Tag Archives: tea

The risk of dancing with Little Bee.

Little Bee is among a rare set of books in my personal Modern Era, in that I found it in “hard copy” right in front of me, and picked it up with my own hands, and read it through to the end without consulting Goodreads or Amazon in making a guess as to its worth or suitability. That day last week, when I visited the used bookstore in Colorado Springs, it was the four double-sided book racks on the sidewalk that drew me closer, and that’s where I found Little Bee carrying a $1 sticker like all its shelfmates. A cheap risk.

The book appealed to me first because of its short and sweet title that reminded me of the friends in my garden, and secondly because of its appearance: small (unintimidating), paperback, and mostly a pleasing orange color. I did read a few lines of blurbs on the back and inside cover, and noted words like “dark” and “hope.” I probably also read a bit in the middle somewhere, to see if anything tacky jumped out.

I bought it and read it in a couple of days. It helped that I had at least three solid hours coming home Tuesday, on the plane and bus and at the bus stops, and I reached the last page in bed, just before turning out the light. — Forgive me, that was a long intro that would annoy me if I read it somewhere.

Little Bee is a page-turner of a novel. It tells the story of a young refugee from Nigeria first of all: “Everything was happiness and singing when I was a little girl. There was plenty of time for it. We did not have hurry. We did not have electricity or fresh water or sadness either, because none of these had been connected to our village yet….that village we did not yet know was built on an oil field and would soon be fought over by men in a crazy hurry to drill down into the oil.”

Though she never drank tea in her country, because it was mostly exported, she did get a cup on arrival at the detention center: “And when I tasted it, all I wanted to do was to get back into the boat and go home again, to my country. Tea is the taste of my land: it is bitter¬† and warm, strong, and sharp with memory. It tastes of longing. It tastes of the distance between where you are and where you come from. Also it vanishes — the taste of it vanishes from your tongue while your lips are still hot from the cup. It disappears, like plantations stretching up into the mist.”

I likely read those lines before I got on the airplane, and when the attendant asked what I would drink, hot tea seemed the best choice. I resolved to drink more real tea in the future. I always knew it was rich in historical associations, but Little Bee’s words reveal it as rich in art and philosophy as well.

After Little Bee, this is the story of the British family with whose lives hers is indissolubly linked by one of those events called “dark.” Given the subject matter, the novel might have been highly politicized, but instead it is an account of how the various characters cope with the traumas from outside, and with the troubling revelations of their own souls’ poverty.

“Isn’t it sad, growing up? You start off like my Charlie. You start off thinking you can kill all the baddies and save the world. Then you get a little older, maybe Little Bee’s age, and you realize that some of the world’s badness is inside you, that maybe you’re a part of it. And then you get a little bit older still, and a bit more comfortable, and you start wondering whether that badness you’ve seen in yourself is really all that bad at all….”

“Maybe that’s just developing as a person, Sarah.”

“Well,” I said, “Maybe this is a developing world.”

Because of the grace of God, the way He made us humans with the strength of spirit to survive all the darkness threatening to kill us, there is much beauty and joy in the book. Like Little Bee’s description of this breakfast table scene: “The sun was lighting up the kitchen. It was thick yellow — a warm light, but not a show-off light. It did not want the glory for the illumination of the room. It made each object look as if it was glowing with a light from deep inside itself. Lawrence, the table with its clean blue cotton tablecloth, his orange tea mug and my yellow one — all of it glowing from within. The light made me feel very cheerful. I thought to myself, that is a good trick.”

The two women in the story alternate telling the tale in the first person, sometimes describing the same event from their vastly different perspectives. And those two characters especially spend a good bit of time filling each other in on their past. This is Little Bee talking again, typically philosophical:

“Everyone in my village liked U2. Everyone in my country, maybe. Wouldn’t that be funny, if the oil rebels were playing U2 in their jungle camps, and the government soldiers were playing U2 in their trucks. I think everyone was killing everyone else and listening to the same music. Do you know what? The first week I was in the detention center, U2 were number one here, too. That is a good trick about this world, Sarah. No one likes each other, but everyone likes U2.”

The girl tells how U2 was playing in her Nigerian home, the radio on which they were supposed to be listening to the BBC having been tuned by her sister to the music station instead, because “Nkiruka loved music and now I saw that she was right because life is extremely short and you cannot dance to current affairs.”

The motivations that drive these characters’ actions, their rationalizations, their good deeds, are not pure or simple. Survival, anger, boredom, revenge, guilt… and sometimes, the heart knowledge that we are fellow humans on our way to the grave, and we have nothing to lose from loving.

I very much enjoyed the character of Little Bee, whose child self is haunted by horrific memories even as she is growing into a wise young woman. The less sympathetic characters are shown to be not all that different from us average lost sheep who wander bleating here and there looking for food, and they all get at least a little more light and understanding as the novel progresses. Even one of the “baddies” is shown in remarkably few words to be irreducible to a caricature.

Picking up a book that I know nothing about, and then reading the whole thing privately, with not one iota of input digital or otherwise from another reader — that is a refreshing experience. It feels almost wild and irresponsible to my recent self. But this experiment with Little Bee was satisfying at all levels, and I can see myself taking similar risks in the future. Here’s to more reading adventure!

Relaxing peals and dances.

7:00 in the evening, I hear the church bells playing in the neighborhood, as they do a few times a day, on a schedule that is ever the same but at intervals that make us think, “Why now?” It’s always the same few measures of a tune that seems to me very like a setting I know to “The Lord is My Shepherd, I’ll Walk With Him Always.” It is a recorded pealing, but effective at reminding me of the presence of joy.

Today especially I’ve been noticing all the many sounds that waft up to the eighth floor where Kate and Tom live, and where I am staying long enough that it feels natural so say, “…where we live.” Crows and hawks and other birds swoop back and forth all day in the large open area viewed from the dining room, and their voices come in to our space, too, as do those of children in the play yard of the pink convent school you can see in the middle of this photo I took. Those same birds are blocked from nesting on the balcony by that netting you see.

I took the picture when Kareena was washing the only balcony that one can’t access any other way than by climbing through a picture window, so while it was open I grabbed the opportunity.

On the street below, traffic hums and roars and honks constantly. From the balcony off my room I love to watch an intersection where all manner of pedestrians and vehicles are in a continual dance, the players fewer or more as they ceaselessly enter and exit the “stage” in a serene choreography. In India the honking is not angry or agitated, but might be translated, “Let’s all be careful and notice each other! You, lady, walking in front of me, please be aware that I am driving your way; if you keep your speed constant, I promise to clear your tender flesh by at least six inches.”

The pace of life in a household where a three-week-old baby lives should be restful, and ours is wonderfully so. The outdoor sounds are somewhat muted, and plenty of white noise emanates from the various household machines that clean and condition the air and help to keep home as a refuge from the buzzing streets and polluted atmosphere. The tiny boy’s burps and squeaks are my favorite sounds around.

Our outings since the baby arrived have been brief, and not every day. The people who don’t get the sleep they need at night are often able to take naps. Kareena has begun to offer us a cup of masala chai in the late afternoon, and I just might end up making that a habit.

Yesterday afternoon Kate and I sat on the couch for a long time with little Raj, wondering at his constant funny expressions and erratic arm motions, as he lay on her lap looking up into That Face that will soon become most beloved. Kate put on some Bollywood music and the two of them arm-danced for a long time to the lively and happy music.

Some days, this is a good time for Raj to have his bath in the kitchen sink, the one sink in the apartment large enough to easily accommodate his flexible bath cushion while he lounges with an attitude befitting royalty relaxing in a deck chair.

What a life!

Mountain tea, rain, and a little book.

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It might seem to my friends to make perfect sense, that I would start the new year by reading a book that is about gardening. But I don’t normally enjoy such topics in print, preferring rather to have my own hands in the dirt and my eyes beholding whatever garden the whole of my body is present with. But Inheriting Paradise: Meditations on Gardening by Vigen Guroian drew me in for several reasons:

*It was a Christmas present from Pippin and the Professor, personally chosen for me, and not yet buried in stacks or lost in the large community of other yet-unread books on my shelves.

*Of the books I was gifted with, it is the smallest and shortest, fewer than 100 pages, which makes it easy to read while lying sick in bed (which I have been a little) or anytime before falling asleep in health. This minimalist aspect also leads me to hope that I might be able to stick with the author to the last page. It would be great to restart my Recently Completed list before January is gone.

*I’m familiar with Guroian and have heard him interviewed on the Mars Hill Audio Journal, as he walked around his garden talking about the various plants and about this book.

*I knew that his book was not about gardening as a thing that could be detached from the Giver of Life, but it would also be a book of philosophy and theology, and probably include some good quotes from world literature.

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Added to all these is a kind of fellowship with previous owners of this “used” book. On the title page an address label is glued on near the top, showing that Elizabeth A. Weber claimed the book at one time and was willing to leave her mailing address in it. On the next page are both the moving dedication of the author to his wife and a handwritten note from the year of the book’s publication.

Deeper inside were flowers folded in vintage Kleenex. But not too vintage – the book’s copyright is 1999.

I think I will want to share a few quotes from the book with you as I go along. Here is one:

“It is not the gardeners with their planting and watering who count,” writes St. Paul, “but God who makes it grow.” Indeed, we are not only “fellow-workers” in God’s great garden; we ourselves are God’s garden (1 Corinthians 3:7-9, REB). This is the ground of our humility as mere creatures among all other creatures loved by God.

It wasn’t a day to be a fellow-worker in my garden, even to clean up dead flower stalks. I was glad to be indoors, feeling loved by the rain’s healing and blessing. A brief hailstorm added excitement; immediately the nuggets of ice were melting away. I had just come inside from washing off that table when the shower began.

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The product of someone else’s gardening or farming efforts came in the form of Macedonian Mountain Tea this afternoon. Mr. and Mrs. Bread tended to me by bringing some to the house to speed my healing. I’m certain this is the same tea I drank cold from a tall glass when I was in Turkey long ago. That was also called mountain tea, or ihlamur.

There seems to be confusion or disagreement in some places (even in my Turkish dictionary) about what constitutes Mountain Tea, but everyone will tell you that it is very healthy. What I am drinking seems to be some kind of Sideritis, if you want to look it up. “Mountain Tea” sounds much more wholesome, though, don’t you think?

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To your health!

Genmaicha

Green tea was never a favorite of mine until I met genmaicha. Probably iP1120527crpts lack of appeal was a result of my 1) using tea bags rather than loose tea or 2) pouring on water that was too hot or 3) steeping the tea too long…or all of the above. Recently I read that 30 seconds is long enough for green tea, but I’ve always heard that it should definitely be under two minutes. This helps to avoid the astringency I dislike.

In any case, genmaicha has roasted brown rice added to it, which smooths and rounds out the flavor, and has the added benefit of making it seem more of a substantial liquid snack; the article link above mentions that for this reason people like to drink it while fasting. That makes this a Lenten post, don’t you think?

Though I well know tgenmaicha on new plate crphat loose teas are superior, I admit that many tea-times I grab a teabag, and even offer them to guests as a rule. The Choice teabags are pretty good, if you can find them, and I have never tried another green teabag I like near as well.

 

 

Recently a goddgenmaicha bagaughter gave me some loose genmaicha from Harney’s Teas, and it is the best I’ve ever drunk. It even looks nice before brewing. This morning I poured my tea into a teacup, which I don’t normally, but I wanted to take its picture, and this setting was nicer. This teacup is one of two remaining pieces of my wedding-gift dishes, Wedgewood Edme.

I can still recall have the image of myself shopping in the housewares section of Robinson’s department store in Santa Barbara after my engagement. I knocked one of the Edme display pieces off the shelf and I don’t remember how far it fell, but the saleswoman came over with a smile and said, “Don’t worry, those are hard to break – they are very sturdy.”

They were certainly the classic, understated and elegant (if not fine china) style that I continue to preedme by wedgewoodfer. I learned that the Queen of England ate her breakfast on Edme. It came to pass that our family did chip, crack or break nearly all of the dishes within a couple of decades, because they were our only dishes. We had five children learning to wash dishes at a young age, and a fairly clumsy mother (me) as well.

As the set was reducing in number I switched to restaurant dishes, and they were nearly unbreakable, but they did wear out and get ugly, and I’ve finally retired them. You can see that the style of my new dishes (the least expensive of all I’ve ever owned, and also the “cheapest”), one of which is holding the loose tea above, hearkens back to that of my first set.genmaicha in edme

But I’m forgetting that I started to write about tea; it’s the contents of the dishes that is most important to me. I not only photographed the tea in the cup, but drank from it. Sustaining and smooth and beautiful.