I’ve mentioned before that Torrevieja is known in part for its salt works. People have been harvesting salt from the sea in this area since pre-Roman times. This week, Mark and I took two dear friends whom we’ve know not quite as long as the salt works have existed here to see our local industry at work. The picture attached shows Annette Jones, Susan Spruce, and me standing on a hill of salt. Loading operations appear in the background.
The way you get into the salt harvesting area is actually a bit cheesy. You ride in a tram that has been spiffed up to look like a train that would have made regular stops at Captain Kangaroo’s Treasure House. For those of you who missed the joys of mornings with the Captain and Mr. Greenjeans, think trams from the Disney parking lots, except a lot smaller and with substantially lower production values. We’ve taken this train tour twice, and both times I’ve half expected a cartoon character or large puppet to drive us. Alas, both times it’s been guys with blue company polos, tennis shoes, and, judging by the aroma that wafts by when you’re seated in the coach and they come by for your tickets, a two pack a day cigarette habit.
But while riding in this train seems a little goofy (people who appear to be perfectly normal do wave to you from the sidewalks, and not all of them are wearing shirts with “Frozen” characters on them), the salt works are all business. Locked inside a security gate is a compound including lots of salt hills. Nearby, heavy equipment builds said hills and then digs into them to drop salt onto conveyors and into waiting trucks. You can see a bit of that activity in the picture’s background. And then there are the blue and pink lakes which sea water enters via a canal. The briny water eventually allows the salt to collect on the lakebed, from which it’s scraped by dredging boats to be purified and marketed. It’s remarkable to think that this work was done by hand for centuries, all to provide the salt our forerunners here in Iberia needed so badly.
And they did need salt, as do we. Nowadays we limit our salt intake for fear of spiking our blood pressure, but in previous generations the problem was too little salt, not too much. Salt was flavoring in a world of a fairly bland diet, but of course it was also the preservative of choice. Before refrigeration, antibiotics, and the ability to run to a grocery store when food stocks run low, having salt available was literally a life and death issue. Jesus warned in the Bible about the uselessness of salt that was no longer salty. Venice and Verona went to war over the control of salt works. Gandhi was imprisoned by the British for eating salt from the sea, contravening the Raj’s monopoly on salt production; millions of Indians rose in protest as a result. Not bad for small white grains we buy for pennies and pretty much take for granted!
My favorite take on salt, though, is the one from the old story called “Cap o’ Rushes.” Do you know this one? A rich man has three daughters, and one day he asks each daughter how much she loves him. Daughter 1 says she loves him like gold. Daughter 2 says she loves him like silver. Daughter 3 – the baby is always the outlier – says she loves him like meat loves salt. Dad gets offended at this last answer and banishes D3. (This just goes to show that you should avoid asking questions you might not like the answer to. “Does this make me look fat?” comes to mind as another example.) D3 becomes a scullery maid under the pseudonym Cap o’ Rushes, I guess because Jane Doe was already taken. Happily, before her hands get irretrievably chapped from kitchen work, shenanigans ensue, thereby allowing a handsome, wealthy young buck to fall in love with her. Dad is invited to the wedding feast, where D3/COR causes him to be served unsalted meat. The meat is gross, the father is repentant, and the happy family is reunited.
So salt adds flavor and preserves freshness. That’s certainly true of friends like Susan and Annette, and like many of you who are reading this blog post. You bring flavor and joy to my life. You preserve me when life is rough. You are so ever-present that I take you for granted. But please remember this, friends: I love you like Cap o’ Rushes loved her father. I love you like meat loves salt.