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The nectar of the gods

Yes, yes; we all have different preferences. The title above may conjure up champagne for some, whisky for others and maybe just a glass of cold water for the purist. To me, it’s all about tea. I start my day with tea. I end it with tea. This is actually not a good idea, as over-consumption of tea late at night leads to far too many visits to the loo during the night, but there you are; I need my tea fix in the evenings.

Sometimes I worry I may be addicted to tea. That makes my dear ones laugh and tell me there’s no “may” to worry about, as I am firmly in the grips of a serious tea habit. Well, I suppose there are some upsides – after all, I’ve never heard of  a tea junkie being a danger to anyone, including themselves – apart from the potential bladder issues hinted at above.

As those of you who follow my blog know, I nurture a dream to one day go time travelling. Okay, so I don’t want it to happen spontaneously, I want my time travelling experience to be a well-prepared event, containing destinations, departure times, ETA’s and – most importantly – a return ticket. I am also less inclined to end up as a confused time traveller in a period prior to the advent of tea. I can imagine being transported through time is quite the harrowing experience – even if it is well-planned – and I would be a wreck handling all these new aspects of my life if I couldn’t resort to my principal source of liquid comfort, tea.

HuishanchahuiThe more knowledgeable among you will point out that depending on where I end up, the when – as related to access to tea – varies substantially. Four thousand years ago, the forebears of the northern Europeans were still mostly living out their lives in skins and caves, and I suspect the warmest thing they ever drank was blood from a recent kill (Ugh!). Four thousand years ago, the Chinese were already delighting in the curative properties of tea, chit-chatting casually over  a bowl or two of fragrant cha. (No scones or cake to go with it, but to this day traditional Chinese cuisine is not much for baked goods. Poor them.)

Anyway, I have never yearned to travel backwards into Chinese history – mainly because my Chinese is restricted to a couple of polite phrases, plus I’d look very out of place (being sturdy and blond) among the dainty Chinese ladies. No, I want to dive backwards and land in the lap of Edward III (figuratively speaking) or at the court of Philip II (Spain or Macedon; either would do, despite the almost two thousand year gap). So, I must follow the tea to our shores, and this leads me to conclude, rather dejectedly, that ancient Macedon is out. As is Ancient Greece, Rome and medieval everything. I’m thinking that I could gamble on Marco Polo having brought tea back with him, but he seems to have been more of a pasta guy. But the Renaissance, surely there was tea during the Renaissance? Nope. Yes, tea is mentioned now and then, but nary a tea leaf made it back to Europe prior to the 17th century.

coffehouseAnd then, in the first decades of the 17th century, the Dutch brought back the first shipment of green tea. I just love the Dutch! One can always count on them to have their ear to the ground when it comes to future trading commodities. Tea became a big thing in the Dutch States. It received a lukewarm welcome in France, and the English were no more impressed than the French. But in Portugal , the royal court and the high nobility went wild and crazy over this new beverage. (As all new fads, tea was horrifically expensive, thereby making it inaccessible to any but the truly wealthy)

Over time, one little Portuguese princess was destined to marry the dashing, charming and decidedly handsome restored monarch, Charles II of England. Catherine of Braganza arrived in England accompanied by her Catholic entourage and priests – which did not endear her to the anti-papist English. And somewhere among all her belongings were a couple of chests containing her precious cha. Given the amount of heartache and loss the poor woman was to experience during her years in England, it is lucky she came well-prepared. After days of staring contests with La Castlemaine, after hours of watching her husband surrounded by his mistress(es) and royal bastards, I suspect Catherine would raise her tea-cup to her mouth with a shaking hand. Hopefully, she felt sufficiently reinvigorated afterwards to face yet another day as the barren queen of England.

So, this leads me to conclude that any time-travelling I intend to do is restricted to the 17th century and onwards. And as I have never had any major interest in the 19th century, this reduces my window of opportunity to 150 years. Shucks; a measly 150 years out of thousands and thousands of years. Maybe I should develop an addiction to chamomile tea instead – or learn Chinese!

And as to poor Catherine of Braganza, allow me to share my recent meeting with her:


Tea with Catherine

I find her in a secluded corner of the sprawling palace gardens, surrounded by her normal retinue of a couple of ladies-in-waiting, two small dogs and a man whose purpose I can’t quite grasp at first. The man is by far the flashiest of the party, with so much lace and ribbons decorating his person it’s difficult to determine the actual colour of his coat and breeches. Pale yellow, I decide some time later, and by then I’ve concluded he’s the queen’s secretary – why else would he have a page place a foldable desk in the shade and commence penning letters?

The queen is a total contrast to her flamboyant secretary. In a pleasing caffe latte brown, a large hat that leaves most of her features in shadow and long gloves in rakish green, she kneels on a cushion and begins harvesting roses, all the while conversing with her ladies. They talk in French and Portuguese, now and then in English.
“For the king’s bedroom,” the queen says, handing an armful of red roses to the youngest of her ladies. The girl speeds off and one of the other women laughs, an elegant hand fluttering to arrange an escaped curl.
“Why thank you,” she says and rises to her feet. “Ma’am,” she adds and curtsies before languidly walking off. If the queen’s eyes had been lasers, the woman would have been burnt to crisp before she reached the nearby box hedge.
Puta,” she spits.
Ah. The departing lady is the lovely Louise de Kerouaille, preferred bedmate of the English king.
“How do you stand it?” I kneel to join her by the flower bed.
“Stand what?” Two beautiful dark eyes meet mine, shaded secretive eyes that give nothing away.
“Well … err … umm …” I jerk my head in the direction of Louise.
“Oh that.” The queen’s mouth sets for an instant.
“Me, I’d stab him with something,” I say.
“Him? Stab him? Why on earth for?”
“Because he’s your husband?” I say. An unfaithful hound of a man as I hear it.
“He’s a man, a handsome lusty man.” Something flutters over her face, a delicate flush colours her cheeks. “Besides,” she adds harshly, “I’m the one at fault. I’m the barren wife, incapable of giving him a legitimate heir.” Snip, snip, snip goes her scissors, and one perfect rose after the other flutters decapitated to the ground. It may be a coincidence, but she stops at twelve – the number of acknowledged royal bastards.
Catherine gets off her knees. “Tea?” she asks, and whatever emotions she may be experiencing are hidden by her bland smile.

220px-King_Charles_II_by_John_Michael_Wright_or_studioAs we cross the lawns a tall man in breeches and shirt comes striding towards us. As he gets closer, I realise this is the king himself, face florid with exertion. His long dark hair is damp. Here and there his shirt is wet, the linen clinging to his skin. His face is dominated by an impressive nose but it is the mouth that attracts my attention, a soft, generous mouth bracketed by lines that indicate a propensity to laugh at whatever life may throw his way. A wide smile spreads over his face at the sight of his wife. She smiles back and skips to meet him.
“Swimming?” she says.
“It’s hot,” he says. The king tucks her arm under his and together they stroll towards her quarters. He talks, she listens and nods, he talks some more, she laughs and shakes her head. At the door he stops, lifts her hand to his mouth and kisses her palm. With a slight bow he takes his leave, promising to join her for supper.
The queen presses the palm he just kissed to her mouth and closes her eyes for an instant. When she opens them she gives me a brilliant smile.
“He loves me.”
“Yeah,” I nod. You and a dozen of others, I’m tempted to add, but I don’t. Catherine has her eyes glued to the distinctive shape of her husband.
“He gives me as much of himself as he’s able of giving,” she says. “What more can I ask of him?”
With that she leads the way towards the waiting tea.

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