Travel Stories

A Cup of 60$ Tea

Marinko arrives to listen to Djordje's new high end speakers that have been gifted him by a friend.  Although not a musician by trade, music is Marinko's passion, along with bird songs, the rock band he belonged to at age fifteen that has been reconstituted fifty years later, his son the rock guitarist, and his daughter the classic cellist who lives with a classic musician.  Marinko is an administrator for the Red Cross.  Or was.  He retires next week.  He says things that are way beyond my comprehension about music, instrument pitch, tone, and timbre, and how these qualities in each instrument interact and are impacted by speakers.  He knows Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, and Leonard Cohen songs by heart.  He loves Mahler.  Loves Mahler.  Also his wife he loves.  Also tea.  And, as you may recall, Djordje is tea master.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzczy5-2kGs&t=677s

So after listening to Djordje's speakers, and having a classic Saturday morning breakfast/brunch of fresh cucumber, carrots, cheese, bread, and yogurt purchased at the local farmer's market early that AM we repair to the meditation room for tea.  Not just any tea, of course, but 52 year old (52 year old!) Oolong tea from the east facing side of the eastern coastal mountains of Taiwan, tea that costs 20$/gram … or about 60$/cup ... and ought be made only with "soft" water, such as that we collected yesterday from a mountain spring. Even Thich Nhat Hanh has had tea prepared by Djordje.  Indeed, Djordje drinks from the very cup he says Thich Nhat Hanh drank from, says he did not accept that he was indeed a tea master until the day he served Thich Nhat Hanh tea.  These are not just any cups of tea.

Moreover, it is the perfect setting, this drinking tea, to have conversations about mind, monkey mind, unknown mind, ego, superego, the unconscious, reality which doesn't exist, unreality (which apparently does exist), emptiness, form, and other illusions. 

And while not appropriate to a tea drinking ceremony if you've had enough of the "there is no reality" thread you can always turn your attention over a beer or coffee to politics, something generally viewed by Djordje and his cohort as both repulsive and an inevitable element of the human condition that leads inevitably, and inescapable, to some all-encompassing disaster, an upcoming fall off the cliff driven by crazy men not afraid to kill and the inescapable capitalist mind that contaminates us all as we sit in our capitalist created narrow mental prisons.  I'd like to leave you laughing here, dear reader, but unfortunately I cannot.  All of the land, and even the water, is being purchased by domestic and foreign capitalists, control over land and water is being consolidated in the hands of the few, there are no jobs, families are scattered and shattered and, as everywhere, the US supports all sides so that it inevitably wins, and schools and TV train us to be happy slaves.  

Thus even though life in Croatia seems good on the surface, underneath the surface there is much grief and despair, the same problems facing the majority of people in the US regarding income inequality, the 1%, and how the deck is stacked all virtually identical here. And while in the US it is conceivable (at least to some) that a grassroots coalition of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, immigrants, women, labor, the poor, the white left, the environmental activist community, etc. might unite to form a majority block that can confront the ruling class, in all lily white all Catholic Croatia where fears of reprisals are real, and memories of the horrible "Homeland" War strong and inhibiting, such an opportunity appears to be nil, and it is common to hear it said that there is no hope.  And even though the bread is spectacular, water bountiful, agricultural lands vast and fertile, the sense of community real, and some of their dogs the very most mindful and obedient dogs I've ever encountered, the sense of being trapped without options or the possibility of escape is part of the atmosphere.

So let us move away from this big pile of capitalist shit and instead visit what has to be the world's biggest junk and resale shop right across the border in Bosnia.  That's two border crossings, passport date stamping going in, and two border crossings, passport please, date stamping going out.  This shop, covering two whole floors of a huge abandoned factory, makes most Salvation Army thrift shops look like the corner grocer's.  We're talking football fields lined up end to end where between the 10 to 20 yard line is just wires and old computer parts, and the 20 to 30 skis and bicycles, then furniture, knickknacks, carpets, tchotchkes, tools, tires, machine parts, old records and CDs, umbrellas, thermoses, kitchenware, clothing, shoes and boots edging across the goal line into the end zone.  Naturally we find and buy junk we like - statues, calligraphy, rocks!!  Our total bill is under 10$s. 

As we are leaving I notice a rolled up machine made oriental carpet runner that looks vaguely interesting and that I hadn't previously noticed.  We unwrap and unroll the runner to see if perhaps we might give it as a gift to someone.  And while the runner is nothing unusual, wrapped tightly inside the runner is a small absolutely gorgeous, truly old, tattered and worn hand-made Persian carpet.  I mean this rug is stunning even if it was thrown away as unsaleable.  And it is clear that the woman who wove the carpet was at the top of her craft.  The patterns are complex.  The colors are subtle.  The knotting just perfect.  Maybe 80 - 100 years old.  And what did we pay what for both rugs?  If you guessed more than 9$s you are wrong.  

A few quick other glimpses into life in Slovonian Croatia and then it is time to go.  One, the Jews, not any of whom remain except the bones of those interned in the deserted overgrown old Jewish cemetery, outside town, in the very beautiful, very separate little village that Jews were allowed to live in.  And the stores in town, still referred to by older residents of Nova Gradiska by the names of their former owners – Cohen's, Baum's, and Wechler's.

Or of the few remaining Serbian churches that were not bombed and burned to the ground, pockmarked with bullet holes and shattered roofs, with tall trees now growing inside reaching from inside the walls left standing for the sun.

Of the struggling organic farmers.  The bees they raise which are dying.  The horses they save from death.  The dogs and cats.  Sage.  Tea!  Not far from the signs warning of the land mines still in the ground.

So please, be present my friends.  Be unified.  We are all guests here and each guest is also the host.  There is no difference. Reality is in the mind of the believer who doesn't exist.  Yet we are here, blessed, and gifted, and grateful, to Timmy the dog, who has his bags packed and is ready to get on the bus with me, and to Djordje – a promise fulfilled – who packs me lunch for the road and gives me a bottle of his favorite spring water.  The poet Bob Hicok writes, "If you think of humans as rare as snowflakes, your world is constantly melting.  If you think of humans as essential to keeping dogs happy, someone will always want to buy you a beer." Sretna put. 

 Djordje looking out over Nova Gradiska

Djordje looking out over Nova Gradiska

 Djordje happily looking at his iphone (a gift of course) after we've walked around Banja Luka for an hour looking for a cup of real Turkish coffee).

Djordje happily looking at his iphone (a gift of course) after we've walked around Banja Luka for an hour looking for a cup of real Turkish coffee).

 The farmer's market in N. Gradiska

The farmer's market in N. Gradiska

 Buying dairy and eggs

Buying dairy and eggs

 Just another fabulous bakery

Just another fabulous bakery

 A Serbian Church left mostly intact in Pakrac

A Serbian Church left mostly intact in Pakrac

 Typical rural village/town view

Typical rural village/town view

 The garden at Tanja's

The garden at Tanja's

 Land mines

Land mines

 Zlatko, the bee keeper

Zlatko, the bee keeper

 Graffitti

Graffitti

 Timmy - pronounced Teee Mee.

Timmy - pronounced Teee Mee.