Friday, May 25, 2007

beautiful and gentle



The first time I had hot tea was at my Aunt Bambi's house. She and my Uncle Dean, my mom's brother, lived in Winston-Salem in a split-level brick house. Their basement was filled with James Bond movies. I hated James Bond then, so I read their National Geographic magazines as my parents and my aunt and uncle sat at the kitchen table and talked. Every once in a while I'd stay over for the weekend and they'd take me to places and to see things I'd never get to see otherwise. One time, they took me to see a production of Peter Pan at The Little Theatre. All I remember was that all the Lost Boys wore skates. I had skate envy. I couldn't skate (and still can't). My aunt and uncle also had one of those perpetual motion birds that would drink out of a water glass. (Go here and see it in action.) They had it in the bathroom and I was fascinated by it. So you can see my penchant for the finer things in life started early.

Aunt Bambi taught me that tea didn't only come iced with sugar (and in gallons with sugar and in to-go cups with sugar and in quart jars with sugar), but also in dainty cups, hot, with room enough for milk. I liked it, all warm and comforting. I've loved hot tea ever since.

But that doesn't make up for my lack of coffee love.

Anyway.

The point of this post.

This is a photograph from Cha-an, a tea house on 230 East 9th Street in New York. Pat and I went with Teru in February for lunch when it was freezing and we were about to head off to Rome. We climbed the dark stairs to the restaurant, which sat above a store front and less than a block from a Japanese grocery. We climbed up and sat/stood/hovered in this itty-bitty entrance way, taking turns going to the bathrooms, which were amazing. Heated seats that weren't crazy and other mechanizations of the toilet that I can't even describe because I had no idea what all the buttons on the wall even did. I was a bit afraid. When we finally caught a table, this beautiful Japanese woman (Even sitting down, I was taller than her) came and we ordered.

The food rocked. But the tea! The tea made what comes out of a stale teabag really shameful. It made me want to invest in the ancient tea trade, the noblest of leaves that have caused havoc the world over. And in my body, where, though diligent, it is not doing it's job of making me write somewhat lucidly instead of like I just fell off the turnip truck. (Reference: comments on previous post.)

Here's what I wrote in my journal later that night. Try not to fall asleep reading it, even though I edited out the (more) ridiculous parts. IT'S THAT GOOD.

We ordered set meals -- Teru and I had eel on 15 grain rice with pickles and eggplant and peppers. Pat had pork and egg with six little dishes of food -- a pickled plum and a shrimp and some kind of bean curd and seaweed and butter and mushrooms and leek and cream. For dessert -- a brownie and then a black sesame creme brulee. Awesome. But the tea! Teru and I had a green tea with popped brown rice (similar to Genmaicha). And then we had Twelve Trees Tea, an oolong from Taiwan that tasted like honeysuckle. The waitress brought it on a wooden box with slats cut in the top. The tea, we smelled it like it was a cork off a wine bottle. Then she put it in a small (tiny, really. It could sit in your palm easily.) red clay teapot that made just two sips of tea. First, she put hot water in, swished it around and poured it out. Then she put in the tea and water, then tipped it immediately into a larger cup, where a silver strainer sat. She divided the yellow tea into two smaller cups and passed it to us to smell. She took it back and poured all the tea in the little cups over the teapot, the water dripping into the wooden box, then did the whole process again. This time we drank what was in the cups and she left us to figure it out for ourselves. We took turns doing the process for each other, handing cups to one another and sipping the tea, which got stronger and a little more bitter each time. It was so beautiful and gentle.

1 comment:

Frances said...

ok, so i read this last night but was too sleepy to comment properly. and i thought about this entry as i was trying to read harry potter. now that the morning's here, i know this is one of my favorite things you've ever written. this is magical travel writing. adventure. honing in on a small thing. that's if you were a stranger to me. as my friend, this is something that is special. what i mean to say is that you can be friends with somebody and not like the same things. i love my mom but i hate her josh groban fixation (even though i love that she loves that wet rag of a singer). it's rare that the same things come together, like when i see movies and i know there's some little moment in there that you'd like too. or things that you've made, how they appeal to my senses. the arrangement of things on a shelf. and colors. oh and i love love love the photograph here. good morning to you, i'm off to move my brother's stuff out of his storage unit. this is from kathryn. xoxoxoxoxoxox