Putting the Kettle On

Kacey Musgraves is a blossoming country music artist whose recent album “Golden Hour” will compete with heavy-hitters at this year’s Grammy Awards for Album of the Year. She’s released only four albums (through major labels), so the nomination is remarkable. And yet – despite the acclaim heaped on “Golden Hour” – my favorite Kacey song remains a track from her second album, “Pageant Material”. In her words, it’s “a little, tiny, music-box-of-a-song” called “Cup of Tea”.

The message in “Cup of Tea” (have a listen here) – is simple: no matter who you are or what you stand for, you’re never going to appeal to everybody.  There will always be haters out there no matter how you present yourself.  My favorite lyrics in “Cup of Tea” are the refrain itself:

You can’t be, everybody’s cup of tea
Some like it bitter, some like it sweet
Nobody’s everybody’s favorite
So you might as well just make it how you please

Kacey wouldn’t mind if I told her “Cup of Tea” gets me thinking just as much about tea as about how well I mesh with other people.  Not that I’ll be steeping anytime soon, mind you.  I can’t seem to acquire tea-taste, no matter how many times I put the kettle on.  Go figure – half my DNA originates from England, so you’d think my instincts would have me setting out the fine china and doilies every afternoon.  I’d nibble on the cakes or scones or whatever comes with, but no tea, please.  I much prefer my morning coffee.

Ironically, tea brews with some of my earliest childhood memories.  My parents used to take my brothers and I downtown in Los Angeles, to restaurants on the streets of Chinatown – probably as much for the cultural experience as for the food. I can still picture those dark, quiet dining rooms, with the strange music and gaudy decor.  The meal always began with a pot of tea, including the little round cups that seemed to have misplaced their handles.  Tea was a cool experience back then. Listen, when all you drank was milk or water (or the occasional soda), tea was pretty sweet no matter how it tasted.  It was like having a “grown-up” drink before being grown up.

Forty-odd years later, I notched another tea-riffic memory.  My wife and I took a cruise on the Baltic Sea a few summers ago (“six countries in eight days”), and chose Oceania, one of the nicer cruise lines.  Good decision.  As much as we enjoyed the excursions off the ship, we enjoyed the return even more, because every day we were treated to “afternoon tea”.  Oceania’s tea was the perfect respite between the early morning touring and the evening dinners/dancing.  “Tea” included tableside service from tuxedoed waitstaff, countless cakes and petit fours, and those little triangle sandwiches with the crusts removed.  “Tea” even included a string quartet; their soft music adding to the ambiance.  I suppose I could’ve asked for coffee instead, but that would’ve tainted the experience.  Not to say I enjoyed the tea itself.  Just “afternoon tea”.

The culture, history, and preparations of tea could generate a week’s worth of posts.  (See the Wikipedia article here).  What I find more interesting is how tea has become the daily routine of several global cultures.  The Chinese and Japanese consume tea in the morning “to heighten calm alertness”.  The Brits serve tea to guests upon arrival (or in the mid-afternoon), for “enjoyment in a refined setting”.  The Russians consider a social gathering “incomplete” without tea.  Not sure about all that, but I can at least agree with the moment of pause tea provides; the respite from the faster pace.  It’s just… my “cup of tea” is coffee.


When my wife and I took a cruise last month, I had one of those smile moments on board that did not fully explain itself until much later.  You see, the cruise was a tour around the Baltic Sea, where you wake up in a different port each morning and spend each day off the ship exploring the cities.  Translation: the only cruising you do is at night while you are sleeping.

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But that’s not entirely truthful.  Fact: if you travel on the Baltic Sea from Tallinn, Estonia to St. Petersburg, Russia, it takes a full day to get from one to the other.  Which means you actually do get a “day at sea”.  Ours was a Sunday.  And Sunday includes a Sunday afternoon.  So on that Sunday (smile moment), I found myself humming the tune made famous by Marvin Gaye:

“Cruisin…’ on a Sunday afternoon.  Really… couldn’t get away too soon…”

For those of you in the know, I found out well after the cruise that I need to work on my Marvin Gaye lyrics.  It’s actually “Groovin’… on a Sunday afternoon”.  Well okay, maybe I was crusin’ AND groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon.  I’m just glad I wasn’t singing out loud.

I want to share a few details about this cruise; the jaw-dropping experiences that add the “extra” to “ordinary”.  “Ordinary” my wife and I have already experienced, several years ago on the only other cruise we’ve taken.  “Extraordinary” arrived last month in the form of the cruise ship Marina, a 1,200-passenger stunner that is the newest member of the Oceania fleet.

Here’s an example of extraordinary.  When we arrived at our cabin door after boarding Marina, we were greeted almost immediately by our room steward; a lovely woman from the Philippines named Remy (another smile moment, as we have a dog by the same name).  Remy gave us the full “tour” of our cabin and insisted we call on her day or night for anything we needed.  Then she disappeared almost as soon as she arrived.  But we saw her several more times in the hallways, and she always greeted us by name.  “Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Wilson”.  “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. Wilson”.  How does she do that?  I know she was room steward for a dozen other cabins and there’s no way I would remember all those names after a single, brief introduction.  Extraordinary.

Here’s another example.  When my wife and I returned to Marina from our daily “land excursions”, the crew arranged afternoon tea in a beautiful ballroom near the stern.  Dozens of small tables for two or four, with comfy chairs, tablecloths and steaming teapots (we always chose the peppermint).  A black-tied four-piece string quartet would entertain us.  A waiter materialized with a choice of sandwiches (with the crusts cut off no less) and several scrumptious desserts.  It was that feeling of being under-dressed but over-pampered.  It was also the feeling – apparently – of English royalty.  Extraordinary.

Final example.  Our cruise line offered on-board culinary classes, so we just had to bite (ha).  We donned our chef whites for three blissful hours one afternoon, preparing and tasting delicious pasta dishes and sauces.  It was a scene right out of the Food Channel.  You had your master chef at the front of the room, behind her spotless and stainless kitchen counter, with the requisite mirror overhead to make it easier to watch.  Then you had her several assistant chefs scurrying around the room to help you, making sure your prep station was cleaned up for the next step; ingredients perfectly measured.  All you had to do was watch and prepare, cook and consume.  I could get used to that.  Extraordinary.

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Take a cruise sometime and see if it doesn’t get you groovin’ too.  I also find it extraordinary that my brain still remembers the lyrics from a song written in 1967.  Well, I remember the lyrics incorrectly (which is a great topic for another blog) but you get the idea.