Monday, December 22, 2014

Glögg Jam 2014!

Last night was the delightful occasion of the annual Glögg Fest, where my friends and loved ones are invited to eat, drink and be merry, Viking style, Venice style.

The night began with a stunning - I mean, STUNNING - sunset spectacularly coloring the skies overhead in brilliant neon. It set the stage for what is always one of my favorite nights of the year. After getting everything baked and prepared, it was time to light the fire, turn up the tunes and wait for guests to arrive.

It's always a situation that I should have way more room for, but somehow the squeeze-in seems to add to the coziness and warmth of the season.

I usually try to have Glögg pretty much right before I leave town, as a bit of a last hurrah for us here in Los Angeles, to see each other and make merry before we all scatter out about the world.

I'm actually just now done cleaning up and packing and about to zoom off to Minnesota myself, full of good cheer from last night.

It was a great bunch because it was a group gathered from across my diverse areas of friendships, so many people had never met, and bridges were built.

Many in attendance had also never before had glögg before, nor been to the Jam, so it was a good initiation to them ... given with the safety warning that glögg can indeed pack a good whallop.

With their first glögg, they also had their first cherry chip cookies (the overwhelming crowd favorite) and their first lefse (the Norwegian tortilla). All were accepted with a hearty SKÅL!

There were some friends I hadn't seen all year, and some friends I'd never met before. Some friends have been to every Glögg Fest on record, some had to miss it to travel, but all were most welcome and a complete blast to have over.

I rarely leave my cauldron of glögg, as it's kind of an on-going re-make to keep the batch going, so the kitchen very much becomes the congregating spot. It's fun to have the party have to keep coming to you to get re-fills, and that way you get to see and talk to everyone.

Laughter rang out over the town, as the place kept getting hotter inside and doors and windows had to be wide open (Sorry, neighbors! You're always welcome to join!). Call it our version of caroling.

Today was not only a glögg fog in our heads, but in Venice. The winter solstice we celebrated last night has ushered in the winter light. As I took my walk on the beach before departing (shortly) for the winter wonderland of Minnesota,  I reflected on how beautiful it all is, here and there. I feel warm enough inside from all that goodness last night, and all the goodness inside of the people I love, that I probably won't even have to wear much of a coat back home. Probably.

End this crazy year feeling great about it, and about what is to come. I'll be back soon. Enjoy all, love all, Merriest Christmas to ALL! God Jul!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Smashing Pumpkins At The Fonda!

I hadn't seen The Smashing Pumpkins in years, so it was with excitement that I accepted my kind friend's invitation to see them live at The Fonda last night.

The place was packed, and the crowd was stoked. It took a while for them to take the stage, but boy, when they did - it went off. There was no opener, and having released the brand new Monuments To An Elegy just last week, they opened up with a bang, playing "One And All (We Are)" off that album. It was extra-rocking, as all the new songs seem to be (I hadn't heard any of it yet, so it was with fresh ears I was listening). It's basically just Billy Corgan left from the original Pumpkins line-up, and the music is all his. And he's FEELING it these days. He spoke very little between songs, just intros and how we're all slaves to social media (true), and let his music do his talking.

I was squeezed in tight on the floor so didn't really take any notes, but did manage to snag the set list, so for Pumpkins aficionados, I got you:

Being Beige
Tonight, Tonight
Drum and Fife
Glass And The Ghost Children
Stand Inside Your Love
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Fame (Bowie cover)
Encore: Burnt Orange Black

And there certainly were Pumpkins aficionados in the house. To the point that I had to tap a woman next to me and tell her how nice it was to see someone getting that overjoyed to see someone play music ... fists pumping to every line - that she knew every word of. She thanked me for noticing, and confirmed that she'd pretty much never been happier. These were her JAMS.

As they were the jams of two bros that sang ecstatically along, arms around shoulders, thrilled at every note (this was enhanced by the j's they kept passing along to everyone - it was a very communal show). They tried to mosh a bit, but it was pretty much between the two of them.

It was all much heavier than I remembered, like metal heavy. This may have been because they had Brad Wilk from Rage on the drums, bashing them to smithereens and lending a much harder rock element to the show. At one point I could actually feel the music through my feet on the concrete floor. It was truly ROCK, through and through.

Another great show in 2014 ... what a wonderful year for music! Truly. There's just nothing like an awesome rock show.

Hey, music - Thank you. Thank you. THANK YOU!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Very Merry Venice Weekend

What a lovely weekend. The holiday spirit is full steam ahead, and it finally got a little chilly, so that helps you feel like more of the real deal. It was the 19th annual Bakeathon on Saturday with my dear friend, Brigette ... we went off. That consumed all of Saturday, happily baking and catching up, as Christmas carols played in the background.

Sunday was one of those jam-packed with opportunities for fun, so you had to choose carefully for merriment optimization. We celebrated the first half of the day with our great pal, Strader, who was (kind of) surprised for his 30th birthday. Fried chicken and a land shark were the highlights of our poolside party, along with clinking glasses in Strader's honor.

Happy Birthday, dear Strider! Here's to a wonderful new year!

We were having such a good time, we lost track of it, and pretty much missed the entire holiday boat parade in the Venice Canals.

We may have missed the actual procession of decorated dinghies, but we still got to see all the lit up bridges and beautiful homes, bursting with color and cheer (and kisses).

Many of the homes were hosting their own annual parties, and music and shouts and laughter could be heard echoing across the water on all sides.

We attended the shindig at the home of the Revelins, and a beautiful time was had by all.

On our stroll home, it was such a delight to cross the bridges, each one decorated with a different theme of glad tidings and peace on earth. By now, the Canals themselves were peaceful, and the clear, starry night had grown colder. All the better to get home to a fire and a blanket and It's A Wonderful Life. Which, of course, it is.

One bridge had a tree that people had attached their Christmas wishes too, a lovely idea, for all the world to see. I hope each one comes absolutely true.

My wish for you all is that you get to spend wonderful time with loved ones, feeling the joy of the season, and the warmth of knowing that you are loved.

And you are. Cheers to everyone, and many thanks for another beautiful weekend to all who made it so!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Send Love Letters

Oh, how lovely. Someone stenciled this grand idea on this neighborhood mailbox, and I think we should all take their advice.

There's something so great about getting real mail, the prettier the envelope among all the junk, the better. Getting an email or text is nice, but to open that letter from the mailbox, see the handwriting, re-read it for years to come ... that's just the best.

I saw a great commercial for the U.S. Postal Service last night, where it said that football has its season, baseball has its season, but now is the season for the U.S.P.S. All those beautiful holiday cards and packages, with the postal workers trudging through rain, sleet, and snow (and heat out here) to bring expressions of love to people everywhere deserve our appreciation. It's also a wonderful tradition that would be sad to see go away. We've already lost our great old post office here in Venice (the annex one just isn't the same), so it's right to be a little concerned.

So, when the spirit (or your heart) moves you, put together a little surprise to make someone's day. And keep the Post Office alive. Be creative, be honest, be appreciative, be loving. Filling someone's heart is a beautiful reward.

“The frankest and freest and privatest product of the human mind and heart is a love letter.” 
-  Mark Twain

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Snow Day For Venice!

The holiday spirit continued spreading throughout Venice last weekend, when The Brig parking lot once again hosted a winter wonderland of snow and fun for the neighborhood kids. The fact that it was around 72 and sunny as could be, only made it that much nicer. And funny.

Parents in tank tops and shorts stood in the long line to sled with (or more accurately, photograph) their kids, some of whom had never seen this crazy white stuff. I'm from Minnesota, so find it amusing that last year when back home they had to export city snow to the country just so cars could traverse the roads, here we have to import it (or make it) and hurry up to use it before it melts. Needless to say, there were a lot of wet - but happy - kids.

There was an area for kids to make holiday themed crafts, or, because these are Venice kids, to get some fake Christmas ink if they wanted.

Because this is The Brig parking lot, there were also food trucks. Of course.

As exciting as the snow was, the real thrill of the day was a visit with Santa Claus, here to warm up a bit before his big night. Most kids seemed ecstatic to see the jolly fellow ... some were possibly scarred for life, if their screams were to be believed. Santas are a really patient bunch.

It's a great thing to have this for everyone to enjoy, and kept the joy and kinship felt at the Venice sign lighting going, even as the shops nearby beckoned revelers to get on their shopping.

There were nothing but smiles (other than from the freaked out kids) and greetings shouted across the snow hill, and it really felt like an old-fashioned holiday once again - even if we were sweating.

Ho Ho HO!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Third Annual Venice Sign Holiday Lighting - The Best.

Venice may as well have been Bedford Falls last Friday evening, when what seemed like the entire community came out to watch the Venice sign get its holiday outfit on. Windward Avenue was closed to traffic, a stage was set up and the whole area's halls were decked.

Though First Friday was going on over on Abbot Kinney with a "Holiday Stroll", it seemed like residents left that to the visitors, as seemingly everyone I knew was over on Windward - and in a great mood. The holiday spirit was contagious, and as friends and neighbors greeted each other under the almost-full moon, there was something special in the air.

Booths sold hot chocolate and cookies, and/or gave out information about various community organizations.

One smart entrepreneur had a brisk business going, selling Santa hats from his bike. There were a lot of takers, even though the night was unusually balmy.

Snowflakes were projected on to the surrounding buildings, making it all the more festive - even if it's the only kind we're going to see around these parts.

The Venice Symphony Orchestra played a nice sampling of seasonal songs (and some '80's metal!), from "Hava Nagila" to "Silent Night" and even had a choir to accompany them this year. My favorite was when the entire crowd sang along to John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)" on the War is over, if you want it ... part. It was pretty moving. Actually all of it was, seeing everyone together for the sake of fun, not protests, in these super-charged times. Conductor Wesley Flowers voiced his vision of seeing a similar gathering for Fourth Of July, with maybe the VSO playing at the end of the Venice Pier. Everyone yelled their approval, so let's make that happen!

Councilman Mike Bonin did the usual political m.c. speech, and gave a certificate to Danny Samakow, honoring him for his creation of the holiday sign lighting and wonderful stewardship of our town, or as Bonin put it (in an unusual for a politician turn of phrase), "He likes to make shit happen." Gotta love Venice. Samakow chose not to dress as Santa this year, and said, "Go see the LAPD Santa, he's around somewhere." Comedy - and yes, the LAPD Santa was cruising around town on his "Sleigh" earlier in the evening.

Bonin next introduced this year's celebrity guest light switcher, Pink, holding her daughter, Willow. I've seen Pink around for years, and think she was a great choice. Even greater when she said that she moved here when she was 20, but wanted to run away here when she was 9. (Me too!). She chose to live and raise her daughter here because "There's room for all of us, to live and love as we want ... I love the feistiness of it, the creativity of it ... I'm just madly in love with Venice. Merry Everything!"

With that, Pink and Willow pushed the button and the Venice sign blinked on with it's Christmas red and green lights, and the crowd went wild. They really did. It's kind of great to see a whole community get jazzed just by six letters turning on, but it's more than that, isn't it? It's the feeling of loving where you live, and celebrating that with the people around you that feel the same, and want to keep our part of the world special.

Special it was, as you couldn't move two feet without bumping into yet another old friend to hug. Or new friends, as I became a true tree-hugger with my new friend, The Tree Man.

The crowd slowly dispersed (after the obligatory photos in the intersection under the sign!) for the various neighboring watering holes.

We hightailed it back over to The Townhouse, where the Repeal Day party, pig roast and lecture was already in high gear. Owners Louis and Netty Ryan hosted their biggest party of the year, celebrating the end of Prohibition in 1933.

This meant a giant pig roast (and delicious sides) courtesy of  Oscar's Cerveteca, all free of charge as a thank you to patrons. It was great.

Downstairs, the cocktail historian again gave his interesting and humorous lecture, accompanied by the drinks of the era.

Speaking of drinks, upstairs when the bell rang (and another roar from the crowd), the drinks were at 1933 prices for an hour. Bedlam ensued, trying to get to the bar, but all was good-natured and a blast as you just chatted up the people next to you as you waited.

After a night of carousing, the streets emptied, but the sign kept the holiday spirit going all night ... kind of like the Christmas tree in the living room of the whole town. Venice as Bedford Falls? There really are Christmas miracles. Thank you to all who made this wonderful event happen so beautifully again ... even if you were just there singing along. All lives matter.

Let us all remember that as we enjoy our holidays together, and try to go for that one really big miracle ... Peace on Earth.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

We Can't Breathe!

OH, Man. It's been a while since I've had a good, old-fashioned bit of a rant, but I haven't been this upset or disgusted in quite a while. The whole Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner (a father of six) no indictment MURDERS (among many other similar situations) simply cannot be tolerated.

A day after that decision in New York, the number one thing trending right this second was "Elsa doll". If the most important thing to Americans right now is accumulating more stuff for future landfills, then I'm not sure we can be helped ... but we have to try. I'm all about Christmas (my name is Carol for a reason), but the spirit of Christmas isn't about stuff, and you all know it. The Rockefeller Center tree lighting was last night, and I really hoped it would be disrupted, just so this national DISASTER would be forced in viewers' faces, so they can't keep being ostriches about it all. All they said in the telecast I saw a clip of was that there were some high emotions around town. Understatement/sweep under the rug if ever there was one.

Anyone who gives a rat's ass about any Kardashian ass or whatever other bullshit distraction you're choosing over the absolute implosion of our country simply deserves what we get. You should all renounce your citizenship and build a colony in a cave in Greenland or somewhere where you never have to even care about the climate or other people or anything but yourselves and your illogical fears. You can just stare at your screens and live the virtual Wall-E lives you're already living. It seems that film was very prescient. Only those people were probably smarter.

Of course it all comes down to education, be it from books or the streets. It's up to you to learn about your world. Be smarter.

It's once again to haul out the old Einstein adage, "Remember your humanity, and forget the rest." For goodness' sake!

The remaining people can try to salvage what's left, and what those people don't care about anyway - the climate, that humanity ... My stance is really more The United Countries Of The World anyway.

These recent grand jury decisions are pure outrage, and anybody that doesn't think so needs some real self-examination. What the hell in this day and age are we even still having to talk about race for?! We're ALL THE SAME! (Tangent, but the fact that there are tanning salons in this country seems to be a colossal joke now, right?) This is an international embarrassment.

It seems to me like it's some weird payback for all of the people who worked so hard to get President Obama elected, and all that HOPE, that we might have finally put this country's racist history behind us. That we could finally move forward with positive CHANGE. Now it's just like "In your face, suckers!" from almost all areas of "authority". It makes me wonder what the payback will be when we elect Elizabeth Warren (see, still HOPING)? Oh wait, women are already being beaten by their husbands on camera, and the pigs are getting away with that too. These are simply mortifying times.

But they don't have to be. We can unite and refuse to accept this treatment of our fellow citizens, for the sake of us all. Singers need to be singing out. Ball players need to stop hitting and KEEP their hands up (Go Rams, even if I'm a Viking!). Photographers need to keep shooting the REAL stories, even if THEY wind up being the ones indicted (another crime against free speech). Marchers need to keep interrupting traffic. Writers need to keep telling the TRUTH. That's the only way a change is gonna come, the only way it ever has.

As ever, we shall overcome, not BE overcome. We cannot - and will not - collectively lose our breath as a nation. We just have to come together to honestly do what is RIGHT.

Now I need to go breathe. Thanks.

*Cartoon from Bill Bramhall, New York Daily News (via Jenna Rosener).

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Farewell, Dr. Geek

Venice lost another of its Boardwalk legends a few days ago, when Dr. Geek (Wilbur Johnson) passed away. He would pull his amp up and down the Boardwalk and improvise freestyle raps based on whatever he was looking at, and would always crack you up.

My favorite line of his said to me was, "Hey Blondie, I like the way you wear your laundry!" Ha! He was always super positive, super funny and a delight to see coming towards you. I never had the chance to do a story on him, and will always regret that. It lights a fire to both tell the stories of and absolutely treasure the characters we still have.

But we didn't always have them. Wilbur Johnson chose to become Dr. Geek and spread his fun and love around town for decades. Bobby Brown chose to become The World's Greatest Wino and tell jokes on the beach for decades. We still have Harry Perry, the Tree Man, Solomon the Snake Man (now sans snakes, but still delivering fiery speeches atop his ladder), the Your Name On Rice lady (all of whom I need to do stories on - let's go!) ... but they weren't always there either.

I'd like to see a new generation of spirited and unique people create their own Venice legends ... you know you're out there, wanting to express yourselves, to give people a thrill,  and to keep Venice interesting and different and worthy of being a destination, vs. turning into just every other generic chain store town. No way.

I'll miss Dr. Geek and his raps ... and look forward to seeing who comes along to carry his torch (or top hat). Rest In Peace, good Doctor!

*Photos swiped from his website ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In Heroes We Trust - A Super Venice Shop

In Heroes We Trust is the (great) name of the great new shop I just discovered right around the corner from Abbot Kinney Boulevard on Westminster. You can't miss it because the street art on the sidewalks leads you right to it.

There may be artists right there on the sidewalk making their art when you stroll up, as there was when I did. That's because owner Neely Shearer wants her store to be an interactive experience, a place to see art and fashion and the people that make it.

Shearer, a native Californian, spent most of the 90's in Japan, living and working in design. When she returned, she had a store in West Hollywood called Xin (pronounced "sheen") for years, which she closed when that nasty recession hit. That enabled her to spend more time on her own (gorgeous) design company, Parade.

The itch to re-open a place of her own arose again, and she found the space for In Heroes We Trust on Westminster, and opened this past June.

The store is a wonderful mix of new and vintage designs, with her preferred decades of the 60's and 70's - right up my alley (as is the store!). The beautiful clothing, jewelry and art share the space with depictions of Heroes on the walls, all chosen and painted by local street artists like Chase, Isabelle Alford-Lago and Diana Garcia, just to name a few.

Heroes (the theme inspired by the David Bowie song) range from Mighty Mouse and Michael Jackson to Frida Kahlo and Nelson Mandela ... illustrating perfectly the point that anyone can be a Hero to anyone else. Each of these heroic designs will be showing up in Shearer's In Heroes We Trust t-shirt line coming soon. And you'll want one.

These aren't idols, they're heroes - there's a difference. Heroes are an example of what is GOOD, and we can all aspire to be that. Shearer mused that these days, street artists are heroes themselves, which is certainly true enough. "We're in a time where we really can do and be what we WANT," she explained, adding that some of her designers are single moms, working hard, but doing what they're passionate about. That alone is heroic, in my view.

Shearer told me that, like Venice itself, the shop is a creative vortex. People stop in all the time with instruments for impromptu jam sessions. Artists leave easels there to paint the next time they come by. Newcomers stumble upon the shop from Abbot Kinney and are surprised and delighted to make this discovery of their new spot. Friends came and went as we sat there chatting, and it wasn't long before a stylish friend of Shearer's came by with a bottle of champagne to pop, for no good reason other than being there together, like-minded people appreciating art, a great store, and a sunny day.

There will be a party/art opening/celebration of all things heroic this Thursday evening, December 4th. Music, hula hooping, live art, gift shopping, and fun is the occasion. A great time to stop by and make this wonderful discovery for yourself - a very Venice-minded shop in the heart of Venice. Exactly what we need more of these days.

Because, remember ...We can beat them, just for one day, We can be Heroes, just for one day. 

Or every day.

In Heroes We Trust
300 Westminster Ave.
Instagram: Inheroeswetrust_venice