Countdown Abbey (II)

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God bless us all, it’s finally that time again!

I can’t believe I arrived home from our “Grand Tour” of Patagonia JUST in time.

It’s all too exciting!

I’m literally dashing off this post as I’m unpacking (wet clothes from our suitcases-nice) and drinking way too much coffee waaay too late in the day.

But stay up I must!

I hope you’ll all be watching with me and for those across the Pond and Down Under please feel free to chime in, with judiciousness of course (omg-I spelled that correctly the first time. Note to self; perhaps more coffee less wine…)

And…

May I just include a complete non-humble brag and mention I attended a party during the Christmas Season where I met a lovely relative of Lady Mary’s who told me that L.M. reads Slim Paley!!

Swear! Fetch the smelling salts

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management slimpaley.com

A great friend of mine who lives in Britain says this season is an absolute cracker.  She’s been awfully good at not letting anything slip while whetting my curiosity just enough.

She also sent me this absolutely divine and massive antique book;

 “Mrs BEETON’S BOOK OF HOUSEHOLD MANAGEMENT”

published in 1912 and weighing in at no less than 2,040 pages.

I’m quite sure Mrs. Patmore kept it handy.

‘Isabella Beeton (1831-1865) the eldest child of an extended family of 21, was required from an early age to see to domestic arrangements. After her marriage to a small publisher, she began to contribute to his Domestic magazine. In 1861 her writings were published in book form for the first time. An immediate success, selling over 60,000 copies in its first year and nearly two million by 1868! One of the most famous of all cookery books it also contains advice on household management, childcare, etiquette, entertaining and employment of servants.’

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“Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her”

Can we get an AMEN?! :-)

Mrs Beeton's slimpaley.com

Sadly, Isabella Beeton’s life story was not a happy one. She lost her first child at only 3 months of age, her second to Scarlet Fever at 2 and poor Isabella died just days after giving birth to her 4th child when she was only 28.

Downton Abbey-esque or what?

A BBC drama based on Isabella Beeton’s life aired in 2006 and a documentary by Sophie Dahl in 2011.  I would love to find both.

OK, must wrap up before the show begins!

One Final Downton Abbey Recap before Tonight’s American Premiere HERE

And, if you’re so inclined;

Exactly One Year Ago

& last but certainly not least,

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

xox SP

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The Calm Before the Storm

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Finally.

There’s a decidedly nippy quality to the air in Santa Barbara. I won’t go so far as to say it’s cold, but it has that bell clear, cinnamony, tartan scarf, pumpkin latte feel to it.

These beautiful leaves were gathered from my garden just 2 weeks ago when the temperatures were still flirting around 80 degrees.

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The colours were stunning. The Instagram photos don’t even do them justice, but alas, I can’t lift my big camera just yet.

Patience, patience (limp noodle)…everyone warned me.

BTW, you know one thing I’ll add to the “Post-Shoulder-Surgery Tip List” from last week??

#11. A glass of red wine helps before physical therapy. It helps a lot.

I just learned that yesterday. My genius is a slow, steady affair. It doesn’t like to rush in all at once and cause a big spectacle.

and just in case there are any doctors reading this-I’m not condoning drinking wine while still taking pain-killers.

(anyway, those are like sooo gone)

Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’m saving my very last one for the check up with my surgeon on Monday. He’ll be putting me through my paces to see how much progress I’ve made with my arm extensions :-( (hold me)

I’m down to only 2 Alleve a day, but let me just say-the physical therapy is no day at Butterfly Beach.

IMG_8055On the sweet side, meet ‘Leon’

He jumped up and gave me some tender, loving company yesterday afternoon while I was getting iced at the physio clinic.

Look at that face! He feels my pain.

May we also note it was the first day I wore trousers with no elastic at the waist. Hallelujah

So, basically, wine had to be served.

But, where were we?? Oh yes, we’re drawing very close to the holidays now.

Grab your helmets.

In just a few short days, the time between Thanksgiving, Hanukah & Christmas is going to pass so fast it’ll peel our faces off.

So, how about taking just a little time for yourself and curling up with a good read?

The calm before the storm as it were.

I finally finished “Empty Mansions” and would definitely recommend it.

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‘ “We are all a little peculiar” as she would say…’ a friend of Huguette Clark

Although it would be more than a stretch to write reclusive American heiress Huguette Clark’s eccentricities off as mere peculiarities, after reading this new biography by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. I don’t know that anyone would come to the conclusion that she was crazy either.  Sadly, many of her extended and long estranged family (all descendants of her father’s children with his first wife) tried to prove just that-or at least, that Huguette was not of sound mind towards the end of her (105 yr.!) life. After nearly two years of litigation concerning the $300million+ remaining fortune, the lawyers, family and various participants reached a settlement just two months ago.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but the story of Huguette, her immediate family and some of the people she chose to have in her life is indeed a head-shaker.

 Of particular interest to me, and no doubt many other locals, was Huguette’s stunning Santa Barbara mansion below.

Clark-Estate-3_t479“Bellosguardo” presides over the last ocean cliff separating Montecito from Santa Barbara, capturing panoramic views of both the mountains and the sea, to no doubt breathtaking effect. The estate was built by the preposterously rich, copper mining Clark family in the 1930′s as a summer residence and is “The House on the Hill” of our little hamlet.

Clark-Estate-1_t479It’s actually so close I can walk to it from my house. My doctor’s office is just to the left of the bird refuge/lagoon you see on the lower edge of the property. Huguette built the refuge as a tribute to her deceased sister.

The entire estate, as well as a large ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, passed to Huguette when her mother died in 1963.

Neither of them used the house in over 60 years.

Not once. Zero. I used it as much as they did.

Some years back, Ty Warner, owner of the Beanie Babies, Four Seasons Hotel NY, The Biltmore & San Ysidro Ranch and whose private residence is extremely close to Bellosguardo purportedly offered Ms. Clark $100 million for the property. She politely declined.

130909-hugette-clark-dolls-vmed-1p.photoblog600Huguette was a child-like woman who owned several vast homes yet chose to live in a small, spare hospital room (in very good health) for the last 20 years of her life.  Until the day she died she seemed to prefer the company of dolls to humans, but was unfailingly polite, charitable and kind to everyone she came in contact with.  She loved music, cartoons and everything Japanese, yet never visited Japan. She was an accomplished artist, loyal correspondent and friend, devoted daughter, loving sister, and generous patron of the arts.

huguette29n-1-webThis last known public photo was taken on her honeymoon in 1928 at the age of 22. I believe she was probably much prettier than the photo would suggest, but she was extremely uncomfortable being photographed. No Selfies for ‘Hugo’ .  Privacy was everything to her.

Everything. Howard Hughes was Kanye compared to Huguette.

She and her husband would be separated only 9 months later and divorced within two years., yet they remained friends until he died.

STOP  me before I tell you any more of the story! gawd.

Those who knew her best said she was shy but not at all unhappy.

Personally, I think she just wanted to live in the world completely and utterly on her own terms and had the limitless resources to do so.

Apparently a recipe for a very, very long life indeed.

Is that so crazy??

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PS. I imagine this would make a great Book Club read. (even though I’ve never been in a book club)

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So, speaking of having an appreciation for the Older, Finer things in life…

Style Mavens Dawn Moore and Holly Palance have recently combined their considerable aesthetic forces to create a fun online shop for strictly vintage and antique home decor; MixxCentury.com

Mixxcentury Both long time lovers of antiques, Holly and Dawn define their Mixx concept;

“By having Museum Bound (beautiful high-end pieces) and Recently Found (funky flea market finds on up…) and ONLY focusing on decorative arts and furnishings, we are for passionate home aficionados and trade professionals who don’t want to rifle thru jewelry, wine and real estate.”

Mixxcentury.com

“We are literally a one-stop for all vintage and antique home decor. AND we have our own point of view, both in theory and actual product-The Point of View Collection”

Visit & shop (all industry pricing 25-60% all year round) here:  MixxCentury.com

I was thrilled and flattered to be featured as one of MixxCentury’s first “MiXXMasters” this week, along side such design luminaries as Timothy Corrigan and Jamie Bush!

For my short musings on Design and Mixxing it up click;  HERE 

I know, right?? Shuhhup-Just act cool, like…oh me & Tim & Jamie, yeah. We cruised over to Vincente Wolfe’s place, there was a small party. Bunny W. and Newel Turner were there, natch…Peter Marino was in full Village People, but I was kinda tired so I left early…

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leaves.slimpaleyEnjoy the rest of your weekend and remember…

Don’t stress!! It’ll get done, it will all get done.

It will all get done, won’t it?!!

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Flash from the past; One year ago today; The Day After

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Something Wonderful This Way Came

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We say farewell to a Great One today with the passing of Ray Bradbury.

Blessed with a rich and long life, he was an incredible gift to the child in us all.

I’m going to keep Mr. Bradbury and all the charming and chill provoking memories he imbedded deep within my adolescent heart in my thoughts for the rest of this day and especially this evening when I tuck myself into bed and recall all those nights reading under the covers (often with flashlights)…

Who can forget the palpable sense of foreboding while reading “Something Wicked This Way Comes”?

Though the piddly, pathetic excuse for a  “carnival” that occasionally passed through our small town in British Columbia was, disappointingly, much less real than the one Bradbury had created in my mind, compare it I did; imagining far more sinister goings-on behind the mouldy tarps than reality delivered

 ( probably just a few guys in sweat stained “Deep Purple” t-shirts and Harrachi sandals passing a filthy joint)

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Or the unimaginable horror of living in a world where all books had to be burned,

sacrificed to a television addicted society

(Hey, wait a minute…)

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That “Science Fiction” wasn’t just for boys…

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and a body covered with spine-tingling stories kept me preoccupied for days…

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or perhaps my favourite, which I think I’ll run out and get a copy of today;

The quiet, soothing imagery of Bradbury’s own small town recollections; ink black skies punctuated with fireflies and  porch swings swaying with the invisible hand of a hot and eery wind…

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For me, a voracious adolescent reader and an avid fan of “horror” in particular, Bradbury was like the genius love child of Edgar Allan Poe and Harpur Lee.

Simply wonderful.

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“Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.”

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RIP Mr. Bradbury.

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Thanks for the memories.

There is now one more amazing story coming to life upon the skin of The Illustrated Man.

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A Night To Remember, 100 Years Later

The R.M.S. Titanic departs Southhampton

Have you caught the “Titanic Fever” that’s going around or were you not even aware that this coming Sunday, April 15th, marks the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the most infamous ship of all time?

A photograph of a postcard written and mailed by passenger Ann Marie Perreault 3 days before the sinking of the Titanic.

My husband, somewhat of a “Titaniac”, has recorded no less than 10 documentaries, specials, or movies airing this week, and that’s just on TV. Our London correspondent R.B. (a mutually obsessed friend) is keeping us abreast of all happenings “Titanic” on that side of the pond, including the 4 part series that explores the tragic event from the perspectives of different passengers in each episode. I won’t spoil the ending, but there is a bit of a twist.

Perhaps you’ve already seen the newly released 3-D version of James Cameron’s 1997 flim “Titanic” or caught Nat. Geo’s “Titanic; The Final Word” Cameron’s latest hypothesising on exactly what happened on the fateful, frigid night the “unsinkable” ship sank. The director, who’s made more than 30 dives down to the wreckage, assembled a team of experts consisting of engineers, naval architects, artists and historians to explore the many scientific explanations.

.I found it absolutely fascinating when Cameron & team realised they’d never actually considered why a ship of that colossal size didn’t “list”after striking the iceberg, according to all documented eye witness accounts. Was it sheer luck, or were all those poor sailors working frantically (and apparently successfully) to keep the Titanic evenly keeled until it finally cleaved in two, with the bow plunging vertically, to the dark depths of the ocean floor? If this was indeed the case, it would mean the crew saved 100′s of lives that would no doubt been lost had the ship listed, rendering the lifeboats on one entire side unusable.

The part of the documentary that most resonated with me though was when one member of the team (all men btw) was moved to tears describing the opening of a salvaged perfume bottle within the room where the vast array of Titanic debris and artefacts are stored. He recalled the exquisite scent of fresh flowers instantly permeating the space normally thick with musty decay…as if, in that brief moment, the essence of all those lost lives had been released from the tiny vial and were there with him again.

Chills. For me, nothing is more evocative than the sense of smell, so that really got to me.

.Now reading all of this, and regular readers also knowing of my passion for the Edwardian Age, you might imagine my delight when as a gift for my wonderful husband on our 10th wedding anniversary (also a 100 years ago :) ) I was lucky enough to acquire an actual love letter, written by a passenger on board the RMS Titanic.

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Slim Paley photo

The envelope postmarked “Queenstown, April 11th, 1912″

The story of the letter

Mary Ann Perreault was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1878.

I know little of her life before the Spring of 1912 when at the age of 35 and, dare I say on the precipice of ‘Spinsterhood’ by Edwardian standards, she traveled to London as a Lady’s maid and fell in love.

Bert Pickett, the object of her affections, was the chauffeur of a business associate of Mary Ann’s employer Charles Hays, and was apparently smitten enough, after only six weeks of being acquainted, to propose to this Canadian belle. As both Bert and “Annie” were working during this period, one has to assume there must have been more than a few ‘stolen moments’ in their romantic, if hasty, courtship.

So “Downton Abbey”- Don’t you just love it?

By early April, Charles Hays and Bert’s employer, Sir Abe Bailey had concluded their business together and the Hays family booked first class passage for themselves and Mary Ann back to America on the RMS Titanic. The day before departure, with his mother’s ring in hand, Bert proposed to Annie and “highly delighted” she accepted. The plan was then set for Annie to return to NY with the Hays family until Bert had gathered enough money to come over and join her so that they could marry in Canada.

Annie, ring tightly round her still secretly betrothed finger, boarded the ship on that fateful day, with an eager heart filled with plans to spend the rest of her life with Bert.

Below is a partial transcribe of Annie’s letter to Bert, written on board the Titanic on the White Star Line stationary and postmarked April 11, 1912, Queenstown;

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April 10, 1912

My Dearest Bert,

We left Old Eng. at 9:30 this morning & sailed at 12 noon. There was a terrible crowd at the dock to see this new boat leave on her first voyage. No doubt you have read about the commotion caused by the propellers as we were leaving. Every body on board was dreadfully excited with exception of me for I knew nothing about it until it was all over. I felt a sudden jerk but took no notice.

Anyhow I was thinking of you and counting the months when I hope to see you.

This is a tremendous boat, how I would love you to see it dear and explore it with me. I have been just crazy with a headache all day long, I went and lied down directly I got my unpacking done. I met a steward that was on the Adriatic. He insisted on showing me a suite of rooms that cost 40 thousand dollars for the trip across. Apart from that, I have really not seen any of the boat. Those rooms were to be occupied today at Cherbourg that is why I was so anxious to see them.

…Well, Bert, dear, I cannot believe I have been to England & on my way back. I have been so very happy with you. The time went by without knowing it.

Never mind a happy day will dawn I hope. …I have my ring on now & kiss it every little while & think of you….

I hope Bert dear you won’t worry when you read that account in the paper of us leaving.

I am trusting in a higher power & I hope we will get over all right. I don’t feel nervous in the least. Will you save the cutting dear and send it?…

Now Boy, I must say good bye. I would write a great deal more but what a headache I have got & I feel I must have a good sleep.

Be a good boy won’t you dear & pray for me every day.

I will drop you a card soon as I reach land. God bless you & write me soon.

With love Annie

Titanic

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At 11:40 pm on the 15th of April, as disaster struck, Mary Ann Perreault, along with Mrs. Charles Hays and her daughter, were amongst the 711 passengers who managed to survive the sinking of the Titanic.

Differing accounts have Annie on board either lifeboat #3 or possibly #13 (the boat that caused so many problems being released from the blocks) and rescued by the crew of The Carpathia after 5 hours of drifting in the lifeboat. Tragically, her employer Charles Hays was one of the 1,500 who were drowned.

The Titanic

.From my collection, a rather stylish pair of Ladies kid leather gloves from the Edwardian era.

Kate Winslet in James Cameron’s “Titanic”

Eight months after the Titanic tragedy, Bert and Annie were happily reunited and married on December 11th, 1912.

They settled in California where Annie lived to the ripe old age of 90.

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The Titanic footage
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Green Gold

Ceylon teaSlim Paley photo

Fields of TEA, the most consumed beverage on the planet

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Being an Irish lass, what better day to post about my visit to the tea plantations of Sri Lanka than on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day?!

And ye of little faith, thinking I wasn’t going to post this week!

Why I was just getting settled back in, unpacking, battling jet lag and eating Coldstone’s ice cream at 5:00am in the morning.

You know, the usual…

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tea plantationsSlim Paley photo

Certainly one of the highlights of our trip was the time we spent along the Tea Trails.

Imagine falling into a Genie’s bottle of Hendrick’s gin and you’ll get some idea of the verdant atmosphere of this area.

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Did you notice the tiny church nestled at the top of the fields of tea? The most beautiful little church in the world, which I’m saving for another post.

Did I just mention gin and church in the same sentence? :(

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white teaSlim Paley photo

Who knew that all tea; English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Jasmine, Orange Pekoe, green, even white tea (which, seen above, is the healthiest tea of all) comes from the same tea plant?!

White tea is made from the silver tipped uppermost leaves with the barely perceptible hairs you see on the leaf above. For high quality teas no more than the top 3 leaves of the plant will be picked.

Various flavours such as “Earl Grey” are infused into the tea after the leaves have been processed by the tea factory. To Earl Grey for example, one of my favorites, bergamot is added, for Lady Grey, simply a lighter note of bergamot. For Jasmine tea the jasmine flower is added during the fermenting process, Green tea is unfermented and black tea is fermented for exactly 2 hours and 40 minutes, a minute less and the tea tastes soapy, a minute more and the leaves start to acquire a bitter taste.

And yes, that is the sound of my fingernails brushing against my lapel :)

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Slim Paley photo

Our journey to Hatton began from the most adorable train station, built in 1867 and located in the beautifully named town of Peradeniya.

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Train stations, Sri Lanka.

Whaaat?! that can’t be right! It’s definitely my laptop.

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We had booked ahead and managed to score seats in the “Super Luxury A/C Cabin”

…or so we thought…

Only to find our “First Class” carriage doing a shockingly good imitation of a sardine tin… Ahhnd whatever happened to that air conditioning??

The train immediately pulled out of the station and as the journey was supposedly to last 4 hours (I say supposedly as Time is a rather fluid concept in Sri Lanka) we were, needless to say, horrified. The entire situation was so messing with my ‘Meryl Streep getting off the train to glimpse Robert Redford in Africa’ fantasy. Different continent, and duffel bags rather than steamer trunks & fine china but really, that was beside the point. My upper lip began to get dewy. My hair continued to expand.

After much pushing, yelling, and jostling of body bag-sized backpacks, the conductor was able to insert his way into our car and inform all those passengers from a certain tour group from a country that shall remain nameless, that they simply had to disembark at the next station TOUT de SUITE.

EXCUSEZ MOI.

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A seat at last, and who needs air conditioning (which I abhor really) when you can throw open the window to a warm breeze and this kind of view?

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waterfalls, Sri Lanka

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travel Ceylon

Nuwara Eliya “The Little England of Sri Lanka”

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The tiny white spots you see in the photo below are the tea harvesters.

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Leaves are picked every 7 days. Each picker has their own zone and the rotating is very methodical. The bushes can live to be 135 yrs. old, are fertilized every 3 months and cut back every 4 years. One single branch is left uncut to stop the plant from going into shock. I’m going to try that with a few rose bushes next year and see if it makes a difference.

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Sri Lanka

The tea pickers are given housing by the tea plantations as well as electricity and good schooling for their children.

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A lady walking down the road, though this doesn’t look to be tea she is carrying

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We visited the Norwood Factory in Bogowantalawa where we were given a delightful tour by Andrew Taylor, a direct descendant of James Taylor, the first tea planter in Sri Lanka. Although the factory was not in production the day we visited we were able to take a nice quiet tour and receive Andrew’s undivided attention.

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freshly picked tea leavesSlim Paley photo

Here we begin with the freshly plucked leaves.

They must be moist enough to not break up when they are rolled between your palms.

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The freshly picked baskets of tea leaves are put into this elevator and brought up to the second floor of the factory

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Where they are spread out on these racks

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and dried for a very specific amount of time by these incredibly powerful fans

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Then lots of other crazy stuff happens.

What can I say- I lost some of my notes and was nervous about going up Adam’s Peak later that night- I was trying to preserve energy!

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I thought a few people might enjoy this sign :)

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I know that this machine shimmied and shook like crazy

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and I believe this one cut the leaves but don’t quote me

Towards the end of the process the leaves are put into a huge oven heated entirely by burning wood.

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I was rather taken with the Norwood Factory’s “5S System” which they’ve adopted from the Japanese.

I might add that the factory and all the machinery was immaculate.

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.tea country, Sri Lanka

3 stages of tea

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The entire process of taking the tea leaf from the bush to finished product is accomplished in a single day.

7 days a week. 365 days a year.

There is no down season in the tea world.

From every batch of tea, a small sample is sent to all the brokers in Sri Lanka representing purveyors from around the world, from Lipton’s to Fornum & Mason. Their agents will expertly inspect the quality of leaves for colour, consistency and taste and then bid on individual lots at auction every week. A tea taster can manage 800-1,000 tastings A DAY. Take that wine tasters.

So from the field to the bank for the tea producer is a 3 week turnaround. What a great business!

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Finally, our taste test lesson, which involved swilling, slurping, spitting and face making whilst we searched for hopefully a lack of any ‘foreign’ perfume or wood smoke, while trying to ascertain a fresh citrusy scent, slight tingle on the tip of our tongues, and a general feeling of well being.

In other words, we had great fun!

Lastly, just a couple more things to remember;

Authentic tea leaves from Sri Lanka should have the name “Dilmah” on the packaging.

In order to keep tea fresh you should remove it from cardboard boxes and store in metal tins. If tea is wrapped in Aluminum foil it will keep for 3 years as opposed to 18 months, at best, unwrapped.

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And how, being a child of a certain era, could I resist adding this??!

Tea For The Tillerman


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What young girl didn’t drink copious cups of tea listening to the Cat??!

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Slim Paley at tea plantation, Sri Lanka

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God Cat

Stop following me!

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The fine tea of the Norwood plantation ready to be sent around the world.

Of course this post has only barely brushed against the fascinating world of tea. There are a zillion books on the subject, one being “The Empire of Tea: The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took Over the World” by Alan & Iris Macfarlane.

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Slim Paley photo

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Wishing my Irish relatives and everyone that cares to celebrate A Very Happy St. Patrick’s Day

And for those of you in Ireland, Boston and New Orleans-take it easy on the green beer and “Kilt Lifters”!!

xoxo

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