This is how N and I drink tea. And by tea, I mean real tea made out of lovingly and carefully steeped leaves of delightful goodness. I still buy an odd box of tea bags for myself but to offer them to N is akin to giving me borscht from a can.
N makes the tea, obviously. The few times I suggested that I make it, he looked like he was about to break into an “unsex me here” routine, so I desisted. He makes it, pours himself a cup, and drinks it. Then I pour a bit, add a large amount of hot water until it looks yellowish instead of very dark brown, add sugar, add lemon, mix it all together, and then drink. The first time N saw this, he whispered hoarsely, “Is that how you do it in Ukraine?” It’s been 15 years, and he’s still not completely over the difference in my definition of tea.
And speaking of tea, the only thing – quite literally the only one – that I miss from the USSR was the tea that was served on Soviet trains. It came in thick faceted glassware inside steel cupholders. And it was accompanied by little packages of two hard-pressed squares of sugar.
Everything else sucked but that tea I kind of do miss.
Anéantir will soon appear in an English translation, which is great because it’s a very good book. What I particularly like is that you can read it in 3 different ways:
1. As a straightforward story of a man who lived his whole life in a sterile, lonely jail of liberal beliefs and then suddenly discovered that it’s in the conservative values that you can find life, love, and happiness. But he discovered it when it was already too late.
2. As a metaphor for France or the Western civilization experiencing an agony before it dies forever. Paul symbolized France, and his greatest horror is to lose his capacity to speak. The descriptions of Paul’s agony are very heavy but whoever heard of cute, pleasant agony?
3. As part of Houellebecq’s journey as an author that has reached a new and different stage. His characters always search for meaning, and the protagonist of Anéantir actually finds it where he never expected to do so.
The website for the paper version of the book says it’s 700 pages. I have to tell you, though, it didn’t feel like anything that long. It reads very easily in spite of the subject matter getting extremely heavy in the last third. But it’s real literature. And moreover, it’s real French literature, with a lot of sex, cheese, and musings about the meaning of the French revolution.