François, weathered and leathered, greets us warmly as if he has known us for years even though we are just now meeting for the very first time. His broad smile reveals a few missing teeth, but his eyes are vibrant, alert, framed by decades spent toiling under a tropical sun. He is anxious to show us his life's work, his family's vanilla farm is his passion; he is a man possessed and captivated by his job, a lucky man indeed.
It wasn't always this way, when François' sister first lured him to Huahini Ita in French Polynesia's Society Islands, from his native Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas chain, it was under the pretense that he would enjoy "a vacation", that was back in 1990; François never returned to his home island. At first he didn't like the work at all, but then something changed, or should I say the seductive orchid he would eventually devote his life to changed him. As he turns to open the gate to one of his growing enclosures a large tattoo covering his upper back becomes visible, it is a precisely accurate botanical depiction of Vanilla Planiflolia, the world's only Orchid cultivated for food purposes.
The French word Vanille is emblazoned above the orchid plant tattoo in bold Gothic font. François goes on to proudly conduct a tour of his operation: a farm kept as neat and tidy as any I've seen, every tree and shrub trimmed, every tool in its place, each blade of grass mowed golf course smooth. Caring for the orchids that produce the world's second most valuable spice is a labor intensive and lengthy process. In order to produce a single vanilla bean, the delicate flower must first be hand pollinated using an exacting, almost surgical technique. Then the waiting begins, it takes nine months for the future vanilla bean, the seed pod of the plant, to grow large enough to harvest. At all times the plants themselves must be tediously nurtured and cared for.
We watch as François deftly peals back the flower's petals, then using a very thin, finely sharpened bamboo stick, scoops out a microscopic cluster of precious pollen from the tip of the anther on the flower's distinctly phallic stamen and then insert's it back into the stigma portion the pistil, the female part of the flower. Vanilla flowers, like many species of flower, are hermaphrodites containing both male and female sex organs. All this must be done so as not to damage the blossom itself or else it could whither and die without producing a seed pod. So the next time you order that Vanilla Creme Brûlée, think of François, and say thank you.
In other FG news, we have been fondly bidding adieu to our dear Andrea Lezzi who, as planned, has left us to rejoin with his own yacht Nunki. She is back in the water and sailing again after being put up on the hard at the end of last season, Andrea joined us at anchor this past week. We celebrated his birthday together with a special dinner party and torta di Nepolitano prepared by Carmen. We will surely be seeing Andrea again but until then he will be missed on board, especially his expert fishing skills; all the best to our Samurai Fisherman! In Andrea's place we extend a warm Feelin' Good welcome to Ivan, also a native of Napoli, who will be joining us for the remainder of the season. Ivan has already been sent up the mast, had a prank or two played on him and has shown good spirits in all activities, with a toast of fine Caribbean Rum, Benvenuti a bordo!
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