Writing in Cafes

In my last post I wrote about the joys of writing in the open air. Today, it’s raining and the joy has become a little soggy, so I’m penning this sitting in my favorite café in Sydney’s city center.

This isn’t a quiet place. I can hear the hiss and gurgle of the coffee machine and the murmur of orders at the counter. Background music is playing. It’s boppy and upbeat but not too loud, the singer’s words merging with the low hum of conversation around me.

The smells are a delicious mix of coffee and freshly baked pastries, plus, today as a bonus, I’m picking up a waft of mango every few seconds. I know some cafes and bakeries that set up their ventilation systems to direct delicious smells into the path of passersby. Hardened veterans like me can often walk meters past before turning back and buying a croissant or a currant scroll.

Today’s rain is a cold insidious drizzle that sneaks up on you and leaves you soaked before you realize it. No one is sitting outside the café. People entering go through the wet-weather rituals of furling umbrellas and shrugging off coats. Each arrival and departure lets in a sliver of chilly air and baleful glances are cast at people who leave the door open too long. We’re enjoying the cozy pleasure of being warm and indoors on a cold wet day.

I’m scribbling away in a small notebook, a secretarial steno pad. The pages have chocolate stains from the dusting on top of a cappuccino, a fond memory of a previous visit. I’m people-watching while trying to avoid gawping and eavesdropping. Two ladies are sitting at the next table. One of them is venting some frustration, telling a story with lots of arm movements and her face switching between laughter and irritation. Her friend is attentive, body still, leaning slightly forward in her seat and with her head cocked to one side.

I lose my focus on the couple as my words start to flow. I’m keeping my pen moving, give or take the occasional interruption for refreshing sips of cappuccino and nourishing bites of a caramel slice. Is nourishing the right word to use for a caramel slice?

I drift into a writing zone where the sounds and smells of the café are still present but they are muted and blurred. I register people coming in and going out from the fingers of cold air creeping in from the door, but I don’t look up. The things that are concrete in my world are the page, the pen and the words I’m writing.

I finish the last of my cappuccino, a cold remnant of froth sitting at the bottom of the mug, and put my notebook back in my bag. The friends chatting that I had been watching have left, and their place has been taken by a frazzled mother with a stroller.

One of the things I get from writing in cafes, apart from the cappuccino and the caramel slice, is the sense of being in a writing zone which is different from the one that I inhabit when I’m sitting at my desk at home. The swirl of people around me when I’m writing in a café makes me feel both connected and disconnected. Perhaps at a sub-conscious level I’m aware of being part of a group while at the same time being my own little island.

(A note for Sydney weather buffs: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago but I’ve been working on book two of the Sinister Sydney series and I didn’t get around to posting it until today, which is a bright sunny day, ideal for sitting outside cafes and watching people pass by.)