Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why Writers and Artists Still Meet at the Cafe...

This post is part of the Paris in July blogging event. I’m delighted to be co-hosting this year! Please check out the blogs of Karen at “A Wondering Life” and Tamara at “Thyme for Tea,” creators of the event, for links to all participating posts.

OK, so it might not be as obvious today as it was in the day of Hemingway. I know, I know: When you walk by such historical places as Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots you’re more likely to see a tourist or tired shopper than a writer. You won’t see many solitary individuals scribbling in notebooks for hours or writers regularly running into each other and having drinks.

To my great dismay, you won’t see the literary figures of the moment meeting daily in a café and discussing the writing life or gathering at the home of a mentor like Gertrude Stein for writing advice.

Gertrude Stein's former abode 

But… this doesn’t mean that the Parisian café has lost its artistic element. A recent trip to Flore – not the bustling terrace, but the tranquil upstairs dining area -- proves my point. That day, the upstairs room was the site of a photo shoot for an album cover: photographers snapping away as an elegant woman in an evening gown posed. The audience? Only me, waiting for my meeting with a literary contact. A couple of the camera crew members chatted with me, the woman changed in the bathroom: a very low-key, artistic atmosphere.

A few weeks later, a meeting with another publishing contact brought me to a café. In the cases of my meetings, they could have been done in offices.

But there is something about the café that makes it an integral part of the writer’s life, the obvious place for anything from the actual writing to a professional rendez-vous. Why? There is the idea of inspiration… a café is a great place to watch the world go by. That certainly helped me when I was developing the characters in my first novel “Paris, Rue des Martyrs.” Each moment at a café is a story in and of itself.

There is also the idea of tranquility without isolation. You know that when you are in a café, you can sit in a quiet corner for as long as you would like and think and write. Yet you aren’t alone. There is a quiet activity, a pulse that imparts energy.

As for a meeting, it makes the encounter warmer and more amiable than one held in a cold office. Talking is much easier over a really good café au lait.

So, the next time you happen to be in a Parisian café, keep your eyes and ears open. If you sit around long enough, you just might get a glimpse of a discreet writer at work. And you might end up a character in the writer’s next novel!

Another View:  

Fellow Paris-based author Vicki Lesage is teaming up with me on a few “Paris in July” posts. We each will be writing our own take on a particular Paris-related theme. Here are Vicki’s thoughts on the writing life:

As a new author, with my first two books published in January and May of this year, I'm still getting used to the label "American writer in Paris." That's partly due to the fact that I still have a day job. Click here to read more…


  1. When my kids are a bit older, I'm looking forward to going to cafes to write! Right now I'm lucky to leave the house...

  2. great fun and fine excuses to sample the many cafe`s within our reach =)

  3. One reason why cafes were important workspaces for writers as well as for students and others in the past ... many of them lived in unheated quarters. Rooms were cramped, had no plumbing, and were really pretty terrible, but Paris was still worth it. The cafe was warm, often had free newspapers available (on those stick thingies), and didn't bother you to move on as long as you were still nursing the last drop of coffee. Poverty in Paris today isn't trendy, but in the past, it came close to that!

  4. Oh, it's been fun pretending to be in Paris this month. I thought you'd enjoy my posts for a cheese course and an cherry crumb tart to have a Paris dining fantasy anywhere you live.

  5. That's charming about your publishing meetings! It's good to know that something about the cafe's still holds the old literary tradition.

    1. Thanks! It is a good feeling to see that the literary aspect is alive and well!