Pacific & Windward, the Center of Venice, California

If you squint hard when you look at the above picture, you can see the set of the Mexican border town in Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958) in which Charlton Heston plays a Mexican drug enforcement officer—one of his weirder roles.

Now it’s just ground zero for one of Los Angeles’s main tourist attractions: The Venice Boardwalk. The boardwalk runs roughly between the Santa Monica Pier and the Venice Pier. It’s only when you cross the border from Santa Monica into Venice that the fun begins. There are scores of tattoo parlors, cafés, tourist junk shops, fortunetellers, psychics, and handcrafts. including a lot of dubious art. The Midwestern tourists who come by the busload see what they think is the “real” Los Angeles, whereas what they see has been created largely for their benefit.

I sort of enjoy the tatty atmosphere of the Boardwalk, but I mainly go because it contains one of Los Angeles’s last surviving bookshops, Small World Books. Today I picked up a copy of James M. Cain’s last novel, The Cocktail Waitress, and a book by Alan Watts about Buddhism. Then I had a slice of pepperoni pizza from Rey’s and trundled back to my car, which was parked at a confusing intersection of streets a few blocks away near Electric and Abbot Kinney.

If you go a few blocks south on Pacific, you will find the bridge over the Venice canal that was the scene of where Joseph Calleia plugs Orson Welles’s corrupt Captain Hank Quinlan.

Tarnmoor’s ABCs: Venice

A Million Miles from St. Mark’s

A Million Miles from the Adriatic

All the blog posts in this series are based on Czeslaw Milosz’s book Milosz’s ABC’s. There, in the form of a brief and alphabetically-ordered personal encyclopedia, was the story of the life of a Nobel Prize winning poet, of the people, places, and things that meant the most to him.

My own ABCs consist of places I have loved (Iceland, Patagonia, Quebec, Scotland), things I feared (Earthquakes), writers I have admired (Chesterton, Balzac, Proust, and Borges); locales associated with my past life (Cleveland, Dartmouth College, and UCLA), people who have influenced me (John F. Kennedy), foods I love (Olives and Tea), and things I love to do (Automobiles and Books). This blog entry is my own humble attempt to imitate a writer whom I have read on and off for thirty years without having sated my curiosity. Consequently, over the weeks to come, you will see a number of postings under the heading “Tarnmoor’s ABCs” that will attempt to do for my life what Milosz accomplished for his. To see my other entries under this category, hit the tag below marked “ABCs”. I don’t guarantee that I will use up all 26 letters of the alphabet, but I’ll do my best. The fact that I made it as far as the letter “V” makes me wonder sometimes.

Los Angeles has been described as a varying number (depending on who’s doing the quoting) of suburbs in search of a city. After all, what is the real difference between Sherman Oaks and Encino, Mar Vista and Palms, or Rancho Park and West L.A.? Some of the communities in the county are distinctive because of their ethnicity, such as Monterey Park (Chinese), East L.A. (Mexican), Gardena (Japanese), Pico-Union (Central American), and Glendale (Armenian).

One neighborhood that is known more for its culture than its ethnicity is Venice. When Abbot Kinney first thought of the idea of artificial canals in a community bordering the ocean in 1905, naturally, the name “Venice” popped into his head. In the 1960s, the area was known as Los Angeles’s answer to Haight-Ashbury. Charles Manson and his gang hung around the area. Jim Morrison and the Doors advertised itself at first as a Venice band.

At the same time that the Hippies became the predominant population, some prominent artists also set up shop in the area, such as Charles and Ray Eames. Others associated with Venice included Charles Arnoldi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Baldessari, Larry Bell, Dennis Hopper, and Ed Ruscha. Abbot Kinney Boulevard is dotted with art galleries.

You can get your name on a grain of rice, buy any number of T-shirts with funny sayings, eat funnel cakes (whatever those are), or order sausages from Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom.

I frequently walk along the Boardwalk where it begins just south of Venice Boulevard to Small World Books, one of the best remaining independent bookstores in Southern California. Frankly, I enjoy the sleaziness of the area—perhaps not enough to hang out there after the sun sets.





Boardwalk Empire

No, Not Atlantic City: Try the Left Coast

No, Not Atlantic City: Try the Left Coast

Today I did my Marina Del Rey/Venice Boardwalk walk, about five miles in all. The final destination was Small World Books, where I found a copy in Spanish of Jorge Luis Borges’s Poesias Completas.While I drank a lemonade, I shot the above photograph of a bicycle rental shop across the alley from my table. In the meantime, several guys tried to sell me CDs recorded by their garage hip hop band. Once again, I told them I bought only music from dead white guys who wore powdered wigs.

Another guy try to divert me to the medical marijuana “doctor” he was working for, saying it was all legal. Having a whole medical delivery system based on a single remedy is like having separate shops for aspirin, Vicodin, acetaminophen, and Prozac.My only answer was a shrug followed by, “Sorry, I don’t need it”—with the implication that I am even now as trippy as they come.

I like the Venice Boardwalk. It remains so incredibly seedy and picturesque. Today there were half a dozen food catering trucks with various specialties parked in a circle, as if they expected Red Indians on paint horses to attack them with bows, arrows, and war whoops. I passed on them, as I had a lunch date with Martine at Jerry’s Deli in Marina Del Rey.

You can always tell the people from out of town. They’re always snapping cellphone pictures of things I take for granted, like lifeguard stations and sidewalk vendors.

The weather was utterly delightful: Sunny and high seventies.