This post is darker than usual so be forewarned…
I work six days a week, thirteen hours a day butchering wild game and preparing it for the 3-star restaurant I cook at in Paris. I love my position at the prestigious meat station and feel very special to be the first woman, let alone stagier, to work solely with the Chef de Viande especially during the hunting season. We are receiving many animals that I’ve never worked with before: grouse, palombe, pheasant, hare, boar. But my dreams, my dreams are haunting me. Perhaps it is a combination of fatigue and guilt, I don’t know.
I came home on my lunch break yesterday to take a nap and I dreamt that I was butchering a Palombe (wild pigeon). I cut out it’s breast easily with my sharp fillet knife. The tip of my blade slid cleanly against it’s backbone unlodging one side of the breast. Then I carved down the ribs to peel the flesh away from the bone leaving a perfectly shaped fillet. Everything was so smooth – like cutting through butter.
I took the breast in my hand to admire the ease of my skill and then looked down at the bird. It was still breathing. It was still alive and there I was performing surgery. It attempted to walk with half it’s body missing. I remember watching it hovel slowly away from my knife in unbelievable agony while I held it’s breast in my hand. I don’t know why I didn’t chop it’s head off and end it’s life. I just stood there watching it hoping it’s breast would grow back unable to do anything.
Three nights ago I dreamt I was with my grandmother (who is now deceased) and she was making Thanksgiving dinner. She was roasting at least twenty coquelets (small chickens) in butter and the delicious smell was making my mouth water so I asked her if there was something I could munch on before dinner. She pointed over to a small red fox that was stiff and held upright between two posts, kind of like the way they do with hocks of pata negra. I remember thinking, “A fox! How unusual! I didn’t know you could eat fox.”
The fur was still on the animal but one of it’s sides had been carved into so I could see the rosy color flesh. My uncle called me over and began slicing paper thin sheets of meat from the fox. As I got closer to the fox I realized that it was still alive. It’s eyes were darting back and forth in pain, but it was being held by the two posts and couldn’t move while my uncle was carving. I woke up from the dream with it’s eyes still vivid in my imagination. Just writing this post I can still see it’s confused fearful eyes searching for an escape.
I don’t feel bad when I’m working with the animals at work and I feel better knowing that all the animals have been hunted and not raised on farms and stuffed with chemicals and hormones and allowed to live freely up until they’re shot to death, but I suppose something is seeping deep into my psyche.
Yesterday I carved and cleaved seventy wild birds. Filleted the breasts, stuffed their legs, gutted them, and broke down their bodies to make rich jus. My fingernails are blood stained and I can’t get them clean. My hands are swollen and punctured from their sharp little bones that stick into my skin when I gut them and break them down. It took me an hour of hacking to get through all the carcasses and I can still hear the sound of my cleaver ringing in my head.
The smell of their blood won’t go away. It’s on my clothes and my body as if it’s attached itself to me now. Perhaps a final punishment?