Dog Park People of LA

I’m not a people person. I’m not what one might call an introvert either, but I definitely don’t feel compelled to engage people I don’t know beyond high-level pleasantries. This isn’t because I lack manners or suffer from social anxiety. I’m just not interested in small talk. Next to filing taxes and getting my pikachu waxed, small talk is my least favorite thing.

You know what else I find tedious? Faking it. Whether it’s joy, an orgasm, or basic interest, I have a tough time putting on an act. It’s exhausting. Like, ask me to organize your book collection by color or to handwrite your Christmas cards for you. But don’t ask me to participate in anything that requires faking it.

I was never an effective networker (insert gasps and surprise). I’m the gal who strolls in, grabs a complementary glass of wine or five and vanishes. My friends and colleagues may find this hard to believe, because when I’m with my inner circle I’m the life of the party. I’m Frank the Tank meets Holly Golightly. I’m in my element. But strangers? No way. Stranger. Danger. Screaming my safe word all the way to the nearest safety exit.

The act of faking it becomes increasingly inane when it comes to mindless banter at the dog park. I have a dog. My husband and I adopted this little ball of fury eight months ago and I’ll admit, I’ve become one of those people. People who allow their canine to kiss them on the mouth, sleep in their bed and basically diminish any hope of having spontaneous sex again. Our idea of foreplay is getting the doggie into her kennel, or “luxury condo” as we have tried to convince her. I really love my dog. But despite being a reasonably good dog parent, I’m hopeless at the dog park.

I’ve never owned a dog in another city, so I may be attaching my experience to Los Angeles unjustly, but I suspect I’m not alone here. Dog park people are kind of basic, am I right? Interacting with humans is one thing, but conversing with another person via your pet is kind of fucked up.

Dog park person: Oh hello! Who do we have here?
Me: Uh. Abby. Her name is Abby.
Dog park person: Hi Abby! This is Peanut. So nice to meet you Abby. Peanut wants to know what kind of doggie Abby is?
Me: She’s a rescue. Not really sure.
Dog park person: Peanut thinks she’s part Chihuahua mixed with Fox Terrier.
Me: I’d say whatever mixed mongrels wander the streets of Long Beach, where she was found. But good guess Peanut.
Dog park person: *quickly drags Peanut in other direction*

The human-to-dog ratio where we live in Venice feels like it could be 2-1. That means 50% of the folks in my neighborhood own dogs, for the math prodigy’s out there. So unless I walk our dog at off peak hours – which I always endeavour to do – the chances of me running into someone with a dog are highly probable. In particular a few people, which despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to avoid.

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I’m a happily married woman. I’ve bought into the whole monogamy thing. Which is why I don’t need toned, tanned and highly fuckable young men walking about shirtless and barefoot and fancy free. Like this one fellow who is on the same human avoidance dog walking schedule as me. Strutting about with his dreads tied in a bun a la Citizen Cope, abs glistening in the hot SoCal sun. It’s too much.

Lip injections with Prince Charles Spaniel
One day a woman with particularly plump lips among other fake body parts approached me and knew my dog by name. She asked if I was my husband’s girlfriend. I said no, actually, I’m his wife. Ever since, she seems to emerge every time I walk by her place so either she’s hot for my hubby or I’ve got a single white female situation on my hands.

Chardonnay sipper with Chiweenie
The most aggressive of the dog park people is this older gal with a southern drawl who sips wine from a to-go cup and let’s her dog run around off leash. Every time I see her she tries to convince me to join a Facebook Group for our local dog park, even though I’ve explained to her that Abby thinks Facebook is lame.

I know you’re supposed to socialize your dog and I do, among people I enjoy who also happen to have dogs. Otherwise I’m going to pretend to speak another language. I’m going to cross the street when I see you coming. I’m going say I’m late for a meeting, I left the stove on or my dog has fleas. Let’s spare each other the false pleasantries, let our dogs sniff each others bottoms and carry on with our day.

Follow my dog Abby on SnapChat @abby.dog and Instagram @abby.spike

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I slay. All day.

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Jim Morrison & Venice

James Douglas Morrison was one of my earliest rock star obsessions. My formative years took place during the tail end of the 80s hair band phenomenon through to grunge and alt rock, but bands of the 60s and 70s were ever-present in our house growing up. My dad’s vinyl collection was a vessel into an era of music so familiar to me it’s as though I was there. Maybe I was? In a past life, anyway.

I began listening to The Doors in my early teens, memorizing every poetic word of every song while listening to my Best of The Doors double CD set on repeat. I would make beaded necklaces that matched the necklace Jim Morrison wore in Joel Brodsky’s iconic “American Poet” photograph like an obsessed groupie. I even stole a huge sign from our local cinema promoting Oliver Stone’s The Doors, which hung above my bed until I moved out of my parent’s home.

In 2008 while in Paris I visited his grave at Père Llachaise Cemetery alongside other Morrison obsessives like me. Then, to top it off, I moved to Venice and live a short walk away from the home he lived in when the band came to be. That all probably sounds pretty creepy, but I swear I didn’t land in Venice just to channel the spirit of the Lizard King and lust after leftover hippies in leather pants, but it further proves my fandom is legit.

A lot of people come to Venice to be closer to Jim and the birthplace of The Doors, either as part of a larger pilgrimage or to relive the days of free love and flower children lining the boardwalk. And its true, his spirit is everywhere. Whether it’s in the form of a portrait by a sidewalk artist, part of mural or the sound of a Doors song blasting from a cyclist’s boombox on the bike path, remnants of Morrison are literally everywhere you look. I wonder if he had any idea how transcendent his words would be 50 years later.

One of my favourite Doors fan rituals was to sit outside Venice Bistro on the boardwalk Sunday nights just before sunset to listen to Peace Frog, their longstanding Doors tribute band. Gentrification has led to new ownership and the band has since relocated, not too far away though, at another bar in Santa Monica.

If you’re coming to Venice to get your Doors fix, here’s a good place to start:

  • Swing by Jim’s old Venice apartment, an orange building with a mural of Morrison himself, on the corner of 18th Avenue and Speedway, one block from the boardwalk.
  • See a show at the Whiskey a Go Go, where The Doors were the house band in the 60s until they were discovered.
  • Catch Peace Frog at their new residency at Zanzibar. The lead singer bears a striking resemblance to Jim, leather pants and all.
  • If you have time, spend a few nights in Mojave, ingest some hallucinogens and channel the spirits of Jim and Ray. Ride the serpent, man.

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The Doors’ John Densmore and Robby Krieger playing with Foo Fighter’s Taylor Hawkins and Stone Temple Pilot’s Robert DeLeo during a tribute to Ray Manzarek.

Now the soft parade
has soon begun.
Cool pools
from a tired land
sink now
in the peace of evening.
– Jim Morrison

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Venice’s Mosaic Tile House

It’s no surprise to stumble upon an unusually decorated home in Venice. Colourful murals adorning garage doors, alleyways brought to life with artful graffiti and decades-old artefacts lining pathways into overgrown gardens. It’s common to see artists using their home as an extension of their artistic expression here. But none as elaborate and ever-evolving as the Mosaic Tile House at 1116 Palms Blvd.

More of a love story than a tourist attraction, the enchanting 1940s house brought to life piece-by-piece over the past four decades, is the home and story of Cheri Pann and Gonzalo Duran. Married for over 20 years (Cheri mentioned Gonzalo was her third husband I believe), both around 80ish, their relationship and artistic partnership seem to have the fiery energy of a couple of 20-year-olds. His studio displays mechanical sculptures and multi-media pieces that challenge the meaning of devotion and love while her studio displays a floor-to-ceiling gallery of portraits of her beloved in various moods, expressions and color palettes. In a way, the place feels like a mutual shrine between the couple, but in no way do they make guests feel as though they’re intruding.

You can book an appointment to visit the Mosaic Tile House for $12 and Cheri offers a guided tour, sharing a few stories along the way until she disappears to let you meander through the home, studio, garden and surrounding yard – everything but the couples bedroom – as long as you like. Gonzalo was there too the day we visited, working on various projects in the front garden. He was kind enough to take a few artistic snaps for my husband and I, ricocheting our image from a reflection in one of their tiny, mirrored mosaics. My husband took a stab at it himself (last pic below) and did a pretty bang up job.

Our timing, luckily, was impeccable as we arranged to drop by in late March when the wisteria was in full bloom – an annual event that only lasts for about 2 weeks. Their front gate is dripping in the pretty purple blossoms, which made the visit all the more magical and colourful. Aside from the intricate detail and the incredible energy of the place, I was most surprised by the kitchen and bathroom, which are both completely covered in mosaic tiles and other curiosities. You would assume it would make the home look messy, but somehow the chaos of it all felt very neat and tidy. Even the hot tub in the backyard is decorated with a mosaic archway, you guys. It’s really a sight to behold.

Los Angeles has a lot to take in, if you’re traveling through, but if you crave something a little offbeat and local, stop by and soak in the kookiness and beauty of this place. Cheri and Gonzalo couldn’t be more friendly and gracious; you’ll feel like family by the time you’re saying your goodbyes.

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Coming to America

I’m not really much for milestones. My husband and I don’t really celebrate our birthdays beyond dinner and handwritten cards. Ditto for wedding anniversaries. Professional milestones come and go, more or less unnoticed, and I’m certainly not acknowledging the fact the my 20-year high school reunion is this year, although that’s more of an I’m-too-young-how-can-this-be kind of thing. It’s just not my jam. But today marks one year from the day we arrived in Los Angeles to embark on a brand new chapter, and I can’t help but call it out.

The hours leading up to our departure from our hometown of Vancouver, BC are so vivid, it’s like my psyche secretly tucked away those final moments because it knew I’d feel sentimental 365 days down the track. And wouldn’t you know it, my own subconscious was spot on. We had a great life that we were uprooting. But as I’ve written about before, that life became cyclical. Our friends were moving on to new adventures, many of them starting families and moving out of the city. California was our next step. Our foray into the unknown.

Two pieces of luggage each, some precious family photos that don’t exist digitally and a little black and white photograph of Vancouver that I ripped from the front of a tear-inducing farewell card a friend gave me were all we had room to bring. The first 6 weeks were spent bouncing between Air BnB’s while trying to figure out where we wanted to lay down some roots. Luckily, we followed longing over logic and settled on Venice, a neighbourhood in the midst of intense gentrification driving the cost of living through the roof. Nothing new to a couple of Vancouverites and we didn’t come to California to be landlocked. We needed to be near the sea.

In the past year we’ve created a home in a neighbourhood we love alongside neighbours we adore. We’ve made lifelong friends, established our careers here and adopted the cutest rescue pup you’ve ever laid eyes on (total crazy dog lady bias). We’ve road-tripped all over this great state with so much more to explore. We’ve built a life here.

The novelty of biking everywhere, walking around barefoot every day, having fruit grow on our trees in winter and watching pink sunsets adorned with silhouettes of palm trees from our kitchen window doesn’t get old. Not yet, anyway. I hope it never does.

I miss Canada, but mostly Canadian things. Like the CBC and maple tress in the fall and people who understand what I’m on about when I throw down a little French (you don’t realize how much you do it until you leave!). I miss Canadian values. I miss our families and our friends, who luckily are only a short plane ride away. I miss my girlfriends and the feeling of collective world domination that comes over me every time we get together and polish off a few bottles of wine. I miss writing from our “perch” in Yaletown, overlooking our rainy city. I think of those things often.

But as I write this, the sun is pouring into our little beach pad and the smell of orange blossoms is everywhere and I’m grateful. Grateful to our wonderful American friends, who despite what’s going on in the media at the moment are some of friendliest most welcoming people on the planet. I’m grateful my husband is just as happy as I am here. It’s been a wild ride, Cali. And we’re just getting started.

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Extreme close-up family selfie.

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Venice Walk Streets

When I travel somewhere new, I’m always on the hunt for something way, way off the beaten path. Places where only the locals go. Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to discover these places all on your own. A wrong turn that transforms into a serendipitous discovery. An inadvertent tip from an overhead conversation in a coffee shop.

There’s a place in Venice that, for some reason, no one really talks about. It’s not as iconic as the Venice sign or as colourful as the boardwalk but it’s a welcome retreat from the crowds and turistas.

The Venice Walk Streets, a set of pedestrian only inland walkways dating back to the 1900s, were originally part of Abbot Kinney’s vision to create a city in SoCal modelled after it’s Italian namesake. When the walk streets were first developed, mostly entertainers and people who worked at the Venice Pier lived there. Today, the streets are lined with some of the most expensive real estate in Los Angeles. Julia Roberts lived there until recently.

Despite the influx of affluent residents, the walk streets have managed to maintain their magical appeal. Elaborate gardens, gateways and kitschy artefacts adorn each property as passers-by try to discreetly take a peek. A tree canopy keeps the walkways mostly shaded, making it one of best places to go for a stroll during the summer months. It’s a bit like falling down a rabbit hole and stepping out into another era, psychedelics not necessary.

Although a friend – and long time local – told me about the walk streets, I’m sure I would have found this part of Venice eventually. It’s easy to lose track of time wandering around this wacky neighbourhood. You never know who or what you’re going to find.

The walk streets are Nowita Place, Marco Place, Amoroso Place and Crescent Place. I recommend beginning at Lincoln Boulevard next to Painted Ladies and following Nowita all the way to Shell Ave.

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Venice Walk Streets

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Venice Walk Streets

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Vancouver to Venice

At what point does home not really feel like home anymore? I remember when home was a place I longed for during extended trips abroad or something I marvelled at when I returned, a little more worldly and a lot more appreciative of the city I was declaring as my place of residence on my immigration slip.

Vancouver, BC was that place for more than 12 years. I moved there following 3 months of beach huts and guesthouses in South East Asia. Broke but ready to live on my own for the first time at the ripe old age of 23.

For the next 8 years I would live on the corner of Harwood and Nicola in Vancouver’s whimsical West End. My neighbors ranged from folks who had lived there since the very first pride parade marched down Thurlow Ave to independent filmmakers, punks and pensioners. A block from the beach, I thought I’d live there forever.

Eventually I migrated to the other side of town to shack up with my now husband, still basking in my city’s reputation as the most liveable place on earth. And it was. It still is, in a lot of ways. But like all good things, that chapter was coming to a very natural and amicable conclusion. I had hiked its trails, skied its mountains, and soaked up its ocean shores. There was nothing left to look forward to as life became kind of cyclical. As the late B.B. King would croon, the thrill was gone.

It was the 4th of July weekend in 2012 and I was finishing up at a conference in San Diego. Having not spent time in Los Angeles in a while, I was eager to reacquaint myself with Vancouver’s cinematic sister city. So I convinced my husband (then fiancé) to meet me in Venice for a few days. I can’t really describe it, but as I was sitting on a patio waiting for my husband to arrive, observing all the sun-kissed surfers and nouveau bohemians blow by me, I distinctly remember feeling like I was home.

Fast forward to May of last year, floating listlessly in a West Hollywood pool praying time would stand still, as my husband monitored his phone to make sure we wouldn’t miss our flight home to Vancouver. Again, that feeling. Like we shouldn’t be leaving at all. I declared right then, perched on a pink pool floatie, hazy from the unnecessary Pimm’s cup at breakfast, that one day we would miss our flight home. One year later, we did.

It’s been exactly 3 months since we missed that flight. And we’ve settled in Venice, precisely where I silently predicted we would 3 years ago. I’ve lived outside of Canada before, but this time it doesn’t feel like I’ve left something behind, aside from friends and family of course. With every hidden mural, underground tavern or new walk street to discover, everything about being here feels natural and familiar. Maybe it’s because there are so many similarities, at this stage of Venice’s evolution.

Like Vancouver, cars aren’t necessary in Venice. Neither are heavy winter coats, fashion-forward clothes or having to look far for the nearest community garden. Venice is undergoing considerable gentrification, much to the chagrin of some of its long time residents. The man who runs our local plant shop tries to warn me about the dangers of living here, every time I pop by to replace another succulent I’ve killed. What he doesn’t know is the city I came from has the same income inequalities and clashing of cultures Venice is experiencing now.

One of the most impoverished streets in North America sits a short 10-minute walk from my former high-rise address in Vancouver; a neighbourhood where tiny condos quickly sell for a cool million, sometimes thousands of dollars over asking price. In Vancouver, displaced people struggling with drug addiction and mental health issues live in and among some of the cities most touted hot spots and eateries. The same thing is happening in Venice.

Similar to Vancouver, Venice is far from perfect, despite having one of our main thoroughfares being named the coolest block in America. There are often LAPD choppers buzzing above our little mid-century mod apartment in the middle of the night. Gang tags can suddenly appear everywhere, but are quickly painted over by storeowners. Power lines obscure the otherwise perfect palm-lined skyline as I look towards the beach from our kitchen window. But Venice has soul and character and a history that has inspired some of the most prolific artists and musicians of the last 100 years. The creative fervor in the air is so intoxicating it’s hard to resist. So for now, she is home. And I grow to love her more each day.

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Viva Venice

Three years ago, I was in San Diego on business and decided to extend my stay in SoCal to meet my husband for the weekend in Los Angeles. We settled on Venice, having never spent much time there before. I remember very distinctly sitting on the patio of a Mexican restaurant on Washington Boulevard, waiting for my husband and fantasizing about what it would be like to live there.

The breeze was constant, the temperature was perfect and the vibe was friendly. Neighbourly. And peaceful. Like stumbling upon a tropical oasis in the middle of an arid desert, Venice seemed like a tight-knit community tucked away in the chaos of LA County.

After a few more subsequent trips south, we find ourselves back in Venice to soak up the warmth and the weirdoes. The nouveau bohemians and the Jim Morrison tribute bands. Aspiring artists and American-made treasures ­– vintage, reworked or made new. Musicians seeking a new scene or experience to draw inspiration from. Writers, like me, in sidewalk cafés lingering long after their americanos are finished.

After surviving another long, wet winter on the west coast of Canada, every time I step outside here I breathe a sigh of relief. No socks, no umbrella, no bra. My suitcase was stuffed with only sandals, flowing dresses and kimonos, things I seem to accumulate like crazy despite the cooler climate of home.

We bike everywhere. Big rusty cruisers and no helmets, right alongside the bustling traffic heading to the beach. Something I’d never attempt at home, but all the locals do it, so somehow that makes it feel safe. You hear so many horror stories of traffic in LA, but not in Venice. Not if you do it right.

We’ve holed up in a quaint B’n’B hidden amidst sprawling bougainvillea and lemon trees. Our host has lived in the neighbourhood for 20 years and tells us how much the area has changed. Shortly after she took possession of the house, a teenager was shot and killed down the street. Venice 13 gang tags kept popping up on her fence and well-known hipster haven Abbot Kinney was nothing more than a few shops and dive bars. Balancing gentrification and the history and character that makes Venice so special is delicate business.

While some of Venice’s more iconic sights like Muscle Beach and the longstanding Freak Show will always draw a crowd, it’s the allure of the unexpected that pulls me in. The tropical flowers that grow in every nook and cranny of every side street. Designer pop-up shops in parking lots (I scored a dress and kimono by Mumu yesterday). Masterful murals adorning doorways and alleyways while skaters fly by on their longboards. The charm never seems to fade.

Maybe it’s just a honeymoon phase. Maybe there are dangers and nuisances the locals are concealing. But from where I sit on this breezy backyard patio just off of Abbot Kinney, the fantasy continues.

Standing on a hill in my mountain of dreams,
Telling myself it’s not as hard, hard, hard as it seems.

– Going to California, Led Zepplin

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