I was slated to head out to L.A. last weekend for a talk. Turned out a blizzard was headed to Colorado and I spent several days freaking out before I realized the answer to the panic was simple: fly out early. I didn’t want to–there was so much to do, and it required actually going down to the airport to change the flight (bye-bye Travelocity!) –but Christopher Robin urged me to change it anyway. "The universe has a little present for you," he said. "Maybe you need to rest."
So, grousing, but ready to let go of worry over actually getting to the gig on Saturday, I did get it changed and booked a room at the last minute in a little hotel not far from Venice Beach.
Even Thursday, it was a grim, dark, snowy morning. I felt lucky to be escaping to California–a chance to let everything go and sleep and walk around and let things noodle around in my head. A new book is brewing, but I have no idea what it’s going to be about yet, and the other one isn’t finished. I brought work with me– a novel to be read for review; another book I reviewed a month or two ago that’s at the heart of a big controversy (more on that another day–really everyone else has covered it more than enough), a couple of business books, and a chart I’ve been trying to find time to fill out for ages.
I ended up reading nothing on the plane, and instead chatted with a young woman next to me, a soldier going to visit her brother. She told me about her children and her exercise program and her dogs and her husband and I found it was pleasant to just listen, letting those stories puddle over my body in little drops.
The landing was horrific, thanks to the winds, which also buried the city of LA in a thick brown haze. By the time my cabbie (annoyed because I was going no farther than Marina Del Rey) dropped me at my hotel, and the winds were so bad there was a bad fire taking houses, and two people had been swept off a jetty, and the palm fronds sailing through the air looked like swords I’d rather avoid. I planned to read, but ended up wandering next door to a convenience store to buy some grapes and little cheeses for lunch, along with a magazine. I was asleep in five seconds.
Then awoke to quiet. I asked the man at the desk (so Scottish I could barely understand him and I do have some familiarity with the accent) how to get to the canals. He asked if I was the roller skater. I am, I said, but not right this minute, not adding how my heart pinched at the desire to be sailing down a pavement with quad skates on my feet…..
Anyway, I set out in the late afternoon on my feet, which do like walking and haven’t done much of it lately. The winds were quiet at last, though they’d left palm swords scattered all over the ground. It wasn’t far to the canals, and I didn’t know they were actual canals, honestly– I had heard they were once, but had been filled in. But as I ambled down Ocean, there they were, glimmering and quiet, just a block over.
The sun slanted low and gold over the rowboats bobbing in the shallow water. Bougainvillea and some kind of giant trumpet tree flower spilled in Technicolor plenty over the fences, a nourishing sight for these flower and color starved eyes. A trim-looking man with a salt and pepper beard walked a small dog, and a woman tended her luscious garden, but I saw no one else. Ducks and geese moved aside–barely–to let me pass. The houses were a hodge-podge of styles, Mediterranean and cubist modern and New Orleans portico style and even one half timbered beauty with a whimsical sense of humor, as if it sprang from Alice in Wonderland or maybe the Hobbitland of someone who drew with a giggle. I bent to smell a blooming rose in shades of pink and yellow, and sure enough, it was a Double Delight (much larger than mine ever think of growing with even the most dedicated nurturing). The air was still.
I promised myself I could come back in the morning, and walked to the beach to touch sand and sea before I heading back for dinner. The waves were high and rough, crashing into the pier and nearly going over it. I realized I’d not walked so far in a month, and my knee didn’t even notice. This sign amused me. As if you will not jump if there is a sign telling you not to. My pores, dried out from a winter of winds and cold, filled with soft sea breezes.
I ate dinner, indulging the white truffle oil which made not a jot of difference in the pasta, though the zinfandel was most delicious. The mother and her young teenage daughter next to me talked about schools and the mother was grounded in her advice–to think where you want to be and then go there. She suggested maybe Hawaii. The daughter laughed good naturedly. They asked about my pasta. I asked about their cheesecake. We chatted about big dreams then went to watch Survivor.
The next day, I just repeated the entire trip, only in bright sunlight. A chat with the woman a the desk, tanned to dark brown leather after many years in the sun, her accent giving away her New York origins. A wander through the canals, much busier in the morning, especially with photographers. Wandered up the boardwalk and ate lunch next to two young women traveling California from Scotland, wandered down to the beach in bare feet and sat in the sand pretending to read, but really just sketching, my hectic thoughts stilled by the roiling ocean, the hurry lost in the glaze of sunlight and distant mountains. My left shin burned a little, my left arm, the top of my head, and still I just sat there, feeling all the lost whirling pieces come back to me, settling with sighs into the crooks of my elbows, my sandy toes, the bridge of my nose. There has been too much doing lately, not enough being.
Good present. Thanks, Universe.
4 thoughts on “Escape to Venice Beach and the high glamour of a writer’s life”
Barbara–it was so good to have you with us. Glad you were able to escape to Venice beach and walk by Abbot Kinney’s canals. They were something to behold in the 60s/70s I tell you. 🙂
I would LOVE to hear your tales of Venice beach in the 60s! Seriously….it must have been an entirely different place.
Thank you for this beautiful moment. I just turned in a ms, so am in that head pops up from the hole, blink blink stage. Spring is slow in coming here–trees still bare, nothing blooming but the tiniest early bulbs like squill. I loved going to CA with you for a bit. Man, you’re such a WRITER!
Kathleen, welcome back to this side. I was so ready for flowers, I just rambled around smelling them, touching them, drinking in their colors….
Spring is really in the air now, though. We’ll all have flowers soon!