14 January 2012


Do you remember what it was like, to be young? You do. Was there any innocence there? No. Things were exactly what they looked like. If anyone tries for innocence, it's the adult, moving forward, forgetting. If innocence is ignorance of the capacity for evil, then it's what adults have when they forget what it's like to be a child. When they look at a child and think of innocence they are thinking of how they can't remember what that feels like.
From Edinburgh, a novel by Alexander Chee.

07 January 2012

Trip to A Library

I recently went to a library. Yes, a library! It's called the Mario Feir Collection, located somewhere in the Fort Bonifacio district. I write "somewhere" because, despite having lived in Manila for the last twenty-six years, and despite the very clear directions given me by Mr. Feir, I could not find it. I could not find the building—an apartment building, one of many in the area—and had to ask the taxi driver to make a U-turn when I realized that we had driven past the Manila American Cemetery then, much later, the Philippine Army Grandstand.

"This is it," I said to the driver, more than once, so sure of myself. (I am obviously extremely geographically challenged.) It turned out that I was getting off by mistake at the Embassy of the Republic of Singapore, then Fairways Tower, then Essensa East Forbes, then Fifth Avenue Place, then the place where the military dead are buried. "I don't think this is it, sir," the driver said, whereupon I jumped back into the taxi—more flustered each time. Didn't he realize I could walk? It was, you know, entirely his fault.

Anyway, about the library: I'm glad I eventually did find it, because it is a rare collection indeed. How rare and how valuable, I wouldn't know, and it might do well to ask a pro, like the outstanding Filipino Librarian, Mr. Von Totanes, for a more scholarly description. Suffice it to say that a lot of the Filipiniana and Asian books in Mr. Feir's collection aren't the kind of books that you'll find in a local public library or school library. (And the titles are definitely not the sort that you'll find in a local bookshop.) These include plenty of first editions, inscribed copies, facsimiles, other antiquarian books—more than enough, certainly, to give me the sense, as I examined the contents of the wood-panelled bookcases, that each preserved some precious part of literary history, one that cannot be told with printed words alone.

A classic bibliophile, Mr. Feir left New York about five years ago to return to the Philippines. He brought with him his growing Filipiniana collection, which, after settling into his Fort Bonifacio apartment, he then opened to students, researchers, collectors, readers. The library also includes ephemera like old postcards, posters, stamps, antique maps and prints, all of which Mr. Feir was kind enough to show to me during my visit. (I also eyed a DVD, among the music stacks, of Weissenberg's recording of Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka.)

With that said, I meant originally to seek out specific Philippine literary titles for—ahem!—research. "I have recently begun a dream project: a novel," I wrote to Mr. Feir the week before. (Although after months and months of work, I cannot for the life of me say that I have accomplished anything.) I told him I was looking for something from which I might perhaps be able to take inspiration. "This must sound like an unusually vague request," I added, "but having heard of your kind reputation from a friend, I hope that you'll be able to point me in the right direction, or that you'll be able to make recommendations based on the contents of your collection." The note brought a swift reply, and a few days later, I was speaking to him on the phone, scheduling an appointment. 

I must admit that instead of studying the stack of Filipiniana books and Rizalian stuff that he had taken the trouble of preparing before my arrival, I spent a lot of time in the library admiringly leafing through a couple of big (and inscribed) photo monographs by Arthur Tress. (I would have to keep myself in check next time.) Meanwhile, if you are doing any sort of research on Asia or the Philippines, I encourage you to check out the library's website. And if you do go, make sure you don't show up unannounced. Write or call.

One McKinley Place
26th Street, Crescent Park West
Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig 1634

Phone: +632-8560957
E-mail: arbs at asianrarebooks.net