Sunday, October 2, 2011

Four Teas in Four Days

So, last night I finally finished my current project* (only one month late), an essay for the French Tolkien journal TOLKIENDIL. Read it out loud to Janice tonight, who didn't find any passages that needed to be toned down, so it's good to go. Sent it off before midnight, and will compile the Bibliography to accompany it tomorrow. Even better, this is really two deadlines in one: this same piece will form the core of my paper at the Medievalist Congress in Kalamazoo next May, so I'm well ahead of schedule there -- although I'll have to work out how to shorten the delivery time by half and still have a coherent presentation. But that's a good problem to have.

And so today I would be celebrating The Dance of Doneness, except that we just got back from our week's vacation to Trout Lake (near the foot of Mt. Adams), where we stayed with friends Bijee and Don (a.k.a. Tolkien scholar Marjorie Burns and her husband, Don Willner), followed by two days in Portland (and some serious poking about in Powell's--two sessions totaling somewhere between four and five hours worth, I'd say). So in a sense we've pre-celebrated. And one way in which we did so -- going out to tea together -- formed something of a running theme over the last few days.

Having arrived in Portland Wednesday night, Thursday we visited the Lan Su Chinese Gardens in Portland, a favorite of ours (this is I think our third visit there). And, as is our tradition, we ended up by visiting the teahouse after an hour or so of first the tour and then wandering about. This being a Feast Day,** I had an order of their fava beans (wh. they call 'horsebeans') and Janice their mooncake, each accompanied by fine tea in tiny pots and minuscule cups and, as an added bonus, live music on a kind of Chinese zither made of oak and redwood. Janice had an interesting thought that we were able to confirm: the Chinese music notation the perormer was using on her sheet music is nothing like the standard staves and notes we use in Western music. Interesting. And I got to see both a Magnolia and a Mimosa ('silk tree') in the garden -- though no actual tea trees. I always enjoy visiting Chinese gardens, and I'm already looking forward to the next one, whenever that eventually comes.

Friday it was the Portland Japanese Garden's turn, which we'd seen once in the company of my sister-in-law maybe a dozen years back. Unlike the Chinese gardens I've seen (e.g., the Lan Su in Portland and Sun Yat Sen garden in Vancouver), which are inclosed in a wall and include a number of buildings within the garden itself, Japanese gardens have much more open space, far fewer structures, and tend to have a steep green cliff forming a backdrop on one side (though whether this is happenstance or a deliberate feature I do not know). Now I'm curious to visit a formal English walled garden when we're over there sometime next year and compare it as well.

Afterwards we had been planning to see the Portland Zoo, but having gotten a late start we went right to the next item on our itinerary: high tea at Tea Thyme & Lavender in Beaverton, on the west side of Portland. This turned out not to be a tea room as such but an antique store; the reason they ask for reservations is that it gives them time to clear off a table and make a place to sit. The high tea that followed was unusual in having a distinct French touch (e.g., gateau rather than cake, &c). It was okay, but I find I'm of the mind that lavender is better as a scent than as a flavor ingredient in a scone.

Friday night having seen us arrive back in Kent to a welcoming array of kitties, we drove into Seattle Saturday afternoon for this year's Northwest Tea Festival, where we roamed around the room sampling many, many teas from the tiny free cups they give you when you come in. They also gave each attendee a free canvas tote bag, and I managed to fill mine with purchases of four ounces of Yunnan here, a small packet of Dian Hong there. Last year (or was it the year before?) when visiting the Tea Festival with friends Anne & Sig, we'd all seen much taken w. a 'tea wheel', a sort of color chart listing adjectives suitable for describing tea flavors and undertones. This year they had a smaller, portable version available for purchase, so naturally I got one.

And finally, today (Sunday the 2nd) we decided to make up for the rather disappointing high tea of two days ago by revisiting a tea room we'd really liked on our two previous visits (once for Janice's birthday, once w. our friends Gwen and Stan): the Secret Gardens down in Sumner. It did not disappoint: good strong tea, a pleasant setting, and most excellent tea-treats. We ate till we cd eat no more, then made our way home to reflect on an interesting vacation and prepare ourselves to plunge back into the new workweek tomorrow morning. It promises to be a busy one . . .

--John R.
current reading: BEFORE ADAM by Jack London [1907]
just finished: THE BRICK MOON [1869; 1899]

*"A Fragment, Detached: THE HOBBIT and THE SILMARILIION"

**i.e., we were off the diet.

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