Four Years on the Road: It All Began with a Frozen Pork Butt

I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this before, but this journey of ours actually began with a frozen pork butt.

Four years ago yesterday: December 5, 2006. The time had come; time had also nearly run out. I was to meet Dan in thirty minutes at the Prague main station to catch a train to Dresden, Germany.

I scanned our empty apartment, our home for five years. I was closing the door on another life chapter. Glimmers and fragments — like the empty pots from a summer herb garden, now frozen brittle on the balcony –- hinted at the well-lived and settled nature of our lives there.

The week before we had shed almost everything: selling, giving, tossing. Farewell parties, too. The previous evening, we had bid adieu to one of our most prized possessions: a spice collection in the hundreds of bottles and bags from all corners of the Earth. We had invited our foodie friends over and divided up the precious booty.

After saying goodbye to the last sachet, we drowned our culinary sorrows in one last surviving bottle of wine, a Brunello di Montalcino that had been given to us as a gift. This was a special occasion.

That morning, I picked up the empty bottle for one last trip to the recycling bin. Then I checked the fridge.

Shit!” A five-pound hulk of frozen pork butt stared at me from the freezer. We got it from the butcher with the intent of recreating the slow-roasted puerco pibil in the movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

Unfortunately, we never did get around to making it. And we never got around to finding the pork a good home.

I threw on my too-heavy backpack (I’ve since learned to pack lighter), tucked the pork under my left arm, grabbed the empty bottle with my right hand, closed the door, ran down the steps, and knocked on our neighbors’ door downstairs.

Our neighbors: sweet Czech widow pensioners. They were so patient when our flower pots fell off our balcony and crashed onto theirs earlier in the year. “Maybe they’ll take the pork butt,” I thought.

Only twenty minutes to go until the train departed.

This would be a difficult sell. In my neighbors’ doorway, I felt like a used meat salesman. I mustered as much charm as I could. With a smile and the last of my best Czech, I pitched the women my pork, explaining that it was perfectly good. We were just leaving the country — forever — and we couldn’t use it anymore. Would they please, please take it so that it would not go to waste?

Puzzled, our sweet little neighbors shook their heads. They both looked at me as if I had lost it.

Maybe I had.

Or maybe my Czech really hadn’t improved that much over five years.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s no proper way to express “Would you like my frozen pork butt before I travel the world?” in any language.

After being rejected by my neighbors (pork butt rejection, I’ve learned, is some of the easiest to endure), I threw our apartment keys in our landlord’s mailbox and ran out into the street with the still-frozen, rock solid hunk of pork under my arm.

With all worldly possessions on my back and a frozen hunk of meat in my hands, I must have looked rather deranged. I hoped that one of the people who rooted through our trash regularly would emerge to save the pork from the fate of spoil.

But alas, no. So, I left my frozen meat on top of the trash can. It was wintertime in Prague, so I figured it would remain frozen at least until the following May.

I dropped our celebratory wine bottle into the recycling bin and ran full tilt to the tram stop, as fast as my legs would carry me, as fast as my too-heavy backpack would allow. There was no time for nostalgia for Vršovice, the neighborhood we’d come to love over the years.

With two minutes to spare, I arrived gasping at the train platform.

Dan was pacing, wondering if I had changed my mind. “What happened to you?!?” he asked.

It’s a long story.”

It always is, it seems. And I like it that way.

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Comments

  1. says

    That is a great story, I just wish I would have been your neighbor. Defrosted and smoked for about 14 hours with hickory and mesquite wood that pork butt would have been delicious.

  2. says

    Lovely story, and nice to hear about the moment that started it all. Of course, plenty of planning and thinking ahead of time, but it’s nice to have a delineation between then and now. Happy 4 years of travel, my friends!

  3. says

    Such a great story! We leave in three weeks and still have quite a few unsold items. We were contemplating knocking on neighbours doors as well. Surely someone at least wants the plastic chairs we have for our balcony? Hopefully they will be an easier sell than the frozen pork butt!

  4. says

    @Keith: What was not told here was how difficult it was to actually procure that pork butt! I had to show my Czech friends a drawing of a pig where that piece of meat came from so they could give me a Czech equivalent. It wasn’t a standard cut so then I went to a British butcher who did the cut for me. I really wish we had been able to cook it ourselves, but time go ahead of us.

    @Michael: Glad you enjoyed this! Hadn’t thought about it in a long time, but found myself laughing out loud as I remembered the crazy sequence of events.

    @Jodi: Oh yes, about a year of planning and thinking before the pork butt incident. But, my last memories of Prague are trying to offload this huge chunk of meat :)

    @Margaret: Our lives are full of such stories, fortunately. Keeps us on our toes!

    @Richard: I watched the video again before publishing this and really wish we had taken the opportunity to make it when we had the chance. It’s on our list for next time we have a kitchen & access to a butcher.

    @Christy: Although I know that offloading meat might seem suspicious, this pork butt was all sealed in plastic. But, I think they were so surprised by me offering it to them that they just said no out of reaction instead of really thinking about it. I also really hope someone was able to use it.

    @Andrea: Definitely think that plastic chairs are an easier sell than pork butt! Depending upon where you live, you can always call Salvation Army or Purple Heart to pick up what is remaining. We did that when we moved out of San Francisco years ago.

    @Akila: And while I was getting rid of the pork butt, Dan was off selling off our extra mobile phones and tech gear we didn’t need. We’re always running at the last minute :)

    @JoAnna: I also really hope someone found it and was able to use it. I felt so guilty just leaving it there, but didn’t know what else to do.

    @Pete: Ha! The story just wouldn’t be the same if it were any other cut than a pork butt.

    @Naomi: Glad you enjoyed this!

  5. says

    This is such a great story! Who knew that giving away free food could prove to be so difficult? I’m just glad you made it to the train in time!

  6. says

    I love this story. Did you put the empty bottle down before knocking on your neighbours’ door?

    Or were you proper deranged woman brandishing *not* only the iron-clad piggie but the empty bottle, Glasgae style?

    And, erm, have you ever been back since?

  7. says

    Coincidentally, my India journeys also began on December 5 — thought the year before, in 2005. That’s the day I flew to India for the first time; it’s the day that totally changed my life. No pork butts involved, though :)

  8. says

    @Laura: I guess if had been a box of cookies, it probably would have been an easy sell. But, a chunk of pork must have looked too suspicious. A real shame since I knew these pensioners didn’t have much money and this could have fed them for weeks. But yes, at least I didn’t start this trip with a missed train!

    @Theodora: Good question! I put the wine bottle behind me to try and hide it before knocking on the doors. At least I had that much sense at the time :)

    We’ve been back to Prague since then and have walked by our old apartment building, but haven’t been inside.

    @Gray: We were always known as the “crazy Americans” in the building, but given the crap that Czech TV & hollywood movies “show” about America, I don’t even want to know what they must have thought!

    @Mariellen: December 5 seems to be a good day to start journeys and new beginnings!

  9. says

    “Frozen pork butt!” Hilarious.

    Such a classic story and one of many you guys definitely have. I might have actually just taken the pork butt on the train and tried to pawn it off there.

  10. says

    @Zablon: Yes, my neighbors probably did think we were crazy. At least it gave them a good story to tell their friends :)

    @Lola: Oh, there are so many stories. Sometimes it takes being still and having time to think to remember and laugh.

    I’m laughing imagining the scene of trying to explain to a German border guard why I’m carrying a frozen pork butt across the border :)

  11. says

    @Kyle: I sincerely hope that someone found it before it defrosted and was able to use it. It was a nice looking piece of meat and could have fed a family for a couple of days. I’ll never know.

    @Chuck: I can only imagine what must have been going through my Czech neighbors’ heads! When people come up to me with strange requests or comments, I try and remember that there is likely a bigger story behind it that makes logical sense to them. Sometimes I figure it out, and other times it eludes me.

  12. Kathy says

    Haha…your title reminded ME of a pork story: while living in pre-Gulf War Kuwait, we expats had the habit of trying to smuggle forbidden pork and alcohol in through customs. One of the stories that still makes me chuckle is that of our British friend Paul, who’d packed the sleeves and torso of his winter parka with frozen pork chops, so that his luggage would go through without a problem. The immigration lines were long, and by the time he got up to the officials, he’d left a long trail of thawed pork blood behind him on the immigration hall floor. Officials were so disgusted, though, that they let him through.

  13. says

    @Kathy: This is a great story! Love the imagery of the thawed pork blood trailing through the immigration hall. I can really imagine the scene. Ah, the things we’ll do for a favorite food or taste from home!

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