Schools are open, fall sports have begun, lunches are packed in the early hours of the day, the Queen of England is dead and Dan and I are still swimming in the cold water, that first dive taking our breathe away, necessitating a longer swim to warm up, all the way across the bay to marsh grasses that reach like palm fronds into the water.
I have been thinking back to our trip to the Lascaux caves in France at the end of July. Of course, we went to Lascaux IV, a recreated cave under the sleek modern museum designed by the Norwegian architecture firm, Snøhetta. The building, a holy temple of sorts, constructed to celebrate the “Sistine Chapel of prehistory,” burrows into the land like a giant, unobtrusive cricket, its back barely perched atop a soft Dordogne river valley rise. The actual Lascaux cave was closed to the public in 1968, when scientists discovered that people’s breath was destroying the delicate paintings. But I had no idea how we’d feel about the recreated cave—would it be campy? Or sort of lame? Last spring, I went on a virtual tour of it for Frenchly (you can go, too, here) as part of a celebration of the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and, of course, by then I’d edited two pieces about the caves for Frenchly in the past year. But nothing could have prepared me for what was truly, and I’m not joking, a life-altering experience.
We got up early in my friend Noelle’s house (you can see images of her amazing place on my Instagram feed—I’ll add some more for you this weekend!) and piled into the car. I had made us a little plum strawberry jam back in our Airbnb in Collioure the day before to pack for our journey, and I had a cold block of Président butter and a beautiful chestnut flour bread filled with figs and walnuts. With a knife we’d purchased at the cornucopia known as the 8 à Huit grocery store in Menthon-Saint-Bernard, I made everyone jam and butter sandwiches until we were full. Passing out our windows were grassy fields, untouched, unspoilt, filled with birds and butterflies, craggy stone homes, patches of deep, dark forest, and then long stretches of the most beautiful golden sunflowers you’ve ever seen set against a Van Gogh blue, blue sky.
We descended into the cave with a small group and our tour guide was a soft-spoken dark-haired young woman. She was a gifted storyteller, my friends. She told us all about the boy named Marcel who discovered Lascaux with his dog, Robot. She told us about the generations of artists who continued the paintings their grandparents had left before them. She showed us symbols and signs and told us what scientists think some of the images might have meant. She told us about mysteries and the passage of time—21,000 years, to be precise–oil lamps and grooves in the rock and then, at the end, we got to the swimming deer. Here, to borrow from Zora Neale Hurston’s wonderful main character, Janie, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, my soul crawled “out from its hiding place.”
The way these deer are painted, heads held crooked above the water, their desire to survive so palpable, the “river” a bend in the rock which scientists believe was lighted by oil lamps to give the effect of waves, almost made me cry. My younger son and I actually squeezed each other’s hands in that moment. Well, I’ve just never seen anything like it.
I think of those deer every time I jump in the water now. I think of how we all, animal, human, bird and bee, want to survive, especially with fall coming. And I think of the courage it takes to exist with integrity day in and day out. Speaking of courage, the other day we awoke to a fawn sleeping in our yard. It had been munching my shrubs, but it was hard to frown at it, it was so cute sleeping and then sleep eating, eyes closed, jaws moving, like my babies used to nurse. Later, it was gone, the mother having whistled or snorted to it from the woods. We haven’t seen it again.
It is a time of change and chilly exhilaration and getting back to work. Because our kids are climbing exhausted into bed earlier, Dan and I, too, are going to bed early. Our lives feel, for the moment, tidied. Just get me closer to the winter holidays and I will surely no longer feel that way…but I’ve got tons of time until that, right?
For now, I’m looking at book cover options my editor is sending me for my new novel, Pete & Alice in Maine, out next summer, and gearing up to go back into a novel I abandoned before Covid. But until then, I am swimming like a deer, sleeping like a fawn and finding joy in every moment I possibly can. I hope you are, too.
Cook, watch, listen & read ce weekend (Cuisiner, regarder, écouter et lire):
I had the enormous privilege of interviewing the fashion icon, artist, patron, mentor and supporter of countless artists, environmentalist and all-around rock-star, agnès b., about a show of her new photographs which she made during the Covid lockdown of 2020 at her home in Versailles. I loved speaking with her (a second time—last September I got to talk to her about some clothing she’d designed that uses Tim Barber photographs).
Now, if you’ve read this far, guess what? We have 5 copies of the book she’s made of her new photos up for grabs, ready for the first 5 people who email me today! Your addresses will also go on agnès b.’s gallery email list, too.
Watch: OK, I am SO intrigued by this interview Andrea Meyer did with the actor/director Mathieu Amalric about his new movie, Hold Me Tight, I have to watch it tonight. What the hell is happening in this movie? I need to know. Do you, too? Tell me if you watch it!
Read: Catherine Rickman has a terrific piece for us today on the lost languages of France. I learned so much and loved this piece.
And eat & drink: Ok, we’re making pizza tonight and our new lovely neighbors are coming by for a slice. I am totally inspired by these recipes for using a Provençal thyme liqueur in cocktails that Catherine has written up for us that I am going to take her suggestion to pair the Thyme Julep with a mushroom pizza tonight. Maybe you’ll try one of these this weekend, too?
We’ve also got a list of French events that celebrate diversity happening all over the U.S. this lovely September and a new list of 7 photogenic off-the-beaten path streets in Paris for your ogling soul. Tell me what you think….and see you next week.