Caspar Institute logoitinerary   < 9 June Cahors - Sarlat   11 June Île d’Oléron >

Sarlat 10 June 2016


1314 : 1029

Changing weather, and for some reason neither of us slept well ...and that was okay because we needed to make an early getaway to Montignac to arrange for tickets to Lascaux II. It's an ungainly process, but it means that early arrivals on the day of can actually get into an attraction that hosts 250,000 people a year in batches of 20.

Our herd of 20 anglophones bunched ourselves into the man-made simulation of the original cave, closed in 1968 because too many people were breathing on the paintings, and they were being covered in calcite crystals.

<p>Lascaux II : Chamber of the Bulls</p>

Lascaux II : Chamber of the Bulls

1315 : 1027
<p>The story is told in terms of...

The story is told in terms of the discoverers. Our guide, whose quaint English was easy to listen to, called the discoverer "the first modern polluter" because in the picture he was smoking a cigarette. (Times haven't changed that much; many French, for reasons unknown, still smoke even thought they know better. I think there may be an insight here, but it escapes me.) 

But can you imagine dropping into an underground space and being greeted by this?

There can be no doubt that this, in the original, is one of the most remarkable artifacts of man. As mentioned with the Grotte de Niaux, current anthropological thinking is that the animals depicted, not being game for the painters, held spiritual significance, and the caves were places of worship. Hence the interesting symbols ... although here, 17,000 years BP (Before the Present), the magic number of dots in a row appears to be 13, not 11.

On the right above, can you see that there's a black bull and a red horse? The bull is the biggest cave image known, five meters wide. We are told that the painters reproduced the original "exactly" using the same pigments and, where possibly, techniques ("They cheated a little") but the vividness of the colors is so much greater than Niaux, I have to wonder.

It would have been lovely to rest with the images, and soak them in, but we were hustled right along because another group was coming through ... although our guide was patient and cordial, she kept us moving, and it felt a little like an assembly line.

By the way: no photos in the simulated cave, so I borrowed these from the cave authorities.

1316 : 1021
<p>So, after 40 minutes, we drove...

So, after 40 minutes, we drove down the Veziers River Valley, "the Valley of Our Ancestors" to Les Eyzies, where we had an undistinguished but delicious lunch. Good gazpacho with raisins in it; a caesar salad with some unusual ingredients, and a "tartine" (meaning there's a piece of bread on the bottom, a French riff on the sandwich) with an excellent selection of well prepared, barely cooked vegetables. Good enough.

1317 : 1017
<p>A skeleton of a bison like the ones pictured at Lascaux and Niaux</p>

A skeleton of a bison like the ones pictured at Lascaux and Niaux

The Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies does a lovely job of putting Lascaux, and all the other sites (there are dozens) in the Veziers Valley into context. 17,000 years isn't very long ago, and the valley provided one of the farthest north ice-free areas on the Eurasian Continent. The story of Man certainly starts with Lucy in Africa, but it has been telling itself around these parts for 50,000 years or more. Modern anthropology was practically invented here during the 19th Century, well before Lascaux was discovered. The museum coordinates the four threads of historical understanding – climate, flora and fauna, the tools and ornaments made by humans, and the datable artifacts. Unfortunately, it does all this in technical French, with barely a nod to the fact that a quarter of its paying guests (us included) don't understand technical French very well. 

1318 : 1007
<p>Here we have an "unexplained image"...

Here we have an "unexplained image" and a pile of bronze axes. That image sure does look like the sun to me. During times of cold (and even though the Veziere was sheltered from the actual ice, it had to be cold) the sun would seem a pretty potent actor.

My favorite factoid from the museum: during the time of the Lascaux paintings, this was also the time and place where the domestication of the dog was taking place. 

1319 : 1005

I liked the idea that while the small group of cave painters were deep inside blowing and spitting pigments onto the cave walls in the dark, other artisans were out napping flint, and using the knives and points to carve and decorate portable objects like this exquisite bison. Clearly the motivations of these artisans were related. The little bull (about 3 inches long) is from the Middle Magdalenian, some 15,000 years BP. Not surprisingly, very few ornaments have survived from this time. Many more tools, and shards from napping them, survive, because they were so abundant.


1321 : 992
<p>10% of the cheese cooler at Sarlat’s E Leclerc SuperMegaStore</p>

10% of the cheese cooler at Sarlat’s E Leclerc SuperMegaStore

It started raining at noon, and pursued us home to Sarlat from Les Eyzies. Nevertheless, we found our way to the E Leclerc SuperMegaStore on the south side of this thriving (ex-pat ridden) community. I noticed many more big cars, Land Rovers and Mercedes SUVs. The British (and some eastern USers) have landed!

The store is huge. It looks like it would fit right into Atlanta. In 2002 we visited the Maul [sic] of America, and were overwhelmed. Here, I didn't know to weigh and label my fruits, so I got turned back at checkout ...and got to check myself out, just like at Home Despot (only with better equipment.)

1323 : 985
. This apartment is delicious, but its kitchen is sorely lacking. The restaurant: Le Jardin de Harmonie. 1: Amuse bouche, who knows what meat (duck?) in a crispy skin with tempura sauce. 2: sweet potato and Madagascar vanilla velouté with shoestring sweet potato garnish. 3: Salad of five perfumes, fruit and half-roasted baby vegetables in a 10-year-old balsamic vinaigrette. 4: Salade 7ième vegeterienne (tomatoes, lettuce, tortilla wrapped local cheese and carrot, a bunch of other delights.) 5: Magret (duck breast) in port wine reduction. 6: Scallops a la plancha with enoki mushrooms and balsamic reduction. No dessert. No coffee.</p>
<p>We’ve got to stop eating like this. But, once again, just exactly the right amount of food. We each had a glass of lovely local rosé, and are home again, replete without feeling stuffed. </p>

Another two-meals-out day. This apartment is delicious, but its kitchen is sorely lacking. The restaurant: Le Jardin de Harmonie. 1: Amuse bouche, who knows what meat (duck?) in a crispy skin with tempura sauce. 2: sweet potato and Madagascar vanilla velouté with shoestring sweet potato garnish. 3: Salad of five perfumes, fruit and half-roasted baby vegetables in a 10-year-old balsamic vinaigrette. 4: Salade 7ième vegeterienne (tomatoes, lettuce, tortilla wrapped local cheese and carrot, a bunch of other delights.) 5: Magret (duck breast) in port wine reduction. 6: Scallops a la plancha with enoki mushrooms and balsamic reduction. No dessert. No coffee.

We’ve got to stop eating like this. But, once again, just exactly the right amount of food. We each had a glass of lovely local rosé, and are home again, replete without feeling stuffed. 

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