Bohemians and Beats of Greenwich Village

Yesterday I took a tour called ‘Bohemians and Beats of Greenwich Village Literary Tour.’ It started at the arch in Washington Square Park and ended at the Strand Bookstore. Along the way we saw where several writers once lived, and enjoyed some of their poetry (courtesy of the tour guide) who read them from his Ipad. He also showed us pictures of the writers we discussed.

Among them were Allen Ginsberg, Edna St. Vincent Millay (one of my favorites), Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan. We saw the once home of Edgar Allen Poe and learned about his short life, his alcoholism and madness, and were treated to a short poem of his describing that descent into madness. Watching the tour guide trying to compete with all the noise of the New York streets and battle the heat of the 89 degree day was also a bit of a spectacle.

At the start of the tour, the tour guide asked, “So, how many of you currently live in the Village?” To which I replied “I wish.” And the tour guide said, “We all wish, honey,” which I thought was pretty funny. There were people from Long Island, New Jersey and one couple from Toronto on the tour with us. So mostly it was locals.

We stopped by the favorite hangouts of Kerouac and Ginsberg, saw the location of the first cafe to use snapping instead of applause for Poetry, it was called The Gaslight. They used snapping in order not to upset the neighboring tenants with their noise. And we stopped by Cafe Wha where Jimmy Hendrix was discovered. The tour guide told an interesting story about when he got to meet Ginsberg in the 90s at a reading, and had one of his first journals signed by the famous poet.

Things I learned: Ginsberg was homosexual and his poem, Howl was almost banned for its pornographic imagery. Edna St. Vincent Millay was openly bisexual, a free spirit and very beautiful, which made everyone at that time fall in love with her. She married a rich man and he took care of her in her later years, after many years of affairs and lovers of both sexes.

She also preferred to be called “Vincent” instead of Edna. Her middle name was in honor of the people at the hospital, St. Vincent’s, in which her uncle’s life was saved just days before her birth. Edna St. Vincent Millay died of an aneurysm after falling down some stairs when she was 55 years old.

I also learned that there is a door on the side of the arch in Washington Square Park. Apparently, years back, some artists climbed in and went up to the top to drink a lot of wine and party. We learned a bit about the area and small townhouses where NYU now keeps their faculty housed. It used to be servant’s quarters for the rich who lived close to the park.

The most expensive real estate in Manhattan is close to parks (like Central Park) because it’s the best place to get the most oxygen in the congested city. And we saw the townhouse where the movie, I am Legend filmed a scene. The townhouse was used as Will Smith’s residence after some zombies chase him under the arch in the park.

Also, on our way to the bookstore at the end of the tour, the tour guide explained to us that when we see bright orange signs and traffic cones blocking parking on the street, it means that a movie will be filmed there. We passed by a sign on a pole that indicated there would be a filming of a scene tonight, and it had the name of the movie on it but I don’t remember it. I regret that because I wanted to look it up.

The signs are there in case there are cars parked and they get towed due to filming, so that the car owners know who to call to retrieve their car. There were many of those signs up all around the area of McDougal Street

The beat poets were called beat poets because they were linked to the beat of the heart, tribal beats in their words, and the symbolism of being beaten down by “The Man” for not conforming to the rest of society in the way that they chose to live. I really enjoyed the tour and though it was very interesting, well worth the price.

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July 23, 2013. Tags: , , , . writing.

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