Dordogne III

October 21, 2010

We wake up to a thin layer of ice covering the ground—boy, is it cold. But thankfully our room stays nice and warm. The dining room is inviting with a big fire. Another great farm breakfast except the croissants are day-old. That is a disappointment after such delicious croissants the day before.

We have to spend some time scraping the ice off the car before we head out for our day of caves. The car thermometer says it’s 1 degree C—the inside of the caves will be warmer than the outside for a change!

First stop is Lascaux. Of all the decorated caves, by far the most famous and spectacular is Lascaux. It houses the most magnificent collection of ice-age art yet found. It is best known for its 600 brilliant paintings of aurochs, horses, deer and signs but it also contains almost 1,500 engravings dominated by horses. The best known feature is the great Hall of the Bulls containing several great auroch figures, some of them 15 feet in length. The “falling horse” figure in the cave is painted around a rock in such a way that the artists could never have seen the whole figure at once yet the figure, when flattened out with photographs, is in perfect proportion. Other unique features of the cave include a figure called the unicorn and a human-like figure with a bird’s head next to a wounded bison. Stone tools for engraving; mortars to grind the pigments; evidence of scaffolding; and well-preserved lamps were also found.

The cave was discovered in 1940 by 4 boys after their dog, Robot, fell in a hole linked to the caves. The art dates back 15,000 years. It was closed to tourists in 1963 because fungus and calcification was threatening the paintings (due to the human presence in the cave). A “copy” of the most amazing areas of the cave (to within a centimeter of the actual cave’s dimensions) was opened in 1983.

We visited near-by Montignac for lunch. The entire village was decorated with hand-made flowers. Every street and alley had canopies of these flowers with each street having a unique color. We stopped at a little restaurant for lunch. I had a 3 cheese crepe and H had steamed mussels and French fries. We indulged in one sugar and lemon crepe (to share) for dessert.

Our afternoon cave stop was Grotte de Rouffignac. We had intended to skip this cave because we had seen it a few years ago—and we were really impressed with it then. But after just seeing 5 other caves we made a last-minute decision to visit to refresh our memories about the features of this cave.

We are in luck—the tour begins immediately upon our arrival. But we are not so lucky because we are sharing the tour with about 30 elementary school children! I guess that means the tour will be in French—HA! The tour by a little train takes twice as long as normal so that the guide can elaborate about the caves and quiz them about what they have learned so far. But it is well worth the visit.

The cave was known as far back as the 16th century but the cave art was officially discovered in 1955. The art includes etched and life-size black drawings of animals dating back 14,000 years. At the end of a long decorated tunnel is a ceiling covered with 65 black drawings of horses, bison, mammoths and Ibex—this area is what impressed us the last time we visited. Although the ground has been excavated for the train but the original height of this decorated area was less than 3 feet—painters were working in an area where no light penetrated (using torches and lamps) and in an area with no room to see the entire animal being drawn. In spite of those limitations the animals are life-size and perfectly proportioned. There are lots of graffiti—some was cleaned off the art it obscured. There is also a unique abundance of traces of cave bears—hibernation dens, bones from bears who died in hibernation, and extensive claws marks on the rock surfaces.

When we arrive back home, we discover the dining room is set up for 2 new parties totaling about 20 people. I guess we are in for a French soirée (evening party).

We have our usual aperitif of walnut liqueur. For dinner we have, as a 1st course, lentil soup. That is followed by our 2nd course of boudin and apple sausage (blood sausage with apples—a regional dish) in puff pastry. H does not want me to hear the word boudin but I do hear it and I am brave and enjoy the dish very much. The main course is veal and mushrooms in puff pastry with those delicious garlic potatoes from our first dinner. Then walnut salad followed by my favorite fromage blanc with jam. We cannot even consider dessert—I think we have insulted Madam. But we will not pass up a digestif of pruneux.

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