Wild Boar


Some of the hardest people to crack from town have been those who have had little contact with foreigners, and would prefer not to be bothered with them.  Men tend to hunt, or feign interest in the pursuit and slaughter of anything from songbirds to wild boar.   Unlike my friend Marcello, those most devoted to the blood sport generally are very gruff, if not scowling, types that I have not remotely managed to befriend.  

At times I would wander down into the valley to explore some of the old abandoned terraced gardens that families used to grow their food on.   Slashing my way through the dense undergrowth, I discovered one plot, that was to become the second of my land purchases, and where Alberto used to snare his songbirds as a youth.    It was a typical morass of cane reeds, brambles and old man’s beard- a fine nesting area for game birds, I had been told.  Seeing the entrance to a partially collapsed cave, I moved forward and was startled by a very large, black, and hairy wild boar with protruding tusks that crashed away through the thicket.  The original boar of the region had been reclusive, and about the size of a medium dog.   The type of boar I encountered is a crossbreed with the much larger Hungarian cousin.  It was introduced to the area in the 1950s, and there are more than a few stories of hunters getting disemboweled by them.  This superboar breeds profusely, and the population has increased exponentially, to the point that it is now considered a menace for people with gardens, vineyards and cars.  If you hit an adult boar full on with your car, it will be totaled.  It was the end of January, and the hunting season was about to close.  When I went back up to town, I told a few people about the boar, which I said was as big as a Fiat Cinquecento.  Not even Marcello took my claim seriously. 

A couple of days later, after a deluge of pelting rain, I went back down to the valley.   I crossed the ancient stone bridge that the flooded river had practically submerged.  As I came near to where I had seen the boar, I marveled to see that the heavy rain had revealed long disused paths that led to some of the more inaccessible terraces that I had never visited.   Armed only with my old, heavy and leaking Tuscan shepherd’s green canvas umbrella, I hacked and fell and slid my way along for hours.  I discovered old caves some of which probably date to the bronze-age, and vast dry walls that held up terraces and formed the foundations for Castel Vecchio, a castle that was destroyed centuries ago.  I found deep cisterns for collecting rainwater, and remnants of a canal system to take the water to the surrounding terraced gardens. 

The going was slow, and when I finally got back to town, it was well after dark.  Rushing to do my shopping before the food shops closed at 7 P. M., I ran into Marcello.  “O!  Americano. Ma… che cazzo hai fatto?” (What the hell did you do?”) he asked.  My shirt was torn by brambles, and I was soaking wet and covered in mud.  “Ho fatto la lotta con il cinghiale,”  (“I did battle with the boar”) I lied.  Amazed, Marcello took me into the fascist bar and bought me a beer.  There were other hunters present, and my mangled umbrella was held up as proof of my story.  The following day a group of hunters went down to the valley and bagged three boars, one of which was bigger than any of them had seen in a long time.  For the next several days I was stopped in the street, clapped on the back, and bought coffee and glasses of wine by people I barely knew.  My story was a great success.

During the boar-hunting season, which runs from mid-November until the end of January, the hills around Sorano become alive with the sound of gunfire.   Squads of hunters and their dogs head out at least twice a week, and it is best to stay well clear of them.  All boar hunters must be a member of a squadra - team.   For any individual hunt, according to the law, at least 25 members of the team must be present for the hunt to commence.  Most men from Sorano seem to hunt, and the team to which the hunter is a member serves an interesting social function, as it is made up of men from all walks of life- local shopkeepers, farmers, builders, government functionaries, doctors and even businessmen from Florence or bankers from Rome.  I was always intrigued by these anonymous fellows in their camouflage outfits, having coffees at the bar early in the morning, before they headed off on the hunt, so eventually I convinced one of my new friends, Peppe, to bring me along. 

Peppe and his family have a sizeable family farm, where they grow various crops, olives and have a hundred or so head of sheep.  Peppe works as a lumberjack, and I have hired him to help me cut down some of the larger trees in and around the garden.  Peppe has been reliable when it comes to work, and I can always count on him if we make an appointment to have a beer together at one of the bars. Nevertheless, on the day of a hunt I could never locate him.  He promised to call me, but always failed to do so.  I did not know where the hunters gathered before a hunt, so one day I simply stopped by Peppe’s farm and asked his mother where to go.  She was very concerned that I had a suitable rifle, and until I was able to assure her that I was armed, she was not willing to divulge the location.  I did not tell her that weapon in my car shoots pictures rather than bullets, so she was satisfied.

Once I arrived at the meeting hall, it was still quite early and several of the hunters were standing around a blazing fire having a hearty breakfast of bread and companatico- cheese, salami and sausages- washed down with wine.  Peppe was out with his hounds, tracking the boar, so I walked up to someone I recognized.  Another hulking fellow with a bushy black mustache looked at me darkly, and then asked my acquaintance if he knew me.  “Not really,” he replied, as he stepped away from my side.  “That’s good,” responded the mustache and proceeded to recite a short verse.  A Sorano antico, Se ci campi cent’anni, Non ci farai mai un amico, Pero se ce l’ha fai, Presto o tardi, te ne pentirai.  “In Old Sorano, even if you lived to be one hundred, you would never make a friend, but if you did, sooner or later you’d regret it.”  Being accustomed to this type of welcome, I laughed back at the mustache, and said that in my many years in Sorano I had heard that expression, and learned that lesson several times over.  I went on to say that I didn’t care to be his friend, but that I would like a glass of his wine.  The wine was all right, and I told him so, which met with grudging approval, and I was happy to be ignored by him for the rest of the day. 

Peppe was surprised to see me when he finally showed up with the capocaccia.  The capocaccia, in this case a rather tall, distinguished looking man, with grey hair and wearing a New York Yankee’s baseball cap, is the leader of the squadra, and all decisions regarding the hunt are made by him.  Peppe explained my presence, very contritely.  The cappocaccia was adamant that I could not join the hunt, but he would permit me to observe at the edge of a field, where the hunt was to end.   All the hunters then drew numbers from a hat.  On the basis of those numbers they all went outside and formed a circle from 1 to 25.  The capocaccia signaled and they all tossed between one and five fingers of one hand into the circle.  The digits were added up, and beginning from one at the top of the circle the number was counted out counterclockwise.  Where that number ended was the most favored hunter of the day, and then the rest of the 25 was counted out clockwise to the least favored hunter.   The most favored hunters got the best positions for the hunt, and at the end of the day were the first to be given portions of meat.  If the hunters were to bag just one boar, only a very few would get meat; if they got 15, then everyone would leave with some meat.

The capoccacia then explained the route that the hunt would follow through specific woods, fields, and valleys, and the various hunters were assigned positions along the way.   I was given directions to a field, and at least knew that I was in the right place, as I could see two of the hunters in their orange vests standing in wait several hundred yards away.  The capocaccia, a couple of the other hunters, and all the dogs began the hunt, flushing out any boars they came across and pushing them along the route and towards the fixed positions of the other hunters.  After three or four hours I eventually began to hear from afar the yelps of the hounds and the howls of the hunters that egged them on.  Then an extraordinary thing happened as a few shots began to ring out.  From the scrubby woodland at the far side of the field pheasants and foxes, hares, fallow and roe deer emerged and came flying, running and bounding across the field, ignored by the hunters and sometimes passing within feet of them.    Dogs appeared, rushing about frantically, and I did also see some boars, and then all hell broke loose.  The hunters fired away, but from what I could make out many of the boars still managed to escape.  However, when all was done, the hunt was quite successful as they managed to bag about 10 boars.   It was dark by the time all the boars had been collected and brought back to the meeting hall, where they were very quickly skinned, chopped up, and distributed to all the hunters.  I even had a few scraps thrown my way, which I took back to Ivana.  The next day we shared the delicious stew she made for lunch.