23 Mar, 2100, La Traverse
Yesterday drove to replica of Lascaux cave, Lascaux II. Guidebooks downplay it, compared to other caves, but we all felt it was very good. Of course we lucked out again. On buying tickets, we were told we could go in with 10:15 tour or wait til 11 for English. C immediately cried “English!”, to the staff’s amusement.
C & I went to a little playground to wait out the hour delay, but soon a woman came up to us gesturing to her watch & to the ticket booth. S came running up to tell us the E tour was waiting for us. Turned out to be a bus full of English exchange students they had arranged the E tour for, and we tagged along. The guide apologized up front for his E; he wasn’t the usual E guide, but he was very good. Gave an interesting talk in the “airlocks” about the cave’s background & the artwork’s background.
The replica itself is astonishing. A team of 10 sculptors reproduced the galleries in stone-colored concrete, with an accuracy of 1/2 cm. Then artists reproduced the paintings, attempting to develop the same techniques the original painters probably used, with the same pigments. The result is very impressive, and the original cave is still available for research. My impression of the famous bull’s gallery was of a composed whole, from a single painter. It did not give the impression of random arrangements. According to the guide the period of painting was at most 500 yr. & possible as a little as a few weeks. It was definitely an organized, cultural activity, involving the building of scaffolding & the use of lamps & other tools for working on the artwork. Many people must have been involved in the production, for the benefit of many more. But the impression is of a single, or possibly a few, showpiece(s). I think it best to see actual caves first, and later Lascaux, since it seems unusually, highly developed by comparison. Seen first, it would create unrealistic expectations for the others.
After the tour had begun, an English couple, apparently retired, joined us in progress. We spoke to them afterward. They are staying in Domme & have been coming to France for years. According to them, the French have ‘given up’ the resistance against using English, about 10 yrs ago. It was obvious even to me that it has been widely ‘corrupted’ by the E language; this couple seemed to confirm it. They also mentioned the weather. I haven’t had to mention it because it has been nearly perfect (for tourists) since we arrived. The past couple of days have grown hazy, but otherwise clear. The stars have been very numerous & bright from the gite, far from light pollution. But these people said the Dordogne has had little rain for over a year, and Nimes, in the Provence region, has had almost none for two years. Great weather for tourists is becoming a disaster for local agriculture.
After Lascaux II, we drove to Limoges. As has been the usual pattern so far, found a prime parking spot to see the porcelain shop S wanted to find, and to walk around the medieval part of the city. Saw another street market (the one in Sarlat was gone when we drove through en route Lascaux) & many half-timbered houses, in an area being renovated. Also saw someone sleeping on a mattress on the sidewalk, very dirty, apparently homeless. Much graffiti in this area indicated social unrest & recalled one I saw in Bordeaux: Renovation for the population, not the speculation!
After Limoges, the sky was thinly overcast but didn’t really look like rain. Drove home & S cooked Beef Bourguignon, again.
This morning the sky was cloudy to South, clear to North, but the clouds moved S, to be replaced by scattered cumulus. Drove to Cahors & the Lot & Cele valleys. These valleys feature cliffs quite different from those at, e.g. Rocamadour. Had lunch at a restaurant (appeared all new inside) but C didn’t like much: mystery soup (very good), red cabbage, tongue with pickle sauce, steak with pepper, potatoes mashed with pepper or something, cheese & walnuts. All good, far too much for us, even if C had eaten. We definitely don’t ‘appreciate’ food in the same way as the French evidently do. I also feel like we disappoint, rather than amuse, them when we don’t approach it their way.
In Cahors we cashed some Travelers Checks & I mailed some postcards, without benefit of E. Reminds me, yesterday C & I bought some pastry & canned drinks in Limoges while S was doing something. After a while, she started to worry about me & came to find us, just as we stepped out of shop ‘smiling all over my body’ as she puts it! Its fun!
23 Mar, 2100, La Traverse
Some guidebooks put down the Lascaux replica, but don’t thoroughly explain why. I think that people who see only this cave might get a distorted idea of the caves generally. In my opinion it is truly (literally) exceptional, and should be seen after getting an idea of the more usual types of cave art. I don’t recall any guidebook mentioning this.
I mentioned our good luck a couple of times. We really had phenomenal luck in the weather, in finding parking where and when we wanted it, in finding our way around the countryside and in the towns, in coming across market days and local festivals nearly everywhere we went. This kind of blind luck, far beyond what good planning could have arranged, made the entire six weeks a joy, practically problem-free. I know of no way to explain this.
On the French attitude towards English, the English couple said that they had noticed a change in the last few years. For example a maid they had known for years, suddenly began to speak English to them; apparently she had known it for years, but wouldn’t use it before. The pervasive use of English words in advertising, even puns based on English words, indicates some of this attitude. I don’t recall seeing anything like a similar use of other European languages.
In Limoges, Susan found a shop that sold factory seconds and odd lots of china, which had been mentioned in one of our planning books. She took plenty of time and chose some plates and saucers to ship home. We worried about the shipping, but everything arrived safely. It would probably have fared worse in our car and as checked luggage going home; it was also pretty bulky. We also went through one of the pottery museum/showrooms which was interesting (with a film on pottery-making, in English). (1991-06-12)
Next day saw a reproduction of Lascaux. Then we bought a new set of dishes and went to a porcelaine shop – 2 dishes. Ate dinner went to bed. In Lascaux II a man asked if we were in a real cave – guide banged on wall said “no”. In porcelaine place saw demonstrative film.