Today, I have Laura Schalk guest posting at Traveling With T as part of the promotion for THAT’S PARIS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF LOVE, LIFE AND SARCASM IN PARIS, Laura has written a funny post about café’s and ties in Hemingway (humorous and literary?! Oh yes!)
Don’t forget: You can now order THAT’S PARIS for your reading pleasure and don’t forget about the Twitter chat that I’m hosting on Feb 19th @ 3pmEST #thatsparis!
Enough about that, though, and on to the guest post!
Gone with Hemingway? No Way. Café Life is Still the Writer’s Life in Paris
Cafés, bistrots, brasseries: There are thousands in Paris and must be tens of thousands of closely packed round tables, with wood or metal or marble tops, or, most often, thick slabs of plastic, lining the streets and avenues in this city. The average diameter is 60 centimeters (24 inches), which just about allows for one person and a book or laptop, a café crème or glass of wine. Two can dine (relatively) comfortably without tipping their plates, cutlery and glassware onto the ground, though the basket of bread is often a casualty, at least for Americans of my acquaintance used to more wide-open spaces. The outside tables are still the purview of smokers – which can seem shocking to a visitor from London or New York – and the pavement is your ashtray.
Trend-spotting, people-watching, eavesdropping, reading, writing, editing, sketching, chasing ideas – Paris cafés are ideal settings for tickling the muse in every possible fashion. I was squeezed onto the terrace at Café Martin in the 20th arrondissement when I first realized that Braids Are Back, Big-Time. I’ve devoured back issues of the New Yorker along with artery-busting plates of charcuterie at the bistrot around the corner from my flat. And I have edited countless drafts of stories, scratching word changes, question marks, deletions and annotations on pages that often carry splotches of salad dressing, driblets of Côtes du Rhone or other traces of the Paris writer’s corporeal fuel.
In a café you are alone, and left alone, while being in the company of lively Parisians of all ages and backgrounds. No one bum-rushes you out of your spot – the price of a single coffee guarantees you a seat for an unlimited time. And eating, drinking and writing simultaneously is in no way considered weird. I haven’t found this stimulating bubble of solitude in Starbucks, say, when I go back to the States. It’s probably a question of habit and certainly my own fault.
Mulling over café life and its importance to writers in Paris I reached for my copy of “A Moveable Feast.” Love or loathe him – and I don’t believe many are indifferent – Hemingway had a lot to say on the topic. “A Moveable Feast” contains a fine-grained typology of cafés: those you went to write in and those you went after having written, official cafés for spouses and getting your mail, and entirely other establishments to which you’d bring your lover.
I personally tend to avoid those trendy cafés on the left bank where little dogs, plastic surgery and couture predominate, preferring low-key haunts in more populist, mixed neighborhoods. But to each her own.
Today most Parisians I know have their own cosmology of cafés – favored venues for different occasions and different moments of the day, situated at varying distances from the metro and from one’s flat. Meeting friends for an aperitif before venturing out into Saturday night revels calls for a different locale, versus the spot you will seek out to enjoy a solitary espresso over the newspaper on Sunday morning. Or the place you will tote the draft of your novel, for its umpteenth revision.
Finally, I can only concur with Hemingway’s depiction of Paris as “the town best organized for a writer to write in that there is”.
Laura Schalk’s story in “That’s Paris,” “The Little Book of Funerals,” shows a quirky side of café life. Check out all the stories at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00S684MJS
Celebrating my birthday at the Eiffel Tower. Round two of the festivities a few days later involved slurping oysters perched at a tiny table in a neighborhood brasserie – different vibe, equally delicious.
Want to know more about Laura?
Laura Schalk is a lifelong bookworm and lover of words. She is American, closing in on a decade working and living in Paris after stints in Hong Kong, London and New York. Laura works in the corporate sector and pursues her love of creative writing sporadically, during intensive workshops in the summer and in stolen moments throughout the year. She is thrilled to be appearing in “That’s Paris” – it’s her first published piece in a very long time.
Happy Reading and Bookishly Yours,
T @ Traveling With T