Tuesday, March 03, 2015

We've returned to Slovenia!

We've been gone from Slovenia for 5 years, living in Ohio and taking care of my mother. She passed on February 2014, we sold our Ohio home, moved temporarily to California to be near our son, and then moved to Slovenia for 3 months [actually we are currently living in Gorizia, Italy just across the border]. The adventure continues!!!

Monday, March 15, 2010

MARCH 2010

We have greatly enjoyed the company of students in Slovenija. Many students are very enthusiastic about using the language that they study for 9 years in school and are excited about speaking with us, helping us and even teaching us. We had a lovely tour of Kanal provided by students of Barbara Kragelj from the Primary School.

Bob and Kanal tour guides

Kanal ob Soči is a village that straddles the Soča River. This village of about 1,500 tells a lengthy and complicated history. The area was settled in prehistoric times and the Romans built the first bridge across the river. The history of this walled city covers generations of Slovenes who were attacked by the Turks, devastated during border wars between Venice and Austria between 1615 and 1617, and they were in the middle of the Tolmin Peasants' Revolt of 1713. They lived under occupation of the Austrians, Napoleon, Austrians again and suffered great destruction during WWI. The bridge that joins both sides of town was destroyed in WWI and rebuilt while under the occupation of the Italians. Now there is great pride in the history, events that celebrate the uniqueness of the village, high diving contests off the bridge into the river, concerts in the courtyard of the old walls and a celebrated international competition men's volley ball team.

Bridge over the Soča River - the moon whole was under water during the most recent flood

The oldest house in Kanal

Church and old walls

Wednesday, March 10, 2010



A vacation at my own home, in Slovenija with my husband and my friends is the most glorious type of holiday. Our friends have wined and dined me as the prodigal companion returned from the other side of the world and I feel much loved and appreciated. It has been really nice!


Except for a visit to Ohio at Christmas Bob has been here since September teaching at his school [the gimnazia] and at my school [the technical center] and maintaining our Slovene life. He has had standing Wednesday, Friday and Sunday invitations for dinner with care packages sent home with him; he has not suffered at all when it comes to food. Our friends really don't believe that even when I am here he does most of the cooking and he is very capable of cooking for himself, but he has been so thankful for the regular companionship and the delicious variety of culinary treats that not a single complaint passes his lips. He has also been invited a lot for coffee, walks, to share special celebrations and share in the daily life of our community. The Slovenes have really shown the beauty of their hospitality. Now that Bob and I are together for a month the kindness and commitment to our friendship continues to overwhelm us. We are truly blessed.

I was surprised how easily I slipped right back into our lives here. The apartment feels comfortable, I know my way around, the activities feel normal and I am delighted that I feel so cozy. I think I need to start using the phrases "at home in Slovenia" and "at home in Ohio" because that is indeed how I feel about this split life. Both places are happy homes.

Milking sheds in the pasture at the base of Krn

When I return to Ohio I do see life through different eyes. The farm living and being surrounded by the natural energy of the deer, birds, woods, fields, gardens and streams is more precious than I ever noticed before. Our garden paradise is a place where I can intimately feel at one with the forces of creation on a daily basis. Even all the snow brought me joy. When we live in Slovenija we are surrounded with another culture and all my senses tell me that I am a stranger here, but a welcome friend. The differences in the culture are beginning to feel normal and even the confusion of language doesn't worry me any more. The natural wonders are so extremely different than Ohio that each time I feel the snow capped mountains, the shimmering turquoise So?a river, the hill top hiking paths, the carpet of wild flowers in the forest and the slice of the burja wind I am thrilled by the uniqueness of the discovery. How can it get any better than this?

Ave Maria on the path to Opatija Selo on the Kras

Opatija, Croatia

Bob surprised me with a holiday vacation in Opatija, Croatia. This coastal city has been a favorite for centuries as the Austrians sought warmer and sunnier escapes from the cold snowy dampness of Vienna. Even Emperor Franz Joseph built a villa at this seaside village and with his blessing the aristocracy competed for the most elaborate retreats. Now there is a seaside walk 12 km long named after the Emperor who hid from the winter at the sea.

Opatija harbor view

Sadly we only had one day of sun and 2 days of pouring down rain. At times the sky blended with the Adriatic Sea and the view from our hotel window was a creative blend of gray. Except for some walking under umbrellas we spent much of our time snuggled in front of the Olympics. Euro-sport showed continuous live broadcasts so we saw sports that American audiences often miss; curling, biathlon, and hockey games played by countries other than the US. The best was watching skating with NO COMMENTARIES so that we could really hear the music and just watch the athletic artistry.

Dodging rainy days we have hiked in Slovenija and Italy amongst the emerging wild flowers. Unfortunately the weather was not the warm spring I was hoping for, but we bundled up and took to the hills any way. We found a great hike from Opatija Selo [not the same Opatija as in Croatia – in Slovene the stress is on the 1st a – in Croatian the stress is on the i ] across the border to Italy and back along the Kras. The path is another WWI road and all along we saw trenches that had been dug into the lime stone or built from limestone rocks. Now bushes and trees trip you as you try to investigate, but on both sides of the path the trenches and the horrible existence of the men who built and lived there haunt the trail. My most common phrase while we are walking in these treacherous hilly areas is “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?” How could fighting in this bumpy, rocky, steep terrain for 5 years through the worst winters recorded in Europe be a good idea? How did the army communicate when young men from all over the Austrian-Hungarian Empire were conscripted into the army? [languages spoken in the empire were; Bosnian, German, Hungarian, Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Croatian, Slovak, Serbian, Slovene, Russian, Italian] How did women and children survive once the men were dragged from home to fight and how did they manage when every tree was cut down and the military machine was crushing everything in their path? Painful energy remains in these hills and people are still finding harmless remains left behind from the WWI soldiers [photo of a hob nail that attached itself to Bob’s shoe] and sadly when foundations are dug unexploded shells from both wars are still found and sometime to a tragic end.

Hob nail

WWI trench

Fortunately I find wonderfully positive energy in this place that overpowers the energy of hate and violence of war. This is a land where people have lived, laughed and loved for thousands of years and the Spiritual forces vibrate strongly. At the times when I feel the most connected to the Spirit of the Earth and all who dwell within, I am reminded to trust by the blue heron who crosses my path. On 7 March over 50 birds waited for me in a field and then gave me a show of circular flight.

Herons flying in Kobarid

Sunday, November 01, 2009

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It was with great excitement and deep sadness that I left Ohio in September. There has been so much to do since the death of my father in May and still so much to do to help my mother in her first year of living alone. But I had a return ticket with Bob so I took a much needed vacation in Slovenija for 7 weeks.

Since our time together was short we consciously spent lots of time overflowing our days with new moments of wonder and revisiting places of great delight. It is amazing how quickly we filled the 7 weeks with adventure and were still able to sleep in our own bed.

The highlight of our time together was hiking in the mountains.

Beautiful weather, good friends, wandering the paths, following Roman roads, long distance vistas made every hiking moment another blink in time to be cherished.

There were lots of festivals with local food, music, costumes crowds of people speaking a huge variety of languages and beauty beyond description.

The most fascinating day trip was visiting two Italian villages that had been destroyed during the 1976 earthquake. Both cities nestle at the base of the mountains and were in the center of destruction from the first quake and then the aftershock. The villages have been meticulously restored to the original medieval style using as many original materials as possible, but freschi were lost and some buildings were left in crumbles as a memorial to the disaster that killed many and left everyone homeless and living in tents for years.

Now that I am in Ohio and Bob is in Slovenija the memory that paints the biggest smile is Bob playing Uncle Rich’s accordion while our Slovene friends sing along.

Friday, February 20, 2009


The last of winter fought hard rumbling the earth, throwing lightening bolts, covering the umbrellas with wet snow and screaming his dislike for being frightened away.

Spring came on Shrove Tuesday and the Kurent were here in Šempeter shaking their bells scaring the winter away. Pustovanje or Kurentovanje is the traditional pre-Christian Slovene celebration of the end of the cold and dark winter and the hope of spring. Many of the villages are nestled in valleys high in the mountains and the days are extremely short, the sun does not hit the house for long in the day and the darkness goes on forever. This year there was an excess of snow in the mountains [in some high altitudes 9 feet] and the celebration of spring was felt all around the country.

Pustovanje is now a community celebration with parades, gatherings in town centers, children dressed as every imaginable fantasy character [Pippilongstocking and Ninja Turtles seemed to be the favorites], floats expressing a political themes, and demonstrations by the Kurenti.

The Kurenti are traditional Slavic creatures who scare away the winter allowing spring to come. In the past they wandered around town from house to house scaring away evil spirits with the cow bells that hang as a belt around their waist.The Kurent costume is sheep's wool with furry head pieces decorated with horns, feathers, sticks and colorful streamers. The masks are elaborate folk art made of beautifully tooled leather and worn to completely disguise the wearer. The Kurenti came from the Maribor region in Eastern part of the country by bus to dance down the main street of Šempeter making lots of noise, hugging the girls, bouncing with them down the street, and generally creating joyful mayhem.

We also went to Cerknov for their celebration. Cerknov is a village in the mountains with a tragic history. During WWII there was a Partisan school in the town and Germans soldiers climbed the bell tower of the church with guns and butchered 40 young students as they were walking innocently on the streets. The isolated roads to Cerknov wind up, down and around the mountains through narrow passes where barely two small cars can travel. It took us more than an hour to get there for their unique celebration.

The characters in this village are Cerkljanski Laufarji, and the masks are typically worn by young men of age. The central Laufar figure is Pust carrying a young spruce tree and dressed in a costume made of fresh moss scraped off rocks in the forest. He is accompanied by the family of 25 mute Laufarji in wooden masks and appropriate natural costumes. For months people of the village prepare the costumes and then the Larufarji parade around town and then gather on the stage set up in the center square. There for over an hour the problems of the past year are read and commented on by the judges. We could understand very little, and even our Slovene friends were having a difficult time understanding because the dialect was so different that it was often incomprehensible to them, but it was clear that the mayor [Župan] was getting a lot of attention and discussion about the road construction that is taking a life time also seemed to surface quite a lot. The Pust is blamed for all the problems of the year and is supposedly sentenced to death by a woodman's mallet. We missed the finale so I have no idea what happened to the masked moss covered man, but it simply became too cold to stand listening to the local gossip without being able to understand. We found a cozy cafe for hot tea while the rest of the community listened and laughed.

I adore these local festivals that evolved as a way of dealing with and understanding life. Once Christianity became the pervasive culture, the old cultures began to die or were absorbed into the Christian traditions [hence spring celebrations occurring on the Tuesday before Lent begins]. Christianity is the great leveler; everyone believes the same thing [although their are certainly an abundance of variations], all the holidays were dictated by the church [and now tradition] and the need for dealing with the natural world became suspect and viewed as pagan, evil, and now not modern. Because the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation only the native people have traditions of the »old ways«, it simply is not a part of our being, yet I feel the changes of the moon and the pulse of spring and I too want to don a costume and dance wildly in the streets.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

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Christmas was peaceful this year. I couldn’t wear shoes, so I couldn’t go anywhere. After the surgery my foot is healing beautifully, but shoes are cursed things!! So I lounged on the sofa, foot in the air reading books, watching movies and enjoying the Christmas tree. After two weeks of this life of resting I went to get my hair cut and I couldn’t believe how relaxed I looked in the disgustingly huge mirror lit with florescent lights. I haven’t looked this young and rested in 20 years. A life of leisure suits me.

Sveta Gora Nativity
Sveta Gora Nativity

Christmas was spent singing in Sveta Gora. After 4 years in this freezing church I have learned to layer with wool, wrap in scarves, double gloves and jump up and down when ever appropriate. I have also learned some of the traditional songs and I can even sing parts of them from memory in Slovene. It is a very good feeling.

"Holy Family at Sveta Gora"
Holy Family at Sveta Gora



We went to the Santuary of Madonna di Castelmonte [Stara Gora] for the winter solstice. Even though this mountaintop shrine is a religious monastery and the Cappuccini Friars might frown on acknowledgment of the pagan, it was a top of the world location to watch the shortest day of the year turn into the cold of night. Ancient Slovene tradition was to burn bon fires on the winter solstice because the fires and their warmth kept the life of the old sun Svarog from dying before the new sun Svarožic was born out of the longest night of the year, and they were also supposed to save the soil from freezing deeply in the winter. During the dark days people also feared attack from wolves, the wild man o f the night [ponocni mož], the woman from the mountain cave [Zlata baba] and other mysterious creatures. Even after Christianity became the dominant faith the fear changed to devils, and witches roaming during the long nights of a cold winter. We saw no bon fires, but as the burja wind can rise to over 100 miles per hour it is easy to imagine that the sharp blade of the wind along with the haunting sounds could conjure up the belief in many things to fear in the darkness.

Solstice sunset
Solstice sunset

Castelmonte rises high above the Friulian plain and has been a pilgrimage site since the 1100’s and a strategic point of protection of Friuli for centuries. In 1913 the Cappuccini monks were given guardianship of the shrine that was then attacked by German forces in November 1943. The church is a blend of the ancient with the painted dark skinned stone Madonna from the 13th century to the front façade and interior front walls that must have been rebuilt after the bombing with a style of the times. From the monastery the view is to the Adriatic Sea, the Dolimiti and Julian Alps and across the flat plains of Friuli. When the tourists are gone it must be the perfect place to meditate on the wonder of the creation. There are so many majestic hill top views in this area and I never tire of watching in silent meditation.

Castlemonte crosses
Castlemonte crosses

The Cappuccini monks wear dark brown hooded robes and the drink of the same name, cappuccino, is so called because the spike of foam is shaped like the hood [cappuccio] and the color of the coffee and milk mixture is the same color as the robe. Some even credit Marco d’Aviano an itinerate Cappuccin monk for discovering the drink, but that is probably just a tall tale unless he took his steam milk machine on the road with him. He is historically credited with gathering Protestants and Catholics to join together in stopping the invasion of Vienna by the Ottoman Turks in 1683. Supposedly following the victory the Viennese found sacks of strong infidel Turkish coffee left by the retreating army and since it was too strong for their refined tastes they diluted it with cream and honey, named it after a monk in a brown robe and convinced the whole world to drink it. But don’t drink it in Italy in the afternoon. Milk after a meal is not good for your stomach so just plain espresso is what you drink following a meal. Ordering a cappuccino after a meal is a sure sign of “tourist”, but pronunciation may have hinted “non local”.





The tall pink and blue building is the Šempeter hospital - on a clear day you can see Italy and the mountains.
The tall pink and blue building is the Šempeter hospital - on a clear day you can see Italy and the mountains.

On December 11 I had surgery on my foot. I had a node [or a horn as my doctor called it] on the top of my right foot at the big toe due to osteoarthritis [like a bunion]. The condition has been progressing nicely over time, but when we returned to Slovenia it seemed to become more pronounced and the pain became unbearable. The problem of course is shoes. When I am barefoot [as the Creator made me] or in sandals [to protect myself from broken glass] I had no difficulties, but shoes are the Devil’s tool and it got to the point that even my 25 year old hiking boots that are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned could not come with in a mile of this foot. My plan was to have the surgery when we returned to Ohio in the spring but going barefoot in the winter, even in a Mediterranean climate, is not a reasonable thing.

I didn’t want to have surgery here because of language. My Slovene is really [and I mean really] not that good that I can discuss carving my foot with someone who doesn’t speak English. I mean, really it is hard enough to get a US doctor to give needed information in a language that I can understand and I think we speak the same language, so the thought of having surgery here when translation was the common language was just too frightening. The second reason was “socialized medicine”. I am a product of my culture that tells me that the US health system is the best, and I have heard all my life how terrible socialized medicine is. And even though I am a fervent believer in free universal health coverage for all American citizens I have been brainwashed to believe that truly the best care for my hurtin’ foot was at home. So it made sense that if I could choose I would have the surgery done in the US, but I was not able to walk!!!! So let me give you the real story of my experience and dispel some of the myths of universal health coverage…..

MYTH #1 YOU CAN’T CHOOSE YOUR OWN DOCTOR – Bob had a terrible cold the first year and took some days off from school, but to get paid when not teaching you must have a doctors statement stating that you should take time off from work [and in our experience doctors are highly preventative and encourage people to stay home and heal rather than work themselves to death]. He asked the secretary at school to recommend a doctor and he went to Dr. Maja Klemenc at the clinic across the street from the school. They had a great conversation in English, she gave him permission to stay home until he regained his voice and he has gone to her again for the same annual beginning of the school year condition. When I needed a doctor I asked the secretary to call the same doctor for me. I got an appointment immediately. At her office I signed a paper that designated that I was choosing her for my doctor and now she is my doctor. The choice was not different than moving to a new town and choosing a doctor by asking a friend for a recommendation, and was actually easier than when we moved to Ashland. When we first moved there, no doctors in town were taking new patients and so we had to drive 30 minutes to another town to find a doctor who was willing to take us.

MYTH #2 YOU HAVE TO WAIT A LONG TIME FOR TREATMENT – Qualifying statement: I admit from the beginning that my situation may be a little different because I am a foreigner and the doctors have become our friends. When I requested the first appointment I wanted to make it for the following week. The nurse in the office recommended that I come that very day [Wednesday] because this was on my foot and she didn’t want me to have more difficulties. Wow!! After the doctor looked at the foot she agreed to consult with our mutual friend and surgeon Dr. Igor Pavlin that same day and I needed to return the next day to see what they had agreed upon. The next day when I stuck my head in her office door she saw me, called me into her personal office, and told me to go on Friday to the hospital to see Igor while he was on duty.

On Friday I went to the hospital, Igor looked at the foot, sent me to x-ray, showed me the x-ray, took out his hospital calendar book and scheduled me for the following Thursday. Just like that!

Before the surgery I needed blood work and an ECG. Monday I went to Maja’s office, she told me to come back to her office on Wednesday morning. Wednesday the nurse [whose English is about as good as my Slovene] took my blood with the most gentle prick I have ever felt, I returned in the afternoon after the blood work was completed!!! and had an ECG in the office. I took all the results with me when I went to the hospital the next day.

MYTH #3 THE QUALITY OF CARE IS POOR - I have never had surgery like this and I take no medication so I can’t compare this experience with too many others, but Bob has had both of his hips replaced and he has spent a lot of time with doctors and in the hospital. I had blood drawn, shots, anesthesia, medication, an incision, and an overnight hospital stay. Every aspect was the most professional. The shots were gentle, the incision is clean and healing beautifully with no infection or swelling, the anesthesiologist offered me three options and together we chose the lighter general so that I did not have to have a tube over my vocal chords or a spinal. I woke up from the surgery with almost no pain, none of the hallucinations I have had with past anesthesia and I have suffered from no post surgery stress. It was recommended that I stay in the hospital over night and if I needed to I could have stayed longer. In addition they did not wake me up every two hours to take my vitals; instead if I was asleep they let me sleep. Plus they sent me home with documents that told me my diagnosis and test results and the procedures that were performed [some of these I can even read]. Compared to the care that Bob received at the “world renowned Cleveland Clinic” after his first hip replacement this was a visit to a health spa. Bob had a leaky catheter that I had to fix myself and clean up the spill because no one would come in response to his call button, each shift of nurses had a different opinion on whether he should wear the pulsing socks to prevent blood clots, his food was placed out of his reach when he was not allowed to get out of bed, his room was not cleaned for the weekend and we got him out of there as fast as we could so that he didn’t contract anything else. His surgery was fabulous, but the hospital care was very

MYTH #4 THE FACILITIES ARE POOR – The biggest difference between this Slovene hospital and US hospitals I have visited or stayed in is that here there are no fountains in the lobby [actually there is no lobby really], there is no original art work on the wall, the building is not new with glass sunroom enclosures, the room did not have a TV, I think there may not be a comfortable chair in the entire building, there is no insipid mood music playing constantly, the hallways are dark and the inside and the outside of the building really could use a new paint job with a designers eye. The food was unpleasant as hospital food is required to be, but this may be the condition of being a vegetarian in a meat eating nation [spaghetti topped with canned peas and corn in a light cheese sauce is even too bizarre for my imagination], but I did have fresh fruit and a fresh green salad. The building looks well worn, and probably needs a lot of renovation [the weather was torrential rain and they had some puddles in the emergency area]. The colors are really unpleasant; the walls are painted a Microsoft Word blue with Post-it-Note yellow or gold trim, and there were three different colors of blue in my room [walls, window trim, window frame, curtains]. Some of the equipment looked older than I have seen in Ohio hospitals, but everything seemed to work. Many of the rooms had 6 beds but I was in a single room [foreigner and not a Slovene speaker]. And I was never required to sit in a wheel chair; because I could walk out of the hospital they allowed me to do so. But none of these things are an indication of the care they are just the façade and even though it was difficult not to judge the care by the packaging I tried to break out of my American perspective.

Language was indeed a difficulty. My doctors both speak beautiful English and were very open to answering my questions and made certain that I understood everything. Unfortunately many of the nursing staff was either without English skills or were too shy to use them so I learned more Slovene and they learned a little more English. It is certainly not their fault that they couldn’t communicate with me and I was frustrated by my weakness, but I have grown so accustomed to most everyone speaking English that I was surprised how difficult it was to communicate. Fortunately I had no medical difficulties so it really wasn’t a problem, but I had people I could have called to translate if needed.

THERE IS NO MYTH ABOUT THE COST!!! My insurance, that I pay nothing for, covers 85% of the medical costs and I could have purchased an additional insurance to cover the additional 15%, but I didn’t know about it and we didn’t purchase it in time to allow for the 3 month waiting period. My first doctors visit cost me €2.20, my antibiotics cost €1.50, my lab tests were really expensive €3.84 and I don’t know yet my out of pocket cost for the hospital, but I am guessing it is a lot less than I would pay in the US. €1.00 = $1.33 UPDATE: 1/8/09 Today I received the bill - Total cost 2.062,18 - my portion 191,78

EXTRA BONUS TO THE SLOVENE SYSTEM – If I had needed to stay in the hospital it would have been encouraged until I was able to go home – if I had needed therapy it is possible that a stay in a health spa would have been prescribed and paid by my insurance - if I was younger maternity leave would be a year and if it was a difficult pregnancy I would have had paid sick leave prior to the birth

According to http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html - 2000 World Health Association Ranking System – the US is ranked 37th in the world in quality of health care – Slovenia is 38th – Costa Rica is 36th and Cuba is 39th – I could not find out what the criteria was for the assessment, but France and Italy are #1 and #2 and the US is 37th? Why do we fervently believe that our health system is superior?

When I return to the US I will sign up for American health insurance that will cost me over $200 per month with a $2,500 deductable, but 100% pay after the deductable. I can not use the US insurance in Slovenia with out paying for everything first out of pocket and Slovene insurance is not honored in the US. But this is a much better deal than the “excellent” State Teacher’s Retirement plan which cost me $400 per month [Bob has his own costs], $1,500 deductable and 80–20% pay. And I am one of the lucky ones because I can afford to pay this outrageous cost so that the insurance companies can throw away my money on CEO salaries and gambling on the stock market, and then beg the government to bail them out for their irresponsible behavior. Guess I get to pay for my insurance twice, but what about my son who can’t afford to pay????

If you haven’t seen Sicko made by Michael Moore you can watch the complete film on youtube and it is worth the 2:03:56 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fANRr6JumJs




Saturday, November 22, 2008

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Sunny Adriatic Sunny Adriatic


The day had the breath of chill in the air and winter was peaking in the window, but the sun was still claiming the sea so we headed to the salt-pans on the Adriatic. There are two remaining “salt farms” in Slovenia near Portorož/ Piran and in “no man’s land” between the border crossings of Slovenia and Croatia. The salt –pans were the source of salt for centuries and function today as a working museum which produces salt in traditional ways. The sun sparkled on the surface of the stagnant water in the salt-pan squares shooting the reflection with the greater force of salt and called us into the basin of history.

Salt Flats Salt pans

The first documented discussion of salt making in this area was in 840, but historians believe that long before that time the process of claiming salt from sea water was happening in the delta of the Dragonja River. The richness of this production was claimed by the Venetian empire and sale to the Italians was compulsory until the end of the Venetian rule in 1797, when at that point the Austrian Empire claimed the salt monopoly. In the middle ages the design of checkerboard squares was introduced following the patterns established by Arab salt producers, and in 1358 the petola process was developed to create a carpet of algae, carbonate minerals and gypsum grown on the bottom of the salt plot as a barrier to keep the muddy floor from mixing with the seawater and the salt. Because of this crust the salt harvested her e was known for its purity in color and taste.

Secovlje Secovlje

The conditions for producing salt were perfect in these protected delta because the climate is hot with a constant warm breeze in the summer and the sea level is relatively constant. Salt was produced in these closed basins by allowing seawater to flow, by gravity or aided by wind or hand pumps, first into a reserve basin and then five basins of different grades of salinity and then to the crystallization and collection basins. As the sea water flowed between the pans the water evaporated gradually, the salt crystals start to form on the surface of the brine (aqua madre), they become saturated and built up clusters of salt on the warmer surface. These clusters were raked with wooden scrapers (gavero) from the shallow pools into piles where, because of gravity, the surplus moisture leaked from the bottom. The dry salt was then gathered by hand and transported by wheelbarrow and wagons to storage units. It takes approximately, 50,000 cubic/m of sea water spread over 100,000 sq/m, of flat solar evaporation area, to produce 1,000 tons of salt a year and this daily collection of salt produced pure white unrefined sea salt. In good years the production was as high at 40,000 tons.

Canal Canal

In 1903 the Austrians consolidated the salt-fields, bought up small producers and modernized the production. After WWI the Italians renovated the fields and enhanced the production to a high level. In 1957 the Yugoslav government built an infrastructure to prevent flooding, but because the mining of salt was more efficient than the evaporation process the sites were closed for production in 1968. The Slovene government has established this area as a protected wetland and a cultural heritage site. Salt is still produced in the traditional ways and sold as a specialty item for eating and beauty care. Areas have also been flooded to encourage greater breeding by sea birds such as the tern and claim this as a wildlife refuge.

Ruins of worker houses Ruins of worker houses

Throughout the 1,400 acre salt-pans remains of the salt houses stand on deserted islands. The evaporation ponds and residences were all connected and separated by canals, gates, dikes and aqueducts. The salt was harvested daily and the flow of the sea water was controlled with the tides, so the workers lived in the midst of their work. Their homes were typically 2 stories with the living quarters on the second floor and storage of salt and tools on the ground floor, with an out side bakery. Now they stand naked with out their roofs and emptied of any sign of life. From the place where we parked the car, I found a recently constructed levee that lead me out to the houses. The mallards reminded me that I was investigating an area not open for tourists, but it was a lonely day and no one else but the egrets noticed.

house construction house construction

The houses, still plumb square, are built of roughly cut pure white blocks of stone from the Istrian Peninsula [the same stone used in the White House] filled with left over chips and mud. There is little land around the houses but each had an area where they docked the boats that would have transported them along the canals. The absolute calm on these little islands was profoundly peaceful., and far on the horizon were the snowy peaks of the Dolomiti mountains, the sound of the sea was quieted by distance and not a single mechanical sound could be heard. It was marvelous!

Peaceful quiet Peaceful quiet