Sabbatical travel gives a unique freedom of choosing how I work every day. Since I have no teaching and administrative obligations, technically, I don’t have to come to the office. I could do nearly all my work, which mostly involves academic writing, from our apartment here in Milan.
However, there is a unique challenge in staying focussed on work, which comes with working from home, even a temporary one. I think there are just too many distractions at home, because I associate too closely with the environment and therefore feel more responsibility for it than, say, an office or a cafe. Hence, the impulse to do “home things” like tidying up, for example, instead of working. Basically, it is easier to procrastinate if I am surrounded by potential tasks that I can rationalize as having a high priority at the moment.
Regarding the cafes, before coming to Milan, I imagined myself sometimes working at a cafe, in the spirit of varying the working environment. Visualizing this scenario back in Victoria, I thought that it would be very extremely easy to find a cafe do work at in Milan. After all, wouldn’t it be a genuine European experience? As it turns out, this is not such a popular way to work here. At least, it is not as popular as it is in North America, where the image of a writer working away in a corner of a crowded cafe it is a bit over-romanticized.
Indeed, there are cafes here on every corner, but the locals mostly come in to quickly chug a tiny cup of espresso, sometimes without even sitting down. This custom reminds me of Japan, where in front of major train stations, I often saw salarymen devouring ramen while standing around a food stand, sticking their heads through the curtains that separate its interior from the busy street. They quickly empty their bowls, thank the cook, extract their heads from behind the curtain back into the world and go off on their way. It’s efficiency of delivering food to the body taken to a very high level.
Having said this, there are excellent places to sit, eat and relax here in Milan and, of course, in Japan. In fact, I am already looking forward going to Tokyo later this year. And by the way, the ramen that is served in those food stands is excellent!