Sunday, September 07, 2008


I came across this essay online which was published in the July issue of Vanity Fair. It was written by Christopher Hitchens who laments the end of urban "Bohemias" and why the ultimate transformation of New York's Greenwich Village is a very, very sad thing.

And although Manila doesn't have any exclusive enclave designated for our local bohemians, this essay made me wish for one. The following is an excerpt:

It isn’t possible to quantify the extent to which society and culture are indebted to Bohemia. In every age in every successful country, it has been important that at least a small part of the cityscape is not dominated by bankers, developers, chain stores, generic restaurants, and railway terminals. This little quarter should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them; misfits and poets from foreign shores and exiles from remote and cruel dictatorships. Though it should be no disadvantage to be young in such a quartier, the atmosphere should not by any means discourage the veteran. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who to his last days lent the patina to the Saint-Germain district of Paris, just as it is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, last of the Beats, who by continuing to operate his City Lights bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach still gives continuity with the past.

In aspect and design, New York’s West Village is the opposite of Soho in London in that it began its existence before the famous evolution of Manhattan as a grid had taken shape. As Malcolm Cowley phrased it, evoking the Village just after the First World War, “Most of us drifted to Manhattan to the crooked streets south of Fourteenth, where you could rent a furnished hall-bedroom for two or three dollars weekly.… We came to the Village … because living was cheap, because friends of ours had come already … because it seemed that New York was the only city where a young writer could be published.” Trying to sum up the ethos, Cowley wrote that for his generation the Village was something more than “a place, a mood, a way of life: Like all bohemias, it was also a doctrine.”

“Doctrine” might sound a shade pretentious. But try picturing American culture without the contribution of this unique square mile. Inter alia, you would have to subtract Bob Dylan and the Cafe Wha?, Norman Mailer and The Village Voice, Isadora Duncan, John Reed and Edna St. Vincent Millay, the Beats, the gay movement and Christopher Street and the Stonewall Inn, Lauren Bacall as “Miss Greenwich Village of 1942,” Eugene O’Neill, Dylan Thomas at the White Horse Tavern, Dawn Powell and Djuna Barnes. In his book which has the wonderful title Republic of Dreams, Ross Wetzsteon managed to evoke what he admitted was sometimes “a cult of carefree irresponsibility, but in the service of transcendental ideas.” That could be Bohemia defined.

H. L. Mencken made fun of the newly arrived poet in full flight from the provinces, appareled “in corduroy trousers and a velvet jacket, hammering furiously upon a pine table in a Macdougal street cellar … his discourse full of inane hair-splittings about vers libre, futurism, spectrism, vorticism … ” Yet it is astonishing to reflect how long the Village managed to keep on regenerating itself, and helping to regenerate American culture and education. One of the best artistic and intellectual reminiscences is Anatole Broyard’s Kafka Was the Rage, published posthumously in 1993. It describes a period, this time after the Second World War, when a combination of the G.I. Bill and the expansion of the downtown New School for Social Research created a vast new appetite for learning and debate among a generation that had nearly missed its higher education, and/or had nearly been killed. Men who had been fighting the Battle of the Bulge could suddenly forgather and—to give some of Broyard’s examples—hear Meyer Schapiro lecture on art, collide with W. H. Auden in the entrance of a stationery store, and listen to Erich Fromm and other German-refugee scholars discourse on crucial matters such as the cultural danger of “pointlessness.” An outlay of a few cents could keep you in coffee and cigarettes and sitting in a bookstore half the day without having to buy what you were reading.

Read complete essay here.

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posted by Señor Enrique at 9:51 AM


Blogger ka tony said...

" short, there's simply not a more congenial spot. For happily-ever-aftering than here In Camelot."
(last line of the song Camelot) artist without an imagination!
...a painter who can not draw!
...a designer who can not conceptualize!
...a writer who can not tell a story!
...a poet who run out of rhyme!
...a composer who run out of tunes!
...a lyricist who run out of words!

Eric, like I commented on your blog... "DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?"...

"With all the fast moving technology we have today, we are "deaf" when it comes to creativeness of the past!"

Creativeness, imagination, innovation, visionary, Bohemian, are things of the past. Everything & everyone relay on computers. Instead of using computers as a medium, its the computer dictating the user. Men can't work, refuse & don't think anymore, but with the aid of computers...VOILA! anyone can be an artist, a painter, a designer, a writer, a poet, a composer or even a lyricist!

With the changing of work habits, thinking & manners, so as the boring lifestyle, unsophisticated taste, make believe meaningless places and adopting the facade that what was once a congenial spot like Greenwich Village!!!

As a former New Yorker I miss; Bleecker Street, The Village Voice, Gerde's, The Kettle of Fish and The Figaro! Bob Dylan's songs were the background music of the 60s Greenwich Village. By the way, there's a line on Dylan's song "My Back Page" that is perfect to describe what most of my generation feel about today...

"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now!"

Eric, I really do miss Greenwich Village & sad to say, North Beach of San Francisco is just as boring!
ka tony

September 07, 2008 2:56 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I have fond memories of the Village, Ka Tony. And I'm really afraid that if ever I go back to NYC, I may no longer remember much of the old with all the gentrification going on.

Besides Bleeker Street, 8th Street from Avenue of the Americas all the way to the East Village was where I used to buy my shoes, go for haircuts, buy some of my clothes, eat some Italian food, and etc.

Besides Figaro, the Bottom Line was the club I used to frequent especially when I was in the music industry. And Blue Note for jazz.

Took speech classes at Herbert Berghoff, special summer programs at Parsons School of Design and NYU, and special classes at the New School.

And there's so much more about the Village that has become a part of me.

BTW, I was truly saddened to hear the closing of 8th Street Playhouse. Saw lots of foreign films there, as well as Rocky Horror Show one Saturday night.

Here's what I found at Cinema Treasures Web site about this theater:


The loss of this theater is one of the saddest movie theater tales. A neighborhood house, in the 70's the theater began playing offbeat independent and revival films. It originated the seven nights a week midnight show policy.

"Rocky Horror" may have premiered at the Waverly, but this is where it became world famous playing 15 years every Friday and Saturday night. The 3-D festival in the 80's saw lines of hundreds of people for every show. I remember "The House of Wax" being held over for weeks. They ran 3-D prints of movies that had not been seen in the original format since the 50's like "Kiss Me Kate" and "Bwana Devil".

There were also horror festivals, Judy Garland tributes and a summer of virtually every film New Line Cinema ever produced. When the owner passed away, the theater was taken over for awhile by City Cinemas who booked first run movies there. When the Village East opened, City Cinemas pulled out of the 8th Street and also the Quad. The death came at the end when United Artists took over and totally mismanaged going revival and second run and then closing it during the middle of a festival.

It sat closed and falling apart until it was converted to a video store. When its marquee was torn down Greenwich Village lost one of its true landmarks.


I guess, we lament at our local landmarks being demolished to make room for new structures, but regrettably, it's also happening in other parts of the world, including New York City despite its stringent zoning board and powerful landmark commission.

And even sadder, New York City artists are being driven farther and farther away.

Another thing, Ka Tony, I once blogged about the almost empty commercial building along Escolta, and I wonder why they wouldn't convert them into work/live spaces for our creative community as done in SoHo, TriBeca, and etc.

Check out the entry:

September 07, 2008 6:58 PM  

Blogger nutart said...

All I can connect with in this post is my experience in Soho as to searching for an esoteric bookstore which my father asked me to buy several books from. It was really amazing how I found it---!
As to artists with intensity about their art to the point of being called derelicts and bohemians---I experienced them more when I was in France. It was a theater festival and the whole town was so alive with discussing artists in cafes; smoking, drinking, jamming till the wee hours of the night. All agog with their debates on whatever styles or schools of thoughts they were deep in. I would know of classmates who would skip meals just to produce shows out of their meager allowances! I was on a scholarship so even my meals were free. I would smuggle some yogurts at times and hand it over to them. Sometimes, I do wonder why they'd rather splurge on their savings with a bottle of wine rather than a nice meal! Artist kasi!

September 07, 2008 8:58 PM  

Blogger ka tony said...

Yeah Eric,

The reason why Greenwich Village was "The Village" simply because it was a heaven for starving artist! The run down neighborhood during the early 60s was cheap to rent. Coffee shops, galleries, bookstores, record bars, which these starving artist frequent hangouts became big & sophisticated in order to cater to their demanding consumers, the village turned into a Bohemian Utopia. Of course the "me too artist flock" came in, "to see & be seen" that ruined the whole scenario! Unbearable commercialized Village, the starving artist moved out, vanished like the Olmecs, Toltecs & the Mayans!

Same thing happened way back before Greenwich Village. During the 50s North Beach of San Francisco, where young starving artist like Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters, Bill Crosby, Mort Sahl & many others, who were the "tambays" at "Enrico's Sidewalk Cafe" started "the beat generation" - Beatniks! Seeing business opportunity, bookstores like "City Lights (still hanging on to this day)," The Condor and hundreds of coffee shops, boutiques, ruined the beatnik lifestyle!

I guess Metro Manila didn't have a "North Beach" nor the "Village" scene. My days in advertising made me realized that the Pilipino market or mentality are so "baduy conscious!" Any concept, business, product, scene, accepted instantly by the "elite," then by the middle class & latter the "bakya crowd" it becomes "baduy!"

Eric, if there's a place in Manila that I'll consider like "North Beach" or "The Village" during the 60s, was Ermita. Because of its bookstores, boutiques, cafes, restaurant, watering holes, cultural & art scene.

Calle Padre Faura had the "Cocina Italiana Restaurante," Erehwon & La Solidaridad bookstores where one can bump elbows with Nick Joaquin or the brothers Anding & Ding Roces. Calle Mabini had The Soliman Bookstore & Boutique across the street was The Black & White Boutique. Close to the Malate church was The Hobbit House and My Father's Moustache. Calle Remedios area had Cafe Adriatico, Coco Banana and The Hard Rock Cafe. Del Pilar street had Guernica and Nina's Papagayos restaurants & of course the row of bars. By The Luneta Hotel had the mind blowing disco - The Third Eye! Not to mention the small art galleries & the CCP compound by Roxas Blvd.

To name some that I can still recall (he, he, he, bistado na ang edad ko), but I guess what I trying to say is that people's present mentality & lifestyle influence "a place" culturally, psychologically & philosophically.

The Village & North Beach are now part of history, that's why history is interesting ...sweet!

Salamat Eric,
ka tony

September 07, 2008 11:50 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

"... searching for an esoteric bookstore which my father asked me to buy several books from. It was really amazing how I found it---!"

Not familiar of that bookstore in Soho, Bernadette, but Strand down on Broadway and 13th Street is a treasure trove of hard to find second hand books!

Wow! With the company of artists in Paris, that must've been quite a heady experience. Sort of reminds me of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and the rest of their other fellow American expats who lived in Paris.

As for the "starving artists," none that I know of in New York, because there are frequent gallery openings wherein they offer an incredible buffet of gourmet food that hardly got eaten because the women were on strict diets while the men would rather feast on the free booze. So, many young and unknown artists were the ones who enjoy the glorious foods; otherwise they just got thrown out in the garbage.

However, I met a few "angry" artists who were never accepted by the "big boys network" of the art world despite the glowing reviews they had received from various respectable art magazines. Sadly, this network controls the National Endowment for the Arts, too.

September 08, 2008 7:59 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

If you're angered by the 'me, too artists' Ka Tony, thank God you were no longer in New York when Mark Kostabi started ruling the art scene in Manhattan ... hehehe. You would have puked at the amount of money he was raking in!

- "My days in advertising made me realized that the Pilipino market or mentality are so "baduy conscious!" Any concept, business, product, scene, accepted instantly by the "elite," then by the middle class & latter the "bakya crowd" it becomes "baduy!"

Somewhat of the same process in the States, Ka Tony:

Anything of fabulous or creative innovation created in New York must first gain public or consumer acceptance in California, and then from California to the rest of America and back to New York when by that time, it has become "baduy" at that point ... hehehe.

As for Ermita, I may have already gone to the States by then, because the Ermita of today is not that cool a place anymore. It is mostly dark and littered with "street walkers."

I think a part of Quiapo would make an ideal bohemian utopia for our local artists and thinkers.

Thank you for this informative trivia on Ermita, Ka Tony. I have a book written by Gemma Cruz' mother on Ermita. It tells how grand this part of Manila was before the war. Sadly, it was reduced to rubbles due to the intense carpet bombing by the Americans during the Battle for Manila.

September 08, 2008 8:11 AM  

Blogger nutart said...

Hi, Eric! It was such a long time ago kaya I forgot the name although I think it was the Theosophical Society...and then there was a small, small bookstore named the Magus but I don't think that was in Soho.

I would just keep walking in Manhattan when I was there and so I would not take note of the names of places really...everything was just so fascinating to check out! I even thought I had reached the bronx...but then malayo pala na yun! :-)

Openings of art exhibits are often used by starving artists to have a bite or two or ten(!) of all those rich finger foods :-) will definitely know the real artists from the regular art "connoisseurs" (hehe). But then the more business-minded artists are just busy getting contacts and whatever during these affairs. I'm more trying out the canapes ;-)...

September 08, 2008 8:40 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

You and me both, Bernadette. I love walking around that I often remember a place's general location but not its specific address. This was often the case with me in Manhattan. Would you believe that I never owned a car while living in New York? I walked, bicycled, took cabs or public transportation, but mostly, walked :)

I don't particularly enjoy art gallery openings. I much prefer going to see an exhibit on a weekday when it's not crowded -- either late morning or early afternoon. This way I could better appreciate the artworks on my own without anyone shoving his or her critique on me ... hehehe.

September 08, 2008 8:04 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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