Posts Tagged ‘France’

Tea-tinted Memories

August 29, 2016

Filling time between a dermatology appointment (Neosporin aggravates rather than helps to heal wounds!) and a dharma talk at Upaya, the Zen center in Santa Fe, I took a walk up Canyon Road, famous for art galleries, a history of being the path to the source of water and wood for city residents, and site also of the Santa Fe Friend’s Meeting with which I have a long and pleasant history. Most of the galleries I knew from years past have gone; so too a few favorite restaurants.

Living 80 miles away for the past 25 years, I’ve obviously not kept up with the street’s evolution. I did walk past the house where longtime friends lived when I first visited Santa Fe, in the early spring of 1972. And the gallery where, during that visit, I purchased a small bear fetish made from serpentine is, amazingly, still in business. The Glory Hole is gone. I miss its lively presence, the roar of the furnace and the crowd of onlookers enjoying the vivid, skilled and energetic process of creating blown glass objects.

In that space there are now several galleries – and a tea shop. Very ready for some cool refreshment, I went into the store to order a freshly brewed glass of Assam, and looked around at the walls of tins of different types of tea for sale. Many familiar labels stood among the black, green, white and herbal teas offered. Old friends from Ceylon, Darjeeling, Kenya, and Russian, English, and Scottish blends. Smoky Lapsang Souchong, various Greys (all with the bergamot that I have an allergic reaction to and therefore do not ever consume) and also a variety of jasmine blends. Last in a row on the top shelf, with a plain white label, one canister caught my eye. Vietnam OP.

In a flash, I was thirteen, touring a tea plantation with my father, in the Vietnamese highlands. Seeing how the leaves were graded according to which plants they had been picked from, told that those plants higher on the sunny slope produced a better quality of tea. We walked through the drying sheds, saw the different ways leaves were handled, to make green versus black versus smoked final products. My father’s role was to verify that the packaged tea was totally produced in the “free” south of Vietnam, not in the Communist controlled north. His certification made it possible for the tea to be marketed in the United States (this was in 1957, when the U.S. was determinedly not dealing with any countries with socialistic or communist-style governments.) My presence was the result of my father arranging a treat for me, compensation for a missed birthday party that had to be cancelled due to a government imposed ban on gatherings of all sorts, after a series of bombings had occurred in Saigon. (No terrorism, bombing of innocent civilians is NOT new).

We had journeyed up the coast and first visited a salt producer – beds of ocean water walled off and allowed to evaporate, with the resultant salt raked up, rinsed, dried once more, and bagged for market. Then we traveled up into the hills to the tea plantation. Both business operations were being managed jointly by a French and a Vietnamese proprietor. Both had been solely French until 1954 and the ouster of France from Indochina. Many of the French living in Vietnam had gone “home” to France initially, but many had then returned to take up their former occupations, more at ease in the tropics than their native land in which they had not lived for as much as 20 years. These returnees negotiated with the Vietnamese government, trading their expertise for acceptance back into their former occupations and lifestyles, now with Vietnamese “partners” to participate in the production and profits of salt, tea, cinnamon, rice and other agricultural products.

After the tour of the tea plantation was complete, we were treated to a “tasting”. Tiny cups – one sip worth – of each of the teas produced on the plantation were offered for sampling, freshly brewed with bites of plain local rice taken between sips, so that the palate would be clear and ready to appreciate the new and different tea sample.

Much has been written, and incorporated into literature, about the rituals associated with wine tasting. I learned then that there is as elaborate a process in savoring tea, though it is much less well known in the West. I did know even then, from my father, how to make a “proper” cup of tea. He followed the Russian process of brewing a very strong essence, then serving a small portion of it into a cup and adding freshly boiled water to bring it to the proper strength for drinking. Although I admit to using tea bags (or make my own with bulk tea), I still follow my father’s process for special occasions.

I’ve made a series of such special occasions this past week, each time I brew myself a cup of the Vietnam OP which I purchased in Santa Fe.

Half a world and most of a lifetime separate my two experiences of tea from Vietnam.

Probably not coincidentally, the message in the sermon my husband heard in church this morning was about the importance of making memories – and of sharing them.

So won’t you join me for a rich, energizing yet soothing cup of tea?

Tea for Two

Tea for Two

 

Lemon Delight

June 1, 2014

Fixing myself a salad supper using Belgian endive and lemon flavored olive oil, I flashed back to the first time I was offered this salad by the housekeeper employed by my parents, in Paris. Francine had worked in a large hotel most of her life, and had quite a number of stories to tell about life under the German occupation. Some were funny, others distressing, like the one about her desperately hungry coworker who was whipped for eating two bites from the discarded remains of an apple she found on a supper tray set out into the hall.

Francine is also the person who first began to teach me patience, how to mask my reaction to a situation and to bide my time until I could find a safe and effective way to retaliate. In different terms, she taught me to convert reaction into response.

My friend from Cameroon describes the French, who ruled his land for decades – as part of French West Africa – as duplicitous people who mask what they really mean behind polite phrases. He has gently scolded me for being “like the French” when I ask what he would prefer in a situation, rather than state what I think and then ask his opinion of my proposal. At first I was puzzled by this interpretation, since in my own mind I was genuinely neutral, and willing to do whatever he wished. Now, I’ve adapted my communication, to state that I have no preference among several options and would like him to choose for us both.

I’m still learning, in other situations, to feel comfortable openly asking him for what I would like. A lifetime ago, a mentally ill mother who took pleasure in denying me anything I wanted, set me on a path of masking my desires. Francine refined my skills of indirection. Time, experience, life as it happens all combined to instruct me to accept and be happy with what I could get, rather than to demand the fullness of what I wanted.

There is value in patience, in being tactful, in making lemonade from lemons.

Scent of Lemons   by Janet Triplett

Scent of Lemons
by Janet Triplett

But there is also a time for a serving of lemon meringue pie!

I’m savoring my slice just now – a demanding but satisfying job as the (gluten-free) crusty base, a delightfully sweet/tart lemony balance of romance and a social life for the filling, and a meringue topping of frothy happiness and spiritual delight.

There. I’ve said it. That I have what I want.

In the saying, I am confirming my right to this happiness, rather than daring fate to snatch it away from me in the way that, so long ago, my small pleasures were demeaned or destroyed.

How very long it sometimes takes to undo negative conditioning! Especially when that training wears the face of positive qualities like acceptance, patience, diplomacy, tact.

My spiritual teacher, from MasterPath, speaks of iron shackles and golden chains being equally binding. The shackles are clearly negative and therefore easier to identify and shed. The golden chains are so subtle and seemingly so benign. But oh, how constraining they can also be.

I feel blessed, to become able to perceive and free myself from them. I thank Thee, Master, for showing me the way.

Letting the Wind Blow Through

February 15, 2014

A friend just mentioned he’d enjoyed my reflection on snow, bringing to mind the gorgeous silence of that recent morning, a stillness in dire contrast with the roaring, shaking, blustering, hollering wind blasting my home tonight. Gusts over sixty miles an hour have been hammering at us for five hours now; fortunately the general temperatures were warm enough today that the blasts are not unduly chilling. At least not chilling in temperature. But those who are made uncomfortable by wind can find our New Mexico spring weather intimidating. Tonight’s blasts are not unusual. A little early in the year perhaps, and lasting later into the night than normal, but very familiar nonetheless.

When I was fifteen I wrote a poem about standing up to wind, not a very good poem though the underlying thought was worth the effort. It had been triggered by standing on the edge of a precipice, at Les Baux in southern France. The town sits atop what here in the southwest we’d call a mesa, overlooking a broad plain called the Val D’Enfer. Reputedly the Dark Ages lords of Le Baux forced trader traveling through the valley to pay tribute – often exorbitant tribute – for safe passage, making the traversing of the plain a veritable descent into hell. My poetic effort attempted to recognize the strength it takes to stand up against a powerful wind, and the strength it took for travelers to risk passing near Les Baux.

I’d prefer more quiet tonight, to assure a better night’s sleep. It’s been a very long, productive but tiring day. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride… so says the adage that echoes in my mind wherever I let myself dwell on what isn’t. So instead, I’m using the blasting wind as a motivator to write this week’s post. We’ll have to see how the essay turns out! Smooth and slick, or choppy and irritating? The wind is both at once – will my essay mimic the wind, or express its essence?

“Love me, love me, say you do.
“Let me fly away with you.
“For our love is like the wind,
“And wild is the wind, the wind,
“Wild is my love for you.”

The most recent theory, from a study in Germany, of why older people take longer to respond to memory tasks, is not that ability fades with age but rather that there is so much more stored in an older person’s brain, it takes longer to sort through everything to find the relevant bit of information. I like that explanation, not just because it is more flattering. I like that explanation because it takes into account all the bits and pieces of song lyrics, like the one above, that pop out of the storage cabinet at mostly – but not always – appropriate times.

Say the word English, and I’m apt to begin quoting, “Her English is too good,” he said, “which clearly indicates that she is foreign. Whereas other people are instructed in their native language, English people aren’t.” And on and on, in Rex Harrison’s voice. I learned the entire performance of My Fair Lady when I was eight. Don’t ask me why, and don’t ask me why it’s still all there in the lumber yard storage of my brain.

That’s the term that was used, disparagingly, by the wave of neurologists who discarded “old” brain storage theories in favor of computer-link images that propose an entirely different set of rules for how our brains perform our thinking and memory functions. That new set of rules is the one that posited an eroding of capacity with age. One more reason I stand in opposition to all the supposedly “better” connectivity and computer-based emphasis of our “modern” world.

Inventors create a new toy and suddenly scientists see everything through the lens of that new technology. Wisdom of centuries is derided, practiced ways of relating to the world and to one another are treated as out-of-date. All theories, all explanations must fit the new paradigm.

Until a brave soul stands up and says “no” to forced conformity to what is new. Until a study from Germany says older brains are just as efficient as younger ones, but they have more data to process, more varied possibilities to consider, and so take longer to come up with answers. Until I suggest to a friend, who has been angered by a phone call wakening him at 3AM, that he can, in fact, turn his cell phone off when he wants to sleep.

What a novel idea to the ethos of today – to be disconnected!

In the midst of the wind storm, I am barraged with sound. Fortunately, I know the storm will pass and it will become quiet again. I really can’t conceive of living in the middle of a non-stop gale, any more than I can relate to those people who live constantly connected – mobile phone always on, always at hand, computer permanently turned on with multiple pages open, Youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn and Skype all demanding attention.

There are reasons to be available to others. If one is living far from home and family, computer connections bridge time zones and allow relatively inexpensive contact. The nature of my present job is such that I must be reachable in emergencies. That doesn’t mean all clients can call me twenty-four hours a day, however. They call a central, toll free number for triage. Only the true emergencies are put through to me in the late, or early, hours of a day.

Connectivity, like the wind, has its season. I do hope that before the passing of all those of us who have lived when (or where) there was not a phone in every home, those born to the age of connectivity will have tired of disrupted sleep and life in a fishbowl. I do hope for an opportunity to teach the continuing values of concentration, of solitude, of silence, of windless days and of attention to one thought, one person, one experience at a time.

*****

Awakening this morning, I first register the silence. The storm has passed, the wind abated. A new day, and new environment surround me. I appreciate the renewed quiet, the ability to focus inward before joining the network of souls who will make up my work day. And I’m happy to think that, now that a research study has been published which respects older brains, perhaps some of the thoughts and beliefs dwelling in those older brains will also be given new respect.

Wouldn’t that be a novel and pleasant experience!

. . . Was the Word

July 20, 2013

 valley viewI wrote my first poem, in my teens, after standing up to a howling wind blowing across the rim of Les Baux, in southern France. Below me was the Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell), so named, I was told, because it was the site of attacks on merchant caravans whose masters tried to avoid paying tithe to the lords of Les Baux. My poem sought to express a sense of standing up to challenge.

Now, in my so-called golden years, I live in one of the windiest areas of the USA, the foothills of the Rockies in northeastern New Mexico. As I write, the wind swirls around my home, slamming against the house before fading to a conifer-leached sigh. With my eyes closed, the sounds could be those of the ocean, hitting the Maine coast and splashing me with spray or, from even earlier in my life, the rolling tumult of storm-roiled combers crashing onto Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, below where I stand hanging onto the railing of the boardwalk.

Just last month, the wind lifted tin off the roof of my loafing shed (fortunately no horses were around to be frightened into bolting). I arranged to re-roof the cottage to which the shed is attached, so tonight there is no clatter and rattle, only the almost intelligible language of an ocean of wind, once again attempting to tell me all the truths of the world.

Heavenly Wind

Heavenly Wind

The wind, no matter in what spot in the world I experience it, brings change. Sometimes merely a change in the weather, other times a practical change like the needed, but previously postponed, new roof. The wind, no matter in what spot in the world I experience it, always brings me to inner change.

Awareness of a power beyond my small self, clinging to the boardwalk rail.
Awareness of good and evil across the ages of man’s time on earth as I looked into hell’s valley from the heights where I was sheltered and protected.
Awareness of the power in wind-driven, fragile drops which shattered to spray against mica-rich Maine rocks, before falling back into the sea and rising again to the work of eroding those rocks over eons of time.
Awareness tonight that, living amidst frequent winds, I have placed myself in the perfect outer environment to match the pace of my inner spiritual evolution. Washed by waves of wind-sound, like the Maine rocks, I am inexorably cleansed, my ego eroded to allow the bright mica reflections of Soul to shine forth.

Cleansing started, and will end, with the Word, spoken by the lips of the wind, into the ears of those who wish to hear.


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