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Thursday
Jul262007

Tea

Tea? Who drinks tea anymore? It used to be something "people" did: the gentle ritual, the delicate ceremony. For me it meant a discreet adolescent gobbling of cakes and cookies, nigh unto my thirtieth year, while older wiser creatures sipped alongside. Now? Now I could not face a saffron-bun or a plum-heavy... and tea makes me drunk.
– MFK Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf

I had my first proper cup of tea in a tiny town outside of Leicester, England. It was quintessentially English, Americanized only by my addition of two heaping spoonfuls of sugar. I reluctantly accepted milk in it, submitting to a modicum of authenticity. I'm sure I had a few sips in front of the hostess before sneaking to the sink and pouring the rest down. English Tea was not my thing.

In college, I experimented with chai, darjeeling, and an oolong or two, but never found a good match (chamomile, which I'd once thought to be a secret Latvian herbal concoction, was an exception on sore throat days). "Tea" at our college was also an actual event, with all the hoopla MFK Fisher would have loathed, and I made it four years without attending.

It wasn't until the months when The Husband Boyfriend and I lived in that basement flat, a cricket ball's throw from Oval, when I truly understood what drinking tea was about. It had nothing to do with conversation, or cats, or cold days. Or pearls and gloves. Or saffron buns. It was that thing he'd offer me every once in a while when I happened to look up from a book or the television. It was what we came home to and woke up to. Tea was what you do. "It's everything," The Husband says sitting beside me now.

Not "everything" in the American sense. You don't think about its presentation, lay out lavish treats and fancy china. You just make it. In the old chipped Wales mug. With a digestive if you have them in the cupboard. (The Liverpool band Shack sums up the non-event of tea best in their song "Byrds Turn to Stone" from their album Here's Tom With The Weather: "Stuck in me Ma's old back room/with endless cups of tea." Back rooms. Sustenance. Late nights.)

I originally chose the name "a cup of tea and a wheat penny" for this blog to convey that sense of calm. A cup of tea is that something soothing you have at the end of the night, that everyday occurrence. (The wheat penny is that piece of the past you find once in a while lurking in the midst of your change, misplaced nostalgia.)

But "every day" is getting to be harder to come by, where posting is concerned. There's not always something to say, not always a good way to say what there is to say. I always feel I need to drag out the bells and whistles, or not drag anything out at all. So I let this thing sit on the back burner. Among other things.

Our old kettle is rusting on the inside, though we still use it, contemplating its inevitable replacement. We're eyeing this Breville electric kettle. I'm pushing for it. As much as I love the whistle, the urgency and nostalgia of the stovetop kettle, there's something just as reassuring in the non-event of an efficient click.

And here (if you've made it this far, dear reader), here is where I drive this horrid tea metaphor home: I don't always need a whistle on this blog. Just an everyday click will do.

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