Posts Tagged ‘people watching’

Recently, Alyssa tweeted about how much she loves eating lunch out alone, “tucked away in quiet corner of noisy restaurant. I’m part of the world, but don’t have to talk to anyone.” There followed a brief conversation about eating (or drinking) alone in cafes or restaurants, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

thinking cup coffee shop hot chocolate scarf

I regularly spend pockets of time alone in cafes, for lunch or a quiet cup of tea or chai, with a book or my journal or simply my own thoughts for company. It feels less cloistered, less monastic, than eating lunch in my office with the door shut, and yet there’s a sheer curtain of privacy between me and the rest of the world. In bustling Boston, where I cram into the commuter train with hundreds of strangers and walk to work among dozens more, it feels deeply restorative to carve out an alcove of space for myself during the workday. I don’t like to isolate myself completely, but I do like a modicum of space to breathe, to write, to pause and enjoy.

Some days do call for total solitude, and as near silence as I can get. But on many others, I love feeling that tug, that connection to the beat of whatever city I happen to be in. I love observing what people wear, how they take their coffee (I used to be a barista, after all), what they do when they’re sitting alone waiting for their food, or how they interact with their friends. I love the diverse mix of people who come through cafes, all of them separate entities but vital ingredients in these massive tossed salads we call cities.

I take a lot of photos in cafes, mostly of my drink with a book or journal, trying to capture the quiet, restorative freedom of the moment. The writer-romantic in me also thrills at being part of a long tradition of cafe society, from the Lost Generation in Paris to the Beats with their coffeehouse poetry readings, to now, when many writers work in cafes with laptops or notebooks. Something about the background buzz, the rotating cast of characters, the smell of coffee and pastries, revs up the mind while (ideally) leaving it quiet enough to write or reflect.

valencia spain cafe tea croissant

Both Alyssa and I started going to cafes alone as college students, and we admitted to one another that it felt a little daring. An hour alone, with no one to answer to, feels secret, almost illicit in a delightful way. Alyssa added, “I used to get the same feeling riding my bike all over Boise when I was growing up. No one waiting for me anywhere.” That comment reminded me of one of my favorite, most visceral memories of my year in Oxford: riding my bike through town, the wind in my hair, bag slung over my shoulder, often heading toward something or someone, but completely free and independent for the moment. In these hours alone, we are still interacting with the world, and yet we belong to nobody but ourselves.

Do you spend time in cafes (or other public places) alone? Do you love it for these reasons, or for others?

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1. any number of Frisbee games
2. a woman in a sun hat, a long skirt and sneakers
3. a schnauzer in a little pink-flowered coat
4. a man walking his dog while reading on his e-reader
5. lots of dogs and their people, many of whom sort of resemble each other (remember the opening scene of 101 Dalmatians? [About 5 minutes into this video.])
6. children toddling around, sometimes after dogs or squirrels
7. squirrels that come right up to you
8. people sprawled out on the grass, napping
9. couples canoodling
10. a bagpiper playing
11. fraternity boys chanting as they run
12. a musical carousel
13. Boston terriers (how appropriate)
14. The Boston Pops, playing a free 125th anniversary concert
15. art students carrying huge, unwieldy portfolios
16. lots and lots of iPods
17. a little girl with cornrows, and her daddy, with dreads
18. businesspeople heading home from work
19. soccer games galore
20. two girls in short shorts, carrying beach towels
21. a man carrying an orange portable stereo
22. two businessmen, dressed alike, walking perfectly in step, arms swinging in rhythm (perhaps they were father and son?)
23. forests of Starbucks cups
24. tourists with huge cameras and fanny packs, walking hand in hand
25. a festival pushing for the legalization of marijuana
26. people staring at maps and guidebooks
27. frog statues guarding the Frog Pond
28. the season’s first red leaves

(See my Boston Common post for more photos!)

I’m sure there will be more to come…

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