Bonjour, mes amis! I arrived in France in Monday night via Bordeaux airport and spent the night in that beautiful city in a lovely hostel in an 18th century building.
On Tuesday morning I headed directly out to the Dordogne region and picked up my rental car for five days of adventuring!
The Dordogne is full of dew-glistening fields of cows, bulging limestone cliffs, thick fern-carpeted forests, and signs of prehistoric peoples.
The cave of Lascaux is the most famous sign of our ancient ancestors in the Dordogne. While you can no longer visit the actual cave (it closed in 1968 due to damage), you can see a painstaking recreation at Lascaux II which was made using the original tools and pigments.
I have also been fascinated by the ancient world (you will notice this as my trip goes along… it’s one of my themes for the year!). These people who are so far removed from us in time, but so close to us in many ways. They too created art to tell stories, to mourn loved ones, to celebrate the beauty of the things they saw. In Lascaux, that means the enormous aurochs and dancing deer and jumping horses they encountered.
Some historians now theorize that this 20,000 year old art was actually part of a shamanistic ritual, that the cave was thought to be the entrance to another world. You can see the heads and bodies of some of the animals emerging from that other world. Imagining the cave art lit by the animal fat wicks they used, that explanation moved something deep inside of me.
We’ve been trying to figure out what it means to be human since we became human, I think.
I also visited the ancient Roque de Saint-Christophe, a massive limestone cliff that was turned into a fort city just over 1,000 years ago to escape the Viking invaders who were conquering the area at the time. They built a whole city along the cliffs, complete with a church, a forge, and winches to lift heavy loads up and down the cliff. They also built a 22-station warning chain along the cliffs flanking the Vézère river to warn the city quickly of an incoming invasion.
This was a fascinating place to travel alone, to have all the time I wanted to take in each small village and big historical site and imagine the previous lives all around.
The Dordogne is still so sparsely populated and thickly forested that driving along the country roads, you can sometimes feel what our ancestors must have felt winding along the fertile hills and valleys here. Maybe our ancient history isn’t so ancient after all.