The Tea Drinker

Iced Tea with Lemon

For many years now, I have begun each morning making a pot of Indian black tea, which I drink with a bit of honey (usually Mexican mesquite honey) and a squeeze of lime. By afternoon, what remains in the pot becomes iced tea—up to three glasses full. I try not to drink the entire contents of the pot every day, because tea acts as a diuretic. But in hot weather, I violate this rule of thumb.

Usually, I drink my iced tea without anything added. Sometimes, especially when there is company, I will fill a pitcher with iced tea and add artificial sweetener, the juice of a whole lemon, and a jigger of high quality dark rum, preferably Ron Zacapa Edición Negra from Guatemala or Myers’s Original Dark Rum from Jamaica. The rum is for flavor only and is not enough for intoxication.

My mother has told me that, as a baby, I used to sip from her coffee. Now I will not touch coffee, and do not even like coffee-flavored ice creams or candies. And when it comes to carbonated sodas, I rarely drink more than one glass every couple of weeks, usually at a restaurant.

That doesn’t quite make me a man of one beverage, but it comes close. I also like unsweetened mineral water, fruit juices, tomato juice, and lemonade. Put everything else I drink against hot and iced tea, however, and the tea I drink outweighs all my other options, except maybe for plain water, and that only during heat waves. (Too much tea, and I pretty much have to live in the bathroom.)

What is it about Indian black tea that appeals to me so much? It’s difficult o find the exact words, but good tea has a clarity of flavor that satisfies without causing satiety. For years, I have been buying Ahmad of London loose teas by the pound, usually:

  • Darjeeling, the best Indian black tea
  • Ceylon from Sri Lanka
  • Assam, Baruti and Ghalami varieties mostly in cold weather

Occasionally, when traveling, I will drink an English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast tea from tea bags. In Asian restaurants, I drink end enjoy green tea. But thank you, no Earl Grey please!

“A Kind of Solution”

Invading Vandal Horseman

I have just finished reading Volume II of Thomas Hodgkin’s monumental Italy and Her Invaders, which tells of the Hun and Vandal invasions and the Herulian Mutiny that unseated the last of the Western Roman Emperors in CE 476. In essence, it tells of the painful last twenty-five years of the Empire, during which most of the emperors were murdered in a year or two.

There was no benefit to wearing the imperial purple in those last few years. A couple of days ago, I posted a blog in which Apollinaris Sidonius explained why it was no fun in being chosen as emperor.

Those last years of the empire were no fun. Not only were the invading Huns and Vandals brutal, but the empire itself was brutal to its own citizens, taxing them to death to pay for the huge military required to protect the borders.

It makes me think about our own situation. Our problem is not barbarian invasions (unless you don’t particularly like Canadians or Latin Americans), but our seemingly unbridgeable political divisions. The insurrection of January 6, 2021, was, to me, very like Gaiseric and the Vandals’ sack of Rome in CE 455. They may have been barbarians in the end, but they were our very own native-born barbarians. The result, in the end, is no better than the sad end of Rome.

I keep thinking of a poem by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy entitled:

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

      The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

      Because the barbarians are coming today.
      What’s the point of senators making laws now?
      Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
      He’s even got a scroll to give him,
      loaded with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

      Because the barbarians are coming today
      and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

      Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
      And some of our men just in from the border say
      there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

The Long Retreat

Middle School Greek Dancers at St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church

I remember a time when most foreign-born Americans were of European ethnicity. My father, Elek Paris, was born in what is now the Republic of Slovakia; and my mother, who was actually born in Ohio, was taken to Hungary to be raised by her grandparents. For the first five or six years of my life, I thought that Hungarian was the language of the United States.

What inevitably happens has happened. The children of European-born immigrants see their parents’ culture, religion, and language as something quaint which they are being reluctantly marshaled into accepting. The three-year Covid-19 lockdown has brought this tendency into sharper focus.

Yesterday, Martine and I attended the annual Greek Festival at St Nicholas in Northridge for the first time since 2019. Sure enough, the tours of the church were more perfunctory; the calamari was more breading than squid; and there were fewer people able to do the traditional dance steps. I noticed much the same at the two Hungarian festivals we attended this month. Only the Grace Hungarian Reform Church in Reseda had anything like the same quality of food and entertainment as before the lockdown.

Our neighbors downstairs are refugees from Putin’s Ukrainian invasion. I notice that their two little daughters are addressing their mother in English instead of Ukrainian.

When I first came to Los Angeles, there were at least half a dozen Hungarian restaurants. Now there are none. If I want real Hungarian food, I’ll either have to cook it myself or visit my brother more often. (He’s a far better cook than I am.)

If Martine and I expect to find more authentic ethnic events, we will have to concentrate on the Asian and Latin American ethnic events, as they have arrived in this country more recently.

Is the Emperor Happy?

Solidus of the Emperor Petronius Maximus (Mar-May455)

I am greatly enjoying the second volume of The Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire, written by Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866). This is the volume that tells of the Huns and the Vandals. More and more, I am fascinated by classic 19th century British and American historians.

The following excerpt is from Apollinaris Sidonius, a fifth century Roman poet, diplomat, and bishop. He is writing about the emperor that followed Valentinian III, who was assassinated for his part in the murder of Aetius, the last great Roman general, who defeated Attila and the Huns at Chalons in CE 451.

I received your letter … dedicated to the praises of your patron the emperor Petronius Maximus. I think, however, that either affection or a determination to support a foregone conclusion has carried you away from the strict truth when you call him most happy because he passed through the highest offices of the state and died an emperor. I can never agree with the opinion that those men should be called happy who cling to the steep and slippery summits of the state. For words cannot describe how many miseries are hourly endured in the lives of men who, like [the Roman dictator] Sulla, claim to be called Felix [fortunate] because they have clambered over the limits of law and right assigned to the rest of their fellow citizens. They think that supreme power must be supreme happiness, and do not perceive that they have, by the very act of grasping dominion, sold themselves to the most wearisome of all servitudes; for, as kings lord it over their fellow men, so the anxiety to retain power lords it over kings.

Folk Art: Myrlande Constant

Haitian Hero Toussaint Louverteur

This afternoon, I once again took a walk on the UCLA campus and visited the Fowler Museum. There were two new exhibits that fascinated me, particularly the work of Myrlande Constant of Haiti. It was a strangely satisfying mix of Hieronymus Bosch and Haitian vodou (aka voodoo). On her website, the artist talks about the influence of vodou flags on her work:

Within the vodou community the flag is a sacred ritual object that identifies the hounfour and honors the spirits with whom it is associated. The sparkle of the sequin or mirror used to capture the attention of the iwa started in the temples. Drapo voudou (sequined sacred flags) are unfurled at the beginning of a ceremony. They are power points that are used for both identification and transformation. When the flag is unfurled it signals the congregants to come to order -the sacred is about to come home to roost. The spirits will soon walk next to (or in) the market woman.

As I looked around the exhibit, I found myself drawn to details rather than to the overall design, which in any case I could ill understand as I am not a practitioner of vodou. Here are a couple of examples:

Like all the works on display, the art was covered with sequins, beads, and other shiny objects. The result was that I found myself immersed in detail. Is that Baron Samedi or Papa Legba on horseback? I don’t know, now why that woman at the lower left is exposing her buttocks.

Making frequent appearances were Catholic saints and angels, though in the world of vodou, everything has a different meaning.

Sometimes, it is useful to immerse oneself in a culture one doesn’t understand. The mysteries have a role to play in our lives—a role which, I believe, is ultimately benign.

Downtown Trifecta

The Food Court of the Grand Central Market

Today was a perfect day to go downtown. Instead of the usual bright sun and searing heat, we had a heavy marine layer with a light drizzle. The temperature could not have gone over 68º Fahrenheit (20º Celsius).

I started by returning three books at the Central Library and picking up three other books to read in the next month or so:

  • Argentinian Juan José Saer’s The Regal Lemon Tree
  • Italian Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Street Kids
  • Nina Revoyr’s Southland

From the library, I hoofed it to the Grand Central Market, where I had a delicious everything bagel with smoked sturgeon at Wexler’s Deli, which specializes in smoked fish.

Then it was on to the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring. I picked up nice copies of two Sir Walter Scott novels at a good price: Kenilworth and Woodstock. I’m perhaps the only person I know who has the patience to read one of Sir Walter’s long and dilatory novels. Although he is not much read today, partly because he wrote in a difficult South Scottish dialect, I have always loved reading his novels. So I’ll have to consult the glossary at the rear of both books frequently. No problem there.

With my books in tow, I walked south on Broadway to 7th Street, past the abandoned old movie theaters where I used to watch all-night triple features with my old friend Norm Witty, then cut right on 7th Street to the Metro Rail station at 7th and Flower Street.

It was a good day, and I look forward to reading some good books.

Beware of Mayan Gods

The Mayan Goddess Ix Chel

This is a poem about a famous photograph of a Salvadoran refugee and his child found drowned in the Rio Grande while attempting to cross it near Matamoros. Poet Brenda Cárdenas refers to the Mayan goddess Ix Chel in the course of her poem. She bases her work on a drawing by Erik Ricardo de Luna Genel which I have not been able to find. Below is the photograph:

Cien nombres para la muerte:
La hilacha/The Loose Thread

Ix Chel, skeleton moon at her loom,
wipes her furrowed forehead, daddy
longlegs dangling like loose threads
from the corners of her eyes dark as ditches.
She stitches crossbones into skirts,
weaves skulls into blankets she will trade
with travelers. “Mantillas, rebozos!”
she’ll sing unfurling her wares for parents
to wrap around babes she has guided
from their mothers’ oceans to Earth.

Under one moon, a Salvadoran father
and mother cannot wait any longer
in the winding lines of starved
asylum seekers ordered to halt.
So their daughter, not yet two, wraps
her tiny arms around the bough
of papi’s neck, clings to his trunk
as he wades into the big river, swims
strong as salmon, against churning currents.

But when he spills her on the bank, warns
her to wait, and lunges back into the torrent
for mami, the little one panics, follows.
Under one sun, the river carries them
away, defying the border
it never meant to become.

Ix Chel’s waning crescent finds them
first, face down in the mud,
wrapped together in the black shroud
of papi’s shirt. And from her great jug,
holding all the waters of heaven,
she spills storms to wash away
the lines we’ve carved, dug, drilled,
the walls we’ve built in chain link, barbed
wire, concrete, and steel between desert
and desert, river
and river, earth
and earth, between father
and mother, mother and
under one moon.

“Long Torn By Ill Fate”

Melinda Borbely Singing Hungarian Folk Songs

Today was another Hungarian festival, this time it was the Tavaszköszöntő at the First Hungarian Reformed Church of Los Angeles. Although I can speak Hungarian (ungrammatically), I have a difficult time understanding the language when all the long agglutinative words are strung together in paragraph lengths.

Still, just letting the language wash over me, while understanding only bits and pieces, sends me back to my roots. As a child born in the Hungarian neighborhood of Buckeye Road in Cleveland, Ohio, I did not even know that English existed as the language of my home and neighborhood was strictly Magyar. Listening to spoken Hungarian makes me feel as if I were being washed by the gentle waves of the Danube as it flows through Budapest.

This is the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Trianon, which resulted in millions of Hungarians being assigned to Czechoslovakia, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. One cannot go to a Hungarian gathering without seeing a map of the pre-Trianon borders of Hungary. It has led to a mythology of the lost cause, which is perfectly enshrined in the Himnusz, the Hungarian national anthem. Here is a YouTube video of the Himnusz:

Here are the lyrics in all the stanzas of the Himnusz:

Verse 1
O God, bless the nation of Hungary
With your grace and bounty
Extend over it your guarding arm
During strife with its enemies
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
This nation has suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

Verse 2
You brought our ancestors up
Over the Carpathians’ holy peaks
By You was won a beautiful homeland
For Bendeguz’s sons
And wherever flow the rivers of
The Tisza and the Danube
Árpád our hero’s descendants
Will root and bloom.

Verse 3
For us on the plains of the Kuns
You ripened the wheat
In the grape fields of Tokaj
You dripped sweet nectar
Our flag you often planted
On the wild Turk’s earthworks
And under Mátyás’ grave army whimpered
Vienna’s “proud fort.”

Verse 4
Ah, but for our sins
Anger gathered in Your bosom
And You struck with Your lightning
From Your thundering clouds
Now the plundering Mongols’ arrows
You swarmed over us
Then the Turks’ slave yoke
We took upon our shoulders.

Verse 5
How often came from the mouths
Of Osman’s barbarian nation
Over the corpses of our defeated army
A victory song!
How often did your own son aggress
My homeland, upon your breast,
And you became because of your own sons
Your own sons’ funeral urn!

Verse 6
The fugitive hid, and towards him
The sword reached into his cave
Looking everywhere he could not find
His home in his homeland
Climbs the mountain, descends the valley
Sadness and despair his companions
Sea of blood beneath his feet
Ocean of flame above.

Verse 7
Castle stood, now a heap of stones
Happiness and joy fluttered,
Groans of death, weeping
Now sound in their place.
And Ah! Freedom does not bloom
From the blood of the dead,
Torturous slavery’s tears fall
From the burning eyes of the orphans!

Verse 8
Pity, O Lord, the Hungarians
Who are tossed by waves of danger
Extend over it your guarding arm
On the sea of its misery
Long torn by ill fate
Bring upon it a time of relief
They who have suffered for all sins
Of the past and of the future!

It is a powerful anthem. Hearing it sung at the festival today, I felt like taking my sword and riding to the border to stop the Turkish invader in his tracks. It is such a powerful hymn that it is forbidden to be sung at international sporting events—which just adds to the Hungarian sense of grievance.

Sympathy for Mules

Drug Smuggler Caught by Airport Police

Of late I have been fascinated by a National Geographic Channel series called “To Catch a Smuggler.” The show concentrates on drug smugglers attempting to smuggle cocaine, heroine, so-called party drugs, and other narcotics in their luggage or on their persons.

Initially, I was elated that people smuggling drugs into this country (or, in fact, any country) were being caught. Then, as I viewed more of the series, I started feeling some compassion for the drug mules, who were mostly poor people in serious debt who were persuaded by the real criminals that they would not get caught if they carried heroine in a false bottom in their luggage or swallowed rubber contraceptives full of cocaine. In the latter case, if one of the rubbers broke while in transit, the result would be a fatal overdose.

When caught, the drug mules would begin by denying everything. Then, when presented with clear evidence of their crime, they would break down. Allowed one phone call to their loved ones, they broke down when they realized their lives were irretrievably ruined.

Thinking one could smuggle several kilos of drugs past trained dogs, experienced security and customs personnel, and instant chemical tests for banned substances is a form of magical thinking. Unfortunately, the prison sentences for smuggling can be up to thirty years in countries like Peru and Colombia, and somewhat less in Europe.

Also on the show are another set of “smugglers,” except what they are smuggling are themselves. Show after show highlights cases of Syrians, Turks, and Albanians attempting to get to the United States or Europe with forged or otherwise false travel documents. It seems that many Muslims are desperately trying to leave their home countries, many of which are either despotisms or fighting endless civil wars.

I think one would have to be Marjorie Taylor Greene to watch this show and not feel for the perpetrators.

Two Spongers

D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

In my reading, I have come across two cases of great writers being taken in by freeloaders with pretensions to gentility. Most recently, I have read D. H. Lawrence’s Memoir of Maurice Magnus, which appears in its entirety in the New York Review of Books Collection of Lawrence’s essays entitled The Bad Side of Books, edited by Geoff Dyer. The sponger in question—Maurice Magnus—was getting into serious financial problems when he hooked up with the British writer. He claimed to be Isadora Duncan’s manager (he wasn’t) and to be a writer of some note (he was, but of very little note). Attaching himself to the young Lawrence and his wife like a barnacle, Magnus was forever showing up and asking for “one last favor.” Only when Lawrence left him behind in Malta did he finally shake himself of the infestation. And that was only because Magnus, fearing to be deported to Italy for check kiting and other financial crimes, committed suicide by poisoning.

The experience led Lawrence to conclude:

It is the humble, the wistful, the would-be-loving souls today who bully us with their charity-demanding insolence. They just make up their minds, these needful sympathetic souls, that one is there to do their will.

Henry Miller (1891-1980)

The second sponger fastened himself to Henry Miller, who wrote about the experience in Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. The whole episode is summed up by the Wikipedia entry for the Miller Book:

The third part tells the story of when Miller was visited by an old friend from Paris, the French astrologer Conrad Moricand, in 1947. Moricand had written Miller that he was penniless. Miller invited Moricand to live with him in Big Sur for the rest of his life. Moricand arrived at the end of the year. The arrangement quickly turned into a disaster. Although Miller had told Moricand about the isolated and rugged life of Big Sur, Moricand was unprepared and complained often about the weather, food, and his own poor health, among other things. Miller put Moricand in a hotel in Monterey, and arranged for him to return to France. Moricand did not immediately return to Europe, however, instead writing Miller angry letters about his perceived mistreatment. Miller wrote about this episode, which would be published in 1956 as A Devil in Paradise, and a year later as the third part of Big Sur, called “Paradise Lost.”

It is interesting to know that one can always be taken in by sharpers who prey on artists with generous impulses. Sometimes, indeed, no good deed goes unpunished.