The Dordogne and Caves of Forgotten Dreams

May 26. After writing for a few hours I crossed the Eiffel style bridge and decided to go for a walk along the Dordogne between Floriac and Carennac. I found out that there had been a mudslide probably from the heavy rain that I experienced a few nights before and there was a power line down. That didn’t stop bicyclists and walkers from crossing. I found a spring fed a pond full of trout next to an old house. They probably swam downstream only to be trapped. It was nice and cool along the river and I reveled knowing it would get beastly later. It had been hovering at a crispy 95 for 4 days now, and everything I had purchased food wise had perished long ago. The car smelled Iike an old cheese factory.

I got back in the car and drove to Floriac. There I filled my water containers, an important task for a camper, only to find out that the water was not controlled. I asked a local if it was potable and they told me that no one had gotten sick in the village. Which wasn’t much of a reassurance. I flashed back on seeing a woman feeding pigeons from her medieval stoop in Turenne the evening before. As I rounded the corner she disappeared, but not before I caught her on camera. Sometimes I’m glad I take too many photos. I need to control my architecture passion however. I get home only to find that the majority of my photos are of houses or alleyways. It’s the American in me that longs for history and old things. Speaking of which, I just took the 23andme blood test to find out that I am 99 percent European. Interesting. I sent my mom a kit cause I’d like to find out the ancestry on my maternal and paternal sides of the family.

I next headed to Martel and then to Souillac where I got out and walked through the old town. The church was extremely old and had sone similariles to the cathedral in Cahors. It was huge and all stone, and had some medieval capitals and pillars with strange faces and beasts peering down from above. It was a strange medieval town. It had vestiges of the Middle Ages but wasn’t cutesy like some. Much more of an authentic place where people ate and worked, lived etc. Igot the sense of rough and tumble lives. There was a canal at one end of the town and I enjoyed walking along it for the cool air, though it was not very pretty. Buildings stuck out at odd angles. I contemplated getting some lasagna but it was quite expensive at 12 euros. I’d gotten spoiled by eating menu du jour a few days in a row for around the same amount including salad and dessert.

After walking for an hour or so, I headed to Sarlat-la-Caneda, which had been recommended by many. It was jammed with people, being a Friday after the ferria of assumption, and I was lucky to have my handicapped placard to find a free parking place. I wandered through the village, looked at the church which was just closing at 7pm, and enjoyed the atmosphere. They had had some kind of animal zoo type program with straw beds and the names of various animals in french. I had a bit of claustrophibia at all the people. I wandered into an old building which had been an important house in another time. The staircase steps were deeply carved out with divets and I found out later it was because the horses mounted the stairs to the first floor.

There was an art exhibit on the first floor (which is the second floor in the us) and I entered. A magnificent fireplace stood at one end. I asked if I could take a photo and they said yes. I ended up talking with the couple for an hour or so about politics and other things. The woman works in many mediums including snow, ice, bronze, wood, clay. She prefers very large pieces and showed me a Masai that she had made who was 10 feet tall. She made it in a pit fired Raku style. They were Mellenchon supporters and didb’t like Marcon. I looked at her portfolio and was interested in her collection. They live near Chamberry the second couple I met on this trip, They said that they had very few customers and that it wasn’t really worth it for them. I think artists rent the places for very little as it seemed that many of the old buildings in town had art gallery exhibits. I bid them farewell and though that perhaps I’d visit her studio. As it was another beastly day I decided ice cream was the solution so I sat down to a nice vanilla sundae. It was very small but sufficient.

I was glad I’d had a sundae there as I ended up needing to use the toilet 3 times, twice after I’d left. The woman was nice enough to let me use it afterwards. It was late and I decided to look for a campsite. I drove toward a small village I’d seen on the map, wondering whether I should camp in the camping car area, but decided against it. I drove on a small road which headed to an auberge and found a dirt road to the side that led to a walnut orchard. There I set up camp and bedded down for the night, listening to the rustling of the trees and the river below. I’d hoped to camp on the bank of the Dordogne as I had the 2 nights before but I didn’t find a place. I found it the next day.

Did I mention the birds? Even with earplugs their morning song starting at 4am can be earsplitting especially for campers. I awoke and put my tent away. A woman drove by and told me that camping wasnt’ allowed. She was quite nice about it and I apologized and said I was leaving. Luckily I’d already put away all my gear. I headed to the nearby village. There’s a funny phenomenon with bike especially in s France. They tend to ride in the middle of the road even if there is no space for cars. It peeves me because I’m a cyclist and have always been very conscious of riding on the far right side of the road to allow cars to pass. Different mentality.

May 27.  The next day I went to explore the small village nearby of Montfort. It was lovely and I was lucky that the boulangerie, which had a wonderful caramel walnut tart, let me use their bathroom. I had another case of urgent vacuation and didn’t want to do it in the countryside. I bought pain de campagne and a tart and headed into the village. There was the remains of a ruined tower and a renovated one which had been built alongside by the mayor of the village in the 1950s. This had happened in many villages. Private invidividuals had put their own money in to renovated castles and chateaus. I spied a nice garden and headed to look at it. The woman was working hard and I said hello and told her I was shocked by the heat as I was from the US and expected it to be cooler. We ended up having a long political discussion about Marine Le Pen, Trump, and prisons. She wanted all prisoners to work in the forests and doing infrastructure projects instead of languishing in prison. She felt that they were lazy and cost the state too much.

I told her I needed to head to Sarlat as I wanted to see the indoor market which had been closed the day before as well as the museum of a mansion next to the old church. We bid farewell and I headed to Sarlat in even more traffic than the day before. I ducked into a side street to avoid the congestion and found a parking place across from a fancy Best Western located in a medieval building. I’ve seen a lot of modern hotels located in old buildings. Interesting idea. I walked to the village. There was a big street market and I ended up buying a straws basket like the one I got in Provence last year. Turned out it was made in Madagascar. I also bought 2 nice leather coin purses from a nice African man.

I headed back to the church and took a long look, then to the tower of the dead, a curious conical roofed tower behind the cathedral, then to the museum. They had several rooms dedicated to cabinets of curiosity which were a kind of museum for rich bourgeoisie collectors of the 19th century and earlier. Then the bedrooms and main hall, the salon, and lots of history about the family who lived there and the role of the counsel in the village, which was very important and essentially replaced the king and later the clergy as the decision making body in many towns in France starting in the 1700s. I enjoyed the visit and learned a lot, then wandered uptown a bit and then found a small used clothes store. I found a lot of nice clothes and the owner was very nice. He recommended La Vezere as a nice river to visit, since the Dordogne was so overrun with tourists at the moment and recommended a few places to visit including La Roque de St Christophe and the Font de Gaume, a nice cave. I followed his advice and headed in that direction.

La Vezere flows into the Dordogne. It is also located in a lovely fertile valley, though not as large as the Dordogne. I was awed by the majesty of the rock of St Christopher, which apparently has been used since the Paleolithic times for shelter. In the Middle Ages a bishop from Perigueux gave the dictate that 5 settlements be established in the rocks. St Christophe was one of these. It was in response to the Viking raids that had come all the way to Ange and Bordeaux. The technology that people had developed was amazing. All kinds of inventions lined the rock face. I felt like I was looking at Da Vinci’s notebooks.

Then I took a swim in the river. I met 2 girls at the river with a dog. I ended up talking with Kler later, who lives in Bretagne. She was very kind. She looked very Irish. The water was really cold. I was glad I took my sandals with me because the rocks were sharp and cut at my feet. The current was strong and I had all I could swimming against it. After getting sufficiently cool, I headed to Saint Leon sur Vezere which had been recommended to me. It was a pretty medieval village with a 10th century church and 2 beautiful chateaus. People were overrunning the place as it was the Saturday of the big weekend. Everyone was eating in various restaurants along the Main Street. I wandered along the river and read about the big flood in 1960 that had overrun the town as well as many others along the river.

I peeked over the fence at the chateaus and took some photos of the gardens from the river. I walked the narrow streets and considered staying there for the night. I inquired at the municipal camping site but it didn’t seem there were any spaces. I asked a man from Holland and told him I could speak in English but he said you speak French well. I manage I thought. Then I headed to Montignac where I parked and walked around in the evening light. It started to cool off, and I enjoyed listening to a live band that was playing on the riverside at a bar/brasserie. There I met Eric and Claudia, a very funny couple of friends who were staying in Lascaux for a few days.  We sat on the river wall and talked about travels. They asked me where I was staying, and I said I wasn’t sure but needed to find an extra camp site before it got dark. They had an extra bed and invited me to stay with them for the next 3 days.  I was very grateful.

May 28. I woke up at 9am and proceeded to wash my clothes and take a shower, no small feat. My feet (no pun intended) were black with grime and didn’t come clean easily. I chatted with Claudia and headed to Lascaux IV. I didn’t wait for an English tour, but managed in French. it was difficult because the words are special for the cave, lots of info = facsimile = then I walked around the town, Vide Grenier, bought clothes and shoes at 4pm headed toward Brive then changed my mind and came back to monitfnac and walked around the chateau and church and historic part of town. Had an ice cream, talked to the woman working at the cafe about Trump and indivisible group. She was very kind and said the whole world needs luck right now, Plazac, which was a real village that hadn’t been improved and then to Rouffignac St Cernin de Reilhac where the Germans had burned the town )the people had sought refuse in the church and they shot all the men) very sad I wondered whey it was a new town then I returned to Plazac and explored a bit, I liked the old church and they were practicing for a Shakespeare play outside there was a guy on the wall with a cape = a man said his children had even there all day practicing. I then drove back to Montignac and met Claudia and Eric. They convinced me to stay another night and stay for the foie de gras exposition and tasting.

May 29. Woke up planning to write but first listened to Claudia. She told me about her life, about her partner with whom she lived for 14 years who struggled with paranoia and schizophrenia. She ended up leaving him and taking her children. Her eyes filled with tears as she told me the story and I empathized. I’ve had my share of violent and confusing relationships. I asked for Claudia’s contact info in case I end up in the north, but also because I wanted to stay in touch. I then caught up on my blog and headed to town. It was past the witching hour (12:30pm), so the shoe shop was closed as was the boulangerie. I headed to Les Ezyies-de-Tayac to see if I could get a ticket to the cave called Font de Gaume, which is scheduled to close soon due to the ill effects from carbon dioxide given off by humans. Sadly this is the fate of all the caves in France, and I have a feeling that in the future new caves will be copied but never opened to the public. I found out that Font de Gaume is only open to reservations which were made months in advance. They told me I could show up early the next am for a kind of ticket lottery,. I’ll give it a try tomorrow. In the meantime I headed to Pole International de la Prehistoire which had a good exhibit on the history of making facsimile caves starting with Lascaux and Alta Mira In Spain. I was thinking about the fauvre movement in France and the wave of interest among impressionists and expressionists in prehistoric art. This must have coincided with the Paris exhibition in the 1930s where a facsimile of a cave was presented, and much scientific theory was presented about the history and anthropology of man in caves.

Next I headed to the Musee National de Prehistoire. I found out I only had two hours to see the exhibits. I knew would take me longer so I did my best to speed up. The museum provided an overview of Paleolithic findings starting with the Neandrathal and moving into other groups that inhabited the planet. They had a lot of information about phases of man that hit in habited this area France. One of the important pieces that I found out was that the reason that this area was constantly inhabited by people since 40,000 years ago was that the ice never covered this area. During the Ice Age there was a 200 km kilometer stretch of land along the Atlantic ocean which was never frozen. It got very cold here down to -20 C but it was ice for me. That made a big difference and many animals flourished in this part of southern France as well as hominoids.

They kicked us out early from the museum so it’s good that I was doing my best to be prompt. I think they were worried that Mr. dinners. I walked around the town a bit more, went to the tourist office and got a map and description of the towns highlights. At 620pm I realized that I would be late for the foie de gras tasting and raced back to Montignac. My friends had already left so I found out where it was and drove to join them. Mischa spoke very quickly and of course in French. It was mostly details about how to cook for the broth. I did my best to understand and then we had a tasting. It was interesting to see the old industrial machines used to sterilize and pack the meat into cans. Apparently many thousands of ducks were killed last year as a result of an avian flu which transmuted from wild birds and ended up affecting the duck population.

After the tasting we headed back to the house and I sat and talked with my friends for an hour or so. Then I decided to go for a hike and end up walking all the way to the original Lascaux caves, not realizing till I was almost there. Then I actively search for them and was pleasantly surprised to find the opening to the cave which sealed in 1963. On the way back I met a woman his car broken down and tried to help but there wasn’t much I could do so after talking to her for 10 minutes or so I headed back to the house where we had some more fun talking. I reluctantly went to bed around 1130 as I had to get up early the next morning.

May 30. I arrived at Font de Gaume at 830 am i’m waiting an hour to get a ticket. While waiting I had a nice chat with an English hello and a couple from Philadelphia. I ended up getting to know the couple fairly well. We were on the same English tour at 2:15. I decided to do Font de Gaume in English because I wanted to understand the artwork in the cave.The couple recommended that I see the Combarelles. I went for a 10am tour and later caught the tour of Abris de Cap Blanc which features a bas relief of a horse and several other animals. A full day. At the end of the day I took my time and explored Campignon which features a lovely garden and château. It’s a stunning example of chateau grounds including vegetable gardens, an orchard, a plant labyrinth, a stair to the woods, a landscaped serpentine stream, and 100-year-old trees. It was renovated in the early 2000’s. Then I headed to Le Bourg and accidentally found a cordenier to glue my shoe sole as well as a boulangerie with unusual pastries including mint and basil gelatin. It’s a lovely little town and I enjoyed the meal and the old streets. From there I headed up to Rouffignac and stopped in Plazac where I walked in the rain. I arrived in Montignac at 9 o’clock and had a nice conversation with Eric and Claudia until 11 PM. I was glad I didn’t have to wake up early in the morning.

May 31. I packed my things. I was sad to say goodbye and told Claudia that I’d miss her. We kissed on both cheeks and promised to stay in touch. I was in a bit of a rush as I wanted to get to Rouffigac for the 1115 cave tour. Unfortunately I ended up in the middle of nowhere at a Château. Sometimes a GPS doesn’t take you to where you want to go. I wasn’t far from Lea Eyzies so I decided to head back to the museum national of prehistory. By the time I got there it was 1130 and they were closing at noon so I had half an hour before they kicked me out. I wanted to cover all my bases so I headed to Chateau Beynac stopping at Campignac on the way. I took a quick walk around the grounds as I hadn’t had a chance to see the whole place the day before and then headed to Beynac. I was relieved for the rain as it has been beastly hot for many days but the timing was less than favorable. As I hiked up the strenuous hill to the Château the clouds gathered thunder boomed and rain started pouring down. The cobblestones became remarkably slippery and I almost lost my footing several times.

I made it to the top of the hill just in time for a French tour of the chateau at 2:15. I wanted to learn more about history the Château and awaited the tour. The guide was animated and charismatic but spoke the most rapid French I’ve heard thus far on my trip. Luckily he was open to being asked questions at the end of each discourse and I listened carefully so I could ask questions about the material he covered. It was very interesting history which I may go into later. One of the things he pointed out was the people ate more than a kilogram of bread every day. They also made a kind of spiced beer but weren’t using hops so it wasn’t well preserved. At the end of the tour I rushed down the hill in the rain and headed back to the museum as I knew it would close at 5:15. I had an hour and a half to understand the periods of history. It’s difficult to learn anthropology in such a short period of time but I did my best. I ran into a couple with whom i had been on a cave tour earlier that day with me. They highly recommended the sorcerers cave, so I decided to go. I waited for the guide to finish her tour. She was very kind and when she saw I was the only person she said she could do a quick tour. I was very excited and thanked her and we headed up into the cave. Her name was Lola.

We ended up discussing the possibilities that the image of the man engraved in the cave may be that of birth. He is depicted upside down coming out of a hole with what looked like an umbilical cord holding a triangle. Other people interpret the umbilical cord as a penis but I had a feeling it was the former and that the image was about initiation and birth. In addition there were carvings of female silhouettes as well as vaginas and triangles in the cave. I mentioned some of the research done by Max Dashu and other anthropologists focusing on matriarchy and goddess imagery and pre-Christian religions. She mention the fact that the guy before her would offer not show the images of vaginas (look like molars to me) and a left facing female torso. I’ve drawn both below. Interestingly there are almost no representations of men.

Apparently she has had groups who would snigger and make fun of the images. The tour leader prior was ashamed and wouldn’t show these images. Lola and I both agree that it was really important that people see and know about those images. She said it’s a fiftysomething-year-old she was able to talk about that. We found out that we were the same age. I felt a connection with her and sent her links to Max Dashu’s work.  I emailed Lola Max’s website It was reaffirming to meet someone with similar ideas. It was 6:30pm when I left and I headed to Bordeaux not knowing what to expect. I arrived at 8 o’clock in a bit of culture shock not being used to a big city. My first reaction was to leave but I decided to walk around and camp nearby. Camping proved very difficult as it was a very industrial area. I was lucky to happen upon the grounds of a mansion and parked right next to an industrial parking area shaded by a tree. It was a precarious spot but 10 feet of nature and gave me a chance to regroup for the next day.


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