Sorry about the delays in posting…my WiFi (or as they say in France, “Wee-Fee”) situation has been sketchy ever since we arrived. I didn’t have it at all the first two places. In the second, it was available in courtyard of the gite complex or if I sat next to the window in the boys’ room with said window open to the courtyard. That would have been okay except it got quite chilly most nights, so that would have been an uncharitable thing to do. Here I am now in the Pyrenees, and while I have no Wee-Fee in the house, the owner has said I can catch it from his house. It’s taken me a day to figure out the right spot – the third floor of the gite, in the corner closest to their place seems to be where the fewest stone walls stand between here and there - but I did it, it’s fast, and so here I am.
So back to last week.
Last week, we stayed in the lovely Le Four a Sel gite just north of Montignac, in the Perigord, on the Vézère River.
A couple of mornings I walked from the gite,
…took a right at the cornfield..
Continued over the bridge over the Vezere and into the village of Aubas
…where I picked up a baguette and some croissants. There’s no boulangerie in Aubas, but there is a restaurant which takes orders for a delivery received every morning. I usually arrived around 9, past the small school where children were being dropped off.
It was a nice walk. The mornings (and evenings) were quite cool, but the days were perfect – 70’s and 80’s.
What was immediately noticeable to me, having coming from the Vendee to here, was how heavily touristed the Perigord area is. Gites and chamber d’hotes dotting even back country roads (and yes, I was on a few of them, some on purpose, some accidentally), farms selling honey, walnuts and of course foie gras
…and many more people. I can’t even imagine what these roads – especially those in towns like Sarlat which was bustling with tourists the couple of times I drove through – are like in August. It must be a nightmare.
One of the main draws in the area is prehistory. I had big plans to do both Lascaux II and Font du Gaume as we roamschooled about prehistory, but naturally ended up doing neither. Lascaux – the original Lascaux discovered by some schoolboys back in the 30’s – has been closed to the public since the 60’s, and Lascaux II is a reproduction. I had read that it was worth going to, and even though reproductions like this are not my thing, I thought it might be worth a quick visit, being so close to Montignac. However, my gite neighbors – a couple and their daughter from New Zealand on a major five-week tour of Europe – went one morning and returned not terribly impressed. “Quick” they said, and that’s about it.
And Font du Gaume is apparently quite difficult to score tickets to – it’s got very limited admission and you either have to reserve or show up at opening time to get in. Every night, I would say to myself and the boys, “Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning we wake up early and get down to Font Du Gaume.” But then, every night, they would end up staying up later, playing and getting worn out, and come the dawn, I just didn’t have the heart.
BUT…all was not lost. For we did see some cave art: at Grotte de Rouffignac.
No, it wasn’t the awesomeness that is supposedly Font du Gaume (or Peche Merle, which I thought about trying on our way out of Perigord down to Lourdes, but eventually decided against for fear we wouldn’t get in anyway and that would be 2 hours travel time lost) – but it was quite interesting in its own right, we learned a lot even though the tour was in French, and it was quite suggestive, raising so many questions about these human beings, their motivations, their creativity, and their questions.
I have no photos, because of course there are none allowed. Rouffignac is a bit off the beaten path of Perigord pre-history sites, but all that means is that it’s about 15 km off the main road on which all the other sites are seemingly strung.
The low-slung entrance to the cave is barely marked, and you must park on the hill. You purchase tickets inside, and if you are not French speaking, you can rent an IPod that has a text version of the tours.
Then you hop on a train!
Yes, a little train takes groups of about 20 down into the cave – it’s quite far – about a kilometer. The cave is a “dead” cave, in that there is very little water that enters it, so there are no big mineral or crystal growth. It’s dry and cool, with the walls marked at times by what they say are claw marks of the great cave bears.
Finally, you arrive at the art – you can see the representations here - quite a few mammoths, horses, ibix and others. Some carved into the wall, others sketched with perhaps charcoal or other natural means of drawing. Most stunning is the “Great Hall” – at which point you are invited to get out of the train, and stand under the ceiling, the guide shining his flashlight and speaking French with occasional helpful English explanations.
Being the skeptic, I am always wondering about the authenticity of cave art - here is a good essay on the differing opinions – but the case was convincing here – the evidence related to the date of discovery, the accurate representation of exctinct animals, and the action of natural processes upon the drawings. I bought it.
It’s easy to see that cave art reveal the creative and spiritual impulses of ancient people, even from a distance. But traveling the length of that cave to the great depths at which the art is actually located deepens, rather than clarifies the mystery. We rode in a cute little train with lights and flashlights along the way. These cave artists trudged along in deep, solid blackness, carrying far weaker illumination. Why did they go so far? Was it a gathering place? Or were the artists charged with their task, trusting that it would be done on behalf of those who would never see it, but, it was presumed, would benefit from it somehow?
To go so deeply into darkness to draw what?
So yes, I regret that I didn’t push harder for Font de Gaume or risk Peche Merle. But we have learned much anyway, and the boys – and I – have a far better sense of this period of human history than we did before. It’s not just vague groups of creatures living somewhere, filling in spaces in this “Age” or another. We’ve seen where they lived and how, we’ve even, we think, walked in their footsteps.
And still are?