LEONARD QUART: Reveries of a New York Café

Sitting at Cafe Lafayette. Photo by Leonard Quart.

Back in New York, our summer in Berkshire unfortunately ended early for medical reasons. I try to believe that for the moment my health has stabilized, but a mixture of necessary medications made me feel tired and weak, especially in the morning.
But writing about a person’s medical condition only causes depression and boredom in my readers and myself, so it’s better to think about more than just medical issues. Even if contemplating the public world – dominated by monsters like Putin and Trump – provokes rage and despair.

Yet we go out with close friends on a cozy summer day to our favorite cafe, NoHo’s Café Lafayette, to escape the feeling of being housebound. It’s an expensive cafe with a very young and affluent clientele, and even though we’re the oldest sitting there, it doesn’t matter. The conversation flows smoothly, the food and service are good (the server is knowledgeable and composed), and I forget for a while about my summer hospital stays and my anxiety about my health.

For the moment we sit and eat in the cafe, the city feels like a multi-ethnic idyll. Of course, we know better than to believe that this moment defines the reality of the city. New York is never predictable because you can take a turn and something nightmarish and violent that shatters the sense of balance can happen. Nothing happened today except for a minor incident of road rage outside the cafe, which quickly dissipated.

What I do know is that it’s good to indulge in activities outside of your routine, and the city, as always, still offers a wide range of them. Can’t wait to see more friends and go to galleries and museum exhibits like Hopper at the Whitney, A New Look at the ‘Old Masters’ at the Met and ‘New York: 1962-1964’ from the Jewish Museum , which explores a pivotal three-year period in the history of art and culture in New York. There’s also the NYFF at Lincoln Center, which offers a carefully curated and sophisticated lineup featuring well-known authors like Noah Baumbach, Claire Denis, Hong Sangsoo, Mia Hansen-Love and Frederic Wiseman, and a directorial debut. Scottish Charlotte Wells with her film “Après-soleil”. We’re also planning to go to the theater again (the first time in the pandemic era) to see Tom Stoppard’s ‘Leopoldstadt’, which takes its title from Vienna’s Jewish Quarter. It’s a personal and passionate drama that follows an extended family in the heart of the 20th century.
Despite all these cultural offerings, I do not forget how time and illness are likely to undermine me, and how authoritarianism seems to march inexorably across the world.

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