As tired as we were, sleep eluded us for hours. It was a warm evening, so we opened the curtains and the windows to let in the cooling night breeze…..but our room faced a well-lit plaza so we closed the curtains to block the light…..then the room got too stuffy. We finally realized there was a fan in the room and were able to sleep after we turned it on. Bev wasn’t as lucky…..her room was over the laundry and she heard the squeal of a dryer all night long. But a delicious breakfast in a sunny room with tables set with freshly cut flowers improved our spirits and we were ready to tackle another day.
We checked out of the hotel, drove the short distance to Lascaux II and waited for our English-speaking tour to begin. As the pre-tour area began to fill. we realized this wouldn’t be as intimate a tour as yesterday’s at Font-de-Gaume….there would be at least 30 people joining us on this tour.
We began our tour walking down a set of steps and through a rectangular doorway that mirrors the one at Lascaux….a mere 200 meters away. Once inside, our tour guide explained that by using 3-D laser technology, Lascaux II accurately replicates Lascaux to within one millimeter. Then she related the story of how the cave was found in 1940 by four teenage boys when their dog fell through a small hole in the ground. Since the cave had been sealed until then, the paintings had maintained their vivid colors. The boys knew they had found something special and reported their discovery to their teacher…..the rest is history. We were about to enter the recreated cave when a question was asked, “Were they painted by Homo Sapiens?” The gentleman who asked this question continued with more of the same. It was then we knew that we were with the tour group from hell.
Our very patient tour guide politely answered “yes” and we all moved into the cave. The paintings, also created millimeter by millimeter, and painted with the same mineral compounds used on the originals are exact replicas of the paintings in Lascaux. The brillancy of the colors takes your breath away. The paintings are about the same age as those in Font-de-Gaume…..give or take a few thousand years….but there are differences. The animals in Lascaux aren’t carved or etched and, while Font-de-Gaume has reindeer paintings, those in Lascaux show deer…..so Lascaux’s artists probably lived after the reindeer migrated north.
Our charming guide, in her best English, explained that we could tell the difference between a reindeer and a stag by the antlers….reindeer’s are on either side of their head while deer’s form a “V” in the middle of their head. Our obnoxious tourist couldn’t let this one slide, “So is it a reindeer stag or a deer stag?” Our guide seemed a little perplexed by the question….hadn’t she just told us? But, patiently, she replied, “The paintings in Lascaux are of stags….deer. You can tell by the antlers.”
But Mr Obnoxious wasn’t done yet. When our guide told us the paintings were between 14,000 – 17,000 years old, he asked if they were done by the same person. While those of us near him rolled our eyes, our tolerant guide replied that the paintings have been dated thousands of years apart so it would be impossible for them to have been painted by one person. Not to be trumped, Mr O countered that each artist has a unique style and suggested that an art expert be brought in to determine if these paintings were the work of one person. Sacre bleu! Of course! Why had the French bothered with carbon-dating? If only they had thought to bring in an art expert! This guy was a real winner.
As we moved along, Mr O’s comments were echoed by another tourist…..we thought it was his wife, but no, this was Mrs Annoying. Our guide pointed to stone oil lamps behind glass panels along the cave walls. These, she said, were found in the cave complete with juniper wicks and deer oil, which burns cleanly without leaving soot residue. The juniper wicks allowed the scientists to confirm the age of the paintings. Our guide continued with her talk until she was interrupted by Mrs A, “Was there oil in the lamps?” “Yes” our lovely guide repeated. “Well, couldn’t they use it to date the paintings?” Our composed guide calmly restated that this wasn’t necessary because the juniper wicks were able to be carbon-dated. Mr O, chomping at the bit, had to jump in. “Well, how do you know the lamps were used for the paintings?” Diplomatically, our guide replied that no one could know for certain what the lamps were used for, but carbon-dating indicated they were of the same age as the paintings.
We moved on to another area and our unruffled guide showed us where prehistoric man had placed scaffolding to paint the high walls of the cave. Holes had been hollowed out of the cave wall and filled with clay…..evidence shows that branches were then “cemented” in the clay and they supported the scaffolding. “Ingenious,” we all thought…..all but Mrs A. “Where’s the scaffolding?” she tersely asked.
Politely, our guide said perhaps our ancestors had removed it or perhaps the wood did not survive in the moisture of the cave. This opened the door for Mr O to continue his self-absorbed repartee…. “Where did the paints come from?” Our sainted guide explained that the paints came from minerals….clay ochre, manganese dioxide, iron oxide. Not good enough for Mr O….. “So they might have had to travel some distance to get these minerals.” “Yes, perhaps…..or perhaps they traded with other tribes,” our still composed guide replied. Mr O was on a roll….. “Then they carried the mineral rocks with them? Whether they travelled to mine them or traded for them, someone was carrying heavy rocks around.” I’m not sure where he was going with this….but his argumentative tone suggested we didn’t want to go there with him. Fortunately, the next tour group was catching up with us. Our tour was over and we had to exit the cave.
We found the car and started our long drive to Languedoc…..the four-hour trip went by quickly as we laughingly recounted the comments of these bombastic Americans who will, no doubt, return home complaining about how rude the French were.
It was 6 pm when we neared home….too early to dine out so we stopped at the supermarché to pick up some groceries and headed back to the cottage. After so much time in the car, we were in need of fresh air and decompression. The early evening was mild, so we delayed dinner to sit on the patio…..sipping kir’s, watching the boats go by and saying “Bon soir” to the occasional passer-by.
“I don’t know what they taught you in France, but rude and interesting are not the same things.”…… French Kiss (1995)