Wednesday, December 02, 2009

An Emerging Art District, Cubao Expo & My Breathing Space

Published in Manila Bulletin

“After hard work, the biggest determinant is being in the right place at the right time.”
– Michael Bloomberg

What if there’s a place, peaceful and quiet; a place where harried souls can find tranquility with aesthetic ambiance, exquisite cuisine, art, indie films, music, stylish apparel, and collectible items.

What if there’s such a laid-back place amid the hustle-and-bustle of the metropolis, where one can bring a friend, sip a cup of tea or coffee, browse inspirational books, buy rare items, talk to strangers, or simply unwind from household chores and office works.

Somewhere, at the heart of Cubao in Quezon City, there’s a quaint place, an emerging art district, flanked by modern buildings and shopping malls of Araneta Center called “Cubao Expo”. The place retains its 1970s look with two-storey building divided by a “U” shaped street like an open arms, welcoming its visitors and shoppers with placid embrace.

‘Cubao Expo’ as an emerging Art District

Well-known among the literati, painters, photographers, collectors, showbiz people, and indie musicians and filmmakers, the “Cubao Expo”, formerly known as “Marikina Expo” along Gen. Romulo St. in Cubao, Quezon City, was built and developed in 1972 by Mercado Realty during the martial law era, housing the finest Marikina shoes in the country.

However, more than two decades later, the 250 shoe manufacturers in Marikina slowly walked on a descending tramp, until the “Marikina Expo” closed down in 1997 at the height of Asian crisis.

Then came the year 2000, with its new administrator and manager Mr. Bujim Aquino, it opens its door again, but this time to visionary entrepreneurs whose merchandise trudges on rare and uniquely designed products. Soon, art galleries, restaurants, indie film mini-theatre, and resto bar, to name a few, flourish on either side of the street.

And Cubao Expo, as it has been known today, walks again with renewed joie de vivre sans the shoes, nay, still with a handful of Marikina shoes, averring their presence on some glass windows.

As an emerging art district, it is an alternative place not only for people in the art world, but also for shoppers, collectors, tourists, hipsters, and art enthusiasts, who want to experience the bohemian character of its environment.

The Cubao Expo is also an alternative meeting place for corporate executives, lovers, and politicians with its exquisite cuisine and idyllic atmosphere. Among those restaurants and resto bars with cheaper food, wine, coffee and beverages are Alan’s Grill, Bellini’s, Mogwai, and I Love You Store. Genre Bar, an alternative place for indie musicians and music lovers, can be found at the second floor of Alan’s Grill.

Art galleries like White Box, Heritage, Black Soup and Pablo are holding regular exhibit on paintings, drawings and photography from established and emerging artists. Mogwai Cinematheque, on the other hand, with its café and restaurant has a mini-theatre in the second floor, showing short and full-length films from Filipino indie filmmakers.

Chic and distinctive apparel, bags, jewelries and accessories are pullulating at the glass windows of Reading Room, I Love You Store, and Oohwables. For those who are looking for rare design and antique furniture, vintage books, vinyl records, and other collectible items, they can find them at Heritage, Old’s Cool, Karma and Vintage Pop.

And those who are collecting anime items like posters, CD or DVD movies, toys, comics, and other anime collectibles, the Shinsen Anime is a place for kids, teenagers and young adults. While at Kolektib, one can visit actor and comedian Gabe Mercado holding regular workshop and acting classes in his sanctuary.

Cubao Expo is not just the convergence of creative and visionary entrepreneurs. It is a homey and convivial place, creating a subculture among store owners, reviving the vanishing Filipino culture and values of “bayanihan” and “pakikisama”.

Books of Life by Gener Valerio

In the same place at Cubao Expo, there emerges a unique store called “My Breathing Space”, named after the title of a non-fiction book by author and entrepreneur Gener Valerio. The place houses unique decorative and functional items, inspirational books, artworks, and fresh flowers. It also serves coffee and tea to the customers.

The store owner, Gener Valerio, quipped that the place is simply his “breathing space”, where he can invite his friends, sell his merchandise, and offer his inspirational books “My Breathing Space” and “KuroKuroko”, which he called ‘books of life’.

The two books are compendium of personal stories and essays, almost Chekhovian in style except that they are vignettes of memoirs. Confessional, as they may seem yet, the books are about the lessons learned from life, with vivid and poignant recollection of experiences, people, and places – trudging on the existential pendulum between bitterness and acceptance, pains and joys, indifference and compassion, defeats and victories, and so forth.

At the end of each informal or less structured essay, one of the salient characteristics of memoirs, the author always seeks to reconcile and proposes sublime lessons that he learned from life, similar to the formulaic “endings” of fairytale stories albeit, taken from personal, real-life stories.

Gener Valerio’s books are simply amazing to read, provocative, down to earth, witty, and humorous.

Likewise, his haven, “My Breathing Space” at Cubao Expo, is a transcendent place to unwind and unravel from a hectic life with its vibrant interior, photographs, and artworks on the walls.

© Danny Castillones Sillada

Above Photo: "Sidewalk of Cubao Expo" by Gener Valerio