Light and Salt

The fragrance of sweet-scented basil

Slovenia is a beautiful country, to us who live here probably the most beautiful country in the world. I always tell my friends and acquaintances who come to visit that the salt pans are a gift of the river and the sea and it's worth getting to know them. Exploring the saline ecosystem on one's own is an extraordinary experience. When you abandon yourself to the salt pans, they cast a spell on you and all you can do is come back again and again.

...is sea is life is love is sea is life is love... these are the words inscribed in a circle on a box harbouring the crystals of salt. The sea is love itself, it presented us with white gold. Sometimes the salt-pan workers gather it in abundance, sometimes the rain comes down on the captured water and the harvest is poor. The salt pans are given by god, by the sea, the wind and the sun, but the hard work is done by the hands of salt-pan workers, earning their living and persevering in the Sečovlje salt fields for over eight hundred years. The sea is one of the oldest symbols known to man. Its meaning equals only that of the mountain, the desert and the tree. They have all been here since the beginning of time. From the sea we came and to the sea we shall sooner or later return, says J. L. Borges in his poem:”...But who is the sea? Who the creation powerful and ancient, undermining the pillars of earth, who plentifully draws from one and is the dazzling light, the wind and depth? Whoever looks at it, he sees it for the first time, always. With bewilderment born of primary things: the fire, which is flaring, and the moon and the wondrous time of the evening. Who is the sea? Who am I? This I will learn on my last day, when my death agony is over.” (translated from Slovenian by T.G.)

From eternity the sea brings life, at the same time causing people to regard it with awe. And what could not be explained was attributed to deities, to supernatural powers... on the other side of the sea there was no mainland, but only the end of the world which perhaps continued into heaven. But man has ever been drawn to the sea and still is. Not only the sun, but also the salt, the flower of the earth and the sun, draws us near to the azure water. Walking through the salt fields, a fragrance words alone cannot describe, fills up your nostrils. You breathe in, and breathe out slowly, and you breathe again. The scent is so intense it gives you the feeling you could eat it.

It 's not just the sea water, your body is saturated with salt pools, halophytes, meadows, reeds and their colours too... at a first glance you could say that, but for the seagulls and herons, there's not a living soul in the salt fields. They are so lonely, I say to myself, walking in early spring along the salt pans of Fontanigge and contemplating what we, people, have done to them out of ignorance. When salt-making was abandoned in 1960, the salt pans slowly became overgrown with grasses, while in the second half of the eighties they were flooded by ignorant people and thus destroyed. Still, not ready to give up easily, the salt pans live on. Looking closer, I see they are teeming with life. The salt houses, crumbling down one after another, are alive with new dwellers, birds, insects, lizards... The salt-loving animals have chosen salt fields. They are safe here, they can nest and look for food, only occasionally briefly disturbed by us, the visitors of salt fields. They are vast, an unknown ground to me, I fear I'll make a false step, I feel respect. With her camera and tripod in her hand, Anja is literally running from me. She is used to the salt fields; moreover, the canals, the salt fields and all living creatures have long since accepted her as their own. They know each other well as she comes to see them in all seasons of the year, early in the morning and in the evening, when the sun shines and just before the storm. She imprints them on photographs, leaving nothing undiscovered. She knows them as an artist knows her muse, as a wife knows her husband... But she still keeps coming. Because they are beautiful. Perfect. Everlasting. She says they resist time, mentioning sadly at the same time that a shutter is missing in the window of the stone house since her last visit.

As many as three thousand people lived once in what are now stony skeletons, the number of houses totalling four hundred and forty. In mid April families would move to the salt fields. While men tended to the salt pans, women cooked, carried drinking water, baked bread together and did the washing, which took them three days and three nights. It is interesting to know, that in the middle of summer, on June 24, on Saint John the Baptist's day, they would be joined by young girls who had before been left behind with their relatives. And it was these windows, now falling into decay, that the girls decorated with pots of fresh carnations, geraniums and sweet-scented basil - as called by the salt workers - while adorning the vases with blossoming sage.

I continue on my way. I walk in silence, alone, deep in thought, along pathless lanes of the never-ending salty plain. The earth is still resting, I admire the newly grown grass. I reach out to pick the golden spikes, but at the last minute I change my mind. I never take anything down from the hill with me either, I leave everything on the mountain, even the hard feelings and troubling thoughts. So it should also be on my salt-field journey. Peeking out every now and again from above the Carst of Savudria, the sun keeps reminding us that spring is near. On the shore of the Dragonja river, wild horses gallop amidst the high grasses with the afternoon sun shining down on them through the clouds. I am lost for words, the sight is like a scene from a film, I am not cold anymore, I no longer feel the wind blowing.