Day 9: Thursday
Good morning Zak,
So a few days ago I drank the last cup of loose-leaf Earl Grey tea. I’ve been trying to pick up some more, but simple little tasks like that can sometimes turn out to be surprisingly difficult in a foreign country. Especially when that country is Italy. Any other foreigners who have been here know exactly what I’m talking about. The saddest part of running out of tea is the moment when you have to throw away the empty little box it came in. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but there’s something oddly symbolic in that act.
The recipe for Earl Grey tea is extremely simple. There are actually only two ingredients: China tea leaves and the essence of Bergamot. Now I know what you’re thinking. Whenever somebody tries to tell you that “the essence of” anything is one of the main ingredients of a perfume or a fine wine etc. it’s probably safe to assume that that person is full of the essence of… something else. Fair enough. But setting pretensions aside, in this case I really can’t think of a better way to describe the flavor.
“And then he looks at her and swears within himself
That in her making God intended novelty.” -Dante
Bergamot is a weird greenish-yellow lemon-orange that they grow in Calabria at the very tip of Italy’s boot. It has a really strong citrus flavor, and it can even be dangerous if ingested in large quantities. That’s why crafters of Earl Grey really just use the essence of this bizarre freak-of-nature fruit. But a barely perceptible touch of the stuff completely transforms the tea from lifeless bitterness into the exquisite mystery that is Earl Grey…
Okay, so I am a little full of it, but that’s not the point.
Anyway, the point is, I often wake up early in the morning to drink my tea and read some medieval Italian poetry before my roommates get up and play their pop music. Zak, I really have nothing against pop music. Like Old Occitan poetry, it’s very formulaic, which makes it well structured. I just didn’t realize that when I hopped on a plane to fly across the Atlantic, leaving behind my home and almost everything I knew, Justin Bieber alone would follow me here and continue on insisting that I go and love myself. Nothing against Bieber, I’m just sort of surprised he managed to find me here.
By the way, Zak, we need to go to Calabria. This is kind of urgent. You and Megan can drop everything and meet me there:
So whenever I smell the subtle aroma of bergamot it makes me—I’m ashamed to admit—a little nostalgic. I can’t help thinking of medieval Italian poetry in the morning, and of all the personal stories and experiences my brain has mapped onto that fine literary craftsmanship.
Zak, when I told you at the beginning of this blogging project that Thily Fin is like an extra empty box on a financial reporting from, your immediate assumption was that this means our job must be to fill that box together. Now I’m not one to quibble about metaphors and what they mean… but let me just quibble with you about this metaphor and what it means. Maybe there’s actually nothing inherently deficient about an empty little box. It seems like filled boxes are actually pretty easy to come by, and there’s plenty of stuff in the world to fill them. There are blogs about pens for example.
What I’m saying is, however much we fill this box, maybe we should also try to always leave a little extra empty space. Like space for creativity or something… good poetry tends to do this. If the essence of bergamot is some kind of metaphor, I don’t honestly know what it means. But that’s kind of what I like about it. The allusive subtlety of it leaves extra space for all the crazy and awesome nonsense in the word. Humans are really cool. And mostly when we try to capture that in writing, we fall short of the actual essence of what it means to be human.
“She shows herself to those who see so pleasant
That through their eyes she gives their heart a sweetness
Which he who doesn’t taste it cannot understand.”
In this age of information, technology plays a key role in the lives of most of us (he said… writing his blog post). There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except that functioning machines often require standardization and automation, which force us to box personhood and human identity into narrowly defined categories. I think a lot of us find this somewhat uncomfortable, so when we have the chance, why not leave ourselves a little extra space to think.