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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Finding Calm And Clarity in A Cup of Tea




Time plays strange tricks on you in the Club of Tea Culture, a new tea house in the Hermitage Gardens. I popped in for a light snack and emerged three hours later in a dreamy state, as if I had not been drinking tea but meditating.


A poster by the Novaya Opera's gate attracted me to it. It invited customers to sample "collection teas" and "experience the tea ceremony."


Having just read Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha," which reveals among other fascinating things that geishas used face cream made from nightingale excrement and agonized over dandruff, I had Japan on the brain and was expecting to be entertained in that tradition. But the host turned out to be a man called Bronislav Vinogrodsky, a specialist in Chinese culture.


"The Chinese don't have an elaborate ceremony. Indeed, they don't use the word 'ceremony' in connection with tea. They say 'way of tea'. So just make yourself comfortable," he said, as we sat on the floor and he poured me a small porcelain cup of tea mixed with chrysanthemum petals, a cooling beverage suitable for a hot day.


We talked about time and energy. As his mood took him, he broke off his discourse to play the flute or show me his bamboo.


A gaunt figure with a wispy beard, Bronislav looks like a Chinese sage, although he is in fact an ethnic Russian. He studied Chinese at Vladivostok University but said his education there was limited to learning dry grammar. The books he really wanted on Taoism and Tai Chi, the Chinese equivalent of yoga, he got from the United States.


Bronislav said he thought of his tea house as a "social acupuncture point." The needles of acupuncture touch spots where energy invisibly flows through the body and heal by balancing yin (passive) and yang (active). The West was today spiritually passive and needed the active yang energy of the East, he said.


In particular, people in the West, including Russians who were in touch with the European rather than the Asian side of themselves, failed to understand time. The Germans unconsciously acknowledged that the body was a conductor of time when they spoke of a moment as an "augenblick." "The blink of an eye is a unit of time," said Bronislav. "So is the heart's beat. Unfortunately, we synchronize ourselves to our watches, to mechanical time, instead of being aware of our biorhythms."


The little I know of Buddhism and Nirvana helped me to understand Bronislav, as if he was speaking another dialect of a familiar language. "That's right," he said, "all the religions of the world teach essentially the same thing."


Then he brewed another pot of tea. This time it was a green tea called Spring of Azure Spirals. The pale yellow liquid had body like a wine and a strange, almost meaty flavor. "Tea is a powerful instrument for influencing energy," he said.


It was true. By the time I left, I was feeling not the crude pick-me-up effect of a British cuppa (mug of ordinary tea) but a more refined clarity and calm. Or perhaps it was just that for three hours I had allowed myself to be mesmerized by this charming Russian who, in his soul, is a Chinese sage.


Klub Chainoi Kultury, 3 Karetny Ryad, Str. 7, is open daily for tea ceremony -- and occasional lectures on Chinese culture -- at 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m..


-- rather he gave a gentle lecture --


Likewise, as we were dragged down by quotidian life, we lost our connection to the universe, he said. We were all part of the Great Void, a single sea of energy, as we would discover in the "glorious transformation" of death. While we lived on this "speck of clay," we should become more receptive to "the call of the stars."