November 23, 2011

Opryland reunion brings joy

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Spirituality, Travel, Women at 5:42 pm by dinaheng

Two years ago, my friend Christine received the shocking news that she had ovarian cancer. Thankfully, doctors did surgery immediately, and the tumor was removed before it could spread.

Ignoring the rocky economy, we decided to celebrate her continued remission recently  with a girls’ weekend at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville near her home.  Call us sentimental, but being surrounded by beautiful holiday decorations in a landmark resort that has come back from a devastating flood was particularly inspirational.

When Middle Tennessee experienced a series of storms last May, the resort and its indoor atriums were flooded under 10 feet of water and had to close for several months.  Walking through the resort today, you’d never know that guests had to be evacuated in the pouring rain as electricity failed and darkness fell over the area.

“The lower rooms flooded in the Delta section of the hotel, and people were bused to a local high school,” remembers Hollis Malone, director of horticulture at Gaylord Opryland. “It was a horrible sight to see all the chairs floating over all my plants. It was all mud. When the water in the Cumberland River went down, we mucked the place out, and cleaned and disinfected the hotel. Everyone rallied to the cause.”

More than 3,000 cubic feet of soil was removed to get the odor and contaminants out, and while the plants outside the hotel survived, much of the greenery inside was destroyed. So Malone ordered new plants and restored the gardens with 14 tractor-loads of greenery.

“I like to display different varieties of plants because most people don’t get to see them,” says Malone, pointing out various poinsettias — Sonora White Glitter, White Star, Ice Punch and more — on display for the holidays. “Artificial light makes the bracts fade, so we change them out a couple of times during the season. In the conservatory, no matter what the weather is outside, you feel like it’s a a good day in here.”

Malone’s staff takes care of the waterfalls and fish in the ponds, and maintains 10 greenhouses that are the holding ground for green plants on the property. This year, they’ve also strung more than 200,000 Christmas lights inside and two million lights in  the trees outside.

Walking among the twinkling lights creates a feeling of wonder and joy, reminding the spirit that no matter what happens, Love will prevail. In a world where daily schedules can be frenetic, it often takes a jolt — like a health crisis — to make us stop and think about what we’re doing.

Christine’s cancer diagnosis made her examine her life and slow down for the really important things. Her illness made me appreciate our time together all the more, and while we live in different parts of the country, we both resolved to visit together in person more often.

That evening, Christine and I head for Ravello, a new Italian restaurant at the resort named after a resort town on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Ravello features seafood, spices and vegetables from the area, as well as cheeses and wines from the Campagna region.

The maitre d’fromage comes by with an antipasti selection of cured meats and cheeses that looks wonderful, so we choose a few to try (price varies by selection), along with an eggplant parmesan appetizer ($12) and a caprese salad of mozzarella cheese, slow roasted jewel box tomatoes, and fried basil leaves ($11), which we shared.

I’m not a big fan of cured meats, but the prosciutto di Parma was fabulous, and the Asiago cheese was delicious. The eggplant parmesan had a nice flavor, but was not as tender as we would have liked. Both of us thought the eggplant rind should have been peeled off, which makes eggplant easier to digest. The peeled cherry tomatoes in the caprese salad, however, were outstanding with the mozzarella cheese and garlic olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pesto dressing.

For our entrees, Christine chose the sea scallops and sweet potato ravioli in pumpkin seed pesto with whipped marscapone cheese ($32), and I ordered the filet mignon, served over butternut squash risotto, with mushroom conserva and crispy spinach ($42). Both of us were impressed with our dishes.

Our waiter, a fellow named Samir from Egypt, was so attentive, he asked whether my “medium” preference for the filet mignon should be closer to medium rare or medium well. The steak was done to perfection, which is rare for a non-steakhouse restaurant, and presented beautifully with the risotto and spinach.

Christine had no room for dessert, but I couldn’t resist, and ordered the tiramisu semifredo ($8), which was made with semi-frozen mascarpone blended with espresso and layered between ladyfingers.  All I can say is… I cleaned the plate.  Yum!

Our only criticism of Ravello was the design of the chairs, which have elongated seats. They’re cushy to sit on, but we noticed that all the women in the restaurant sat as we did — forward on the edge of their seats, without support for their backs. The men who had longer legs, however, could sit back and looked perfectly comfortable.

At the end of the meal, Samir packed a little leftover box for us and shared that he’d worked at Gaylord Opryland for more than a decade. “I take great joy in serving people,” he said. “I ask God every day to tell me how I can better serve.”

Reminders of what is important in life clearly comes into our lives every day.  All we have to do is listen.

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