Václav Havel on Tea

“When I was outside, I didn’t understand the cult of tea that exists in prison, but I wasn’t here long before grasping its significance and succumbing to it myself (I, who used to drink tea, if at all, only once a year, when I had the flu) or more precisely, including it as an inseparable aspect of my ‘self-care’ programme. I’ll try to indicate briefly some of the functions tea assumes in these circumstances. (1) First of all, it cures: one always tries tea first to head off a whole range of minor indispositions such as headaches, sluggishness, chills, the inability to concentrate, sore throat, incipient colds, etc. etc. — and it often works. (2) It warms: ten fur coats will not get rid of occasional numbness better than a glass of hot tea. (3) Stimulation: it is only here, where one has no alcohol, coffee and all the other means of excitation common on the outside, that one appreciates how powerful a stimulant tea, or rather, the caffeine it contains, is. It is a real pick-me-up; it reduces weariness, nervousness, bad moods, apathy, sleepiness, etc., and restores one’s freshness, alertness, ability to concentrate, energy, strength and appetite for life. (I now know precisely how much tea I can drink during the day and when I should take my last drink if I want to fall asleep at a certain hour.) (4) Last but not least — in fact most important of all, perhaps — is tea’s peculiar uplifting function. Tea, it seems to me, becomes a kind of material symbol of freedom here: (a) it is in effect the only fare that one can prepare oneself, and thus freely: when and how I make it is entirely up to me. In the preparation of it, I realize myself as a free being, as it were, capable of looking after myself. (b) Tea — as a sign of private relaxation, of a brief pause in the midst of the hubbub, of rumination and private contemplation — functions as the external, material attribute of a certain unbridling of the spirit and thus as a companion in moments of focussed inner freedom. © The world of freedom considered as leisure time is represented by tea in the opposite — in the extroverted and therefore the social — sense: sitting down to a cup of tea here is a substitute for the world of bars, wine rooms, parties, binges, social life; in other words again, something you choose yourself and in which you realize your freedom in social terms. In short: tea here has a rich panoply of functions, it’s become a habit, I drink it every day, preparing it is one of my small daily ceremonies (and even such small ceremonies help to hold one together — it is something like a salutary straitjacket), I look forward to it, and consuming it (which I schedule carefully, so it does not become a formless and random activity) is an extremely important component in my daily ‘self-care’ programme.”

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letters_to_Olga

1 Reply
cteresa said

That is lovely.

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