The yearly Wimbledon Tennis Championship has ended yesterday, on the apotheosis that materialized the long-dreamed-for victory of now grown little Serb boy Novak Djokovic, freshly announced Number One player in the world just before the match (good timing!…). Not only his family and friends but a whole nation and culture stood in ovation and proud celebration, represented by the about thirty Serbs that were there, clapping their hands and dancing in small groups with tears of joy on their cheeks. The Spanish Camp had been strongly present too, to encourage the defending Champion and ex-Number One, ‘their’ champion: Rafael Nadal.
Like everybody who loves Tennis and couldn’t be there, I have been glued to my TV every evening for the last fifteen days, and I have watched with emotion shared with millions of others the ascension day after day of the future two finalists, the Spaniard and the Serb, each with his whole background and people behind him, on the stands and beyond.
But when I now look back at the fifteen-day event, I see that what will remain my most vivid and significant memory of that 2011 Wimbledon Tournament is… England.
Yes, England, as symbolized by Wimbledon itself, its lawns, its spells of rain in mid-games (except now on Central Court!), its tradition of white tennis clothes still observed by all participants, its ‘Postcards from London’, every day a different usually old and famous place or monument… and this year, even its strawberries with cream!…
Perhaps they are there to be eaten actually every year, but this year for the first time they were shown right on screen again and again along with everything more ‘serious’ also included in their Introduction clip by the Wimbledon Organizing Committee.
When those strawberries with cream suddenly appeared, there in that clip, my eyes nearly went out of their sockets and my heart missed a beat: not only did they look so appetizing you really wished you could be there (especially when, like I do, you live in South India), but they also instantly brought up in me the memory of the certainly most moving strawberries with cream I know of: those in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and in the last of the three films made from it by Peter Jackson.
Strawberries with cream are mentioned indeed in the most unlikely place and at the most unlikely moment by this dear Hobbit, Sam, on the hell-like slopes of Mount Doom, at the very heart of Sauron’s kingdom, Mordor, when Sam’s beloved master and friend, Frodo, slowly annihilated by Sauron’s evil Ring he has accepted to wear in order to destroy it there, finally falls and just lies on the hard and arid ground, half-dead, incapable of getting up again, although they are only a few hundred more meters from their goal.
In sheer desperation, not knowing what to do to shake off the exhaustion and deadly prostration of Frodo, Sam sits beside him and takes him in his arms like he would an ailing child. Speaking to him softly he tries to bring him back to life through whatever words and images come to him, that evoke normal and happy life as all Hobbits know it in normal circumstances; and of course it has to do with good food, fresh grown good food like Hobbits know how to grow it: with their innate love for growing things, be it plants or children. Hobbits are specialists in one art only: the art of enjoying life and the simple pleasures it can give you, like home-brewed ale in big mugs, smoking-weed in long pipes, and all other good-tasting produce of their nicely tended fields and gardens.
Frodo is more the ‘intellectual’ Hobbit somehow, refined, learned, reading books etc; while Sam, his gardener, although he too loves the Elves, Gandalf, and beautiful stories, is truly a gardener, perhaps the finest gardener in the whole Shire. He has probably brought many times to Frodo (and good old Bilbo when he was still there) the most utterly delicious strawberries with cream one can imagine, and it is most probably for himself too one of the utmost delights one can exist for. So when trying to conjure up the most tantalizing and revitalizing evocations for Frodo to get again some grip on life, it is strawberries with cream that come up in Sam’s consciousness. In the dreadful, nightmarish context they actually are in, seen all around them, and in the terrible inner and outer condition, rather nightmarish too, that Frodo obviously is in as well, those words of simple and sweet life become so poignant, tears come to one’s eyes. So great is the contrast between their present reality and that other reality, almost forgotten by now, that Sam is valiantly trying to bring back in themselves, one is really hit hard with their present misery. And one realizes how fragile human life is, and tears well up from our heart when we see how precious and essential for our lives can be simple dear things like strawberries with cream.
Alas, even that isn’t enough to reconnect poor Frodo with his own life-energy, and finally Sam will have to carry him over his shoulder to cover the last distance still separating them from the crater’s entrance.
By then, Frodo has no inner power left to reject the Ring and instead gives in to it, so all seems to be utterly lost. But these two have truly done their utmost against impossible odds, so the Divine Grace intervenes and they see the malefic Ring unexpectedly destroyed at the last moment, then themselves saved from the erupting volcano, and against all hope find themselves finally riding back to the Shire… just in time to cleanse it, together with Merry and Pippin, from the ‘shirriffs’ now in place, at the service of Saruman, alias Sharkey. Peace and normal life are reestablished in their country.
Then only is it time for Sam to use the precious, wonderful gifts received from Lady Galadriel, for repairing as much as possible the horrible destruction of trees etc (including the Party Tree!) done by the ruffians in their absence.
The results of his work I will be able to reveal to you in all their splendor thanks to the amused and pleased description that Tolkien (himself an avowed Hobbit by temperament) has fun giving us, of the Year 1420, which will make of Sam, the future Mayor, a most illustrious Hobbit as per the Annals of the Shire:
“Spring surpassed his wildest hopes. His trees began to sprout and grow, as if time was in a hurry and wished to make one year do for twenty. In the Party Field a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighborhood. In after years, as it grew in grace and beauty, it was known far and wide and people would come long journeys to see it: the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.
Altogether 1420 in the Shire was a marvellous year. Not only was there wonderful sunshine and delicious rain, in due times and perfect measure, but there seemed something more: an air of richness and growth, and a gleam of a beauty beyond that of mortal summers that flicker and pass upon this Middle-earth. All the children born or begotten in that year, and there were many, were fair to see and strong, and most of them had a rich golden hair that had before been rare among hobbits. The fruit was so plentiful that young hobbits were nearly bathed in strawberries with cream; and later they sat on the lawns under the plum-trees and ate, until they had made piles of stones like small pyramids or the heaped skulls of a conqueror, and then they moved on. And no one was ill, and everyone was pleased, except those who had to mow the grass.
In the Southfarthing the vines were laden, and the yield of ‘leaf’ was astonishing; and everywhere there was so much corn that at Harvest every barn was stuffed. The Northfarthing barley was so fine that the beer of 1420 malt was long remembered and became a byword. Indeed a generation later one might hear an old gaffer in an inn, after a good pint of well-earned ale, put down his mug with a sigh: ‘Ah! that was proper fourteen-twenty, that was!'”
Right in the middle of the above description were mentioned, if you have noticed, our strawberries with cream – which made this very special quote a must in this post dedicated to this specific food item as a true English tradition: an essential part and symbol of the sweetness and pleasantness of summertime in England.
It is because of Tolkien’s passionate love for his country, England, that were gradually born the vast ensemble of stories, among which ‘The Silmarillion’, ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’, that took place in ‘Middle-earth’ during a remote and forgotten past of our Earth, in a different evolutive era preceding ours. Let’s thank the dear Professor for these wonderful and inspiring Tales where his genius has put together, just like now they do at Wimbledon too, not only the high and impressive and heroic deeds, but also the strawberries with cream…