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Writing in Peace and Quiet

By LC Van Savage

Cafes are supposed to be wonderful places to write the GAN (Great American Novel), trenchant essays or deep, soul-wrenching poems, right? I just don’t get that. I’ve been in an awful lot of cafes and honestly, I can’t understand how people can write clearly and with any intelligence, creativity or concentration with all those crowds of interesting people whirling around.

Maybe all that café writing stuff began in Paris in the 20s or even before, when the War To End All Wars was getting itself born and planned. All the artsy folks from everywhere congregated in Paris and in the cafes there, to write great prose, to talk great rhetoric, to drink great wine, to commiserate, and rail against the world’s myriad injustices.

And the luckiest and best known of all these, the crème de la crème of creativity eventually ended up in Gertrude and Alice’s wondrous flat at 27, rue de Fleurus. Oh to have been in that place with those paintings and their painters, the writers, poets, sculptors. The passionate conversations, philosophies, and intelligence must have bounced endlessly from all those walls with the Ms’s Stein and Toklas running the show. I wish I’d have been one of those seated on huge, colorful floor cushions, or a dusty Oriental rug or a swallowing, overstuffed sofa.

Afterward, they’d all meet in cafes to write with stubs of pencils on smudged papers, scratching out glorious novels, some of which even got published. They’d then spend wild, free evenings leaping naked into fountains, dancing wildly, closing down hotels and bars everywhere in the City of Lights.

How did they ever do any work with all those newly unfettered lifestyles flitting about? How endlessly fascinating life must have been when corsets were thrown away, clothes lightened, huge tray-sized fruit/feather/bauble laden hats discarded, all things relaxed and eased. Hair was now bobbed, hems scandalously high, knees rouged, stockings rolled down, open galoshes flapping loudly on rainy days (hence the name “flappers,”) and the irresistible loose living suddenly available to those once long-sleeping innocents now awakening from the stifling, rigid and dark Victorian era. Free love. Smoking. Drinking. Ah, it was glorious, sublime.

But how did on earth did they live? Who paid the rent on those tiny, romantic garrets with an old mattress on the floor? Who bought the pencils and papers on which to scrawl embryonic, ethereal novels? Who sent these early-on flower children money for brushes, paints and canvases? Who wired money for food, shelter and sculpting/pot throwing supplies? None of these newly awakened, thinking group of writers and artists seemed to hold jobs back then in Gay Paree in the 20s, at least not in this clique. I reckon Daddums and Mumzybear would send a few bucks now and again, thankful their weird, artsy offspring were out of the house and better, the country, so they would not be embarrassed by their loinage’s outré, Bohemian behaviours.

I know many writers today who are able to put themselves into a crowded place and write and write. They sometimes buy magnificent, leatherbound notebooks with blank pages and stoutly beautiful pens. Or they might write in plain steno pads, or common notebooks. They often speak about how they have written stories and poems in these notebooks in cafes all over the world, but how did they do that? Cafés in Switzerland? Belgium? Lithuania? Albania? Holland? Berlin? Who could stare down at a pad and pen amidst all that engrossing fascination? Not I! Maybe I could sit and eavesdrop and watch it all moving around me with the colors, scents and sounds, and then go home to a room with a desk and computer and write about all I’d seen and heard. Yeah, that’d work. But sitting in a café – or a meadow--- or an airport – writing, while life’s happening all about me? Not possible. A plus tard, mes demoiselles Stein et Toklas.

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