I’m not sure when I first discovered the comfort of cafés. Perhaps it was years ago when I discovered the Marriott Bakery within the Marriott Hotel on the island of Zamalek in Cairo and found the best brewed coffee in the city. Perhaps it was a bit later when I discovered another bakery walking distance from our flat in that made amazing croissants.
Or perhaps it was after that, when cafés became more available, coinciding with more freedom in my life as my kids got older.
But it has been through writing that I have discovered the true magic and comfort of cafés. When I began writing 11 years ago, I found it difficult to concentrate if I just wrote at home. I would sit with my fingers hovering over the typewriter, my mind blank for things to say. I’d pack up my things, walk out the door and down the street to Central Square in Cambridge, find a café and with a coffee by my side my fingers went from hovering to furiously typing words and sentences.
Though I sometimes struggle with insecurity in public spaces, all that insecurity leaves me as I sit in a café. I am surrounded by life, by music, by sounds from the kitchen, and by conversation but within that noise I’m completely focused. Usually, I hear English as the dominant language followed by Spanish and then others. Living in a busy city it is never English only.
There is something deeply comforting in the anonymity of sitting and working, or reading, or simply enjoying a hot drink by myself in a café.
I write, I look around, I stare into space, I think, I get ideas, I type the ideas into a document, I pray, I wonder, I repeat.
These public spaces help me pay attention to life around me even as I get immersed in my writing. They envelope me with the joy of people watching and remembering the shared human story. And describing the human story and experience is one of the things I love best about writing.
I know I am not the only one. As I sit in a cafe today, I am with several people who came in before I did and will probably stay after I leave. This shared experience of those I may or may not meet does not feel lonely. It feels companionable, as though we have membership in an invisible club.
I also know this is not accidental. We are human beings who are connected not only to each other, but also to place. Place attachment and forming emotional bonds to place begins early in life and there is a lot of research on what makes a place meaningful for people. Places root us to the environment around us and form a context for us to flourish.
But it’s not the academic nature of this that I care about. It’s the physical and emotional nature. For in a world that often feels restless, frantic, and fractious, it’s the wonder, the peace, and the comfort that comes with finding my space in a café.