The Third Place

We humans are social beings; we crave, in varying degrees and in varying times, social interaction.  For extroverts that comes more frequently than for introverts; but at some point in time we all want to connect.  We each have what are known as physical “places” in our lives:  The first place is the private home; the second is often either the workplace or school; the third place is an environment in which we feel comfortable, “at home”, or refreshed in one way or another.  Some examples of third places are libraries, the barber’s or hair salon, Starbucks, pubs, public recreational centres, and restaurants that don’t breathe down your neck to order or clear your table.  The first two places are where we go because we need to, but the third is where we go because we choose to.

Bloomsbury Coffee House, London

Bloomsbury Coffee House, London; image credit – TripAdvisor.co.uk

Companies like Starbucks, or television shows like “Cheers” capitalize on this craving; they create an environment which feels like a home away from home, a place to slow down, to rest awhile, to read or write or study, and they attract people in droves.  In this cyber age we also have virtual places:  Facebook is the virtual equivalent to a pub, where people hang out and share their lives while friends are free to share and receive to whatever degree that suits them; in a way, it is essentially selfish:  We all have those friends who bask in the sunny parts of our lives, but shy away from our shadows; cyber platforms such as Facebook merely amplify that tendency.  Nevertheless, it provides a platform to connect with others with whom physical contact may be impossible; I have family abroad and friends in every time zone, and keeping up with them would be impossible without Skype and Facebook.

My third place varies:  We have a large flat with peaceful neighbours, so this introvert doesn’t necessarily need a third place on a regular basis; we have a library in our home, where I usually write, though I sometimes settle on our upstairs couch to work as well (just for a change).  When I go out, I go to a local restaurant during its slow hours, and I can unpack my laptop and work a few hours without a sideways glance from the personnel.  My favourite third place is actually in London; located in the cellar of the hotel (St. Athens Hotel, on Tavistock Place) I usually stay in while I’m there, Bloomsbury Coffee House is a friendly pocket-sized place with about twenty tables, and they are usually filled with students on laptops in work groups, and lone readers, writers and businessmen out for quiet breaks.  It’s dangerously close to (just around the corner from) London’s largest second-hand book store, Skoob Books.  The combination is irresistible.

Where is your favourite home-away-from-home place?  Where can you stretch your wings, sit back and relax, people-watch, read, write or simply contemplate the deeper things of life?  Let us know in the comments below, and inspire others with your ideas!

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7 Comments

Filed under Articles, Musings

7 responses to “The Third Place

  1. Carol Ferenc

    Yes, “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. Most of us would like a place like that, I think. My favorite home-away-from-home place has to be the library. We have a charming little coffee shop also, but it tends to be too noisy for me. My favorite place to write, or just relax, is my back porch, screened-in, comfortable and quiet. Heaven!

    • The feel of your back porch is perhaps similar to my upstairs couch; it’s near the balcony (which is too glaring in nice weather to work on my computer), but shaded, comfortable, and near-enough to being outdoors without being exposed to the elements completely. And you’re right – it’s a little slice of heaven!

  2. My favourite place for a coffee or a meal would have to be Berkelouw’s bookshop-cafe at Berrima here in Australia.
    This is their story and a bit of history how their bookshops came about;
    “The story of Berkelouw Books begins in Kipstraat, Rotterdam, Holland, in 1812. Solomon Berkelouw traded in vellum-bound theology books which were en vogue in the early nineteenth century. Publishers of the period were certain of selling publications as long as they dealt with theology. Solomon peddled his wares on Rotterdam Quay and his clients were mainly owners and skippers of the barques that brought grain and other agricultural products from the provinces of Zealand and Zuid Holland to Rotterdam. The owners of barques were well to do citizens with a growing interest in education. Not much is known of Solomon Berkelouw except that his bookselling career came to a sudden and unfortunate end. On a late winter’s afternoon, with snow falling thickly all around, Solomon attempted to cross an icy plank that connected a customer’s ship to the wharf. Halfway up, he lost his footing and fell into the freezing water. Before anyone could fetch help he drowned, his jute-bag full of books sinking with him to the bottom of the icy harbour. Solomon’s young son Carel was determined to carry on his father’s trade. He put the business on a more stable footing by opening a bookstore at the Niewe Market in Rotterdam. Under Carel’s direction Berkelouw Books prospered and he later moved to a larger premises at Beurs Station, also in Rotterdam. Carel’s son Hartog Berkelouw continued to expand the family business. After serving an apprenticeship with his father in the Beurs Station store, he opened a new shop at Schoolstraat, Rotterdam. It was Hartog who first began issuing the catalogues that gained Berkelouw an international reputation. In 1928, the firm was granted membership to the prestigious International Antiquarian Booksellers Association. Business subsequently increased and Hartog’s children, Sientje, Leo, Carel and Isidoor, all became involved in the book trade. However, the Second World War intervened, introducing a dark chapter into the history of the Berkelouw family. During the siege of Rotterdam, Berkelouw Books’ premises were bombed and its entire stock destroyed. Amongst the lost books was a collection of antique bibles thought to be the most valuable in all of Europe. Further tragedy followed – Sientje and Carel became casualties of the war. As Leo had left the firm many years earlier, the once thriving business was brought to a standstill – the work of four generations of Rotterdam booksellers virtually wiped out in just a few years. Immediately after the war, Isidoor Berkelouw began to re-establish the firm. He set up business in Amsterdam and began conducting successful book auctions. However, Isidoor was keen to move the business out of Europe. The Berkelouw collection had already been destroyed once and he did not want to see it happen again. In 1948 Isidoor liquidated his company and made the long journey to Australia. Shortly after arriving in Sydney, Isidoor issued a catalogue, generating immediate interest amongst book collectors around the country. He set up shop at 38 King St, Sydney and conducted book auctions on a regular basis. As Berkelouw’s clientele and stock expanded, headquarters was relocated to 114 King St and Isidoor began to share the management of the business with his two sons, Henry and Leo. By 1972 the Berkelouw collection had grown to such a size that it was forced to change premises once again. The firm made a brief move to Rushcutters Bay, then in 1977 took a quantum leap relocating entirely to ‘Bendooley’, an historic property just outside the beautiful village of Berrima in the Southern Highlands of NSW. – See more at: http://www.berkelouw.com.au/pages/about#sthash.UjZWbfXP.dpuf

    • Wow! Thank you for the fascinating history! You might like my History Undusted blog – this would be a great addition there, too!
      I love sitting in places surrounded by history – it makes reading and writing there somehow much more poignant.

  3. My second home-away is with friends in a Tuesday Bible Study, or Friday with my ladies’ breakfast club. I don’t often need a third get away because my busy schedule puts me in contact with people outside of home, Occasionally I will take myself out to lunch at a local restaurant and take along a good book to read. Others just sitting at their own meetings are enough stimulation at those times.

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