Wednesday, August 27, 2014

“The Last Bohemia”– Book Review



Recently, I read, “The Last Bohemia:  Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn” by Robert Anasi

As a resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn for over a quarter of a century, there was no way I was not going to read this book when I saw it on a stack atop a table at the Barnes & Noble in the Union Square section of Manhattan.  If nothing else, I yearned to compare notes with its author, who lived in Williamsburg for 14 years (from 1994 to 2008).  In the event you’re looking for a detailed historical account of this Brooklyn neighborhood, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.  On the other hand, if you’re interested in one man’s personal history of this bygone era about a place that’s developed into something of a Hipster enclave over the years, then Robert Anasi’s “The Last Bohemia” may very well hit the spot. 

Reading “The Last Bohemia” really took me back to the good old/bad old days of what is now considered The Hipster Haven (or is that The Hipster Heaven?) – days when rents, restaurants and yes, even life itself, was cheap.  The Dangerous Days – or the era before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani had a chance to clean up New York City – are my earliest memories of this area, a time when Greenpoint (the neighborhood to the north of Williamsburg) was so crime-laden it was known as Gunpoint.  As I now look around and find myself surrounded by newly-constructed luxury condominium complexes with tax abatements aplenty, I am forced to come to the bitter realization that those days are long gone.  Anasi’s “The Last Bohemia” reminisces for those days, perhaps to the point of even romanticizing them – although if you managed to survive that time, I would hardly characterize it as romantic. 

Anasi’s tales of dive bars, easily available drugs and various illegal if not perilous activities are filled with characters so rich, you might swear it was a work of fiction if you had not actually lived here in Williamsburg during that period.  Ultimately, Anasi felt it was time to leave in 2008 when, after being a loyal denizen of 14 years, he was confronted by the  changing crowd and rising condos that resulted in this place no longer being the same Williamsburg he had come to adore and expect.  What was once a rough and tumble Bohemia had transformed into more of a Utopia – and a rather pricey one at that. 

But certainly the transmogrifying landscape in this small corner of The County Of Kings was not the only justification for the author’s relocation to California; it was inevitable, given time and the effects of aging.  Having moved here in his mid-twenties, Anasi woke up one day 14 years later and suddenly found himself on the cusp of real adulthood as he neared 40.  Somehow, life as a starving, struggling artist had worn out its welcome and lost whatever perceived luster it may have seemed to possess at some point. 

Williamsburg is no longer what it once was, but neither are we.  At least with “The Last Bohemia”, we have documented evidence of how some of us used to live. 


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