“We raise our glass — You bet your ass to — La Vie Boheme!” – Mark Cohen, Rent
Bohemianism has been a part of me since I was fourteen years old. Not in a tangible way, of course. As young as I was, my capitalistic tendencies were already blossoming, and I had begun accepting that the wildest, most exciting parts of creative thought (think Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, with his cane full of absinthe, or Salvador Dali, with his antenna mustache) are not compatible with my somewhat practical personality. But one of my best friends from my high school, Raissa, had lent me a copy of a musical called Rent, and I fell in love.
How could I not get caught up in a story set in gritty New York, full of “starving” artists? Rent exemplified what it means to have a Bohemian philosophy, meaning that the characters were “living each day one at a time and striving to make their short lives purposeful through the expression of their artistic passions.”
Sounds compelling, doesn’t it?
But here I am–in the Czech Republic, the original land of Bohemia. (Well, fine, I’m actually in Brno, in the protectorate of Moravia, but Bohemia’s just, like, a bus away.) And visiting Prague, which is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, made me wonder, how the heck is this place related to the bohemia I knew before coming here?
I did some research on it, and it turns out that in French, the word “bohemiens” means the Romani or gypsies. Apparently, the French mistakenly assumed that all the heavily stereotyped “nomadic robbers/dancing-bear leaders/sword swallowers/gilt watch-guard venders/street lottery keepers/singers of “God Help the Outcasts”/assassins” were from Česká republika. How ironic is that, since almost every Czech person (or country-affiliated European, for that matter) I’ve met loathes the gypsies?
As languages are apt to do, it appears that the words had started evolving. George Sand and Honore de Balzac, famous French writers, started implying that being bohemian had nothing to do with the gypsies, though they shared similar vagabond, carefree characteristics.
Henry Murger, who wrote Scenes de la Vie de Boheme, wrote most eloquently: “Today, as of old, every man who enters on an artistic career, without any other means of livelihood than his art itself, will be forced to walk in the paths of Bohemia.”
Being bohemian had changed from it’s previously derogatory sense, and had become romantic: “easy, graceful, joyous unconsciousness, guided by the principles of good taste and feeling.” In fact, the 1960 hippies are considered part of the bohemian impulse.
Some famous Bohemians are:
Vincent van Gogh
Though I may not have a genuinely bohemian soul, I can still admire it as an outsider. After all, there is a little part in all of us that toasts,
6 replies on “La Vie Bohème!”
I can never be boho i think.. as much as i want to live a carefree life, i love material things too much and therefore, i have to work and earn money. MEANING, i cannot be carefree. 🙂 huhuhu
Haha! Yeah, the only way I can be “boho” is through fashion, though I’ve kinda abandoned that too. And even the fashion kinda smacks of capitalism anyway, since I don’t go tianngge or vintage shopping anymore. Lol.
try vintage shopping there! their vintage store sells awesome stuffs! look at this: http://www.vintageportalen.se/
she’s swedish i think 🙂
Yeah, she’s Swedish! I think I’m more likely to get antiques here than vintage clothing. It’s harder here because of the past Communist times (I guess that was a black hole period for fashion), but I’ll certainly look! 😀 I know na of one store!
Well the etymology is slightly diffrerent.
Ancient Bohemia -Roman authors provide the first clear reference to this area as Boiohaemum, from Germanic Boi-Heim, “home of the Boii”, a Celtic people. Boii (Latin plural, singular Boius; Greek Βόϊοι) is the Roman name of an Iron age tribe located at the beginning of their history in central Europe. From all the different names of the same Celtic people in literature and inscriptions it is possible to abstract a continental Celtic segment, boio-. There are two major derivations of this segment, both presupposing that it belongs to the family of Indo-European languages: from ‘cow’ and from ‘warrior.’ The Boii would thus be either “the herding people” or “the warrior people.”
Yeah! That’s the back story of why the Bohemians in the Czech Republic are called that, right? I think my tour guide in Prague explained that to me before…
I was just wondering why Bohemian became such a popular term in France, and then eventually the US, so I only traced it back to the French misunderstanding. But your description adds a lot to the history of the word, since it’s further back in time.
Thanks for the information. 🙂