September 8, 2013

Two Rainy Day Rides ... and Art

A street in Carennac

For the past two days, I've been based in Carennac, another beautiful medieval village located on the Dordogne, in the Lot departement. It is a monastery town (as opposed to bastide towns, or hamlets, or cities) which prospered around an 11th century Cluniac Abbey, with its romanesque church. Prospered because it was on the pilgrimage route to Rocamadour, and then, as now, travelers have needs (then particularly for medical care, shelter and food) and spend money. It is now a quiet village, with Renaissance houses, twisting streets, red roofs and lots of art, old and new.

Footpath between houses

Gate remaining in the wall around the church

The work of Gilles Sacksick is hung indoors and out, all around town. I wasn't previously familiar with his work, but it is accessible and enjoyable, with something very strong at its core.

This poster, a different kind of art, reminds me that French rural areas are threatened with some of the same environmental dangers that rural areas in the US face: among them the storage of nuclear waste and fracking. People I talk with here are quite concerned with protecting local agricultural and food production both against direct environmental threats and against the intrusions of factory farming and GMOs. Hopefully, the Europeans (with the French in the lead) will be able to hold off US threats in current international trade talks.

The past two days have both been rainy, so I limited my riding each day to two short excursions, each of about 25 miles. Both days I spent time waiting out downpours, today at a market in St. Céré, where I admired these mushrooms, a specific variety of chanterelles.

The first ridet took me to Rocamdour, a famous pilgrimage site for believers who come here to pay tribute to the black virgin, made famous for miracles at about the time King Henry of France (1st husband of Aliénor of Aquitaine) was miracuously cured of some serious ailment. The troubadors of her court, famous for their poetry, songs, and courtly behavior, made the black Madonna even more famous. Legends abound, and so do pilgrims.

Rocamadour, high on the cliff above the valley below.

Pilgrims, and captives, made the climb to the church on their knees,

A courtyard at the castle at Rocamadour. The building was not open to the public.

The famous, and controversial, statue of the black virgin.

My ride today, about the same distance, but east, not south, had as its goal a visit to Jean Lurçat's residence, now a museum  (the Atelier Musée Jean Lurcat)  featuring his tapestries and documenting his life. And, what a life it was ... friends with Picasso, Neruda, Gide, Cocteau, Léger, etc. He worked with Balanchine, exhibited with Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Derain and Dufy. He left Paris, travelled widely, and eventually bought (about 1941) this little castle at the top of a hill in St. Céré, from which he was an active member of the resistance and an active member of the local community. Born in 1892, as a young man he was a painter, but was involved with tapestry by 1917.  Eventually he completely abandoned painting for tapestry, drawn to its architectural and monumental qualities, wanting to avoid the precious and the petite. He simplified his work, abandoning perspective in favor of flat imagery, much of it featuring the horrors of warfare, and his passionate involvement in the world around him. I was very moved to spend the afternoon in his home, surrounded by artifacts of his life and examples of his work.

Jean Lurcat tapestry

Tapestry detail

Lurcat tapestry

Lurcat tapestry detail

History is never far away in France, my days pass partially embedded, frequently surrounded, by it. Yesterday's ride passed this plaque for two British parachutists during World War II, who parachuted into the field behind it. Lurçat was an active resistor during that war.



  1. Your eye and the camera mesh nicely to give us beautiful pictures of places, people, art and just so much landscape that is known only to adventurers like yourself, lost in the freedom of exploration.

    1. George, thank you, thank you. I have a camera full of images taken thinking you would enjoy them. Will edit them before swamping you in them. This trip is, indeed, a delight!

  2. Another feast for the eye

    1. And another thank you goes to you, for reading, and also for taking the time to comment.

  3. A Black Virgin of Rocamadour decorates my living room... From, right at, 20 years ago this fall!

    1. Now that is cool ... do pilgrims climb the steps on their knees, or are they modern and can walk. ;<)

  4. Hi again. I think two hours ago I read your 2009 trip account and promised myself I'd hightail to the pet food store to buy cat food before everything shuts down for new years. Er, and yet I'm still here. You have given me inspiration to check to go back to the Dordogne, and to visit the Pyrenees. Thanks for all the church & cloister pics, it's one of the things I love about touring in France.

    1. Hi again .... It's great to learn these accounts are still being read. The history, architecture of the old churches seems so powerful, and we have nothing like that here. Well, here we have mostly nothing like anything in France, at least southern France!

    2. Gerry Patterson sent out a link to his end of year post and I saw the link your blog. I saw you'd biked the Cevennes, and just fell in.

      I adore French churches - all those austere romanesque or gothic lines. And the stained glass. I forget to mention I enjoyed your pics of the modern tapestries; I've never seen recent ones before to enjoy the full vibrancy of their colours. If you like tapestries, have you seen the Lady and the Unicorn ones at the Cluny museum in Paris?

      And yes, there is no equivalent back home, which is one of the reasons why we haven't been itching to move back yet....

    3. I am so glad you dropped in, very fun to meet you, virtually or otherwise! Saw your comment on Gerry's blog just before mine, and wondered how you found me. Are you his Paris friends?

      Yes, I've seen the Unicorn tapestries in the Cluny, it's an astonishing museum. Never visited France before 2009 but I am making up fast for lost time! Have you visited the Gobelins Atelier in Paris? I would love to, but haven't been there.


Please leave a comment, it's great to hear from you and makes the site more fun and informative for other readers!