Last week, I had shared with you my newly found self-indulgent ritual: making coffee in the Turkish-Greek style every day and enjoying it sip by sip with a small piece of chocolate award waiting for me on the saucer of the tiny cup. Today, I would like to invite you to take a short trip with me to an audio narration in Turkish of what is claimed to be a true love story, told by Recep Atasoy. This story – “Tuzlu Kahve” (“Salted Coffee/Coffee with Salt”), I have found out, has multiple versions in written but also in spoken Turkish texts, including one from the time of the Ottoman Empire. The one here spins, in sum, the following modern tale of love:
They were at a party. The gorgeous young woman attracted the attention of the young man. Many men were after her. Nevertheless, he asked her, if she would have coffee with him. Not having noticed him at all throughout the festive gathering, she accepted his invitation out of sheer politeness. They went to the cafe nearby. His nerves made him unable to talk. His silence began to make her uneasy, when she said she had better go. At that moment, he called for the waiter with a sudden movement: “Could you please bring salt for my coffee?”
People close to their table turned toward him with puzzled impressions on their faces. Salt for coffee! He turned bright red out of embarrassment but poured the salt into his coffee with no hesitation. And without skipping a beat, he drank it to the end. With obvious curiosity, she commented: “You…have an unusual taste.” He then started to narrate to her about his childhood, how he used to always play at the seashore and in the sea and how its saltwater had been always present in his palate. “I grew up with this taste,” he said, “I liked this taste very much. That’s why I put salt to my coffee. Because, whenever I feel the salt’s taste, I remember my childhood, our home by the sea and my happy family…My parents still live by that sea. I miss them and my home…very much.”
While he was talking, tears filled his eyes…She was taken aback by the things she had heard. A man who in such an honest way opens up to a woman, a man who misses his home, his family to this extent, must be someone who loves home life, family, she thought. Someone with sensitivity to home life. She, too, started to talk. Her home was also far away. Just like her childhood was…She told him about her family. Their conversation had become very lovely…Sweet and warm.
And, as it so happens, their conversation became an exceptionally beautiful beginning to our story…
They continued to see one another, and, just like in any beautiful tale, the princess got married to the prince. And they lived happily ever after. Whenever the princess made coffee for her prince, she put one spoonful of salt into it, always…After all, she knew he liked it that way…
Forty years later, he bid farewell to the world. He had left a letter to his beloved wife, to be opened after his passing:
“My love, my one and only, please forgive me. Forgive me, for I have built our entire life together on a lie. I lied to you only once…About the salted coffee. Do you remember the first day we went out together? I was very anxious and tense, to the point that I asked for ‘salt’ instead of sugar. I felt so ashamed with you and everyone else looking at me, stunned, that I went on with a lie. I could not have imagined that this life was going to be the foundation of our relationship. Many times, I wanted to tell you the truth. But each time, out of fear, I decided not to. Now, however, I don’t need to fear anything, since I am dying…Hence the truth: I don’t like salted coffee! Such taste is peculiar and disgusting. But I had coffee with that disgusting taste since I was with you the first time. And without an ounce of regret, at that. To be with you was the biggest happiness in my life and I owed that elation to salted coffee. If I were to be born once more, I would like to live everything anew, to get to know you anew and to spend my entire life anew with you, even if a second life were to mean for me to have to drink salted coffee day after day after day…”
The old woman’s tears entirely soaked the letter.
One day, someone who knew their story asked her: “What is coffee with salt like?”
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