Borscht, cafes, cats, creating, ex-husbands, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, laptops, libraries, locals, neighboroods, Russian, shyness, Tik Talk Cafe, University of Toronto
Could I really write in a public café? That is the question, as Shakespeare would say. I’ve always been someone who needs solitude, total quiet and privacy to write anything. How, if I couldn’t tolerate a short, albeit loud, conversation at the Library by the Gentleman-from-the-Mission, was I going to be able to write amidst orders of hold the mayo, the radio playing snippets of the most-popular-beautiful-classical-pieces-ever, hand-holding crooning couples and intellectual hot air?
I had very particular criteria for my selection of a local: 1) walking distance from home (writing, like exercising, cannot involve subway/streetcar/bus travel. I’d never go.); 2) an in-de-pen-dent café (no Tim Horton’s or Starbucks for this writer); 3) a little atmosphere, por favor (no orange plastic seats attached to tables); 4) a friendly owner who would remember my name (I’m very sensitive about people forgetting it. It happens a lot. I’ve even thought about wearing a name tag); 5) a private corner where I could hide (I really am shy). Not an insurmountable list…
I’ve always liked the idea of having my own local. A place to belong. I’d walk in and, just like Norm, the bartender would set my favorite ale in front of me and the people at the bar would say, “Yo, Ann, how’s it going?” I did have a local with the murmuring ex-husband. But that doesn’t count. It was “our” place not mine. And anyway how can it be a local if you didn’t talk to the locals? The murmuring-ex never talked to anyone, including me. He told me that anonymity was what he wanted… Once we split I couldn’t go anyway. Locals, like friends, choose sides. I lost. It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t have gone by myself. Since I gave up smoking at age 40 and no longer had a cloud of carcinogenic exhaust to hide within, I didn’t feel comfortable hanging out in pubs by myself.
No. My local would be a café.
The cats saw no need for me to go anywhere. I know they were just concerned about missed treats in the middle of the day. Dinner not being served at 5 p.m. And the porch door staying closed when the mood hit them to go out and hiss at birds. I told them to suck it up. The birds were thankful.
I searched the neighborhood. There were a lot of cafés to choose from. With criteria in mind I checked them out. They were either too long a walk from home…too noisy…too chic…too plastic…too young. I felt like Goldilocks looking for the perfect bowl of porridge. Then I found it. The just-right Tik Talk Café.
It met all my criteria…and then some. It’s location alone would inspire me. It was tucked between a literary agency and a high-brow bookstore…and down the street from that bastion of snobbish intellectuality…The University of Toronto. Conversations would abound. I would become a sponge. How could I not replenish my vocabulary supply in such a place?
And the best part … the only family I ever knew from Kyrgyzstan-by-way-of-Kazakhstan were the owners. I would write to the sounds of untranslated Russian, the smells of Borscht cooking in the kitchen and the tastes of whatever sweets were being baked.
It was perfect.