Monday, August 20, 2007

Reflections on a world without borders, apples and Chef Christopher

Many years ago (mid '90s) I travelled to Europe with my mom, her sister Barb and David. We took a train from London to Paris, to Venice, Budapest Vienna and Prague. All in all, this was a wonderful itinerary, albeit a little rushed. However, while most of eastern Europe was celebrating their new found freedom, our trip took us through Croatia which at the time was still under the control of very serious men wearing uniforms, complete with big hats. To pass through Croatia we needed to obtain a visa. Early one morning, as our train pulled into the Zagreb station a contingent of officious sounding men boarded our car, knocking loudly on our cabins exclaiming "PASSPORT". We made our way into the police station, (my mother was in her nightie) where we had our documents inspected and stamped several times. Zagreb was a pretty grey looking place and the police station was a bit of a dump. I can't say this left me with a great impression. It all seemed so silly. I don't mean to sound naive, but in today's world with today's technology it seems to me that borders are such an old fashioned and inherently selfish thing of the past; designed to keep the unfortunate out, to intimidate and to collect taxes. Now, in one of his more brilliant moments, George Bush has come up with the idea of building walls along his borders, and Stephen Harper is arming our border guards! Wow. Fast forward to 2007 and I had the pleasure of having a shiatsu massage with our newest Shiatsu therapist, a Croatian Canadian named Drazen. I elected to have my treatment in one of our gazebos, something you definitely have to try. It was probably one of the best spa treatments I've ever had. His technique combined with his genuine warmth and sincerity complemented his professionalism and self assured knowledge of his craft. Talk about globalization - born in Croatia, practicing the Japanese art of Shiatsu in Canada! Drazen tells me that things in Croatia have improved dramatically since I was last there. I'm inclined to believe him, and will be sure to stay a while next time, if only to meet more people like Drazen. Back in the early 60s, when I was just a little boy my maternal grandfather owned an apple orchard at Dufferin and Finch which was considered at the time to be on the northern fringe of the growing city of Toronto. In their wisdom, another bunch of officious bureaucrats from the province of Ontario expropriated my grandfather's farm to turn it into either a land fill site or an incinerator - I can't remember which it was. While the plans to turn this beautiful orchard into a final resting place for the city's garbage were never fulfilled, the orchard and my grandfather never recovered from this cruel decision. I have memories of visiting the barn where a huge machine crushed the apples to make cider. The smell of the freshly crushed apples was intoxicating. This time of year, as the long days of sun start to ripen apples on the fruit laden branches memories of my grandfather, who was also an MD, and his passion for healing and farming start to float back out of the recesses of my mind. On Sunday I spent most of my day puttering around the spa, picking up after guests too relaxed to remember (or care) where they left their sunglasses or their half finished bottle of water, and moving sprinklers around to try to give the parched grass a little refreshment. As I came through the central stone archway into the courtyard with one of the sprinklers, a couple of guests opened a window on the second floor and proclaimed "We love Ste. Anne's." They made my day! Full of glee and pumped up with pride, I then went to find Chef Christopher, who happened to be picking some fresh (organic) produce from our kitchen garden for his spa dinner guests. On my way to the kitchen garden, I passed through an old orchard just to the east of the tennis courts. The branches are heavy with small but tasty, crisp apples. I wish I knew how to prune a fruit tree so that I could bring this orchard back in my grandfather's memory. I should have paid more attention to him when he was alive. As I approached Chef I was overcome with a sense of gratitude and affection for having this gifted, kind and extremely talented man in my life, and the lives of Ste. Anne's guests for the past seven years. I count him among my good friends. If you haven't had a chance to meet the man behind the culinary team at the spa, be sure to introduced yourself next time you are here supping at his table. Chef Christopher is in the final stages of launching our own line of Ste. Anne's jams, marinades and dressings - not to be missed. While the rustic, natural beauty of Ste. Anne's makes it the perfect spot for a healing oasis, it is the 130 people who have been called to work here, like Chef Christopher and Drazen, and my mother Nan - (responsible for all the decorating touches) that make it an earthly paradise for so many.

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