Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tolstoy and Tea

"Would you like the samovar?" she asked.

I am reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (the Russian author of War and Peace fame). Throughout the book there are references to tea. A samovar is a metal urn (sometimes shaped like a teapot) with a spigot at the base, used in Russia (and Slavic countries) to boil water for tea.

Continuing from above, Levin is having tea at a farm house...

...The samovar was beginning to sing; the laborers and the family, having disposed of the horses, came in to dinner. Levin, getting his provisions out of his carriage, invited the old man to have tea with him.

I find it interesting that throughout the book so far (I'm 3/4 through the 923 pages), I can't put my finger on exactly what time these Russian folks took tea. It seems to depend on a number of things - the occasion, the expectations of class, and how hungry the character is. For example, in the script above, "tea" is clearly the evening meal. Yet on other occasions throughout the book, "tea" takes place anywhere from the noon hour to midnight!

Tolstoy is famous for his incredible detail with both characters and surrounding scenery. I admire how none of his characters is easy to love, nor easy to hate. He shows the failings and the virtues of them all.

I also admire the ability of the characters to have passionate (yet respectful) debates about their beliefs, and yet continue to call one another friends. That is a trait that is sorely missing in today's American culture, in my humble opinion.


Anonymous said...

Hey - that Russian lit will just make you serious. It's summer - pick up something fun!

:-) tc

Sally Price said...

Stephanie, I love your pictures of china. I visited an American family living in Russia (in the 70's) and what I remember about the samovar is that a small amount of very strong brewed tea would be poured in the teacup, then hot water from the samovar added to make a cup of tea.