If I knew then … things I wish I had discovered earlier in life

I took a sip from my cup of lapsang souchong, and thought: “How did it take me so long to discover this?”

I’d only ever heard of it in songs or stories, until a few weeks ago I was handed an almost-full box of tea-bags which someone had bought, tried and didn’t like.  You either love lapsang souchong, apparently, or you hate it.

Just opening the sachet was exotic, as its smoky breath whispered out, speaking of places beyond the normal ken.  I have but one a day;  more seems excessive, somehow too much of a good thing.

James A Michener described lapsang souchong as “a man’s tea, deep and subtle and blended in some rugged place … better even than whisky.”  Not sure about that last comparison.

That taste put me in mind of other things I discovered late in life:

Irish whiskey

On our second date, I discovered the Squadron Leader was a whiskey drinker.  She sipped Jamesons while I slurped Jack Daniels.  We both ended up a bit messy.  No wonder I married her.  She gently nudged me over the next few months in the direction of Jamesons, and even bought me a crystal tumbler (Waterford, to be sure) from which to drink it.

“Three steps to heaven”, they say about Jamesons, it of course being famously triple-distilled.  There’s depth rather than bite when you sip Jamesons straight, unlike the peaty slap you can receive from some of those highland Scotch whiskies.

Maybe it’s all the tears cried by the Irish during their centuries of sorrow which make it soft and slightly maudlin.  The irony is perhaps that John Jameson wasn’t even Irish, but a lowland Scot.

I flirted with other Irish whiskies, like Bushmills.  But I am with The Wire’s Detective Jimmy McNulty, who wouldn’t touch it when offered.  “That Protestant whiskey,” he called it dismissively.

Puccini

Puccini had only obliquely crossed my path until my son Tim arrived one day, inexplicably, with a CD called “Puccini’s Greatest Hits”.  He was then more likely a purveyor of bands like Pungent Stench and their landmark release “Been Caught Buttering”.

Yes, the well-known Puccini arias are demeaned by overuse: deployed in movie soundtracks, or lionised as the theme of an advertising campaign, or even blasphemously bastardised for a beer commercial.

But Giacomo Puccini said of Madame Butterfly: “The music of this opera was dictated to me by God.  I was merely instrumental in putting it on paper and communicating it to the public.”

I get that.  When I listen to Puccini, it’s like I find a little door in the ceiling of everyday life, and I can poke my head through and be momentarily on a slightly higher plane.

I had written most of this when I had an eerily synchronous conversation with an old medico friend.  The doctor’s diagnosis was that: “You can get in touch with some things too early in life”.  Maybe the point is that things come to you when you are ready to appreciate them.

And maybe, therefore, there are more things out there just waiting for me to be ready for them.

David White

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    • Belinda
    • February 11th, 2012

    Some books you can read too early and totally not get them. Like pretty much all Henry James, for example. But when you are ready, it’s sublime.

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