Most cafes in Turin are deeply traditional — fittings that have been lovingly maintained and never updated since the 1930s, carved dark wood and floral fabrics everywhere, seasonal window displays. Old ladies in fur coats having their morning cappuccino made just so, the way they’ve taken it every morning for the past 50 years. A few tables, mostly with couples or men reading the newspaper.
No laptops, obviously. Why would you mix your coffee break with your work?
I love the traditional cafes, even if I always feel underdressed compared to the staff in bowties and waistcoats. But sometimes you just need some free wifi and don’t mind if the coffee isn’t quite as good, which is how I ended up yesterday afternoon at exki, a chain of what I suppose you’d call ‘American style’ cafes. Ikea-style furniture, big open spaces, a children’s play area available.
It seems half of Torino goes there on a Saturday evening. The children playing in the toy kitchen were accompanied by their immaculately-dressed mother, wearing a black lace dress and high heels. A few tables over from me was a chap who I will generously assume was actually a professor but oh my goodness he so clearly also wanted to look like a professor I had a hard time not giggling. A cluster of students were sitting on bar stools around a high table, studying for exams. Outside it was raining and as people came they added their umbrellas to the pile at the door.
I sat there eating brownie, idly people watching with the background white noise of conversations going on around me, and I found myself compelled to write (this post, actually). It was a sort of sensory memory — something clicked and I was back in a very similar cafe in Glasgow, where I wrote the bulk my PhD thesis during early-morning cafe sessions, fuelled by americanos and interspersed with people-watching.
My thesis remains the longest thing I’ve ever written — I much prefer short-form blog posts! — and writing it taught me to write. Not necessarily with grace or style, but just the act of writing, of getting my thoughts firmed up and on a page whether I feel writerly or not.
And apparently it also taught my subconcious that if you’re in a cafe with a laptop, you should be writing. Well then.