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January 17 , 2010

From Rocks To Riches

Time, Change, and Ochre in a Village in the Vaucluse—Roussillon-en-Provence


From Rocks to Riches Time and Change and Ochre in a Village in the Vaucluse Roussillon en Provence! GRAHAM F. PRINGLE AND HILDGUND SCHAEFER Fifty miles north of Marseille and thirty miles east of Avignon lies the village of Roussillon. With its spectacular ochre cliffs, it is one of the most popular tourist villages in the internationally famous region of the Luberon. Fifty years ago, in his Village in the Vaucluse, Laurence Wylie described life in Roussillon at the beginning of the 1950s. At that time, following the collapse of the world’s ochre market after World War II, it had been reduced from the epicenter of a thriving ochre-mining industry that had flourished for more than 150 years to a small, inwardly turned farming community with little contact with the outside world, which it mostly viewed with disdain and hostility. After describing the village’s rise and fall as a mining center, the authors follow its rise to even greater wealth as a tourist village, second-home community, and dormitory town for nearby urban centers—its economy once again based on the ochre that had enriched it before as a mineral to be extracted, but now as a tourist attraction, with Roussillon’s colorful red cliffs and ochre-tinted houses drawing visitors from all over Europe. But this came at a price, and the price was social: the loss of a more intimate way of life, with evenings spent with friends or neighbors, sipping wine and trading gossip. In the new age, those evenings are spent around the family’s television set, vicariously living the lives of others. In a series of interviews in the second half of the book, people who experienced the transformation describe their feelings about the changes, and the relationships that still exist, some strong, some weak, between the old life and the new, and the perceived gains and losses between the two.
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