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It was Christmas 1962 and I only had one wish: I needed advice on how to make Jimmy Murphy like me. So that meant I wanted the Magic 8-Ball, Mattel’s amazing creation that produced misty, cryptic answers to your yes-no questions in a little window on the globe’s base.
Me: “Does Jimmy Murphy like girls who wear lipstick?” Magic 8-Ball: “As I see it, yes.”Me: “Should I tell him I like him?” Magic 8-Ball: “My sources say no.”
I loved my Magic 8-Ball. It made navigating the treacherous waters of fifth grade so much easier and provided a sure and comforting compass. What’s more, if you didn’t like the Ball’s answer, you could ask over and over until you got the response you wanted. I used my Magic 8-Ball so often I completely wore it out and had to ask for another one for my birthday the next year. My question had changed to “How can I make Randy James like me?” but my desire for advice had not (changed, that is). And that desire still exists, to some degree, today.
Perhaps that’s why I was especially excited several months ago as I made my way down a winding side street in the bustling Galatasaray section of Istanbul. My new friend and guide Teresa accompanied me; she would act as a translator but confessed she needed some advice as well. We were headed to one of the popular fortune teller cafes where the ancient Turkish art of tasseomancy is practiced. We were going to get our Turkish coffee grounds read.
There were many cafes to choose from, but Teresa took me to the one at the end of the street. “The most reliable readings in town,” she said with conviction. We arrived just after noon – a good time. The tables on the sidewalk were relatively open but later they would be filled. Teresa and I took a seat.
As we waited to be served, I looked around at the other establishments. It was not uncommon to advertise the readers’ names that were currently on call outside of individual cafes. As with any business, reputations can equal good word of mouth and a growing clientele. I noticed that the names were all female. Although there are no cultural restrictions, this is a traditionally woman-dominated profession.
And now my coffee had arrived. Turkish coffee is a thick, potent, gritty affair – an acquired taste, even for a coffee aficionado like me. I drank it slowly and was pleased to discover I liked it more with every sip. When I got near the bottom of the cup, I was instructed to leave the grounds. (No problem; and there were plenty of them.) Then I was told to make a wish. (I still wonder if Jimmy Murphy ever liked me … but I wasn’t going to waste a wish on him.) Next, I put the saucer on top of the cup, closed my eyes, made three swirling motions (to spread the sediment around the cup), and turned the cup upside down. In a few minutes, it would be ready to be read. Our reader’s assistant escorted Teresa and me into the café, inverted cups in hand.
The café was filled with couples – the reader and their readee – all engaged in hushed, earnest conversations. A reading usually takes between 30-45 minutes but since the key is the clairvoyance of the reader, you must allow the grounds to take you where they lead. Many Turkish people are superstitious about most areas of their lives and coffee ground readings are a serious business. I was all in. I knew I’d come to the right place.
I met my reader, a husky-voiced 40-something woman with intense hazel eyes and a half-smile. She asked not be identified by name or photograph, a request I was only too happy to honor. Apparently, she wanted to give my coffee grounds more time to settle, so I was granted a very thorough Tarot card reading. I learned (among other things) that I would meet a European man who would tell me things I didn’t know. I had to smile. Given my 2020 travel schedule, this was a pretty safe bet.
But now the moment of truth had arrived. My cup was overturned, revealing the shapes and patterns of the coffee grounds on the sides of the white cup. Generally speaking, shapes on the bottom of the cup are shadows from your past, the middle area represents your present, and the top and edges give you messages from your future. Symbols and patterns are paramount. As you can see, my coffee grounds covered the full range of my life. I settled in for more than the 45-minute time limit.
It wouldn’t be prudent (or respectful to my reader) to reveal the many predictions and advice I learned about my life that afternoon. But I will say this. One involved money – I followed the advice and the prediction came true two days after I returned home. Another reading involved a relationship, including initials. Also true, and I also followed the advice. Good outcome. No, great outcome.
I sat, engrossed, for over an hour. Everything my husky-voiced, hazel-eyed fortune teller said had to be translated, but this was not a sham or a gimmick. Not by a long shot. And it sure beat my Magic 8-Ball by a mile. I’ll leave it there, but let me also say this: there has to be a reason the Turkish people look to this practice to help guide their lives. I found the Turks a modern, intelligent, engaged people. And I now believe the art of reading coffee grounds only enhances this persona.
And that’s what I continued to think as I left the café and saw the sidewalk tables now filled with young Turkish adventurers, all eager to learn more about their past and present and take a glimpse into their future.
They had come to the right place.Published in