By the end of this past summer, we had been without a cafe for almost six months, and so we were jubilant when Ox opened in August. We are in the business of ideas. They float out of the books that we put away, wink at us from the shelves, and rise up with every transaction that happens at the till. The cafe had added to that cacophony of thought because we could also hear people expressing sentences that made them laugh, talk loudly, or murmur in hushed tones. When the restaurant's doors were shut it was like there was a bell jar in the bookstore. Ideas were still here, but they were muted. The vibe just wasn't there. But now it's back, and on top of the synergy of ideas there's also the smell of fresh bread and croissants, the aroma of coffee, and the joy of people sitting down and just plain enjoying themselves! How lucky we all are!
Last night I walked into a glowing Ox café. If you haven’t dropped by yet, Ox has a very long and beautiful communal table at which you can rub elbows and chat with people whom you have never met. I was there to indulge in one of their outrageously delicious pavlovas and a cup of chamomile, which of course enhanced what I was really there to do: read a book, Penelope Fitzgerald's Blue Flower.
After ordering I found my seat and then looked up and down the table. It was filled with young people. Very quiet young people with necks cranked--all in similar fashion. Slightly forward, eyes directed and faces aglow. I was captivated by these faces, as the light from all of the laptops at the table was very white and bright. Their eyes were focused on their screens, and it looked like a laboratory of deep thinking. No one looked up. There was no talking.
I felt a little lonely reading my book and unfortunately got into a bad internal riff about the death of the book and the physically isolating nature of the digital world. I even started romanticizing about old times when people used to come in to the café just to chat. But then the young woman next to me got up to leave and in order to put her computer into her backpack, she had to take everything out first. And what did she have in her pack? Five books. I looked at the table again and rewrote my previous script. All of these café goers were students. And where would they have studied before? In their rooms, or at the library.