Perhaps the characteristic that I enjoy most about Buenos Aires is its abundance of cafés. These are charming places where you can meet a friend or just sit leisurely reading, thinking, and writing. The United States has never been a “café society”, with the relatively recent exception of Starbucks (love it or hate it). Old-fashioned diners in the U.S. (and neighborhood bars, in some cities) often serve the same purpose as a gathering place but they certainly lack the intellecutal ambience of cafés in Buenos Aires.

While the Tortoni is ever popular among tourists I prefer the cafés that are not so fancy. When I walked further down Avenida de Mayo earlier this year and saw that they were remodeling 36 Billares, I was disappointed in the new decor. I remember being there a couple of years ago, sitting in the dim light by the open windows in the front, listening to the clinking sounds of the billiards tables and the shouts of the players. Maybe 36 Billares now is actually more like it was when it opened in 1894 but I prefer just to use my imagination for that. The cynic in me thinks that they are just trying to get a share of the tourist money. Indeed, as I walked by 36 Billares last week, they had tango dancers out on the sidewalk, urgh!

Last month La Nacion ran an article in its Sunday magazine about the places where Argentine writers choose to compose their works. Federico Andahazi, one of Argentina’s best contemporary novelists, describes his past fondness for writing in La Academia on Callao. There he started his first novel The Anatomist.

Regla general: trabajar en los bares. Requisito esencial: ocupar una mesa junto a la ventana. “No me molesta el ruido; ante la inexistencia del silencio perfecto, prefiero un bullicio sostenido. Me resulta imposible concentrarme en una biblioteca: el vuelo de una mosca se escucha como la turbina de un avión; el rechinar de una silla, como un movimiento tectónico, y un susurro, como el coro de una hinchada de fútbol”, dice.

Strangley, in New York City, a new enterprise called Paragraph has started. The business calls itself a “workspace for writers”. Paragraph leases out small desk space for writers at the rate of $100 (US dollars) a month. Or, $132 US if you want access to your desk between 6am and 6pm. Of course, leave it to my fellow US citizens to find a business opportunity that capitalizes on a non-existent need. If one wants quiet, then just go to a library. And are there that many writers whose apartments are so noisy at 3am that they must pay a hundred bucks a month for a place to go and think?! Yet, somehow, I suspect that Paragaph might take off and sprout up all over the country, just like Starbucks or Pottery Barn. (Paragraph‘s members only, application process, gives it a certain elitism that some might ascribe as “cool”.) The company’s web address,, leads one to believe that they are already planning a paragraphdc, a paragraphla, etc…somehow, I just don’t expect that there will ever be a Argentine writers are much too smart for that. After all, Buenos Aires already has its own workspaces for writers in the cafés all over the city.