Valentine’s Day started with a cup of Japanese green tea called green ecstasy at Samovar. It was my second visit, this time at its location in the Mission. The first time I was at the one in the Castro and had ryokucha, also a Japanese green tea but one that includes toasted brown rice. On that first visit I had sat down with a pot of tea and was still reading Sense and Sensibility. I remember reaching the part when Willoughby abruptly leaves Barton for London, thus abandoning Marianne for good. Elinor’s reaction upon learning that Willoughby is leaving, and her rational analysis of it afterwards, is one of my favorite parts of the book, and a big win for having sense over sensibility.
Samovar in the Mission goes out of its way to make the simple ritual of tea as complicated and tech-chic as possible. The tea leaves are pre-measured in artfully displayed test tubes, and after tapping your order into a tablet, some contraption called a steampunk automatically brews the tea, which is then served in a paper cup. This was all far too much of a spectacle for my taste. There is an effortlessness to tea that I love, and I felt all of the beautiful simplicity was lost. Nevertheless, my cup of green ecstasy was delicious. I picked up a huge coffee habit in the fall, and though I still drink it a couple times a week, I’m returning to tea as the default, which feels like a good thing.
There are some books that strike me so deeply that I dread their inevitable end, especially considering that nothing beats the novelty of a first read. Given this, I was actually ready for Sense and Sensibility to reach its conclusion, though not due to any kind of disappointment. I loved it. The story is continuously surprising and observant of human behavior and folly. New characters are steadily introduced, adding freshness and much needed details to the intertwined story lines. I was eager to reach the story’s end simply because the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, are miserable throughout, and I was anxious for them to find reprieve. Their misery is largely due to heartbreak, which does not come off as frivolous as you would imagine; partly because their emotions are so pure and heartfelt, and partly because they are women of the 18th century. There are few prospects beyond marriage, so a runaway suitor deals a particularly strong blow.
I assumed some version of happily ever after, though I assure you it’s a tame one, because I couldn’t imagine a young Jane Austen letting down the characters she so thoughtfully created. The Dashwood sisters are emotional and eloquent, two qualities that blend perfectly together. I looked up Austen and her work a number of times while reading Sense and Sensibility, and was left with the impression that the book is not a favorite among readers or critics. If that is the case, my expectations for the remainder of the Austen canon are sky high. Northanger Abbey is next.
I made three New Year’s resolutions this year: eat less pizza (an inevitable fail), eat less chips (a so-so success), and visit the city more often (a resounding success). San Francisco is a 30-minute train ride from Berkeley, both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge are visible just blocks from my apartment, yet for the better part of 2014, I did not make the trek into the city often. But then 2015 arrived and invited change, and San Francisco has been a delightful addition to my life ever since. Trips into the city now make me feel undeservedly accomplished, as if each is a story in New Year’s resolution success. They have included lounging at Alamo Park, coffee at Sightglass, 2 AM gin and pizza in the Marina, the Redwood Grove at Golden Gate Park, a night of ramen and Intersellar, and another night of spaghetti squash and Finding Vivian Maier, all of which have contributed to a general excitement for what is to come between me and the city.
P.S. It is so fun to discover that many of you are Jane Austen devotees. I am a novice, so I take every recommendation to heart. Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Emma are on the list.
It has been a long time since I’ve read a classic, and since picking up Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, I’m at a loss as to why. It is my renewed opinion that if you do not know which book to read next, or you have not run into anything memorable in more time than is tolerable, reach back to the classics. They are a perennial sight on bookshelves for a reason, and considering the infinite number of choices we have in reading material, it is reassuring and exciting simply knowing that the book you are reading is of immense cultural value.
I am by no means a Janeite. I have only read the rite of passage that is Pride and Prejudice, but her cultish appeal is made obvious in Sense and Sensibility. I am most surprised by the book’s fresh, almost contemporary, humor. Austen is witty, sarcastic, and takes her time in revealing the true nature of her characters. The story follows the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, and juxtaposes their very different approaches to life and love. Elinor is the model for “sense,” as she is calm, practical, and able to control or hide her emotions when necessary. Marianne embodies “sensibility,” as she indulges her emotions and finds no reason to hide her thoughts and feelings about anyone or anything. By the time I had reached the 100th page, both girls had suffered heartbreak, and the way each handles her grief is a study in sense versus sensibility. The vocabulary and sentence structure takes getting used to, though I am enjoying the challenge. It took three mentions of the word “society” for me to understand that it meant “company,” as in, “I enjoy his society.” The more you know…
“Feminism is an endeavor to change something very old, widespread, and deeply rooted in many, perhaps most, cultures around the world, innumerable institutions, and most households on Earth — and in our minds, where it all begins and ends.”
“Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force” from Men Explain Things to Me, p. 140
By Rebecca Solnit