THE CALABRIA ON A WINTER DAY
Outside, the rain has turned the snow to slush
but in here where
plump fruit-filled cakes hang from the rafters
I am surrounded by works of art
Aphrodite rises from her sea-shell, Caesar holds court,
painted walls are bright with Michaelangelo’s murals,
A curly-haired Adonis serves frothy latte in tall glass mugs,
while a blonde, beautiful Eros waits on tables.
Andreas Boccelli’s sweet tenor soars
above the cacophony of clattering crockery
and the mix of Italian and English voices.
The warmth of the Mediterranean fills the room.
It could be a cafe in Venice or Rome,
but outside the steamy windows of the Calabria
on this wintry day,
the west coast drizzle
has melted the snow
and bright-coloured umbrellas bob on the crowded sidewalk.
Written at the Calabria Coffee Shop, December, 2003
There has been some disccusion by other bloggers lately about favourite locations in which to compose and create, namely writing in cafes and/or coffee shops. Perhaps this idea has been made popular by the fact that J.P. Rowlings wrote her first highly successful Harry Potter book while hanging out in a coffee shop. However, writers have long been known to choose taverns, pubs and cafes as venues where they either write, generate ideas for their literary work, or perform (as in the case of many well-known poets). Writes such as Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durell, and Ernest Hemingway once hung out at the side-walk cafes of Paris imbibing wine while discussing (or writing) their latest literary work. In London there are various pubs where writers (especially poets) loved to congregate.
Last summer I visited the famous Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia where Dylan Thomas and Brendan Behan notoriously swilled pints of Guiness and recited their poetry. It's a veritable writers' den of a pub, with pictures on the walls of the various literarai who hung out there. ( Virginia Woolf and George B. Shaw lived right around the corner.) That entire area of London, spilling over into Bloomsbury, was the haunt of writers and there are other pubs in the area that were popular with writers.
It seems nowdays there is a revival of coffee houses where poetry and prose readings are held. At least, in my city there are several excellent venues where you can take advantage of the open mike and rub shoulders with the local literary crowd. It has become a popular occupation these days to hang out with a notebook or a lap-top at a small (smoke free) cafe and even if it's crowded somehow you can feel like you're an island unto yurself as you write. (Perhaps the non-writers are in in awe of us?)
Usually when I'm working on new writing, I prefer the solitude of my apartment. Sometimes I don't even want background music, and certainly no interruptions by conversation or other noises. But often if I'm working out new ideas I'll write at the coffee shop.
My favorite place on the Drive is the Calabria. It has the ambience that seems condusive to conjuring the Muse. It's run by an Italian family - the handsome father and his 3 attractive sons. (One of them has been in the movies and there are photos of Italian movie stars and entertainers on the wall). The place is decorated with Italian kitch: plaster models of David and Aphrodite, copies of Michaelangelo's murals on ceilings and walls, larger than life Roman centurians in full armour, one jousting on horse-back. (These were purchased from Caesar's Palace in Los Vegas!) Only Italian music is played, often the language is spoken and they serve the best Italian sandwiches, biscotti and lattes on the Drive.
At any time of day or night you'll find people lounging at the tables, occupied intently with laptops or, like me, scribbling notes or editing scripts. It's a favourite haunt of screen-play writers. One of my friends has written most of her novel on her palm pilot while relaxing in the friendly cameraderie there. It's a place where writers congregate.
Usually I drop in to drink a latte and relax or visit with friends, but sometimes I go there to write. When I was working on the script for my play "The Street" I wrote pages and pages of dialogue while at the Calabria. It was a perfect atmosphere for this play, which is about an Italian immigrant family in the '50's.
Once in awhile I've had the spontaneous urge to write poetry there. And last week I spent part of the afternoon brainstorming the next few chapters of my novel. Often I've jotted down memoirs, journal notes, story ideas, lines of narrative for my works-in-progress.
A lot of writer's critique groups like to meet a cafes these days. Members of the Travel Writer's Association which I belong to sometimes get together at the art gallery restaurant downtown to workshop new stories. There's a group of literatis called The Shebeen Club who meet monthly at an Irish pub in Gastown for literary evenings. Sometimes writing (or hanging out with) the company of like minds is a good alternative to the solitude most of us writers experience , alone in our rooms staring at a computer screen. And there's something about writing in coffee shops that adds to the mystique of the lone writer. Where do you like to write?
"Some writers take to drink, others take to audiences."
Gore Vidal, 1925 - Interview in Paris Review 1981