Friends often say they'd like to travel with me, but actually I am a boring travel companion. I don't really to do much of anything. I don't go sightseeing. I don't head out first thing in the morning to capture a sunrise or stand in line to be the first into Pompeii. I've never made it inside the Duomo in Florence.
What I do almost every morning when I am in the road is go to a cafe. And there I sit and write and watch the world go by. I sit with my journal and paints and perhaps a book I am reading or one I am writing. I edit, draw, and scribble. And I generate new material. Cafes are is in fact where I do most of my work. And especially when I am away.
I used to think that it was odd that I spent much of my travel time in this way until I read about Graham Greene. Every winter he went to Capri for a couple months and here he did all of his writing. Then he returned to England where he revised and tended to the business of his life, but he never actually wrote anything there.
And so, when I'm away, I search for the perfect cafe. It has to be one where they let you sit for hours. Here I'll work, not on a laptop, but by hand in my journal or on yellow pads. Clearly, especially in Europe, there is a tradition for this. Once when I was living in Rome, I met a screenwriter who told me to stop by his "office" one afternoon and talk about film. His office turned out to be a cafe off the Campo di Fiori where he sat all day, sipping espresso, mineral water, and, later in the day, compari and soda.
I have taken to finding my own office wherever I go. In Vienna recently it was the Cafe Eiles. Truly one of my favorite cafes in the world. One of those Old World places where men and women come and take one of the many newspapers available on those long wooden sticks (I don't know what these sticks are called. Is there a word for them?).
At the Eiles my husband, Larry, and I would find a table that didn't get too much sun, but was light enough. We'd ordered a Viennese breakfast of coffee with whipped cream and bread and butter and jam. And there we'd sit. Hour after hour. The drawing from my journal here is a page I made at the Eiles. In Florence it was the Gilli at the Piazza della Republica. In every city I find one of these cafes and make it my own.
Except Paris. I know this will sound strange, but in Paris I have had a difficult time finding just the right spot. The tables are too small and too close together and, despite France's literary history, the waiters actually don't seem very patient with a writer taking up a table all day long. What's the point of sitting and reflecting if someone is mad because he cannot turn his table around.
In New York, Brooklyn, near my home I have several haunts and this summer in Spain they sprouted up everywhere. Even a short walk from our house in a little square that served wonderful coffee and tapas in the morning and poured effervescent glasses of the Basque wine called txacolin in the early evening. Apparently, I read recently, Americans are reluctant to start and finish their day at the same establishment.
Hence we have our coffee shops for the early part of the day and bars for the evening. But in Europe these places are contained in one so you can literally begin and end your day in the same spot and I must admit I have done this more times than I can remember. I can see why writers have always been drawn to cafes. Life goes on around you, yet somehow you can be isolated and contained. No one bothers you and yet you are never really alone.