My father, a born Doubting Thomas, has always been suspicious of the existence of wild boar (cinghiale in Italian) in Italy. After spending three weeks in Tuscany a few years ago, he calculated that based on the number of restaurants serving wild boar in various forms (stew, steak, sausage, jerky, etc. ), you should be tripping over them at every turn in the road. His suspicion was that some old sow or some cleverly disguised mutton was getting into those sumptuous dishes.
When we told him that we were buying some land in Liguria, and that fencing was a major issue because of all of the cinghiale in the area (as solemnly declared by all local residents), he was no less convinced that it was all a hoax. That my in-laws’ neighbor keeps hunting dogs expressly for cinghiale was of no help either. I think that the only way he would be truly convinced is if we pulled up with a dead wild boar strapped by its tusks to the hood of a Cadillac.
It got to the point that I started to doubt it myself. Every Saturday morning we are awakened by the sounds of hunting rifles popping in the hills around Levanto, but for all I know, they could be going for grouse. But then, Erica and I hit Trail No. 1 in the National Park one early Wednesday morning.
It being the middle of November and coming just after the terrible floods in the Cinque Terre, the trail was deserted. We hiked all the way from Levanto to Punta Mesco, the promontory that dominates the coastline and gives you a view from Riomaggiore clear up to Portofino. We hiked past olive groves, wild heather scrub, through pine groves and up up up over the blue Mediterranean. We stopped to taste the fruit of the wild Irish Strawberry Tree. It was a gorgeous morning.
On our way back, we crossed paths with the only man we would see that day. Mid-sixties, wearing a flourescent orange vest, carrying a walkie-talkie and a rifle. Not what you usually see in Italy, where possession of arms is kept under very strict legal constraints. But he was smiling and seemed in the mood to chat. Erica asked him if they were after cinghiale.
It turns out that not only was he after cinghiale, but he was not alone … he was part of a team, Squadra 28, of hunters officially sanctioned by the Region of Liguria to keep down cinghiale numbers and the damage that they do to people’s property. He showed us ripped apart sections of a chain-link fence along the trail. Something big had been through it, there was no doubt. But they do worse than tear up the fences delimiting the property of fancy seaside villas. A few years ago, they rampaged the entire field of grape vines of Walter De Batté, one of the most important producers of wine in the Cinque Terre, forcing him to produce a tiny fraction of his usual wines. And so Liguria sponsors these hunting teams as a method of population control. Each one has a zone that they patrol, an area that they get to know inside out. And we were in Team 28’s zone.
“What do you do with them once you shoot them?” Erica asked.
“We sell the meat. It’s the only way to cover our expenses, like gas, ammo, and vet bills for our dogs.” Otherwise, they are strict volunteers, but he’s happy enough with that. As he said, some people get their kicks going to the stadium on Sunday, he gets his hunting wild boar with his buddies.
At that moment, the walkie-talkie came alive. The team was tracking down and encircling a big one, and he had to move on. So we wished him luck and finished our hike.
We may not have actually seen any of the big beasts, but there’s no reason to doubt their authenticity anymore.