Dordogne II

October 20, 2010

We slept 9 hours and awoke fully rested. We had a fantastic farm breakfast: delicious freshly-baked croissants, fromage blanc with jam, farm-made grape juice, cheese (a choice of several aged cheeses), dry-smoked ham, pate and the wonderful coffee with warm cow’s milk. Now we are fortified for the day!

Our first stop is the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, officially discovered in 1901 but the graffiti dates back to at least the 1850s. This is the last multicolored cave open to the public; Lascaux (discussed later) and a multicolored cave in Spain are now closed to the public. The number of people and the time in the cave is strictly regulated. It’s possible that this cave will be closed too in the near future.

There are 230 animal paintings and engravings that are about 15,000 years old. We have seen artists’ recreations of these incredible paintings and we had it in our minds that the paintings would be as vividly colored as the recreations but that is not the case. The tender scene of the stag licking the doe is only seen because the outline was scratched by the artist into the surface of the rock—the color is gone.

The first part of the cave was originally decorated but there is nothing to see today due to weathering. The cave includes multicolored and etched galleries containing a series of bison and another series of dramatic leaping horses. Unfortunately one lady kept asking long stupid questions and we ran out of time in the cave.

We had a light lunch of wild mushroom omelets at a restaurant in Les Eyzies that turned us away the last time we were here in 2002. I’ve held a grudge ever since. So I was happy to finally overcome what I thought was an anti-English/American attitude. Our lunch was very nice.

Next stop was Abri du Cap Blanc to see a 14,000 year old frieze of several remarkable deeply carved horses with a bear at one end and a bison at the other end. It was discovered in 1909 and partially destroyed by workers excavating the rock shelter in which the sculptures are found. The other caves we had seen had animal that were etched into the rock but the animals in this cave were actually carved from the stone in high relief.

Last stop of the day was the Grotte des Combarelles with images dating from 15,000 to 12,000 years ago. It was officially discovered in 1901. The cave is a narrow, winding gallery with an original height of no more than 7 feet and a width of no more than 3 feet but many areas were originally small enough to require crawling. The cave was excavated to lower the floor so that you can now walk in it. There are lots of amazing stalactites and stalagmites. It has over 300 etched/engraved recognizable figures but there are at least 100 unrecognizable figures superimposed on other figures. There are a few black drawings. There are about 50 human-like images (very unusual to find human figures) but they are stylized and there are a few sexual symbols (vulvas and penises—but I think someone had to really use their imagination to determine that). The yakky lady was in this tour also but she must have run out of questions—thankfully.

We were alone at dinner that evening and started with the home-made aperitifs. The 1st course was sorrel soup; 2nd course we can’t remember (!); 3rd course was pork cutlets perfectly grilled with a mélange of nicely cooked vegetables; 4th course was green salad with walnuts; then fromage blanc and jams; and we could not resist dessert: crème brulée for me and chocolate & orange cake for H. We try the home-made pruneux (plum) digestif—Madam includes a prune in our glass along with the wonderful liqueur.

To bed again shortly after dinner and strange dreams that night.