From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 43
Playing in the Pigpen
As a child, I loved to play in the dirt and the mud like most children of my era. Only a few (not overly protected) kids get to do this today. If I came home especially dirty or muddy, my mother would ask if I had been playing in the pigpen. I had no idea what she meant until our own children’s favorite place to play turned out to be the pigpen under the little kitchen at Casa Giorgio.

Pigs had been very important to the survival of the Giovianini for at least two thousand years, so it isn’t surprising that every dwelling, whether a grand palazzo or a simple peasant house had a pigpen in the cantina under the living quarters. The pigs would eat any leftover food scraps, they would help warm the house in winter, and they would provide ham, bacon, sausages, lard, and even bristles for hairbrushes and paintbrushes.

To enter the simple pigpen at Casa Giorgio, even the children had to duck their heads, which meant that this special hideout was off limits to grownups. Anne and Jane, and later Karen and Andrew would throw their tea parties, play school, and of course squabble in the pigpen. Thank goodness, it had a stone floor instead of a mud floor, but it sure was dirty and every speck seemed to stick like glue to the children.

Following my mother’s example, I would ask, “Have you been playing in the pigpen?” They would just look at me as if I was some kind of stupid grownup. Of course, they had been playing in the pigpen. “Why ask the question when you already know the answer?” they were probably thinking behind those glaring eyes.

My children did not grow up being ignorant about the exact meaning of that old pigpen expression. They have truly “been there and done that.” Our three grandchildren are the perfect age to experience life in the pigpen, and so I hope that their parents will be able to bring them to Gioviano while they can still enter this wonderful children’s realm. I am not sure that their mothers, who seem to be obsessed with avoiding the same germs that didn’t kill them, will even allow William, Julia, or Drew to play in the pigpen. They might get too dirty.

Before getting back to the serious business of the history of pigs in Gioviano, I’d like to mention the huge attic in the Palazzo which became a playhouse for our children after they had outgrown the pigpen. This wonderful attic complex includes many rooms, a gravity-fed toilet exposed in the hallway, and a secret peephole in the bricked-up doorway between the main Palazzo and the Emilio wing that had been sealed off for a hundred years. It was here in the attic that the children set up a living room with couches, tables, and chairs in the highest room of their 2,000 square-foot playhouse that had served as servants’ quarters in centuries past.

Now, back to the pigs. In the 14th century, when Gioviano was basically a free Republic with laws of its own, the Statuto di Gioviano del 1377 (Statute of Gioviano of 1377) states that every family was obligated to raise a suckling pig. Forestieri passing through the village were allowed to lodge their pigs with the Giovianini for only one night unless the pigs were going to be sold at the local market in which case they could be lodged for two nights. It must have been a real money-making opportunity for those villagers who had extra large pigpens and thus could run pig hotels.

By this same statute, all animals had to be constantly watched while grazing. Apparently, some of the Giovianini were not very observant of this law, because one of the major quarrels that arose between Gioviano and nearby villages revolved around damages caused by predatory pigs. A court case was settled in 1484 when marauding pigs from Gioviano escaped and did great damage to La Rocca and Terzone. Those pigs must have been amazing living machines of mayhem and destruction, if they are are anything like the wild hogs that love to destroy our properties in Texas.

During World War II in Italy, one creative Tuscan farmer improvised a pigpen by hiding her enormous 200-kilo hog in a chestnut-drying hut in the forest because she feared that the hog would be taken by the Germans.

In the Palazzo there is a room under the kitchen originally divided into three pens. One pen was for chickens, one for pigs and the middle one for storing grain and other supplies. The room is so large that it serves as a setting for part of Gioviano’s Presepe Vivente (Living Nativity Scene) during the Christmas season. The thing that made the chicken pen so interesting was that there was an eight inch square hole in the kitchen floor right over the pen. All that Argia and her predecessors had to do to feed the chickens was to lift the covering and drop table scraps down to them. Unfortunately, when my father restored the old kitchen which now serves as my office, that floor was in such bad condition that it had to be replaced, and the trapdoor was not reinstalled but was placed in the attic museum. I sure wish that the hole in the floor had been saved in order to show visitors how people used to feed their animals.

The other opening was a very large hinged door over the pigpen and served as the lazy man’s way to slop the hogs. The opening looked like it could have led to a stairway. but where the stairs might have been, there were two large stones projecting from the wall that eliminated the possibility that there was ever a flight of stairs there. I asked several people if they could explain the large door and the two projecting stones, but they are still a mystery.

The trough in the wall for feeding the pig at the Palazzo is like the one at Casa Giorgio which was built into the wall so that the pig could be fed without entering the pen.

Quite frankly, I sure am happy that the law forcing everyone to keep pigs under their houses was rescinded before 1973 at which time I don’t recall seeing even one live pig in town. Can you imagine what Gioviano must have smelled like back then?

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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