Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Man meets paintbrush....

I've always wanted to seen prehistoric paintings. Ever since I first read "Lucy" by Donald Johansson, I've had a fascination with prehistory. And Jean Auel's Clan of the Cavebear series did nothing to damp that particular fire ( I wonder how many parents realise *quite* how erotic some of the scenes in those innocuous looking set of books are? but that's an aside - I was mostly fascinated by how one woman could invent so much :D   - she was clearly a true feminist!). 
Today is my day for caves and paintings. Everyone has heard of Lascaux and the Lascaux paintings, so I had to head there first of all. The Tourist board have set up a secondary attraction on route to Lascaux called Le Thon, where they have collected a selection of animals that are most commonly represented in the paintings to give you an idea of the reality before you see the images. Lascaux's most common depiction is of aurochs, those immense ancient cattle breed which died out in the 1600s - last known of in Poland. Undetered, the French have created a reconstituted Auroch. As you can see, they are cute more than awe-inspiring! In addition there are many deer, goats, horses and of course the cave bear and mammoth. Sadly , there were no real cave bears or mammoths on display, and I'm afraid the plastic mammoth was just *too* dire to waste even a pixel on.

 Lascaux II is of course a reproduction - most people will have heard that the original caves were closed in the 1960s when mould and damage started occurring to the images. What I hadnt realised is that it's an old quarry which has been meticulously built up into an artifical reconstruction of the exact shape of the original caves, with measurements of the cave surfaces taken every couple of centimetres. Thus when you are 'in' the cave and looking at the reproduction images, you do actually get the sense of the shape of the rock being used as part of the image by the original artists - something you definitely dont get from flat photographs!

The tour guide forgot to mention that photos were not allowed until lots of cameras started snapping - and then we all had to pack up our gear - but I did get one image :D

I also visited two other sites, both of which are actually original images still open to the public, albeit with severely limited numbers : Grotte de Villars and Rouffignac. Roffignac is cave bear territory, and you are trundled through enormous caves on a train - I lucked out immensely here, because there were only 4 of us on the visit (instead of 30), and the tour guide was utterly bored from a quiet day, so instead of the usual 45 minutes, we were given a full hour and a half and allowed to wander on and off the train ( clearly, normally forbidden!) with a full loquacious question and answer session which he thoroughly enjoyed. My fellow passengers, Californians, were interested, but clearly historically out of their depth!

Grotte de Villar is horses, but also one of the most stunning selections of stalactites and stalagmites around with a "sonne et lumiere' display which was thoroughly enjoyable. Sadly, both of these two sites mentioned no cameras before we were even allowed in the caves!

From caving I headed off in the direction of Carcassonne, incidently following the route my Grandfather, Grandma , Uncle Mark and Dad walked in 1958 - Les Eyzies, St Cyprien, Beynac, La Roque, and finally Domme - one of the 'Bastide' towns in the region : stunningly difficult to get to in a campervan,  but awesome and worth it once there. But only Dad can tell you if it's still unchanged!

Bastides are fortified new towns built in medieval Languedoc, Gascony and Aquitaine during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, although some authorities count Mont-de-Marsan and Montauban, which was founded in 1144, as the first bastides. Personally I think they are a big improvement on Milton Keynes!

1 comment:

  1. I can't see the word Bastide without wanting to re-read Marcel Pagnol. I think the english translation is out of print but I'm sure there are copies out there (either real ones or e-books...)