Friday, October 2, 2009

IX. Of the Gardens of the Siameses, and ocasionally of their Liquors.

Their Pulse and Roots; The Potatoe; Cucumbers, Chibbols, Garlick, Radishes; Flowers; Why there is no Muscadine Grapes in Persia nor at Suratt; Nor Grapes at Siam; Pure water the ordinary drink of the Siameses; The Waters of Louvo and of Tlee Poussons; Tea; Three sorts of Tea; Tea is a sudorifick; The manner of preparing Tea; Excellent water necessary for Tea; Whether it is necessary to drink the Tea hot; Other liquors, Tari and Neri; Aqua vitæ preferred before all, and of what they make it; Punch, an English Drink; Coffee and Chocolat; Fruits; Certain Fruits at every Season; The difference of the Fruits of Siam from ours; The Areca and Betel; Their effect; Another effect of the Areca and Betel; How they blacken their Teeth, and how they redden the Nails of their little fingers; Of the Palmites in general.

THE Siameses are not less addicted to the manuring of Gardens, than to the ploughing of Arable Lands. They have Pulse and Roots, but for the most part different from ours. Amongst the Roots the Potatoe deserves a particular mention. It is of the form and size almost of a Parsenep, and the inside thereof is sometimes white, sometimes red, sometimes purple; but I never saw any but the first sort: Being roasted under the Ashes, it eats like the Chesnut. The Isles of America made it known to us; it therefore frequently supplies, as some report, the place of Bread. At Siam I have seen Chibbols, and no Onions, Garlick, Turneps, Cucumbers, Citruls, Water-melons, Parsley, Bawm, Sorrel. They have no true Melons, no Strawberries, no Raspberries, nor Artichokes, but a great deal of Asparagus, of which they do not eat. They have neither Sallory, nor Beets, nor Coleworts, nor Coleflore, nor Turneps, nor Parseneps, nor Carrots, nor Leeks, nor Lettuce, nor Chervil, nor most of the Herbs whereof we compose our Sallads. Yet the Dutch have most of all these Plants at Batavia, which is a sign that the Soil of Siam would be proper thereunto. It bears large Mushromes, but few and ill tasted. It yields no Truffles, not so much as that insipid and scentless kind, which the Spaniards do call Criadillas de tierra,and which they put into their pot.

The Siameses do eat Cucumbers raw, as they do throughout the East, and also in Spain; and it is not impossible but their Cucumbers may be more wholsom than ours, seeing that Vinegar doth not harden them: They look upon them, and call them a kind of Water-melons. Mr. Vincent inform’d me that a Persian will eat 36 pound weight of Melons, or Cucumbers, at the beginning of the season of these Fruits to purge himself. The Chibbols, Garlick, and Radishes have a sweeter taste at Siam, than in this Country. These sort of Plants do lose their Rankness by the great Heat: And I easily believe what those who have experienced it have assured me, that nothing is more pleasant than the Onions of Ægypt, which the Israelites so exceedingly regretted.

I have seen a great many Tuberoses in the Gardens of Siam, and no Roses, nor Gillyflowers; but it is said there are plenty of Gilliflowers, and few Roses, and that these flowers have less scent than in Europe; so that the Roses have hardly any. The Jasmine is likewise so rare, that ‘tis said, there are none but at the King’s House. We were presented with two or three Flowers as a wonder. They have a great many Ameranthus, and Tricolors. Except these most of the Flowers and Plants which adorn our Gardens, are unknown to them: but in their stead they have others which are peculiar to them, and which are very agreeable for their Beauty and Odor. I have remark’d of some that they smell only in the Night, by reason that the heat of the day dissipates all their Spirits. Our Flowers have most scent about the Evening, and we have some, but few, that smell only at Night.

Whatever has not naturally a great deal of taste and smell, cannot keep them in Countries extremely hot. Thus though there be Grapes in Persia, and at Suratt, yet there can be no Muscadine Grapes, what care soever is therein employed. The best Plants, which are transported thither from Europe, do presently degenerate, and yield the second year ordinary Grapes only.

But at Siam, where the Climate is much hotter, there are no good Grapes. The few Vines which are planted at Louvo, in the King’s Garden, produce only some bad Grapes, which are small and of a bitter taste.

Pure water is their ordinary Drink; they love only to drink it perfum’d, whereas to our Palate Water which has no smell, is the best. As the Siamese do not to draw it at the Springs, which are doubtless too remote, it is wholesome only when it has been setled more or fewer days, according to the Inundation is higher or lower, or wholly run out: For when the Waters retire, and they are filled with Mud, and perhaps with the ill Juices which they take from the Earth, or when the River is re-entered into its Channel and sufficiently muddy, they are more corrosive, do cause Disenteries and Lasks, and cannot be drunk without danger, till they have let them stand in great Jars or Pitchers, the space of three Weeks or a Month.

At Louvo the Water are much more unwholesome than at Siam; by reason that the whole River flows not thither, but only an Arm, which has been turned thither, which runs always decreasing after the Rains, and at last leaves its Channel dry. The King of Siam drinks water from a great Cistern made in the Fields, on which is kept a continual Watch. Besides that this Prince has a little house called Tlee Poussone, or Rich Sea, about a League from Louvo. It is seated on the brink of certain Low-lands, about two or three Leagues in extent, which receive the Rain-waters and preserve them. This little Sea is of an irregular figure, its Shores are neither handsom nor even; but its Waters are wholesome, by reason they are deep and setled, and I have also heard that the King of Siam drinks thereof.

For pleasure and conversation the Siamese do take Tea, I mean the Siamese of the City of Siam. For the use of Tea is unknown in all other places of the Kingdom. But at Siam the Custom is throughly setled, and ‘tis amongst them a necessaryCivility to present Tea to all that visit them. They call it Tcha, as do the Chinese, and have not two Terms, the one for what we call Tea, and the other for what we call Cha, or Flower of Tea. ‘Tis certain that it is not a Flower But to assert whether they are the budding Leaves, and consequently the tenderest, or the highest, and consequently less nourished, or the point of the Leaves, which have been boil’d at China, or a kind of particular Tea; is what I cannot determine, by reason that various Accounts have been given me thereof.

The Siameses do reckon three sorts of Tea, the Tchaboui or Boui Tea, which is reddish, which some sa fattens and is astringent; ‘tis look’d upon at Siam as Ready for the Flux. The Somloo Tea, which on the contrary purges gently. And the third sort of Tea, which has no particular Name, that I know, and which neither loosens or binds.

The Chineses and all the Orientals, use Tea as a Remedy against the Head-ach: But they make it stronger, and after having drunk five or six Cups, they lye down in their bed, cover themselves up, and sweat. It is not very difficult, in such hot Climates, for Sudorificks to operate, and they are looked upon there almost as general Remedies.

They prepare Tea in this manner. They have Copper Pots tinn’d on the inside, wherein they boil the Water; and it boils in an instant, by reason the Copper thereof is very thin. This Copper comes from Japan, if my memory fails me not; and ‘tis so easy to work, that I question whether we have any so pliant in Europe. These Pots are called Boulis; and on the other hand they have Boulis of red Earth, which is without taste, tho without Varnish. They first rince the Earthen Boulis with boiling water to heat it, then they put in as much Tea, as one can take up with the Finger and Thumb, and afterwards fill it with boiling water; and after having covered it, they still pour boiling water on the outside, they stop near the spout as we do. When the Tea is sufficiently infused, that is to say when the Leaves are precipitated, they pour the liquor into Chinese dishes; which at first they fill only half, to the end that if it appear too strong or too deep, they may temper it, by pouring in pure water, which they keep boiling in the Copper Bouly. Nevertheless if they will still drink, they do again fill the Earthen Bouly with this boiling water, and so they may do several times without adding any more Tea, until they see that the water receives no tincture. They put no sugar into the Dishes, by reason they have none refin’d which is not candy, and the candy melts too slowly. They do therefore take a little in their mouth, which they champ as they drink their Tea. When they would have no more Tea, they turn the Cup down on the Saucer; because that ‘tis the greatest incivility among them to refuse any thing and if they leave the Cup standing, they fail not to serve them again with Tea, which they are oblig’d to receive. But they forbear to fill the dish, unless they would testifie to him unto whom they present it full, that ‘tis, as some say, for once, and that it is not expected that they ever come again to the House.

The most experienced do say that the Water cannot be too clear for Tea, that Cistern-water is the best as being the most pure, and that the finest Tea in the world becomes bad in water, which is not excellent.

In a word, if the Chinese drink Tea so hot, ‘tis not perhaps that they have found it either more wholesom or more pleasant after this manner; for they drink all sorts of Liquor at the same degree of heat, unless the Tartars have now taught them, as it is said, to drink Ice. ‘Tis true that the infusion of Tea is perform’d quicker in hot water than cold; but I have drunk with pleasure what I had infused cold for above a day.

The Siameses adhere not to Tea: they freely drink Wine, when they have it; altho whatever inebriates is prohibited by their Morality. The English and Dutch do sometimes bring it them from Schiras in Persia, or from Europe. Our Bordeaux and Chors Wines came very sound to Siam, altho they had twice passed the Line; and at our return the remainder of these Wines, was perhaps much stronger and better kept, than it would have been, had it continued always ashore. I say nothing concerning the Wines of China and Japan, which are only Beers exceeding well mixt, but very pleasant. The China Wine, of which I have brought a bottle, would not keep to France, altho the Dutch Beer kept very well to the Indies.

The Siameses do likewise drink two sorts of Liquors, which are called Tari and Neri, and which they extract from two sorts of Trees, called Palmites, from a name general to every Tree which has great Leaves, like the Palm-tree. The manner of collecting this drink is, in the Evening to make an Incision in the bark of the Tree, near the top of its Trunk, and to apply thereunto a Bottle as close as it is possible, luteing with Clay, that the Air may not enter therein. The next Morning the Bottle is full, and this Bottle is generally a Pipe of great Bambou, to which the knot serves as a bottom. These two Liquors may also be collected in the day time, but it is said that then they are eager, and are used as Vinegar. The Tari is drawn from a sort of wild Cocotier, or Coco-tree, and Neri from the Arequier, a sort of Tree which I shall presently speak of.

But as in hot countries the continual dissipation of the Spirits, makes them desire what increases them, they passionately esteem Aqua Vitæ, and the strongest more than the othes. The Siamese do make it of Rice, and do frequently rack it with Lime. Of Rice they do not make Beer, which they drink not; but they convert it into Aqua Vitæ which they call Laou, and the Portuguese Arak, an Arabian word, which properly signifies sweat, and metaphorically essence, and by way of excellence Aqua Vitæ. Of the Rice Beer they likewise make Vinegar.

The English inhabiting at Siam do use a drink which they call Punch, and which the Indians do find very delicious. They put half a pint of Brandy or Arak, to a pint of Limonade with Nutmeg and a little Sea Bisket toasted and broke, and beat it all together until the Liquors be well mixed. The French call this drink Boule Ponche, and Bonne Ponche, from the two English words, a Bowl of Punch.

In a word, the Moors of Siam drink Coffee, which comes to them from Arabia, and the Portuguese do drink Chocolate, when it comes to them from Manille, the chief of the Phillipines, where it is brought from the Spanish West-Indies.

The Siameses do esteem fruit better than all things; they eat all day long if they have it. But excepting Oranges, Citrons and Pomegranates, there is not at Siam any of the fruits that we know. The Citrons which they call Ma crout, are small, full of Juice and very sowre, and the skin very smooth. They appeared to me of a singular quality, in that they are rotten on the inside, when their peel is sound and entire. But they have moreover a kind of sowre, and no sweet Lemons, and on the contrary the Oranges and Pomegranates are all sweet; unless for sowre Oranges they would take the Pampelmouses, which they have the taste and shape thereof, but which are as big as Melons, and have not much Juice. The Siamese do with reason range them among the species of Oranges, and call them Soum-o, and Soum signifies an Orange. Among the sweetest Oranges the best have the Peel very green and rough; they call them Soum keou, or Crystal Oranges; not that they have any transparency, but because they appear to them in their kind, of the repute of Crystal, which they highly value. They give of the Soum-keou to their sick, and sell them, as ‘tis said, at five sous a piece when the season is past; a considerable sum in a Country where a man commonly lives for two Liards a day.

Now tho this sort of Oranges lasts not the whole year, yet there is always one sort or other. There is also the Fruit which the Europeans call Bananas, or Indian-Figs, and the Siamese Clouei, all the year. All the other Fruits continue only a time. ‘Tis at Achem only at the North Point of the Isle of Sumatra, that Nature produces them all at every season. Those excellent canes of one final Shoot or Joynt, between nine and ten foot long, do grow only at Achem; but Rice, which is their principle nourishment, frequently fails them: and they do dearly purchase it with the Gold, which they find so plentifully amongst them, that they contemn it without Philosophy.

I designly omit the Description of several Fruits, and refer it to the end of this work. I will now only speak of the Areca, and shall say of the Indian Fruits in general, that they have for the most part so strong a taste and smell, that one loves them not, till accustomed thereunto; and I think that then they do no hurt. By a contrary reason, our Fruits are at first insipid and without flavor, to him that is accustomed to the Indian Fruits.

The Areca, which the Siamese do call Plou, is a kind of great Acorn, which yet wants that wooden Cup wherein our Acorn grows: When this Fruit is yet tender, it has at the center or hear a grayish substance, which is as soft as Pap. As it dries it waxes yellower and harder, and the soft substance it has at the heart grows hard too: It is always very bitter and savory. After having cut it into four parts with a Knife, they take a piece every time, and chew it with a Leaf resembling Ivy called Betel by the Europeans which are at the Indies, and Mak by the Siamese. They wrap it up to put it the more easily into the mouth, and do put on each a small quantity of Lime made of Cockle-shells, and redded by I know not what art. For this reason the Indians do always carry this sort of Lime in a very little China dish, for they put so little on every Leaf, that they consume not much in a day, altho they incessantly make use of the Areca, and the Betel. The Areca whilst tender wholly consumes in the Mouth, but the dry always leaves some remains.

The sensible effect of this Acorn and this Leaf is to excite much spitting, if they care not to swallow the Juice; but it is good to spit out the two or three first Mouthfuls at least, to avoid swallowing the Lime. The other less sensible effects, but which are not doubted in the Indies, are to carry from the Gums, perhaps by reason of the Lime, whatever may prejudice them, and to fortifie the Stomach, either by reason of the Juice that is swallowed at pleasure, and which may have this quality, or by reason of the superfluous moisture which they discharge by spitting. Thus have I never found any person at Siam with a stinking breath, which may be an effect of their natural Sobriety.

Now as the Areca and Betel do cause a red juice independently on the red Lime which is mix’d therewith, so they leave a Vermilion Tincture on the Lips and Teeth. It passes over the Lips, but by little and little it thickens on the Teeth till they become black: So that persons that delight in neatness, do blacken their Teeth, by reason that otherwise the spittle of the Areca and Betel, mix’d with the natural whiteness of the Teeth, causes an unpleasant effect, which is remarked in the common People. I shall transiently declare, that the Vermilion Lips, which the Siamese saw in the Pictures of our Ladies which we had carried to this Country, made them say that we must needs have in France, better Betel than theirs.

To blacken their Teeth, they do thereon put some pieces of very sowre Lemon, which they hold on their Jaws or Lips for an hour, or more. They report that this softens the Teeth a little. They afterwards rub them with a Juice, which proceeds either from a certain Root, or from the Coco, when they are burnt, and so the operation is performed. Yet is pleases them sometimes to relate that it continues three days, during which it is necessary, they say, to lye on their Belly and eat no solid Food: But some have assur’d me that this is not true, and that it is sufficient to eat nothing hot for two or three days. I believe rather that their Teeth are too much set on edge, to be able for some time to eat any thing solid. It is necessary continually to renew this operation to make the effect thereof continue; for this Backness sticks not so strong to the Teeth, but that it may be rub’d off with a burnt Crust of Bread reduc’d to Powder. They love alsoto redden the Nails of their little Fingers, and for this end they scrape them, and then apply a certain Juice, which they extract from a little Rice bruised in Citron Juice with some Leaves of a tree, which in every thing resembles the Pomegranate Tree, but bears no Fruit.

In brief, the Arequier or Arectree, and all the Trees which are called Palmites, have no Branches, but great, long and broad Leaves, like the Palm-tree; and they have their Leaves only at the top of the stalk, which is hollow. These sorts of Trees do annually produce a new Shoot of Leaves, which spring out of the middle of the Leaves of the preceding year, which then fall off, and leave a mark around the Trunk; so that by these marks which are so many knots, and which are close together, they can easily compare the Years, or Age of the Tree.

This is what I had to say concerning the Extent and Fertility of the Kingdom of Siam, I will now discourse of the Manners of the Siamese in general; that is to say of their Habit, Houses, Furniture, Table, Equipage, Diversions and Affairs.

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