Cafe Culture

Are you able to work in a creative sense in a cafe? I can sometimes. A lot depends on what I’m working on and whether the sounds and smells around me are overwhelming. Some cafes are really noisy, others have a low background hum spiced with fragments of conversation which can be wound into possible future stories or just provide an interesting point of reference. People are largely unguarded in a cafe – they might be catching up with friends or having a conversation on the phone. Yes, even those one-sided conversations can provide a spark of interest for the eavesdropping writer.

One of my more memorable cafe experiences happened in a small country town. The promise of coffee and raisin toast lulled me inside, along with the cafe’s description as an emporium. After I ordered I had a wander around the cafe which had various shelves, book cases and tables set up with preloved goods. It was one of those places where you would probably see something different each time you visit.

There was a clutch of women at a couple of tables at the front of the cafe, and in the absence of any background music it was impossible not to hear the conversation between the group. I was writing up some notes on some things I’d spotted whilst roaming around the village, but within a short period of time the conversation caught my attention and I felt the need to jot down some of the things that one woman in particular was saying. It isn’t something I would normally do, but I felt like she may have been putting on a performance for an outside audience and it was too good to ignore.

I started to type up some of the phrases that the woman was saying. The trick was that as she was speaking, the woman was also bouncing around the shop, touching this, inspecting that. There were other people in the cafe but they were all women who seemed to know each other and weren’t particularly bothered by her antics.

I was jotting some of the colourful phrases down when suddenly she swooped towards me, placed a hand on my shoulder and asked me what I was doing.

‘Don’t mind me, love, I’m a bit nosy.’

Fortunately I had seen her approach and had managed to flick to another screen. Unfortunately it was a browser window which featured an in-depth article about a murder that had taken place in the town. My claim that I was just reading up on some local news probably didn’t ring true, but she tapped my shoulder and moved on to the next thing of interest.

I wasn’t being deliberately misleading or intrusive. Being able to catch turns of phrase or unguarded moments of conversation is good training for a writer’s ear. Often we speak in a kind of shorthand, or sentences drift off. There can be a lot of murmuring or hand gestures or facial expressions which don’t necessarily translate into the written word. But the cadences and rhythm can be picked up and this can help to provide an authentic tone to a future piece of written dialogue.

It isn’t unusual to be sitting at a cafe and working on a laptop or device. I’m not saying that the person that looks focused on something in front of them is recording your every word and gesture. But you might be inspiring them to some authentic writing in the future!

There is an entertaining post from Pauline Conolly about writers and cafes which you can find here.

[Photo: hot chocolate with home-made marshmallow at Paragon Cafe, Katoomba (before it closed) – one of my favourite scribble spots]

Advertisements

Inner City Musings

Over the weekend I had the chance to have a wander around Leichhardt in inner Sydney. It is one of the many city suburbs that hums with life throughout the week and weekend with lots to see and do as well as outdoor cafes for simply enjoying the passing parade.

After an extensive and enjoyable trawl through a bookshop, we stopped at a cafe for lunch. I was struck by the sensory landscape: the traffic crawling past, low flying planes skimming the tops of the buildings, the hubbub of conversation. There was the clatter of crockery and clash of cutlery as the sun streamed in and around scudding clouds. The heady aroma of coffee – one my favourite smells. The chatter of children. The flash of a silver necklace adorned with fettered butterflies. People ambling past with the air of those with plenty of time on their hands, just a relaxing Saturday afternoon stretching out ahead of them.

The houses around the shopping area are a mix of old and new. The suburb’s origins as a working class area remain evident in the terraced houses and semi-detached dwellings. Space is at a premium, and there are several large parks which provide a green oasis of trees, grass and gardens around the streets and footpaths.

I have been lucky to live in a variety of places, from the suburbs of Sydney to miles outside of a small country town, to a large regional centre and now in the mountains. I’m yet to live in the inner suburbs and I can’t see that changing in the near future, but I can appreciate what it might be like to have the conveniences of frequent public transport along with a variety of shops and vibrant restaurant scene within an easy walking distance.

It was nice to visit and to imagine a different kind of life. It was nice, too, to come home to space and an abundance of greenery and views that still take my breath away.

Do you enjoy the metro lifestyle or do you prefer the quieter life?

[Photo: Sydney Harbour on Australia Day, 2014]

 

Mini Mountain Moments

Some observations from my recent wanderings.

  • Spotting a unicycle in the back of a ute.
  • Stray beanies left on the steps of a shopfront. A sign that spring is on its way?
  • Smiles. Lots of smiles.
  • Standing quietly and feeling a tangle of languages and moments and experiences wrap around me. ‘When I was in Spain …’ ‘Have you seen …?’
  • The click-clack of luggage being hauled along by tourists across the paved footpaths.
  • Hissing buses taking tourists around the sites, their faces smudged against the glass.
  • Backpackers carrying what seems like their own body weight on their back, foreheads covered with bright scarves.
  • Phones and cameras wielded with enthusiasm at the many look outs and beauty spots, as well as along the main streets in the villages.
  • Long term locals identifiable by their easy walking gait up the steep stretches of Katoomba Street.
  • The elasticity of time. People completely relaxed, with all the available time in the foreseeable future, or in a rush, trying to jam as many experiences as possible into a tight timeframe as if on a manic kind of quest.
  • Changeable weather. The high clouds sometimes dart across the sun providing shade before moving on and a blinding light follows.
  • A feeling of acceptance that is difficult to define. An attitude that whoever you are, that’s okay.
  • Sighting a recorder (the musical woodwind instrument, that is) lying in a display of bright spring blooms. I thought later that I should have taken a photo for #MyISpy but when I went past the next day it was gone as someone else must have spotted the musical potential.
  • An assortment of tantalising aromas from the wide range of restaurants and cafes.
  • Murals tucked into the many alleyways, just waiting to be discovered.

What have you spotted, heard, smelt or felt in your neighbourhood lately?

[Photo: Butterfly Walk, Katoomba]