About working (again)

See the naked woman?

(Updating one of the old, deleted posts.)

This photo was taken in Il Caffè San Marco, Trieste, Italy, in November, 2004. I was working on the early sections of Victoria’s story in The Common Bond, which just came out in Autumn, 2008. Virtually all of that book was written in three cafés and it is dedicated to them; the other two were Café Aedes in Berlin and Café Napoleon in Georgetown, DC. Trieste is James Joyce country. He lived there for something like a dozen years, and wrote most of the stories in Dubliners, as well as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. He began Ulysses while living in Trieste. It is one of our favorite cities and we often talk of retiring there when the vagabonding comes to an end.

Joyce was a café writer and I am a café writer. It is the only thing we share. Except maybe a bit of a love of drink. Caffè San Marco was not one of Joyce’s regular haunts, although he visited every café in the Trieste of that time, including San Marco. His favorite seems to have been Il Caffè Bizantino, sometimes Il Caffè degli Specchi, which is gorgeously located on the spacious Piazza Grande that opens up onto the bay of Trieste, the arms of its grand buildings appearing to be reaching for the sea. If you could see that far, you’d be looking across the northern cusp of the Adriatic to Venice on the other side. Joyce taught English in Trieste for Berlitz. Can you imagine?

If you are interested in this period of Joyce’s life, there is this pretty good book about it: The Years of Bloom — James Joyce in Trieste 1904 – 1920, by John McCourt.

There are cafés where I can work and many where I cannot. I visited five of the oldest cafés in Trieste and the San Marco provided the best fit. But I always work best in a café. Some have been modern and rather plain, while others have been old and gaudy. There is something in the way a café looks, but that isn’t the main appeal. It isn’t good coffee, although Trieste is the home of Illy coffee, so it’s fine everywhere. Starbuck’s has good coffee, I buy Italian Roast in bags to brew at home, but I would never drink coffee and certainly, doubtlessly never attempt to write in a place like Starbuck’s; it is the sad MacDonald’s of coffee shops. Nor would I frequent a place that serves its coffee in a plastic cup better suited to a milkshake or a soda pop.

For reasons I am not capable of explaining, I can write more both in volume and quality in a café in two hours than in double or triple that amount of time sitting in my well-equipped and quiet home office.

Part of the pleasure I derive from our moves to different cities every few years is the search for a café. So far in Buenos Aires, I have been rather promiscuous, wandering from cafe to cafe, unable to find one that fits as closely as others have in other places; maybe it is because there are simply too many choices in Buenos Aires. There is a pleasant-looking or intriguing cafe in virtually every block. Lately, as  you can see below, I have been hanging out in Mama Racha. But in our first year here, I have worked in El Cafe Clasico, Cafe Palermo, Boutique del Libro, and Cafe Veronese.

I suppose that seems more than a little self-indulgent. It is not uncommon for writers to have superstitions; the work is often debilitating enough that you just need a little something to depend on. For me, that is working in cafés.

Here’s a photo of what is opposite me in the picture above.

The view opposite

This revised update of an old, deleted post is brought to you courtesy of the good folks down at your local coffee shop.


Categories: Conversations, Writers, Writing