Olsson's Book Bits

by Greta Olsson

SALT by Mark Kurlansky
Penguin Books
First published in America in 2OO2
Paperback. 449 Pages
ISBN O-14-2OO161-9

The subtitle of this book is "A World History". It is a fascinating account of the power that salt had world wide to affect and change the lives of so many people. The first one hundred pages might be titled Salt and China, going back to 700 B.C.E (before the common era). Cooks might love the recipes from ancient times; engineers might be interested in the construction of the salt mines; fishermen, the need for salt in that industry; historians, the impact of who owns the salt on the politics of different eras.

Those who love a good story or humor might thoroughly enjoy tidbits such as Nehru best remembered Gandhi's march to Dandi on the coast of the Gujarat peninsula and his publicly violating the British salt law by picking up a piece of Salt crust in Dandi.

"In 1784, the French government turned to Jacques Necker, a Swiss banker so brilliant in his administration of the disastrous French economy that for a moment it appeared he would save the monarchy. In 1784, he reported that a minot of salt, which was forty-nine kilograms (1O7.8 pounds), cost only 31 sous in Brittany, but 81 in Poitou, 591 in Anjou, and 611 in Berry. Necker recognized that with such price differences, France was rich in opportunities for smugglers.

"Salt smugglers and clandestine salt makers, the faux-sauniers, were simply opportunists amassing illegal fortunes underselling legal salt."

Women were especially good at smuggling salt.

Some roads in the U.S. are haphazard, made by animals repetitiously following a path to a salt lick. The lick at the end of a road, because it had a salt supply, was a suitable place for a settlement. A salt lick near Lake Erie had a wide road made by buffalo, and the town started there was named Buffalo, New York.

Salt is mentioned in the Bible because it preserves. Egyptians used salt to make mummies. The Torah says, "It is a covenant of salt forever, before the Lord", and later in Chronicles, "The Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David ... by a covenant of salt".

The adult human body contains about 25O grams of salt, which would fill three or four salt shakers.

"A French folktale relates the story of a princess who declares to her father, 'I love you like salt', and he, angered by the slight, banishes her from the kingdom. Only later when he is denied salt does he realize its value and therefore the depth of his daughter's love. Salt is today so common, so easy to obtain, and so inexpensive that we have forgotten that from the beginning of civilization until about 1OO years ago, salt was one or the more sought-after commodities in human history."

There are many ideas about the spiritual power of salt both to do harm and to protect one from evil. In 167O salt was used in France to enforce the law against suicide. The dead bodies would be salted and put on display. "Breton historians have discovered that in 1784 in the town of Cornouaille, Maurice LeCorre died in prison and was ordered salted for trial. But due to some bureaucratic error, the corpse did not get a trial date and was found by a prison guard more than seven years later, not only salted but fermented in beer, at which point it was buried without a trial."

Some people take a fancy to colored salt. I presume that they don't know that gray salt is the result of dirt being mixed with the salt. To end on a brighter note than the above, there is a recipe for making ketchup which derives its name from the Indonesian fish and soy sauce kecap ikan. The names of several other Indonesian sauces also include the word kecap, pronounced ketchup, which means a base of dark, thick soy sauce. Many English spices are based On Asian ideas. Quite a book!!

Serpentine by Thomas Thompson
Carrol & Graf Publishers, 1979
Paperback. 563 Pages
ISBN 0-7867-0749-6

Anyone who travels should have read this book. Charles Sobhraj was "singularly magnetic but profoundly sinister". He crossed half the globe many times, robbing and killing people who were highly attracted to him. With probably a 99.9% IQ, Sobhraj spoke several languages, and went from Paris to Mount Everest, to Bangkok, to Delhi, to whatever country he could get in and out of easily, stealing passports, jewelry, and money to finance his passing himself off as a wealthy merchant or business man.

Put in prison many times, he made miraculous escapes, quite willing to do anything to get out, including damaging himself beyond belief.

Charles was half Asian and could pass himself off as different nationalities, able to change his appearance with a Sherlock Holmes' amazing skill.

The psychology of the women who follow him, in particular the dull, colorless Canadian woman, Marie-Andree Leclerc, is fascinating. The more Charles abused Marie-Andree, The more she loved him, marrying him even while longing for the sanity and peace of home, a small town in Canada.

Charles drugged some of his victims, and then kept on giving them poison so that he felt they needed him and loved him. He took care of their possessions until they felt better and able to continue their journey. That result rarely happened. Charles was devastated when the odd one did get away. "But I fed him! I took care of him!" He was seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was he who caused their illness.

"Thompson's evocation of the exotic locales ... and his descriptions of the operations of criminal justice systems on the other side of the world are among the virtues of Serpentine." New York Times Book Review. "...a tale of epic proportions." Library Journal.

If you read the entire book, its last line will knock you off your chair!

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