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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pig toast

The pig and the human: could this be love?

Dogs, yes, and cats, yes, as well as horses, rabbits and other furry creatures: we keep them as pets and love them.
photo: open source

The pig is another matter. How many people do we know who keep pet pigs? Poor pig has had some bad press over the ages. And yet, show you a cute pig photo and your heart races.

This then, is a homage to pigs around the world, reputed to bring us good luck and good cheer.

The pig and I

Most of us get off to a happy start with pigs. Think of the pigs from our childhood stories. There is Piglet, he of the curly tail and little courage, brought to fame by Christopher Robin, an English boy.
photo: funkypancake

My personal favorite is Wilbur, the imperfect but delightful American pig so loved by a spider named Charlotte that she learned to write "Some pig!" in her web in order to save him from the butcher's knife.

Every child in us has a touch of the weak but well-intentioned Wilbur.

My son learned through Chinese children's books to love Pig, the close friend of Monkey, a bright creature who has populated children's dreams in China for centuries. In Journey to the West Monkey flies and leaps behind waterfalls to land in magical places, while Pig myopically plods along fretting over his missing friend. They are now television and film heroes, but while Monkey has learned kung fu and leaps before looking, Pig,who is now a general, still peers at the world with a worried air as he puts one little trotter in front of the other.

Song of Pig

For the past few evenings our house has been haunted by a love song, wildy popular in China at the moment, called (you guessed it!) "Pig." My son spent time in Beijing and now uses Karaoke (enormously popular in China) to improve his Chinese. The lyrics, in translation or in Chinese, are a little odd, something about how I love you for the two big black holes in your nose. The message is the same, though: Pig might be a bumbling, stumbling creature, but he has a sweetness about him that charms us.

A pig in the family

My friend Mary, a successful New York designer, fell in love with and adopted a pig at a sanctuary. She visits her pig, rather than living with it, an arrangement that would probably suit most of us. It is an exotic pig, different from the lovely and very clean pink pig I saw during the summer at the Musée d'Alpage de Colombire, a small museum alongside a hiking trail, that shows life as it was lived in the Swiss Alps in the 1930s. The museum's real claim to fame is an excellent cheese fondue that is served during the summer. The mountain scenery is breathtaking, and hikers, nibbling on cheese, can only envy the nearby pig, nibbling on leftovers, in his idyllic pen overlooking forest and stream and peaks.

Given that most pigs come to untimely and unnatural ends, the human bent for considering pigs to be good luck symbols is a little odd. Alice Ross, an American food writer, speculated about this in the online Journal of Antiques and Collectibles, "American images of pigs are not usually adorable, but rather bring up thoughts of pig sties, eating like a pig, piggy eyes, the dietary prohibitions of Judaism and Islam, none of which are connected to luck."

Mein Schwein!

We persist. In Germany, people who've had a stroke of good luck often say Ich habe Schwein gehabt, literally "I have had pig."

Mon beau petit porc !

In Paris, the normally beautiful pastry shop windows outdo themselves for New Year's Eve, a feast of some gluttony in France. Center stage: pig. Exceedingly cute pink piglets made of marzipan dance around and over gooey yule logs, others are dressed up as miniature chimney sweeps and hang from minuscule ladders waving champagne glasses at us. Some have tiny coins tumbling out of their pockets.

For centuries we've connected pigs with having enough food for the year, and with wealth. Pigs were the favorite animals of Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility on the farm. In Celtic mythology they figure heavily - literally, since many of them are Cousin Boars. They make regular appearances on early Celtic metalwork. The Welsh even have "pig" sprinkled throughout their place names to commemorate the famously unlucky one who had a starring role in the first pig roast in Wales.

= Pig

artwork/photo: Jun Shan

photo: Amerindea

The Chinese early on added the pig to their zodiac. He was the last of the 12 animals, because he was a rather slow creature. That said, the normally plodding pig can be very quick when skittish, and he is reported to move like lightning when greased, although I have yet to meet anyone who tried to grease a pig.

We are so certain they bring good fortune that we want to carry them as tattoos and take them in our pockets as talismans to the casino.

Flying pigs

photo: Glamorous Pig Ranch Productions

But surely the strangest quirk in the human-pig love affair is our insistence over the centuries on thinking about them flying. In 1553 John Withal in, The Shorte Dictionarie for Younge Byginners, wrote "Pigs flie in the ayre with their tails forward". Of course.

CK Chesterton, British poet, noted that wise men discuss whether pigs can fly but "we have no particular proof that pigs ever discuss it." Lewis Carroll had the Duchess and the Walrus arguing about it in Through the Looking Glass. The issue was finally resolved November 4, 1909 when Lord Brabazon, the first licensed British pilot also became the first person to take cargo aloft. Tied to the wing of his plane was a little pig in a basket with a sign "I am the first pig to fly."

Was his tail forward when in the air? The record is incomplete on this point.

Tomorrow: my favorite flying pig, pig facts and pig links. Stayed tuned for more ham intelligence.


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