Monday, March 31, 2014

Venice Oceanarium At The Pier

Two of things I love most in life are the ocean and words. I've kept a quote book pretty much since I first learned to write, so it was with pure delight that on a picture-perfect (but extra windy) Sunday, I saw some of the most beautiful quotes about the sea ever lining the Venice Pier, courtesy of the Venice Oceanarium.

The Oceanarium is a "Museum without walls", and they set up most Sundays at the end of the pier, from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. They line the stroll down to the end of the pier with the beautiful quotes from the likes of Shakespeare and Neruda and Melville that nearly cause you to swoon over the side into the ocean below.

At the end of the pier they set up an ever-changing display of creatures and plants from the sea, to educate and fascinate ... only this week they were packing up early because the wind was blowing so crazy the tent was threatening to go overboard.

I kind of like that there's nothing really to do attraction-wise on our Venice Pier, that it really is only about the ocean, the view and that feeling that only comes from being on the water - or above it, as it were.

The Venice Oceanarium is another absolute treasure about Venice that we should all appreciate and support. They put on the extra cool and fun events like the annual Grunion Run parties (mark your books for the next, even bigger and more fun one than ever, Friday, May 16th!) , the great annual weekend long reading at the Breakwater of the entire Moby Dick, and the heart-melting quotes and wall-less museum most every Sunday.

It's so beautiful here on days like this that it's hard to put into words ... but they did.

Thank you, Oceanarium!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Art Crawl Is The Best

I love the Venice Art Crawl. I do. It's so fun every time, you always see people you know, and you always see some cool art that you'd like to have for yourself.  It reminds me of old First Fridays, when it was by and for the locals, pre-the shit show it has now become, that we all avoid.

The VAC feels old school because the pop up gallery operators (from shops to private galleries and homes) all have a sense of fun, drinks are served, music is played, and I actually saw MOSTLY Venetians at this last March one ... so many that it was actually a problem if you wanted to see all the art, because you kept stopping to catch up with friendly faces. Thus, I didn't get around to even a small fraction of the nearly 40 stops.

My first encounter was with a young man named Joey Thompson and his "Interactive Inspirational Art". He made what he called "Story kits" ... a frame made out of palm tree wood, with 52 blocks with art on them, and 52 matching blank blocks. The idea is that you give the painted one away, then take the blank one and write the story (however you like, so you can be creative too - he used pen and Sharpie, I might go more painty/flowery than that, so your frame winds up looking great) of how and who you gave it to on there. It's a very sweet idea, and you can get a kit from Thompson at He also makes roses out of palm leaves, which he presented me with as I took my leave. Art with a heart is the very best kind.

Another tent at the "Unique Boardwalk" stop featured bright, black lit pieces in Dayglo colors ... very Boardwalk indeed.

As were the vibrant skateboard decks also at this stop, all too pretty to ride.

Frank Strasser was showing at Hama Sushi, and then it was time to say hello to the Venice Symphony Orchestra friends at their fundraiser at the Containers on Main Street. In a very non-Art Crawl vibe, I was told that the Orchestra was not allowed to play that night because of some random ordinance I didn't understand. Dumb. So we had a beer and looked ahead to more music from them soon.

Jules Muck just finished a new mural on the side of this Main Street building. Every time I see a Venice building covered in an expansive mural, it makes me so happy. All buildings should have murals, it would be so much more fun-looking everywhere.

The Dennis Hopper mural faces the new Muck one, and a guy had a drone camera flying around catching the whole scene as it swooped around over our heads. That thing is super cool. (You can kind of see it in mid-air if you squint.)

Lightning Bolt and Venice Originals were both having fun parties, with snacks and beers, as everyone seemed to serving up tall PBR's on this night. To the point where Pabst should consider being an official sponsor.

The scene at Gotta Have It was spilling out on to the sidewalk, where even more PBR's were consumed as revelers admired the art of Miss Lacey Cowden (you will recognize it from The Hart and The Hunter's walls).

Cowden was really extra-exhibiting her talents, as she also played a full set of her story-telling ballads for the packed room. It was awesome. I love my friends.

From there, it was on to The Ave to see the Venice photography of Chuck Katz ... and to drink still more PBR's. Packed again, and a total blast to be there with random fun friends, some that I hadn't seen in literally years. People were OUT.

I regret to even say that the posse next moved only a couple doors down to The Townhouse to close out the night. Most VAC stops shut down at 10, and it was well past that by then. I'm mad at myself for missing other great art stops, like Sunny Bak and Ray Rae and about 30 others ... but the people I saw more than made up for that. Next time I will plan better, and factor in time to allow for surprise encounters ... or just drag them along. It's ALL good.

The next Venice Art Crawl is June 19th, and you really don't want to miss it. Any of it. Especially if you've lived here a while and miss your O.G. pals ... chances are you'll have a super fun reunion (sponsored by Pabst).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Life Takes Time

As is often the case here in Venice, sometimes the very best advice comes from just walking down the street ...

When so much is insane these days, it's more important than ever to remember - No, MAKE SURE - that you do, in fact, LOVE what you do. And do what you love. I'm pretty sure that's the whole point of this one turn you get in this life.



Monday, March 10, 2014

Sunday In The Park With Venice

Yesterday was one of the most perfect beach days on record. Not a cloud in the sky except for some of those pretty, angel-looking wispy ones ... and so warm it was almost weird (for March). After a day on the sand with Bunny, I pedaled towards home and passed by this gentleman on the bench playing his erhu (Chinese violin) ...

It sounded so lovely and exotic against the happy shouts of kids, skateboard wheels grinding and waves crashing in the distance ... And he looked so happy.

It was exactly what Venice is all about. Needs to be all about. One love.

Thank you, dear Venice.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Bunny Lua - Green House Goddess

When I think about my very favorite women in Venice, Bunny Lua is at the top of the list. I spent some time with her recently at her family business, The Green House Smoke Shop, and I'm clearly not alone in adoring Bunny. All day long, her regulars came in, thrilled both to see her, and to get the most quality smoke products in town.

In a time of so much change in Venice, The Green House is an exception to the recent rule of longtime Venice businesses getting moved out and replaced by cheesy high-end stores run by people who simply do not get the neighborhood. On the contrary, The Green House has added another location at 736 Washington Boulevard, in addition to the original on Abbot Kinney. So loyal are her customers that when the new one opened up shop, they were getting enraged customers walking in there thinking that they stole the Green House name! There are happy sighs of relief once reassured that it was a second, just as cool location, by the same people. Phew.

It's easy to see where that loyalty comes from. Lua and her "Old Man," Sandor Caplan, are super knowledgeable about every item they sell, and it's evident that they actually care about their customers. It's an education to sit and listen to them deal with people and their smoking needs, as they were schooled by legends in the field, such as Tommy Chong, Jason Harris, Jack Herer and Charlie Weinberger.

But it's not just the expertise that brings the people back. Even if they have to come far, like a Hunter Thompson looking guy that came in all the way from Apple Valley, just to see Lua and get his specific kind of Nat Shermans (which they carry every single kind of). He called her a "Dakini", a Tibetan goddess, and kept saying things like, "Whoa, you really are tuned in!" and "Wow, you really do listen!" And she does. So much so that she feels like a Mom to the whole community, often listening to peoples' deepest stuff when they come in and need a kind and generous ear.

She's also a Mom to their wonderful son, Leaf, who has grown up in the shop and been raised by the whole Venice village. He's the kind of kid who the first thing he said when he saw me was "Straight A's!" and threw up a high five. The kind of kid who asked us questions about how to best be a gentleman. Who loves basketball so much that Caplan installed a hoop on the sidewalk right in front of the shop for a while. They're the kind of Venice business that keeps it old school too. If Leaf has a midday doctor appointment, they'll close the shop and take him. If it's a particularly gorgeous day, you might find a sign saying, "Gone Swimming!" Their business card says they're open "11-ish." (And they close at 7-ish). "It's a beach community ... things happen in the daytime. Business is just one part of life ... but it's not ALL of life. You have to LIVE." Amen, my sister.

The Green House is a place that endorses "smoking for your health". That sounds funny, but to hear Lua explain it, it makes sense. "Smoking is an age-old ritual. You do it for enjoyment. It relaxes you. It's something you do for yourself ... for your sanity, your alignment, for your clarity and spiritual self." Which is why they carry the top shelf items (like the very popular Pax vaporizer) to do so. Like, you could go get some cheap water pipe on the Boardwalk, "but there's a huge difference in quality pieces. There just is. We have integrity. Have some self respect," says Lua. Yeah.

Being pioneers and mainstays of the legitimately "cool" part of Abbot Kinney, Lua and Caplan have always kept it real at The Green House (which opened on 4/20/2001, appropriately).  When they opened, "Abbot Kinney was kind of a scary street. Our first customers were gangsters, and this shop was a neutral zone." It still is. Lua enthused, "I love the people I meet here, from the homeless of the homeless to literally royalty. We're part of each others' lives, and my stores wouldn't be what they are without my customers. They are the soul of our business. We want to provide something they want with pleasure and passion." This became more obvious with each customer that walked through the door. After one long conversation about fracking and wealth inequality with a guy visiting from New York, he said, "I have chills! I'm so glad I opened my mouth to talk to you!" And it's like that all day long, with owners and customers alike both enjoying and learning from each other.

Lua was born in the Phillipines and raised in Hawai'i and California. She and Caplan settled in Venice in 1998 and have been an important part of the town ever since. Very active locally, Lua has taken on the Abbot Kinney festival planning, been a film liaison between local merchants and production companies, was active in getting a new playground for Westminster school, an active pursuer of getting bike racks, garbage bins and crosswalks installed, cleans up all the trash after the filthy food truck people Saturdays after First Fridays, and the list goes on. She clearly cares so much about the community she calls home, and does her best to "Protect our hood".

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood kind of feeling here. I love this place. I AM a Venetian. I belong here. I will protect Venice." We aren't talking about stopping progress or change. "It's about protecting the feeling of the place. People feel like they're a part of something here, it's special. We don't want to lose that feeling ... and the kind of loyalty we enjoy only happens in a true community." Just the a guy came in and asked if his dog could come in too, to which Lua replied, "That's your VIP pass." It's that kind of a place.

That neighborhood feeling is disappearing though, and it's up to people like us to preserve it. Lua said, "People all used to know each other. You could run next door and borrow a hammer. Kristy at Jin Patisserie would save the last cake she knew I loved. The corporations coming in are taking away that community feel, and that's what I miss the most." THAT is what we're trying to protect.

When you walk in the Green House door and see all the postcards friends of the shop have sent from all over the world, you realize how truly much a part of their customers' lives these special places are. I asked this spectacular Venice woman what she would want to say to everyone in the neighborhood, and she simply and beautifully answered, "Be kind. All of Venice needs to care about each other." True words, timely words, and ones that Lua absolutely lives by.

Stop in and say hi at either Green House location ... and try them again if they happen to have left early to see a particularly great sunset that day in Venice.

The Green Houses are at:

1428 Abbot Kinney


736 Washington Blvd.