Needs Must… When the Devil Drives

Hello everybody!  It’s been a while!  How’ve you been?  We should go for a pint sometime, you know, catch up and all that.

As mentioned before, we returned to the UK somewhat precipitously as a result of a crisis in K’s family.  This, tragic as it was in itself, turned into a collection of crises.  I dont feel like it’s my place (or that this is the right format) to go into any detail, but suffice to say that we felt the only reasonable course of action was to stay in Wales to help resolve things.

Now, barring a few distinct loose ends, the crises that can be resolved have largely been resolved.  The house is sold, stuff moved and building work well on the way for the new place.

Sky full of kites - at the feeding station at Bwlch Nant yr Arian

Sky full of kites – at the feeding station at Bwlch Nant yr Arian

In the midst of everything, the stress, worry, exhaustion, strain, loss and difficulty, there have been good experiences.  I’ve never spent much time living in the country before, or on a smallholding, so I was very much taken with it.  Standing outside in the sun during a break in the work and having red kites flying overhead at the height of the barn roof is beautiful and memorable the first time, and somehow equally so every time it happens thereafter.  Getting a cup of coffee in the morning and meandering out to say hello to the ponies with an aging red setter at your heels also comes pretty close to idyllic for me.


I tracked down a chainsaw rumoured to be stored in the barn and, having put it together, pored over the instruction manual, acquired some safety gear and watched a number of online videos, began using it to turn the vast amount of felled wood on the smallholding into usable logs.  In films and computer games, the chainsaw is one of the quintessential zombie-combat weapons and looks deadly, efficient and, not to beat around the bush, a whole lot of fun.  I was pleased to find that in this case popular culture has it spot on.  I’m pretty sure that the scarcity of fuel would make it next to useless in a zombie apocalypse situation, but when it comes to cutting logs it turns out to be an easy and fun tool to wield.  Heavy, awkward, remarkably dangerous, but fun.  It’s also extremely hot work, though maybe that was to be expected from an activity that involves holding a running petrol engine in your hands.

Speaking of engines, K and I have also spent our time starting to sort and sell off the mighty and jumbled collection of classic motorbikes and parts that had taken over the top barn.  It began as an impenetrable muddle of bits of oddly shaped metal.  Then, as we picked through it, aided by guidance from some of K’s friends and family and from Haynes’ excellent Motorcycle Basics Techbook (which starts with ‘each has two wheels, and engine and a transmission system, which are all held together by a framework’ – setting it at a perfect level for the total neophyte), we started to recognise different parts, to recognise different bikes and manufacturers, and to have an appreciation of what does what.  I can recognise a clutch now. I understand (in basic terms) what it does.  I can tell a two stroke engine from a four stroke.  It’s been a learning curve that hopefully will continue as we work on the few remaining bikes.

... might need to practise my bird photography.

… might need to practise my bird photography.

Speaking of bikes, I have been able to act on my growing wish to again own a mountain bike, and have had time to ride a huge amount.  I had forgotten what great fun it was, and what an excellent way to see the mountains and woods.  I’ve ridden many of the trails in the area, terrified myself at Bike Park Wales, and ridden classic routes from Machynlleth and in the Brecon Beacons.  It is, in a word, awesome.


Au revoir la France

Ain't no party like an Eiffel Tower party.

Ain’t no party like an Eiffel Tower party.

As a final loud ‘huzzah’ for our Grand Tour, we decided to spend the weekend in Paris.  As luck would have it, the weekend we chose was one immediately after Paris had made a distinct effort to choke itself into unconsciousness on car fumes and other pollution and so (maybe in honour of St Patricks Day which appeared to be being celebrated… maybe not) had decided that all public transport in the Ile de France region would be free for the whole weekend.  We parked in a small satellite town and caught the train in for free.  We travelled around Paris by tube, for free.  It would appear we timed that rather well.

We did the Parisian sight seeing thing.

We went to see the Arc de Triomph, which was covered in scaffolding.  I believe I may have been to Paris at some point before, but if so it was long enough ago that I don’t remember anything about it.  It was, therefore, pretty new to me.  We looked at the Arc de Triomph from one side, and then crossed underneath it, avoiding the payment booths, and looked at it from the other side.


Following the beacon at its head, we traipsed across the town centre and looked at the Eiffel Tower.  It was exactly as you’d expect it to be, and lit up with flashing lights on the dot of every hour.  Again, we decided that standing at ground level and looking at the tower was more satisfying than paying to climb it (or paying more to go up it in the lift) and avoided the ticket booths entirely.

We wandered up towards Montmartre, and had a look at the Basilique de Sacre Coeur, perhaps a lesser known landmark but spectacular nonetheless.  We made an effort to get lost in the backstreets of Montmartre, and gradually wound our way back down the hill, past the windmill part way up and finally o the Moulin Rouge.  To my surprise, it still runs as a club and burlesque venue, and appears to be capitalising on its debauched historical image.  Surrounding it are an intriguing array of lesser strip clubs, sex shops, dubious DVD rental places and a museum of pornography.


Back into the centre of the city, we walked round the Cathedrale de Notre Dame.  We would have had to pay to climb the towers, and even to get inside we would  have had to queue for a long time, so we contented ourselves with walking around the outside.  It is as beautiful and intricate and gothic as it sounds in every description you’ve ever heard of it.  Graceful flying buttresses bristle around what I assume is the East end of the church.  Gargoyles leer and grimace from every cornice and crevice.  Again, it was a slightly dislocating experience for me to see it, accustomed as I am to battling digital zombies on its roof.




At one point in our tour of Paris, we set off on the subway to go and see the catacombs.  We’d seen crypts in Vienna, catacombs in Rome, casts of the dead in Pompeii – it seemed natural to see them in Paris too.  Besides, we had heard that they made an incredible sight.  However, on reaching them we discovered a queue that went completely around the block.  We could have joined it, but as it happened we decided that with limited time it would make more sense to go and look at other stuff instead.  We would have to come back – perhaps not a weekend, not during the school holidays, and not on a day with free transport.  Maybe then it would be quieter.

We meandered down the Seine.  We paused for a gigantically overpriced cup of coffee within sight of the Louvre, and then meandered a bit closer to it for a better look.  Coming closer, we explored the courtyard and admired the great glass pyramid that covers the entrance hall, and the lesser pyramids and fountains around it.  We decided that even if we would need to come back to it again to really experience it fully, we could not in good conscience leave Paris without looking around the Louvre.  We queued, paid, and entered the sprawling wings of the gallery.

Coffee!  Palace!

Coffee! Palace!

It is a bewildering place.  The art, spread over three floors and endless rooms that weave around the whole of the great building, is a matchless array of brilliance.  At least, it should be.  One of the notable results of our trip is that after the Art History Museum in Vienna, the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, the Vatican Museums in Rome, and any number of lesser galleries, we have become a little more accustomed to seeing genuinely masterful art.  Another slightly strange realisation is that thanks to the last few months, many of the pieces we were able to see in the Louvre came from places that we had actually been to.  Three large rooms house a selection of fine Etruscan art, largely originating from Cerveteri.  Large frescoes on cracked plaster adorn the walls of rooms of Roman art, many culled from the ruins at Pompeii.

Inevitably, perhaps, the pieces that made the most impression were those that one intentionally goes to the Louvre to see – most memorably, Venus di Milo and the Mona Lisa.  Both rooms were crowded, but not completely impossible.  As odd as it may sound, pieces like these are so well known, so ubiquitous in appearance, that I almost find it difficult to believe that there ever was an original.  Someone actually painted the Mona Lisa?  It’s like suggesting someone write Away In A Manger.  Surely the Mona Lisa simply arose out of a combined cultural consciousness in need of a tangible symbol of excellence in two-dimensional art?  To see the pieces themselves, and stand in the same room as the canvas that da Vinci painted, is a remarkable experience.  It also seems to lead to the question – why this?  Why is the Mona Lisa arguably the most famous and well-known painting in the world?  Why is the Venus di Milo the most famous and well-known sculpture in existence?  I remain unsure of the answer.  They are undeniable masterpieces, each capturing something perhaps undefinable about their subjects, but in what way they genuinely differ from other artists’ work, in what way they portray more than the others, I find it very difficult to say.  Perhaps it is something that becomes clearer with further knowledge and experience – I am reminded of being unaware of the remarkable nature of Mozart’s music when studying it at A level, and then bowled over by the elegance, fluidity, and restrained beauty in it when I listened to it again a few years later.  No doubt it is the same with visual art, and I simply need more experience, more knowledge, and more understanding to appreciate it fully.


Obligatory picture from visit to Louvre...

Au revoir, France, continental Europe, and all you have to offer. We’ll be back.

Echoes of Lascaux

With our travels cut slightly short, we made our way quickly back up through Spain and the length of France.  Our curiosity piqued by the pained caves we had seen in the Pyrenees, we decided to pause in the Vezere valley and visit Lascaux, the most famous of the French caves, and the yardstick by which the others measure themselves (Chauvet, for example, boasting art twice as old as Lascaux).

Again, no pictures in the cave, so you lovely people get more pictures of mountains in Spain.

Again, no pictures in the cave, so you lovely people get more pictures of mountains in Spain.

The cave was discovered relatively recently, when a dog being walked by four teenage boys fell into it.  They followed, and their explorations revealed animals painted on the rock walls.  They informed their schoolteacher, and from there it was a short road to it becoming the tourist attraction it is today.  Indeed, the heavy traffic of visitors viewing the cave has taken a significant toll on the art.  Three distinct ‘diseases’ began to deface the art, caused by the constant presence of people.  A higher percentage of carbon dioxide in the air, moisture and microbes carried on peoples clothes, and other factors cause these, and green algae and white calcium deposits began to obscure the art.

The cave was closed to the public in 1963.

Over the next two decades, the caves main galleries were computer mapped in three dimensions and recreated in a steel and cement structure, buried into the hillside close to the original cave.  Within this the contours of the rock walls have been faithfully copied.  Artists specialising in Magdalenian painting and techniques have studied the original art and meticulously reproduced it in this new artificial environment.  The resulting exhibit is a copy, a museum, and also a remarkable artistic feat in itself.

... including this tunnel through the Spanish mountain...

… including this tunnel through the Spanish mountain…

We were lucky.  Despite it being a weekday sometime in the middle of March, there was a largish group of visitors – and enough of them spoke English for the staff to split the group and add an unscheduled English speaking tour for us all.  Personally, I had been quite looking forward to testing my French skills again, but there’s no doubt it is much easier to follow it in English.

We were led down a short flight of steps into the entrance of the new cave (Lascaux II), and told that these made a much easier entrance to the new cave than the old one had.  Below were three rooms with exhibits detailing the discovery of the original cave, the construction of the second one (including cutaway views of the steel structure and the various stages of construction and artwork), the ‘diseases’ that human presence had afflicted the original artwork with, and finally the techniques and materials used in creating the original art.  We had a short talk on each of the rooms and a brief time to look around the exhibits, and then we were led through into the recreation of the main gallery of Lascaux cave.

... and this bird, which helped us eat our lunch.

… and this bird, which helped us eat our lunch.

It is beautiful – and incredible.  Bedeilhac had a remarkable range of techniques used.  Niaux’s Salon Noir had a plethora of creatures inscribed predominantly in black.  Neither quite prepared me for the multicoloured spectacle of Lascaux.  Among the art are the biggest depictions known in Magdalenian art – dominating the walls.  Large horses are depicted with realistic colouring, the tan shading and black legs very clear.  Deer are shown with finger-painted antlers branching from their heads.  A herd of bison are depicted as one or two detailed individuals and a crowd of legs and horns behind the front few.  Indeed, ideas of perspective thought to have been developed well within recorded history are shown to have been reasonably well known 16,000 years ago.  Even more remarkable, one wall is adorned with (among many, many other things) a succession of horses shown in different stages of a galloping gait.  It looks as though the artist has intentionally depicted the process of galloping – almost like the images in the early animation devices like zoetropes.  The walls are covered with superimposed animals, and overshadowed by the huge figures of the large bison, towering over artist and observer.
Close to the exit from the gallery, a horse is depicted on its back, mystifying the experts somewhat.  Was this a mistake?  Did orientation not matter?  The rest are upright.  According to TimeForAWildIdea’s resident horse expert, it is shown in the act of rolling.
Again, we were shown the skill with which the artists used existing shapes in the rock walls to flesh out their art with muscular shapes and three dimensional rib cages.
It would appear that scaffolding of some sort was used in the creation of the images.  Natural holes in the rock walls of the original cave contained clay that still held the imprint of the timber used to support the artists close to the ceiling.

The strange thing about the exhibition, as remarkable as it was, was that no matter how closely they had reproduced the original, it was still an artificial cave.  The floor was even.  We were left with the impression that the cave itself must be an absolutely incredible thing to see, but that we had by no means seen it.  Inevitably, seeing a reproduction is not quite the same as seeing the original.  In the end, it carries an oddly unsatisfying feel to it, for all that we were very glad to see it – and for all that we understand and approve of the preservation of the original cave and its art.

... and this ruined Roman fort.

… and this ruined Roman fort.

Jiking in Javea

I have had no idea what to expect from Spain.  I knew very little about the country, and next to nothing about the language.  I still know very little about the country, and what I know about the language can be summarised as: vaguely similar to French and Italian, but not similar enough to either for me to actually be able to speak it.

Nonetheless, we’ve spent a week and a half or so around Javea (or maybe Xabia, although I struggle to work out how an ‘x’ is pronounced like a ‘j’ which is pronounced like an ‘h’).  It’s an odd experience for me.  It’s right in the middle of the Costa Blanca, between Alicante and Benidorm, two names that strike absolute dread into my heart.  Javea itself has what appears to be a huge international population.  There are English supermarkets, and the seafronts look like a limited phrasebook of words that we’ve picked up across the continent.

That's Ibiza.

That’s Ibiza.

What has surprised me is the amount of hiking and general flora and fauna that’s here.  Looming between Javea and Denia is the Montgo, a natural park with a jutting spur of a mountain in the middle of it.  It looks relatively small, as mountains go, although in fact its height is comparable to many of the highest mountains in England.  Which are also fairly small.


We walked to the top.  Bright yellow butterflies chased each other in circles around us.  Choughs called and tumbled in the air above us.  Palm trees, pines, and rosemary bushes covered the rocky ground.  Processionary caterpillars squirmed free of their web nests in pine trees and dropped to the ground, to form long crocodiles of traipsing caterpillars ready to fire caustic acid into the faces of dogs, children and unwary picnickers.  Pleasant things.


We walked elsewhere.  We sampled a selection of the paths and tracks around Javea, many of which are waymarked as bike tours, hiking paths, or horse riding trails.  We saw the old windmills that line the ridge, many of which are being renovated into homes or holiday cottages.  We saw an abandoned, ruined Guardia Civil building.  We went down to one specific beach which was thick with fossils, and found a whole pile of bivalve fossils.


We scrambled down the cliff and across some natural arches until we could get into a cave at the foot of the cliff.  It was natural to begin with, but had been extensively mined for tusca – a locally available rock that’s used ornamentally in the region.  As a result the cave now extends deep into the cliff.  We explored into it, trying not to disturb the bats.


We explored Guadalest, which had a castle perched high on a hilltop, a lot of odd fortifications, and a surprisingly large number of museums.  We had a distinctly sickening time looking around a tiny museum of torture implements.  My illusions of the decency of humanity thoroughly flattened, we looked around the rest of the place.


We went back up onto the Montgo and into the eye of the mountain.  It’s a broad cave part way up the mountain that glares down onto Javea.  At the back of the cave is a small chute that leads down, and through a couple of dust-filled, shoulder width choke points and into a large gallery in the heart of the mountain.  Ropes and tea light candles bore witness to previous intrepid chthonic explorers.  Calcified pillars towered from floor to ceiling.


The area was much more interesting than I had expected, and definitely worth spending some time in.  We headed North.

Dali vs. Gaudi

On our way down the Spanish coast, we would pass two placed famed for the work of two artistic geniuses or total nutjobs, depending on your point of view.  Figueres, one of the triangle of places of huge importance to Salvador Dali, and home to the Dali Theatre-Museum, and Barcelona, showcase of Gaudi and other modernist architecture.


The Dali museum is an odd, fascinating, and dislocating place.  The first courtyard contains the giant installation ‘Rainy Taxi’, housed in the old stalls of the theatre.  Burnt beams project from the walls.  Faces, designed to be reminiscent of the Monster Park in Italy, peer from foliage.  Golden mannequins adorn the windows.  A tower of tractor tyres holds a boat owned by Dali’s wife, under which is a copy of Michaelangelo’s ‘Slave’, now bound with another tractor tyre.  Glass doors take one through onto the stage, dominated by the scenery Dali designed for his ballet, Labyrinth.  A giant geometric dome pours bright sunlight into the room.


The museum as a whole reminds me very strongly of the Banksy exhibition in Bristol Museum, although I suspect that the similarity is actually the other way around.  There is the same sense of bold, broad and meaningful strokes, of art subverted into something else.


For one thing, it makes it entirely clear that Dali wasn’t simply a painter with a yen for the surreal and a tendency to melt clocks.  The museum is a portrait of a man with a deep spiritual and scientific mind, where symbolism is present in everything.  His driving curiosity is visible everywhere.  Stereoscopic paintings give one three dimensional images of two dimensional things.  Optical illusions confuse the eye into seeing things that might or might not be there.  Holograms paint intriguing scenes.  In one room, Dali’s portrait of Mae West is recreated in furniture, visible through a large lens mounted under a camel.


There are rooms showcasing Dali’s influences, rooms dedicated to one theme or another, and in corners and nooks strange things draw the attention.  Grain sacks hang from ceilings like strange bats.  A handbasin catches the eye through the thronging greenery of paradise, attached to a far ceiling.  Dali’s wife becomes a giant portrait of Abraham Lincoln.


Dali thought that artists should not constrain themselves to one medium or field, and so he also produced an array of ‘jewels’ – intricate and gem-studded creations, some with mechanisms built in.  A glittering golden heart holds in its centre an anatomical heart in rubies, that beats rhythmically.


It was all rather bewildering, and endlessly fascinating.  Description doesn’t do it justice.

We reluctantly decided to forgo the other two significant Dali places in the region, and headed for Barcelona, mainly to see out and gawp at Gaudi buildings.


As we began to wander the streets of Barcelona, I was struck by an odd sensation of partial deja-vu.  I have spent a great many hours playing a skateboarding video game which features Barcelona as one of its locations.  It is always a rather strange experience to see somewhere in reality that I have spent time in in a computer game.  I had the enduring feeling that I should be skating on everything – which could not have gone well, since I’ve never skated in my life.


Skating aside, we wandered through the edge of Barcelona centre until we found Parc Güell.  To my surprise, admission was by paid ticket, and so we stared at it through the gates rather than going in.  Organic, tiled architecture glared back.  The wrought iron gates and window bars were intricate, and intriguing.


We braved the underground, and made our way to the Casa Vicens, the next stop on our whistlestop Gaudi tour.  I am simply not equipped with the vocabulary to describe these places, so pictures will have to suffice, along with my view that they’re very nice.  Casa Vicens is much more geometric and square than the others.


Over the road, we found La Perdrera (one of the places in the game – very odd), although it was covered in scaffolding and a giant car advert.  Peering through the gates was interesting, but not terribly enlightening.  we quickly discovered that every single Gaudi building in the city had paid entrance, with prices far higher than we were really willing to pay.


Palau Güell, which we stared at from across the road, was also replete with interesting wrought iron work, particularly the crest that festoons the front of the building.  We had always intended to only look at the buildings from the outside, but we were quickly coming to realise that the insides would be just as fascinating.

Casa Batllo, round the corner from the Palau, is a stark contrast to it.  Skull shaped balconies protrude from the building.  Windows are split with pillars like jointed bones.

After a brief wander onto the waterfront and into one or two other minor Gaudi projects, we found our way at last to the Sagrada Familia, the piece de resistance of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, and still unfinished.  We’re told it is expected to be completed in 2020.
We stared at it.
It is a little overwhelming.
Pictures and descriptions don’t really do it justice.  It is a towering, elaborate, intricate creation.  Details catch the eye, and then are swept away by the imposing whole again.  The first facade that we saw – The Passion – is covered with scenes from the Passion, predictably enough.  A stylised, dramatic statue of Christ crucified dominates the scene.  It is a surprising mix of elements that I like very much – like the great sloping porch supported on splayed, bone-like pillars – and elements that I find rather tacky – such as the brightly coloured, raised words ‘Sanctus’ climbing the bell towers.
The other completed facade – the Nativity – is a different, but equally compelling experience.
Somehow the swathes of plastic covering, the scaffolding, and the cranes working ceaselessly above do not detract much from the overall impression – although I am certain it will be an entirely different experience once it is finished.  For one thing at the moment it lacks a great number of its towers, including the imposing central tower for Christ himself.




We returned to the van (via a fruitless mission to take the funicular to the top of the hill behind it), somewhat bewildered.  The work of both Dali and Gaudi seems to have been bizarre, unsettling, charming, ridiculous, and amazing.  We are glad to have seen it.

Pyrenees part II: My name is Niaux

Returning to the Pyrenees after Mum had headed home, we explored a little more.  We wandered round Ax-des-Termes, and found its hot-spring-heated basins in the middle of the town.

It snowed.

It snowed.

We took the road up into the high pass that leads into Andorra.  We looked on in bewilderment as the walls of packed ice on either side of the road got gradually higher and higher until they rose higher than the roof of the van.  As we drove through the enormous shopping centre just over the Andorran border, that exists solely to take advantage of Andorra’s tax laws, we noticed that cars parked by the side of the road had six inch icicles hanging from their bumpers.  Ice began to form on the insides of the van windows.



We decided that it would take some time for us to get anywhere in the tiny mountainous country where we could sleep.  Feeling distinctly nervous about the icy roads, we decided that we had seen Andorra, and turned back, taking the route back through the tunnel as opposed to back over the high pass.  To our slight surprise, we were stopped by customs, who didn’t seem to believe that we had spent roughly ten minutes in the country and hadn’t stopped.  We may have impressed them by skidding slightly when they flagged us down.  However, after a brief rummage we passed through and on our way.


Prior to our sojourn into Andorra, we returned to the painted caves of the Pyrenees.  Aside from Bedeilhac, the other cave that’s open to the public is Niaux.
Unfortunately, the only tours available this early in the year are in French.  I would have to try to firstly understand, and secondly to try to translate as much as I could for K.  This was… interesting.

Our guide talked initially about the Magdalenians.  Much of the information she gave us (thankfully) was the same as the previous tour we’d had.  She also talked about the nomadic lifestyle of them, and that there was evidence of long distance travelling or trading.  Shells from the Mediterranean have been found in Magdalenian camp sites on the Atlantic coast, and vice versa.  Magdalenian ornaments made from whales teeth have been found high in the mountains.
She talked again about the theories that had been for forward for the art itself – and suggested that one idea was that the paintings were the result of shamanic communion with spirits.

She led us down into the cave – through an artificial entrance that had been added in order to better control access to the cave, and therefore also preserve the art.

Again, we were shown a ‘board of signs’, this time much more diverse and formless than the simple rectangle of dots in Bedeilhac.  This one had marks in black and red, with dots, dashes, claviform signs and others, including one or two more complex collections of marks that were repeated.  She explained that the boards were usually placed at important parts of the cave – as in Niaux it immediately precedes a junction between four galleries that lead off in different directions.

Slightly further into the cave, she highlighted a wall that was covered with writing.  She explained that for many years, tourists had been coming to the caves for an adventure while staying at the local spa towns.  The graffiti all bore dates, ranging from 1602 into the 19th century.  The signatories were generally people with enough money and influence to afford to stay in the spas, so some were very well known names.  Voltaire’s signature stood out, as did the Compt de Foix, and Napoleons mistress.
Our guide explained that early on, people had no conception of how old the paintings in the cave were.  Firstly this was due to a tendency towards Biblical literalism – meaning that the paintings could not be more than six thousand years old.  Even after the existence of prehistoric humanoids was acknowledged, it was thought that they could never have shown the artistic desire or skill to render such images, and so they were assumed to be modern graffiti as well.  The paintings were therefore not treated with the respect and care that they needed, and some were even drawn over.  It was only with the discovery of images of mammoth and other extinct creatures that the paintings began to be seen for their true age and value.

We went deeper into the cave, and entered the Salon Noir (‘black room’), the walls of which hold eighty per cent of the art in Niaux.  We were asked to put our torches down, and our guide made a note of the number of people in the group and the time we had entered the cave.  We were led to a railing that prevents the public from approaching the wall, and our guide illuminated that wall for us.

It was incredible.

Scores of large, detailed, expressive, and accurate drawings leapt from the walls.  As Abbot Breuil wrote in 1908: “All are black-outlined silhouettes; nowhere else are the lines more sure and exact nor the characteristic strokes drawn more carefully and with such talent”.
There are six panels of art in the Salon Noir, completely lining the great semi-circular wall at the end of the cave.  The drawings range from simple lines that suggest the shape of an animal, to incredibly detailed depictions.  Bison, horses, ibex, and deer are depicted with facial expressions.  Bison hooves are depicted accurately and in detail.  Creatures have their bellies and legs shaded to suggest the three-dimensional shape of them.  Every bison is drawn with a beard, and the similarity of style between them all is remarkable.  Creatures are superimposed over each other, sometimes independently, sometimes using a line from an earlier painting as part of a new one.  A bison’s leg becomes a horses chin.
In the later panels (later for us, not necessarily later painting), the artists had again used features of the wall itself to describe the animals.  A bison stands on a rock ledge, clearly descending it rather than simply being drawn sideways: its legs are extended forward; its beard hangs straight down.  A bison has been drawn with a rock ridge as its shoulder (if the light is held in the correct place), and its face is in three-quarter view as opposed to being completely profile like all of the others.  The one bison that can be seen with its tail flicked upwards is due to a natural crack in the wall, that suggested the shape.  A number of bison process down the ceiling of one low gallery, as if descending into the belly of the earth.
Many of the images were marked with red dots and arrow shaped marks.  However, it is still thought that this is not in order to depict hunting scenes.  Again, the paintings are a kilometre and a half from daylight, and would have been painted on low ceilings such that the artists would have had to lie on the floor to do them.  The floor has since been excavated to allow easier viewing and to prevent people from brushing against the paintings.  Our guide suggested that the cave had been chosen partly for its acoustic properties, since in the middle of the gallery there was a distinct echo.

Our guide talked about other sections of the cave that cannot be seen by the general public.  Beyond underwater sections of the cave there are dry parts again, and further art has been found there.  Footprints from the time are still visible in the sand.  A rock cavity shaped like a deer head has had antlers added with two flowing lines.  In one cave, there is a depiction apparently unique in cave paintings – a weasel.

We asked about techniques that were used.  Our guide described three distinct recipes for the paint, using combinations of manganese dioxide, talc, feldspar potash, and biotite, applied to the wall in a wide variety of methods, including brushes, quills, fingers, sticks, and blowing paint between the artists hands.  The charcoal that was also used had been dated in the Salon Noir, and it would appear that the art was painted in two distinct periods, separated by several hundred years.  Differences in the paint recipes and the superimposition of the creatures seems to back this up.

The tour was fascinating, even though there is plenty in it that I am certain I missed completely, and equally plenty that I have forgotten thanks to trying to concentrate on translation.  Nevertheless seeing the art in the caves was absolutely amazing.

Somewhat satisfied with the Pyrenees, we headed for the coast, and the Spanish border.

No pictures allowed in the caves, again, so you get another lovely picture of the road to Andorra.  Yay!

No pictures allowed in the caves, again, so you get another lovely picture of the road to Andorra. Yay!