What Guinness beer and tea have in common? A bit of magic, maybe…
I am very happy and proud about this. Catherine Dunne worked with me (!!!) on the translation of a chapter from Il Giorno Che Incontrammo Roddy Doyle (#IGCIRD, or The Day We Met Roddy Doyle). It’s about tea and Guinness, two pillars of the Irish imagery. I hope you will enjoy this take of mine!
And again, thank you so much, Catherine.
The very same morning that Massimo knew the job interview had gone badly, Bob Robertson was with his mother, in the family home.
It was the day of Bob’s father’s funeral. Bob, as he was the older son, was in charge, and he shouldered all the honours and burdens that attach to such a duty.
«How are you doing, ma’?» He greeted her, kissing her forehead.
«’mornin’,Bob. What can I say… Cuppa?»
«Yes, thanks. What are you up to? What are you reading?»
«You know, your father’s mother was from the Aran Islands, did you know that?» His mother replied. She got up from the table and left behind her, on purpose, some printed papers.
Bob thought it was some documents from his Aran Island grandmother, something that his mother had gone back to because of her husband, Colm’s death.
So he didn’t reply: he didn’t want to go back to the past.
Nuala Dirrane, Colm Robertson’s widow for the past three days, filled the kettle and prepared two cups of tea: one for her and one for Robert: her son, Aoife’s father.
The kitchen had a back door leading to a little back garden. From the glass door you could catch a glimpse of green grass and a couple of rose trees, crowned with white. They seemed sad under the grey sky.
The orange tricycle was overturned on the grass:the grandchildren’s one.
Nuala lifted her gaze from the tap on the kitchen sink to the roses outside, glancing along the way at the Guinness clock that sat above the fridge, to the right of the door, Then she allowed her the eyes wander back to the kitchen sink. All of this took exactly the same time as it took to fill the kettle with enough water for a cup of tea.
But Nuala had never prepared just one single cup of tea in her entire life. For this reason she always allowed herself the time to fill the kettle with enough water for at least two cups.
She gazed at the perennially graffiti-ed wall that separated their garden from the neighbours’ one; the millet seeds hanging there to feed the birds; the so often useless washing-line.
Many years before, when there were fifteen people living in this house, they just used a big teapot…
The kettle, plugged into a socket that had never been used for anything else, was under the cabinet to the left of the sink.
A single step, and the kettle is in place. Nuala takes two cups and the sugar from the wall cupboard above the cabinet. Three metal containers hide Lapsang Souchong, Earl Grey and Irish Breakfast tea.
Today is an odd day. She has hardly slept, so the Lapsang Souchong will do, even if it still is early morning. She never asked her children what kind of tea they wanted. They just drank whatever she was having herself. Easy: that was the way.
She traps the right amount of tea leaves in two infusers, laying one of them in each cup.
Meanwhile she – almost absently – switches the kettle on. Some winter mornings the water from the tap is so cold it just seems impossible it will ever make it to boiling point.
She pours the water from the kettle into the two cups, marvelling, as usual, at the coils of colour that come swirling out of the leaves into the water.
For a moment it’s just hot water, then the tea starts to coil itself into view, like an animal running away that suddenly slows down, for some reason best known to itself.
It is natural to seat down at the table, beside the sink, waiting for a full five minutes, all the while keeping an eye on the clock. Tea is time.
Every Irish person knows how to make the best use of it, knows how to make that time, that tea, fruitful.
To use it to understand if the husband is still drunk. To understand if the daughter slept with someone the night before.
If you are in a pub – because, yes, it is possible to have a cup of tea in a pub… – you will use that time to understand if the guy next to you fancies a chat.
That five minutes devoted to the making of perfect tea are there to help you. Help you in letting your husband fuck off; in asking your daughter if everything is ok; in asking the guy in the pub where he comes from, and why he is there.
Nuala had a theory: Guinness was a beer like all the others, there was no need to waiting for the pouring of a pint.
Arthur Guinness invented that peculiar way of pouring beer for the Irish, to give the publican and the customer those moments while they await the pint in order to study each other. To build the bridge that will make them navigate the night.
Nuala was pretty sure that Arthur Guinness had learnt this from the making of tea.