Coco Chanel at Vincent’s Place Kambingan

Published October 14, 2021, 2:30 PM

by AA Patawaran

GOATS AND BEERS Inside Vincent’s Place Kambingan

This is a reprise of something I wrote in 2015 when for the first time in like two decades, I sat down for an inuman, a drinking session, in which you would sit in one place throughout the night (instead of hobnobbing around, as you would at a cocktail party, or instead of sitting only between dancing or milling about, as you would at clubs).

This inuman I joined took place at a hole-in-the-wall along Dr. Jose P. Laurel Sr. Street in San Miguel near Malacañan. The place was called Vincent’s Place Kambingan. There was no airconditioning and the small space it occupied, which had no more than eight small tables, spilled right out into the street crawling with roaring jeepneys.

Its walls were draped with pictures of its illustrious clientele, the likes of Manny Pacquiao, former Philippine President Joseph Estrada, and late President Noynoy Aquino’s presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who hogged the headlines in August 2010 for delaying a media briefing originally set at 11:30 a.m. on account of his decision, by his own admission, to have lunch instead at this kambingan with his communications group, Ricky Carandang and Manolo Quezon III included.

I was in the company of the literati, practically all of them Palanca winners (and one of them a National Artist), and majority of them wrote in our mother tongue. I was for what seemed like the first time in my life shooting the bull with the literary types and, over goat meat delicacies like kaldereta, dinakdakan, and kampukan, and bottles upon bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen, at once lauding and lamenting the state of our culture.

SO GOAT Salt and pepper kambing spareribs from Vincent’s Place Kambingan

I should have done this long ago, maybe while I was on campus at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, but though I did spend as much time off campus in creative hubs like Mayric’s along España Boulevard or the old Club Dredd on Scout Tobias Street in Quezon City, I was more at home in glossier places like Faces or Mars, where a door bitch would refuse to let you enter in your jeans, even if you were wearing Armani.

I must admit I was intimidated by the writerly types, especially those to whom the slightest interest in fashion was shallow. I thought they were in general all too critical of anything mainstream and I judged them in hindsight based on what I considered then as their aversion to khaki shorts paired with driving shoes and Polo Ralph Lauren.

My loss, but that was how I was, unwilling to out the starving writer/struggling artist that I really was because I had my eye set on the good life or the trappings of it—travel, good food, grand hotels, fashion, and beautiful people, even if their beauty was skin-deep. To tell the truth, I set aside many of my books then and secretly hoped that instead of writing I was given the skills I would need to be a rock guitarist or drummer or a varsity player. Little did I care about the Philippine Collegian, not that I’m assuming I would have qualified if I tried. For one, I wasn’t anti-establishment enough. I was too focused on having fun.

But back to the kambingan, it was like I made up for all that I missed. We talked about Honore de Balzac, some of whose books one of the writers I met was about to get involved in translating to Filipino. I didn’t pretend I was anything other than I was—I volunteered that Balzac’s books gave me solid ideas on how to social climb! We talked about Marcel Proust, whose works are on the list of books we can translate copyright-free, but Remembrance of Things Past would be a monumental challenge to the Filipino translator. Given how long Filipino words are, can you imagine how long Mga Alaala ng mga Bagay na Lumipas (sophomoric translation mine) can be? They gave me a copy of William Faulkner’s Rose for Emily translated as Rosas Para Kay Emily. I was all eyes and all ears, especially since I had realized it was such a shame I had not read enough stuff, nowhere near enough, in Filipino.

PROST TO PROUST Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past (Heritage Auctions)

In the course of the conversation, despite the leanings to the left I might have detected, I did not hesitate to bring up the likes of Elsie de Wolfe. 

“Elsie de who?” asked one of the writers. 

So I said she was an American socialite, whose hobby was to decorate houses. In one of the writeups I read about her when I was young, she was credited to have removed the heavy curtains and draperies of the American home, brightening it up, and, wondering aloud why people had to grope in the dark to turn on the lamps, she gave the world the idea of putting the light switch on the wall right next to the door. Brilliant!

Which gave me the impetus to share with them a book I truly treasure—The Power of Style: The Women Who Defined the Art of Living by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins. “It’s a trove of these women wonders, like Elsie, known during her marriage as the Lady Mendl, Diana Vreeland, the Duchess of Windsor, C.Z. Guest, Pauline de Rothschild, Jacky O…” I began to say.

“Wala si Frieda Kahlo?” asked another writer, one who struck me the most as extremely intelligent and open-minded and wise.

I said no, explaining that these were society women, whose impact on our world was measured by their original style, women like Coco Chanel, Countess Bismarck, Millicent Rogers, Gloria Guiness, Babe Paley—

…both in the very rich and very poor extremes of society, the mad were often allowed to mingle freely. —Charles Bukowski

“But most of those women in the book are obscure…” he argued.

Not to the Vogue crowd and, you know, everybody knows Vogue, I said, but then I knew right away that I was wrong, especially as, even back then, Vogue cost more than the minimum daily wage.

“No Frieda Khalo,” he repeated, shaking his head, as if I broke his heart.

Still, I thought: How ironic that the world of fashion, often dismissed in intellectual circles as lacking in depth and incapable of serious thought, even snobbish and exclusive, could, in fact, in this case, be more broad-minded.

Khalo, for instance, is as iconic in fashion, as Daisy Fellowes, a style arbiter whose memory to the intellectual is inconsequential or at least, to use my new friend’s word, obscure. Fashion knows Cleopatra, Jane Austen, Florence Nightingale, Virginia Woolf, and the child in the scarlet cloak in Schindler’s List as much as it knows Big and Little Edie Beales, Twiggy, Audrey Hepburn, and Anna Wintour. Closer to home, as well as it makes worthy subjects of Chona Kasten or Elvira Manahan or Monique Lhuillier, the fashion people, like poets and fictionists, can bring things as commonplace as pineapple fiber or banana leaves to the level of art.

Flash forward to 2021, if only the world of literature could learn a bit from fashion about marketing itself. What about The Devil Reads the Rubaiyat of Omar Kahyyam? She still can wear Prada too.