Tag Archives: Russia

A Fiddler on the Roof Tea Moment

I had such a great week this week. I finally have an office to work in from home, I met up with a bunch of my gal pals at Bunco on Tuesday, and CK and I saw Topol (yes, THE Topol) in Fiddler on the Roof at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. At 74 years old, I was amazed at his charisma, his energy, his strength of voice and body. He could have been 45 or 50, the way he moved and performed.

Tradition!

Tradition!

Now, for those of you who did not grow up watching the Fiddler on the Roof movie endlessly, as I did, or sing the songs of the musical in choir concerts in junior high and high school, as I did, this may not be a significant thing, but for me… To HEAR his voice and SEE his face and WATCH him dance as he sang, “If I were a rich man, ya va di va di va di va di va di va di va dum…” What can I say? It was enchanting. I got goose bumps.

The story of Fiddler on the Roof starts out celebrating the traditions of the Jewish community of a small Russian village in the early 1900s, focusing on Tevye the milkman and his 5 daughters. As the outside world encroaches on the community and ethnic and religious clashes increase (both in the family and in the village), the worst happens with Tevye, his wife and his remaining daughters having to vacate their home and their country.

So after sitting in an audience of thousands, who hooted and hollered as though they were at the rock concert of the century every time Topol (Tevye) appeared, what tea does a girl steep to savor the memory of such a rich experience?

I’ve always found Russian Caravan tea to be too heavy handed, too smoky, and too oppressive. Maybe this would be appropriate in light of the Tsarist oppression and ethnic cleansing the musical infers. But there was still the celebration of culture, of family, of tradition, however hanging-by-a-thread that tradition was. And so, I chose Puerh, specifically mini compressed Puerh from Imperial Tea, which came as a part of a Puerh sampler.

This rich, earthy brew was just brooding enough in both color and taste to help me absorb the visual and emotional smorgasbord I had just witnessed. With a hint of smokiness, I could pay homage to the spirit of Russian Caravan, without being overwhelmed by it.

I kind of like this. I may have to start my own Tradition. Musicals and tea pairings. Hmmm.

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A Trans Siberian Railroad Tea Moment

“How would you feel about going to Russia?” The question lingered in the air for less than a nanosecond before I screeched, “REALLY???!!!” My boss/one-day-to-be-sister-in-law had been invited to speak at the 1st International Conference on Children’s Health to be held in Chita, Russia.  It was a project sponsored by the Boise-Chita Sister City Program, and suddenly I was going to be a part of it!

On August 31, 1995, our delegation of five took off. The journey from Boise to Anchorage to Magadan to Khabarovsk is a blur. But when we stepped onto our car on the Trans Siberian Railway, I felt the true journey had begun.  At 20 years old, this was my first for-reals international experience. I had obtained my first passport, gotten my first stamp. So exhilarating! And after bribes had been passed and tempers had been calmed (our escort, Dr. V,  maneuvered us through the shady process beautifully), R and I arrived in our cabin with smiles on our faces. 

The Trans Siberian Railway, though romanticized in books and film, has very few modern conveniences. For this, however, we had prepared. No showers. Minimal food service. No problem. Lots of wet wipes and stockpiles of cup-o-noodles took care of that. Each car, you see, had a samovar with boiling water available at all times of the day or night. This was all the amenety needed, for we had brought tea.

The conductor in our car provided beautiful tea cups upon request, and we kept these in constant use while lounging in our cabin. Our cabin consisted of 2 bunks across from each other that doubled as seats during the day. A drop leaf table could be set up between the bunks. Our luggage was stowed in the netted berths above each bunk.

Tea across Siberia

Tea across Siberia

In the dining car, we were served Russian tea in traditional glasses. Hearty and warm, though very reminiscent of Lipton. Hmm.  While three days on a train may seem like one way to die a slow, painful death, we had so many interesting adventures with some colorful characters. A traveling group of retired (and wealthy) widows were making their way through Siberia and Mongolia. One, in particular, was thrilled at the prospect of seeing a yurt. We ended up running into them again in Irkusk at the end of our conference and they told us all about it. We made friends with a lovely gentleman named Boris (who looked remarkably like Maurice on Northern Exposure), who invited our entire group into his cabin to share a bottle of scotch with us. Maurice-Boris also gave me a cassette tape of a Russian pop star that he knew his grand daughter liked, as a symbol of Russia welcoming me. We also crossed paths with a cabin full of young men (high school boys, really) on their way to their 2-year obligation of military school outside of Moscow. When they heard an American girl was on board, Dr. V had his hands full maintaining order. I entertained the troops with my limited vocabulary of such common Russian phrases as, “I have a knife.” It was a hit.

And through it all, we would come back to a place of appreciation and reflection, a quick trip to the samovar, a few minutes of steeping, and then that always-perfect first sip of tea.

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