Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hazy Shade of Winter

Spent the day in California checking out Venice Beach and Santa Monica today...

While yesterday was overcast and rainy, it was sunny and windy this morning. Since I'm still on east coast time, I was up and out by 9am. I landed in Venice Beach (like the heroine of Speed, I took the bus) and I walked along the beach up to the Santa Monica pier as the homeless people, the freaks, and the shopkeepers started to wake up. The Pacific is so beautiful but it looks cold - much more blue than the Atlantic. I watched the surfers in their wetsuits for a while and then put on my iPod and walked up the boardwalk.

How did hippies all over the world decide that Che Guevera, Jim Morrisson, the Grateful Dead, bongs, rough knitted hooded sweaters, leather bracelets, pukka beads, 'indigenous' art, and indian clothing symbolize 'alternative lifestyle'? The other thing that kind of makes me laugh is that the sunny California lifestyle that the US imagines and that is reflected on our tv shows completely leaves out all the goths and metalheads that also populate California. In addition to a man in a tiedyed tee shirt selling pictures of Bob Marley and some incense, I saw a woman in a long leather duster, fishnet hose, 6 inch black patent leather heels, and a bustier walking along the boardwalk. And I thought I looked funny in jeans and cowboy boots.

After trying to figure out what the correct 'California' soundtrack should be (Eagles? Grateful Dead? Jane's Addiction? Motley Crue? Beach Boys? Elvis? Green Day?), I just turned off the headphones and listened to the seagulls and the waves and the wind. I felt all the stress from work just evaporating away. I went into Santa Monica and they were having a BEAUTIFUL farmer's market going on. I've never seen so many different varieties of citrus! At one point, I was in the middle of the flower section and the sun was out and shining and the tuberoses were heavenly. I certainly could understand why California is America's fantasy land.

Then the weather got colder. The Santa Monica 'mall' consists of almost all chain shops. I couldn't find a bookstore. I finally found Border's but it was like "Border's Lite" - with only chicklit on display. My feet were starting to hurt. I caught the bus back to Venice Beach and went to a very hip little neighborhood with very trendy boutiques, cool furniture stores, and expensive restaurants. I found another bookstore. It was beautiful - black and white photos of criminals in Times Square in 1965. Cool old garage turned into a sort of open air bookshop. I think it was called Equator Books. Featured in Wallpaper magazine (for the stylish who obviously don't read books). All the books were about pornography, prostitution, surfing, architercture, true crime or were written by hard-boiled 30s - 60s male writers like Cheever, Roth, or Hemingway. They were all the originals from the era and re-bound in shiny new plastic. Most were about $50. So are these the books that you buy to read? I don't think so - I think you buy them to display on your chic Danish modernist living room table that you lean your Surfboard next to.

Browsing around that neighborhood for a while showed me just how lovely, odd, and stylish Los Angeles can be - its such an odd feel - very 40s, film noir, bungalow in the sun filled with old Jewish men who make a lot of money, super skinny women in $400 a pair shoe stores informing the staff loudly what they did on Oscar night, and Latino immigrants riding the bus with me. I walked back to the boardwalk. It was open and more lively now. A man in a leopard print string bikini, a leopard tooth necklace, a fanny pack, and black hghtop sneakers lifted weights in the freezing cold. Several panhandlers asked me for a $1 to buy marijuana. A woman did squat thrusts in the middle of the bike path. I saw another bookstore sign - the Small World Bookshop. I wandered into nirvana.

Wonderful selection of books- funky, smart, new, old, US, and internationalist. Cute smart boys behind the counter and a sleeping cat. Chatted with the bookseller about DC and the LA and the cold. He was genuine and funny and nice. Bought a book called "Eat the Document" about 60s radicals. He said "I hope you like it." I said, "well it said it was recommended by the staff." He said, "Well I don't want you to think we are all dopes." I walked a couple of blocks up to a cheap and cheerful looking Mexican restaurant and ordered the special - taquitos and rice and beans. Then spent the next thirty minutes talking to a young black artist from Iowa who told me that the women of California aren't spirtual enough for him and he needs to focus on his art (which to me, looked the scribblings of a three year old).

Caught the bus back to good ole Culver City where I lie in my hotel - once owned by John Wayne and home of the Munchkins during the filming of Wizard of Oz. A brief nap and then back out to explore the Los Angelese nightlife (or perhaps just to go to the wine bar across the street and read my new book). California Dreamin' on such a winters day.

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