Thursday, July 28, 2016

A New Palm Tree Mural On Abbot Kinney!

There's a gorgeous new photographic mural on Abbot Kinney, and last night there was a party at the Kit and Ace store to celebrate its artist, Noah Abrams. I don't frequent the posh ABK chain shops, but when my friend DJ Lady Sinclair let me know that she was spinning at this function, I sauntered on over to check it out.

The sun was setting just as I arrived, giving the brand new (put up this very day) mural a golden sheen. Selfie takers were already lining up for their turn in front of the palm trees, with the ubiquitous yoga handstanders front and center. The wall appears to already be a new destination in town.

Inside, Abrams had similar photographic prints available for purchase, and the drinks were flowing in celebration. There was a taco setup outside, courtesy of Tacos Hell Yeah! (great name, and an apt one, as they were delicious), so everyone was properly sated as they enjoyed the art.

I ran into a handful of longtime residents, all of whom thought the proceedings had a whiff of a fancy store pandering to the neighborhood about it (in a week where there's a lot of that going around in the political world), but we all agreed that it was better that they were at least trying to fit in, versus choking their own agenda down our throats (as is also happening this week, courtesy of the DNC).

It was a lovely time on the block, and I discovered that the people at Kit and Ace are all super cool. If you ever need a $100 t-shirt, it's a good place to start. Thank you to them for the tacos, the Modelos, and most of all, for more art in the neighborhood.

Congratulations to Noah Abrams on a new Venice landmark!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Marla's Is Now Munch - And Better Than Ever

Venice has enjoyed the delicious home cooking of Marla's Cafe for years, and now Marla Barreira has passed her baton off to her son, Matt, and Marla's has become Munch. There's a new sign out front, with arrows pointing you around to the brand new back patio that is an oasis of chill right here in the neighborhood. The menu is almost exactly the same, with all of our favorites, so when the carnitas taco craving (or salad, or pasta, or awesome sandwich, or awesome anything ...) , hit last night, we knew right where to go.

You'll immediately notice that the big Nutcracker (year round) and silk butterflies decorating the outdoor patio have been removed, and replaced by twinkle lights, comfy chairs, and a fire pit to dine by. You can now also eat inside, in the newly renovated room adorned with a big, colorful mural created by family friend and artist, Duncan Lemmon. Lowriders rev and hula girls dance around the walls, in a scenario that's perfect for Venice.

Munch is consistently delicious, and the line of folks placing after-work orders were all regulars, and all from the surrounding neighborhood - again, exactly what Venice needs to protect and preserve - our Community. I love a place where you regularly hear, "Having the usual?" That's solid.

Eating outside is always a delight, and now with the new fire pit (that we took over the second some dudes left), it's extra cozy - especially with the bottle(s) of wine that you bring in, because though there's no liquor license, there's also no corkage. Sipping wine outside after a perfectly satisfying and delectable meal, with a complimentary Marla's cookie, is pretty great.

It's great for many reasons, and yet another one is that you can bring your dog, and they'll get their own water bowl and chill right next to you, no problem. Kids love it, Grandmas love it, and so does everyone in between. Though the kids have largely taken over, and Marla is getting a sorely needed break, her hands and heart are still tangibly felt in each dish - that she created. And honestly, I've never had better carnitas - Anywhere.

Munch serves their great food until 2:30 am - and delivers that late too - so there is never a need to subject yourself to a drive-thru or anything like that after the party. In fact, the party will most likely be happening at Munch when you get there late too. They're having an art opening for their muralist and several other local artists on August 5th, and that night promises to be way better than the First Friday stuff going on up the street. Locals are always recognized and hooked up, and you can just tell that the love is there, in everything they do.

Matt Barreira and his family call their brand of cuisine "Feel Good Food", and it is certainly that. Freshly made, home recipe food is the Barreira family tradition, and I'm thrilled to see it being carried on in such a new and excellent way. I'm looking forward to seeing you all there - all the time.

2300 Abbot Kinney
Open Tuesday - Sunday, 5 pm-2:30 am

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Team USA?

When I walked up to the beach this morning, I was met by a big mural on the Graffiti Walls that bore the American flag and the words TEAM USA.

I did not feel the immediate swell of pride I once did as a kid raised in Minnesota, for whom the term "Team USA" will forever mean the Miracle On Ice USA Hockey team from 1980 (Sadly, one of the last times I felt true unity, over something positive). Instead, I felt mostly confusion, like Really? When was the last time we were all a team on anything? When was the last time you weren't utterly embarrassed by at least half of our country's citizens? When was the last time you trusted the Government, or thought we had leaders that weren't fully corrupted by corporations? It's been a long, long time ... When even the DNC admits total corruption in this current election, and the presumptive nominee PROMOTES the person responsible ... the party's over for anyone who remotely thought our elections were still democratic. The confusion comes in when I realize that I'm still profoundly grateful that I'm still able to be free, voice my opposition, stand up for progressive candidates, protest in the streets, have my heart swell at our nation's overwhelming natural beauty, and be moved to my very core by the acts and deeds of the GOOD people of our country still, almost every day.

I love the Olympics. It's one of the very few times it feels like we're all on the same team. I can't wait to watch them when they begin next week in Rio ... and hope that we can all root together for each other once more. Even if it's just about sports. It's something. Maybe it can still rub off on us for things that really matter. Like a political revolution that simply MUST happen if we ever hope to live up to our true potential as a country.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Queen V At The Sunset Marquis!

I was so excited when I heard my friend, Queen V (Veronica Stigeler), was going to be playing at the Sunset Marquis in Hollywood for their Live@Sunset Marquis showcases. We became friends back in 2008 on Tom Morello's Justice Tour, and I haven't had a chance to see her play since. When V let me know that she'd be rocking the pool at the Sunset Marquis last Friday, I was there.

Rock music always needs more women, and Queen V is a front woman from the Joan Jett hard rocking school of female musicians. With her strong voice, lyrics, and guitar chops, V shreds it up with the best of them. It was a sultry, Summer night, with smoke filled air from the wildfire happening up north, and everything about the night was hot. The stage at the Sunset Marquis is set up outside by the pool, so it was all perfectly Hollywood and great.

This was to be a more acoustic show than I remembered, because the place is still a hotel - with guests - so you can't really pull out the huge Marshall stacks when the hotel rooms are hovering right above you. Still, the rock was felt. V and her scaled down band (guitarist Jimi Bones, some percussion, and a backup singer, Lisa Danielle) gave the very enthusiastic audience an abbreviated set that included selections off of her most recent and excellent ep, Bridges, like the awesome "Best Of Me" and the seasonally appropriate, "Summer's Gone", showcasing V and Danielle's harmonies.

The show was being recorded both live on Facebook and for later viewing, so you can check out all the fun we had yourselves. I was kind of surprised to hear them cover "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister, until I heard that the retro band is a favorite of V's husband, former NFL coach, Bill Cowher (who was right down front in full support). And it was awesome.

Queen V is based in New York. so the rare L.A. performance was a special one for the many hardcore fans that were there in attendance. After highlights like V's "Right Or Wrong", "Better", and "Love Song", the band lit into "Hotel California" for their finale. It was just about as perfect a California night (in a hotel known for its hard rock clientele) as one could hope for. And then it was already curfew.

We all adjourned to the hotel bar to congratulate and catch up, and a line to get Queen V merch had formed before we even got there. All as it should be.

Thank you to Queen V and her band, and to the Sunset Marquis for booking such great talent for their live events. Serious rock and roll in Hollywood on a hot, Summer night is exactly what was needed.

... Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place) ... !!!

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Venice Art Crawl - Summer Edition!

The always excellent Venice Art Crawl went down last night, and it could not have been a more lovely evening for it. The still almost full moon lit up the night, the air was warm and fragrant with blossoms, and music and laughter rang out all through the town. It was an absolutely gorgeous night. In every way.

I got back to the Westside later than planned, so had a lot of ground to cover in a short time. I took off down Abbot Kinney, dodging the dining crowd visitors, and stopped in to Tumbleweed & Dandelion first. This is one of my favorite old school shops on the Boulevard, and I'm so happy that they're still there. They had kind of an ice cream social going on the front patio, and it all felt very quaint and neighborly.

It was only about 8 pm, but many of the VAC stops on AKB were already closed down. They might want to consider staying open later on VAC days ... just saying. I saw some great pieces by Sophie Kipner being loaded into her car, as Current/Elliot was shut down for the night. Same for the Little Room Portraits, and a handful of others I'd earmarked on my map. Oh, well. C.A.V.E. was wide open, and full of art enthusiasts checking out the work of Jim Darling and L7m.

There was a lot of good stuff in there, but my favorite was "Midwest Storm" by Jim Darling (I may be biased, hailing from the Heartland). I loved the idea of framing the piece with an airplane window too. Very cool.

Rolling around the corner, I saw a crowd outside of the 310 Gallery, where they were showing work by Zach Touchon. His "Geometric Abstraction" paintings were excellent, as was the cold beer.

Cold beverages were also on offer at In Heroes We Trust, where the fun, old-timey Speakeasy truck was again slinging frosty slush drinks out their window. It's always a good time over there.

Inside IHWT they were showing the wonderful work of Hagop Belian. I love his mixed media pieces, and they all have an instantly iconic vibe about them. He's one of my favorite Venice artists, for sure. (A whole bunch of the dresses for sale were highly covetable and artistic too!)

With time a-ticking, I raced back down AKB to see what was happening at Ecole Claire Fontaine. The garden of the darling pre-school was transformed into a twinkling hideaway, filled with art, music, and children enjoying all of the above. Here I especially enjoyed the work of Jen Lavita, full of ocean landscapes and mermaids.

On to the multi-artist venue at Venice Metal Worx. Alberto Bevacqua, Jon Grauman, MB Boissonnault, and Kate Wolfgang Savage all showed work from photography to metal work in their new venue (most having been relocated from the studios over on Sunset and Vernon (due to rent jackups).

It's a great, cavernous space, with the feeling of an auto garage inside ... albeit a beautiful and artistic garage. I loved a metal piece that listed all the coolest bands A-Z, and would highly suggest you mark this stop on the VAC's next installment. Really cool and diverse stuff.

Though I had friends waiting on me over on Windward, I made a quick detour to Park Place, and I'm SO glad I did. The walk street was full of art revelers, and acoustic tunes from Christopher Hawley lured you down the sidewalk.

The whole block seemed to be participating, with one front yard after the next full of friends enjoying the night. It felt like a lovely, eccentric fairytale of a community, and each stop was hosted by warm and welcoming Venetians (Nice to meet you, Daffodil!). Dustin Otterbach showed his metal pieces (and his airplane capsule parked on Speedway), Jill Kraft showed her photographs, and art was everywhere.

I stopped to look at a cool Jimi painting (who did this?!), and noticed a stack of flyers for Venice legend Maureen Cotter's upcoming August one woman show at Beyond Baroque (August 20th!). I've known Mo for almost 20 years now, but had not yet been to her (newish) Park Place pad, so it was a completely pleasant surprise to find a house full of dear, longtime friends. We shot the breeze and shared tight, true hugs before I had to hightail it off to Windward.

I really wanted to make it to the Old Glory Barber Shop in time to see the photography of Josh "Bagel" Klassman, and was nervous that they too might have already shut down, as I'd spent a good chunk of my time currency on Park Place. I need not have worried, as when I rounded the circle of Windward, I was met with a bumping PARTY inside and out.

All the Venice O.G.'s were there celebrating their friend's work that captured what was billed as "Remembering The Good Years", featuring awesome shots of golden years of skating, surfing, and friendship here in Venice. One photo was better than the next, and all were highly covetable for any true Venice collection to be complete.

At this point I gave up on trying to see everything on the Crawl (and most weren't happening by this time anyway), so we just got down and hung with the Old Glory Crew (which was better than fine by me). We wound up the night enjoying amazing pizza and some byob wine at Venice Cucina in the Circle, under the starry skies of another wonderful night in Venice.

Thanks and Congratulations to the VAC, all the artists, and our entire Community for putting this on, and for being there for each other. It's something special. See you in September for the Fall Crawl!

*And on a personal note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY today to my wonderful, beloved Mom, Marilyn Gronner!


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

High Five For Truth!

I'm often contemplating the state of the world when on my morning constitutional - both mine and the one at large - and today the sidewalk seemed to echo my thoughts precisely ...

Seriously. I don't even like to acknowledge the man's existence, but as it's being choked down our throats every day this week, I thought I could at least return the high five.

Fight the power!

Monday, July 18, 2016

"Made In Venice" Premieres In Venice

The long anticipated, years in the making documentary Made In Venice premiered in Venice last Saturday at The Electric Lodge, and was more than worth the wait. It was a screening for the cast and crew, most of whom were in attendance. This wonderful film tells the story of how the dream of a Venice Skatepark came to be a fantastic reality, and all the struggle that went into it.

The movie covers the history of skating in Venice, and how it came to be known as the legendary Dogtown ("This town ain't fit for a dog!"). Though modern skateboarding was pretty much invented here, it took until 2009 for Venice to have its own skatepark, and would never had happened without the tireless work and absolute belief in the project on the behalf of skaters and activists in the community. As the audience filtered in, you saw one cast member after another arrive ... Christian Hosoi, Jeff Ho, Bart Saric (who did the film's animation sequences), Victor Blue, Tonan, Aaron Murray, Masao Miyashiro, Lauren Wiley, Dan Levy and Juice Magazine ... and finally, the true hero of the story, Jesse Martinez.

Martinez introduced the film along with its director, Jonathan Penson, who both told about the years and hurdles it took to make. They also explained that though we do now have this beautiful skatepark, the struggle continues, as the city of Los Angeles relies on Martinez and his crew to maintain and clean the park every day - without any compensation from the city. Unbelievable. But they do it. Every day, seven days a week.

The documentary is so good because the subject matter is beloved by Venice. It's incredibly lump in the throat touching at times, and laugh out loud funny at others. Venice does not lack for characters, and the ones you get to know in Made In Venice are some of our best. As pro skater Tuma Britton says in the film, "We don't do boring. This is Venice." Exactly.

"We were the bad stepsons of Venice, we were raising hell on this beach. If you were considered a Dogtown boy, you had made it," says Martinez in a clip to explain what it all meant to people. We are taken through the history of the rise and fall of both skating and skateparks, including a time when the area was briefly taken over by Rollerbladers. Dark days indeed. "We'd do almost anything to protect Dogtown," says Martinez at one point - and they certainly did.

Spearheaded by a mighty group of skatepark supporters who truly believed that skaters were the heart and soul of Venice, the dream for a world class skatepark was kept alive, and seen through. Ger-I Lewis teamed up with Heidi Lemmon (of Skatepark Association USA), and along with the tireless help of our late Councilman Bill Rosendahl (who found funds from an old oil fund!), the spirited group finally won approval for a skatepark. It was a unanimous decision from the Coastal Commission, after a touching speech by Martinez who spoke to the fact that skating had changed lives for the much better. And then it took four more years of redtape.

Construction finally began on the park on December 31, 2008 and the official opening was on October 3, 2009 - a triumphant and emotional highpoint of the film. "We did it! And I'm not too old to use it!" - Ger - I Lewis says, with obvious joy across his face. The opening day scenes are so happy and exciting ... but the work didn't/doesn't stop there.

Martinez is out there at the skatepark every morning, pre-dawn, making sure it's clean and safe to skate. This means hand scrubbing off the graffiti, cleaning up after the homeless and partiers that wreak havoc overnight, and generally 100% taking care of the park's maintenance on their own. For free. Often out of their own pockets. This clearly isn't right, and one of the hopes of the film is not only to showcase the park that more pro skaters come out of than any other in the world, but also to show its value to the City of L.A. and get these tireless workers some sorely needed compensation, although money is very obviously not what drives Martinez and his volunteer crew.

"Money you won't be remembered for, but to be a Dogtown boy {or girl}, you'll be remembered forever. This skatepark is the legacy I'll leave behind one day for my sons," says Martinez, and it's true. Both the film and the audience were filled with kids and skaters of the up and coming generations who will continue to benefit from all of the hard work and history of the Venice legends who gave them what they have today. And the future is bright.

Made In Venice closes with a soundbite from the late skate legend and friend, Jay Adams, who says, "You know how some people say, 'Oh, I love it, I'd do it for free'. Well, Jesse IS doing it for free. Why don't some of you guys start paying him?" Yes. WHY don't we? In typical Martinez fashion, he was nowhere to be found when the hoots, hollers, whistles, and "Thank you, Jesse!'s" rang out over the closing credits. I found him outside after the film, far from the crowd, and visibly uncomfortable with the attention and praise. So much so that he'll probably never even see the film, but the important thing is that now everyone else can see it and know what a true hero he is to our community. A true hero Made In Venice.

Made in Venice will debut in theaters August 25, 2016. It's a must see for anyone who knows and loves Venice.

*Merch proceeds from the film will go towards the upkeep of the Skatepark. Get yours!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Long Live Dogtown!

One of the best things about a walk around Venice is discovering all the public art works that decorate our town. Dogtown.

I love the one at Vernon and Electric (by Fransicso Letelier and Marybeth Fama), that serves to remind us of our history and nickname (and also the reason these stories are written under the "Blogtown" name). There are so many walls between us these days ... they should at least be filled with art.

Long Live Dogtown!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Shimmer And Shine In Dark Times

What a bleak time we've been having in this country lately. BLEAK. I can't bear the news, I can't hear about one more shooting ... it's too much. Something MUST be done. I was thinking about all of this on my stroll over to my friend's house for some much needed forgetting. Something sparkly caught my eye on the Nowita walk street, and I saw that one house had strung up garlands of cd's and hung them from their tree to catch the sunlight.

It's a little thing, but something that literally brightened the day. That is so needed now, and any little thing that can be done to bring some shimmer and shine into this dark time, should be done. Thank you to the folks on Nowita who did just that.

*Also, special shout-out to General Admission, who put on a superfun party in their parking lot last Friday for the JBay WSL Surf Contest. They showed it live on a big inflatable movie screen, had South African dancers and drummers, South African BBQ, and South African art on display. Great conversations were had, so much so that I didn't take photos or notes for a proper story, but THANK YOU. We needed that.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Hinano's - Celebrating Our Best, Last Dive Bar

Hinano Café is a Venice institution. A BELOVED institution, made even more so by the fact that it's just about the last good, old-fashioned dive bar that we have left here in town after the demise of the also much-loved Roosterfish (as long gone are The (old) Brig and The Red Garter). Since we all love it so much, it's time we know the whole story.

Back in the day, the Hinano's space was a place called Millie's Cafe. It was opened as Hinano Café (though everyone has always just called it Hinano's or as my friend Laura says, The Hinano) on December 23, 1961 by the original owner, Joe Larson (who recently passed away). He added a pool table in 1965, and locals and tourists alike have been shooting billiards in there ever since. Larson was an avid sailor, and once sailed a small boat all the way to Tahiti. Hinano is the big beer over there, and Larson brought both the name and the beer back to sell here. Larson owned this great, sawdust on the floor bar for 30 years until 1995, then moved to Oregon. A bartender who had worked there since 1965, Lee Glaser, took over for Larson, joining forces with two of the best customers, Andy Schelich and Mark Van Gessel (also a partner in Le Cellier up the street), to become the new co-owners.

Glaser passed away in 2011, but as current bartender Melissa Monroe told me, "She still lives here." Yes, there are some ghost stories, like when they had a memorial at Hinano's for her, the fan quit working and started smoking. A film company had a photo of a neon sign on the wall inside Hinano's that was never there. That kind of thing. Good for her. When you find a place you love, you stick around.

It was important to both Schelich and Van Gessel that the divey charm of the joint remain intact. "We wanted to make sure it wasn't yuppified," says Schelich. "I'm not here to make a killing, I just love the place and want to keep it the way it is." And we love them for it. We also love them for the burgers they serve. The Hinano Burger is famous all over the world. For Venice folks, there really is no other competition. I can't really explain what's so good about it, it just is. They wanted to serve just basic bar food, and that's exactly what you get. A burger and a bag of chips. A couple other sandwiches, but you really want that burger.

About seven years ago, the owners realized that if they were open early anyway to accept deliveries, they should serve up some breakfast while they were at it. So, now you can get breakfast every day until noon, and their breakfast burrito has quickly grown as storied in stature as the burger. I had never really gotten there that early, until a chef friend told me that they had, in his high opinion, the very best breakfast burrito also. I finally had it, and can absolutely concur. You know why? They put hash browns INSIDE the burrito. Yep. I can wait while you get one and return...

Ok, hi again. It was awesome, right? Well, everyone - from suits, artists, film crews, construction crews, the Venice Police and Fire Deparments (who have always eaten for free and gave Hinano's an honorary fire helmet to display), the homeless, night nurses when they get off duty, surfers, tourists - agrees with you. I sat there one morning with Schelich as one by one, regulars filed in and greeted him like family. "We get all variety of people in here," he said. "It's very friendly, there's a great bunch of people here. They're always down to Earth, even when I was just a customer here, I always felt welcome - that, and I liked the ice cold beers."

The ice cold beers. I've never had a colder beer in my life, anywhere. You roll in straight from the beach just steps away, maybe even with seaweed still stuck in your hair (and this is the only place in town I really feel fine with doing that), and they hand you a bottle of beer (specifically, a Red Stripe), and it's so frosty cold you're almost nervous your tongue will stick to it (I'm from Minnesota. I'm familiar with this happening). Schelich said he once got a pitcher so cold it slid down the bar toward him, and he said, "I'm home". They also now have 16 beers on tap, with both local beers, and as Monroe told me, "We keep up with the Yuppies a little bit with their fancy beer." True, they do, but they wouldn't even really need to. Monroe and Mary Alice Crowe (the manager for over 20 years) are my favorites, and Monroe told me that Hinano's was the very first place she came when she arrived in California, thought it was the best place in town, got a job there, and hasn't left. Love at first sight. Totally understand.

Hinano's is really a family feel, and they'd like for customers to treat it like their living room. To feel comfortable, and to treat it like they would their own home. To that end, Hinano's hosts buffets for holidays, like a pot of chili on for Monday Night Football, or free black eyed peas for everyone on New Year's Day. There is always free popcorn. They hand out roses to Moms on Mother's Day. They host Halloween with spectacular costumes coming through. Every Fourth of July, Hinano's becomes a beach headquarters for the neighborhood, with regulars and visitors coming through all day on their way to and from the beach and fireworks in the Marina (Just know that it's so busy that day there are no substitutions on the burgers - it's just plain or the works.).

There is live music every weekend, usually featuring great local bands, but there was also that one St. Patrick's Day that Billy Idol came in and blew the tiny roof off the place (I wasn't there, but I heard.). It's just always a blast, and one of the few places that you feel fine going in by yourself, because you'll either always know someone, or you'll make new friends real easy over pool and that cold beer. Even just walking by, it feels fun inside, like you're probably missing out on something good. That's Hinano's.

While we sat there at the bar at about 11 a.m. talking, a longtime Venice friend of mine came in, Chris White. I asked him how he feels about Hinano's, and he said, "Well. I just got out of bed, and now I'm here." Yep. It's that kind of place. Then, as we were talking, a guy came in off the street absolutely beaming. He told Schelich that Hinano's had been his favorite spot like 30 years ago, and he was thrilled that the place was still open for business. He was practically bouncing as he said, "I'm so happy I want to play that Pharrell song, Happy!" I get it, dude.

When the happy patron left (with a spring in his step), Schelich told me that happens all of the time. "So many people come in that met their husband or wife here, they'll bring their grown kids and tell them this was their spot 40 years ago." I love that so much, and that is why we love Hinano's so much. In light of all the good old places getting priced out and chains moving in and all that, I voiced concern that we would just be crushed should we have to lose Hinano's. Schelich reassured me, saying, "We've been around so long, we have a great landlord, and we're not going anywhere!" I'm not sure if it was the waves or just massive sighs of relief that I heard then, but we're all good. And so is Hinano's.

See you there! Soon.

Hinano Café
15 West Washington Blvd.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fourth Of July In Venice - Freedom!

When you leave somewhere as pretty as Minnesota in the Summer, it helps to return to somewhere as pretty as Venice. It helps even more when your excellent friends plan a July 4th party to rock their foundation.

A foundation that is in jeopardy, by the way, as big developers once again are trying to cleanse our town of our charming bungalows to put up massive ugly boxes, this time on Penmar. So, what better way to celebrate our freedom than a big old bash/show of defiance? And that's exactly what we did.

It was not only a Fourth of July party, but also a one year birthday party for Hatchet Hall (and the 111th birthday for Venice!), the restaurant owned and operated by our party hosts. Chef Brian Dunsmoor and his team closed down the restaurant for the day, but did not take the day off, as they cooked up a crawfish boil feast for all of us lucky friends. Crawfish, sausage, Weiser Farms potatoes, corn on the cob, fried chicken, biscuits, watermelon ... that's about as American as you can get, and it was outrageously delicious. Of course.

Andy Clockwise spun tunes for us all day (kindly throwing down a lot of Prince as I'd just come from visiting Paisley Park and was missing the Minneapolis fireworks coordinated to his music), and we all got DOWN. There's not a whole lot better than day drinking and dancing in the sunshine ... unless it's sunset drinking and dancing ... or nighttime fireworks drinking and dancing ... all of which are American dreams.

The Penmar residents graciously opened the party up to all of Venice, so the crowd was a fine mix of old friends and new. I started a million stories that I didn't finish, only to pick back up where we left off hours later. New stories were also created, as the kegs were slowly depleted and the explosions in the sky began. We all gathered outside for a group photo before it got dark, to document a special time in history, a special day, and a special and beloved place that might not always be here, at least like it was.

It truly was a Happy 4th Of July. We never made it down to the beach to see the official fireworks display, but we didn't need to. The feeling is inside of us, and it was really just about being together. Happy Birthday to our Venice ... we love you just the way you are!  We The People! Freedom!

Thank you to Brian and Lacey for hosting a day we won't soon forget. Love!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Minnesota, Hats Off To Thee!

I just returned from a much needed jaunt home to Minnesota, because there is really no place else as lovely in the Summer. And this year, it's really showing off.

The weather was absolutely perfect the entire time, no humidity, no mosquito bites, I'm really not sure what was going on, but the whole state was working overtime to lure me back. I've never seen bluer blues or greener greens in nature ... no filters required. My first stop is almost always Wood Lake Nature Center, and that's when I know I'm truly home. The trails and animals and nature and people you cross paths with are all just quintessential Minnesota. I was happy to find out that you can now purchase maple syrup and honey at Wood Lake, both tapped and harvested right there in the woods. Perfect.

Apart from the nature, the main reason for going home is always the People. The family and friends that have been there for me my whole life, and never fail to make me feel stronger and real, real lucky. I saw my friends from high school, my friends from college, and friends that I hadn't seen in two decades, including my Augsburg College professor who had saved my senior project documentary on Paisley Park all these years! It was all incredibly special, and I was once again reminded of how fortunate I was to grow up where I did, with these wonderful people.

Wonderful People ... I had not been home since the death of Prince, and was not really prepared for how strong the emotion still is, or how big of an impact his passing still (and always will) has on Minneapolis. We went to pay our respects at First Avenue at Prince's star, and found that the city has placed pianos with Prince themes all over town. We sat down at the one at First Avenue and played a little song for Prince Rogers Nelson, as rain feel around us (not purple, but still symbolic).

Even more moving was the scene at Paisley Park. I was all choked up as we walked the fences surrounding the compound where Prince both lived and was found lifeless. Scores of fans are still there paying their respects, and the fences hold memorials from all over the world. It's really something to see, and provides a glimpse into just how much this legend meant to so many people - globally.

We brought our purple flowers with purple ribbons, and watched a man paint a portrait of Prince with a pancake for his third eye. Parents brought their children and grandparents, and you saw representatives from all walks of life, all equally affected, and all respectfully quiet. It was a beautiful day, and all I could hope was that Prince can somehow see how many lives he touched in his time on Earth ... and will continue to do so through his music (which all of the Minneapolis fireworks were coordinated to yesterday!). I read long stories (encased in plastic) from people who had life-changing encounters with Prince, and felt the weight of the loss even more. It's still so sad, it still makes no sense, but I somehow feel a little better for having gone to see it all. It's something else.

Summer is so precious in Minnesota, and everyone knows it. No one takes it for granted. You hear everyone saying, "Isn't it a beautiful day?!" and know that they all know that these days of Summer are fleeting and must be enjoyed to their fullest. It's a kind of forced Zen, with a whole state of Buddhas, all living in the very moment, and loving every bit of it.

White puffy clouds fill the sky like nowhere else I've ever seen. The blue of the sky and water is so bright it almost hurts to look at. The green of the grass and trees is so vibrant it doesn't even seem real. And no one wants to be inside. Outdoor restaurant patios are full all Summer, backyards become dining rooms, and it's tempting even to sleep outside, if not for that state bird, the mosquito (though I did return with not even one bite!). We're all aware of what a special time it is, with even the radio announcers gushing daily about how beautiful it is outdoors.

Minnesotans spend the Summer near or on water the whole time, mainly because you can't avoid it with 11,842 lakes, major rivers, ponds, swimming holes, creeks, and pools everywhere. We spent the weekend on the St. Croix in our friends' gorgeous boat ("Worth The Winter"!), and it was excellent. I slept in a comfy bed under a skylight, looking up at the zillions of bright stars until I fell asleep on the gently swaying boat anchored in the middle of the river.

We awoke to see a hot air balloon festival get underway, as if things needed to be even more picturesque. The days are filled with water sports, eating, drinking, and generally just feeling total happiness.

Boats fill the river, and the sunsets rival the fireworks that are blasted off over the water. The sunsets that don't even happen until ten at night because Minnesota is so far north. I think that might be my favorite part of it all ...

There are several must see and dos for me whenever I'm home, from special things to eat to special locations that mean a lot to my family and I. I always have to go around the city lakes, and give my love to my favorite one of those, Lake Of The Isles.

I don't know many cities like Minneapolis, where even in the middle of the city, you never feel very far from nature. The lakes are everywhere, and you could be anywhere, except you glance up and there's a skyline for a major Metropolis there too.

I try to always visit Minnehaha Falls when I'm home, because it's always beautiful no matter what time of the year it is, but also because we have a lot of family memories there, and I can still feel them. Summer is the best there though, because you have Seasalt, the great seafood restaurant owned by my Augsburg friend, Jon Blood (whom I also had not seen in like 20 years!).

It's the best to celebrate Independence Day in Minnesota, for all of the above reasons, but also because it just feels like all of the best things about America. I needed that. The real Americana. The real people. The real stuff that makes our country great. I had to leave before all of the festivities got under way to get back to L.A. for work, but what a joy to celebrate freedom and justice for all in both of my home sweet homes, the lands that I love. 

Thank you and LOVE to everyone and everything back home! I carry you in my heart everywhere I go. There's nothing like you.