Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The salt of the earth

(Picture: the sea at Eftalou)

Most countries north and west of Greece are suffering a real winter. On the Dutch news there is much talk about the impending shortage of salt they need to sprinkle on slippery roads — they’ve already used up all the salt that was stored for that purpose.

Here on the island our white salt mountains around the gulf of Kalloni bathe themselves in the shiny sun. There is salt enough on the island (see ‘Pretty salt’) but there are no slippery roads which need it, during what is really quite a warm winter. What salt is on the roads has been blown there by the unusual southwesterly wind that keeps coming back and hurls waves over the waterfront roads where in summer tourists take their strolls. When that seawater disappears from the roads we might start using the roads as salt pans. In fact it could be a gold mine for Greece if the rest of Europe continues with its serious shortage. A smart Greek could sell our salt mountains for double the price!

The Greeks need money very badly, because the country is nearly bankrupt. Lots of taxes have risen like for cars (there is a new ‘eco’ tax on old vehicles), on pure alcohol (from 11,4 euro a litre to 13,7 euro) and on cigarettes (from 57,5 % to 70 %). Locally, the municipalities of Molyvos and Petra are also in trouble because of the devastating damage down by these storms from the south-west. They have been asking for money from Athens to make repairs, but the national treasury is empty which means we probably won’t get help from the government. And really, the winter has not really started here on Lesvos.

In the north of the island the salty sea is undermining roads, in Holland they prefer to undermine the land itself by extracting extra salt in the northern province of Friesland. As if we weren’t in the EU and they couldn’t get the extra salt from other parts of the community, like Greece.

European governments probably shouldn’t have been listening to the pharmaceutical industries who advised in favour of mass vaccinations against the Mexican (or swine) flu. A lot was spent on those jabs, whereas it might have been wiser to buy more salt to be ready for winter; so now the governments’ worst fears have been realised: business in Europe has come to a standstill, not because of the flu but because of the weather and the salt shortage. They could have got plenty from Greece, which as well as fixing the problem would have helped this country out of its financial mess.

In the region of Polychnitos and Lisvori, around the Gulf of Kaloni they have found the ruins of very old settlements. Along the coast north from Skamnioudi they include traces of a big ancient port. Now the waves have been gradually wearing down the earthen walls where you can see different layers of historical settlement. They also found coins from Mycenean times and even skeletons are rising out of the earth. They say this coast used to be named the ‘White Coast’. So probably the wealth of castles, villages and the big harbour came from salt making. Certainly there was a time that salt was as valuable as gold and possession of the salt mountain at Skala Polychnitos could have been a reason to fight a war. Nowadays white gold is strew over our roads.

The price of salt will rise a little after this long and cold winter but the times when you could buy or sell a slave for a hand full of salt are definitely not coming back. Maybe we will quarrel over salt, like they do over the salt fields in Friesland, but we wouldn’t take up arms to settle the dispute. The salt mountain in Skala Polychnitos will soon be forgotten by traders and tourists.

Even though that there is no snow in Eftalou, if they do not quickly repair the road, our little part of the economy will come to a standstill too. If the road becomes totally impassable for cars and the local bus which runs in summer (now only small cars can pass, at their own risk) part of Eftalou will be cut off. It won’t harm the world economy, but still... At least we are not suffering from the flying snow of blizzards, only from the flying salt from the sea!

(with thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2010

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