The File Cabinet:
To See Venice Is To Live
In Abbot Kinneys day there was a saying that referred to the Italian city after which ours was named: "See Venice and die." Meaning, of course, that after such a peak experience, theres nothing left to do but die, and die happily. Nowadays, "See Venice and die" has an unsavory connotation, and even in Kinneys time it was a slogan too laden with ironic sophistication for the straightforward American to appreciate. But the Founder (or someone on his staff?) was inspired to tweak the familiar quotation, to adapt and adopt it into a new catchword for the inauguration of Venice, California in 1905 : "To See Venice is to Live."
Actually, it wasnt really Venice then. The city was incorporated as Ocean Park in 1904 and only became Venice officially in 1911, one of the many confusing details of its history. But 1905 was the year of Kinneys grand opening, with the pier, the Auditorium, the Cabrillo, some of the canals, and an ambitious plan to bring culture to the Coast, all firmly in place.
The Los Angeles Daily Times reported on the opening day ceremonies. Along with prayers and the 400-voice childrens choir singing "Hail Columbia" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic", there was a reading of "The Star Spangled Banner." A soloist performed "A Thousand Years, My Own Columbia" and someone else sang "His Buttons Are Marked U.S." and everybody sang "America." The speaker booked for that days Venice Assembly spoke on the edifying topic of "The Influence of Theodore Roosevelt on the Future of the Republic."
All the streets and buildings were festooned with starred and striped bunting, and Old Glory flew everywhere you looked. Kinney emphasized the of America aspect. His architecture was imported, but his patriotism was pristine.
The 75th Anniversary of Venice was observed with a three-day celebration. The newspaper ran pictures of: a motorcycle policeman with civilian bikers; an elderly man playing accordion and harmonica; one of the many seniors housed in the Cadillac Hotel out on her fire escape; and some members of the Zendik commune playing music.
Id like to see the whole country celebrate Venices hundredth, as a symbol of what America is all about. Venice is iconic, and that needs to be recognized.
The city where I live now has around 30 miles of bike trails. Wouldnt it be great to designate a section of bike trail as Boardwalk for a Day? Get all kinds of artists and musicians and performers out there, have a drum circle, the Society for Creative Anachronism folks traipsing around in costume, craft vendors and so on. This would be a great promotion for my books, but its too late now to organize something so ambitious. I should have floated that idea a year ago.
Too bad nobody in the Postal Service thought to design a set of commemorative stamps. The picturesque possibilities of Venice are matchless. I wish Id started looking into the stamp thing a couple of years ago.
The point here is, the history and fate of Venice is not just of local interest. The expression "Venice of the Universe" is apt because Venice is a state of mind not of physical location. In the introduction to his collection of photos of beachfront characters, Claudio Edinger says "These are human beings that cannot be categorized by our common standards because they follow their own." There are such people everywhere, and wherever they are is a little bit of Venice - all across the universe.
Not everyone who wants to live in Venice, can. Its economically and logistically impossible. The important thing is that Venice lives in us. Many have taken what they love about Venice and exported it, planting the seeds of it in thousands of communities.
When I lived there, one of the best features was an ongoing program called Get High On Dance. People of all ages left their shoes at the door and danced free-form to different kinds of music, fast and slow, new and old, in a huge room with a polished floor. Around the edges, there were big pillows to rest on, and organic refreshments in a small side room. The I.D.E.A. studio was in Santa Monica, but it wouldnt surprise me to learn that Venice people initiated Get High on Dance.
In the 1959 Life magazine article that called nationwide attention to the Beats, an artist is shown painting garbage cans. In the middle-American city where I live now, public spaces are equipped with trash cans painted by school kids.
When Dale Hartman and I were in Venice, we started the Banned Books Read-In, then successfully exported it to a new home.
Venice, like the sun, has both gravity and radiance. It attracts people and ideas to it, and it sends forth people and ideas into every corner of America. People of Venice can be found everywhere, whether theyve ever been there or not. Theyre the kind of people who, as Claudio Edinger says, "live freely, and while their existence will not stop wars or end the worlds hunger, they no doubt make life on this planet more bearable."
"To see Venice is to live" - for sure. Better yet is to see it anywhere and to lived it everywhere. Those who leave their places of birth to seek Venice are brave; those who leave Venice and take its spirit with them are equally so. Those born with Venice in their hearts, wherever they may be, are blessed.
© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman