I love certain rituals. Actually, I really love creating them! I suspect, given their value in many ways, they form a sort of structure behind things. I don't just mean big rituals, like birthdays and christenings, I mean little ones, like daily rites that make the processes of everyday life more magical. I don't mean dogma, or lists, or elaborate ceremonies (much as they can be meaningful). I just mean little rituals; treats that light up the threads of the day.
My darling friend Eileen, (may she RIP) was a very dear, elegant and brilliant woman I had the privilege to meet. I met her as a client and she became a dear friend and mentor. Eileen taught me about the ceremony of sharing, through taking tea and drinking tisanes. Her intuitive sense of ritual, was really about stopping for a while to take in the day. Her rituals were about flowers (the exquisite garden!) and about food. Oh my GOODness, did Eileen know about food. I learned at her funeral that decades ago, she used to make jams from her orchards in Buenos Aires. The time she took to prepare food, to create potassium broth from vegetable peel, to enchant vegetables with new life... sigh... it was amazing. Somehow the time it took to do all those things, made the rituals richer. Somehow they made my life richer.
Paradoxically, I never felt there was time for ritual; I was always busy. Eileen taught me the opposite of busy; she somehow invited me into her wonderful storytelling wherein time elongated and unravelled the need to rush. I loved so much to spend time with her, listening to her wit and wisdom, her latest read of the papers or family issues, or what Jamie Oliver was up to, or a new discovery from her kitchen; while we sipped our tisane or whichever tea blend she had created that day.
For Eileen, taking tea was a ritual dependant for its particular theme, upon which time of day it was and whether one was in the right mood. For example, in the mid-morning (if indeed freshly ground coffee wasn't on the menu) it was a rich China Tea mixture of Keemum, with a touch of Lapsang Suchong. It had to be sipped from a fine bone china cup and only a hint of milk added. I came to love that smoky background flavour and I still have her two tea caddies with the scoop she used to carefully measure (by eye of course) the right amount for the pot.
In the afternoon, Eileen would suggest something lighter; a "tisane" for example. Now - many years later - I am beginning to realise the profound wisdom that was nurtured by her love of detail, her love of ritual and her love of food as a source of nourishment on many subtle levels. The way she took time to enjoy the flavours and textures was heavenly. I met Eileen when she was 89 and knew her for almost ten years, until she passed away leaving her wonderful kitchen and all the teas in her collection as a legacy. Her elegance and English hauteur were hallmarks of her inimitable style and she taught me so much more than I knew I was learning at the time. Even at 94, she would walk to the local fish stall to buy us fresh fish for lunch when I visited...I do miss her.
When I used to sit to write a diary or whenever I write this blog, there is invariably the right tea to blend and I pause to deepen into the time it takes to enjoy it...and sip a toast to Eileen. God bless you my dear one and thank you so much for all that you taught me...