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Laura Shepard Townsend and Destiny's Consent

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Venice charmingly sabotaged any direct, linear journeys.
....Lions and Gondolas

 

 

Laura Shepard Townsend

Lions and Gondolas:
I Love This Book

by Pat Hartman

Lions and Gondolas is the second of four novels collectively titled Destiny’s Consent.

Gypsies and Venice, California are just about my favorite things in the world, especially when they show up in the same book. Lions and Gondolas is a tale of three immigrant women, refugees whose only capital consists of a pair of lions.

When the story opens in 1918, Angelica Grastende is already a veteran trapeze flyer, and her mother is a novice lion trainer. Grandmother Lena has an intimate relationship with the occult secrets of the world, as well as a way of making things happen. It is her sly determination to con a con artist that sets off the unfolding of her family’s fate in the New World.

This novel is soaked in Gypsy lore. Grandmother Lena describes the Tarot as "the greatest book of all, but purposely left unbound, so as to be examined from any direction of whim…." Interactive, randomized…. Of course! The Tarot as hypertext, predating the computer by hundreds of years. I’m impressed. It isn’t every novel that puts an entirely new thought into my head.

At the same time, Lions and Gondolas is a charming historical romp through the splendors of Venice past. Starting with a lyrical description of Angelica’s first sight of the Lagoon, it shows us the annual children's Christmas party at the dance pavilion, the spectacle of the New Year’s parade, and the St. Patrick’s day celebrations, giving well-deserved recognition to Arthur Reese, the black man who was Town Decorator.

The three generations of Romany (Gypsy) women meet the entrepreneurial genius of Venice, Abbot Kinney, whose eyes are full of "the fire of passionate dreaming." He is a major character in this novel, and we become thoroughly familiar with his personality and aspirations.

Kinney takes a personal interest in Angelica’s education, and being the founder’s protégé makes a big difference in her dealings with the various bureaucracies. Entering adolescence, she tries to dress like the other girls, and changes her name to Anne. Still there is plentiful criticism, both from those who mark her as an unwelcome outsider, and from her grandmother who thinks she isn’t Rom enough.

At first the three women live near the lagoon in the Tent City, Kinney’s housing solution for lower-income visitors to his town. But Anne’s favorite place is tiny United States Island, where the family later rents a bungalow, although Grandmother Lena of course continues to sleep beneath the stars.

Lions and Gondolas gives a marvelously detailed picture of the realities of the influenza epidemic, and flaunts an amazing amount of arcane knowledge about the craft of the lion wrangler. In such matters as the circus people’s enmity to the new entertainment medium of film, it really catches the spirit of the time. And it confronts the big questions facing not only Venice but the nation: should women have the vote, and should anyone at all have alcohol?

Though reluctant to allow women access to political power, the Venice environment is quite willing to let them parade around in scanty bathing suits with (gasp!) no stockings. Anne finds Venice so compelling, it even quenches her heart’s ancestral wanderlust. She ditches school and floats around the canals reveling in the lush, botanically ambitious scenery and its wildlife. Sometimes for variety she mingles with the tourists, but increasingly she is drawn to Ince Field where she hangs out with the half-crazed daredevils known as stunt flyers.

Abbot Kinney talks to Anne. He tells her about the persistent insomnia that brought him to California in search of a cure, and recounts tales from his adventurous and often hazardous globe-trotting life. The cultured dreamer reveals his disappointment over how his ideal conception of an arts mecca has been replaced by the tawdriness of carny - but the people vote with their wallets, and a raucous midway is what they are willing to support.

Much depends on whether the reader can buy the relationship between Angelica/Anne, and Abbot Kinney. Aside from the fact that she’s a pretty teenager, what does he see in her? Obviously, he responds to her capacity to appreciate Venice in the ways he hoped it would be appreciated. This counts for a lot with him.

What does Anne see in him? Kinney gives her what she needs and wants, rather than someone else’s idea of what she ought to need or want. She admires his competent public face and understands his private concerns. Whether because of his travels, or simply because it's inherent, his outlook is unlike those of his peers. He has an awareness of life’s design that is closer to the mindset of the Romany heritage than to the thought patterns of his own gadge society.

Venice’s founder was, and the historical evidence supports this, a proponent of Free Love. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this novel is that he does not seduce Anne. Their relationship is platonic all the way, although they do frolic in the ocean, surely a displacement activity to sublimate the sex they don’t have. He also shows her hidden things, secrets not of his body but of his creation, Venice. It's wonderful to be reminded once in a while that humans can have non-carnal reasons for caring about each other, and that people of different ages can relish each other's company, ideas, and thoughts.

Kinney is one of the rare creative types who can handle the worldly stuff as well as the dreams. But despite his business acumen, his romantic aspect is probably stronger; as Townsend writes him, anyway. He sees a manifestation of the ancient deity Venus, which becomes central to his existence. He says, "This unique Venetian aura is founded upon her goddess energy."

Anyone familiar with the beat era poetry of Stuart Perkoff will recall his fixation on the entity he called The Lady. In this novel, Kinney’s visitation is a strange precursor that foreshadows the Venice Muse meme by half a century.

One of the signs of a relationship (as opposed to, say, an acquaintance) is that it exists on more than one level. Sometimes on many levels, and those are the best kind. While the pragmatic side of Kinney makes Anne his trusted confidante, it may be that her Angelica self embodies for him that same goddess energy.

So where do they go from here?

Not wanting Kinney to know that she has dropped out of school, Anne avoids him, but he finds out anyway and obligingly adjusts to the new reality by assigning classics for her to read and discuss with him. She takes a job in game concession on the pier, but the idea of flying airplanes quickly morphs from fanciful notion to steely ambition.

Lions and Gondolas ends with great loss and sadness: Kinney’s death, and the fire which destroys Venice Pier and so much else. There is also great happiness, as the three women finally connect with another group of Rom. Although introduced to them by her old name, Angelica remains apart, more of an Anne that ever. The meeting is momentous for mother and grandmother, who decide to attach themselves to the travelers and move on. At fifteen, Anne is old enough to remain in Venice on her own. Grandmother Lena leaves her with a bungalow full of spells and power objects, and a sum of money to help her along.

What do we look forward to in Volume 3? Here is a hint. During the original train journey to coastal California, Angelica and her family met a Mr. Hughes, who treated them to dinner and paid extravagantly for a lion exhibition in the baggage car.

P.S. I see Dennis Hopper as Kinney.

Visit the Destiny’s Consent website!

 

 

 

 

Destiny's Consent author
Laura Shepard Townsend

 

Visit the Destiny’s Consent website

 

It is a tradition that women of Rom, when pregnant, were lent objects of supreme beauty to guide the unborn child to be beautiful.
....Lions and Gondolas

 

 

© 2004 - 2010 Pat Hartman
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