Archives For Tea

chavezSocialism is in the news, and we need not wonder what the prolific and wise C.S. Lewis would have thought about it.

In the United States, for example, one of the serious contenders for the presidential election this fall belonged to neither the Democrat nor Republican parties.

Bernie Sanders dropped the “D” descriptor he had, for political convenience, worn for several months. He did so soon after Hillary clinched the Democrat nomination, saying he was elected as an “Independent,” and would return to the Senate as one.

Elsewhere in the world we see one of the most recent experiments in socialism following the historic pattern. Venezuela has fallen from the ranks of successful nation states into the abyss of socialist turmoil.

Even liberal (progressive) voices are acknowledging the abject failure of socialism in a formerly comfortable country.

When a Venezuelan entrepreneur we know launched a manufacturing company in western Venezuela two decades ago, he never imagined he’d one day find himself facing jail time over the toilet paper in the factory’s restrooms. But Venezuela has a way of turning yesterday’s unimaginable into today’s normal.

The entrepreneur’s ordeal started about a year ago, when the factory union began to insist on enforcing an obscure clause in its collective-bargaining agreement requiring the factory’s restrooms to be stocked with toilet paper at all times. The problem was that, amid deepening shortages of virtually all basic products (from rice and milk to deodorant and condoms) finding even one roll of toilet paper was nearly impossible in Venezuela—let alone finding enough for hundreds of workers. When the entrepreneur did manage to find some TP, his workers, understandably, took it home: It was just as hard for them to find it as it was for him.

Toilet-paper theft may sound like a farce, but it’s a serious matter for the entrepreneur: Failing to stock the restrooms puts him in violation of his agreement with the union, and that puts his factory at risk of a prolonged strike, which in turn could lead to its being seized by the socialist government under the increasingly unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.

So the entrepreneur turned to the black market, where he found an apparent solution: a supplier able to deliver, all at once, enough TP to last a few months. (We’re not naming the entrepreneur lest the government retaliate against him.) The price was steep but he had no other option—his company was at risk.

But the problem wasn’t solved.

No sooner had the TP delivery reached the factory than the secret police swept in. Seizing the toilet paper, they claimed they had busted a major hoarding operation, part of a U.S.-backed “economic war” the Maduro government holds responsible for creating Venezuela’s shortages in the first place. The entrepreneur and three of his top managers faced criminal prosecution and possible jail time.

Yes, it “may sound like a farce,” but thinkers like C.S. Lewis have recognized all along that socialism doesn’t work.

Europe took years to recover from the ravages of World War II. One consequence, common to many nations throughout the world during the war, was severe rationing.

The war’s end signaled a swift return to normal life in the United States and Canada. Meanwhile, in places like the United Kingdom, rationing continued, and some products (notably potatoes) were added to the list.

Rationing in the U.K. did not end until 1954, and one of Britain’s staples—tea!—was still rationed in 1952.

It’s in this context that we read the following letter that Lewis penned to one of his American correspondents. Vera Gebbert and her husband were among the Americans who occasionally forwarded food gifts which Lewis generously shared with others.

In 1954 he thanks her for her generosity and acknowledges the welcome end of rationing. In the same letter he offers a humorous political aside—at the expense of socialism.

Dear Mrs. Gebbert, Many thanks for your nice letter of the 15th, though it would have given both of us more pleasure if your account of your own state had been better: which I hope it now is.*

And I’m so glad that the Horse helped to see you through an illness, which I trust is now a thing of the past. My brother thanks you too for all the kind things you say of the Century,** and says he hopes to have another book out either late this year or early next, of which you shall have a copy.

I’m afraid it would be sheer dishonesty to pretend that we now have any kitchen needs; this government has done a magnificent job in getting us on our feet again, and a few weeks back, we solemnly burnt our Ration Books. Everything is now ‘off ration,’ and though at first of course, prices went up with a rush, they are now dropping.

But cheer up, if our friends the Socialists get back into power, you will be able to exercise your unfailing kindness once more by supplying us, not with little luxuries, but with the necessities of life!

‘How is Cambridge?’ Well, so to speak, it isn’t; in other words, I have not yet begun my Cambridge career. And when I do, the break will not be so big as you might imagine; for I shall be non-resident. Cambridge will be content with my presence there from Tuesdays to Saturdays in term time, so I shall be able to keep on the house at Oxford and become what I think you call a ‘commutor’ don’t you? Our sister college, Magdalene, has been good enough to give me a set of rooms, so I shall be very snug during the week.

The subject addressed above is not simply about toiletry scarcities or the eccentricities of antediluvian politicians. It dramatically affects the lives of real people.

Our thoughts and prayers should be offered on behalf of the victims of socialism. Just as we should recognize that unbridled capitalism does not nurture a paradise, either. However, it is unfathomable to imagine a contemporary democracy (based on capitalism) imposing serfdom on its citizens, as Venezuela is now doing.

So, it seems Lewis was correct about the propensity of socialism to undermine order and dishevel systems of proven success. After all, those supermarket shelves were not always empty before the Chaveznistas took over.

_____

* Gebbert had shared with Lewis about her domestic problems which were culminating in an imminent divorce.

** The Splendid Century: Life in the France of Louis XIV, was a well-received study Warnie had written.

Screenshot 2014-02-03 22.27.31The older I grow, the more important coffee becomes. Spending the last past two weekends ensconced in the doctoral program of a Midwestern seminary near the polar vortex has merely reinforced that fact.

Coffee versus tea. It is the perennial international battle between caffeinated beverages. C.S. Lewis, famously, weighed in on the side of tea. (That’s no surprise, given the historic hold Camellia sinensis’ on British taste buds.)

One of Lewis’ most frequently quoted aphorisms is, after all: “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

In Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature Lewis alludes to this cultural preference. In a passage discussing different ways of experiencing foreign customs, he describes the quintessential “bad tourist.”

One man carries his Englishry abroad with him and brings it home unchanged. Wherever he goes he consorts with the other English tourists. By a good hotel he means one that is like an English hotel. He complains of the bad tea where he might have had excellent coffee.

Despite their preference for tea, as the quotation above reveals that many Brits enjoy a good cup of coffee. Lewis himself loved a good cup at appropriate moments. In a 1939 letter to his brother Warnie, he mentions his need for a caffeine jolt prior to proctoring examinations.

My colleague Bone asked me to lunch with him at St John’s prior to an afternoon’s invigilation. I’ve known him quite good company: on this occasion, however, he spoke in almost a whisper and very seldom, and while other people were eating all round us (this was in John’s) nothing arrived for us till I was ‘nearly sick’ with hunger and embarrassment.

When at last we’d had some chicken another pause ensued, during which, almost in desperation for something to say, I asked him for the cheese, only to be told in sepulchral tones that there was a sweet coming. It came. Another pause.

Desperate for my coffee, I said presently that I supposed I’d better be getting along: my host, after pondering this for a minute or two, replied yes, he supposed I had. On our way out he stopped at the other end of the table and introduced me to a jolly old man as his father Sir Muirhead Bone. Now can it be that the mere paternal presence explains the whole business? One can imagine such things! Anyway I went off to my 3 hours’ invigilating without any coffee.

While we’re considering the role of coffee in the life of the Oxford don, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to search the Chronicles of Narnia to see if the drink is mentioned there. I uncovered several, the last of which is particularly delightful.

From The Horse and His Boy.

By the time Shasta had finished his porridge, the Dwarf’s two brothers (whose names were Rogin and Bricklethumb) were putting the dish of bacon and eggs and mushrooms, and the coffee pot and the hot milk, and the toast, on the table. It was all new and wonderful to Shasta for Calormene food is quite different. He didn’t even know what the slices of brown stuff were, for he had never seen toast before. He didn’t know what the yellow soft thing they smeared on the toast was, because in Calormen you nearly always get oil instead of butter.

And the house itself was quite different from the dark, frowsty, fish-smelling hut of Arsheesh and from the pillared and carpeted halls in the palaces of Tashbaan. The roof was very low, and everything was made of wood, and there was a cuckoo-clock and a red-and -white checked tablecloth and a bowl of wild flowers and little curtains on the thick-paned windows. It was also rather troublesome having to use dwarf cups and plates and knives and forks.

This meant that helpings were very small, but then there were a great many helpings, so that Shasta’s plate or cup was being filled every moment, and every moment the Dwarfs themselves were saying, “Butter please ,” or “Another cup of coffee ,” or “I’d like a few more mushrooms,” or “What about frying another egg or so?” And when at last they had all eaten as much as they possibly could the three Dwarfs drew lots for who would do the washing-up, and Rogin was the unlucky one.

From Prince Caspian.

They breakfasted at last in another of the dark cellars of Aslan’s How. It was not such a breakfast as they would have chosen, for Caspian and Cornelius were thinking of venison pasties, and Peter and Edmund of buttered eggs and hot coffee, but what everyone got was a little bit of cold bear-meat (out of the boys’ pockets), a lump of hard cheese, an onion, and a mug of water. But, from the way they fell to, anyone would have supposed it was delicious.

From The Silver Chair.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs and toast and Eustace tackled it just as if he had not had a very large supper in the middle of the night. “I say, Son of Adam,” said the Faun, looking with a certain awe at Eustace’s mouthfuls. “There’s no need to hurry quite so dreadfully as that. I don’t think the Centaurs have quite finished their breakfasts yet.”

“Then they must have got up very late,” said Eustace. “I bet it’s after ten o’clock.”

“Oh no,” said Orruns. “They got up before it was light.”

“Then they must have waited the dickens of a time for breakfast,” said Eustace.

“No, they didn’t,” said Orruns. “They began eating the minute they awoke.”

“Golly!” said Eustace. “Do they eat a very big breakfast?”

“Why, Son of Adam, don’t you understand? A Centaur has a man-stomach and a horse-stomach . And of course both want breakfast. So first of all he has porridge and pavenders and kidneys and bacon and omelette and cold ham and toast and marmalade and coffee and beer.

“And after that he attends to the horse part of himself by grazing for an hour or so and finishing up with a hot mash, some oats, and a bag of sugar. That’s why it’s such a serious thing to ask a Centaur to stay for the weekend. A very serious thing indeed.”

I occasionally wonder what it would have been like to have shared a pint with Lewis at the Eagle and Child. Magnificent, to be sure.

But perhaps better still would have been to share a conversation in his study or home over a simple cup of coffee (or tea). After all, just as a good meal establishes the mood for jovial discussion, so too can a soothing warm “brew” whet one’s desire to share an intimate conversation.