In the Small Towns of the Sierra de Francia

In the small towns of the Sierra de Francia in the province of Salamanca, the rustic architecture of which reminds one of Alsace, from whence the ancestors of the present-day townspeople came to take the place of the Jews and Muslims slain or expelled during the Reconquest, a pig runs free in the town, following a centuries-old tradition. The neighbors feed it from their scraps or let it sleep in the empty ground floors of their homes, where livestock were kept in earlier times. In the spring festival, the pig is slaughtered, cooked, and devoured. In the days of the Inquisition, which in Spain did not end until the early nineteenth century, converted Jews and Muslims were made to dine on the pig’s flesh as a sign that they had forsaken their heretical beliefs, though in any case, as what was desired was more often their property than their faith, reason might yet be found to question their commitment to Christ. When this happened, they would be taken to a shrine, cursed at and spit on, tied to a stone cross in the center of the village and burned alive. If they showed penitence, a merciful citizen would strangle them with a garrote before setting them alight. The women in my company, most from Latin American countries in which defenders of the Catholic faith murdered untold numbers of inhabitants, and who spoke their mother tongue as a consequence of this crime, lined up to have their picture taken with the stone cross, to post it on Facebook to the amusement of their friends and husbands, who were in turn sitting at home in Bristol or New Hope contemplating the fate of a man who had been absolved of the crime of murdering a black teenager who had been walking home to watch a basketball game with his younger brother. There was great disappointment that the pig in La Alberca was nowhere to be found. Its counterpart we saw twice in Miranda del Castañar, first lying, with a bored countenance, at the feet of two old men seated on a stone bench smoking, and then later eating lettuce and tomato scraps from a basin, surrounded by children. More than the seven-hundred-year-old ashlar stonework of the city walls, more than the public building with the gargoyle at the corner on which the pregnancies of wayward young women were blamed, what interested my companions and even myself was the pig, which we longed to lay eyes on, and perhaps to stroke its sparse, rough coat of black hair.

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