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The Olive Tree Whisperer

BY Lisa Lindblad

October 12, 2010

Aaron Hojman – Aaron of Casa Zinc and La Barra’s Trading Post, Aaron of the capricious, unerring eye and lightening smile, said to me “You need an old olive tree, Lisa.”

I bought five of them.  Laid on a flatbed with winch and trucked down to Pueblo Garzon from the north, my olive tree methusalahs arrived on a severe clear winter’s day and were gently lowered into their deep pits.  And then I prayed they would take kindly to their new digs.

I have been coming down to my house in Uruguay for the last three years at intervals of six to eight weeks.  I am strangely attached to my olive trees; indeed, they are ancient, but I also sense that they have a wisdom, a perfect patience, a quiet endurance which I could do well to tap in to.

“Aaron,” I texted in panic 6 months after my trees had taken hold – or rather four of the five had taken hold – “I am worried about one of my olives.”

“I have the person for you, Marcelo Hernandez.  He lived in Provence for many years and he knows olive trees and loves olive trees,” he wrote back.

Enter my olive tree whisperer.

Marcelo is a man of the land.  Argentine by birth, he spent much of the last decade living in Provence and, yes, falling in love with olive trees and the rest of the plants and smells of that divine part of the world.  Returned, now, to a farm in Uruguay about one hour from Garzon, he has brought those flavors back with him in the banks of rosemary and lavender that surround his house and in the hectares of olive trees that he has planted and which he sells.

He will change the shape of our land; he will change the contours of our hearts as well, for he is a quiet, graceful man with delicate fingers, a keen ear, compassionate eyes and a clear head.

And my trees?  Yes, not only one of them had teething problems in their old-age move but two of them didn’t take kindly to the upheaval.  Not to worry, said Marcelo.  “These are the mother trees.  They survive.”  He has helped them along – whispered to them I am sure – and now they are coming in to their second summer with a fine halo of green leaves.

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Francis Mallmann's Restaurant Garzon is arguably Uruguay's best restaurant and one of the finest in all of South America.  But what is less well known is that it is also one of the world's most charming inns - an eatery (albeit a fine one) with a few rooms attached.  5 to be exact, each of which makes you want to settle in and not move for a while.

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Francis is one talented chef to be sure but perhaps, again, what is less well known is what an extraordinary eye he has.  He makes no bones about being a lover of beauty, but here is someone who creates it in so many different ways.  Hotel and Restaurant Garzon in the pueblo pays homage to the fires that create great, passionate food, but it also celebrates Mallmann's quiet, subtle side.  His ability to create warmth, intimacy and fantasy in his interiors is unique.  And now the inn has had a makeover that is akin to the best facelift possible. Its five rooms and public space have been freshened with newly painted furniture and reconfigured to maximize space, light and privacy. Remarkably, however, none of the soul has leached out and, if anything, I would say that there is a renewed sparkle to the gem.

So much so that, maybe after dinner tonight, I might just bunk in and move no more.

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A Restaurant That Is Also An Inn