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San Francisco Carnaval parade.

June 2nd, 2003

On Another Planet
I had lunch with friends last week whom I haven't seen in some time, and, on a whim, on my way to the restaurant, I bought small packages of Jasmine tea as presents. Party favors. There's a tea shop near my office. I checked it out just after it opened. They have it lined up on shelves, row after row of small glass jars with glass stoppers, the names and prices written on each in Chinese and English. It's sold by the ounce, $4 an ounce, $10 an ounce. Holy cow. Ten dollars an ounce for tea? Do you have to hide it under your coat and carry it out in plain brown paper packages? That had been my thought, an ounce nicely wrapped as a small gift for each of my companions, an ounce of something exotic. Seemed like a good idea. I never know, really.

So I brewed up some this evening. Not being sure how much to use to make a pot, I put what I thought was the right amount in the small glass insert that holds the loose tea. It expands, when it gets wet, I discover. Pretty soon I had a whole lot of tea filling up that insert and soaking in the pot. The first cup was fine, the second somewhat stronger, the third, well, I'll get to the third before I finish.

The minute I saw the shop, saw how they displayed the tea, saw the prices, I realized I should have been able to predict the existence of such shops without ever having heard of or seen one. I know there's a whole world of tea - the Japanese practice Zen with a tea ceremony - and the Chinese probably have libraries on the subject, tea artists, tea writers, tea wars, tea magicians. There's probably a tea cuisine. Tea for strength. Tea for intelligence. Tea for $10 an ounce for the proles and the common folk. My guess is there's tea out there with names unspoken, flavors unimagined, bouquets beyond description and prices, well, prices you can't translate into English.

Is there caffein in Jasmine tea? Are my ears ringing? Dare I drink this third cup?

Your ears are always ringing.

True, true. I talked with the doctor today about the ears and the head and my thought this could be headed toward an unhappy ending. He said "hold tight and call him if I saw a change." What sort of a change? "If you fall over and can't get up. If your nose turns black and your lips peel back. If you mother can't recognize you anymore because your face doesn't focus. If the ladies run when they see you in the hall."

The ladies have always run when they've seen you in the hall.

True. I've thought about that. It could be a good sign, maybe, on another planet.

The photograph was taken at the San Francisco Carnaval parade.