Saturday, May 1, 2010
Tea and Books Saturday #18 - "The Time of Tea"
The Time of Tea
By Bruno Suet and Dominique T. Pasqualini
This two-book set is by far the strangest piece of tea literature I've ever come across, and after reading 244 pages of text and an accompanying book of images, I still can't tell you quite what the author and photographer were aiming for. At first I thought this was a tea history book, but then in a whiplash-inducing shift of gears, the author started writing about colors of tea, and wine and tea, and tea-coffee-chocolate comparisons. Just about the time you get settled into reading such spurts of information, boom, more whiplash: you go back to reading about Robert Fortune's tea hunts, and then, with scant transition, on to a few paragraphs of discussion of salt and sugar. Eventually you'll come to a section that discusses three plants of the Far East, rice, soy and tea, and then you go down the rabbit trail of discussing the glories of the soybean.
When the book *does* stick to the topic of tea, there are some interesting facts to be learned, but there was far more that I found simply bizarre. Like this: "Fermentation (of the tea) maintains this delicate balance between the disgusting and the delicious, this edge of value and taste, as with sex or cooking." (Huh?) Much later, I came across what I think was, perhaps, an important bit: "The 'time of tea' -- the teatime, the time of the tea -- has been defined in its relation to the moment. Teatime is time to take tea, the time 'for' tea. It's about time for tea. It's about teatime. Tea, it's about time ..." (Sounds kind of like Oprah wrote this, doesn't it?) At the very end of the book, the author compares the ephemeral enjoyment of tea to a cigarette, a comparison which does not work for me at all.
The book might have been useful if it came with an index so one could track the many topics covered, but sadly it does not. You must skim the exhausting, strangely organized text and hope you come across what you are looking for. Now while I'm not a fan of this book (set)'s content, what I do find quite imaginative is the packaging, which to me makes this unique as a tea collectible.
First, this is a two-book set which comes packaged in what the publisher calls a "clasp," but which I call a cardboard band that closes with Velcro fasteners.
A sign of odd things to come: When you open the first (and smaller) of the volumes, you see that on the right-hand side is a cardboard flap that must be folded out of the way as with those annoying foldover journals that are so popular these days. It's either going to constantly be in your way as you read or you're going to have to fold it back (weakening it) and tuck it out of the way.
Once you're finished fighting with that flap and begin reading the book, one of the first things you'll notice is that the designer decided not to indent the paragraphs. Instead, you are confronted with an ocean of copy on each two-page spread. You will dream you are back in college reading a sociology textbook. You will be so tired from wading through the copy that you won't have strength left to notice the tiny, too-dark photos placed atop each page.
Volume two of the set is a book of photographs, mostly dark, mostly grainy, none of which is accompanied by cutlines. The must-be-tucked-away flap on this second book does include the names of some of those pictured, although I'm not at all sure why. And really, I think that word sums up my review of this set: Why? Why did they write and package it this way? I don't think I'm their intended reader, but I couldn't tell you who is. And all that said, the very oddness of the set makes me just delighted to have it in my tea book collection!