When tourists are in town, a stroll on Sunday along the Venice boardwalk is a must. Bongs and Rasta memorabilia, cheap jewelery, silly t-shirts and the like are still on sale. One goes more to look at the freaks than to actually buy crap even if the freaks are in short supply these days. Luann the spiritual adviser sits in her director chair, pink lipstick crooked around lips deformed by collagen, the stringy platinum blond hair hanging in clumps around her face, waiting for clients wanting to know their destiny. A storefront palm reader offers combos of palm and facial features reading and the more body parts are included the better the deals.
Throngs of Italians walk by, the usual roller bladers, people with dogs although dogs are not allowed and very few residents. I always wonder what the payoff is of living right on the boardwalk where there is noise at all hours, with megaphone amplified voices peddling their improbable wares and an endless stream of people. I don’t love the Boardwalk, I would rather retreat on trendy Abbot Kinney and have lunch at Djelina but I always try to see it with a newcomer’s eyes.
The Venice Boardwalk is a tourist destination but it also encompasses a lot of what Los Angeles is – a tad fake, slightly weird, definitely colourful, home to all sorts of misfits and strangely beautiful. And somewhat tolerant. The Orthodox temple that requires of its congregants to rest on the Sabbath and shun all contacts with modern life sits next to the ganja smoking Rastafarian selling his paraphernalia and two doors down from the Native American store for those who believe in the power of crystals. And they all probably realize they have more in common than it would seem at first glance.
As a residential community, Venice was started in 1905 by millionaire Abbot Kinney who envisaged it as a vacation destination, with little houses built on canals that reminded him of its Italian counterpart. It all ran according to plan until his death in the ‘50s. The heirs were unable to run the already unincorporated city efficiently and it fell in disrepair. That is why it became cheap enough for the poets of the Beat Generation and, later, for the musicians of the ‘60s scene, to take up residence there and drink and do drugs to their heart’s content. By the end of the ‘60s, it was actually known as Slum by the Sea.
With the revamping of neighbouring Santa Monica and the need for more affordable housing, slowly Venice started to rehabilitate itself. Despite a few pockets of poverty and still active gangs, Venice is now home to affluent artsy types who can pour millions in the charming canal cottages or buy one of the Frank Gehry’s designed homes (a resident himself).
But to stroll on the Boardwalk at the end of the day offers the spectacular reward of a sunset that is unparalleled – I have had the good fortune of seeing the sun set in many beautiful parts of the worlds, but no Caribbean sunset can match the light and the array of pinks and oranges and blues that, for a few minutes every day, riot in Venice, reflected in the pastel buildings and in the enormous expanse of sand stretching between the Boardwalk and the Pacific. Every tourist, resident or freak can’t help stopping, at least for a moment, in admiration before resuming their walk.