My Queen the Camellias of Darjeeling and Saint Andrea di Compito

My friend Sanwar, one of the original artisanal growers at North Tukvar and Puttabong.

It is such a great honor that he is dear Darjeeling friend.  I must say what a thrill.  It’s so much my blood  Darjeeling tea now.  I am enjoying dreaming of Darjeeling! We wanted to write a book about Darjeeling which only he can write with me as a cheering dept and personal passion for Darjeeling tea.It is easy to dream and not so easy to accomplish, yet i hope soon he will write his book. How much I have learnt from Sanwar and from drinking as much as 100 lbs alone. How fascinating it was for me to visit the Italian tea gardens.  I was there in an off season of Sept.  The antique camellia trees of Lucca are celebrated in March, where there is a carpet of flowers.

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Now that my life is easing up a bit and going a bit more with the grain, I am hoping soon to plant the few tea seeds I brought back from the one and only Italian tea grower Guido.  I lost all my photos of this marvelous moment of my life.  Although, I did not know yet that Jorg was gone?  I often wonder if Mother Mary blessed me by gracing me with the enormous opportunity to spend time with these ancient  camellias of Saint Andrea di Compito.  To spend time with the camellia Doctor himself Guido.

photo: il mio di te’ tea plant from Guido: just similar to mine, but Tsubaki was taller and blossoming.

I did bring “Tsubaki” the little tea-plant in a very adorable way but life shifted the ground beneath me and I was unable to take care of little Tsubaki the Italian-Japanese tea plant.  No one could believe I carried it all over Tuscany like a little bambino.  It grew flowers on it’s way to Massa Carrara.  When I arrived and my first night was such a sad night in Massa.

Little Tsubaki lost a few tea blossoms too like bodhisattva tears and prayers.  Yet, little Tsubaki my tea baby left some big tea seeds!  I know that the botanical cultivar is Japanese Gyokuro.  How wonderfully robust is the song of a Japanese tea-plant grown in Tuscany soil of Lucca!  Guido, the grower and I talked for hours.  I cannot speak Italian and he cannot speak English!  It would be like two musicians getting together and playing Ravel or Puccini.  You need not speak in native tongues but in tea language.  He was so happy that we could taste his tea and that I made it up all those winding roads of Saint Andrea.  That the wonderful Emma of my boarding drove me up those hills like Steve McQueen’s daughter.  She was my guardian angel of Lucca.  I had terrible things happen such as my money all got stolen here in the states but I did not say a word.  I said my Mother would want me to keep a happy face.  I looked out of the window of my enchanting periwinkle room of Emma’s in Tasingnano with grape vines out the window and my room filled with enchanting  Holy dolls and a brocade of scents.  I saw two rabbits kissing and making rabbits!  I was dizzy from all the peace of country life.  I really don’t  know how I survived at first on the Italian trains of Lucca, always late and saying “Attenzione”  I always knew this was a sign the train was not coming, so I decided to just forget all about going to the old Fortress of Lucca for a week.  I said let me walk around here in the country.  The dogs whom are not neutered waltzing and conducting traffic.  Cats dancing.

People stopping their cars staring at the Japanese lady scared me at first.  Then I became very determined.  I said I will not show any defeat.  I will just eat what I have until I find some money.  I did not have enough money for my room, but  I remember what my Great Grandfather said when he came to America.  He said don’t entertain these notions of failure.  Don’t give it energy or food.  Don’t feed the beast.  So, I did just that and prayer helped me along with lot’s of olive oil, cheese and strange spinach balls I bought.

I walked further and further every day until I bumped into a bus stop decorated with camellias.  You cannot imagine how difficult it is not to speak one word of Italian in an enclave filled with senior citizens whom speak no English. I said my handicap is liberating. My handicap of knowing nothing but what is in my heart. So, I spoke to the camellias and they called my heart.  Before I knew it I could not believe I found some anthropologists of Lucca whom helped me immensely.  I asked about the tea gardens.  It seemed it must be impossible that time of the year but my destiny awaited me. I was able with wonderful people to arrange a special party. I did not know how I would get there and I was prepared in heels to walk miles.  Yet, like candy confetti falling from the sky that the birds stole from Hansel and Gretel a map fell into perfect place.  So, it was my meeting with Guido.  He took his hand and touched his heart and pointed to his car, as if to say you are never going to be alone walking the hills!  I am going to drive you back into town out of Campanori and he did.  He took me to the fortress and right to San Michele of Lucca my patron Saint. He gave me samples of his precious tea of which the yields are quite small and exclusive.  He gave me the little bambino Tsubaki.  I gave him some important articles written by my tea hero Sanwar of all the Darjeeling gardens.  I gave him vital info which he said he would have translated.  I felt so proud like a tea missionary.  I felt like I was bringing important documents from a Saint of Darjeeling to help him manufacture his tea.

He took me to his Mother’s house and showed me the ancient trees of which his Great Grandfather a Priest brought back from China of camellias. They were praying in Italian but dancing in Chinese. The chocolate deep colored camellia plant  boughs stretched their tendrils like sacred calligraphy.  He said that ecru, mauve, lemon, fuchsia colored blossoms have been perfuming these ancient villa’s for almost a century.  I saw the passion he has for flowers and tea, for his land and for all women world changers.  I said Mother Mary has blessed me.  I am near penniless and I feel like a Queen.  That day I was able later to get money wired to me so that I could pay for my room!  She barely charged me one hundred dollars for an entire week with snacks and wine.  I slept every night with her charming cat and never was lonely with all the Holy dolls.  I am convinced angels were with me.

Saint Andrea di Compito, owned by Guido

I had a sad tinge to me before the flowers of Lucca.  My soul already knew that he had died.  Emma kept saying where are you going?  I said to help my friend with his cancer.  She asked me on Sunday the afternoon late that he died.  Alas, my trip was not entirely a homage and a sad farewell.  He went into a coma on the afternoon that I celebrated the memorial of my Mother at Santa Maria Novella.  I remember feeling that crows were my eyelashes, they were everywhere at the mound near the cathedral.  So this is how we began and this was how he began to say goodbye.

My trip to Lucca was bittersweet, but mostly magnificent.  It was one of the greatest days of my life to put my fingers in the soil of tea leaves.  To put my whole face in all the flowers and have tea bees chasing me.  To taste!  Oh yes, to taste how my Queen grows in Italy?  She takes on the soul of Lucca.  She takes on the creamyness of it’s olives and it’s earthynesss.  She take on like Versace a perfectly tailored suit.  There was a distinct olive richness never apparent in the more oceanic seaweed tinged hearth of Japanese gyokuro cultivar.  The oolong he manufactured has a peppery note perhaps of of the goats philosophizing as ancient as Rome.  The land has known sheep Pecorino and artichokes.  So there were all these flavors accessorizing.  When I drink Darjeeling of Sanwars I get positively transcendent.  It is firey like Himalayan fireflies kissing roses.  It is more floral and less earthy.  So, the Queen wears bright colors in India but in Lucca she is chic with avocado hues.  It was the time of my life and my dream come true, my day with Guido of the Saint Andrea di Compito!

Places I like in Darjeeling « Discovering Tea.


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