Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lake Charles, LA: Tea and Antiques

"the film must have been a success, because three of our local professors attended the screening, two of which don’t normally come..."

Day 4: November 13th
LAKE CHARLES, LA: Arts & Humanities Council of SWLA

Lake Charles, Louisiana was full of friendly, intelligent and well-traveled folks. We were surprised to find people in the audience from Philadelphia, New York City, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Becky Suttle, one of the women who brought teapots to the screening, lived in Japan for many years, and her friend Jackie Dowden lived in the same town in Japan only four years after she left. Small world. ;)

Initially, when our host Irene Vandever (above left) ushered us down a bizarre hallway full of gaudy costumes and disturbingly lifelike mannequins, we weren’t sure what to think (it turned out to be a Mardi Gras museum). However, upon entering a nearby room full of teapots and antique tea sets, we knew we had arrived. A lucky series of events brought the owner of a local antique store called Focal Point into the Arts and Humanities Council of SWLA just as they were planning an event around our tea film. As a result, Becky Suttle (above far right) and Jeanne Owens (above right), local vendors who have booths at Focal Point, both came to set up an elegant teapot display, complete with a “Tea Timeline” as well as other literature about tea. “We set up some things that are not politically correct with the tea police,” Jeanne lamented. But actually Scott and I were quite pleased with the presentation. One of the items was a 100-year-old Vietnamese teapot and cozy; I had never seen anything like it.

The piece that played before ours was called “I Always Do My Collars First”, a short film comprised of interviews with women from different walks of life talking about ironing clothes. I was struck by how, despite having very different subject matter, the themes that arose in the short film were reminiscent of some of the themes from The Meaning of Tea. One woman explains that the practice of ironing clothes is “healing”; she describes it as a way of living in the moment, remarking that people often “spend too much time thinking about what’s ahead”. She then goes on to say that ironing is like a ritual that helps her to “go back in time”. These ideas reminded me of the tea ceremony: not only a way to take time out from one’s busy life to reflect, but simultaneously a ritual act that ties us to the past. The funniest part of the film was when an elderly woman (who was quite a firecracker) remarked that she irons her clothes for church, but that she saves her really nice clothes for the casino. That got quite a laugh.

There were 55 people at the screening, and when Scott asked, “How many people drink tea?” practically every hand was raised. Then when he asked, “How many people have a wrinkle in their shirt?” almost as many hands shot up. The audience was extremely receptive and enthusiastic, and they asked some great questions. One woman astutely noted that the tea in Morocco was made with mint, and so therefore was not really tea. (Tea is actually defined as a drink made from the Camellia sinensis plant, and so therefore many herbal infusions that are oftentimes thought of as tea, are not actually so.) Scott answered that in fact, there is one more ingredient in that Moroccan tea that was not shown on film, and it is gunpowder green tea. So the green tea was already there before they added the mint, sugar, and hot water.

Another person asked how Tea, South Dakota acquired its name. Scott explained that when they were choosing the name for the town, they originally wanted to call it Byron. However, there was already a Byron in the state of South Dakota, so they had to submit ten names to choose from. Some people were sitting on the front porch of the general store and they couldn’t think of a tenth name. As the legend goes, someone was sitting on a crate of tea and so they said, hey, why not just add “Tea” to the list, and that was the one that got picked!

After the screening, Irene told me that the film must have been a success, because three of their local professors attended the screening, two of which don’t normally come. We were feeling excitement over the event going so well, mixed with trepidation of having to wake up at 4 :30 to catch a six o’clock flight to Paducah, KY…