An Elegant Hedgehog on Tea

Dear Drew,

Just finished Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog an hour ago and just had to share a passage of this wonderful, wonderful book.  There are many other sentences, moments, and passages in this book I really love, and I chose this one because, well, Madame Renée Michel is talking about tea–amongst other things.

Kakuzo Okakura, the author of the Book of Tea, laments the rebellion of the Mongolian tribes in the thirteenth century not because it brought death and desolation but because it destroyed one of the creations of the Song dynasty, the most precious amount them, the art of tea.  Like Okakura, I know that tea is no minor beverage.  When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things.  Where is beauty to be found?  In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?

The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of tastes, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony.  Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us.  Then let us drink a cup of tea.  Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light.  And, with each swallow, time is sublimed.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, pg. 91

This is one I’ll definitely be taking for my bookshelf in a few weeks.