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The Café of My Dreams

I met a composer from Berlin at the Pain-Quotidien café near Lincoln Center. We were sitting at the communal table and began to chat. I was editing a manuscript and he asked if I was a writer. I heard his German accent and asked what he was doing in New York. Our conversation continued for at least 30 minutes: politics (our election, Merkel, the refugees), support for artists (or lack thereof) in our respective countries and cafés. We are both grateful for Pain-Quotidien however slight a resemblance it bears to a European café. When he is in New York on business, it’s the closest he can find to his regular Berlin café. He took out his phone and showed me a photo of his favorite café in Berlin. Most people would show a picture of a loved one so this was amusing. He missed his café.

The café of my dreams is in Paris, London, Prague or Berlin, I told him, and it’s an outdoor/indoor café with cheerful canopies and friendly waiters who know me well because I am a regular. I have a special table in a corner with a vantage of the street, the perfect seat, which I have earned after many years of being a regular. I arrive around 3 p.m., order my coffee and strudel, take out my notebook and write by hand or read until a friend arrives. I never know who that will be, no arrangements have been made, they are not necessary. It’s a given that this is where we spend a couple of hours of every day away from the rigor and solitude of our writers’ desks. It’s verboten for any of us to talk on our mobile phones or bring our laptops. We are here to converse with one another.

Converse, what a quaint notion. Am I dreaming? I suppose I am. In truth, I reside in a city which has no café culture whatsoever though the bar culture is very strrong. Can a culture be strong? Can it obliterate all other cultures? And so I am wondering what can be done about this, if anything. And then I wake up from my dream in a café in my neighborhood, far away from Lincoln Center, where everyone is plugged-in and wired-in and a man wearing a headset is sitting next to me. There are odd very large paintings of rhinos and elephants on the wall—a special exhibition—and he is looking at them, so I say, “Do you like the paintings?” and he seems shocked, even annoyed that I have broken his insular reverie. “Oh I wasn’t really looking,” he says, and he turns back to his laptop and increases the volume on his headset.

Once upon a time my husband and I planned to open a writers’ cafe in New York, not just for writers, of course. Even in the planning stages I knew it was a bad idea: exorbitant rents withoout commercial rent control and so much time spent in administration we’d have no time to write. But after ten years abroad, it was a dream, a dream of bringing a European artist’s avant garde aesthetic to the city of my birth and to revitalize a café culture in Greenwich Village where writers used to hang out—when they had time and didn’t have to work money jobs to pay the rent.

“Midnight in Paris,” that nostalgic Woody Allen film, caught my mood exactly.  Read More 
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