Wednesday, January 27, 2010

RIP Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn died today. There is lots more to say about this great loss of a true Patriot ... but right now I have to go watch The State Of The Union Address. Let's pick up with each other later on ... Rest In Peace, Mr. Zinn.

The Next Day:

Howard Zinn wrote what I believe to be the most crucial History book about The United States of America that exists, The Peoples' History Of The United States: 1492-Present. It should be required reading to graduate high school, to become a citizen, to buy property, to anchor the news, and, most especially, to lead in any capacity. Mr. Zinn was about as smart and GOOD of a human as you could possibly be, and I'd suggest both immediately reading TPHOTUS, and watching the great documentary, You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train, in order to understand the great loss our Country just suffered. I'll let him speak for himself:

"TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
- Mr. Howard Zinn

Wow. The Audacity of HOPE!

And on that note, I'll also let President Obama speak for himself here in his first State Of The Union Address, delivered - and giving renewed inspiration - last night. There were many highlights for me, but none more so than the HOPE it gave.

We can do no better in honoring Mr. Zinn than maintaining our hope, and doing the work, that enables our President to lead, and we citizens to press him to uphold the ideals and rights that we put him into Office to restore. No matter what anyone thinks, we ARE all in this together.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Canal Club Flamenco

Last week I told you a story about my brother, Paul, and a guy playing music together late-night at Del Taco. Well, last weekend, the same brother and I were at the Canal Club for Happy Hour, all happy and excited for sushi roll deals and mango margaritas.

There was a guy sitting alone at the table right close to us, and I gave him the smile/nod combo to acknowledge how super close our proximity was, and then immersed myself in sharing the latest dramas with my brother. There was a basketball game on the t.v. at the bar, and I found myself glancing over a lot, which to the guy next to me probably looked like I kept checking him out. I finally said, "I'm sorry, I'm not staring at you, there's a game on over your head", just to get it over with. That was the ice breaker, and we soon got to chatting with the guy, whose name was Alberto De Almar.

Alberto is 62 ("You know how you keep looking young? You drink Kombucha and take a lot of mushrooms and acid."), and quite a character. It didn't take long before Paul and Alberto figured out that they are both musicians, and both play guitar. Alberto even wears special glasses so he'll look like Bono ... which he kind of does. He's Spanish ("100%"), and spent a bunch of years studying guitar in Spain under a Flamenco legend whose name fails me now.

Soon enough Alberto was joined by a British lady friend (who told me to understand her I should Google "Essex Girls Jokes". Which I just remembered to do, and it makes a bit of sense now), who was equally interesting, and rather eager to show us "her girls". I egged her on, but she lost the nerve, and instead just showed Paul them on her phone pictures. Lame.

Anita, our favorite Canal Club caretaker, showed up with another round, and that was enough to get Alberto to go outside and return with his guitar. There, in the middle of the loud Canal Club Happy Hour, we were treated to some of the most beautiful Spanish guitar I've ever heard! Ever! Alberto would play the most delicate flourishes, then beat his cheeks for sound effects, making hysterical John Mayer type guitar faces all the while. We joined him on slapping our knees back-up percussion, but he didn't really need it.

A nearby baby had been crying for some time, and the Dad was up walking her around. He stopped by our table to listen, and the baby not only stopped crying, but raised her arms happily, super into it. Alberto the Baby Whisperer!

Too soon, a Manager type came over and said that Alberto had to stop, even though, "Obviously you're really good ... but we have to turn on the house music" or something. Alberto said, "Ok, just one more song ... for Them." - meaning Paul and I, and how he said it made us feel special.

The one more song was from his excellent album, "Furia" ("Fury" in Spanish - and which it is. A guitar fury.) which I now happily own. It was more than beautiful, and he ended it with the neck held high, and a little "Plink!" that put the exclamation point on the moment.

Another bit of Venice magic. And another lesson in what can happen when you open yourself up to whatever - and whomever - you find yourself next to.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Pee Wee Live!

The Vikings lost the NFC Championship game yesterday, a great - and totally heartbreaking, if you're a Viking - game. I saw posts on Facebook from friends back home saying their little kids went to bed crying, hiding under the covers. To love the Vikings is to know purple pain. They're kind of like our Cubs. I feel like it was my fault a little, as I had to leave right before the Vikes tied it up 28-28, forcing overtime. I had long-planned tickets to see the Pee Wee Herman LIVE! show downtown, and had to go, RIGHT when it was crucial time. I actually insisted that we NOT go on February 7th when getting tickets, as I knew the Vikings would be in the Superbowl that day. Sigh.

I got text updates from my friends watching the game, and then had to shut off my phone to enter the theater. I got the news of the Vikings loss/Saints victory (and I AM happy for the Saints - New Orleans deserves every chance they get to laissez les bon temps rouler after the national nightmare of Katrina, which STILL hasn't been corrected) just as we were about to enter the theater. It's a good thing that The Pee Wee Herman Show - Live On Stage! is hilarious, as it didn't allow me even a minute to be too mournful.

There were several people dressed in Pee Wee attire - male and female - and the enthusiasm was high - especially for an L.A. audience. The merch line was so long you would've missed the show to stand in it. Pee Wee doesn't seem to have aged a bit, and the set is so colorful and fun ("WOOOO!"), you are instantly cheered up, no matter what your prior disposition. (You weren't allowed to bring in your cameras, so you'll have to trust me or go yourself - now until February 7, at the Nokia Theater) All the old characters from the t.v. show were there, as well as a few new ones - which Pee Wee addressed, saying "I hate mimes and I hate new characters", when dealing with a big new Mime Bear. Each old familiar character got huge applause when they arrived on stage, from Cowboy Curtis to Miss Yvonne, from Chairy to Jambi the Genie.

The general story this time is that Pee Wee really REALLY wants to be able to fly. I won't wreck the outcome for you, but knowing that if you really REALLY want something to happen, and concentrate enough on it, dreams really can come true.

Highlights for us were the old fashioned "Mr. Bungle" movie that played on a sparkly framed screen; a "Bumpits" informercial spoof that had us crying with laughter; the magic word for the day ("FUN!") that the entire audience screamed for each time it was said; "Meka Leka Hi, Meka Hiney Ho!" shouted in Jambese (one time by all the girls, one time by all the boys, one time by all the brunettes, one time by all the "natural blondes" - which left only me shouting it); and of course, the very happy ending, which found Pee Wee singing once again about being "The Luckiest Boy In The World".

I think it would be a great show to take kids too, as eye popping, bright and fun ("WOOOO!") as this show is, but I think it's meant more for nostalgic adults who loved the show the first time around. There are several double-entendres throughout the show that crack you up, (and would most likely fly over most kids' heads), and the overall production is pretty Queen-y, which you're in on the whole time. We adored it, and would go again and again. And I bet it will tour the country, as well-received as it has been here, so keep a look out.

So thanks, Pee Wee! You brightened up my whole disposition, and the new laugh lines were well worth it!

Friday, January 22, 2010


... And the only reason I'm talking about this, and not the HORRIFIC Supreme Court decision yesterday that ended Democracy as we know it, and wondering which corporations paid for which judges (and it wasn't even on the 11 o'clock news!) is because I feel like we'd better enjoy ourselves while we can ... and it's the Vikings.

I love New Orleans, and love that the Saints are doing so well and giving the city a much-needed morale boost ... but we're Minnesota kids and we bleed purple. The Vikings are our very ancestry, so it goes deep. Plus the massive burn to our arch-rivals, the Green Bay Packers that is Brett Favre. He has even brought harmony to my own immediate family, as while we kids are TEAM supporters, Mom (born in Wisconsin) has turned out to be a MAN supporter, and now finds herself rooting for her kids' team. I'll take these small steps to World Peace in any form.

I have my own little piece of Minnesota in Venice, as three guys from my high school (Brandon, Tony and Knighter) also live in Venice, my brother, Shane and Troy (from Minneapolis and Hibbing, respectively), at least us, and anyone that has Minnesota affiliation - and can prove it - always watch the games together, and this season has been a blast. I even have actual scars to prove it. This Sunday is a big deal - Vikings Vs. Saints for the NFC Championship to go to the Super Bowl! My horned helmet has been buffed, and my hair is standing by to be braided ...

... And while this Purple Reign is going on, I'll keep my helmet on, and honor the Viking spirit of THOR GOD OF THUNDER! to fight this insanity in D.C. that just bought and paid for Hit Men who have doused out the liberty torch of the American Dream.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Del Taco Super Special Show!

Apparently there really is something called The Del Taco Super Special Show (I saw a commercial), but that's not what I'm talking about. This is a little story that happened amid the mad frenzy of holiday fun and getting ready to leave town, that I wanted to share then, and just remembered now (when I saw that commercial).

A few days before Christmas a bunch of us were at The Red Garter to see Shooter Jennings, Carter Falco, and Dan Coakley play. When the Garter closes, there aren't many late night dining options, so we walked down the street to Del Taco. I'm not proud. Once inside the garishly lit establishment (which I'd never been inside of ... it's more of a drive-thru venue), we were delighted to be met with the beautiful strummings of a Mexican man on his guitar. He didn't care if anyone was listening or not, he was completely immersed in his own special vibe.

Now I'm not gonna lie to you, we had all partaken in some holiday cheer of a whiskey nature, and that may have contributed to our festive camaraderie, but I'd like to think it would've happened anyway. When he finished one lovely song, I said, "Gracias! Feliz Navidad!" He smiled and began playing "Feliz Navidad".

The whole place started singing along. The guy (I think his name might have been Pablo, but that part's hazy, I'm embarrassed to say). Us. The entire Del Taco staff - all the way back to the fry area). The Drive-Thru customers. We were in full-throated unison when some gangster-y looking guys came in and cracked up. They didn't exactly sing, but I heard one of them humming.

It was adorable, and kinda special. I said to the guy ringing us up, "I didn't know you had entertainment here!" He replied with a grin, "Um, this is the first time." Classic.

Sometimes the best musicians (or best people, period) are the ones without any glory or acclaim, who are just doing what they love, for the love of it. This was clearly the case with this wonderful, warm and open fellow, sharing his gift just for the heck of it in a fast food restaurant.

We started chatting, and in the guy's limited English, he explained that he was Michoacan, he loved giant belt buckles, and that his guitar was 26 years old, and has been his very best amigo. My brother, Paul (also sometimes referred to as Pablo) said that he played guitar too, and Michoacan "Pablo" held out his beloved guitar for him to play. Paul started strumming one of his own songs, and one minute later, Pablo started singing along perfectly, down to the exact pauses, and creating perfect harmonies with the chords. It was all in Spanish, but I recognized "Corazon" and "Te Amo", and that's all I needed to know. Both men had huge smiles on their faces the whole time, as did everyone listening.

After much clapping and laughter, we all shook hands and went off into the chilly night, warmed to the core by one of life's perfect moments that we'd all just shared. It could have happened anywhere, but it happened in Venice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Let It Go! - State Radio

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! One of my favorite - and most worthy - holidays. Slooowly but surely, we're realizing Dr. King's dream, and I really hope he can see the positive changes somehow.

Friday night I went to see one of my favorite bands, State Radio, play at the El Rey. They're favorites because they rule, but also because they are as active as activists get, on top of being some of the best guys around. I saw a big sticker of MLK, Jr. on one of their equipment cases, fitting, as they surely are on the front lines of the human rights battle.

I'm sorry to say we missed the openers, The Aggrolites, which I'll blame on Jack Daniels. By the time we got inside, it was all State Radio's message, from the big propaganda looking banners (STOP THE KILLING IN MYANMAR! SAVE SUDAN! ELDER RIGHTS NOW! PRISONS CAUSE MORE CRIME! WAGE PEACE!!), to the level of excitement they generate. This is the "Lefty Rides Again 2010" Tour, in support of their excellent new album, "Let It Go".

The room soon darkened and the crowd went crazy. I smiled to see the State Radio guys take the stage, as we've been friends since the incredible times of the 2008 Justice Tour, and I hadn't seen them in a good year or more. I could tell they were pumped up for this show. Chad Stokes (lead singer & guitar) said, "YES! We're State Radio from Boston!" and they threw down the opening song, "Arsenic and Clover" from the new album. People already know all the words, and sang along with gusto. Maddog (Mike) Najarian beat the pulp out of his drums, and the crowd had mad reverence for every bass note Chuck Fay plucked, from the first one to the last. The fans LOVE their State Radio ... to the point where at song's end, Chad said, "Thanks for showing that energy!"

Then they went right into "Gunship Politico", with its rasta beats and biting lyrics. Actually, every single word of a State Radio tune matters, and one would do well to study the lyric sheets, as an education, and a call to arms. I'm pretty sure most in the house do just that, as they sang along all night ... "WATCH OUT!" was a group yell, and a stern warning to oppressors everywhere. The band is crazy tight as a unit, and so rocking that you could almost forget how deadly serious the content is. But you don't, because you care. Right? From there they blasted straight into "Revolutionaries", both a rad song and an apt label for these guys.

"Mr. Larkin" was next, the touching song about the elderly, that also features super interesting changes in tempo, with seamless transition. Love it. "Dr. Ron The Actor" followed - and was torn up - and despite the continued shouts for various favorite songs ("We played that last night" was Chad's response ... these guys always change it up, so catch them as often as you can), "Omar Bay" was next. That one featured a blistering bass solo by Mr. Fay that had everyone yelling, "CHUUUUUUUUCK!", and deservedly so.

Now if you've ever seen State Radio live - and I hope you have - you'll know that Chad plays a very unique guitar on some songs ... made out of an oil can. And the Oil Can Guitar gets its own cheers every time. It came out for the excellent "Calling All Crows" - which is also the name of the band's service organization,, that mobilizes musicians and their fans to roll up their sleeves in promotion of human rights.

"So we're calling all crows - they coming up slow - it's gonna be a showdown - said the rebel to the revolutionary, come with me. If you feel like you are witnessing a movement - then get up girl and let them know you're free" is how the anthemic chorus goes, and hopefully how we all go. Get involved! There is no better time than now, as witnessed by the rapidly filling money jar going to OxFam for relief to Haiti. Again, PLEASE get involved!!

The next one was for "all of Maddog's people". "Mansin Humanity" is about the genocide - and it was a genocide - in Armenia, from where the Najarian's descend. I was watching Maddog during this angry rocker of a song, and it seemed to me that he played with extra (if possible) ferocity. And rightly so. If light continues to expose Man's inhumanity, there's a better chance it won't be repeated, we hope. Getting the ferociously moshing young people in the pit to learn about such awful events is another good angle to try. (If they didn't get concussions and forget it all - it was rough in there for a bit.)

Chad invited a special guest to the stage to join the guys on a tune, The White Buffalo. Just as I was thinking that the White Buffalo reminded me - in both posture and voice - of Joe Cocker, I recognized the song as J.C.'s "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window." Excellent. It sounded great, White Buffalo's drink spilling all over the stage with gusto, and the time they were having was even greater.

"State Inspector" was up next, and prompted an even harder core pit of mosh, especially when Chuck played half the song lying on his back in a frenzy. It also featured a LOUD Call and Response between Chad and the room that "Whoa-oh-oh-oh'd" everyone back into a calmer, reggae disposition, thankfully. One of my favorite, and catchiest, SR songs is the one they wrote for their friend who died in Iraq, "Camilo". It's powerful stuff, and the crowd fast-clapped along all through the remembrance that people are STILL fighting over there ... for what? It has a Rage-y ending that always re-fires everyone up. Chad played the harmonica on the next one, "Blood Escaping Man", and there was more moshing. That's hardcore, when you mosh to the harmonica.

State Radio is proudly from Boston, and their "Knights Of Bostonia" is exactly what you'd want to hear in an Irish Pub in that town, hoisting a pint (or Jameson) and loving your fellow man. The jig stylings of it still proved mosh-able, and these Bostonian Knights were rewarded with a loud "YANKEES SUCK" chant at the end. Ha!

The last song of the regular set was "Waitress" and I love it. It again features reggae beats and an "Ay-y-y-y-YO!" chant, as well as smart and conscious lyrics that make you appreciate how deftly this band gives you your medicine with a spoonful of sugar/fun. People went nuts.

Rhythmic clapping began right away for an encore, and Chad quickly came back, this time with an acoustic guitar and The White Buffalo. I'm going to let myself think this next one was for me - Dylan's "Girl From The North Country". One of my theme songs. It was lovely, though I'm not sure if the White Buffalo will remember it. That's what I'm here for!

I'm often reminded of Rage Against The Machine when I see or hear State Radio, both because of the rock, and the walk both bands walk, bettering the world one power chord at a time. So it was fitting that for the finale of the evening, State Radio was joined by Tom Morello for "Gang Of Thieves"! The fans had to be peeled off the ceiling when they saw them all on stage together, melting faces off. Tom had a fan down front hold up a paper plate with the lyrics scrawled on it for him, and I flashback-ed to The Justice Tour again, when they would play this one together at each show, always to benefit an extremely worthy organization. Tom called it "his jam". And it showed in the fun they were all having. Tom's crazy guitar solo didn't hurt either. The guys all blew the place apart together, and left the El Rey Angelenos sweaty and smiling.

The new State Radio (Radio D'Etat) album, as I mentioned, is called "Let It Go". I hope that all things work out so that circumstances will be such to let YOU go ... to a State Radio show. You leave all rocked out, sure, but also as a better person on some level. The awareness, the caring, and the conscious-raising they bring to every performance is humanity at its best.

Thanks for a FANTASTIC show, Guys! Safe travels, and fists raised in solidarity to accompany you all along the way.

*Sweet photos by Paul Gronner.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I was taking a little stroll today with my dear Mama, who is here visiting/escaping the cold. We passed by this sweet cottage on Rialto, that had this sign in their garden bed. You Are Here. I was so happy in that instant to be HERE - a gorgeous, sunshine-y day in Venice, bright blue skies and friendly people waving their hellos. I was so full of appreciation, but also sadness, because as lovely of an afternoon as I was having ... I knew that people in Haiti are living a real life horror movie as we speak.

Poor Haiti - literally. They've been through so much already. It seems like at least every year some horrific disaster goes down, the rest of the world feels bad for a minute, and then the interest trails off, until another flood or earthquake ruins them again. This time is different. It's the worst EVER, bad on top of bad. I was out of the country last year when the television signal thing switched over to digital, and I've just never bothered doing anything about it, so I've been spared the constant images beaming to us from the ravaged Haitian nightmare. I'm grateful for that, because I have a tendency to internalize the pain of others until I become a mess myself. But the photos I've seen, and the stories I've heard (and I have two friends with family down there that spent some dreadful time hand-wringing until they got the all-clear on their folks down there) are just too much to bear.

Let's please KEEP them in our thoughts this time. Donate if you can (Text "Yele" to 501501 and a $5 donation will be added to your phone bill from Wyclef Jean's Yele Haiti Organization - the biggest text-based fundraising for disaster relief in history), and I think we all can. After that, let's see what we can do about helping them in the bigger picture. The disasters are so bad down there because the country is so poor and the infrastructure is so shoddy, and no one ever does anything major about it, so when disaster strikes, it's a living hell. I don't know what the answers are, but really, enough is enough.

Again, it's a wonderful day in sunny Venice, and the best thing we can do is APPRECIATE what we have every single day, and share what we have the best we can. Because YOU ARE HERE.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Goddess

"Welcome to zee Goddess!" is how Sandrine Klein sweetly greets all who enter into her delightful shop, The Goddess, now on Lincoln Boulevard. It is a sanctuary of gorgeous beads catching light, whimsical painted furniture, the tres jolie jewelry pieces hand-made by Sandrine, as well as clothing from local designers, and cool scarfs and head adornments. I have known lovely Sandrine for years, and have yet to see anything but an aura of goodness and love surrounding her. I simply adore her.

Sandrine was born near Bordeaux, France (wine country), and raised in a bit of a vagabond style around France. She trained as a Pharmacist, interestingly (I had no idea), and specialized in helping with figuring out dosages for children. You can tell how very sensitive she is, and after a while of that work, involving sick and dying children, it became too much for her to deal with over and over, and she was looking for something else to do. About this time, she fell madly in love with another vagabond type, and one evening (perhaps some Bordeaux was involved), the happy couple were playing darts and decided that wherever a dart hit on their World Map, that is where they would move to. I love that.

Well, the dart landed on Guadalajara, Mexico ... and off they went. They spent a while there, but didn't love it at all, and so back-packed off to Puerto Vallarta for a visit. They wound up entranced by that town's beauty, and soaked it up for six years, among the "colorful and genuine" people of P.V. Sandrine couldn't work as a Pharmacist there (as we all know Mexico has different drug rules) and so she picked up work teaching French lessons, ultimately opening her own petit l'ecole. She also started reacquainting herself with her artistic expression, and began painting with acrylics, and creating bright furniture.

The boyfriend decided he wanted to live in Los Angeles, so they began a bit of a back and forth scenario, until they chose to split up. By this time, Sandrine's sister, Valerie (who used to have the best Venice clothing store, Slave) was living in L.A., so Sandrine visited more often. During one of these visits, Valerie was in a boating accident with a friend of hers, Stephan, and Sandrine raced over to help mend them up with her Pharmacy skills. While cleaning off the bloody mess of Stephan's face, Sandrine said, "I had this urge to kees him" ... and they've been together ever since. Stephan worked in Real Estate in Venice, so that was enough to convince Sandrine to move up to the States, and accept his proposal to become his wife, and the lovely Stepmother to Stephan's son, Quinten.

She needed something for herself to do after a while, and had a dream about this little available house on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. She discussed it with Stephan, and they decided to sign a lease on the house, without even knowing what kind of business it would contain!! While killing time, she had begun to make jewelry while sitting on the beach, putting it in Slave and giving the pieces as gifts. The jewelry making came very naturally to her, so she decided that she would open a jewelry store, but one where people could participate and create their own, or have her make one of her wonderful custom dazzlers, using what she calls, "Kreative Karma". She studied up on gems and their healing properties (still the healing Pharmacist at heart), and self-taught herself all about making jewelry, all the way up to making molds and casting. Around that time, a friend gave her a book called "The Goddess", and it contained the quote that she has kept around her (painted on the floor, hung up on the wall, recited to you by heart ...) ever since:

"Do not pretend that people become great by doing great things. They do great things because they are great if the great things come along. But they are great just the same when the great things do not come along. It is about what you are, not what you do."

And so The Goddess store was born in 2000, as she knew who she was and that her dreams would work. I remember walking into her darling store in the house on Abbot Kinney, and just falling in love with both the environment and the Proprietress instantly. I was having a birthday party and had a kind of weird colored dress I was going to wear that night, and no appropriate accessories to accent the decolletage, dangit. Sandrine asked me to show her the dress, and said I should come back in a few hours. I left it all up to her, and went home to get ready. A few hours later, on my way to my little bash, I stopped in and smiling Sandrine held up the most perfectly complimenting (not match-y, but illuminating!) necklace, that I nearly (and probably did) choked up. I loved it - and still do. From thereon out, I would stop in for a double cheek kiss, or bring in a broken necklace that some other shoddier jewelry maker made, and bring in friends who needed something to go with their own out-there outfit visions.

The Goddess thrived for 6 years (hosting fun things like "Bead and Breakfasts" and "Goddess Nights", and sparkling up scores of Venice citizens), during which time she created her "most precious jewel I have made", her son, Liam (now 4). She beams when even mentioning the names of her boys, and her eyes gleam with pure love. In fact, her signature "Goddess" line of jewels represents "the heartbeat of a mother's love, the deepest womb and the goddess within." Then came the time where she wanted more time with the kids, so she closed The Goddess on Abbot Kinney, and we all missed it terribly.

Her sister, Valerie, had briefly re-opened the iconic Slave, this time on Lincoln Boulevard, just north of Venice Boulevard (2122 Lincoln). When the economy took a drastic downturn, Valerie got out of the retail business, and the space was available for Sandrine to take it over and recreate the store she too missed. And a beautiful store it is.

Beads and Sandrine's creations adorn all the wall space, and her brightly hand-painted furniture pieces kick up the fun a bunch of notches. You can bring in an old beat-up bureau, for instance, and Sandrine will transform it into a work of art that demands glee just from looking at it. You could tell her the colors you'd like, or a quote you love, or you could just leave the whole thing up to her, and be delighted whatever the outcome. She does custom jewelry for wedding parties, special occasions, or just a treat to reward yourself.

In addition to all the possibilities to help you shine, Sandrine also offers the knowledge to learn to make the art yourself. Lots of different jewelry making workshops are on offer, as well as private classes and even classes for kids' birthday parties, wedding showers, and the like, all taught out on the sunny patio behind the shop (which also hosts a monthly Flea Market with booths {and mimosas!} featuring local artist's work). You can check all of these events, with dates and times, on her website, or just give a call.

If that's not enough to enrich your soul, you crazy kids, you can also take French and Spanish lessons, learn Songwriting, Guitar, Painting and Creativity at The Goddess Studio, the former taught by dear Sandrine, and the rest by other local lovelies. Seriously, no matter what you partake in over at The Goddess, you're going to emerge feeling better about yourself, and your place on this Earth. You can't help it.

We talked about our Venice experiences, and she told me how lucky she feels to be in a place "where people pay to take an airplane to places like this!" And how her Mother will come visit from France and just sit on the steps by the Post Office, watching all the different characters go by. "You will never be bored in Venice, it is very Cosmopolitan." As Sandrine also said, "There is something special here, even the style. It's not all hippie, it's not all grunge, it's a special style in Venice. A Californication." I know exactly what she means, and you will too when you're here.

The beach, the meditation, the walks, and the dolphin sightings all permeate the air, and you can almost see it in Sandrine's eyes as she talks about it all. She - and her calming oasis of a store - are blessings to know, even as the real world and Lincoln Boulevard zoom by right outside the door. Please do yourselves a New Year's favor, and go visit Sandrine at The Goddess Boutique and Studio soon. Feel free to say I sent you. You will see the same sparkle emanate from this fair lady, and light up your own life.

The Goddess Studio & Boutique
2122 Lincoln Boulevard
(310) 396.7979

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Tree House In Venice

The Tree House is a hidden treasure on Abbot Kinney in Venice, up some stairs behind what was Om Salon (and soon will be a new eatery). The windows look out on the tree tops, so it probably named itself. I just had my first visit, and it will certainly not be my last, because I believe it was the best facial I've ever had. Pure relaxation and total pampering.

My facial skin was embarrassingly overdue for attention after a Summer on the beach and a below zero visit home for the Holidays. I checked in with Meenoy Kemball, the owner of The Tree House, in her little former sauna office, and then went upstairs to be pampered by the charming and soothing Ashly Smith, my esthetician. Ashly was just that warm and inviting sort that feels natural to hug meeting for the first time. Her voice is like someone you want teaching your kids (which she used to do), and her technique is so calming, lovely, and gentle, you actually feel kind of like a baby yourself (and your skin winds up feeling like one's bottom). I know I tend to gush, but in this instance, I would defy anyone not to.

The beds were super soft and you just melted right in under an equally soft blanket. Ashly asked what music I liked to relax to (vs. forcing the standard New Age spa dribble on you), and I'm the sort who says, "Surprise me", so I wound up chilling to some tunes that were perfect. Though I don't even really know what they were because I was already totally relaxed and in my own head. She has you take three deep breaths before she begins, and that sets the stage for the blissful hour ahead.

Usually in facials that I've had, the skin therapist leaves the room while the steamer is on your face to open up your pores. Not Ashly. That time is spent gloriously rubbing your head and scalp. I don't even feel like writing now, I just want to be back right there, right now. Every product (all Tree House Roots - ALL organic, wild-crafted and sustainable) smelled like you not only could, but would want to eat it, and felt like a dream. Even the extractions, which usually - especially the nose ones - make you almost get TMJ to get through, were completely calm and manageable. Her motions when rubbing the stuff into your face were like little angel wings, no hyperbole. When I was a kid, our Mom would sometimes come wake us up with a warm washcloth on our face to greet the day, and I hadn't thought about that for years, until Ashly did the same loving motion. And she talked hardly at all (which I love, in therapists of all kinds), unless it was to softly ask if things were oll korrect (I recently looked up where OK came from, ok?).

It was done too soon, as things of this nature always are, and when I looked at my face in the mirror, the over-used term "glowing" was really the only one that came to mind. I wanted to call my friends to come over just to feel my face. They're all here right now, and they concur - PREEMIE baby's bottom. Ashly and I chatted a bit afterward, and said that she'd gone to school to be a Parent Educator, and work in Child Development (she'd be perfect), but after a while of that, she wanted to be back in adult world. Her Mom had always been really into skin care, and Ashly wanted to be in the business of making people happy. Which her facials certainly do. She said, "Facials are my therapy as well" - that connection with people, increasing their sense of well-being and beauty ... she feels like it's a mutual gift. She's also a Master Waxer .. brows, bikinis, I even saw on the menu "The Manzilian". Intriguing.

Though we could have kept the girl talk going for ages, Ashly is in demand and her next client was waiting, so I went downstairs to talk to Meenoy some more. She is a wonderful Venice woman, born and raised in Northern Canada ... which you can tOtally detect in her speech, endearingly. She is of Black and Chinese descent, and became interested in skin products when, as she said, "Try finding something for Black Chinese teenage skin with acne in Alberta, Canada." Good luck. Meenoy was/is a Massage Therapist by trade, but found that all the business-y parts of running a business (accounting, janitorial, marketing, blah) were too much on top of being on your feet all day, massaging peoples' stresses away. So she opened The Tree House (which her Son, Jazz, named, it turns out) to support independent practitioners in doing what they love. That theme has been very prevalent in Blogtown this week, and in Venice, always. DO WHAT YOU LOVE!

The Tree House has been open since 2003, and the product line, Tree House Roots, is brand new (after two years R&D). All the products are named after Venice streets and places, and like Meenoy said, "The Tree House roots are the Community." You'll find Speedway (Line Reduction Serum), and Windward (Uplifting Body Polish), and Amoroso (Oil Reduction Serum), and Grand Canal (Green Tea Exfoliant), among many more local shout-outs/skin perfecters. Soon there will be Flip Flop Foot Cream (free sample if you can say it five times fast), and a line of Baby skin products too. It was very important to Meenoy that they be ALL Organic, which hardly anything is when they say it is. But they are. She knows the two farmers that grow the ingredients. It's legit. And many contain the almighty, though underused, Hemp. As all the products are organic, the facials only go up to "Lactic" peels, as anything above that tends to involve gnarly chemicals. Lorn-Nicole Robinson is the Advanced Medical Esthetician at The Tree House (the most medically experienced one, having dealt with the heavier chemicals and lasers and stuff like that), and she explained the acid peel why's and why nots to me. I felt happy that my face was just organically toned as I sat listening. Of the Tree House Roots delicious smelling products, Lorn-Nicole said, "these products are good for everyone", meaning all skin types, all stages of ages. Farm raised!

Facials and Waxing are the focus of The Tree House, and soon in 2010 they will begin the "Sugaring" hair removal process, which I hear is fantastic, and superior to the ol' wax stripping, as it leaves skin far softer after the process. I'm in. And so are a lot of people, as The Tree House is not as secret as it seems, especially since it's so easy to make an appointment on their online scheduling page, 24 hours a day.

Meenoy's Tree House fits Venice perfectly, not just because of the home crowd product names, but because the town and its denizens "evolve naturally ... There is no push or shove to be a certain way here ... The sound of the waves are like negative ions, so just being at the beach is like being in a spa." Like most of us, she wanted to live here because of the creativity, the Artists. "It's powerful when your life is coming from your heart."

So, as our theme continues ... DO WHAT YOU LOVE! A good start would be by having a tranquil hour or so up in the tree tops of The Tree House. Because when you leave, you feel loved, and that is awfully catchy.

The Tree House:
1629 1/2 Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Robin's Sculpture Garden

Happy New Year!!

A brief hiatus to revel and regroup, and now we're back and ready to see what's in store for this new decade. It has been painfully beautiful in Venice since I returned, and that goes for people and experiences, as well as the sunshine and sea.

Since I was a wee lass, I've always written on my calendar at the end of every day a recap of roughly what I did. Always. I could tell you what I did in 7th grade on a Monday in January. This year's calendar for 2010 is by Jane Evershed, a Minnesota artist I've long admired, and it's called "The Power Of Women". I thought I'd rip that that off a bit, and start the 10's off with a few stories about some wonderful Women in Venice.

For a very long time, I've walked or ridden by this mysterious space on Abbot Kinney (1632), with a little handmade sign that said, "Robin's Sculpture Garden". I tried to take my Venice Arts class there once to look inside, but it seemed to be kind of randomly open. And I'm usually flying by on my way somewhere. So it was on a bright day right before I left town for the holidays, that I met the Robin of Robin's Sculpture Garden at the Farmer's Market - she's the sister of Jim who runs the Market! I made arrangements to come over to the Garden and talk to her that very afternoon.

There were people talking to Robin when I arrived, so I just took my own look around before we settled in to chat. There are sculptures all over the place; mosaics, blown glass pieces, resin, metal, wood, all sorts of materials. And you can tell that they all have a story.

The entire back is an open-air studio where Robin Murez creates her work. Her 10 year old yellow lab, Oscar, is always at her side. He watches carefully, as Robin talks while pouring resin, classical music playing gently in the background. It's very free and casual, and Robin seems to welcome any and all interruptions, sharing her work and her space with anyone who takes the time to enter. I'm not proud to say it took me a long time of passing by before I investigated it, and it's time I regret. In this day and age on Abbot Kinney, to have a space that is solely about creativity over commerce, and expression over posturing, and be simply about ART - well, it's all too rare. But what Venice is supposed to be like, right?

Robin thinks so. She was born and raised in West L.A., but has lived all over. She was a lawyer representing professional athletes for years, and then went to live in St. Louis with an ex-boyfriend. While there, she decided to get her MFA at Washington University, and started to get commission work for her sculpture works while still in school. I asked how she chose sculpture over another medium, and she said, "Do what you love." When she was a little kid, she loved sculpting and ceramics, and always knew where all the best mud was. She still does.

She soon realized that her interests lied in Public Art vs. the elitism of museums, and that she found a true joy in making public spaces more enjoyable. She helped to found City Museum while in St. Louis, a super cool space. Then she did commissioned work for the Laumeier Sculpture Park in the shadow of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and began to get invited all over the world to do installations and enrich environments with her art. She will tell you that her work is about "Creating good sensations", rather than making political statements or anything else. And it certainly comes through in that way.

Walking around her work/showcase space on Abbot Kinney, you feel a sense of the magical. Her little fairy sculptures hanging in the trees, the Egyptian symbolism, oversized glass bamboo shoots, blown glass hearts ... all of it makes you feel like you've crossed over into a suspended space and time, one where you are encouraged to relax, breathe, appreciate, and celebrate not just art, but love of life.

Robin has occupied this particular space on Abbot Kinney for the past 8 years. The benevolent owner of the space donated it to Robin, as a supporter of the arts, and "until he sorts out what he's going to do with it". Let's hope that takes him a good long while, because a special space like this, open to the public whenever she's there, is a true gem in our midst.

All the art on display in the Garden is for sale, and people wandered through and made purchases all the while I was there. Her real bread and butter is still the commissioned works (Oakland Zoo, Southern Illinois University, Union Station, etc ...), but her real energy, it is clear, is devoted to creating beautiful public spaces. Robin has all sorts of wonderful ideas to beautify Venice, and spends her own time and effort trying to do just that. She has a great idea for a Venice Neighborhood Ball Project, where different neighborhoods around town would have a symbol and a mosaic sculpture ball identifying the area. She had so many signatures of support for the project that the Grant/City Of L.A. people thought they were bogus, so the project is now on hold, sadly.

Another cool idea (Remember, we need cool ideas. Look at how strange and out of proportion Windward Circle looks with the one Graham woman torso alone there, representing nothing.) is to embed glass in the pavement on the old Canal street ways, so they would shimmer and gleam like when they still contained water. Sweet! Or construct bronze versions of the camels Abbot Kinney really brought over back in the day, to install at either end of Abbot Kinney Blvd. welcoming people, with little bronze camel footprints up and down the street. Or "Pocket Parks", where little spaces like the tree circles on the walk streets could have a sculpture, each unique and different, that you could circle with an herb garden that would also be useful. Wonderful! But she'll also tell you, it's disappointing how hard and frustrating it can be to get support for public art, even in a place like Venice that is meant to be ALL ABOUT exactly that.

As Robin said, "Venice has been an artistic and playful community from the very beginning. Art is the very Spirit Of Venice!" Increasingly, even on the Art Walk each spring, you feel like that is less and less so. It's more about sales than spirit. Even with fun things like First Fridays (which Robin hosts a fire-pit with music during - check it out this Friday!), she said that merchants were complaining that people were dancing in the streets (!Complaining! What?! That's what areas STRIVE for, isn't it?), instead of celebrating that joy. Boom! No more live music on the street during First Fridays. Really? That's not REALLY who we want to be, is it?

No. It isn't. Along with the obvious loves of ocean, bicycling everywhere, and the PEOPLE and family of Venice, Robin loves the Pacific Resident Theater, another outpost of wonderful art and expression right in the middle of town that many have never attended. So let's think about all of this as a new decade begins ... and what we as a community truly want to be about. I think if we're honest with ourselves, we'll find that what drew most of us here was the community. The expression. The sheer ART of it all. Once we re-identify that spirit, it's thought into action time. With people like Robin spearheading these artistic initiatives, you realize how possible and lovely it all can be.

Stop by the Sculpture Garden sometime soon yourselves. It's very hard not to be inspired once inside.