Friday, May 7:  Prehistoric Perigord

A great breakfast in the hotel along with more Americans, now that we are back on the Rick Steves plan. Got some laundry done across the street, efficiently and cheaply. Hit the Internet cafe with Robert next. In the words of Piero (Venice hotel owner and Rick Steves video star), it was a “disaster.” Couldn’t connect my laptop through whatever sort of modem connection they had, their machines have French keyboards with a few super-annoying quirks, couldn’t pay the overdue radiological bill since I couldn’t login to the converted bill-paying service, Carley reported that the Internet connection at home was still down, Invisible Fence is on the blink, hit the wrong key and lost a nearly-complete message of introduction to another cousin in Paris, and got a notice that a referee report was overdue even though it was a manuscript that was sent to me in error and I’d returned it. Accomplished almost nothing. Somehow, this all took us to about 1 PM.

Recovered Robert’s culinary enthusiasm at a great little pizzeria down the street (Pinocchio’s). Good adult fare and a super “kids meal” with a full-size pizza. I let Robert have the egg baked into the center of my ground-beef and onion pizza.

Hopped in the car, did one and a half circuits around the medieval core of the town on the one-way loop and finally guessed at the correct route away from town. Destination: Font da Gaume, location of a cave with prehistoric paintings. Pat had secured a reservation early this morning, as they only allow 180 people in each day. A perfect activity for the continuing spring weather (sun, hail, showers, repeat), as Louis had expertly advised us. Our guide was to only speak in French, but we had printed information in English. Probably should have read it carefully before we entered into the dark cave. Various warnings about hitting our head, or rubbing against the walls, were kindly translated for the six English speakers (two others on the Rick Steves’ plan). Eventually, folks began asking questions of the German woman translating. The guide spoke up -- “I’m the guide, you may ask questions of me.” Thereafter, we heard much more English from the guide. We have had little language trouble, but it is incidents like this which must lead to the “They [the French] know how to speak English, but won’t” syndrome popular among American tourists. To the contrary, I’ve worked less at my French than my Italian, since Pat has a better background in French, and have had almost no difficulties.

With some imagination, the paintings were quite remarkable. 15,000 years old, using the geometric features of the cave walls to good effect. Concavities for animal bellies, incipient stalagmites for horse’s tails. We saw about 10% of the 280 paintings, the remainder lay hidden in the darkness. Bought a neat wall poster on the way out -- time on the vertical axis (by centuries, 3000 BC - present), geographic regions on the horizontal, roughly contiguous. The body of the table has colored regions of various civilizations or nations. The Roman Empire is wide and tall and very nearly rectangular (think about that one), the Greeks very tall but somewhat skinny, and the Ottoman Empire degenerates into just Turkey at the present time.

Nearby, we went to the Rocque of St. Christophe, a former cliff-dwelling community. (Photo 106) While on five levels, we walked along a main level that is a slit into the face of the cliff about a kilometer long, 40 meters above the river and valley floor, at places perhaps 15 meters into the hillside, and usually with a ceiling about 3 meters high. The exhibits required less imagination, and so I think the boys enjoyed them more, and included working versions of various devices for lifting materials up the cliff face or for constructing the wooden dwellings. They’d been inhabited since 50,000 years ago, but destroyed in the 1600’s by order of some king or baron or bishop.

A great coffee and ice cream stop punctuated the alternate route back to home, where we did a bit of homework and journal writing, since rain nixed a stop at the city park. For dinner, Rob was wont to get off the set-menu routine, and Robert needed a break also. The cafes were all closing (or too smoky), so we eventually found a restaurant with an appealing menu enfant (cordon bleu), and an omelet and a beer for your author. Pat’s meal looked good on paper, but lacked execution.

Finally hooked up my computer in the hotel’s breakfast room, connecting through a jack in a small closet used as a private phone booth. Not high speed, but I finally got some emails blasted out. They gave me the boot at 11 PM as I tried to get Pat’s connection established. With a regular phone number for the light company off their WWW site, I wandered out of the hotel to use a phone booth. This one, unlike in Vaison-la-Romaine, would not take my VISA card. Back in the hotel I resorted to the phone in the room, which worked the first time, and the problem with our bill (stale expiration date on VISA auto-payments) was resolved quickly.