The warm welcome by our hosts and their staff was accompanied by the beautiful setting. Located across the street from a historic church with bells ringing on the hour and a bell medley plays at 7 am and 7 pm (listen by selecting play under the church). The townspeople want the bells to ring continually because the sound signifies that there is no need to be dark and quiet to avoid war time bombs. Though it started and ended at the airport in Toulouse, the real adventure occurred in and around Le Vieux Couvent, a remarkable art retreat center in Frayssinet, France Levieuxcouvent This former 17th century convent offered a haven that included gracious hosts, gourmet food, and a garden that would create admiration in the best landscape architect. Several photographers from areas of the United States and Bermuda gathered for 10 days of exploration. The following includes reflections and photos of the Journey. The garden was a place of solace as we relaxed from busy days of photography. And the courtyard provided a gathering place for great visits. The creative approach to photography was the theme of "The Digital Artist" taught by Theresa Airey. So often I hear a disagreement about what the nature of photography is, an art or a literal representation. Guy Tal, a talented teacher and photographer sums up my perspective; “To insist that all photographs must represent objective truth is as silly as to require that all writing be in the form of objective journalism, or that all sculptures be the precise likenesses of real people.” Here are just a few examples of the use of various “apps” to create photographic art. Our time in the market town of SOUILLAC was brief and enjoyable. An Abby dating from the 17th century offered a cool respite from the heat of the day. Inside stained glass windows filtered the sunlight. Outside people went about their business and olive oil was one item for sale in the market. One of the most popular destinations for the French is the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie located over 300 feet above the Lot river. Originally the castle on the high rock defended the village. It is located along the French pilgrimage route.
As we approached the village of Reilhaguet I had no idea that I would be walking through a graveyard, see empty streets with charming very old buildings and a sign that though I could not read the French, I did know what it meant. Hill towns with Castles were often part of our travels, Gourdon, Bagnac, and Rocamadour stand out. Impressive slopes rise high into the sky with only one entrance to the main street. The “Lords” of the castle protected these towns and in turn the common people served the Lord.
The views for the beautiful multi-leveled village named for the Beynac Castle are outstanding. The Castle stands on the site of a very high rock and commands the beautiful Dordogne Valley and it’s river as it winds between hills and farmland. Castles from the middle ages dot the landscape and Richard Lionheart on whose behalf the countryside was pillaged captured one castle. It was captured back from the King of England in 1214 and dismantled. A lord of Beynac later rebuilt it. During the hundred years war it was a site of many skirmishes. Both the inside, with more steps than I care to count, and outside were full of history and interest. This part of France is extraordinary and our boat trip down the river included entertainment from charming siblings.
Rocamadour is a pilgrimage site that has human traces dating back as far at the upper Paleolithic age. Worshipping Maria is the purpose of the pilgrimage. Beginning in 1152 churches were built in the cave where well-preserved remains of a hermit were found and the myth of Amadour the Saint began. Four hospitals were built to accommodate the pilgrim’s wounds that kneel to pray on each of the 216 steps of the “Great Stairway”. This act is the way to do penance before meeting with “Our Lady of Rocamadour.” Just walking down them was demanding enough for me and for this “sinner”. Towards the end of our stay we visited the beautiful lavender farm in the Lot Valley, Lavande De Lherm. Our hosts, world travelers that fell in love with France, greeted us. The many uses of lavender were espoused including use for all types of mental and physical stresses. We were also served lavender scones, a real surprise.
Our visit to Cahors, a city about 2000 years old with a famous bridge allowed the chance for some street photography. Such engaging subjects allowed for an interesting few hours.
Two ancient locations were extraordinary. Both Peche Merle and Gouffre de Padirac are visited underground. Pech Merle has the first prehistoric cave paintings I have seen. Some of these dramatic paintings and engravings date back to the Gravettian culture from 25,000 BC. I was impressed by the simple beauty of the art and felt a bit overwhelmed as I thought of ancient men and women seeking shelter in this cave and expressing the images they had seen. I was especially emotionally moved to see a child’s footprint in what was once mud. Photos were not allowed in the caves so these shots are of representations of the art. The Gouffre de Padirac is an underground river with huge rooms carved by water and erosion. To get there one must make a transition from surface level to an opening deep within the ground. A ghostly statue stands guard at the cave entrance. Inside cold clear water greets you and growing stalactites and stalagmites that reach well over 200 feet dot your journey.
I end this journey with a few shots from a typical small village, in this case St. Martin de Vers. I also include one of my favorite shots of the trip, the lovely circles created by a very busy water bug. If you have the opportunity I suggest you visit this area of France. It is spectacular.