In a much-needed break from all the pain of the current national tragedy of government, let’s take tea together. Virtually speaking, of course. Because in the UK, it’s Afternoon Tea Week!
That means we need to talk tea, for at least a little bit. Almost as good as drinking tea is talking (or reading) about it. Just Saturday, I had a nice visit with Jack, who is opening Tea & Jam here in Blacksburg, later this month. I saw his van parking as I walked up to the Farmer’s Market Saturday, and stopped to congratulate him on a great article, about his upcoming opening, in the Roanoke paper. We got to visiting about the health benefits of tea (numerous!), and Jack introduced me to a book I just ordered: Cancer Hates Tea. A family member is fighting cancer, and the book seemed timely.
But tea’s healing qualities aren’t just about polyphenols (one of the health-benefiting elements of tea). The magic is also, as tea drinkers know, about quiet. About the ritual of filling the pot (or cup) with boiling water, and taking a moment to let it steep. It’s also about spoiling yourself just a bit, and taking a moment ‘off’ from your daily grind, whatever that may be.
It’s about savouring the fragrance of peach matcha as you stir it, or watching milk cloud a cup of Earl Grey. It’s about a moment when the world stops whirling & settles, for a warm comfy moment, into focus. You, the cup, the tea. The old be here now thing. Almost impossible to achieve with even the best cup of coffee (which I also like, just fyi). Coffee lacks the magic of tea, I confess. And don’t we all need magic these days?
Sometimes folks ask me to ‘recommend’ teas. Unlike Jack, I don’t own a tea shop. More like a tea way station, where I try to bring order to fractious days. At my house, if you’re invited to tea, there will be a black tea (if you’re a newbie tea drinker, probably just a good China black or maybe Earl Grey). And if you’ve told me you don’t drink caffeine, there will be one of the tisanes or fruit teas I often sip in the late afternoon or evening. I’m partial to lemon verbena, or a fruit tea made with mango pieces.
But if you do drink caffeine, I might go with a flavoured or blended black tea. My favourites — especially if you’re adventurous — are Lapsang Souchong, and a blend from Harney’s tea, Victorian London Fog. Despite my younger son’s dismissal of any tea using vanilla, I adore the London Fog tea, which is basically Earl Grey with lavender & a tiny soupçon of vanilla. And of course Lapsang Souchong is smoky & a bit wild. Good for days when it feels you’re being smothered in everyday minutiæ!
There will be a tea tray w/ a tea cloth. Matching cups & tea pot, drawn from the far too many I own (and use!). A complementary creamer & sugar, as I like my black teas w/ both. And a little honey jar, one of 2-3 I have for various tea sets. And of COURSE there will be cookies! Maybe scones, too, if it’s a mid-morning or mid-afternoon tea, where we need more sustenance. Probably ginger scones, unless I made ginger shortbread. (Can you tell how much I love ginger?)
The whole point of shared afternoon tea is just that: sharing. And the nurturing comfort that comes from someone baking something tasty just for you. Of, as M.F.K.Fisher said,
I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.
Tea’s like that. A way to feed people on so many levels. And here’s the best part of this open secret: you can do it for yourself! You can buy a package of tea bags or sachets (it doesn’t have to be loose tea, if that intimidates you, although the ritual of scooping and filling a tea strainer is pleasant!), in whatever flavour you like, and pour boiling water into a cup where the tea bag nestles. Let it brew for a minute or two, and then add what you like. Or nothing at all!
Now: take a deep breath of the healing steam. Let it out. And enjoy your moment of peace & comfort.
Today’s the 6th day of one of my favorite months — National Poetry Month. Which is also National Poetry WRITING Month, NaPoWriMo. AND…my birthday month! How filled w/ great stuff can a month get?
The NaPoWriMo prompt for today is about the line — about changing it up, about playing with it. But since I didn’t write yesterday, or do yesterday’s prompt, I’m combining them. A word in a language not my own — riffing on what it looks & sounds like it means — and line change-ups. You can let me know how that works for you. Here you go:
how our frantic panic
burned like a torch
incinerated any good
whatever we once knew
of any middle path
how lust too was a torch
an incandescent inferno
in which both our bodies
burned to cinders
the cooling of lava
the way the embers bank
how they glow
beneath the black ash
of what we lost
 Torschlusspanik is a combination of three German words, and literally translated means “gate-shut-panic.” Apparently the term dates back to the Middle Ages in reference to the panic medieval peasants might have experienced as they rushed to make it back inside the city gates before they closed at nightfall.
I also want to offer another poem I love, one I read at my first public reading (where I was asked to choose a poem to read). It’s by one of my favourite mentor poets — Denise Levertov. An anti-war poem, it looks at the people of my childhood home, ViệtNam. And the ways in which we forget that the real victims of real wars are real people.
I hope that’s not too much food for poetic thought!
A few years ago, for Christmas gifts I got bees. Two, to be precise: a small, dainty gold one from my husband (banded in white & black diamonds, just to be decadent 🙂 ), and a similarly dainty sterling bee pin from my younger son, with antennae crooked so lifelike it looks as if it were a victim of a silver Midas touch. In other words, not real bees. Those would follow, a couple of years later.
I often write about bees. I’d like to work up a collection — use them as metaphor, possibly, but mostly just observe them, writing down what they do, look like, are. Haiku, tanka and renga are good for that. Perhaps it’s the Zen influence: watch, reflect, learn. Kind of the Zen mantra, that.
I’m not good at mindfulness. But I do like watching bees. They ground me, ironically — their tiny wings, their fuzzy bodies. How they make work into honey. Even their short life spans, spent working — it’s almost mystical, to me. In the past few years, I’ve read more than 20 books on bees. I don’t really even know how many — 20 is how many I have on the book shelf w/ the gardening books, and I know I checked out several from the library. And there are still a few on my wish list!
I love reading about bees. There’s something so soothing about the idea of the hive, the soft hum that fills my head even as I read, so that I have to go in and get a teaspoon of honey. I used to buy my local honey at my local bakery, but the beekeeper ‘aged out’: he gave his bees to a new keeper. I wished at the time I was ready to keep honey bees, but I wasn’t. Now, I buy my local honey at the farmer’s market, or the supermarket.
Recently, a friend’s brother was giving away a hive. I wanted it like I sometimes want a new book — desperately, as if it might somehow impart magic and wisdom and order to my crazy life. In my city you have to go through a bee-keeping seminar (several weeks long, put on the by City-County health dept) to get a license to keep ‘urban bees.’ I even took it — well, most of it. Life got in the way, as I recall (it was a few years ago), and I didn’t quite finish. But I still have the notes — a notebook of info from local beekeeps about bees.
Ironically — but so like real life — what I found as I talked to local beekeepers is that I’m not going to keep honey bees. They require FAR more work than the beautiful books detail. I’d always thought of keeping bees as a symbol of the coming quiet, the time when there would actually be time. To read, to write, to learn to speak to bees. Endless Saturdays … to walk outside, to sit in the sun, to watch the bees… What I learned is that bees have their needs — think of bees as livestock, in a way: they need things done according to their schedule, not necessarily yours. Kind of like kids.
When I was a young child, I would follow bees. The way I would stick my nose in the grass to follow ants (really). I would try to find the hive. I didn’t know then that bees could fly a two-mile radius from the hive. Or maybe I did — I read omniverously, Fabre on bees & moths when I was 10, for instance. Insects and birds and animals fascinated me. I was horse crazy, dog crazy, fish and bird and outside crazy. A goofy, leggy, elbow-y girl who believed what the servants told her — that everything had a spirit. That the very bees could speak to you, if you would listen.
Just last fall, sitting at a café in the warm autumn light, I watched as a bee flew over the table. I sat out a small drop of sugar dissolved in water for her. She touched her body to it, and then turned to land on my arm, as light as dust. I could feel her tiny feet crawling over my arm, see her antennae feeling her way. It was as if she was saying thank you. I am learning to speak bee, even if I don’t keep honey bees. I do keep native bees. More on that next post ~