Late last night, I was browsing the magazines strewn around the hostel at which I’m staying. I picked up Intelligent Life on a whim; I’ve never read it before, and the pretentious title seemed to be too highbrow for a lazy read before bed.
Boy, was I wrong. The magazine was filled with a variety of in-depth and thoughtful pieces that I really loved. One set in particular stood out. This was a collection of mini-essays by seven separate authors, each intimating their favourite time of the day. Between the delicious sheets I fell, and devoured the stories one by one. Regardless of time and of place they were set: I began with a trip back through time to 4 pm in the ’60s English countryside, and then found a present-day domestic scene at elevenses; skipped through a post-dawn Mumbai, only to find myself staring down at networks of city lights during a midnight long-haul flight.
I’ll always love written words for the ability to transport myself wherever I want. However, my favourite time of day is that period when I don’t have to be anywhere else, when the morning is my own. I am like the Mumbai author, desperately seeking that half-hour in the morning where nothing is urgent yet.
Reason: Just after seven is time enough and tide to sit still and let the world rise to meet you. In a chair, with a cup and a window; your breath cooling the tea, and the sun warming the city. I like to think of it as a type of slow cooking. We begin at six a.m.: the counter-tops are swept and clean, and the ingredients of the city are still in their cupboards, shuttered securely behind their doors. The simple, everyday ingredients come out first – yellow taxis, almost bursting from their skins in haste; humble street sweepers. Of course, any good chef knows that you should clean up as you go, and between the sweepers and the jaunty garbage men the task is performed admirably. At quarter to seven, the first street vendors arrive to begin seasoning the pot. Fruit pots come, mote and empanada stands too; also a little metal cart of mysterious green bottles, that I haven’t yet had the courage to try. Perhaps it’s the secret ingredient that makes the city’s recipe so delicious.
Why 07:10? That’s the magical moment in the process, when the whole show comes together. Before, little mishaps and minor catastrophes would occur. By just after seven, however, the uncommon mixture of ingredients blend together to form an irresistible simmer of life on the other side of the looking-glass. My day hasn’t started yet; there’s no need for me to move from this chair. I can sit, and let the minutes grow; I can wait for half an hour and, prone to anxiety as I am, those thirty minutes are a wonder of peace. I let others’ life pass me by.
Too soon the minute hand ticks past the half-hour. My tea has gone cold, or more often has been already finished. I could boil the kettle again, but it seems a sign that I should start to get ready for the day ahead. There will certainly be cups of tea to be drunk along the way. But there are none that I enjoy more than this first one, brewed in the timeless minutes before the day begins, savoured and sipped slowly. There’s another one to come tomorrow.