The File Cabinet:
Visions of Venice
Everyone has their own inner Venice, a mental construct of how it should be, or used to be, or how they think it is, based on what theyve seen on TV.
One of the Venices Id enjoy is a scale model, like a train layout, or like the tiny city an architect would construct as a preview - with everything just as it was in the founding year.
Id like to see a virtual reality reconstruction of the way it looked in the era when Marion Davies and Pola Negri played in the funhouse. With lightweight goggles and portable equipment, you could walk around Venice (except where the water is) and see exactly what you would have seen from that spot in the 1920s or 30s. You could go in and out of it, compare and contrast the present with the past. The nearest thing to my virtual reality dream is Jeffrey Stantons history website, with its great maps and diagrams and photos of different parts of Venice in different years. You can pick a spot on the map and click to a picture of what stood there in the old days, and get a sense of where buildings were in relation to each other.
"This troubled city of dreams ."
When a writer begins with Venice, California as a starting point and then elaborates and extrapolates, who knows what can happen? Writer and producer Ron Shusett invented a future Venice, an artificial island off the California coastline, surrounded by a wall with huge towers and honeycombed with canals. The ambiance resembles that of the boardwalk in its prime, complete with "free spirited and eccentric population."
In New Venice City there are of course no cars. Transportation options include gondolas and personal powered watercraft. And the Shark-Sub, the vehicle of Shark-Man, a hero whose mandate is to patrol the vast canal system and defeat the malevolent intentions of the bad guys.
Alan Gaskill is the Abbot Kinney figure here, the man who designed New Venice City to be an earthly Utopia and a symbol of everything America could and should be. Heres what Ron Shusett says about him:
When a man sets out on a journey or undertaking such as this, he must always be careful of those who join his quest. He must be wary of their motives. For if they see in his dream something for them, something that shares its path to a fork in the road, and then follow that other path when they reach it, dreams can be come nightmares. When the quest is all consuming, and the man is only too happy to have those wishing to seemingly lighten his load, he can unwittingly make a deal with the Devil.
Alan Gaskill has realized this all too late. His city is on the edge of financial disaster and there are elements abroad that wish to see his city become something quite different. Now Alan must put his efforts into saving his dream. To do that he must become that which he never thought he would ever have to. He must become his city's protector, fighting on two battlefields, the jungle of the boardroom and the very streets of his Eden.
He has lived his entire life for this city; Alan will not see it die. The Shark-Man will see to that.
The Venice Bicentennial
Check the July 2003 Free Venice Beachhead for a story passed to Jim Smith by a time-traveler, concerning the 200th anniversary.
In the year 2105 the elected Abbot of Venice is about to do something drastic: declare Venice a sovereign nation.
The backstory: in 2048 Venice had seceded from Los Angeles. In fact the entire political geography had changed a lot.
The earthquake of 2065 had redesigned the physical geography as well. Venice was now an island criss-crossed with canals. Its area, even with the addition of what was left of Ocean Park and Pacific Palisades, was smaller than it had been before the quake. Aid was rendered by Venice, Italy, which airlifted food and building supplies. To quote the time traveler, "a few thousand hardy Venetians were left to build a new society, much to their own choosing."
The story includes a nice meditation about what the spirit of Venice is all about.
I have published two nonfiction books, one focused on Venice as a whole (or as much of it as I could reach) and one focused on the immediate neighborhood. Why, you may ask, did I write those two books about Venice?
If youve never lived in Venice, look at it this way. Theres a George Carlin bit, about how most of us are too busy all week to think up goofy stuff, so its his job to think up goofy stuff and report it to us on the weekend. Borrowing that idea: I lived in Venice so you wouldn't have to. The two books are my report. The first one was named in honor an Eagles song that goes "Call someplace Paradise, kiss it goodbye." I didnt say that in the book because I was afraid of being sued, so dont tell them.(By the way, in deference to the wisdom that says "sex sells," in Call Someplace Paradise I put sex right into the first line.)
The working title for the second book was Ghost Town 90291, an echo of the TV show "Beverly Hills 90210", which I've never even watched. But then I thought - why? The person who picks up this book a hundred years from now wont have the name of an ancient TV series in their head for a reference. Not that one, at any rate.
My first experience of Venice was at night. Bruce Woods took me to a poetry reading at the old Beyond Baroque on West Washington. My second trip was on a gorgeous SoCal day, for the Krishna procession. The sight of the giant chariots approaching from the far distance, along the beach, is one that will stay with me till my last breath.
I just vibed and resonated with Venice, and never really understood why the pull was so strong. Although there were certain foreshadowings. As a kid, I used to hang out at Niagara Falls, tramping around Goat Island and the Three Sisters Islands, with their quaint footbridges. Venice had little bridges and though I seldom went to the canal district, I liked knowing they were there. There was a distant Abbot Kinney connection - in junior high I discovered Sweet Caporal cigarettes, a preference not generally shared by other teens.
Also I read Inside Daisy Clover, and so must have unknowingly absorbed an impression of Gavin Lamberts version of Venice at its nadir: proof positive that a girl can be ruined by a book. I know I saw that Life magazine article about Venice West, and it made a big impression - but it was the Beats lifestyle that caught my interest, not their location. Since I was too young to run away, the name of the place probably didnt even register.
Who can explain the allure and mystique of Venice Beach as a place of legend, a New World Shangri-la? Its like a lost country with a succession of "good old days." People now probably think the 90s were the good old days, and in that decade, new arrivals viewed the 80s as the good old days, with everybody regretting that they were late by just a few years for the best part. Be that as it may, in many minds the place is still the epitome of hip. The cachet lent by a Venice address is as real as ever - claimed perhaps by different sorts of people than in previous eras, but as many of them. For journalists, to say the subject of a story or interview was born in or resides in Venice has become shorthand for, "so you know what kind of individual were dealing with here." Namely, one on the cutting edge of cool. To this day, artistic types residing in Santa Monica and Mar Vista and Marina del Rey still fudge a bit and say "Im from Venice."
© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman