Friday, November 17, 2017

my go-to panacea

"At first glance the formula is very simple: tea leaves from a plant from the camellia family + hot water = tea. This sum summarizes quickly the most beloved drink worldwide - tea. 

"As much as tea is a staple of daily life, it is anything but boring or mundane. For it was tea that inspired poets and prompted the invention of porcelain. 

"Tea makes every morning brighter, refreshes and revives in the afternoon, and warms the coldest nights. Tea soothes strained nerves, but also awakes fresh vigor. 

"Tea accompanies meals, lets words flow, and always stands for hospitality. 

"Tea prompts merchant ships to circumnavigate the globe and stands even today as a meeting point between religion, medicine, and art."

~from Lust auf Tee, my translation

This post was bound to come someday. I blog about things that make me tick, and tea is right up there with books and friends on my list of things that I couldn't possibly do without. So it was never a matter of if I would author a blog post about tea, but when. So settle back, because this is going to be a long post dedicated to my favorite beverage.

As I started this post, I was about to write something cosy along the lines of:

The days are getting shorter and colder, and I've started living in sweaters and scarves and slippers and wrapping myself in fuzzy blankets to keep warm. It's the time of year that I start to consume large quantities of tea.

But who am I kidding? I drink large quantities of tea regardless of the time of year. If it's cold outside I drink hot tea, and if it's hot outside I drink iced tea. That covers my bases: there is no time of year that tea isn't an important part of my life.

Hot or iced; black, green or herbal; loose leaf or in a bag; with company or by myself; at home or out and about; as an excuse for a tea party or as accompaniment to whatever I happen to be doing; it is always the right time for tea.

On one of my first days in Munich I was hanging out in a biergarten with some of the other Fulbrighters. Beer or tea? Is that even a question? Tea. Always.

I love offering hospitality, and if you've ever visited me, chances are that one of the first things I said was "I'm just making tea. Would you like some?" In my first couple of years of college, my dorm room ended up being a regular gathering hub for a large group of friends - and tea was always involved. I even had what I jokingly called my "tea shrine":

When I was in London a couple of years ago, I stumbled into this amazing tea shop called T2, where they have bowls of loose leaf tea all over the shop for customers to see and smell. I ended up chatting with an employee who said something along the lines of: "Tea isn't just a beverage: it's a means of bringing people together." Yes! 

"Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company" ~Anynomous

Of course, I drink tea alone frequently as well, and with great contentment. Perhaps one of the funniest memories I have of drinking tea by myself was when I was in Joliet very early on a Saturday morning. I had driven a friend there to take the GRE and drove downtown to hang out in a coffee shop while I waited. Not only was the coffee shop randomly closed, but the entire town seemed to be shut down. The only place that was open was a very large casino with a Starbucks inside. So I snuck in - feeling extremely out of place - got my London Fog, and hunkered down in a corner to do my morning Bible reading and count the minutes until the public library opened. 

I'm pretty sure that the baristas had never seen a college student come into the casino Starbucks to read her Bible at 8 on a Saturday morning. The moral of the story: tea can make a very awkward situation much more bearable. 

Speaking of morals and stories, tea books have their own little niche in the book market. It stands to reason: book-lovers are often tea-lovers. It's so much fun to flip through books on how comforting tea is, the social history of tea time, and those sorts of things. 

It's also fun to google quotes about tea and see what the internet comes up with. This page has many delightful quotes - both serious and silly - having to do with tea. 

And of course there are those great British tweets, like the following: 

If you don't like tea, we can still be friends. I just might be at a loss as to what to offer you to drink if you come to visit.

(An aside: entire books could be written about the Brits and their tea habits. I once heard an entire BBC radio segment where a panel discussed whether one should put milk into the mug before or after one pours the tea.)

I could spend hundreds more words rhapsodizing about tea, giving anecdotes, and telling you about my favorite tea shops in three different countries. But instead I'll wrap up by sharing some choice quotes, accompanied by photos. (Is tea photography a thing? Because if it is, I'm a tea photographer - there are dozens and dozens of pictures of tea in my photos. It's almost embarrassing...)

"There is no trouble so great or grave [for example, a disastrous round of Settlers of Catan] that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea." ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

"Tea is instant wisdom - just add water!" ~Terri Guillemets

"Coffee is not my cup of tea." ~Samuel Goldwyn

"Never concentrating so hard than when manoeuvring a full cup of tea whilst lying down." ~Rob Temple, @SoVeryBritish 

"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." ~Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1880

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Things I Learned This Month | October 2017

“I’m so glad to live in a world where there are Octobers.” Thus Anne Shirley, my literary kindred spirit. I’ve had this line in mind all month, but now I’ll tuck it away for 11 months, at which point I’ll pull it out again, along with all my favorite sweaters. (The sweaters are NOT being tucked away – they have months more of good use ahead of them.)

I do love October.

Now that the month is nearly over so many references and cozy October things are coming to mind. The Great Pumpkin Waltz; bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils; the satisfying, impossible-to-replicate sound and aroma of shuffling through fallen leaves on a snappy, sunny day.

It’s been a full month. I settled into my routine at school, found a church, joined an a capella choir, and FINALLY found an apartment. I went home one weekend, and I spent this past weekend with my parents visiting Charlie in Hamburg. (We stayed on a farm 30 minutes outside the city. All photos in this blog post are from our trip.)

As usual, before the new month comes, I want to follow Emily Freeman’s lead and share some things I learned this month.

1. Hamburg has more bridges than both Venice and Amsterdam. There’s good reason that this port city is called “the Venice of the north.” 

2. Northern Germany feels like Holland, and I love it. Thatched roofs, flat land, dikes, lots of water, brick houses, and broad expanses of sky. This past weekend in Hamburg I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Germany, not Holland. 

3. Germans wear the wedding ring on the right ring finger. I thought this might be the case, but I wasn’t sure, so I decided to continue to wear my opal ring on my right ring finger, just like I always have. I’ve had several people (including a male student who “likes to take walks at sunset”) ask if I’m married. Nope. Not engaged or dating either. But I don’t intend to swap my ring to my left hand. Because that will just make things complicated.

4. German students have some really funny perceptions of America.

5. Language barrier + new environment = several inadvertent faux pax. I don’t tend to think of having much of a language barrier with Germans. I did live in Germany for 9 years as a child and studied the language for 3 years in college. But I can still be totally oblivious. For example, it took me 3 weeks of using a computer room at work before someone finally told me that that particular room is only for the faculty chairs and I really shouldn’t be in there. I honestly don’t know if that would have been obvious if German were my native language, or if it’s something I couldn’t have known without being told. But several things like that have made me aware that it’s so easy to be clueless in a new environment. And because most of my life is now being conducted in a second language, I’m extra likely to miss the obvious. So I do my best to ask lots of questions, be eager to learn, and to take it gracefully when people tell me I’m out of line.

6. “The good old days” weren’t as nice as we like to think of them. I’m reading Alexander Hamilton’s biography, and it’s providing fascinating insight into the early days of our nation. I’m accustomed to hear people bemoan the mudslinging and ad hominem attacks that have become American politics, the lack of objectivity in the media, the tendency to vilify the “other” - whether its another political party or people from another country or whatever. I’ve bemoaned those tendencies myself. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from Hamilton, it’s that however shameful these tendencies are, they are as old as the hills and not peculiarly modern problems. 

7. Angelica Schuyler was already married when she met Hamilton. This is one time when I am all for artistic license: What would “Hamilton” be without “Satisfied”?

8. Mascarpone cheese tastes just like clotted cream. Guys. This stuff is amazing. On figs. On scones. On stewed plums. On a spoon. Go buy some.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Poetry Corner: The Children's Hour

Last night, I got back to my (temporary) apartment at that elusive time when the day is done but it's not quite night. And the opening line from The Children's Hour came to me: "Between the dark and the daylight / When the night is beginning to lower..." This poem is one of the poems that I inadvertently memorized during my childhood because my mom read it aloud to us so often. Here it is. 

"The Children's Hour"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Between the dark and the daylight,
   When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day’s occupations,
   That is known as the Children’s Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
   The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
   And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
   Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
   And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
   Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
   To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
   A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
   They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
   O’er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
   They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
   Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
   In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
   Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
   Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
   And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
   In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
   Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
   And moulder in dust away!