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Mar 24, 2014

Ancient History: Gramma du Lot

THE STORY:
 
We never do visit the Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies, despite eating across from it nearly half a dozen times during our visits to the Dordogne and even staying in the town. Somehow, we just can't make it there during open hours. We also don't make it to the famous Caves de Lascaux, largely because tourists instead see an elaborately reproduced artificial cave called Lascaux II. I still have a small soft-spot for visiting Lascaux, genuine or faux, given that I remember studying about it with my first fantastic French teacher, Mlle. Joan Brim, at Bay Trail Middle School in Penfield, N.Y. I loved her class so much (and was, apparently, so much of a dork) that I once spontaneously wrote a non-assigned epic French poem in which I rhymed Lascaux with....what else?....Moscow. I'm sure that makes us pathetic, but we do so many other things, we just can't feel too bad about it.
 
To see places that were already ancient history when ancient history was happening, we check out the prehistoric Font de Gaume. We're not allowed to photograph inside the cave, for obvious reasons of preservation, so here are some pictures taken from the internet. In real life, in the semi-darkness, the lines are not quite this clear. As you can imagine, a mostly dark tour where you see vague hints of shapes on rock is not a big hit with the younger half of our family. Truth be told, it's not exactly the most exciting thing for Anthony and me, either, but we do try to impress on the children that seeing a 15,000 year old painting is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime thing and rather mind-boggling. Though yes, we admit, kind of boring.

 

In all fairness to the children and their patience levels, we should mention that in order to see Font de Gaume, we are online by 8:25am. Tickets go on sale at 9:30, and even after getting up early and waiting an hour, we still get the last four available for the day (and even then they had to kindly bend the rules and let us use the one remaining 3pm ticket along with the three remaining 11am tickets in order to get our whole family on one tour). On our first trip, they were selling tickets about four months in advance. Now, for conservation sake, they're only available on a first come first served basis, and the number of tickets sold shrinks and adjusts constantly. At this point, the cave lets in only 80 people per day.

 

We also see the troglodyte village of La Madeleine, which is where the Magdalenian era gets its name. It's part cave dwellings, part medieval village, all built under a cliff. Our first year, we saw it from a canoe on the Vézère river, and I now feel deeply satisfied to have finally visited it. Even if the kids find it -- you guessed it -- a little boring.


And to finish our tour of caves (though not all on one actual day, because that would be parenting suicide), we head way out to the Gouffre de Padirac. This is a cave of the stalactite/stalagmite variety, but so big that we get to ride in what is essentially an underground gondola for nearly a kilometer round trip. Plus we hike up and down stairs. So many, many stairs. It is a truly stunning place, a cave that dwarfs all others I've seen, and Anthony and I are kind of shocked that it's never been used as a movie location. Even Gigi immediately says how she feels like Indiana Jones inside here.


It is around 90m to the ceiling in most places, with about 9m of rock separating the cave top and the ground above. The formations are truly incredible, and most grow about 1mm per century. So to see the 75m high, 3m wide column is, not to over-use the word, again mind-boggling. To the grown-ups. And not completely boring to the children, either -- hallelujah!

  

No, don't adjust your screen. The size and dimness of the place makes photography near impossible -- and it's not allowed at all on the boat ride or inside the best cave rooms. It's so massive that flash would do nothing. And I don't have a tripod with me (I have the opposite of a tripod; I have active young children rushing and shoving by me). So for better photos, I once again turn to the trusty internet:

 Photos from: http://larevenchedelaquiche.vraiforum.com/t3020-Le-Gouffre-de-Padirac.htm; http://www.colonnes.com/en/actu.php; http://www.rocamadour.com/fr/38/6/6/PCU3143CDT460001/sit/detail/decouvertes-patrimoine/visites/Gouffre-de-Padirac/PADIRAC/;http://www.francematin.info/Le-Gouffre-de-Padirac-se-met-a-l-heure-du-Telethon_a23165.html; http://servirlepublic.fr/epl-a-la-une/667/semitour-perigord--un-reseau-dinterets-touristiques; http://servirlepublic.fr/epl-a-la-une/667/semitour-perigord--un-reseau-dinterets-touristiques;

THE CHEESE: Gramma du Lot

 
 
Gramma du Lot, as I buy it, or Gramat du Lot (as I've sometimes seen it written), is a luscious, raw goat's milk cheese from the department of Lot. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So perhaps I don't need to spend much time on the texture. Suffice it to say: Yum.
 
 
The cheese has a pronounced goat tang, but nothing overpowering. It's lovely in every way and the only bad thing about it is that it's very hard to find, no matter how you spell it. There's not much information about it, and it's not sold very much outside the region.

THE CONNECTION:
 
Though we visit it as part of our Dordogne/Périgord trip, the Gouffre de Padirac is actually located in the department of Lot, just across the border from the Périgord. And what says "ancient history" more than a bad "Gramma" pun?

 

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