At the end of the summer holidays I went to the National Museum in Tokyo to see an exhibition called Cleopatra & The Queens Of Egypt, an event in collusion with various collectors and institutions worldwide that presented the finest of jewels and headdresses, decorative objects and bas reliefs (exquisite, actually) from the periods in Egyptian history when queens were on the ascendant; ending, naturally, with Cleopatra’s reign.
I sometimes love being immersed in exhibitions like these, where you feel not only the chill of air-conditioning on a hot summer’s day but also the chill of history; unmovable energies that touch you in strange but peculiarly palpable ways and that dislodge the mundane daily mould of the modern day existence, separating you, for a moment, from your more naggingly familiar self and plunge you into a state more of the mass, and of humanity; the feeling inside that at least momentarily, you belong to something bigger.
Japanese Big Exhibitions also always have serious souvenir juggernauts attached to them (do any other people in the world love the endlessly reciprocal gift-giving and souvenir dispensing as much as the people of this country?), including much more than the usual postcards and posters and mugs and key rings and all the rest of it but also specially crafted food items, stationery, whole lists of unnecessary things that you don’t need to buy that needless to say are always bought anyway (it’s almost as if you can’t go anywhere in Japan without having to then give a souvenir to someone to say that you’ve been there).
I myself am quite selfishly happy to usually resist all these ‘goods’, except, of course when I espy a limited edition fragrant tea created especially for the exhibition by those masters of Parisian élegance du thé, Mariage Frères, the kind of crème de la crème of high crafted tea producers that place them at the very top of covetable tea brokers, in the eyes of Tokyo at least, more, even, than any British establishment such as Fortnum & Mason. Mariage Frères is expensive, and obviously this is precisely the reason why it is such a success here. Marco Polo, a tea I have bought on occasion, is a divinely comforting vanillic tea, drunk either with milk or without, but it is one of those leaf blends that really takes you out of yourself for a moment; whisking you away in the hot moments as you sip it, and banishes the blues. Smelling the Cleopatra from the little glass bottle (don’t you just love the smell of thés parfumés, dry as cork, but fragrant as anything when you release the stopper and sample their aura?) I knew that I would have to buy it , that the time would be right for such a flavour, even if is just waiting on the kitchen shelf a very long time for its moment to come.
In Hanoi this summer I also had the most sublime experience on the upper floor of a beautiful art shop where we had a tea tasting session with a lovely relaxed girl who brewed what we asked to and let us smell various oolongs and green teas (and the most delightfully fragrant lotuses and jasmines, the best I have ever smelled, which are still wrapped and ready, unopened in their boxes, for when the time is right, probably in the summer or springtime I would imagine). The Mariage Frères teas, though, feel exactly right right now, as the cold of Autumn is finally properly descending on the Tokyo area and dreamily scented, otherworldly brews are just the ticket.
Like its namesake – surely the most famously perfumed woman in the history of mankind – this tea blend pushes to the limits, almost, what is acceptable in terms of fragrance for something that you are consuming. Drinking. It is perfume; a ‘sensual floral citrus black tea’ that is just what it says; flowers and flowers, vanilla and sweet oranges, and after a bit of afternoon delight ourselves upstairs following the shenanigans of the Halloween party last night, I have just come down here to make a pot and wake us up a little before we walk to the local shops and buy provisions for a Sunday roast later this evening. “It’s nice, isn’t it”, says the lover, the perfect post-nap pick me up; the robustness of the perfume entering the body; dilating the senses.