Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Paths of Salt

Apologies to all three of our readers for the lack of voice in the past several days but I’ve been quite busy reading Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky, among other slightly less interesting of activities.

I’m not kidding when I said that salt is interesting. Salt is one of the oldest commodities ever pursued, though it is one of the most abundant resources on the planet. Salt is needed to preserve food, create saltpeter, raise livestock, purify ore and make cheese. The Mormon Church drew much of its early revenue because it sold the salt its citizens extracted from the Great Salt Lake. Venice’s main source of prominence was its function as a trading center for salt. During the Civil War, saltworks was a main focus of attack a strategy that hamstrung the Confederates for the entire war. When the South surrendered, they requested provisions because Robert E. Lee’s soldiers hadn’t had anything to eat in two days.

There’s a hundred examples of salt-related path dependence in Salt but my favorite relates to the reason why I keep getting lost the moment I leave the interstate.

“Studying a road map of almost anywhere in North America, noting the whimsical nongeometric pattern of secondary roads, the local roads, the map reader could reasonably assume that the towns were places and interconnected haphazardly without any scheme or design. That is because the roads are simply widened footpaths and trails, and these trails were originally cut by animals looking for salt...The lick at the end of the road, because it had a salt supply, was a suitable place for a settlement.” –Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History, page 200

Just chew on that for a while.

PS: Mike and I will be in LA for the HIS seminar all next week and will return to blogging on the 25th or so.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Or you could just have a shitty sense of direction, including map skills. Remind me to taunt you more about this at a later date.
Kiss love!