Girls of any age can have a tea party. I watched as Jani "organized the kettle," as the Irish say, and placed it on the stove. "You know, there is a trick to boiling water. Don't boil it too long or the air will boil out and the water will taste flat. And warm the teapot with hot water while you're waiting." Tea 101. With great care she filled her imported Belleek, traditional design with hand-painted signature shamrocks, china teapot.
When the water grew "mad" Jani emptied the warm teapot, put in three bags of Earl Grey, one for each of us and the pot, one cup of hot white grape juice, and the mad water. Patience, Prudence, let it brew.
She placed a silver teaspoon in each matching Belleek china teacup to take the heat off the cup. At precisely three minutes, we don't like it too strong, she poured the hot tea. Can you tell tea is as much ceremony as refreshment? On her imported Belleek lunch plates she served fresh-baked King Arthur traditional scones.
A dollop of imported English clotted cream spread on top a scone makes for a working marriage between the Northern Irish and the English with strawberry preserves the cap. "Oh, Jani, this is wonderful!" Our wee drop of Scotch/Irish heritage thrilled at sipping tea and talking nice with our pinkies up - Hyacinth Bucket (Boo-kay) style.
"Minnie, do you remember when we were in the "green bowl"? The mere mention of traveling in the North tightened our stomachs and made our mouths go dry?"
"Yes, but we wanted to see the world-famous Belleek Pottery factory on the River Erne. We shut our minds to violence and kept going. President and Mrs. Kennedy were gifted with one of their tea sets, and we wanted to see them up close."
Holding our cups reminded us of our visit to the village of Fermanagh on the River Erne. We spotted empty tour buses, and knew we were at the right place, forgot about the local problems, and concentrated on shopping - a great remedy. The Belleek gift shop had us ordering in no time. They would ship our Christmas ornaments, Irish blessings and Jani 's tea set. Delicate yet serviceable pieces. In America we search for four-leaf clovers for luck. The Irish depict the three-leaf clover in their work as representation of the Holy Trinity.
Our guide took us past the large, 100-year old bell used in the past to call staff to work. The Belleek business began in 1857 with "sanitary" pieces: sinks and pots. They've come a long way. Now they make delicate woven china baskets that won't hold water, but they're exquisite works of art, no two alike. "Jani, can you feel the hands-on effort that went into the making of your pieces?"
"I can. They have an energy of their own I don't feel in mass produced pieces. Have you noticed how happy King Arthur flour feels?"
I nodded, "... flour with an attitude. I love to have it around. It bounces with happy energy."
"Minnie, do you remember the man at the workbench?"
"Oh, do I! ... those hands. Have you ever seen bigger hands? He could have passed for a lumberjack or a wrestler with his huge shoulders."
"I remember he cut a quarter-inch piece of spaghetti-sized twisted clay off a large spool, used a long-handled miniature spoon tool to press it in his palm, and made a flower petal. Some flowers have over 100 petals. The process alone is amazing."
"You told him you thought only God could make a flower. He never looked up, but he did smile just a wee bit recognized for a job well done."
"It was neat. We witnessed a master at work."
copyright 2006 Red Convertible Travel Series