Samovar ouvert, sereine beau

More wonderful French poetry, but it really doesn’t work without the video!

2 thoughts on “Samovar ouvert, sereine beau

  1. At the risk of boring you with a somewhat lengthy display of erudition, some of you may be interested to know what “Samovar” is actually about, so here are my accompanying notes and translations:

    These verses come from an anonymous 15th century epic poem, entitled “Louise de Fos”, celebrating the life and work of saint Louise of Fos (a town near Marseilles in southern France). A contemplative mystic, saint Louise nevertheless travelled widely throughout Europe and Asia in search of heightened visionary experience. The episode recounted in these lines describes how, following journeys which took her to Russia, India and Japan, Louise returned to France and introduced the tea ceremony to Western Europe.

    “Samovar, ouvert, sereine, beau” – The open samovar creates a serene and beautiful atmosphere.

    “Où est la paille?” – Before the ceremony can begin each participant is required to obtain his or her drinking straw. (One example among many of the way Louise adapted the ceremony to the needs and traditions of the French peasantry.)

    “Le verseur, l’Inde sa tailleur, deux foins signala la paille” – The server (the one pouring the tea), dressed in simple Indian-style clothing, points to the pot with two pieces of hay or straw (as a sign for the ceremony to commence).

    “Ce kaiser bel, où?” – Where is the finely attired Kaiser? – A rhetorical question, begging the answer “Nowhere to be seen!”. (The French have no time for pompous, aristocratic, exclusive ceremonies. Deeply rooted in their democratic traditions, their rites will be open to all.)

    “Ainsi, trime statutaire, tout trime – relis – du calme trouve” – Thus it is obligatory to work hard – yes, you have read that correctly – all must work hard in order to find the calm offered by the ceremony (i.e. the rich and idle cannot hope to find mystical enlightenment).

    “Santé à Louise, Japonnaise tard” – The ceremony opens with a toast to Louise’s health and a reminder that she only discovered the Japonese tea ceremony late in her travels, before returning to France via India.

    “Inde, où est Cap Vert?” – Louise travelled back from India by sea, on a Portuguese vessel which made a brief stop-over at the newly discovered Cap Verde islands, the precise location of which were a source of considerable curiosity at the time.

    “Cercle au-deçà, fourbi un demi” – The participants form a semi-circle on this side of the kit (i.e. the samovar and all its accompanying paraphenalia).

    “Vers ta ras-le-bol semelle, ta lacque, le monde, Europe” – Facing the soles of your miserable (upturned) shoes (which in oriental fashion have been left at the entrance), you gaze beyond the highly lacquered samovar towards the rest of the world, starting (obviously) with Europe (i.e. the semi-circle of participants all face towards the open door of the ceremonial room).

    There is considerable debate about the meaning of much of the remainder of this piece. Some scholars insist that a logical explanation can be found for each of the images. Others see it as the result of a transcendental vision whose sense can only be grasped by those who themselves make a similar trip. Others again argue that, from this point onwards, the words cease to have any intrinsic meaning and are chosen only for their sound, as an aid to meditation.

    “Z’avez un boeuf, ce cheminée taupe, sa suaire eut le fin demi” – This particularly arcane line refers to an ox (or a mole?) which inhabits the fireplace, wrapped in a shroud which had been half made of fine linen. One suggested interpretation is that Louse introduced BEEF tea in place of the normal Indian or Chinese infusion, as a further concession to French dietary and culinary traditions. The broth would then have been strained through a muslin cloth into the cooking pot.

    “Plus beurre c’oeuf l’ail” – No French ceremony would be complete without some element of haute cuisine. The theory that Louise’s brew was a beef tea is strongly supported by what appears to be a list of the ingredients (more butter, eggs and garlic) for a sauce to accompany the tea.

    “Où aille Zénon?” – Where may Zeno be going? A whimsical allusion to the Greek master of paradox and to his “proof” that motion is impossible. (In a deep meditative trance, of course, time does stand still.)

    “Vaille qu’entaille!” – May it be worth what it notches! One of the examples used by Zeno to demonstrate his thesis was that of an arrow in flight. Possibly, therefore, the image of the arrow lies behind this highly enigmatic phrase.

    “Yves à paix l’idole” – Scholars have been unable to establish the identity of this idolised “Yves”, who is now at peace (whether because he’s passed away, or simply as a result of a deep transcendental trance is unclear).

    “Baies onze, sereine, beau” – At the close of the ceremony, eleven fragrant berries are added to the sauce to round off the serene and beautiful experience.

    “Vaille où aille qu’entaille!” – May that which notches be worth wherever it may go! One final reference to Zeno’s paradox of motion closes the piece on a suitably enigmatic note.

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