Catching snowflakes with the tongue surely is an art and apparently a most wonderful experience; some drop on your nose and provoke a tiny cool shiver, some fall into your eyes, melting and transforming into tears of joy.
It has been almost an hour now since it started snowing and he still is not tired of this game. All excited he is running back and forth, head in the air, tongue sticking out - and I cannot stop watching him, his felicity is contagious. It is his first snow. So many things are new to him, there are so many first-time-experiences and I marvel how he approaches all with such curiosity, finding delight in anything, truly enjoying life.
During Christmas season friends came to visit and we showed them around our medieval hilltop town in all its festive glory. One of the Piazzas had been transformed into Santa’s Christmas Village with workshops for the elves, Santa’s living quarters and Santa’s animals - a goat and a little piglet. The piglet was sitting fenced in into a corner, all afraid and depressed, I felt terrible for him, I love animals, the thought of a sentient being used purely as embellishment, was lacking any dignity and respect. The thought that animals need to be of use, is foreign to me.
However, especially when you think of pigs, their sole purpose is to be killed and eaten. Eventually, that was to be the fate of the little piglet as well. But one cannot save all the animals in the world, one cannot set right all the injustice that is being done… these thoughts in mind I escaped Santa’s Village and felt like a coward. The piglet had somehow connected with me, not only did I look into his eyes, it was something deeper, a moment where I felt his need for love and protection. Eyes, ears and heart shut, I left, telling myself that I had far too many animals already.
The sun has grown stronger, leaning against the wall of the wooden stable, protected from the cold wind, its rays warm the body, a harbinger of Spring. Achille is dreaming, sleeping in my arms. His snout is twitching, the hooves are moving as if ready to run, the dream seems to be a happy one. He loves his siesta, but is in pure bliss when somebody is with him, close body contact, just like he enjoyed when he was still with his brothers and sisters. They only had each other, as they were taken away from their mother when only a few weeks old. She was a loving, caring sow, but was not allowed to care for her litter, as yet again she was being prepared to produce another litter. Basically she was forced to bear little ones all year round.
Less than two weeks had passed since I had encountered the little piglet, Christmas was over and we attended a birthday party of a friend of ours. Somehow the talk suddenly was about the little piglet, and I got to know that there was no other future for him other than to be slaughtered. Like a sudden insight I realised that actually I had made up my mind already the first time I saw that little porker, I was going to safe hime, love him, give him a home.
Trust is a gift, nobody can demand it, it is a generous and precious present coming directly from the heart. Achille amazes me how readily he showers me with it. He loves to learn new things, if afraid at first, he quickly overcomes his fears if one is close to him. Within 10 minutes he learned to sit and wait, less than five minutes to get used to the collar and leash, in fact he loves to go for walks in the forest. Together with the dogs, he got friendly with them in no time, we go on long hikes. Not unlike a little child, well, Achille is still a child, even if 180 pounds by now, he runs back and forth on these hikes, doubles or even triples the distances we walk. And again not unlike a little child he is always so overexcited when we return home, that he does not want to crawl into his nest of straw for a rest, pretends he is fine, could easily go on yet another hike. However, it hardly takes five minutes and he is fast asleep. I sit next to him then and marvel at the beauty of this creature. And as hard as I try not to think of what should have become of him, his original manmade purpose, I cannot get it out of my head. But he is fast asleep now, feeling safe and loved.
On the 31st of December I drove to the farmer who raised the piglet. He is living on a little farm on the outskirts of town, together with his mother and hundreds of different animals in lots of little makeshift stables. There are goats, sheep, all kinds of different fowl and, of course, the pigs.
I got out of the car and called his name, no answer. I went up to the door of the house, but nobody was there. Finally, he responded. He was down in the field, in a little hut, outside a fire was burning with a big cauldron from which steam rose into the air. As I approached the hut I was aware of a smell of blood and fear. It was dark inside, my eyes needed some time to adjust before I saw what was around me. He had slaughtered six pigs already and was dismembering their bodies. For anybody this would have been a gruesome picture to look at, for a person who had never eaten meat, this was pure horror. I tried to see whether my piglet was among the dead, but their faces had been so badly disfigured by the bolt that punctures the skull and drills deeply into the brain, a practise done before the throats are cut to bleed them out, that I couldn’t see whether he was or not. I finally managed to tell the farmer what I had come for, that I wanted to buy of him the little piglet from Santa’s Village, but that I might have come too late. I was not, he was still alive, I had literally come just in the right moment, he would have been next.
Pigs love their food, are true gourmets. Achille loves fresh food, crunchy vegetables, he loves to graze and root in the ground. His love for food makes it also quite easy to teach him new things. For the right kind of treat he might even walk on his hind legs, I suppose. But being the pig he is, he also loves to share. Often, when I bring him his basket of fruit and vegetables, I love to stay and watch him enjoy his meal. He is so clever with his lips, gently picks up one grape after another, even peels an orange - truly enjoying his repast. However, now and again he will walk up to me and bring me something to eat, a cabbage leave, half an apple, gently dropping the treat into my lap, looking into my eyes and giving me a friendly grunt.
My car is tiny, definitely not big enough to load a pig into, but I needed to take him away immediately. The piglet was in a dark and tiny stable made of cement, no straw inside. His mother was next door. She is a sow of almost 600 pounds in this tiny stable. Her children are taken away from her much too soon. She needs to make three litters a year. She watches them grow, she watches them being taken to the hut, hears them screams in agony, smells the blood. Three times a year. The little piglet, too, he saw, heard and smelled everything. So far, there was no or very little joy in his life.
Achille seems to have next to his real anatomy a sort of magic anatomy. There seems to be a type of bladder next to his heart, a vesica gaudium where joy drips into. And when the bladder is full, Achille explodes with joy, needing to dance and jump. For an outsider, there may be no obvious reason for that exuberant expression of happiness, for me, however, the most logical explanation is the overflowing joy-bladder.
Having people in one’s life one can count on, is a great gift. I needed to act fast, the piglet needed to be taken away to safety. I needed a vehicle to transport the pig with and another pair of hands to help carry the cage. The pig was afraid and not used to be handled. And, even though still a piglet, he already weighed 120 pounds. Luckily friends live not too far away from the farmer’s and I called to borrow their pick-up, which they gladly lent me. I called another friend to give me a hand, he too was available immediately. The farmer wanted an awful lot of money, which I had not on me (nor did I have it I anywhere else, to tell the truth), but promised to pay in the next few days.
When children come to the farm, Achille enjoys to play with them. Running in the fields, as fast as possible, around trees, hiding, running up the hill, using all the muscle power available until no energy is left, that is his favourite game. And there is nothing better after a crazy game of pig/kid-hunt than stretching out in the sun and cuddles. Mind you, the children enjoy it just like him. Achille truly likes company, he is a real Italian in that sense. Eating together, laughing and playing together, enjoying the good side of life in company of people you love - that is very Italian, indeed.
We loaded the pig in its heavy iron cage onto the little pick-up and drove off towards home. Our hearts were beating fast, we were so very much aware of having saved a life here. The pig in its cage seemed to be aware of the change of fate as well, the fear and panic it showed earlier seemed to have passed. Not unlike a dog it stuck its snout out of the cage into the breeze, absorbing everything around - new scents of a new life.
The ability to forget, push away or bury memories of excruciating pain is said to be something very human. Often I wonder how many of the atrocities Achille experienced are still in his memory. The farmer used to grab the pigs by the ear and tail, pushing his knee into their bellies to help lift 80kg and more when he needed to move them to another box. When he took them down to the hut where he slaughtered them, the pigs would squeal, scream in agony, in fear. They always know what is going to happen, they scream and beg for their lives, try to free themselves. Those animals were treated like objects, even worse perhaps. There is no empathy or respect for life. And these pigs are considered the lucky ones, those raised in industrial farms, which is how the majority of meat is produced, are even worse off. Their deaths are perhaps better organised, more efficient, but not less violent and cruel. And indeed, Achille does not like to be forced to do anything. Sometimes one’s own impatience collides with his wish to do something else. When I would like to return home quickly from a hike and he finds some acorns right in from of the house, naturally he would like to polish them off before returning to his paddock. I was so absorbed by my own plans, that I didn’t respect his and tried to force him back onto the path. He got upset, but not because he couldn’t eat his acorns, but because of me using force against him. It was so wrong and unnecessary, not a big deal, but enough to leave me upset about my own doing. Achille is such a gentle and most sensitive being and with all the horrors he has survived, he deserves love and respect in any situation.
Now, with all the adrenalin gone, the weight of the cage and pig seemed so much heavier when we unloaded it. We took it to the paddock I had prepared and opened the door to let him out. He took his first steps onto the grass and into a future he originally had been denied. We could feel what he was feeling. He started to run and jump and for the first time, was not afraid of being touched by a human, actually enjoyed the contact and was ready for his very first belly rub.
Achille loves belly rubs, especially after a meal, for him it is like desert; first some good food, then a belly rub and finish everything off with a little snooze in my lap.
Eating meat, raising animals in atrocious conditions, killing them for our pleasure, is so utterly wrong. Getting to know Achille, his wonderful personality, his mind and spirit, has made me cry numerous times. Sometimes they were tears of joy, but most often they were tears of desperation due to all the horror we human beings inflict on other sentient beings for rather questionable reasons.
Achille is a kind of ambassador; quite a few people who have met him where so inspired that they have stopped eating meat. Young children who come to play with Achille suddenly become aware of the horrible truth behind the consumption of meat. Nobody needs to lecture them on ethics, it is an insight they reach all by themselves.
He is still a child our Achille, only eight months old, there is a wonderful life ahead of him (pigs can live up to 25 years of age) and a lot of work to inspire as many people as possible with his loving and generous nature. Achille has become a local celebrity, friends helped to collect the money I needed to pay for his life. At the end of this article, we are at the beginning of a wonderful story here.