who wanted hugely to be there, and to help where I could.

We followed seven seriously big men and another five women out the back of the barn and down into the olive groves where, under a big tree, was a pen about 5m x 3m, within which were 2 huge pigs and four smaller ones. We stayed well out of the way armed with the camera as I was official photographer for the day. I then watched as these seven men worked VERY hard to get one pig sectioned off from the others in order to bring it out of the pen. They do it by looping a rope around the upper jaw – which the pig doesn´t like, and so starts to squeal very loudly. I then saw a glint out of the corner of my eye, and realised that one of the women was holding a very substantial double bladed diamond shaped knife at the ready. My heart was quite literally leaping inside my chest but I knew I couldn´t run at this stage – we had committed and so I switched my focus from how nervous I felt to the pig and what was about to happen – and so I prayed for her and profoundly thanked her ……..

It took seven men and two women a difficult struggling minute to get the immense, squealing pig from all fours onto its side on the pig bench, at which point and not a second wasted very swiftly the knife did it´s job at the base of the front of the neck. A woman was at the feet of the pig with a large plastic bucket to catch the blood that surprisingly rapidly spent itself, beating it vigorously with her hands to prevent it from coagulating — this blood is essential to the Andalucians who turn it into the most delicious Morcilla – black pudding effectively but mixed with onion, special pork fat from around the intestinal tract, a dozen or more different spices, red, black and sweet pepper and a LOT of garlic. So the kill, the way the animal is sacrificed, is of immense importance, even if it is, for the newcomer, a pretty vivid and “in your face” experience.

Within an hour the men had brought this pig into the shed, scraped the 4 inch long fur off by pouring boiling water over every millimetre of the beast prior to scraping and scraping with knives bringing them out in a muck sweat it was such vigorous work; removed the head cleanly and strung the beast up on a large double sided ladder ready for butchering. At which point, we all went back out to the pig pen for sacrifice number two – which went smoothly other than the fact that this pig clearly realised what was coming having listened to its sister live, and die, that morning and so made even more noise.

Once the kill was over, it was absolutely non stop for the rest of the day. The next most important job is to remove the intestines, completely intact, in order that the women can set about emptying them (including the stomach) and rigorously cleaning them in order that they become the “skin” of the morcilla, salchichón and chorizo. The morcilla (made with blood) is the most crucial of all the jobs as they have to be made the same day as the kill, otherwise the blood turns and is completely wasted. And when I found out that we were making 67 kilos of morcilla (enough for a year for this small family), I realised they had their work cut out for them. It took about 4 hours to simply clean the guts to the satisfaction of the women working – turned inside out, they are washed three times in home made soap and then five times in a mixture of salt, vinegar, lemon slices and flour (for whitening) with a small amount of hot water for making it easier to move them around. Over and over rinsing and scrubbing until they are white, clear and clean. Then they are turned the other way around and the same process is applied but four times on the basis that no poo has touched this side.

Once clean, the process of tying the ends of probably two hundred lengths of intestines is begun, while on another table the fat that has been saved from the process of unravelling the intestines is then minced ready for the morcilla mixture. By the time we were finally ready to start filling the immaculately clean intestines, it was about 4pm and we had breakfasted and lunched in that time (a STAGGERING quantity of food I would never normally eat due to the sheer quantity of FAT involved!) We had used several hundred gallons of water to clean, clean and re-clean the shed where it was all taking place – water that was being boiled in two vast metal vats over fires in the corner of the room.

The process of filling the tubes was no less simple – a woman stood on a breeze block and, with a vast wooden plunger inside a metal tube with a narrowed end, spent the next three hours forcing the thick bloody goo into the tied tubes – over and over and over again, only stopping for a glass of water. Once started, they simply do not stop until the job is done. It was absolutely exhausting to watch, let alone get in there, up to the elbows, in bloody entrails.

Even as the official photographer, I put myself to either sweeping up or carrying hot or cold water as required in order to earn at least half of my lunch – and the whole time, watching these women work for no pay, but for the knowledge that when it comes to their Matansa, these same women will come and support them in their immense load of work – I cannot tell you how much respect and humility I felt. It is no wonder to me that these women laugh raucously about love, sex, bodies, medical conditions – there are no subjects about which they behave shyly – because when you have, every year for 20, 30 or 40 years, gone through this process which starts at the end of November and goes on until early January by the time that each family has made sure that their children, cousins, aunts and uncles have all successfully prepared their year´s supply of meat, you really have shared MAJOR exhaustion, every aspect of your life over the past year, and the sheer extraordinarily hard work that is involved in preparing for, cooking for, and seeing through the annual Matansa …..

I have also learned that this tradition is becoming less and less frequent now. The young here have no interest in seeing through this tradition because although they all realise that the meat is without doubt better, purer, cleaner etc, it is an absolutely MONSTER job for which you need to have a large space, facilities, to say nothing for about 30 different and very large metal and plastic buckets for working with the dozens of different parts of the pigs, of which quite literally the bits thrown are the hair, eyes, poo and bones after being boiled. NO waste at all.

Having spent Friday and Saturday (afternoon only) with Soledad´s Matansa, we spent today up the mountain at friends helping with day 2 of their Matansa. And today I was far less precious. I got in there turning the mincers and pressers that force the goo down a tube onto which the other women had rolled the tubes of cleaned intestines, and I even handled the intestines which felt positively vile! But I know that I really did pull my weight for which they were immensely grateful – Paqui’s work won’t be done for several days yet, but another pair of hands is ALWAYS so very welcome.

So there it is – and now what is left for me to do is take my disk filled with photos to the printers where I am going to print loads off and put together a collage for Soledad and her family – Matansa 2007! I will save you all the shock of seeing them – they are not Sunday family viewing …..

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