A House of Stones
the subtle intersection of tradition and innovation
If my grandmother were still around, she would say it is a shame that I am not married because I would make a perfect housewife. She would not be wrong: I know how to keep a clean and welcoming house and I have a real knack for cooking. While I follow my family's recipes with reverence, abiding by the written instructions, I also add my own twists to the dishes I compose. It is what makes food interesting today, to combine tradition and modernity, while adapting to changing times, tastes, and ingredients and surprising people with unexpected combinations of flavours. I cannot believe how much ingredients have changed over the course of fifty years. With increased globalisation, I have been able to create new, powerful combinations of aromas and textures that stray well beyond my grandmother's own recipes, and she is without a doubt the most talented cook I have ever met.
This passion for cooking that transcends time and generations is what led me to pursue my dream to run a small guesthouse on the Mediterranean coast. Thanks to the climate in my new home, the locally grown fruits and vegetables are some of the tastiest in the world. Travellers love to spend a night or two in my beautiful house of stones covered with vines, "in a peaceful setting, submerged by the surrounding natural beauty", according to a popular online travel guide, while on their way to regional parks of limestone rock and deep, turquoise water.
They are charmed by the remoteness of the early eighteenth-century beach house, its alley of olive trees and surrounded by patches of lavender and thyme. It seems so far removed from their everyday lives. During the summer nights, they are lulled by the sound of the waves crashing on the coast and retreating continuously. The everlasting chirps of the crickets complete a soothing, unmistakable soundscape.
While some may think it gets lonely and difficult, running this entire business all by myself, I do not mind it. In fact, there is nowhere else I would rather be than this little bubble of bliss, far from the daily bustle of urban life. I get company from the travellers, and with the stories they tell me, it is almost the same as if I were travelling myself.
They always confess, sometimes out of politeness and other times more genuinely, that they would love nothing more than to be able to spend eternity in a place like this. This place where time has seemingly stopped, they continue in an impassionate speech, is where they have come to reflect on their lives, meditate and find their way through it by connecting with nature. They speak in cryptic buzzwords popularised by social media culture, such as #wonderlust, #inspiration. So I listen and nod politely, shamming the most sincere interest to each of them, as if it wasn't the thousandth time I'd heard the same exact blurb.
I sometimes treat a solo traveller such as William to a nice glass of Merlot. It is always from a bottle I like because I take pride in providing quality service to my guests. William loves it because it is authentic and local. He is so lonely and eager to share an intimate moment with a young-ish woman with a "distinctive local charm", much like the inn I keep. And I do not tell William I've only been here a few years myself- that would break the magic of the holiday inn experience. Instead, I enhance his perception of me as a native by adopting local intonations and expressions. I invent a whimsical backstory for myself, in which I grew up in the area, surrounded by crickets and limestone cliffsides. Before little Will knows it, he has downed an entire bottle of wine and I start to make a real profit from his stay.
While giving away so many bottles of wine to travellers such as William may seem counter-intuitive in trying to run a business, I have a few tricks to tide me over during the off-season. In the pasture behind my garden full of aromatic herbs, vegetables, and fruits, I keep a couple of goats.
Goats are critical to the local ecosystem because they eat just about any vegetation they come across, which significantly reduces the risk of bush fires, so common in the dry, hot Mediterranean summers. Their milk and cheese are traditionally a part of the Mediterranean diet and much healthier and sustainable than the cow alternatives. Goats are also very cute, and for all these reasons I could not bring myself to hurt one of them, even if it was to marinate the meat in a honey and rosemary reduction, grill it with garlic, and serve it with a side of homemade ratatouille from my garden's vegetables.
I realised through trial and error that a tourist with untrained tastebuds such as William, who could barely differentiate between a Cabernet and a Merlot during our romantic evening, certainly cannot taste the difference between human and goat meat either. The texture and flavour come down to the ingenuity and experience of the cook, and as I have mentioned before, mine are outstanding.
So of course, I make do with what I have. After all, I am running this place all by myself and according to the reviews on popular travel websites, my guests have had nothing but positive experiences, their only complaint being unable to stay longer.
As I tenderise the meat and finely chop the shallots that will go in the marinade for the evening meal, I think of my grandmother. She is watching over me with pride and satisfaction that I carry on the family trademark of combining tradition with innovation, while always providing an excellent quality of service to my guests at the inn.