XI. Provence

postcards from france

My classmates and I pile onto a bus and drive for over an hour, winding up and over and around the steadily climbing hills of the Luberon valley and eating tasteless crackers to keep from getting sick. Then we step out and this golden-orange view, peppered through with greenest evergreen trees, is what awaits us. We are in Roussillon, a town whose rusty clay cliffs have been mined for ochre for the past century or so.

Tipsy on the fresh air, we rush to climb and play in the silty dust like children, and the ochre cliffs---run through with brilliant smudges of pinks and oranges and crimsons, even---rub off on our clothes. The earth feels like soft charcoal on our fingers. Soon we are covered with it, and traces of color will make their way back on the bus to Aix-en-Provence with us, only to be found hours or even days later by scolding host mothers, impatient with hanging the laundry outside to dry only to find it still dirty and streaked through with red silt.

Why they insist on cleaning our clothes is beyond us---the teachers at the ACPP center tell us it is a différence culturelle which translates most directly as don't question it.