When I was in Italy four years ago, I bought rose petal tea.
I was there visiting an author I worked with who lived in Umbria, and she and her husband took me to a tiny village in up in the hills. The name of the place escapes me, consequences of a whirlwind tour with every day something magical, and probably too, the fact that she and I had both just lost our fathers. So thankful to be guided, I wandered Italy, trailing behind my hosts, my head titled up at the late winter sunshine, every pore in me desperate to receive: the breeze ruffling through the hilltowns, the rich, silty taste of a morning espresso, the undulating sounds of voices murmuring in Italian and the way it echoed from the ancient cobblestone streets.
The town that was home to the most enchanting tea shop I've ever seen was the site of an ancient Roman bath. It lay there still, the waters dark and peaceful in February, and I was still trying to comprehend the fact that there had been people bathing in its waters for thousands of years when it was time once more to wander, and we crossed the threshold of a gift shop, walking down a few old stairs.
Inside there was a woman with short graying hair who watched us keenly. The shop was filled with incense, bubble bath, beautifully crafted Italian pottery, tea cups, and old wooden barrels filled with various teas. I lifted the lid of one and my nostrils were met with the most delicate fragrance. The loose black tea was laden with deep pink dried rose petals, and their scent was soft, sweet, enchanting. The contrast of black tea and deep pink petals was one of the most beautiful things, oddly, that I'd ever seen. And I believed that if I drank that tea, some of that beauty would continue to live inside me. Some delicate attribute of those petals that sprang from the sun, grew up from the deep ground, clipped at their glory to be tied in bunches and dried for our selfish (but in my case at least, appreciative) consumption, could possibly take root in me, and I could grow, too. The bottom line was, buying that tea was no longer an option, it was a carnal desire.
Back home in the Upper West side, I brewed my first cup on a sunday morning when I was feeling so homesick for places that made me want to believe things, when Monday was looming, sickening and large, when my tiny studio apartment felt too utterly quiet, when I felt too entirely alone. I remember I curled my feet underneath me and settled back into the depth of my windowsill that looked out over Broadway and 69th street. I closed my eyes and inhaled, experiencing the scent and the warmth meeting my nose and mouth at the same time, and when I sipped it, I found peace with my internal world. After that, I knew the incredible power of my secret stash of tea, its single-minded ability to bring me back to a place that I lost and tried to recover on a daily basis: myself. So I doled it out carefully, like the precious commodity that it was -- sharing it with a friend who was heartsick, a neighbor in need of wonder, and finally, a man I never believed I would meet, with dark eyes and a disarming dimple in his left cheek -- a man who I married three years later.
But this morning, the tea is simply for me, as she was always intended to be.
I found her sitting still in the old blue tin on my kitchen counter, immortal like the faeries. It's a somewhat common belief that black tea can only remain "good" for two - three years, and yet this tea and I, we are going on four, and my tin is still three quarters full and smelling as transformative as it did that February afternoon beside the crumbling wall of an ancient roman pool.