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A Los Angeles Primer: Venice

“You could always live in Venice,” a friend suggested as I considered both an employment prospect in Santa Monica and my own unwillingness to live someplace so seemingly distant and expensive. Venice, the next beach city south (albeit one incorporated into Los Angeles proper since 1926), has long reveled in the reputation of offering a cheaper, less controlled, more bohemian alternative to its neighbor. Though I didn’t come away with the Santa Monica job, I did come away fascinated by this other, storied place in which, under different circumstances, I may or may not have lived. I still occasionally make the westward ride over there, never quite believing that just over an hour’s pedaling from downtown brings you to what feels like a separate reality: Venice’s abundance of cheerful, alternately slick and decrepit seaside architecture; its retail areas that range between highly curated and seemingly lawless; its European-filled beach; its famously freakish boardwalk.

Yet I hear the boardwalk doesn’t host as many freaks as it used to, the newer shops only vaguely reflect neighborhood history and identity, those crumbling apartments cost a pretty penny, and as for those live-work spaces with their planes of light wood and glass and surfboards resting on steel balconies, you might as well not even ask. Venice still feels, on the ground, like a distinct, and distinctively more relaxed, realm from the city to its east. Such realms, of course, inevitably make you wonder if they felt even more different before, in a time on which you’ve missed out. Decades ago, Jan Morris described Venice as “a struggling enclave of unorthodoxy,” “a forlorn kind of suburb” built upon “the remains of a fin de si├Ęcle attempt to recreate the original Venice, ‘Venice Italy,’ upon the Pacific coast. A few Renaissance arcades remain, a Ruskinian window here and there, and there is a hangdog system of canals which, with their low-built bridges, their loitering ducks, and their dog-messed paths, their smells of silt and dust and their air of stagnant hush, really do contrive to preserve a truly Venetian suggestion of decay.”

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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