Like any good Anglophile, I love afternoon tea. I’ve enjoyed trying it at different hotels in Boston: the Ritz-turned-Taj, the Four Seasons, the Park Plaza. I’ve also had tea at L’Espalier and Upstairs on the Square (R.I.P.). I had been wanting to try tea at the Boston Public Library, but up until a year or so ago, it was only offered during the week.
Therefore, I was psyched when I was invited to tea at the library last month to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of my friend Linda. It was a lovely outing to celebrate a lovely occasion.
I chose Earl Grey tea (as I often do), which didn’t disappoint, and the sandwiches and petits fours were delightful as well.
The staff were cheerful and I loved the purple-ness of the room. The walls were purple, the chairs were purple, the glassware was purple. It was surprisingly…inviting. And different in a good way.
I think my favorite afternoon tea is still the Taj‘s (the live music puts it on top for me), but the tea at the library is a close second.
I realized the other day that I was wrapping up my semester abroad in England 20 years ago this month. I chose to study in England because I didn’t have proficiency in another language…and I’m convinced that I was destined to start a love affair with England.
I went from studying at a small state college a 30-minute drive from my family to studying at a large research university with tens of thousands of international students thousands of miles from my family. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m eternally grateful for it. I studied at the University of Leeds with my two friends, Sam and Ellen, which eased the homesickness.
Many of my experiences were those of a typical college student. I remember that the coursework was tough and I was glad that my grades didn’t factor into my GPA at home. I joined the chorus and sang Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols in the city streets in December. Ellen and I joined a musical theater club and performed in the musical Chess. I subsisted on jacket potatoes with shredded cheese at the refectory (dining hall) and spent hours at a time doing this new thing called emailing in the computer lab. I lived in Clarence Dock, a dorm that was far from campus, so I spent many nights taking the “women’s minibus,” a shuttle that departed from campus and dropped people off at their dorms/apartments.
Not-so typical experiences included weekend trips to Liverpool, where we consumed everything Beatles; Dublin, where we drank Guinness in pubs and saw The Book of Kells at Trinity College; and London, where my wallet was stolen (I don’t remember anything else from that trip).
I consider that I started on the path to adulthood during my semester in England. Even though I had traveled abroad in high school, it was here that I really grasped that there was a whole world outside of the United States. I gained a newfound appreciation for my family and friends. I learned from people of other cultures and they learned from me.
Another opportunity of a lifetime tied to my semester abroad was the three-week trip around Western Europe that I took after the semester ended with Ellen and my friend Daisy. Twenty years ago at this very moment, Ellen and I were sitting in a bohemian bed and breakfast in a frigid Corfu, Greece, watching American movies with Greek subtitles and listening to Radiohead’s The Bends album with a small group of new friends.
We had just come from Rome, where we were blessed by the Pope on Christmas Day. We would be meeting our friend Daisy in Milan next and heading to Venice for New Year’s. And then back to Rome and on to Spain and France. Armed with Eurail passes, a thirst for adventure, and not enough clothing for one of Europe’s coldest winters, we visited countless museums, ate delicious and sometimes strange food, and made friends of fellow travelers along the way. If I could turn back the clock and do it again, I wouldn’t change anything.
As I sit with my Twinings tea and McVittie’s Ginger Nut cookies, I insist that if you are thinking about studying abroad or know someone who is thinking about it, you/he/she/they DO IT. It’s worth every penny of the extra student loans.
England now feels like a second home to me—and my mother! She visited me when I worked in London for six months after graduation (that 20th anniversary is next December). And the rest is history, as they say. We’ve visited England five or six times since and have many wonderful and funny memories. I feel lucky that we fell in love with the same place.
This is the premise of the British documentary series known as the “Up Series.”
In 1964, an English television director chose fourteen 7-year-olds from different socioeconomic groups and different geographical areas of England and filmed them, intending to introduce people to the future laborers and executives of the year 2000.
What started as a one-off program became a series. Every seven years, those who wish to participate are filmed, which means there are currently eight films. The last film, 56 Up, was released in the States in 2013.
I don’t remember when I watched the first one; it may have been Christmastime, because I was at my mom’s house. As I watched it, I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to make it through all of them because I could barely understand what those 7-year-old munchkins were saying! All of the different accents: the children were from London’s East End, wealthy parts of London, Liverpool, the Yorkshire Dales. They were all adorable and most of them were talking very fast.
I stuck with it, though, and I’m so glad that I did. There was something fascinating about watching them go through all of the stages of life. Carefree and thoughtful children, awkward teenagers, young adults, middle age. None of their stories are remarkable: almost all of them get married by 21 or 28, have kids by 35, bury parents by 42 or 49. Many of them get divorced and remarry. But as Nick said in 56 Up, “It isn’t a picture really of the essence of Nick or Suzy; it’s a picture of everyman.”
As filming continued, the director wanted to frame the story in a political way, showing the difference in the high and low classes. But that angle fell away at some point and the focus shifted to everyone’s personal stories. It was apparent, though, that the wealthier people were more reticent about being filmed and tended to stay married. That being said, most of the lower to middle class people seemed perfectly content with their lives.
Even though many of the participants weren’t entirely keen on being filmed and becoming “celebrities,” ten out of fourteen of them have participated in all eight films. None of them initially “volunteered” to be filmed; it was their parents or their teachers who signed them up to participate. Thank you, Bruce, Andrew, John, Lynn, Jackie, Sue, Symon, Paul, Nick, Suzy, Peter, Neil, Tony, and Charles, for sharing your life with the world.
I was raised a tea drinker. Neither of my parents drank coffee at home, but my dad drank Lipton tea.
Then I discovered coffee in high school, and it assisted me greatly in maintaining functionality during countless early mornings and late evenings throughout college.
And then I went to England for a semester during my senior year.
I vaguely remember drinking tea with friends, but those times are overshadowed by the times I drank beer with friends at pubs and bars ON CAMPUS. I had already turned 21, but the novelty of having pubs on campus was not lost on me. I kept busy discovering English beer: Bass, Boddingtons, Founders, Newcastle, and Tetley’s. Even Foster’s (“Australian for ‘beer'”).
And then I returned to England on a six-month visa after college graduation.
That is when my tea education began. As the administrative assistant for a group of auditors, one of my main duties was to make coffee and tea multiple times a day. It wasn’t long until I had everyone’s preferences down. About half of my coworkers drank coffee and half drank tea. The tea of choice was Twinings Earl Grey. That’s what I made for myself most of the time.
I came to enjoy the ritual of “firing up the kettle” for our tea breaks. Sometimes I’d deliver the drinks and we’d stop and chat with each other; sometimes we’d just keep on working.
I also had high tea/afternoon tea for the first time during this time period, when my mom and my friend visited me. We had tea at Fortnum and Mason and it was just lovely. We each picked a tea and received our own pot. The savory sandwiches came: smoked salmon, cucumber, egg salad and watercress. Next, the sweets came: scones with clotted cream, fruit tarts, chocolate cake.
Since moving to Boston, I’ve had high tea at Four Seasons, L’Espalier, the Park Plaza Hotel, and Upstairs on the Square (R.I.P.). I’ve decided that my favorite place for tea is the Taj Hotel. Sunlight streams through the tea room’s vast windows while a violinist serenades the patrons and proper and polite waiters bring everyone tea and snacks on exquisite china.
Something about the experience is so relaxing. Time seems to slow to a standstill as you catch up with a friend over tea. The food is dainty but somehow substantial. The tea itself is always delightful and I just about finish the whole pot.
If you’re not a tea drinker, now’s the time to be one. There is nothing like a cup of tea in the fall and winter time!