Neria - chapter 2
Cow's milk and reindeer meat
The next day Dad asked me to help with the cows in the morning. At the moment, the cows we milked each day shared a field with those that had stopped giving milk and with the heifers that were too young to have calves yet. We needed to separate them so the bull could be put with the cows that had stopped giving milk and the heifers needed to stay out of the bull's way until they were old enough to get pregnant.
It didn't take long to finish the task and Dad asked if I'd walk the three heifers up to the sheep fields and let them live with the sheep for the rest of the summer. “You can take your food with you and have a swim afterwards” he added. I took my lunch with me and headed for the hills. It's not difficult walking heifers – you put a rope round the neck of the friendliest one and lead it like a dog, the other two just follow.
There was no problem with the sheep and they seemed quite happy to share their field with the young cows. It was time for a swim and, I hoped, to meet Neria.
She stepped out from the entrance to the cave just as I arrived. I think she must have been watching me for some time. She seemed fascinated by the sheep and the cows and obviously had loads of questions she wanted to ask but didn't know enough French.
I'd brought my lunch-time cheese sandwiches with me for a snack, so when she got out a little leather bag with some food in it we sat beside each other for a picnic. I looked at what she was eating: some cooked meat and a kind of vegetable paste with green leaves and stems mixed with stuff that looked like brown mashed potato. I wanted to know what it was and pointed at it and tried to ask. She thought I wanted to try it and gave me some meat and vegetable mix. It really tasted very good. So I offered her some of my bread and cheese sandwiches and a bite of my apple. She obviously thought I had good food too – but what was hers?
I pointed at her meat and then at the cows and said “moo” and she said no. So I pointed at the sheep and said “baa” and she said no again. Then she got down on hands and knees, pretending to be an animal, then used her hands spread out and held up beside her ears. She was being a deer with antlers. So that was what the meat was. So I taught her the word for deer in French and she told me what deer were called in her language: it sounded like “elur-oreinak”. I wondered what sort of deer it was and used signs to ask if it was a big or small deer. She signed back and said it was really big – then she did some more signing. She pretended to be a mother holding a baby so it could drink its mother's milk. Then she did the antler signs again. At last I realised what she meant: the mother deer had antlers like the male ones. So elur-oreinak must be reindeer because it's only reindeer where the females have antlers. Where do reindeer live around here? I'd never seen one, not even on Christmas Eve.
I wanted to know what her vegetables were but it was her turn to ask the questions. What was my cheese? I tried to say it was made from cow's milk: I pointed at the cows and told her how to say cow. Then I pointed at their udders and mimed milking a cow. She looked puzzled for a bit, then she realised and pointed at her own chest and pretended to let a baby suckle again. She said her word for milk and I said yes.
Explaining about bread was even more difficult than cheese: there weren't any fields of wheat this high up, so I picked some grass with seed heads and signed how you could get seeds from big grasses and grind them up and then mix them with water and cook them to make bread.
It was easier for her to tell me about her vegetables. She picked some young stinging nettles then she pulled up some plants with feathery leaves whose roots looked like brownish, thin carrots. So her lunch was boiled nettles and mashed up wild carrots. It tasted jolly good. Why can't you buy tins of reindeer, nettle and wild carrot in the supermarket?
I tried to ask her where reindeer lived round here. She took me into the cave and there, right at the back where there was just enough light to see it, was a painting of a reindeer. I couldn't understand what Neria was saying about it though.
It was time to go home but we both made it clear we would meet again tomorrow. This time it wasn't all signs. We knew how to say something like “see you tomorrow” and she kissed me goodbye.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
Things to think about
- What was your last meal? What was in it? What was it when it was still a living plant or animal?
- Where do people who still eat reindeer live?
- What might Neria bring to eat tomorrow?
Read the next chapter