Back when coffee was just coffee
I’ve been sick off and on all freakin’ month so haven’t had the energy to gather material for this freakin’ blog . . .
On better days, to get out of the house, I’ve been making it out to those strange hybirds of our increasingly strange culture, the coffee shop.
I have, however, been in the habit of going in the mornings for some time. I had a bad injury ten or so years ago and during the long, long period of convalescence, it was a relief to go to a public place and scribble in a notebook for half an hour to an hour. ‘Morning writing’. It didn’t have to be serious, or even make sense. The act of writing, forcing my brain to form words and get them on the page at a time when I was often in the worst shape, set the tone for the rest of the day. I had to find the right place. enough people to make it interesting, but with enough space to remove yourself, have the space to write. An aural background to shut out the higher pitched distractions.
Not easy to find. The steady encroachment of the cellphone hasn’t made it easier. Starbucks, oddly enough, often provides the necessary mix . . .
Outside of the mornings, I’ve never really been into the whole cafe thing. Even when I lived in Montreal. Italian coffee places, great. Cafes in Paris, wonderful. But North America never really got the concept. Even if I’m not drinking, I’d rather go to a bar. I’ve especially never been down with those hip little cafes that with the funky art on the walls, the hipster barristas, the range of muffins, cupcakes, and the thousand coffee blends – the places that sweep in just ahead of any serious wave of gentrification.
We got a half-dozen of them in my neighborhood now.
This weekend an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail (‘Where Did Cafe Culture go?, more or less a rewrite of WSJ’s No More Perks: Coffee Shops Pull the Plug on Laptop Users) talked about the spread of laptops in cafes, how people are increasingly coming in for one coffee, opening their laptops and staying for hours (or even all day) so many owners are pulling the plug on wifi because they can’t make any money. I wrote before about the electronic galley slaves that have taken over many cafes now.
It seems that many cafes have become surrogate offices now. I know a lot of people, in this area at least, who go to cafes in the daytime are freelancers or students, or unemployed. A lot them probably live packed into cramped apartments where it’s easier to work in a cafe, even a crowded one. But you rarely see anyone using pen and paper anymore. In the last few years, I’ve come to feel like some kind of anachronism, writing with a pen, in a notebook.
I could understand all that – hey, times change – but what I really don’t get is people who pull out their cellphones and start yapping haut voix so their voice dominates their entire space (especially when the cafe is practically empty). I really don’t get people who can spend hours gaping into their laptops when they could be outside, walking around. The recession, gentrification – all have played their part in the decline of New York’s famous open-ness – but the spread of these cafes with their electronic hives have done their share as well. I mean hey, I love computers, but this is still, even in winter, one of the most entertaining cities in the Western World. Why would you want to spend hours in some dumb-ass cafe talking checking updates on facebook?
Paris, some time ago. They still do it better.
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