Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gracious Gift of Hospitality: Afternoon tea with 'Tea on the Titanic' Author

Afternoon tea with Penelope Carlevato
Imagine someone you have never met before inviting you to their beautiful home, across two time zones, for a delicious afternoon tea complete with freshly baked scones and cut flowers on the table, greeted like an old friend and charmed by a fascinating  hostess who is a published author.  If it sounds like a tea enthusiast's dream, it is, and yet, all of this really did happen to me a few weeks ago.

In April, my sister-in-law, Cara and I were guests of Penelope Carlevato, tea professional and author of the book, "Tea on the Titanic".  Penelope lives just outside of Denver, not far from the Molly Brown House, the home, and now museum, of one of the most famous survivors of the Titanic, and the subject of one of the chapters of the author's latest book.

Denver's Molly Brown House  was featured in the March/April issue of  Tea Time Magazine
 As a writer of both a tea blog and an on-line news column, I'm always looking for new tea experiences whenever I travel. Knowing I was going to the Denver area this spring, I began contacting some of the tea rooms in the vicinity that were on my wish list (see "Dushanbe Tea House" and "The Denver Tea Room") to visit. I also found inspiration in the March/April  issue of Tea Time Magazine. They featured historic places of the western United States to go to for a  unique tea experience and the Molly Brown House was included. That seemed like a must-see, too.

When I "googled" the Molly Brown House, I couldn't believe it - Penelope Carlevato was the guest speaker for an afternoon tea there the weekend we would be in Colorado. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for the day we were flying out and there wouldn't be time to squeeze in a cream tea, let alone a full afternoon tea spread and presentation.

Outside the Molly Brown House Museum in April
So, I sent a note to Penelope to see if she would be available to meet one of the days I was in town for a quick cuppa and chat about her book. After a few exchanges, we nailed down a time and Penelope suggested I come to her house for tea.

If I had any expectations (which I did and they were filled with crazy anticipation), they were far exceeded the minute Penelope invited Cara and I through the front door. It was like visiting an old friend and I felt instantly at home, albeit a beautiful one.

We spent the afternoon talking over tea about our families and our journeys. Penelope was born in England, her father an American soldier and her mother was British war bride. Her great-grandparents lived in in northeast England and their business was providing household help to wealthy families. They were visited by Queen Mary, grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, and Penelope's great-grandmother served her tea. Penelope herself, met Queen Mary, as a child, in Sandringham and has had the remarkable story to share ever since.

"Tea on the Titantic" was written last year during the 100th anniversary of the  ill-fated luxury ship
Penelope's book, "Tea on the Titanic" has an interesting perspective on the ill-fated cruise ship, but despite the tragic story, there are many details that still hold us captive. Penelope's book has personal tales that relate to the cruise experience from a British point of view. She also includes recipes to create one's own Titanic afternoon tea as well as  interesting facts about the personalities and the class system on board the ship. Having just recently been to Cobh, the port town in Ireland where many Irish immigrants took passage, I felt a connection myself.

My husband, Chris, in Cobh, Ireland on our trip last October. Cobh was the final place of departure  for the Titanic.
But the part of the book that has the greatest meaning to me is Penelope's references to hospitality. She credits her mother for teaching her the "gracious gift of hospitality" and she further defines the difference between "hospitality" and "entertaining". She see the former as receiving guests "generously and kindly" and the latter as more of  a performance, with the emphasis on show rather than comfort and care.

Molly Brown House gift shop carries Titanic-related merchandise, including  "Tea on the Titanic" 
There's no question, Penelope has inherited that gracious gift from her mother. Imagining someone I never met before inviting me to tea in her lovely home for scones and friendship may have been a stretch. Imagining having a more delightful time over a cup of tea - well, I could never have dreamed that one, but I'm thrilled and most thankful it really did happen.

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