Sobremesa “over the table”
Sobremesa is deeply rooted in Spanish-Latin American culture. The word literally means “over the table” it has no precise English translation, probably because there is no cultural equivalent. It’s leisurely time after having finished eating, but before getting up from the table. Time spent in conversation, digesting, relaxing and enjoying. Not rushing, or reserved for weekends, even weekday and business meals, have sobremesa time. After a meal in Spain, you won’t get a check until you ask for it. It would be considered rude to rush your meal, or in any way discourage, “over the table” conversation.
Sharing a meal with good friends is profoundly satisfying. Eating together is one of the oldest and most fundamental unifying human experiences. It can simultaneously connect our physical, emotional and relational needs. Often not planned, it just happens and that’s worth hanging on to, as an authentic custom. If the table is still full of wine, beer and good coffee, what better way to share our reminiscing and anecdotes. What a great idea to carry forward to our homes as well. An opportunity to talk about what’s going on in our lives, share opinions and receive that much needed human contact. Eating slowly and happily, with good conversation afterwards, improves our digestion. “A family that eats together stays together”
Sobremesa “on the trail”.
“Over the table” moments are harder to find on the trail, only because we seldom, find the “table.” The fellowship of hiking companions, easily makes up for the less formal setting. Inhaling air containing essential wood oils given off by plants. The sound of birds, cool air, green leaves, trees, wild plants and grasses coupled with a tiredness that only hard physical effort can bring. Creates a cocktail of understanding, that nature is working magic and in this place right now nothing else matters. There is a distinct feeling, that this is how life should be, an inheritance of our “hunter gather” past. Fire becomes a focal point, but often the “jet boils” come out to cook the food quickly, nothing fancy, food gobbled down, well earned after the days hike.
If nature allows all the elements to manifest, we become part of a profoundly moving experience. Sitting together in the shadows of the fire, with a belly full of good food. Tired but with just enough energy to drink coffee and enjoy “sobremesa”. Silence is everywhere the only sounds are the breeze moving through the leaves and the crackle of embers in the fire. The aroma of the coffee, blended with the subtle smells of nature, makes the conversation easy and relaxed, together, but also alone with our thoughts in the shadows. “Over the table” conversation seems to require an alertness, a connection of eyes with those around us. Silence turns to awkwardness, as we feel compelled to fill in the “gaps”
The “gaps” in the shadows are periods of contemplation, the grounding effect of nature, almost compels us to look deeper into ourselves. Minutes go by without a sound ” Man you know what, I’ve been thinking, being here in this place, having this conversation. Explain to me why I feel so alive?
Arriving in a seaside town in England, on a bank holiday weekend, the weather was perfect. That should make it memorable anyway, it was memorable, but for slightly different reasons. An Indian restaurant, it must be popular, there were lots of people looking at the menu on the window. That’s a good sign, some of them are Indian, “lets eat.” “Excuse me this is a queue” It suddenly hit me, that the same thing was happening at all the restaurants. We took our place in the queue, moving slowly along the glass frontage, the diners inside had that smug almost sneering look, they had something that we wanted. Around twenty minutes and we were in the door, “table for two” that’s us, there were three sets of diners in front, but two was the perfect combination this time.
It should have dawned on me, a queue outside and it took us twenty minutes to get in here and it’s still packed. The waiters were a cross between shepherds and prison guards. We were herded to our table with the menu, then the waiter stood guard, waiting for a decision. Not one either, three, entrée, main and desert, I thought about drinks but the thought was as far as I got. Good service, less than five minutes and the entrée, was there. Another ten minutes and the main meal was over. It was time to take a stand on the desert, but the waiter had obviously seen this before. He used a selling ploy of implied consent, before we had finished eating, the bill was placed on the table. Between him and the other potential diners waiting, what chance did we have of a sobremesa moment.
Sobremesa has traveled beyond Spanish-Latin American culture, it’s entrenched in most cultures, something we demand. The lowliest chef now, is an aspiring rock star, an artist of food. This makes us want to linger, as we compare the presentation and flavors, a flow through into another conversation. I have had many fine Indian meals in England since that time, with many “over the table” conversations. Do I know what good Indian food tastes like? (I have two Indian daughter in laws). Sobremesa “on the trail” has it all, inhaling the air, aromas of nature and silence, a relaxed state that’s hard to find anywhere else. A special place for real conversation, good food too, even if I do say so myself. Invite everyone for a nice meal…..and the first one to leave pays.