The Writing on the Wall

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(Here’s a river that was probably around since the beginning of our story… it’s the Corréze river which flows through the ancient town of Corréze. This river is a tributary of the river Vézère which runs through Montignac (the town near the cave) because I have no pictures from Lascaux but loads around Corréze…)

We were in the town of Montignac on the night of the thunder storm. I had a plan to go to the most famous cave in the world next morning and tell you all about it. It was going to be very interesting. You would have loved it. I would have loved it. But it was still raining the next morning, it rained all night, I didn’t sleep well, our clothes were wet. That’s why I didn’t go to see the Lascaux cave, just ten minutes drive from our camping car spot.

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(The town was definitely around when the cave was found)

To make up for it I bought you a book called See you in Lascaux, by Brigitte and Giles Delluc, who are experts in the Lascaux paintings. Fortunately, for all of us, Angela CaldwellI translated it into English. I’ve been skimming it so I’m ready to tell you a story about the caves. Then when you’re here in the dry season you can go yourself and hear the real story. Ok?

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(Here’s the old river Corréze, possibly looking like it would 17,000 years ago, possibly)

First thing you need to know is that nobody actually visits the cave. Humans are a toxic cauldron of fumes and chemicals that are bad for the real cave and ever since 1963 it has been closed. The historians, or as they are more accurately called, the prehistorians, found a way to share this amazing place with the world and created a copy of the cave. We went on a tour years ago and the copy cave is very realistic and also the tour was really very good.

P1080552(Very old Michelin signpost in Corréze, may have been up on this wall when they found the cave in 1940)

Long, long ago in the Magdalenian Era which was 17,000 years ago (I read that in the book) some people began drawing on the walls of the cave in Lascaux. They drew goats, bison, oxen, horses and stags. They used various natural occurring dyes to colour their drawings. They were telling stories about what was important to them. And then they left. Not sure why. Could be a previous global warming. Could be the cave flooded. Anyways, they left and the cave was forgotten. No one knew the cave even existed until one day Marcel Ravidat was walking his dog, Robot. (No his dog wasn’t a robot, that was just the dog’s name. Yes, I agree, a little confusing.)

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(Very old buildings in Corréze)

Marcel was an apprentice car mechanic and only eighteen years old. It was a Sunday in September, 1940. A few months earlier Germany had invaded France. Probably not the happiest of times. Anyway, Marcel and his dog, Robot, were out for a walk and Robot starts barking in the general direction of a hole in the ground. Marcel, who in the book is described as obstinate and adventurous, was all for going down into the hole.

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(From 1940? Maybe?)

I would just like to stop here and say there is no way that I would ever climb down into a hole in the ground. Which leads me to wonder if there are any treasures I have overlooked and although it must have been difficult for his mother aren’t we all glad Marcel was obstinate and adventurous?

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(Old stone bridge in Corréze definitely around in 1940)

Unfortunately Marcel was a little too big to fit in the potentially dangerous hole in the ground. So he came back on Thursday with his friends Georges, Simon and Jacques and they forced their way into the hole. They were all stunned by what they saw and went off to tell local teacher, Léon Lavel. News spread very quickly and the place was overrun with visitors. It still is. Marcel and his friend Jacques were unofficial gatekeepers of the cave while the experts figured out what to do.

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(I just love these little doorbells… also in Corréze)

Time passed and Marcel joined the French Resistance – of course he did and he also went to fight in Germany – his poor mother. But he survived and came back home to Montignac where he was a guide for years at the cave. In spite of the fact that there were experts from all over the world studying the cave it was Marcel who noticed the fungus spreading and damaging the walls in the 1960s.

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(More beautiful ancient buildings in Corréze)

The book doesn’t say what happened to Marcel, what he did when the cave was closed and he was no longer involved in guiding people. I suspect he found other adventures and if he married I bet his wife had stories about his obstinacy. Maybe he’s still alive. Oh, I googled him and he died in 1995, he was 72. I’m surprised at how sad that makes me feel.

Be as adventurous as you dare and as obstinate as that requires, Mairead.

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