22 October 2016

The Renaissance of the Cafe

The early twentieth century cafe is returning in this technological age.

Aharon Appelfeld, a twentieth century author, did most of his writings sitting in cafes, but towards the end of his life he lamented that cafes had downgraded to sit-down buffets for quick caffeine shots and eateries for plastic wrapped pastries. Quiet conversation had been defeated by piped music, while lengthy stays were discouraged. Yet the current century has seen a renaissance in the cafe.

Today, whether Starbucks, Nero or some other brand, cafes are again oases offering respite from the bustle of the High Street. Coffee costs two or three times the kiosk price, but the customer is paying not just for the espresso or latte in a ceramic cup, but for a clean and comfortable sofa or armchair, the mellow lighting and, more than anything else, a free and fast internet connection. So for those reasons I sit, ensconced in on a corner couch, sipping my coffee and reading on my tablet.

Being alone is no oddity; the clientèle is mostly young and bourgeois, either single people interacting with their electronic equipment or else couples bent forward in their chairs, leaning over their coffee table and lost in intimate conversation. Glancing over my tablet I watch the customers come in from the late October chilly air. My eyes stray onto young women; tight jeans covering alluring bottoms, as they buy and carry their purchases from the counter. Often the enthusiasm falls away as I see an uninspiring face, or I am punched back reality when I see their male partners who are half my age. I turn back to my tablet and check the time because I need to go.

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