28 January 2011

sapphires and caramels: more than the sum of their parts

"My mother was a very strong character and she dominated us completely," says one of our guests as she leans companiably over my galley counter, "Oh, we grew up poor, really—we didn't have very much, and had to learn to make do. But. Every time my father was in the doghouse with my mom, he would come home with a five-pound box of chocolates for her. My brother and I always got to taste some as a treat. But after the first day, the box would mysteriously disappear, never to be seen again!"

There is laughter all around. On request, we've stocked up the boat with bars of dark Belgian chocolate, but a large box of See's candy also sits on the salon table, a generously shared gift from one of the ladies.

"I grew up in Japan—we were a military family," says another guest, her delicately featured face crinkled into a smile. "I remember these caramels wrapped in rice paper—edible rice paper. We weren't supposed to have them! My mother was worried about, you know, sanitation; she didn't want us to get sick from eating something... but we loved those caramels, and somehow talked our nanny into bringing them for us!"

I've no doubt they tasted all the better for being a forbidden treat...

In my mind's palate, I can taste the soft creamy bonbons from the peace offering given by one man to his strong-minded wife; I can taste the first crispness of the fragile rice paper, melting almost instantly into the caramel chewiness of a furtive gift.

This is one of my favourite times of the night on this charter—dinner service is over, and people often stop to chat, their last glass of wine in hand, as we finish washing up the dishes. In this last week, we've had the pleasure of hearing stories about living in Russia and Malaysia and Nashville and Montana, of hunting elk and deer, how to use a paper guide for quilting, a stay in a Tuscan villa with a wonderful chef. Stories of running a friends' culinary club at home, of the most awesome intro to a live Rolling Stones concert ever (a man strolled casually onto the stage without fanfare and launched into a rousing and joyfully strident guitar solo... that man turned out to be Keith Richards). We've heard what it is like to facet a sapphire for the first time. 

I didn't know that sapphires come in so many colours. Like jewelled confectionery—gleaming citrus lime and orange, a deep violet that flashes green, a startling hot pink, as well as the blue that I associate with sapphire itself. The stone is called corundum, says our guest as she shows me her handcrafted ring of Montana sapphires, it comes in all these colours. Except when it's red—then it's a true ruby, not called a sapphire.

Later, I find out that the word corundum comes from "kuruntam", a Tamil word meaning "ruby".

"The first sapphire I ever faceted... oh I was nervous," she says. "It was given me by a friend of my father—it was he who taught me how to cut gems. Well, it turned out smaller than it should have!"

"But you did it," I tell her, fascinated and admiring. "It must require such precision—a meticulous eye."

When I first saw the preference sheet for this charter, my heart sank. I imagined seven long days and nights of rigidly planned logistics designed to accommodate each and every one of their listed preferences. I imagined arduous hours in the galley, hunched over a tightly regimented series of separate chopping boards, utensils, pans; I imagined a constant fight against time to get the separate meals plated and ready.

Well, I was right about the fight against time... but I had forgotten something important: that our guests are so much more than the boxes they have ticked off on their preference sheets. Chicken? Check. Beef? Check. Pork? Seven yes, one no. Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray? Dewars or JWB? Water consumption-high. Soda consumption- moderate to low. All this tells me nothing of the real people with whom we will share seven days and nights exploring this lovely little string of islands called the BVI.

And now I find the charter I thought I would remember solely for the intensive planning and the logistics, is a charter I remember for the people. For their stories. For their generous sharing of moments that gave us vivid, beguiling glimpses into other histories, other lives.


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for the kind words!

    There's nothing keeps us going better on a charter than the people themselves—and these folks were all kinds of lovely!

    ReplyDelete

about this blog

Occasional vignettes from the life of a charter chef who loves simply messing about on boats.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brains and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."
MFK Fisher

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