"Had Dante seen it," wrote Frances Trollope of the place, "he might have drawn images of another hell from it's horrors!"
We spent our Christmas vacation in its very gizzard — voluntarily. A three-day orgy of blood-lust, booze, and lechery in the swamps at the mouth of the Mississippi River 100 miles below New Orleans. And indeed in Dante's Upper Hell "'The lustful, gluttonous, and avaricious" are "blown by strong winds, stung by insects, and put to useless labor."
Dante described both us and our trip to the last detail. I never beheld a scene" continues La Trollope, "so utterly desolate as this entrance of the Mississippi River!"
We'll forgive her. After all, "wetlands" weren't much in vogue in 1832 when this English harridan — this 19th century version of Anne Robinson — published her hissy-fit of a book titled: Domestic Manners of the Americans. Frances wasn't much of a duck hunter, a deer hunter, or a fisherperson, or she'd a sung a much different tune.
Even then, this area's natural bounty attracted sportsmen from as far away as Europe. Later, the famous Delta Duck Club headquartered in these marshes showed Black-Jack Pershing, Huey Long, and Teddy Roosevelt on its register.
We'd a loved to have Frances as a guest. First, scouting these brambles and canebrakes for the huge wild boar who've made a home here since their ancestors escaped from Hernando De Soto. Then, chasing a pack of Pitbull-Doberman mutants on the trail of a 400 pounder through these muddy thickets. Then watching the huge black brute turn to face his canine tormenters — and charge, slashing savagely with six-inch tusks.....they rip home and the yelps erupt — "Yeeeh! — Yeeeh! Yow-Yow!"
Two dogs get their flanks shredded by the maddened beast. Three more rush in and chomp on his nose and ears with their trip-hammer jaws. He bawls like a banshee, kicks, and snaps his tusks in rage, but they hang on, growling like chain-saws, tightening their musclebound jaws on his snout. His squeals join the hellish racket from the mangled dogs for a din straight from Dante's third Circle of Hell. The boar jerks his huge head savagely from side to side, desperate to shake the Pit-Bull fangs that grip and rip his face.
Nothing doing. When he lies trussed or dead, that's a job for the oyster knives. Boar hunters down here always carry oyster knives. They're the only way to pry open these growling pit-bull/Doberman jaws. But no oyster — not even the huge ones — was this tough to open.
Too bad Ms. Trollope didn't hear this bedlam of squealing, yelping, and growling, this flurry of fang and flying fur.
But the boar tears free and rumbles off. The chase resumes. After a crazed two-hour scramble through stinking slop and brambles he's bayed again. The dogs bark maniacally but the boar is silent. He glowers at his barking captors.
This is a brave one. Hemingway woulda loved him. "The braver the Bull, the less he bluffs," Papa wrote in Death in The Afternoon. "An animal bluffs in order to avoid combat," he continues. "The truly brave bull gives no warning before he charges, except the fixing of his eye on his enemy."
And this hog has turned his gaze from the dogs. He's looking past them to the upright creatures who chug beer while pondering his fate like a Roman Emperor at the Coliseum. Well ?... Do we catch him alive or kill him? Hummmmm?
"They're the instigators of this whole mess." The Boar seems to say with his beady eyes and twitching snout. "The sniveling cretins! I'll get at the SOURCE!......"
""WHOOOAAH! Here he COMES!! We scatter in panic, racing for the nearest tree — none of which are very tall down here.
Bear-beating and bullfighting were outlawed in the US over a century ago. Too cruel. Too barbarous. Too sadistic. No place for such gratuitous savagery in this noble republic. That so? On these Louisiana boar-hunts we indulge the best of both, perfectly legally. Cockfighting remains legal in Louisiana too. But then we've always been misfits, renegades.
"To bring these people to reason!" thundered our first American governor, William Claiborne, "we'll have to train the cannons on them and batter down the walls of the city!"
Claiborne was writing to his boss, Thomas Jefferson, who'd just bought us at Bonaparte's fire sale for a song. The good governor was in a sputtering rage after witnessing his first Mardi-Gras. This prim Puritan almost fainted when he learned that his new office was the very building where the odious Spanish Inquisition had held court! The only such place in North America!
Louisiana had been Spanish for the previous 40 years. Those Popish fiends, reeking of incense and clad in those sinister robes and hoods, Claiborne gasped! And right down the hall.
Actually the Inquisition never hassled anyone here. People laughed at them, like at Claiborne. Earlier the Ursuline nuns almost threw up their hands. The French government sent them over with the urgent mission of taming the wilder passions running amok in this woebegone swamp settlement. "The demon here possesses a vast empire!" wrote home one of the shaken nuns in 1722, " these women are extremely ignorant as to the means of securing their salvation!"
Louisiana's first settlers arrived mostly in chains. The jails of Paris disgorged their rogues, scoundrels, strumpets, and wastrels into New Orleans. They set the tone for generations to come. So be it. Claiborne's letter to Jefferson's letter went on. "They are indolent and utterly corrupt!....ill-fitted to be useful citizens of a Republic!"
We still do that to Beltway types. Just last year the feds finally convicted former Governor Edwin Edwards for racketeering. Took them twenty years , two dozen investigations, three trials, and I'd hate to think how many millions, but the 73 year-old rascal (a fanatical hunter himself) is finally in federal prison.
Don't get me wrong. He was a Democrat and no hero of mine. In four elections I never voted for him once. But no one accused him of pocketing a penny of taxpayer money. Extortion, smestortion. I followed the trial and you'll excuse me for finding very close parallels between what he's accused of and what all those retired politicos in Washington do — all those "lobbyists" and "consultants." He opened doors for people, pointed them in the right direction, got them in contact with "his people" — for a fee of course.
Well? What the hell does Kissinger charge? And James Baker? And Clark Clifford and just about every retired Senator who stays in Washington DC? Influence-peddling by any other name. Maybe I'm crazy or prejudiced, but it sounds pretty close to me.
Anyway, our swine-hunts combine the most horrific and exciting, the most atavistic, senseless and brutal aspects of long-banned spectacles of animal savagery — with the added jolt of audience participation. "Interactive" indeed. A "reality" sport indeed. As the old Milwaukee's Best commercials said: "It don't get no better than this."
If a hundred years ago bull and bear-baiters deserved heavy fines, then we deserve the chain-gang, flogging, and bastinado. If PETA had any say in our fate, we'd get the combined sentences of Spartacus, Joan of Arc, and Braveheart.
But who are these pecksniffs to argue with Alexander the Great and Caesar? With Hannibal and King Juba? With Charles Martel and William the Conqueror? With Ghengis Khan and El Cid? All these regarded boar hunting as superb preparation for a leader, a gentleman, and a warrior. Bravery, tenacity, agility, judiciousness — -facing down this noble foe at close quarters instilled all the knightly virtues.
Who are these finger-wagging, couch-potato cretins to argue with these accomplished gentlemen of antiquity? Swine have been shown time and again to be more intelligent than horses and even dogs. His bravery rivals that of Spain's most carefully bred fighting bulls — the ones who charge cars and trains. These hunts pay a boar the tribute he deserves.
So chill out and think for a second. Which swine exits more nobly? The poor sap in the slaughter-pen? Or the one battling a pack of blood-lusting dogs and a gaggle of drunken, whooping cajuns after a two-hour chase? To ask the question is to answer it.
These delta boars go out like a bull in a ring. Like the fighting toro, he dies violently but nobly, face to face with a foe bent on his destruction but who chose weapons that shrink his odds. His miserable domestic cousin dies at a porcine concentration camp — mechanically, anonymously, horribly, obscenely. His death ordered by a fat-assed bureaucrat from afar and carried out mechanically by a weary and joyless dolt.
The gloriously wild pig of the Mississippi Delta exits in a blast of trumpets and blaze of glory, like the defenders of Bastogne, the Marines of Frozen Chosin, the invading heroes at the Bay Of Pigs — his death inflicted on the spot by visible adversaries in the heat of battle. This boar becomes Davy Crockett at the Alamo, Pickett at Gettysburg — dead in the end, true — but ah!...what a grand finale! Brave, defiant, glowering at the enemy and lunging at him with his last blood-choked gasp, and taking a few down with him.
Boars would surely agree. With us not only does he go out in a blaze of martial glory, he also gets his picture taken in various poses. Then his carcass, lovingly marinated and draped over open coals, inspires another south Louisiana outburst of revelry and gluttony, another occasion to gather and imbibe. And long after any memory of his domestic cousins have been flushed, his mounted head, adorning a den or hunting camp, provokes no end of convivial yarns and banter — and all in his honor.
Yes, compare this brave and noble life and fate to that of the fat, feeble porker incarcerated his short life in a stinking pen, castrated without anaesthesia, whomped on the head by a bored drone, then churned into plastic wrapped sausage so you — dear readers — can enjoy a hearty breakfast. No contest.
May 2, 2001