Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Household Gods in the Teapot

A few years ago, Michael gave me a Belleek Harp teapot just like the one above, and I've used it daily since. It gets to be a real mess, and I have to spend mornings with warm water and baking soda cleaning it. It looks good after a cleaning, but not quite like new.
I once knew a curator of decorative arts at the Saint Louis Art Museum who had a very sensible attitude toward the condition of artifacts like old teapots. She had little sympathy for that art market's demand for "mint" and "unused" condition. Things like teapots were made to be used. Their stains, cracks, and breaks are part of their life and history.

I am very much a tea drinker. I'm not particularly fanatic about it, but I do prefer tea over coffee. I don't hate coffee or have any objection to it, I just prefer tea. The only place where I drank coffee regularly was in Italy. The coffee there is delicious, and Italian coffee houses are such blessedly utilitarian and cosmopolitan places compared to the outposts of the Seattle Empire (St. Arbucks). I could enjoy a delicious latte in company with, not fellow poseurs, but garbage collectors, secretaries, professors, students, and cops under fluorescent lights. They also sometimes sold liquor in these places so nipote could have chocolate while tio vecchio could enjoy a little snort. That would be unthinkable here where alcohol is so demonized and fetishized (the opposite of abstinence is not moderation).
I'm not particularly fanatic about loose leaf vs, tea bags. I like loose leaf, but there is quite a bit of apparatus involved with strainers. And I don't see how a tea-ball is really all that different from a tea bag.
I'm not a fan of herbal teas or tea with a lot of spicey aromatic stuff in it. I like basic black bohea; breakfast teas, Darjeeling, pekoes, that sort of thing. My current favorite brand is a tea that is a little hard to find here in New York; Barry's Irish tea. It may be the daily bread of the Irish, but it's a treat over here. I even love the smell of it brewing.

Teapots mean a lot to me. I've lived a very itinerant life for many years moving from place to place, city to city, and state to state. I've rented ever since I first left home more than 30 years ago. I hate to admit it, but I lived like a poor art student well into my 40s. The teapot was where the household gods resided, as far as I was concerned. The whole ritual of making tea was a little touchstone of civil society in a tenuous life that was always changing from place to place, job to job, social circle to social circle. That cup of tea was a little salute to whatever Lares and Penates attended my tenuous and messy little temporary household. My brother is a wandering spirit who craves adventure and new starts, yet who has always lived a relatively settled life not far from where he grew up. I'm the opposite. I crave a measure of stability and a place to call home, even though I've lead a wandering and relatively adventurous life far from where I grew up. Michael in some ways has more in common with my brother. Like all native New Yorkers, he complains about the place constantly and always talks about moving someplace else (San Francisco, Ireland, or Hawaii, among other places). And yet, he's such a double-dyed New Yorker, I can't imagine him fitting in any place else without major culture shock. He's never lived anywhere more than 100 miles from home. I think he knows this. I remember when it was a real possibility that I might get a job out in California, he started getting cold feet at the prospect of the move and the adjustment.
I've met his family, but he has yet to meet mine. Mine have little desire to come to New York to meet him, and he has very little desire to go to Texas to meet mine. My mother is getting a little too frail to visit New York, and my brother has been here a few times, likes the place, but that's been almost 20 years ago now. Michael used to spend summers in Oklahoma City when he was a boy. That's not quite Texas, but it's a lot closer than Long Island. His father (an electrician for the FAA for most of his life) went there for training sessions every summer and brought his family. Michael's memories of the place are not fond ones. He and the natives did not get along at all. He was a tall skinny boy with long dyed hair and a Queens accent (every time Cindi Lauper dyed her hair, so did he). He stood out, and that did not make him popular. Michael went through more tornadoes in Oklahoma than I ever saw in Texas. The prospect of 3 days in Dallas does not appeal to him. I must admit, it doesn't appeal to me either, especially since I don't drive anymore. I go there and have a great time the first day or two, and by the third day I rediscover why I left the place. Besides, Dallas has changed so drastically since I lived there. It's much bigger and more crowded. Everyone I used to know is either dead or scattered to the four winds. My old neighborhood has been almost totally rebuilt. In some ways, the place has changed for the better; but it's not a familiar city to me anymore. I don't hate my native state, but there are times when it is hard to love it. We are estranged from each other, and I imagine that will probably continue indefinitely. I'm not happy about it. Someday we may yet be reconciled, but it won't be today. Texas and New York are a big cultural gap fraught with mutual resentments to straddle. And yet, Minnesota or Wisconsin would have been a much bigger cultural adjustment for this Texan.

Michael's first gift to me when we moved in together was that Belleek Harp teapot.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Dearest Friend I love you, as always...

June Butler said...

No tea ball. Loose tea in the teapot and a strainer for pouring. I'm a tea drinker, too, but I definitely prefer the loose tea to tea bags. To me, the taste is quite different.

Your teapot is lovely. For everyday, I use a Brown Betty that is actually a royal blue color, and I don't clean it very often. I wash it, but I don't kill myself getting the brown stains off. If I used one as pretty as yours, I'd have to.

Your story of an itinerant life and its relation to tea drinking is quite moving. I understand. I suppose that my tea ritual is something of a reaction to my chaotic childhood with an alcoholic father.

JCF said...

Awww! (re your last line, Doug)

FWIW, for some reason I thought Michael was actually from Ireland? [He looks so Irish!]


It's very unusual for me to drink black tea (I'm usually sick, or occasionally fasting, when doing so). For me, it's always coffee in the morning (my "morning" often begins after noon!), and sometimes green/decaf/herbal tea in the late afternoon or evening (especially in winter, go figure). For the latter, I have a Hallmark teapot, given to me by a friend (Made in China, like everything else!)

Counterlight said...

I just knew that tea would be a topic of hot controversy, almost as bad as barbeque (AAAAAH! not the barbeque wars again!)

June Butler said...

And there was the Boston Tea Party....

And the present day teabaggers....

Controversy indeed!

susan s. said...

My favorite teapot in the house is an old Hall one that I found at the Salvation Army. It is yellow with gilding. The handle was all gold, once upon a time. It was someone's favorite pot before I got it, because the gold is worn off of the thumb rest. That especially appealed to me. It has a big chip on the lip and lots of tea stains inside. I can hardly get my hand in to clean it, so the stains stay. It was in the little room of the store where all the special things were. It was marked $13.00, and I didn't have that much money with me. The lady working there said that that day was my lucky day as everything was 1/2 off. And it was my lucky day, cause I had $7.00 in my pocket. It was the best seven dollars I ever spent.