Saturday, August 11, 2012

Foix, the Pyrenees and Parc de l 'Art Préhistorique, The Langue d’Oc Diaries, Part III

The medieval streets of Foix

Our last stop was the Pyrenees town of Foix, a seriously charming old medieval town. We stayed in an inexpensive hotel in the old town—fine for one night. I had forgotten how beautiful the Pyrenees are; the only downside is there’s no escaping driving through those really long tunnels.

We decided to return to Barcelona by way of Foix because of the spectacular Parc Pyrénéen de l'Art Préhistorique. We had hoped to visit Grotte de Niaux, but the glorious weather we had enjoyed the entire tip changed to cold and rain. The guidebooks cautioned against visiting the caves in the rain as the entrance is slippery and there is no turning back. We decided we weren’t up to it. Slipping and breaking an ankle in one of these caves was too scary a prospect for this senior citizen.

We had visited caves with astonishing prehistoric paintings in the Dordogne, were in awe of the artistic vision of our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago, and wanted to have that experience again. However, it’s much easier to navigate the caves in the flat land of the Dordogne than in Pyrenees --and we were about 20 years younger.

Although we didn’t make ito the Grotte de Niaux, we saw amazing reproductions in the museum Parc Préhistorique.

The museum was organized in way that was very confusing. It reminded us of the American Indian museum in Washington, D.C.-- deliberately non-chronological in the organization of exhibits and, according to the American Indian museum’s designers, mounting a challenge to linear thinking. I don’t know if the designers of the Parc Prehistorique were deliberately trying to create an experience of disorientation, but that’s the effect it had in us. Nonetheless, the museum was a very powerful experience and will stay with me in a way most museums do not.

In addition to the museum, the Parc Prehistorique contains numerous open-air exhibits, including one which demonstrated how archaeologists work. (I think if I were a young person that museum would have made me seriously consider becoming an archaeologist.)Since it was a dreary day, we had the attentions of the young, enthusiastic archaeologist all to ourselves.

Luckily for archaeologists, pre-historic humans did not clean up their campsites and they left a treasure tore of litter for archaeologists to sift through. The exhibit recreated the kinds of objects found at these sites and demonstrated how archaeologists have interpreted the findings to reconstruct scenes of daily life at the campsites. Archaeologists expect to unearth many more caves and campsites and learn a good deal more about pre-historic humans. I hope some of the discoveries are made when I’m still around!

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