My Dearest Sister Sydney,
This one’s gonna sting a little. Like a pull on a ponytail, an Indian burn beneath the Fisher Price slide, this one’s going to hurt. I mean, how many tea parties did you classily invite me to attend? You would stare pleadingly up at me with those watery saucer eyes and a tiara balanced on your bob hair cut, courtesy of the bored looking beauty school drop out at a strip mall Family Fun Cuts, hoping against hope that this time would be the time that I’d pull up a sun-bleached chair, tug on a tutu and partake in hose water, freshly poured from your best Made in China. And what did I always do? I embarrassed you in front of Strawberry Shortcake and Kahn, your weirdly named handmade doll with his even weirder shaped head. My behavior was deplorable. But you have to understand, my heroes at the time didn’t partake in such delicacies. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were more into the Italian fare. Batman didn’t eat at all as far as I knew. Still, there is no excuse for such rudeness and for that I’d like to apologize. Not for everything. The water balloon that knocked you on your ass was justified and I stand by that, but that’s a story for another time. This one’s about tea.
The ferry ride across the channel was a gut punch. Pitching back and forth like pastas at a rolling boil to the crash and shudder of waves on the hull. People shuffled past our table drunkenly lurching into walls and grasping at anything bolted down as the ship rocked back and forth and the winds swept down over us fierce and angry. The view through the windows across the deck was of choppy dark water, then steel gray skies, water, then skies, water then skies, and when we pulled into the harbor in Victoria everyone on board disembarked like they didn’t trust that it was over. Hand over hand down the railings on the stairs, careful now, easy does it.
When you start a birthday trip like that, it’s easy to think, “well, we tried, let’s just pack it in before one of us gets mugged or sold into sex slavery or talked into a timeshare meeting.” But stepping out of the customs line into the fresh air of the Victoria BC waterfront stripped us of any pessimism. Washed the slate clean. Oh, Canada…
My wife and I have very different ways of traveling. I once drove across the United States in a Ford Escape. I was packed in there with a 6’6″ buddy of mine and if you had asked us what route we were taking, how much money we had in our bank accounts or where we were going to sleep that night we’d have shrugged our sunburnt shoulders, scratched our unwashed heads. Melissa does research. Melissa has goals. This was Melissas birthday, so it was her trip, so it came with a list, which consisted of:
The Butchart Gardens:
The Victoria Butterfly Garden:
Exploring downtown Victoria
Seeing some funky little houseboats at Fisherman’s Wharf
And finally, high tea:
Tea in British Columbia is a big deal. The British touched down on the shores of Canada and started doing what the British invariably do, which is to say act like they’re still in Britain, and tea has been a staple of Victorian living ever since. There are a lot of statistics about tea in the area available on the Internet. The gist of it is: they like it. There are tea houses all over downtown Victoria and even a yearly festival that is entirely devoted to tea.
Now, If you’re doing tea in Victoria, every travel site you’ll visit is going to tell you to go to the Empress, which may very well be the case. Maybe it’s life changing. Maybe it’s worth every cent of the $68 per person to attend it. We were playing it thrifty, so we didn’t find out. We went instead to the Venus Sophia Tea Room, just down the way, tucked down one of the many quaint side streets. The express tea that they serve there is spoken of with a good amount of reverence on the Yelp boards and it is considerably cheaper, so we decided to give it a shot.
I’m not the manliest dude in the world. Sure, I’ll change a tire. And yeah, the last time I got a shot, I barely cried at all, and then, when they only had grape lollipops I was like, “not my favorite, but whatever.” But by no stretch of the imagination am I Jason Statham riding a motorcycle into a bears den. Still, I was very reluctant about tea. Doilies? Fine China? Pinkies out? It wasn’t my trip though, so I laid my trepidations aside and I did the dutiful husband thing. Sat down and prepared to bite the frilly laced bullet. Holy shit was I wrong.
The tea came first. I had a kettle full of cream earl grey, saucer of milk on the side and just the smell of it dancing up out of the spout was intoxicating. Soothing and floral and comforting. I poured it like a goddamned gentleman, drizzle of the milk to the pittering of the rain outside on the cobblestone street. Then the food came out. Sandwiches with the crusts cut off them, smashed full of flavor. Hummus and vegetables on rye. Cucumber on white. All meshing differently with the tea, creating different flavors. When we’d polished off the sandwiches, pinched delicately between our fingers like little debutants, we moved on to the desserts lined up across the bottom of the tray. Little cheesecakes and shortbread cookies, carrot cake bites and brownies all butted up to a scone and two dishes filled with dollops of clotted cream and strawberry jam. Every bite smashed full of flavor and washed down with perfectly steeped tea against a backdrop of cloudy skies. It was surreal. It was decadent and delicious and for fleeting moment, like a flash of classy lightning on a dark night of flatulance and tripping over my own sweatpants bottoms, I was fancy. And I liked it.