In Cha jiu lun (“A Debate Between Tea and Beer”), recounted in a 10th century manuscript discovered in northwestern China early in the 1900s, the beverages argue strenuously over which of the two “has merit and distinction.” We offer a contemporary version of this age-old dispute in a pair of articles that together make up our cover story.
First, in “Man, the Drinker,” associate editor Trey Popp describes the work of Patrick McGovern Gr’80, a senior research scientist at the Penn Museum who has made a specialty of deciphering the ingredients of ancient wines and beers based on chemical residues found in excavated drinking containers—several of his “recipes” have been reconstructed by microbrewers—and who suggests that beer may have played an equal or greater role than bread in humanity’s shift from hunting-and-gathering to agriculture.
Making the case for tea’s role in civilization’s advance is Victor Mair, professor of Chinese language and literature, via an interview with senior editor Samuel Hughes, in “Steeped in Tea.” We also have excerpts from McGovern’s recent book, Uncorking the Past, and The True Story of Tea, co-authored by Mair (which is where we found the Cha jiu lun story).
Judging from our convivial cover shot, McGovern and Mair have no trouble agreeing to disagree about the value of their respective pet beverages, which is just as well. In the 10th century manuscript, both Tea and Beer’s bids for primacy are trumped by Water—an outcome that is as unarguable as it is unexciting.
My wife Carole Bernstein C’81 and I met here at Penn. I’ve mentioned that in this space before, and my gratuitously bringing it up again—besides showing our kids they’re not the only ones I repeat the same stories to—can be seen as an example of the impulse toward autobiography, often tinged by self-promotion, that permeates our culture.
We take a look at that phenomenon from a variety of perspectives in a package we’ve called “Memoirabilia” in this issue’s arts section. It includes an interview with Ben Yagoda G’91, author of a new history of the memoir form (which actually goes way, way back), plus reviews of and excerpts from some recent examples of the genre written by Penn alumni.
As it happens, meeting my eventual spouse on campus also links me to one of the writers in our memoir roundup—Michael Rosen C’81 WG’81 Gr’84 G’89, who says he helped his wife Leslie Gruss C’79 move into the Quad and was “the first person she met, really,” though they didn’t start dating until later. With her, he went on to live the extraordinary tale he tells in What Else But Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse.
It is also something (the only thing?) I have in common with Elizabeth Banks C’96, an actress who has made her mark in films as varied as W. and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, who is profiled in “How to Succeed in Show Business by Really, Really Trying,” by freelancer Caroline Tiger C’96. Banks has been paired up with Max Handelman C’95 ever since he chatted her up after a fraternity party on her first day of school. They married in 2003 and now produce movies together, when she isn’t starring in ones opposite Seth Rogen or Russell Crowe.
A final note: Please pay a visit to our website and sample our new blogs on sports and arts & culture, the first steps in what will be a continuing effort to expand our online offerings between issues of the magazine. Let us know what you think, and what else we should include.
—John Prendergast C’80