Thursday, September 25, 2014

BY-THE-WIND-SAILORS



Adrift.
By wind, and by sea
flotillas of Velella velella set sail
& the skin of the ocean is their home.
Offshore pelagic dreams will beach them
on distant shores where people will puzzle
over their cobalt mantles and glassine sails.
They will make odd metaphors and similes,
reducing them to jellyfish—or man-of-wars,
not realizing that their strange uniqueness
makes these small by-the-wind-sailors 
a singularity in the animal kingdom
that defies simple classification.
& they'll set sail into the void 
to lodge in the flotsam 
of the mind.




By-the wind-sailror, purple sail, sea-raft, little-sail, or the euphonious Valella valella —Wiki

This is from a Facebook rant, I fought ignorance, lost the battle, but won a poem.

Way back when, I took biology classes at College of Marin, we'd go out to the marine station in Bolinas and hang out—and when the Vellela velella were blown ashore, it was class time! My biology teacher waxed poetic about Velella velella's uniqueness and that they have no close relatives. They are a singularity. Aka By-the-wind-sailors, velella are hydrozoans, or rather, a hydroid polyp with only one species in the entire genus. They're very special and are vaguely jellyfish-like. Sort of...but that doesn't make them jellyfish. Same phylum, and class, that's about all. 


Velella velella family tree

Phylum: Cnidaria
Subphylum: Medusozoa
Class: Hydrozoa
Order: Anthomedusae
Family: Porpitidae
Genus: Velella
Species: V. velella

Jellyfish family tree
Portuguese Man o War

Phylum: Cnidaria
Class: Hydrozoa
Order: Siphonophorae
Family: Physaliidae
Genus: Physalia
Species: P. physalis

Of course everybody on the Facebook post wanted to take the easy way out and just label the creatures as jellyfish. I guess it's too hard for some folks to say Velella velella. They float on top of the water. They can't submerge like jellyfish. The Greek name for jellyfish is cuplike. Velella velella are not cuplike at all. Sure, they're gelatinous on the underside but so are slugs, tunicates, and slime mold, as well as grape jelly sandwiches. Shall we call all grape jelly sandwiches jellyfish because they vaguely resembles jellyfish? Or call screws nails because they're similar in shape? Agh!


It was a losing battle. 


A more accurate write-up than Wiki, which has old, outdated info, is Velella velella By-the-wind sailor "biologist have examined the Velella as a single hydroid... The most striking aspect of the Velella velella is the direction of its sail, beacause it represents the direction the Velella is going and eventually to what shore it will arrive."

In “By the Wind” Sailors: Seasonal Velella beaching mystery solved, my old co-worker in the schools, Michael Ellis wrote:" It averages two inches across its flattened oval body and has a prominent sail. This flexible, triangular projection catches the wind and can move the animal quickly along the water even in a gentle zephyr. It is this remarkable ability that inspired early mariners to christen it the “By-the-wind Sailor.”

Velella is in the same phylum as anemones, corals, jellyfish and hydroids. It was once thought to be a colony of animals similar to the infamous Portuguese Man-of-War, but careful research has shown that it is a complicated individual rather than an assemblage of animals."

FIRST DRAFT:

By wind, and by sea they sail
the skin of the ocean is their home
Pelagic dreams drift to shore
where people puzzle over them
making poor metaphors
calling them jellies, not realizing
their uniqueness as they sail into the void.


Voices of Gold: California Poets in the Schools Celebrates 50 Years of Poetry, Oct. 10-12 at IONS Earthrise in Petaluma




Poets, teachers, poet-teachers, and plebeians who want to become poets in the schools: join us October 10 -12, for our 50th Anniversary celebration, Voices of Gold Symposium at IONS in Petaluma. If you haven’t yet marked this on your calendar, do it now. Good job! Now, if you can't attend the whole the weekend, then come for Saturday's fabulous festivities. You'll get to spend the day or the entire weekend participating in innovative writing workshops and partying like rockstars with kindred poets, of course.

Did we mention that many California poets laureates, and civic poets laureates are/were CPITS poets—including Jane Hirshfield, Celia Woloch, Molly Fisk, John Oliver Simon, and our latest California Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, have gone on to win huge accolades? Yep. Poetry is us. Jane Hirshfield credits CPITS as that “superb and still thriving program” that gave her first job as poet teacher; she said CPITS instils in young writers a passion for poetry, allows freedom of mind and offers the open-ended “writing invitation.”



LA poet-actor-playwrignt Jack Grapes, publisher of ONTHEBUS, will lead a deep writing intensive on Friday, Oct. 10. His Method Writing Approach teaches us to listen deep within ourselves. Celebrate and honor the elders of CPITS with a banquet, and welcome newcomers with special festivities.



Saturday, Oct. 11 former California Poet Laureate and CPITS board member, Al Young will give a keynote address, followed by four sets of workshops that embrace themes of poetry & sound, poetry & visual art/media, poetry & movement, and poetry performance—we'll be joined by special guests, performance poet-activists Josh Healey and Jason Bayani.

California poet teachers—from San Diego to Del Norte—will lead ab-fab workshops. CPITS workshop leaders include Amanda Chiado, Phyllis Meshulam, Karen K Lewis, Claire Blotter, Tree Bernstein, Jim Cartwright, Karen Benke, Dan Zev Levinson, Julie Hochfield, Prartho Sereno, DanaTeen Lomax, Blake More, Margo Perin, Kathy Evans and Sally Doyle.

More cool workshops on Sunday morning, including poetry & yoga, poetry & art—and don't forget to leave extra time to say those long goodbyes with newfound friends.

WHERE: at IONS Earthrise Retreat Center in Petaluma—right off Hwy 101, at San Antonio Creek. The beautiful campus is nestled in the Northern California foothills. You will dine on sumptuous organic meals while engaging in a multitude of interactive poetry workshops that will enhance your own writing or teaching in the classroom.

Please visit https://www.cpits.org/events.htm for registration information and complete workshop descriptions or contact Tina@cpits.org, better yet, just call Tina 415-221-1401 to register. See you there!

We also have great weekend commute special (Sat/Sun) $230; SaturDay Pass only $200—includes IONS' day use fee and abfab organic homegrown meals and snacks. No sleepovers. But two rooms are still available: contact TIna@cpits.org (415) 221-1401 ASAP.

To download the Voices of Gold brochure:
http://www.cpits.org/.../2014/CalPoetsFinalFlyerOct2014.pdf



ABOUT CALIFORNIA POETS IN THE SCHOOLS: Founded in 1964, California Poets in the Schools is one of the largest literary artists-in-residence programs in the nation. We encourage students throughout California to recognize and celebrate their creativity, intuition, and intellectual curiosity through the creative poetry writing process. We provide students with a multicultural community of published poets, specially trained to bring their experience and love for their craft into the classroom. CPITS serves 25,000 students annually in hundreds of public and private schools, juvenile halls, after-school programs, hospitals, and other community settings. We also partner with the California Arts Council to broadcast the Poetry Out Loud recitation program to high schools and audiences throughout the state. 2014 marks our 50th Anniversary of Poetry in California’s Classrooms!

California Poets In the Schools | 1333 Balboa Street, Suite 3 | SF CA
94118 | www.cpits.org
https://www.facebook.com/events/223260891209905/permalink/280199338849393




CPITS began as the Pegasus Project at San Francisco State in 1964 and is now active in more than 25 counties, reaching 26,000 students annually. Noted poets including Juan Felipe Herrera, Jane Hirshfield, Alison Luterman, Karen Benke, Opal Palmer Adisa, Richard Garcia, devorah major, Duane BigEagle, John Oliver Simon, Molly Fisk, and hundreds more have led workshops in K-12 classrooms, juvenile halls, hospitals and other community settings. In partnership with the California Arts Council, CPITS also delivers the national Poetry Out Loud poetry recitation program to high school students statewide.






Ghosts of symposiums past:

Write, Sing, and Move the Future Poetry Writing & Teaching Symposium 2013


Passing the Gift Forward, California Poets in the Schools Poetry & Writing Symposium 2012


California Poets in the Schools 47th Symposium  2011


California Poets in the Schools Science & Spirit Symposium 2010




Friday, September 19, 2014

Procrastination Syndrome


Yesterday, I was procrastinating over an important writing job I needed to finish, but kept putting off, so I read old blog posts instead. I meant to correct one small typo on a piece I'd written on St. Brendan in the Faroes Islands, and then just get on with it. Some 14 hours later, I was still at it, revising—hammer and tong. It occurred to me as I utterly destroyed my bloggy bit on St. Brendan, that:
a) I really, really should've saved a copy of the first draft, at present, it's unrecognizable, and 
2) The joy of writing is having the temerity to turn a piece into a dog's breakfast, knowing that eventually I'll have to rewrite my way out to the other side—having uncovered all kinds of connections that wouldn't otherwise have happened, had I played it "safe."

(Sheesh, I can't even think linearly within any given system: a), b). I had to change points mid-stream: a), 2). What's with that?) Oh look, shiny!

Out of destruction and chaos comes... But now I have to really fix the demolished post..it's all over the place.(Or at least hide it from the web crawlers). But I'm stalling. Again. Procrastination. Again. Shun's the operative word here.

So far, this morning, I've mopped the floor, organized my hair bands and postage stamps, shuffled piles of horizontal files, uncharacteristically hung up his clothes, I also uncharacteristically rearranged his closet, cleaned out old emails from three different accounts (not an easy thing as I'm an obsessive reader, and need to read everything before I delete it), I beheaded basil flowers, thus disturbing the leafhoppers.

I thought about those bugs, wondering how many of them we accidentally eat, without knowing it, and about making pesto with sunflower seeds because I'm fresh out of pine nuts and they're too expensive anyway. Pesto would the perfect last hurrah before summer's end. But I'm fresh out of garlic. Phew. Sidestepped that one.

Meanwhile, I've got one thoroughly garbled post that needs mending. Or nuking. And that other thing I was avoiding yesterday. And today as well. Apparently.

With that, I bring you, Dear Reader, a little distraction for our reading pleasure: an article from the Atlantic Monthly, on writers and procrastination!
Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators
The psychological origins of waiting (... and waiting, and waiting) to work. (Which is adapted from Megan McArdle's The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.)

See, I too am an inveterate procrastinator. This morning I posted Facebook messages to a classmate whom I hardly knew, and haven’t seen in at least four point five decades... we took a spin down an unpaved memory lane. I also marvelled with childhood friend Micaela who found a photo by Brett Weston, of her mother Rosalind Sharpe Wall, in Bixby Canyon. That's how I "met" that old classmate.

I talked like a pirate about John Malcovich's stunning role as Blackbeard the Pirate (Edward Teach) in CrossBones—sadly cancelled after one season. I suggest that you watch all nine episodes today, it's international Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arr and avast, ye maties! Teach invented the pirate flag. I bet you didn't know that.

I even rewrote a Peter Piper tongue twister on Adair Lara's wall... If Peter piper (shouldn't that be a capital P, or should I use commas?) picked a peck of pickpocket-proof pants, was he peckish for pound notes? It's all her fault. She shouldn't have posted that cool Instagram photo. My mind was off and racing like the ponies at Golden Gate Fields. What about California Chrome, anyway?

Yes, I do procrastination quite well. Layers upon layers, embedded so deep, that I can no longer tell which particular task I'm avoiding. Or for what reason. And who among us doesn't suffer from "imposter syndrome"? I've been faking it for decades. So far, so good. Do you think they know?

I agree with that author Megan McArdle that among writers procrastination "is a peculiarly common occupational hazard." I wonder what other foibles writers use to distract themselves from themselves.

For example, I wonder if the incredibly prolific Maria Popova of Brain Pickings ever procrastinates? What is Adair Lara's particular, peculiar anti-writing vice? Besides posting photos of her new pickpocket-proof pants. 

I know Eugene O'Neill liked to sharpen a dozen no. 2 Ticonderoga pencils to weapons-grade perfection before he arranged them just so, on a dozen yellow legal-sized writing pads fanned out on the living room rug. By then, it was time for drinkies all around.

O'Neill did not view alcohol as a performance-inhibiting drug. Nor did Steinbeck, Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, or Styron. When novelists sober up, they usually dry up. Drinking is good for inhibiting the "imposter syndrome." There are sober coffee-table books, fergawdsakes, on writers and their favorite tipple.


I was thinking that writers' procrastination tricks might make for an interesting Brain Pickings column, but knowing Maria, she's probably already covered it several times over while procrastinating over her latest post. How does she do it week after week?

However, I have a quibble with Megan McArdle who wrote that:
Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A's in English class.
Not me! I really, really sucked at English. Speaking of grammar school, it could be that I'm dyslexic, or that Coach Harry Roche routinely threw erasers and chalk bits at kids who didn't have the right answer.
Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks.
Well, I do resemble that one—after I'd learned to read, that is. I stalled a couple years on that too. It wasn't until the end of third grade. I remember the day. I was so sick of seeing Spot run and Dick and Jane being such goody-two-shoes, that I read ahead the entire SRA reading library in self defense.

I read five years' worth of little glossy laminated folders on bats and echolocation, sonar, magma, and bee colonies within a year. Kids started calling me a walking encyclopedia, but I was never head of the class in anything—except art.

Mike Frank and Johnny Kaufman were great smart-asses, but they didn't become writers. They sucked at English, like me. They also had permanent eraser dust imprints on their foreheads. They never had the right answer. Former tennis pro Harry Roche had perfect aim. He never missed his shot. I was terrified that he'd find me out.

There were alternative procrastinational options. The drugs were pretty good in the 60s, and besides Janis Joplin lived on our road with Big Brother and the Holding Company, so we'd drop in for a spell, procrastinating over our homework. Home was a relative concept. As was homework.

What a long, strange trip it turned out to be. As in the Human Be-in with Timothy Leary. Yep, I was there. With my mom. Cutting school, procrastinating‚ again. My mom always said God Bless Timothy Leary as she tuned out. Those were the daze.

See, we all went to Lagunitas School District—that's LSD, for short. 'Splains a lot. Adair (Lara) Daly and her twin were in the smart kids' class. Harry didn't lob erasers at them. Adair automatically got A's in English classes. In college too. She was so good, she even ran off with my English teacher. Heady times. I barely passed English 1A. I was not a writer. Yet.

Yeah, Take another little piece of my heart. I became a writer at the age of 30, long after most kids graduated from grammar school. Can't exactly blame or credit any natural ability.

I got pissed off at Gary Snyder writing about my West Marin landscape all wrong and I took up poetry writing in self defense. David Bromige saw a spark in that divine chaos. And to his credit, he didn't interfere, he left me to it. I quipped: Would you trust a poet in your mouth? He said, Hey that's pretty good. Write it down. And so I did. One word led to another. So much for the imposter theory.

I was a stubborn bootstrap student, at best. But I did learn grammar AFTER I'd become a writer. It's vs its? Hadn't a clue, thanks to Harry Roche's missiles. But I did learn punctuation—eventually, through trial and error. I actually "hear punctuation." And I do like semicolons; em-lines are even better—all those dashes and interlocutions are written forms of procrastination all out of breath.

Deadlines are dreadlines. I am often paralyzed by the though of writing something that's for shit. But that doesn't seem to stop me. Failure is my middle name. But I keep at it. I can't claim that I find writing easy—that's why I do it. It's more like I can't help myself. It's an obsession, flip side of the procrastination coin. Or OCD.

When I write. I know fuck-all about "language, structure, and imagery. My mind wanders into distant meadows of thought. Gets lost on the forest of syntax (sin tax?), where the only way out is through. I've no idea what I've written —it's usually a wild sleigh-ride with no one holding the reins. I might get it, years later. Or not. But still I write.

Write on!

This post too, is a form of procrastination. I never did get those two writing jobs done. I rest my case. There's always another Monday.





The blog in question:
Sheep Islands: What about the sheep? Notes on the Voyage of St. Brendan

Monday, September 15, 2014

Straddling the Continental Divide


Our last day at Estes Park we decided to take the long way back to Denver, via Rocky Mountain National Park, with its breathtaking views. We stopped to hike the Old Ute Trail, on the aptly named boulder-studded trail along Tombstone Ridge, a glacial moraine, or glacial toe, on the Continental Divide, in Colorado. As we stood on an overlook we could hear elk bugling in the valleys.

At Timberline Pass we turned around to go back to the trailhead. I thought of the thousands of years the Ute trail had been used since the Ice Age. Myriad travelers.

Knee braces on both knees kept me safe. I was slowly recovering from knee surgery. But I wasn't about to let that deter me. The landscape was sublime. I didn't want to turn back, and was feeling euphoric at that height.

We gazed down into the deep valley, Estes Park in the distance. The Arapaho who lived around Mary's Lake, during the summer called the valley "the Circle," and built eagle traps atop the 14,259 foot Long's Peak. The Utes came to hunt bighorn sheep. There were the inevitable clashes. The Arapaho ousted the Utes. In the fall the bull elk still run the town. There's even a bull run, as in running with the bulls. A risky business as they're unpredictable creatures.

Missourian John Estes settled in the valley in 1859, and raised cattle, but saw potential for a dude ranch. However, Anglo-Irish peer, The 4th Earl of Dunraven, tried to take over the valley in a huge land grab, as his exclusive hunting preserve, most of which, is now the Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Earl of Dunraven, a journalist by trade, opened the first resort, the Estes Park Hotel, which later burned down. But the stage was set. Tourists arrived in Stanley Steamers, and the iconic Stanley Hotel, featured in The Shining, still holds a commanding presence. All work and no play.... We stayed at the incredible YMCA of the Rockies. I was sad to leave the beautiful valley.

Trail Ridge Road and Longs Peak —Wiki

Clouds were rolling in. Storm brewing. Time to head back to the car. Then, on the way back down the trail, I tripped over a rock, and fell flat on my face. I fell correctly, I fell soft, and protected my face with bent right arm, but a smooth glacial cobble embedded in the trail sucker-punched me between nose and lip.

Good news. I didn't break a tooth, but my upper teeth were numb. Bad news. My nose didn't fare so well.

Now I get why people use walking sticks. Not for sissies at all.

I made Neil run back to the car to grab some ice from the ice chest while I pinched my nose, tilted my head back, and tried to eye the trail for boulders as I walked back toward the car. I was amazingly calm, considering that I was being gagged by a bucketload of blood.

All that horse training and vet stuff paid off. Body check. Breathe. Can you walk? No broken bones? Then, get outta Dodge. Or Tombstone, in this case. Fastest way to get rescued is to rescue yourself.

Neil was the one in need of focus. No EMT potential there. I had to scream at him to go get the fucking ice. We were about a half a mile out from the trailhead, on Highway 34,aka Trail Ridge Road; at 12,183 feet, we were well above timberline. Incredibly beautiful alpine tundra dressed in fall colors.

Good news: no concussion. Bad news: I donated copious amounts of blood to the trail. And I looked like hell.

But Justine the park ranger at the First Aid Station at the Alpine Visitors' Center, was awesome. The Visitors' Center, on the other side of Trail Ridge, and Sundance Mountain, was a long ten miles down the road. She ushered me right in, and examined me like a pro, flashlight in eyes, usual trick questions, etc. and concluded that I didn't have a concussion. Miracle of miracles.

I was intimately reminded that the word Colorado means red, or blush. It was a long way to the first Advil. I iced my face the entire way over the Continental Divide. I looked out over Wyoming in an altered state of reality.

I felt like I had a bad hangover. Sound was cottony, light was twinkley, and and I couldn't look down for fear of bleeding. But we were on top of the world and it looked like the Swiss Alps.

I was pretty angry with myself for tripping over a submerged trail rock, as this place was clearly a ten out of ten bucketlist destination. Considered one of the Top 10 Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I had to go and smash my face in.

This was the secret natal grounds, the homeland of the Colorado River. And water draining to both sides of the Continental Divide. To the Sea of Cortez, or to the Gulf via Old Muddy. Something most holy about that. In my case, my blood was straddling both sides of the Divide. I donated heavily at the sublime office.

No Advil until we got to Grand Lake, a long ways off.

I boarded the plane home that evening looking like a street brawler, with two shiners. Neil was afraid that people thought he beat me up. No, the mountain did. It exacted a trespass fee. The blood pooled under one eye and left a red track, like an after image of the Colorado River down my cheek. Vampire blood trails under the skin that no amount of washing could remove.



first draft 9/15/14
revised and considerably expanded 7/7/2016

Understandably I could not write much after the event, as I had a colossal case of space cadet syndrome after being punched out by the mountain.




from a Facebook post

Ute Trail, the aptly named Tombstone Ridge, Rockies, Continental Divide, Colorado. Then I fell flat on my face... Now I get why people use walking sticks.

California State Parks Awesome! The places you visited, not the fall

Maureen Hurley Icing da nose as we speak! Good news: no concussion. Bad news: I donated copious amounts of blood to the trail. Park ranger Justine at First Aid Station was AWESOME. I was intimately reminded that Colorado means red. LOL.




Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tea vs Chai—if by Land, or Sea

I'm having me a nice cuppa Yorkshire tea in me hond.... But Yorkshire tea, which I discovered while housesitting Dave Hansen's flat in Amsterdam, is hard to come by in the US. I found a rare stash at the Petaluma Grocery Outlet and bought up a big flat of tea. Soon it will be gone.

Currently I'm stranded in a lost republic between teas (any old tea won't do—most of the organic designer teas are fancily packaged hogwash). My mainstay, Trader Joe's, changed its Irish Breakfast tea a while back, leaving me adrift in a vast sea of peaty mediocre teas. I have a drawer-full of straw-flavored teas that I periodically recycle into iced tea, which is more forgiving on the taste buds than hot tea.

T.J.'s new twin packs of Irish Breakfast tastes suspiciously like Tetley's English Breakfast teadust dregs. The round teabags also look suspiciously like Tetley's. I can't tell them apart. I miss the old square bags of Trader Joe's Irish Breakfast tea. It made for a good cuppa tea.

Besides, I have issues with the idea of English Breakfast—politically incorrect in our household—no matter how similar they are. Who can taste the difference between English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast teas? I take that back, after a taste test, I concluded that there is a difference, English Breakfast is often more perfumy. I can't stand teas that smell like a flower stall.

At UC Berkeley's 1991 Celtic Colloquium Conference I was in charge of making the morning tea for our elevenses. I made real black tea, brewed in china pots—none of that tepid metallic urn water dumped into a mug with bagged tea that Americans are so fond of. 

Because the thirsty scholars were swilling tea (or free whiskey) faster than I could pour it, I opted for Tetley's bagged tea. A British scholar promptly dubbed the Tetley's tea as "chimp dust." 

When she saw my puzzled look, she explained that whatever was left over in the tea packing room, the cartoon chimps swept up afterwards and repackaged it as Tetley's. In other words, it wasn't the good stuff. But now, even the Tetley's chimp dust is also no longer as good as it used to be. 

I do like PG Tips, McGowan's, Lyons, or Barry's Irish Breakfast—when I can get it. But the tea's pricy and hard to get in bag form. T.J.'s Irish Breakfast tea was a real bargain at $2.99 a box. And it made a right good cuppa tae. OK, potta tae. I drink it by the potful.

I can hear you tea purists sniffing now: bagged tea? Unfortunately, I don't do mornings well. I'd need a strong cup of tea in order to make that pot of loose leaf tea first thing in the morning—or I'd be in danger of scalding myself.

Morning tea should be nice and black. None of that pale amber stuff. Tea should be strong enough for mice to skittle across its surface. I guess salted yak butter tea qualifies. Never tried it. But milk and sugar will do.

So when someone posted a Facebook link to a blog, The Language of Food, about the origin of tea, I nearly swooned.  
 Tea if by Sea from The Language of Food: a Linguist Reads the Menu. By Dan Jurafsky

We drink a lot of tea in San Francisco—I guess you should expect no less for a city originally named Yerba Buena, after a local wild herb in the mint family (Satureja douglasii) used as an herbal tea....
The Language of Food is a delightful romp through the history of tea. It focuses on real tea, not herbal tea, though tea itself is an herb—a fermented Camellia sinensis leaf native to north Burma and southwest China.

During the Shang Dynasty, tea, or t'u, was used medicinally. The Chinese character for tea is , originally written as  (pronounced t'u.) The earliest records of tea consumption date back to the 10th century BC, and Chinese legends attribute the invention of tea to Shennong, ca. 2737 BC. A 3rd century AD, medical text by Hua Tuo, stated that: to drink bitter t'u constantly makes one think better. Bitter is better. With butter?

The Portuguese sailors introduced tea to Europe in the 16th c. In 1660, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II of England, brought the tea habit to Great Britain. Tea was not readily available to the masses in Britain until the 18th c,. so smuggling was rampant, and its importance led to the Boston Tea Party and led to the end of British dominion in America. The Brits should've just let everybody have their cuppa tae in the end.

Tea plant (Camellia sinensis) from Köhler's Medicinal Plants

When tea arrived to Europe by sea via the Portuguese in the 16th c., it was called chá. Somewhere along the line, it was changed to tea, probably by the Dutch. Tea is pronounced differently in various Chinese languages: chá in Mandarin; zo / dzo in Wu Chinese; or ta / te in Min Chinese. Other Chinese words for tea: jia, she, ming and chuan. (—Wiki). Dan Jurafsky follows a compelling linguistic thread to include the word chai traveling overland via the Mongolian to Persian route.

Jurafsky writes:
These tea words ("tea", "cha", "chai", "matcha", "laphet") are players in an unusual linguistic story, in which two differing pronunciations of a word reflect the two ways that Europe and Asia have traded over the last 500 years: by land or by sea.
Jurafsky goes to great lengths to prove that if tea arrived overland across the Eurasian Steppes (via the Silk Road), then it was called chai.
The very first written mention of tea in Europe in 1559 is as Chiai, with an -i, by the Venetian travel writer Ramusio describing the Persian traveler Chaggi Memet...
However, I do have a very minor linguistic quibble with the basic premise of the article tea by sea as the Portuguese sailors who brought it to Europe in the 16th c., called it chá. They definitely didn't go overland, and their Chinese contacts were strictly maritime.
The second group of languages describes tea with a word pronounced something like "tey"—the way our English word tea used to be pronounced. This group includes western European languages like French (thé), Spanish (té), Italian (tè), and Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Welsh, Irish, and Hungarian. And, mysteriously, the very much non-European languages Indonesian and Malay.
I'm not sure if I'm buying the linguistic aspect of the entire tea- vs chai- arrival theory. Both the T- and CH- sound are too closely related. It really comes down to a matter of spelling from two different languages (or dialects, depending upon which army), Southern Min (in Taiwan), vs. Cantonese. I am reminded of the H.L. Menkin quote: There is always an easy solution to every problem—neat, plausible, and wrong. 
 
CH- is a modern Western orthographic approximation of a non-Latinate language system. Using modern Latinate orthography on an aural interpretation of a non Indo-European language family, is, at best, a slippery slope of an argument to convey pronunciation of the word tea. It depends on the listener/recorder's native language. 

For example, Manx and Irish are closely related dialects—you'd never know it, as English orthography was used to transcribe Manx, and Latin was used as the base language to convey Irish. 

In addition, in several IE languages, there are both soft and hard consonants: t/ch. What determines hard/soft (slender) sound is the vowel. Tea/chai. Also, Persian is an Indo-European language, like Hindi, not Turkic. "La" is another story altogether. 

I do love Dan Jurafsky's poetic statement: "chai if by land, tea if by sea." And it's probably more or less true. But it is a minor accentual difference. Like bags vs begs, or park/pahk in Boston. Or Ha ha ha vs Ja ja ja (same sound, different languages.)

What it really comes down to is this: the (Latinate-speaking) Portuguese traders of Hong Kong and Macao heard the word as chá, and the (Germanic-speaking) Dutch traders in Indonesia and Java heard it as tea.

Yes, in Irish, follows those "tey" rules, but that's a slender, or soft T sound, more like CHI. Full circle—except for the extra Persian case ending of -i, of course. But Jurafsky notes that extra i in cha-i is an alternative ending. "Persian nouns ending in long -â have alternative forms ending in -i." That makes it chaayi? In Ireland and Scotland, it's usually pronounced tae, as in the River Tay, not tea (tee).

So, how did the Persians really pronounce tea? Cha? (Wiki says the Persian چای is chay, derived from the Cantonese 茶 chá. So, chay rhymes with the Hibernio-English pronunciation of tae. Apparently the English word "tea" (tee), comes from Teochew Chinese "teeh".)

And of course, Starbuck's, in a rare tautological move, has chai tea on the menu—tea-tea. Like the River Avon (river-river), you might say something got lost in the translation.

Oops! My cup's emp-ty. Think I'll have another cuppa tea with me potta tae.

As my grannie would say: tea makes you pee.



If you've a hankering for Lyons, Barry's, Scottish Blend, or Yorkshire, try teadog.com. Good prices for bag and tins of loose leaf teas. They also carry the usual suspects, Taylors, Tetley, Twining's etc. Who knew PG Tips made so many teas?