One of the elements of between-the-wars-ex-pat life that always appealed to me is the café life of creative types. Writers, artists, musicians, and political revolutionaries sat and smoked and drank and talked. It was a true community that lived life together and produced amazing things. Many writers have mentioned the lack of café life in America and the isolation that American writers toil away in to produce their work. It is something we are missing to be sure. However, I have found my own version of a café life.
I live at Starbucks. Not one in particular, but all of them in general. I go to work smelling like coffee, a fine layer of espresso dust settling into my clothes and hair. My regular Starbucks by far is the one in Dupont Circle where I sit for at least six hours a week. This one bustles with activity, intrigue, deal making, and networking on an epic scale.
This is the café life of DC – a city with artistic merit, to be sure – but where the inhabitants are more focused on career and getting ahead than of writing the next great American novel. I am much more likely to meet Hill staffers, businessmen, political consultants, and PR people. Blackberries are more common than Moleskin journals and pens. The Wall Street Journal is perused rather than classic literature or progressive novels.
And in the middle of it all I sit with my novels and memoirs, my lined page, or even just a cross-word puzzle. I wonder if I lived in Paris or Tangiers or Argentina if I would be able to whip out stunning prose? Would I find kindred souls to discuss art, music, politics, religion, literature, and life? Would I find Hemingway or Dos Passos or Bowles or Gellhorn? Would I be transformed and sharpened by the meeting of thinking minds?
Obviously creating can be a very isolating event. No one else can write or paint the scenes in your head. But the communal aspect of living is what I crave. On days like this, I want to sip black coffee, smoke a cigarette, rub shoulders, get in arguments, and fuss out the deeper mysteries of life.