Living abroad is a treat and rarely something to regret. I spent 12 months living in Venice Beach, Los Angeles during 1999 to 2000 and this is the first time I have returned since – 18 years on.
A few days in Venice now will only give the most fleeting of impressions, a superficial experience, yet opinions form regardless. Venice feels better; brighter, lighter, more upmarket and busier. I loved living in here almost two decades ago but parts of it were shabby, underdeveloped and underused. It seemed as though Santa Monica was the sensible touristy area with some sense of central planning and policy development while Venice was ad hoc and left to its own devices.
That may be true, but it feels different on return. Luce points out that perhaps I am different instead – let’s hope so. It is certainly more fun to be here on hols with my family rather than on my own sitting in a silent office.
I go on a run to explore in the early evening sun. Down the walk street of Amoroso Place, past the fire engines and down Venice Boulevard to the beach. I visit the doorway of my old flat on Pacific Avenue and this is the only moment that I feel wistful, that pang to be 26 again. I also feel grateful; somehow I managed to live in the most perfect location, a block back from Muscle Beach in the heart of Venice. I even took a photo of my old cornershop where I first discovered Sierra Nevada beer and by accident fell in love with what has come to be called craft beer.
At 6pm the beach is packed, locals and tourists rolling and scooting and riding and lounging and talking and drinking. It feels like all of LA is on holiday, yet this is a Monday night. An office worker scoots past in Chinos, his commute able to take in the boardwalk that runs from Santa Monica to Venice Beach. Market traders hustle for dollars with crude t-shirts and selfie sticks and the ‘Venice frame’ – a 7 foot picture frame which you stand in to then Instagram yourself. Venice Beach is surprisingly tacky, as if the low-rent shops from 20 years ago have put down bindweed-like roots. It always had a poor selection of cafes and bars and this appears unchanged – very odd.
Skateboarding is a part of the SoCal (Southern California) DNA and the skate park on the beach attracts the spectators. Like surfing, another SoCal strand of DNA, skateboarding is fantastically hard to learn and requires serious investments of time.
The area’s drift upmarket has affected the graffiti, and Venice boasts some beautiful art. This does not feel accidental, as if it has been commission by the local tourist board since I lived here, to cement the Venice spirit. The quality is high, outdoing Olinda (Brazil) and San Cristobel (Mexico) from our trip by some margin.
Venice was the bohemian area and it is just about hanging on to its roots; implicit laidback rebellion against the corporate acres of Brentwood and Century City and downtown LA. Property values have shot up in the past decade and many millennials are priced out of living near the beach, just as London 20-somethings cannot afford Zones 1-3.
It is up to the legacy Venice residents to uphold the colourful renegade spirit. From Brazil to Mexico to LA to Oxford we have seen and discussed housing markets and the inability of young people to get on the ladder. These are complex problems to solve. LA has always expanded outwards and it has space to do that in a way that Oxford (and London and San Cristobel in Mexico) cannot currently.
The subject of money is interesting – Venice feels more expensive, although 18 years ago I did not have a caffeine addiction to look after. It is hard to escape the view that Venice caters to the middle class obsession with diet and health and foodie options. As ever, being at the forefront of taste trends is expensive; proactive healthy eating commands premium prices.
Of course not everyone is so lucky and as we walk out of Whole Foods, there are (homeless?) people sleeping and hiding in the bushes next door – two different ecosystems.
The conclusion – what an amazing place to live. Cities have intensity and the ocean dissipates the stress. The sun seems brighter than 18 years ago, or perhaps I just appreciate the Vitamin D and endless palm trees more.
Next stop: Vancouver