“On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic”

St Marks Square in Venice by Canaletto

I cannot read this sonnet by Wordsworth without thinking of the plight of the United States, which has fallen so low after its postwar high. In 1797, Napoleon took Venice and apportioned her territory between Austria and France, putting an end to a once-powerful empire that had lasted almost a thousand years.

On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic

Once did She hold the gorgeous east in fee;
And was the safeguard of the west: the worth
Of Venice did not fall below her birth,
Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty.
She was a maiden City, bright and free;
No guile seduced, no force could violate;
And, when she took unto herself a Mate,
She must espouse the everlasting Sea.
And what if she had seen those glories fade,
Those titles vanish, and that strength decay;
Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid
When her long life hath reached its final day:
Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade
Of that which once was great is passed away.

That final couplet packs a real punch.

The Venice Canals

Garden Statue with Cacti

It being another beautiful day, Martine and I took a walk along the Venice Canals. The six remaining canals are what remains of Abbot Kinney’s original 1905 plan for the area. In addition to the vertical Grand Canal and the Eastern Canal, there are four horizontal canals that link them. To remember them, I use the mnemonic ScHLoCk—for Sherman, Howland, Linnie, and Carroll.

In the past, we would visit the area only around the holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas, to see the decorations. But suddenly, one year, the decorations all but disappeared. The area is interesting, nonetheless, because of the residents’ attempts to create gemlike little gardens and house fronts. There were more than a few vacancies and notices portending structural modifications. There are numerous types of succulents and flowering plants on display, and not a few architectural monstrosities, especially of the modern variety.

I have a feeling that the neighborhood can go either way at this point, either becoming a slightly disreputable slum or a major tourist draw. Most of the other walkers were speaking French and other foreign languages, so it is obviously hitting the European and Asian guidebooks. In any case, it’s a pleasant walk.

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.


Muscle Beach Party

Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello Hit the Beach

After lunch today, Martine suggested we take a walk. I suggested something that would include part of the Venice Boardwalk heading north along the beach to the Santa Monica Pier. As beach parking costs $9.00, we took the bus and got off at Brooks Avenue in Venice.

Martine does not much care for the Boardwalk because of the smells (burning sage and incense), anarchic bicyclists who brush back pedestrians, and crowds. Of course, there were the usual bums, drugged-out hobags, and crazies with Tourette Syndrome carrying on intense conversations with the Void

But, after about a half mile, we were able to pretty much shake the more picturesque denizens of Venice and walk along the beach at Ocean Park and Santa Monica. Along the way, we stopped briefly at the original Muscle Beach, just south of the Santa Monica Pier, to see a lithe young blonde maneuver back and forth on the rings. She was surrounded by tourists and picture-takers. (I would have been one of the latter had I remembered to bring my camera.)

There are now two Muscle Beaches, the original one, and another one about a mile and a half south, between where Windward Avenue and Venice Boulevard meet the ocean. The new one is enclosed and has a lot of weights and exercise machines, unlike the original site which is decidedly low tech.

It is pretty inconceivable today to imagine anything as wholesome as a 1950s beach movie taking place in Santa Monica or Venice. It might, for all I know, still be happening at places like Zuma Beach in Malibu or Huntington or Newport Beaches in Orange County. Santa Monica and Venice Beaches are a bit too downmarket for Frankie and Annette.

This afternoon was beautiful. The sun was out, but it wasn’t over 80° Fahrenheit (27° Celsius) with just a slight breeze. On the bus on the way back, we sat behind another Tourette crazy and just smiled.