Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Leap into the New Year

And here it is, the hours ticking down until the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. But not so fast!

2008 will be one second longer than usual, thanks to the fellows at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, UK - the place that Greenwich Mean Time is named after. Due to the minute slowing of the earth's rotation over time, a "leap second" will be added just at midnight tonight.

Isn't it wonderful? What will you do with your extra second? I'm going to linger just a little longer as I kiss my sweetie when the New Year is rung in.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Our PROMPTuesday prompt is a photo taken by our PROMPTuesday coach, Sandiegomomma, and as she describes it, "I recall taking the picture of the man below waiting at the bus stop, and he never once looked up as I surveyed his angles and released my noisy shutter over and over just feet from his face. I still think of him often, photoaging him in my mind to imagine what he looks like now, to place him in a happier place; and I return to this picture again and again to analyze his inscrutability."

Write a story about this guy. Or a poem. Or a rumination. Give him some background, some context.

Here's my story:

His sister called him Uncle Willie, the way her boys did. He liked being an Uncle and living in the downstairs bedroom at her house now that their Mother had died. The little boy James was quick to hug and quick to run away. The older one Charles was quieter, but Willie remembered the day long ago when he was born and his sister showed him the little face in the bundle of flannel. He had been surprised, amazed that such a warm, alive creature had come from her swelled tummy.

Charles was bigger now and sometimes let him play basketball when his friends came over, as they threw the ball at the hoop over the garage door. He was taller than they and could make foul shots from the line, but when the boys ran so quickly around him, he couldn't hold onto the ball.

Charles and his friends sometimes played tricks on him - keep-away with the ball or taking his hat. He once got mad and told Charles he wouldn't play with him anymore. He didn't mean to break the screen door but their laughter hurt his ears.

His sister told him to come inside and watch "The Jetsons" with James. She gave them chips and a coke, then went out to the driveway and he heard her voice talking sternly to Charles.

"It isn't fair to tease Uncle Willie," she said. "Charles, you should know better than that. I'm disappointed in you."

The boys' voices rose and fell and laughed and Willie's sister's voice clamored higher, scolding them, and then the screen door slammed and she came back into the kitchen. She inspected the split screen, lifting the drooping rubber string that his fist had forced from the track, and she sighed.

"Ah come on guys, let's get outa here. This is lame, playing with a retard," a voice rose beyond from the driveway. Willie ate a dorito while George Jetson ran on the treadmill. Petey was his name, the one who'd pulled his Dodgers cap off and thrown it under the car.

"Don't call him that," said Charles. "Anyway, you're not so smart, you can't even do that math homework unless I help."

"I don't need your help, smartass. Jeez, you got them eyebrows, like Frankenstein, just like your Uncle."

"Fuck you, Petey, get outa here!" Charles' voice shrilled now. "Go on home, get your sister to help you with your math. Get your dad, if you think he's so smart."

"I'm going, I'm going. Frankenstein." Laughter.

The door slapped again. Charles' footsteps thumped as he ran fast up the carpeted stairs, and the bedroom door slammed.

Willie's sister said, "Charles, have you done your geometry yet? Charles?" She started to climb the stairs.

Willie wondered if Charles were crying. He had heard Charles cry sometimes before, when the door to his room was closed. He waited for his sister to come back.

"Look, Uncle Willie," said James, nudging him. "I can bite my Dorito into a star! See?" He held it up. "Can you?"

Willie reached into the bag and pulled out a handful of chips and crunched them loudly. The taste of salt filled his mouth.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Red door

"Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment." - Carl Sandburg, Good Morning America

I was walking down Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice and here was this door. Between two storefront bungalows, a vermillion-colored door, flanked by neatly trimmed shrubs, overhung by blossoming vines and a lemon tree in full fruit.

The New Year beckons. What's beyond? We could find anything behind that door. All we have to do is open it. Do we dare? Of course we do.

Open the door.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Little India

We decided to take a trip to Artesia, a little community in the south western part of Los Angeles County known as "Little India."

On an unassuming stretch of Pioneer Boulevard around 186th Street, Indian groceries, jewelers, music shops and sari shops are clustered, along with restaurants representing a variety of regional cuisine from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Today, a pleasant weekend afternoon, families were out shopping and treating themselves. Fathers and mothers pushed stroller, or held kids by the hand. Indian families seem to indulge and spoil their kids when they're very young - at the tables in the sweet shop or the ice cream parlor, imperious little toddlers squealed and shouted their demands, while parents plied them with treats and passersby looked on with amusement.

We stopped off at Surati Farsan Mart, a sweet and spices shop featuring food from the state of Gujarat, in northwestern India. It was a sleek and modern place, with shelves of pretty red boxes they use to pack mailorder items, and a curved glass case displaying an array of colored halwas, savory snacks, and barfi. My camera battery died before I could snap some pictures of the sweets, but go to the link and browse their photos - they are all very colorful and delicious looking.
One of the nice things about SFM, as it's called, is the menu explains what some of the dishes are. We ordered thali, a lunch combo, and 2 dosas. These rice-flour pancakes come with different stuffings and served with a spicy soup for dunking or spooning on top. A cool coconut herb chutney came on the side. The one above folded in wedges was filled with green chiles, herbs and garlic, while the rolled on was filled with spicy potatoes. The crust - particularly the rolled dosa - was delicate and crunchy, but softened under the soupy sauce.

After eating, we strolled down Pioneer Boulevard, looking at the shops. All the windows had discount and sales signs - whether this is connected to the faltering economy or just serious competition among businesses, it's hard to tell. In one shop, I found the most exquisite length of pink and blue silk for a sari, marked down 75% because it had been faded by the sun. For 6 yards of embroidered silk, they wanted $70.00. Not bad, huh? I held fast only because I knew I already have a closet full of gorgeous fabric I haven't used yet - but I hope Southern California crafters who are more productive than me take the hint and check it out.
My purchases were modest - I bought some bangles. These pretty metal bangles were a guilt-free splurge, at $8 for two dozen. At a little shop called the Bangle Bazaar you can buy twice as many glass bangles for the same price. There are dozens of them to search through under tables of Bollywood CDs in the shop. Make sure you know your size, though - glass bangles are often too small for hulky American hands like mine, and they are fragile. If you have slim hands or young daughters, they are a wonderful, elegant and CHEAP indulgence.

Across the street is a store called Cottage Arts, that sells home decor items like carved furniture, brass work, decorative items and fabrics. They have seat cushions and pillow covers, embroidered in gold and silver thread or studded with beads and sequins, in a rich array of jewel-like colors.
I love them, but for our living room couch, I got two pillow covers with a patchwork of raw silk and embroidery with little flat mirrored discs - less scratchy bling better suited to comfy lounging.
After walking off our lunch, we were ready for some sweets, so we visited The Saffron Spot, a sweets parlor specializing in ice cream.
The flavors are unusual, and include rose, saffron, pomegranate, mango, jackfruit, lychee, and coconut. [The Man I Love] chose one scoop of cashew/raisin, and one scoop of a flavor named Rajbhog, which combines saffron, pistachios, cashews, almonds and cardamom.

Our Son and I had something called Falooda - sweet milky beverages mixed with tender thin noodles and bits of crunchy things called takmaria, topped with a scoop of ice cream. Checking later, I found out that takmaria are basil seeds that are soaked overnight, so they swell and become gelatinous. They are considered to be helpful with digestion and keeping your system....moving along as it should.

I had a rose-flavored falooda. Here's what it looked like - the little bits are the takmaria. What it tasted like was amazing! Sweet and intense and the flavor of rosewater. Like another Asian drink, Boba, it was fun to suck the ingredients up through a straw, although the little noodles were sometimes disconcerting, dripping on my chin so I had to slurp them up like errant spaghetti.

There were other things I longed to check out. There were many beauty shops, where they use a twisted thread instead of wax or tweezers to shape your eyebrows - and I'm getting a little shaggy lately. I wanted to find some soft leather shoes, embroidered with beads and with pointy toes. I wished I had more time to paw through the discounted saris for yards of silk chiffon. And I could have spent hours at Cottage Arts, figuring out how to transform our bedroom into something like this magical boudoir.
But my guys don't have much tolerance for shopping. I could sense them chafing as I mulled over the dozens of stacks of bangles, sorted through the pillow covers, looked at the copper ware pans and knicknacks. It's a Girl Thing. I think I need to make plans to come again with some female friends. If you're in Southern California and feel like an adventure, give me a shout out.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Pink Saturday - Cyclamen

Pink Saturday - Beverly, at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you.

This holiday season, I bought a dozen florists' cyclamen to decorate my table for a buffet. Cyclamen, with their curiously-shaped noding flowers that rise up over prettily patterned leaves are strikingly decorative and elegant.

Here in L.A., the cultivated florists' version is one of the most popular flowering plants for wintertime. The blooms range in color from deep burgundy to pure white, and last a long time.
I adore cyclamen, and for a time in my gardening life, I was obsessed by their beauty. Cyclamen are native to the Mediterranean area and into Central Asia. They are tuberous plants, related to the primrose family. The name comes from the Greek "cyclos" or circle, and refers to the circular or spiral twisting of the stem of the fruit that occurs after the flower is fertilized. The stem draws the fruit down to the soil as it coils, protecting it from grazing animals and birds, also bringing it close to where ants, attracted by the sticky, sugary coating on on the burst fruit, disperse the seed to the surrounding soil.

There are some 20 species. Cyclamen persicum is the species most frequently used to breed the fancy greenhouse varieties sold for holidays, but several cyclamen species are used as garden plants in certain parts of the US.

In the Pacific Northwest, Cyclamen hederifolium - or ivy-leaved cyclamen - is easily grown in shady gardens or beneath the canopies of trees. It blooms in the fall and winter. Swathes of cyclamen bloom in the mounded compost beneath fragrant witch-hazel and daphne in the Winter Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. This cyclamen's autumn blooms are followed by those of cyclamen coum, blooming in winter. Both are commonly available in nurseries, including by mail order or - if you're in the Pacific Northwest at the right time, from the annual Plant Sale held by the Arboretum. At the Plant Sale you might find special varieties of these charming plants with extraordinarily marked leaves, or with white blossoms instead of pink.

Perhaps the biggest booster of garden cyclamen is gardener Nancy Goodwin, of Montrose Garden in Hillsborough, North Carolina. She aspired to grow every known species of cyclamen, and at one time opened a nursery to help other gardeners do the same. After ten years of operation, the nursery was closed, victim of its own success. Goodwin felt that the rigors or running a volume business took time away from doing what she loved best - gardening. Goodwin still holds seminars at Montrose.

By happy coincidence, I was gardening in the perfect climate for growing cyclamen during Montrose's brief heyday. Nancy's mail-order catalogs were wonderfully written, and I stocked my garden with many of her plants. In addition to cyclamen, she offered a wonderful variety of asters, dianthus, and named varieties of heuchera, or Coral Bells.

I've written before about my family's tendancy to plunge enthusiastically into hobbies and interests. Hooked on this charming genus, I joined the Cyclamen Society and soon was signing up for the seed exchange.

If you like to grow annual flowers and vegetables from seed, you would enjoy being part of a garden seed exchange. You'll find these at many local gardening clubs as well as local chapters of enthusiasts devoted to certain types of plants. Here you can find seeds for specially selected plants, along with advice from gardeners who know what they're doing. You'll make gardening friends as you keep and exchange seed from your own plants.

It's particularly rewarding when you finally see the blooms of a plant that is more challenging to grow from seed. Bulbs and tuberous plants take a while to germinate, and a while to come to flowering size - but when one you've grown finally blooms, it's very rewarding.

Cyclamen take months to germinate, and about 3 years to come to blooming size. In its first year, a cyclamen tuber is about the size of a pea. It must grow to the size of a radish before it's ready to bloom.

When we moved from Seattle to Los Angeles, I had two flats of two-year-old cyclamen tubers, dormant over the summer, and I was determined not to let them die. We drove down the coast with the flats in the back of the car, checking on them at each stop. Arriving in Topanga, I planted what I could in my dry garden and tried to keep the rest alive. The dry climate of Southern California, and the coarse clay soil of my garden proved more than even these hardy plants could endure. I couldn't keep the little pots from drying out. In despair, I tipped a bunch of them out into the ivy bed bordering my driveway, beneath the canopy of a Coast Live Oak, letting them take their chances instead of dooming them to death in a 2" plastic pot.

Ten years later, I have one vigorous survivor. It is a specimen of cyclamen persicum, the species, and it thrives and blooms more and more each year. If you look at the picture, taken last spring, you'll see another bloom to the side. This is a second survivor, slower to come to maturity, and I'm not sure which species it is yet. With any luck, this spring it will have more leaves and blossoms, so I can compare them to the books and identify it.

Cyclamen's interesting shape and nodding flowers make it a good subject for visual arts and crafts. A couple years ago, in a thrift store, I found a Weller cache-pot with a cyclamen pattern on it. It makes a perfect container to display a cyclamen in bloom.

If you live in a moderate climate in the US, try cyclamen hederifolium in your shady garden. Or bring a beautiful showy florists' variety inside for your winter pleasure. You'll enjoy it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Venice Beach - the "Slum by the Sea"

Windward Avenue, 1953, from the Los Angeles Public Library

Orson Welles' 1958 film "A Touch of Evil" begins with a close-up of a man setting the timer on a bomb. The camera pulls back to show a long columned arcade, and then the man plants the bomb in the trunk of a sleek convertible. A man and woman, laughing and embracing, get into the convertible and cruise down a crowded night-time street in a Mexican border town.

This shot, about four minutes long, was filmed as one long tracking shot, and is praised by film critics as one of the most amazing pieces of cinematography in film. The car drives through the crowded streets, passing the shabby arcades with their old-fashioned columns. As it stops for traffic cops, pushcart vendors, and herds of goats, we wonder - when will it explode? who will it kill? The introduction of the film's hero and his new bride, walking along the slowly cruising car and standing beside it as they clear the border crossing, heightens the suspense.

Orson Welles used Windward Avenue in Venice, California as the location for this shoot. The car passes the columned hotels and liquor stores on the north side of Windward, then turns onto Ocean Front Walk, passing what is now the Sidewalk Cafe, and the remains of the Mecca Cafe - by then a bingo parlour.

It was not a stretch to transform it into a sleazy border town. By 1958, Venice had fallen on hard times.

The decline had begun years ago. Abbot Kinney's control over the design and cultural life of the town was broken with his death in 1920, and in 1925 when the citizens voted to become part of the City of Los Angeles.

As many writers have observed, it was akin to annexing Disneyland. Venetians didn't realize that control from downtown wouldn't always have their best interests at heart. In 1929, Los Angeles decided that the canals were hard to maintain and obsolete in the age of the automobile. A huge public works project was begun to fill them in and pave them over. The lagoon and the canals to the north were filled in, but the Depression halted the project before it could reach the canals south of Venice Boulevard - the poorer neighborhood, once tent cities and then simple bungalows and shacks.

Another unintended effect of annexation was the City's conservative ordinances that shut down dancing on Sundays, hurting business on the Pier and along the boardwalk. Venice citizens had to petition for an exception for them, as an Amusement District. Venice became the home of many varieties of amusement - some not so family friendly. Prohibition, in effect since 1920 but enforced more rigorously by Los Angeles, hurt business. Gambling flourished, both on shore in back rooms and on gambling ships moored just beyond the 3-mile limit. It was said that the tunnels beneath Windward Avenue, intended for utility and water lines, were used to smuggle bootleg liquor.

In 1930 oil was discovered in the salt marshes in the southern part of Venice. Soon oil wells were going up in the midst of residential neighborhoods. With the oil came jobs, but also pollution and environmental hazards. These neighborhoods had been the poorer neighborhoods anyway, so few civic leaders cared about what happened there.

In 1933, when alcohol became legal again, the bars and cocktail lounges flourished. The off-shore gambling resorts became even more popular, with a high-class clientele. In the late 1930's a mobster named Tony Cornero brought customers with a fleet of water-taxis. He served good food, unwatered booze, hired top-class dance bands to play. He ran all the popular games, including roulette, craps, blackjack, poker, and chinese lottery.

In "Farewell My Lovely," written in 1940, Raymond Chandler's sleuth Philip Marlowe bunks in a seaside hotel, and waits until dark to take a water taxi out to a gambling ship.

The reflection of a red neon light glared on the ceiling. When it made the whole room red it would be dark enough to go out. Outside cars honked along the alley they called the Speedway. Feet slithered on the sidewalks below my window. There was a murmur and mutter of coming and going in the air. The air that seeped in through the rusted screens smelled of stale frying fat. Far off a voice of the kind that could be heard far off was shouting: "Get hungry, folks. Get hungry. Nice hot doggies here. Get hungry."
Marlowe's hotel may have been the once-fine St. Mark's Hotel:

There was no elevator. The hallways smelled and the stairs had grimed rails. I went down them, threw the key on the desk and said I was through. A clerk with a wart on his left eyelid nodded and a Mexican bellhop in a frayed uniform coat came from behind the dustiest rubber plant in California to take my bag. I didn't have a bag...
Marlowe goes out to find the water taxi, and describes the scene on Ocean Front Walk:

Outside the narrow streets fumed, the sidewalks squirmed with fat stomachs. Across the street a bingo parlor was going full blast and beside it a couple of sailors with girls were coming out of a photographer's shop where they had probably been having their photos taken riding camels. The voice of the hot dog merchant split the dusk like an axe. A big blue bus blared down the street to the little circle where the streetcar used to run on a turntable. I walked that way.
With the coming of the war, the aircraft industry drew workers from all over the US to Southern California. Curfews prohibited any activity on piers and beaches after dark, but servicemen on leave and factory workers came to sample Venice's increasingly seedy attractions.

After the war, the City of Los Angeles chose not to renew the lease on Abbott Kinney's pier. A master plan was implmented with the intent of removing all beach piers and widening the beaches. In 1946, the Venice Pier was torn down. No trace of it remains today.

The fine hotels had become flophouses. Amusement arcades turned into peep shows and bingo parlors. Resident poet Lawrence Lipton described Venice as "a jerry-built slum by the sea."

The City's building inspectors harassed Venice property owners on code violations. Costly Upgrades were mandated. Many owners chose to demolish instead.

Some Windward Avenue buildings lost their upper stories, leaving only the arcaded first floors. All the buildings on the seaqard side were demolished. In 1964, St. Mark's Hotel, anchoring the northwest corner of Windward and Ocean Front Walk, was torn down.

In 1959 the Bingo parlor became a coffee shop called the Gas House. Hell's Angels parked their motercycles under the arched colonnades of Abbot Kinney's Venetian replicas. Homeless people, drug addicts and, later, hippies hung out on Ocean Front Walk.

The theatres, the dance halls, the rides were gone. The remaining buildings housed sleazy concessions - fast food stands, T-shirt dealers, head shops.

But things would change again. Things always do.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

This is Paeonia californica, a species peony native to Southern California. It blooms in winter and early spring here in the Santa Monica Mountains. I took this photo in Red Rock Canyon Park off Old Topanga Road.

Red Rock is a wonderful place to take a hike on a bright clear winter's day.

Have a wonderful holiday, everyone.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Short Story - Fairy tale of New York

One of my favorite Christmas songs is "A Fairy Tale of New York," sung by Shane MacGowan and the Pogues, with the late Kirsty MacColl.

It's a song set in the '80s, during the period when young Irish men and women immigrated to New York City to find their fortunes. I mean the 1980s - the Irish recession of 1980 - 1985 spurred a new wave of immigrants to the United States. These migrants were educated professionals - accountants, medical technicians, doctors and engineers, unable to find work in the bad economy at home.

The song is a duet between two lovers who've been defeated by life's hardships, yet remember the exhilaration of being young and in love in New York at Christmas time.

Shane: "I could have been someone"

Kirsty: "Well, so could anyone. You took my dreams from me when I first found you."

Shane: "I kept them with me babe, I packed them with my own. Can't make it out alone, I built my dreams around you."
It has one of the best opening lines of any Christmas song. If you haven't already played it, go listen.

There's another line, though, that for me holds a lot of meaning. It reminds me of another Christmas Eve in New York City, around that same time. The line goes:
"We kissed on the corner and danced through the night."
It's one of the reasons I love this song. I wrote a short story about two lovers in New York, at Christmas Eve, during the 1970s.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mermaid dances

There's a restaurant on Main Street in Santa Monica that takes you in with a dark warm glittering welcome. Its old style seafood-house decor is wrapped everywhere with multicolored twinkle lights. They have a good happy hour at the bar, or you can sit down for table service.

You slide into the embrace of a red vinyl booth, and relax. The waitress brings your drinks.

The cocktail napkins are politically incorrect.

Here's how they serve the martini olives.

The food is good old American classic. The steaks are pretty good, and so's the seafood. Garlic mashed potatoes and spinach round out a fine meal. It's always good to eat seafood in a restaurant that features portholes for windows.

And mermaids.

Flipping mermaids.

The Birth of Venice

Abbbot Kinney was a real estate developer, and ever since coming to Southern California, he'd wanted to create a successful and money-making resort community at the beach. His partnership in Ocean Park had successfully built the first amusement pier at the foot of Pier Avenue, but the partnership broke up. The partners decided to split up the land between them, and Abbot Kinney received the tracts of land south of Ocean Park, undesireable because they were marshy saltwater wetlands.

He was familiar with the progressive City Beautiful Movement of his time, a school of thought that believed in planning urban centers not only for beautiful design and urban grandeur, but also to impose structural order to society that would promote civic and moral virtues. These ideals had been embodied at the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Architecture firms like McKim, Mead and White and landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted were promoters of this idea, and had already left their stamp on America's greatest cities.

Kinney had travelled in Europe as a young man, and admired Venice, Italy. He named his new resort Venice of America. The business district's buildings would be modeled after the Plaza San Marco, with arched colonnades. A series of canals, plied by gondolas, would meander through the residential neighborhoods. The canals would converge at a great lagoon, which would be a bathing and amusement attraction. The lagoon was linked by the business district to the amusement pier.

Despite trouble with contractors, difficulty dredging the canals, and a disasterous winter storm that destroyed the partially constructed pier in February, Kinney's Venice of America opened on July 4th, 1905 to great acclaim. Even though the paint was barely dry, and the bathhouse's heating plant didn't work, 20,000 people took the newly completed Los Angeles Pacific Short Line streetcar to see the new attraction.

It was something to see. The pier included a vast auditorium and a fine restaurant built to look like a sailing ship. The business district's buildings were modeled after those in the Plaza San Marco, with arched colonnades linking each building. The columns' elaborate capitals were ornamented with carved acanthus leaves and the face of a classic beauty - the model, in reality, was a local girl named Nettie Bouck.

Two fine hotels, the Windward and the St.Marks, stood on the beachfront at the end of Windward Avenue, and were equipped with the best modern features, including hot and cold salt water piped into each room. The lagoon included an amusement zone called the Midway Plaisance, with exotic attractions. Visitors could ride the gondolas through the canals, passing beneath the beautiful arched bridges that connected residential streets.

When we see Windward Avenue today, where the original buildings have been torn down or much altered, it's hard to imagine it when it was brand new, the rows of buildings a convincing fantasy of one of the world's great historic cities. In his day, Kinney exerted control over the buildings, the residences, and the amusement enterprises that thrived there, so that nothing was built that conflicted with his design and his vision.

In November 1920, Abbot Kinney died of cancer. A month later, the amusement Pier burned, destroying every attraction on it. The fire was extinguished before it engulfed the onshore business district and homes.

Demand for entertainment was so great that the pier was rebuilt in time for the next summer season, financed by bond measures sponsored by Kinney's heirs.

As the 1920s progressed, Venice thrived as an entertainment destination, even despite Prohibition, which outlawed alcohol. Venice was a popular destination for both tourists and local residents. Special events were held on the pier and along the beach, including bathing beauty contests, parades, road races, animal acts, and dance marathons.

People could ride on thrilling roller coasters, and ferris wheels, get lost in the fun house where air jets blew up womens' skirts, and you had to walk through rolling barrels and halls of mirrors.

Not only were there movie houses showing films, some of the films themselves were shot right on the beach and in the amusement park, and big stars bought seaside cottages or penthouse apartments in the fine hotels on Ocean Front Walk. Charlie Chaplin, the romantic actor Francis X. Bushman, cowboy star Tom Mix and bathing beauty Fay Tichner were among the movie stars that made Venice their home. The Al G. Barnes Circus performed in Venice, and liked the area so much they decided to make it their Winter Quarters.

But the economy was about to change, and there were new developments that would both enrich Venice and alter Abbott Kinney's plan for it.

What happens to a planned community when the planner is gone?

After we talk about what happened to Venice, think about what the next 100 years will bring for places like this:

Image of Calabasas Commons taken from somewhere on the internet.

I could have shown the obvious, like the Venice resort in Las Vegas, which is way beyond what Abbot Kinney could have imagined. But it seems like everything in Vegas gets torn down and rebuilt after 20 years, disappearing the old. Let's think of our small-time home-grown communities. How will time treat them? Let's explore how California's Venice evolved, and think about how our own fantasy communities will age.

Historic images of Venice, California are taken from the USC Digital Archives.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rainy morning coffee shop

It's cold and rainy here in Los Angeles, and while we're not as weather-battered as the rest of the country, at 7:00 a.m. on a chilly morning, it's nice to sit down at a small countertop, sip coffee from a mug and listen to the waitress chat with an old-timer.

This is Rae's coffee shop on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, seen through a rainy window.

Stay warm and dry, everybody.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pink Saturday - Buff Monster

Pink Saturday - Beverly, at the blog "How Sweet the Sound" hosts Pink Saturday. Let the color pink inspire you.

You can find pink things everywhere you look. On a narrow street in the Oakwood neighborhood of Venice, I brought my car to a halt in front of this incredible mural on a plain concrete wall.

A little graffiti mars it now - street art being vulnerable to change and alteration. But the pinkness of it jumps right out at you from the dreary concrete wall. And even the fire hydrant is pink!

The artist is named Buff Monster, and this painting is dated 2008. Buff Monster is a fan of the color pink. On his website, it explains: "The color pink, as a symbol of confidence, individuality and happiness, is present in everything he creates."

Buff Monster cites the major influences on his artwork, which include heavy metal music, Japanese culture and - best of all - ice cream.

His work is exhibited at galleries, but he also creates items that you can collect, including vinyl toys, T-shirts, posters, and prints. Get them while they're available, though, because they are limited editions. I adore these ice cream toys (go to link and scroll down to the fifth item), but they are sold out.

Hats and T-shirts are still available. The hats are the perfect pink-lover's gift!

If you like Buff Monster's pink art, but your pockets are empty, you can download his wallpaper for free. I liked the cherries:

Go visit Buff Monster and meet a fellow fan of the color pink!

You can get an eyeful of his pink mural if you cruise by the intersection of Hampton and Indiana Streets in the Oakwood neighborhood in Venice, California.