Today we started off the day riding the bus to a woodsy area in Fabas and hiking up a path, examining badger and deer tracks along the way. We stopped and Sébastien said to find flint along the paths. Someone spotted a large chunk of flint and soon he began to construct the piece into a tool, the way that a Magdalenian person would. It looked simple enough so after a couple students in our group gave a shot at creating the tool, I took my turn. But trust me, it is NOT as simple as it seems. I repeat. Not simple. First I had to find the proper position for my hand on the rock so that when I was breaking off bits of flint, I didn’t break off bits of my finger along with it. Next, I would find that it was even more difficult to hit the flint with enough momentum that it would actually break. And finally when you thought you were ready, hitting the rock in the correct spot became even more challenging the harder you swung. So now I have had a glimpse of what stone tool making is like. So Magdalenians, I applaud you.
Next we went to a field with crops growing in it. Because the ground had been turned over by a plow, it was the perfect opportunity to see what lay beneath the surface of the soil. We surveyed the field, finding bags and bags of possible artifacts (and some useless sandstone to Sébastien’s displeasure). After packing up and going back to the Gite and eating lunch, we lay all of the artifacts across a table and cleaned them off to examine them. It was incredible that just from looking at the rock you can tell whether or not it was a tool, or a core, where the flint was struck, and what time period it came from. I really enjoyed this day of surveying, and I feel like after this day I have a better understanding of archaeology and the Paleolithic era.
While walking around the U shaped room, squinting my eyes, trying to view each detail on the Bayeux tapestry, I was struck with a question about story telling. I wondered, how many different ways were there to affectively tell a story? I always associated story telling with printed words on paper or the soothing sounds of someone’s voice, but while trying to comprehend the nearly one thousand year old linen tapestry, I realized story telling could come in all forms. The Bayeux tapestry depicts the Norman invasion of England with more beauty and clarity than any combination of words could create, so why was it that this form of story telling has become almost unknown to the modern world? While today we focus mostly on phonetic story telling, in the past pictographic writing was quite common across many cultures. This year in history I learned about the Maya people’s pictographic script, so it was interesting to see the other ways in which pictographic writing had been used. While the Bayeux tapestry was created in a time where phonetic writing was known, it is still interesting to see the ways in which pictographic depictions were present.
Today in the caves of Grotte de Rouffignac, the 14,000 years old drawings on the walls tell another pictographic story. While these striking illustrations of mammoths, ibex, mastodons, and horses seem just simple artwork, to me, they tell the story of the lives of these prehistoric people. Pictographically, they display what these people saw and encountered in their sector of world history, as well as showing which animals were the most important to them. Animals like the mammoth, portrayed several times throughout the cave, were sources of food, clothes, tools, etc. for these people.
While these were ways of story telling I had given little thought to beforehand, thinking back on our experiences in Normandy provided me with another view on story telling. The battle on the beaches on D-Day tell the story of heroism, teamwork, and determination. Being present at the cemetery and on the beaches really allowed me to understand and really get a feel for the story that this great day in history told.
Winding staircases, towers and caves accompanied our visit to Le Château de Commarque. After exiting the bus, our group descended into an open and green valley with what was left of a magnificent stone structure into view. The building had many tours and small caves lined its base. Soon we began our tour and climbed up the stairs to the château. First we entered one of the small cave homes that were found around the bottom of the castle. The small cave contained pottery, kitchenware, small rooms for storage, livestock and what looked like a bed. I was surprised about how chilly it was inside of the rock shelter.
We continued up the hill and the guide told us about the six towers that were occupied by six different families. It was interesting to me that they all lived on the same hill because it’s easier to protect yourself in a group, despite their large family rivalries that continues to exist even today. Even more shocking to me was that even though these families spent a lot of their wealth to build these tall incredible towers, the families rarely entered these towers. Because the only entrance was an impossible and risky staircase, it not only made it nearly impossible for their enemies to enter, but it also prevented them from going into their own towers. It was just a symbol of their pride and wealth.
One of my favorite parts of our visit to le château was the view from the top of the Beynac tower. The over 150 steps through a tight spiral staircase to the top was definitely worth it. We could see rolling green hills dotted with other small castles. The visit to Le Château de Commarque was a great and memorable experience. I would say it was one of my favorites, but I feel like on this trip, every single experience has been a favorite.
Today, our group first went to a prehistory museum, then we visited La Grotte de Rouffignac. The museum was mostly filled with prehistoric tools, bones of animals and predecessors of humans, and reconstructions of those species. Though it was extremely fascinating to see these exhibits, one point that the guide said stuck out to me. She said that even though when we think about human predecessors we envision them entirely focused on survival, this is not completely true. Later, she pointed out a pretty shell that had been found in a cave dwelling and I think that this reinforces her point. This shell may not have served a purpose to its ancient owners the way that a tool or an animal skin would have. Despite this, it was kept in this cave anyways for no other reason than that its discoverers were interested or liked the way it looked when they found it.
While we were touring La Grotte de Rouffignac, a cave near Sarlat filled with prehistoric cave paintings (The photo attached is of the cave entrance).
I was amazed with the incredible art that covered the walls. These people painted mammoths, rhinoceros, horses, and other animals on the walls and ceilings. Looking at this beautiful art, I thought about how much time they must have spent painting and carving in the cave. This showed me that our predecessors were not simply focused on finding food, water and safety; they were creative and curious beings.
What I got at the market:
2 bars of soap (one is goat’s milk, one is verbena)
I would say it was a success.
The second we turned the corner outside of the hotel, a long lively and winding market place came into view. Hundreds of people, tourists and locals, filled the roads, exploring the cobblestone streets. The shopkeepers were selling a wide variety of products, anything from delicious fresh fruits to tiny alpaca figurines. The shopkeepers were unbelievably kind and patient even when my attempts to speak French didn’t go so well.
Probably one of my favorite parts of the market was interacting with the shopkeepers through interviews I am conducting for my project for this trip. My project is to conduct interviews, asking French people what historical event they believe has influenced their country and its people the most and why, and finally compile these interviews into a video. Hopefully after these interviews, I will have a clearer picture of what it means to be French and what has created this rich culture. Before this market place, I did not have too much success with my interviews; either the people couldn’t understand my question or they did not want to be videotaped. I was surprised because out of the five attempted interviews, four of them were successful. So far, the majority of the people responded with the French revolution as the most influential event, and I think this reflects the magnitude of which the French people value their freedom. After all, it’s in France’s motto, “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity).
Two days ago, after a great visit to the Louvre including many amazing exhibits and even some imitating of the poses of the sculptures in the gallery, we walked through the square to l’Orangerie, passing by a large portable arena with loud music and “Streetball: World Championship” written across the side of it. Though none of us on the trip had ever heard of Streetball, there seemed to be a large following of spectators.
When we continued on to l’Orangerie, a collection of Monet’s large water lily murals, I remembered when our guide told us the meaning of the French word, “orangerie.” He said that the word came from when the French nobility wanted to have orange trees in their beautiful gardens, but they ran into a problem. Orange trees cannot survive in the frigid temperatures of France’s winter. The nobility created rooms indoors that they could put their orange trees when it was cold and called them orangeries. I felt like the name of the museum was very fitting because it made me think I was walking into an indoor garden, and the paintings were living plants.
I think that L’Orangerie is one of my favorite museums that we have seen in Paris. Because the murals surrounded each of the walls I felt like I was present in the garden. I could sit and look at the paintings for hours. One thing that I found interesting was the way the water seemed to swirl because of the curved lines that he painted over the pond. I wondered if the pond in his garden actually looked that way. Well, I would find out the next day when we drove to Giverny to see Monet’s garden, and not this time through his paintings, but in real life.
Yesterday, when we visited Monet’s garden the gardening was just as beautiful as I expected. The gardens smelled strongly of the flowers’ perfume and they were maintained impeccably. While looking at the water, I could see the rippling and constant movement of its surface depicted in Monet’s paintings. I think the hundreds of frogs, fish and other critters that were living in the garden created these swirls. The only thing that I was a little surprised and disappointed about was the large amounts of other people visiting that day. Overall, visiting L’Orangerie and Monet’s house were unforgettable experiences and I am so glad that we had the chance to see both of these incredible sights.