May 10, 2015
American Mother’s Day
Moscow is principally for us a place to gather as many friends and family as we can muster at any given time, and since the observed holiday for Victory Day is tomorrow (Monday), the Sunday gathering at our apartment is more than usually crowded. My American friend and his family come over with fried chicken wings and garlic bread, while my wife’s local cousins bring their children for a sleepover. It is a grand occasion of East meets West with overlapping conversations in Russian and English. But the capital part of the evening after all the eating and customary toasting is the after dinner tea. It is the most vital symbol of the seemingly endless conversation that ensues.
I spoke before how chai (tea) is a drink more perennial for Russians than vodka. And in Moscow, eleven cups of it is considered the bare minimum to reach Moscovski Chai status. Because of tomorrow’s holiday, no one is worried about work in the morning, so our Moscow cup of tea lingers into the wee hours of the morning. Tolkien’s hobbits call this time of the meal “filling out the corners.” Tea is never served alone; rather all sorts and sundry of chocolates, nuts, candy, jam, and cookies accompany the libation. And the conversation usually follows a predictable pattern. The tired guests begin by confessing how hard their life is and how little money they have. Then the friends and good company present remind them of how funny it all is, and they start to laugh about it. And if the talk reaches a sufficient level of commiseration, out comes the guitar and the singing and possibly dancing.
I have never been to heaven, but in my estimation and imagination, it is very much like this paradoxical mixture: the humble affection for confection after receiving in the morning the holy mysteries of Christ’s body and blood and the familiar, friendly faces who nonetheless aspire to great and noble ends. For as Bilbo the Hobbit would agree, the higher more spiritual loves cannot exist without the humble, more affectionate ones:
Elves may thrive on speech alone, and Dwarves endure great weariness; but I am only an old hobbit, and I miss my meal at noon.