We have been in Sarlat since Sunday, painting plenn aire, touring the Dordogne Valley, seeing chateaus (castles), taking a lamplit walk through the old walled medieval city, and enjoying La Bouquerie, our wonderful house for the week. Here are some observations.
Sarlat’s old city is a wonderful mix of ancient architecture, modern street performers, great cafes, small shops, and a thousand foie gras stores. Although most tourists flock to the Dordogne River to see the chateaus and paddle the serene waters, we found the crowds daunting. It is beautiful, but there are few places to park without a fee, few parking places available due to the number of cars, and lots of other wonderful towns and countryside away from the river. We have enjoyed several drives in the country on back roads to small towns that aren’t as famous. Corn fields (to fatten the geese), wheat fields (to make baguettes), sunflowers (to make oil), walnut groves (to make oil and nuts), and (surprisingly) tobacco plots. I had no idea they grew tobacco here, but recognized it immediately from my youth in southern Wisconsin where they used to grow tobacco before it was proven to be a dangerous substance.
Foie gras is the big gastronomic news here. It is sold everywhere. Farms give tours where you can watch them force feed the geese that corn we saw growing. Foie gras comes in a confusing variety of “purities.” It’s as serious as choosing a single malt whiskey! Most guides say that the “entier” or top of the line foie gras is too strong for our proletarian tastes. It is essentially canned whole goose livers. On the other hand the Pate foie gras is only about 30% goose liver and may not be fit for high society. The middle of the road is Bloc Foie Gras. This is goose livers made into a rich, creamy pate that melts in your mouth and clots your arteries. We have no clue about which to try. The pates and terrines are quite good to our tastes.
Today we visited Lascoux II cave. Lascoux (the original cave) was closed in 1963 due to the damage caused by humans breathing in the cave. The French government undertook an 8 year project to recreate two of the large rooms in the cave. It is incredible to experience how they built this artificial cave duplicate to a likeness of 5mm! The artists who recreated the paintings used cro-magnon methods and materials while measuring and placing the paintings in exact location. The engineering and artistry are stunning. Then one must consider the artistry of these ancient humans. Many of the paintings show a remarkable depth of field, range of vision, and style that looks modern. The four giant bulls in one room each display a distinct artist’s hand. I called one realist, the second impressionist, the third post-impressionist, and the fourth an amalgamation. We don’t know in what order the figures were painted or even exactly how old they are. Metallic oxide pigments can’t be dated. It is all very fascinating. No photographs are allowed!
Last night we walked down into the old city after dark. The narrow lanes and plazas are lit by gas streetlights and cafe lights. Magic seems to be afoot. In the lanes one feels like a character in a Brother Cadfael mystery. On the plazas the atmosphere is like a night time circus. People sit in cafes and watch street performers who seem to rotate from one location to another on some sort of agreed upon schedule. We saw an amazing tightrope performance that was a ballet set to beautiful music, a couple of jugglers, a statue-mime who is incredible, and musicians of all sorts.
Tonight is is sprinkling so we decided to stay home. Tomorrow will be a stay at home painting day and we will go down to the old town again after dark. The local lizards that are slamanders in French abound in our courtyard and will keep us company throughout the day. In the mean time here are a few pictures to give you a little sense of our week.