There are some words which are full of character but unfortunately or maybe fortunately do not have exact translations in other languages, some are synonymous with bliss, some with solitude, some with confusion…
Sobremesa is such a word in Spanish. Literally meaning “over the table”, it apparently refers to Spaniards’ art of savoring the conversation and company of others after a meal.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying dinner with a Spanish friend I had not seen in years at a small fish restaurant in Nevizade – the very local nightlife area in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district.
It was Matias’s first trip to Istanbul, albeit for a very short one for business, and he was very eager to try our famous national drink “rakı”, preferably in a very “Turkish setting”.
It is very difficult to imagine Turkey without rakı. This potent aniseed-flavoured liquor with an alcoholic content of 40 % is undeniably woven into Turkey’s social fabric. Usually enjoyed in local taverns called “meyhane” with shared appetizers called “meze”, drinking rakı is a social event, accompanying much of the best after-dark conversations.
Clear when poured out of the bottle into special rakı glasses, water and ice are added, turning the liquid translucently white and it is this appearance which gives it the widely used nickname “lion’s milk”. Of course I just had to pop the common joke that it also puts hair on the chest and turns cowardly men heroic.
Certainly the most famous of all raki drinkers was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. I remembering reading in one of Ataturk’ biographies how he apparently asked a dinner guest what goes best with raki. ”Leblebi,” the guest answered, referring to roasted chickpeas.
”Wrong,” Ataturk replied. ”The best accompaniment to rakı is good conversation.”
Drinking rakı involves a lot of toasting, with the first toast of many to the good health of all at the ‘rakı masası’. Literally translated as “rakı table”, it refers to the joyous table talk derived from rakı’s pleasurable role as a catalyst for sharing endless hours of conversation with delicious food, essential to provocative discussion and debate.
That was when Matias reciprocated with his Spanish version – “sobremesa”. Spaniards are indeed a bubbly and social nation who also delight in the pleasures of life.
Sobremesa is a word in Spanish that sadly has no English translation, capturing that special time after a meal, where no one’s ready to leave the moment quite yet and instead stay to chat and spend time with the people they shared the meal with, enjoying eachothers’ company to the fullest.
I fell in love with this very rich word which suddenly breezed into my word treasury– perhaps more so due to the feelings it evokes, the joie de vivre, the exaltation of the spirit, the rejoice, the deep stretch of story telling talking about life, joys, love. If nothing, like the Spaniards, Turks simply delight in great conversations.
Just like Juan de la Cruz mentions in the poems of St John of the Cross
“They can be like the sun, words.
They can do for the heart what light can for a field.”
Thank you Selda Yavas for the photo, I do miss your very warm and vivacious conversations.