Monday, May 23, 2011

A Romanoff Moment

The Romanov family has a turbulent history at best.  And Nicholas Romanov, known alternately as Nicholas II, Saint Nicholas the Passion-Bearer, and Bloody Nicholas, has an entire life of opposition, blood and war.  His life ended badly, having to abdicate the throne during the Russian February Revolution, and ultimately being executed alongside his wife, 5 children and household staff after a lengthy house arrest. Nicholas himself was directly related to most of the Crowned Heads of Europe (Queen Victoria, et al), and the one empire he was not related to (France) his parents tried to marry him into (they failed). His reign brought about the bloody loss of almost his entire navy to Japan, he helped ignite World War I, and his own country turned on him in the end. No one ever said it was easy at the top.

As I immerse myself more and more into Russian history and tradition, I keep seeing such a theme of gusto. Nothing, not war, not performance, not art, or confrontation is done halfway. It is all the way. It is turned up to 11.

And so it is with my tea companion today, another Russian influenced black tea blend from American Tea Room, Romanoff.  As I'm easing toward the smoky reputation of Russian caravans, this one provides an attractive first step in the journey. The chinese black tea has just a hint of smoke, very subtle and light. You almost have to look for it, but it's there. Then there is a regal element to the blend, just a touch of orange. And not just any orange. Blood orange, of course. The citrus fragrance balances the light smoke, and the resulting brew is strong, robust, and could stand up to any army, armada, revolutionary or historian. 

Its boldness influenced the introduction of one of my favorite characters into the mix. I had intended that she arrive earlier, but she made it clear this is where she makes her first appearance. But like Nicholas II, I have a feeling her story will not end well.

“Dobro pozalovat! Welcome!” Anatoli grinned broadly at them, two gold eye teeth flashing as he surveyed the group.
At that moment, the side door burst open and a small, Chinese woman with elaborate bouffant and large glasses swept in. Anatoli’s face became momentarily stormy and Natasha looked nervous.
“Please forgive me for my late arrival. Anatoli, Natalia, good morning.” She smiled at them expectantly. With some effort, the Minister of the Interior smiled and addressed the group.
“My friends, may I present our mayor of this great city, Rimma Chen.”
The group murmured a greeting, and Rimma Chen smiled broadly at them all, the errant smudge of red lipstick on her front tooth contrasting sharply with her St. John’s Knits wardrobe. “Welcome, welcome American friends. I understand we have great actress among us. Caitlin O’Neil, I give you special welcome from city of Irkutsk! We are honored that you visit our city.” As she paused to inhale before launching into more, Anatoli stepped forward and began speaking again, obviously annoying the mayor who quickly tapped her foot in irritation.
With sheets secured all around, the women stepped into a large sauna.  Immediately, nerves melted into sighs of relief as each one claimed a bench to stretch out on.  Big Valya watched each woman closely, and then instructed the group, through Natasha’s translation, to inhale deeply as she poured eucalyptus water on the dry stones and heater in the corner.  She then left the sauna, closing the door firmly behind her.
“Natalia, your father seemed surprised to see me this morning. He knew I would not allow our fine American guests to not be welcomed properly.” She spoke in English and with a smile and lilting voice to the young woman, but the ice behind the statement was tangible.
Natasha smiled back politely and with deference as she responded carefully, “Please excuse my father and me, Rimma Chen. In our haste to ensure all was in order for today, we must have misunderstood your availability. Prostite menya.”
Rimma Chen nodded in satisfaction and began describing the beauty of her city to Caitlin, while Angela tried to include herself in the attention.
Much to Drew’s relief, and before she to jump in on her guests’ behalf, Big Valya returned  with a new bucket of scented water, and an armful of leafy birch branches.