On April 22nd this year, I clicked “Publish” in my blog editor for the very first time, and it happened in a café. I used to go to a tea room just a few minutes away. Although I am very fond of that tea room, it somehow felt wrong for writing. It is small, tidy, quiet, but I didn’t feel like staying there for hours at a time with just a cup of tea. This café is a different story.
I noticed how it is neither too small nor too big. I noticed the large tables made of wood and metal; the busy baristas; the quiet loudness of the people sitting there. People enjoying their first morning cuppa, people treating themselves to a lonely coffee & croissant (or pancakes — that’s me), people sipping on a latte while they engage in a productive internet browsing.
I guess that this relative lack of charm, this anonymity, are what made me reluctant to go there in the first place. But when it comes to writing, this place is exactly what I need. It is indifferent without being rude. It is loud without being talkative. It is small enough to feel homey and large enough to favor work and productivity. It is not a place where people settle; it is a place where people transit, through which people pass, and I can sit in their midst.
I can let my head spin with their movements, their smells, the colors of their clothes, the stories behind each face (have you heard of the word "sonder"?). At the same time, I can take refuge on my island of concentration, quietness, dedication, by simply lowering my head, putting my hands flat on wood, with only my notebook, pen and cup of latte in my field of vision.
This café is always lit. The horizontal light of the day and the vertical light of the lamps intersect on me. They center my mind. The lamps look at my words over my shoulder.
Sometimes, it’s just me and the baristas. If I look up at them, they just smile at me and I smile back. Because this is what we expect from each other: doing our job and making each other comfortable with coffee, faithfulness and good vibes.
Praise these cafés! They’ve been around for quite some time now, in different forms. They have inspired many. That kind of café, with wooden tables (wood — I love the touch of it; I can’t write properly on plastic or formica), baristas and sockets for your laptop are certainly a first-world fancy. But I won’t be of those who despise them. They are anchors, the same way other forms of “gathering places to have a cuppa” have been anchors before them. When I’m travelling, they are essential stops for me to transform sensations into words and pen down a journey that is relentlessly slipping through my fingers.
So many precious and inspiring snapshots of life come out of these cafés... Right now, this instant, there's that guy reading. Forty-ish, his hand on his brow. He too seems to enjoy the quiet loudness, the polite indifference, the colors of people’s clothes. You can spot the hint of a smile on his face. You can hear his mind purring. There’s also this guy and this gal in front of me. Couple? Just friends? I can’t tell.
They tell each other stories in quiet voices. She looks intently at his mouth when he talks. They both seem very happy. And there’s this father and his young daughter sitting next to me. He’s reading on his laptop and she’s reading a comics. They ordered chocolate brownies and they giggle at each other. He’s the one with chocolate on his face.
Here they all are, passing through, sitting, putting their hands flat on wood. And here I am. I’m listening to their quiet loudness, I just wrote a new story and I’m clicking “Publish”.
How many stories were inspired, sustained, published in these cafés? How many writers listened to their quiet loudness?
Going to New Zealand? Here's a piece about 8 inspiring cafés.