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Et en fin

The last leg of my French sojourn, I continued to build on esoteric knowledge of this incredibly rich region.

My new friend Jeannette Rogers, another Fellow at Moulin a Nef, is a translator of medieval troubadour poetry from the original language of Occitan into both modern French and English. I never knew of this language, nor of the Cathars, the peace-loving, vegetarian Christian sect that was wiped out during the Inquisition.

The Cathar cross, which you will see everywhere in Toulouse.

After 2 and a half weeks in Auvillar, I spent three days in Toulouse, a city I fell in love with. The rest of the Fellows were all set to go home and I would have been alone at Moulin a Nef. I couldn't face it, so I booked myself a little side trip to this fascinating city. It seemed to me to be about the size of Providence RI, and a river runs through it, too.

Toulouse, France
That is where I was when the Paris attacks of Nov. 13 occurred. In fact, I only knew about it because my friends emailed me to ask if I was ok. I saw the messages upon waking on Saturday morning and my stomach dropped. I quickly reached for the remote control and turned on CNN in my hotel room.

Words are insufficient to describe the horror.

There was a pall cast over the whole country. Elliot, my husband, arrived on Sunday to join me on the last week of my journey and we rented a small car for day trips in the area. We persisted in our plans, the only noticeable difference in security was a group of armed soldiers at the Toulouse airport.

Our first day trip was to visit the prehistoric cave paintings at Fond de Gaume. I would not have known about the caves in southern France had it not been for the fantastic Werner Herzog film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. With a small group of other tourists, we spent a half an hour viewing 17,000 year old paintings on the walls. The little town of Les Eyzies featured an excellent prehistoric museum that helped to put into context what we had seen.

A bison painting at Fond de Gaume
Photo © N. Aujoulat-CNP-MCC.
As an image maker, I felt very akin to this ancient artist. And clearly, this was someone who practiced painting before hitting the rock walls. You don't just walk in and pop this out without some previous work. Did he or she practice in sand, mud, or on tree bark with chunks of ochre? And why? A human living 30,000 years ago would have been indistinguishable from you or me - humbling and awe-inspiring.

"Isatis tinctoria02". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -
 And finally, I can't leave out our trip to see a woad "factory". Woad (Isatis tinctoria, or pastel, in French) was the plant based pigment of choice to make the color blue before the cheaper, faster manufacture of indigo in India  killed the industry. We visited a little woad artisan shop that demonstrated how the plant was turned into a very light fast and excellent blue dye, which made a lot of people in the south of France very wealthy. I consider myself pretty up on pigments, but I'd never heard of this one.