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Potluck Tea Party - Celebrating community with a cuppa tea!

July 11, 2010

Click here for MUSICAL SLIDESHOW on YouTube or if you prefer a silent version, Click here to view it on Flickr

July arrives, and the sun shines brightly. This is a big day. It's the last round of The World Cup. Spain and the Netherlands are facing off as we set up.

          
Naomi gets the ball rolling by making a new sign since the previous one got drenched during June's rainy party. Our first party guest arrives. It's the "mayor" of Strawberry Fields, as locals like to call him. He watches over Imagine Circle and often offers tours here. Today, he recognizes us from last month's party and comes over, ready to get some tea, as the Central Park Conservancy cart rolls by. Since we're still setting up, he says, "I'll come back when you've got the honey out. Can't drink it unless it's sweet."


Naomi brings over the new sign and hangs it on the shopping cart. The sign says, "Celebrate Community. Have a Cuppa Tea."

          

A man sporting a marvelous grey-white mustache arrives with his small doggy held in one hand. We offer him tea. He offers it to her. She likes it. I ask her name. He tells us, "her name is Sophie. Can you guess my name?" "Give us a hint." He smiles,"There are only 26 letters in the alphabet." "What letter does it start with?" He replies, "F." I guess, "Frank?" He smiles again, pauses, then laughs loudly, "wrong!" and off they go.


Our next guest arrives. Holding his teacup in one hand, he gestures with two fingers with the other. He likely is not indicating "Victory", being neither Spanish nor Dutch. Also, it's way too early in the game. We meet in this silent salute.

      
Young and old stop for tea.

                         

Some prefer it straight up, some on the rocks, and some with a splash of honey.

       

A group of students from Italy arrives on the scene. Soon after, more Italians join. They're on holiday from Bari. "Where's that?" I ask Roberto after we introduce ourselves. He says, "Southeast Italy." I ask, "how do you offer a toast?" Someone calls out as more folks arrive, "Salute!" And we do.

             

Ruth Klein, who joined us last month, is back. She sets up her pin-on "mindful buttons" display nearby. She relates her experience of speaking with a man about hydro-fracking, the controversial method of drilling for natural gas. This is a subject she brought to everyone's attention at last month's party.

She says that the man appeared irritated and what she describes as "reactive," asking, "What's the alternative?" Ruth notes, "in that moment, I was present. The first thing that came to me when I heard his question was, [which she said], 'To water? I don't think there is one.' " After the man had continued on his way, someone nearby said to Ruth, "I think he meant, what's the alternative to drilling for natural gas?" As Ruth shares, "I didn't say it with antagonism. It was just what came to me." She adds, "he left angry, anyway." Her story leaves me feeling torn, wondering how to connect with authenticity and shared understanding. It brings up newfound appreciation for an event I attended earlier this week called, The Empathy Cafe, offered by the NY Center for Non-Violent Communication.

      

Just then, a fellow named Dhamani, sporting a wild assortment of accutrements and wearing a T-shirt, which reads, "Love Yourself, End the Violence" joins us. Naomi offers him tea. He accepts and offers her a small flask of scented oil, which he prepared. He tells us he's from "Bed-Sty" (Bedford-Stuyvesant) in Brooklyn and adds with an outstretched hand, "represent!"

The neighborhood name originates in the 1600's from the Village of Bedford, which expanded to include Stuyvesant Heights. Peter Stuyvesant was the last governor of the northeastern colony, "New Netherland." The community of Bedford contained one of the oldest free black communities in the U.S.

Dhamani tells us about his "GP, my grandpa." We listen attentively. "You know the Voting Rights Act of '65? My GP was one of the people responsible for that. He got Shirley Chisholm elected." That historic moment in 1968 was when she became the first black woman ever elected to Congress. He pauses with a slight hint of tears in his eyes. I lift my tea cup. He lifts his. Those nearby join in. "Honor," he says. We echo, "Honor" in this heartfelt tea toast.

As we're toasting, a man approaches wearing a T-shirt that honors two Italian immigrants from the 1920's, Sacco and Vanzetti, whose controversial conviction and subsequent execution sparked much debate about justice. He lifts his glass. "Free Sacco and Vanzetti!" We reply, "Salute!"

John Giamundo and Rosalie Osian, who live nearby, arrive with a camera in hand. They are soon followed by the Stevens family from Ryebrook, NY.

Andy Stevens is our wonderfully generous webhost, continuing to offer it for free through his internet consulting business, www.electricalscience.com. He arrives with wife Theresa and daughter Emma.

Sharing our remembrances of tea tunes, Rosalie offers us her rendition of a famous song, the last snippet of which we record:

The Stevens family then follows with their rendition of the NY Mets' Official Song, "Meet the Mets":

      

Several young women swing by. They're visiting from Paris. One woman wearing a funky T-shirt with lots of peace signs clues us in to a popular toast among the younger set: "Chin chin!" We soon learn that this also is how it's said in certain Italian circles, when formality is "de riguer". Yousra, also from Paris (Pah-ree) is sporting a flower-print dress and a Broadway theater guide. She tells us that she's a student over the summer at Brown University in Providence, RI.

A Japanese man and woman approach. I introduce myself, then Naomi. She says hello in Japanese. He replies, "I speak English." And so begins a fascinating conversation among the three of them. As Naomi tells me later, turns out this man is Keizou Ichihashi, author of many english-japanese instruction books. Naomi says that she had great difficulty learning English until she found one of this books. She says, "he understands the problems we have learning English."

Rosalie greets two young fellows who say, "we're from Brooklyn." We dub them to their delight the "Brooklyn boys."

More guests arrive, a group of women who have just completed a six-mile hike in Manhattan, sponsored by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). "I didn't realize the AMC offers hikes in the city," I say. "Oh, yes," shares Leslie as she introduces herself, "We started at 96th street, then uptown and now here." They are delighted for the ice in the tea. Andy toasts their accomplishment!

An elderly gentleman wearing a sparkling white outfit and snazzy shades shows up and pulls out a pillbox. He says, noting my curiosity, "they're mostly vitamins."

A woman from Northern Ireland joins us. I ask her how one welcomes folks there. She offers, "what's the craic?" Apparently, the word in Gaelic means, "a good time." Juan Perez also joins. He is originally from Chochabamba, Bolivia and now lives in NYC and teaches tennis. He offers a hearty, "Salud!" A woman strolls by. She's from Barcelona. We're amazed that she's not watching the game.

Then, a man sporting a simple yellow shirt introduces himself as Mike. He tells me that he retired early from the US Postal Service a few years ago because he and his buddies were concerned that times would get tougher for them. We toast their many years of service.

      

As the hour approaches 5pm, Emma and I pick up the tub o' tea (what remains of it) and bring it over to a nearby tree. She advises on the location for the big release. "1. . .2. . .3. . ." SPLASH!

As Naomi and I wheel out the carts of goodies and exit Strawberry Fields, we see and hear the Imagine Band, out again this year to advocate for the Fields to be a "Music Zone." Today they're singing, We Can Work it Out:

Heading west along 72nd Street, we pass by three young men who are practically skipping down the street. By their outfits, it's clear that the World cup goes to Spain. Without hesitation, we say what comes naturally. . . "Salud!"

Read about previous parties.

       story: Judy Seicho Fleischman
       photos: Judy Seicho Fleischman, John Giamundo, Naomi Namba, and Rosalie Osian.
       video: Judy Seicho Fleischman