To my left, a couple of kidneys and a brain, on a plate. To my right, three men stand at a table, hacking up half a pig. In front of them lies a mysterious bucket of gore, a loose eyeball perched on top. I’m standing, staring right back at it, when my Hungarian friend leans over and recommends some brain. Try it. It’s goood, he says. Very good with eggs! If you like, we can ask Mother to fry it up for breakfast tomorrow…
We’re standing in a darkened garage in the heart of the Hungarian countryside. Dropped cold into this house of horror, a scene like this would look jaw-droppingly wrong. However, five hours (and several pálinkas) after it all began, it’s very acceptable. In fact, the pig has started to look less like an ex-farmyard animal and more like an extravagant jigsaw - tricky, three-dimensional and ultra-realistic. Putting all of this back together would take hours, I think, swaying slightly.
Can it really be only 10.45 am? I gulp down some wine, look at my watch, then step over a box of pig’s head (ears, snout, face etc.), and around a bucket of fresh, chopped up skin. Five minutes earlier, our friend Támas had picked up a piece of this, tossed salt onto it, and popped it into his mouth. ’Try it. It’s goood’ he’d said, holding one out to me. Woof! Politely, I’d declined.
Even though I’d hardly moved, arriving at this point felt like a journey, especially for someone as squeamish as myself. Watching Cannibal Ferox is fine in the comfort of your bedroom, but having scenes acted out in front of you is altogether different. In the garage, a head had been taken apart, in the back garden a spine removed with Father's bare hands. Upstairs, in the relative comfort of the kitchen, mother and daughter stirred a bucket of blood, preparing a breakfast of fresh liver and black pudding. And everywhere, the house was greasy. Smudges were left on the kitchen window, the door handles smeared with fat.
We’d met the pig the previous evening and watched it jostle for space in its pen, with three others. It was bulky and certainly no Babe - in fact, he looked about as graceful as a bus, manoeuvring its way around Tesco car park. Perhaps it was this that put me off. At six fifteen, when I emerged blinking into the sunlight, the pig was lying on its side, blood trickling out of its throat. I went over to the corner of the garden, looked at the tractor for a while, then drank a pálinka. After that, we bathed the pig, set fire to it, and strung him up.
It’s an odd time to have a pig killing, mid-May, and it only really happens if you’ve got extra pigs. Even though it was far too hot to smoke any meat, not much went to waste. A good deal of it disappeared into the refrigerator and we ate what we could - sausage, liver sausage, blood liver sausage, deep fried pork. Fat was cooked and put aside for later, snout and ears put into pig cheese, brain saved for some kind of mad breakfast.
Ultimately, I’d half expected to come back from this pig killing a hollow man, like John Rambo, or failing that, a vegetarian, like John Rambo (only joking, he definitely eats meat). Neither happened - I still like meat, and I’m still fine with the fact that to eat it, you have to kill an animal. In reality, I actually returned from Bakony feeling more like a hermaphrodite.
Let me explain. Tasks at a Hungarian pig killing are divided up pretty squarely, and while I wasn’t man enough to kill the animal, I wasn’t quite enough of a woman to be allowed into the kitchen to stir blood, and chop onions. Instead, I floated around with a camera and a microphone, slack-jawed, giggling.
However, if there’s one thing I did learn from this weekend, it’s that organs really do look like organs. A heart looks like a heart, liver like liver, intestines like intestines and that there’s an undeniable similarity between the insides of pigs and humans. Give me a human liver, and I might know what to do, eventually. A bowl of human blood, maybe I could cook it. You see, it isn't that I want to kill a man, but right now, it really doesn't feel like that much of a stretch. With time, maybe, possibly, perhaps… I could learn.