Sunday, November 2, 2008

South by Southwest

You gotta hand it to the French. They really know how to take time off. This week (and some of next week), the French schools are all closed to celebrate Toussaint. You're supposed to go out and spruce up your ancestors' graves on November 1. And judging from the chrysanthemum plants for sale everywhere, some people do take this seriously. But for everyone else, it's just another excuse to get out of town.

Although my kids go to an international school, they get similar breaks so we headed southwest to the regions of Dordogne, Limousin, and Lot. The weather didn't exactly cooperate (it actually snowed on Thursday morning), but we still managed to make the best of it. The Dordogne region is quite beautiful, lots of small farms, manors with turrets in tawny colored stone, and rivers cutting curves into sheer rock cliffs. The regional specialty is foie gras and everyone and their brother seems to be selling it.

We visited the caves of Lascaux to see the famous wall paintings made by cavemen some 35,000 years ago. (Did you know that the name "Cro Magnon" comes from the French village of the same name?) Actually, you have to visit a faux cave because too many visitors were wreaking havoc on the real thing. But I have to say they did an amazing job of recreating the feeling of a cavern and the artist who reproduced the drawings apparently did so using the same techniques as the original artists. I expected a few drawings on the wall; instead you find hundreds of vividly colored animals painted on the walls and ceilings in various poses and the renderings are remarkable.

The other highlight of our trip was a visit to Oradour sur Glane, a small village close to Limoges that was wiped out by the Nazis on a June day in 1944. There was no particular reason to do so but the SS was determined to demonstrate what they would do to anyone helping the resistance. Over 600 residents, about half of them women and children, were rounded up and massacred, and the village torched. After the war, a decision was made not to rebuild and to leave the shell of the town standing as a reminder to future generations. It was a sobering sight.


Starman said...

Pardon my French, but that sucks. Just as I wouldn't expect to see fake artwork in the Louvre, neither would I expect to see see fake ancient art. I would much rather see pictures of the real thing, then a fake copy, regardless of how realistic they might make it. That's one place I now know not to visit, thanks for saving me the trip.

Anne said...

They only let three or four academics a year see the real deal in order to preserve them. Every exhaled breath leaves chemical deposits so they have to limit human exposure.

That being said, I still found it completely satisfying. Pictures in a book wouldn't begin to give you the sense of the size and scope of the work. I wasn't disappointed in the least.

Isabelle said...

I agree with you on Lascaux, Anne. I think that the goal of the 2nd cave is to show an ensemble, and that's why people come to visit it.

I've also been to Oradour about 2 years ago. This is difinitively a must see place. When I was there there were several goups of teenagers with their history teacher, as well as a group of Germans.

This place is so moving, words aren't strong enough to tell how you feel.
You can't be the same person after visiting Oradour, I find myself thinking about it now and then for no particular reason, and think how lucky we are not to have gone through such a terrible ordeal that was World War II.

John said...

Oradour: My God, I can't imagine what it must have felt like to see such a place. But its reassuring that the town was left as is to remind us all of the terror and horror that occurred there.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing the pictures of this sad.

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