Just the Facts, Ma'am
What: Canals where we all thought streets were supposed to go.
Where: Venice, California
Cost: If you plan to live there, you'd better have dollars a-plenty. Otherwise, you can stroll the neighborhood for free.
Why: Pleasant atmosphere, cool houses . . . a lot closer than Venice, Italy . . .
More Information: Westland Web Site
So get this: in 1904 a fellow by the name of Abbot Kinney (locals will recognize his name from street signs) embarked on a dream--the dream of creating a Venice, America. So he hired a bunch of laborers and dug 16 miles of canals. Most of the original canals were later destroyed with the invention of the "motor car," as they were impractical for modern transportation. As a result, the remaining canals became a small, unique quarter of Venice. In the sixties and seventies, beatniks and hippies partied hardy in the canal area. These days, the area has been redeveloped with beautiful homes, and it is now home to the well-moneyed.
My brother and I took a break from writing to investigate the canal. It was nice; occasionally couples or small children would drift by on little rowboats, friends would gather for wine on canal-front patios, someone's crazy cockatoo would cry out from the balcony of their top floor, separating the tourists from the locals as those of us who couldn't immediately spot the bird reached for our cell phones to report a murder-in-progress.
Looking at the houses kept us entertained long after the novelty of the canal wore off. The houses range from beautiful to repulsive (but in a rich, well-kept sort of a way), from quaint to glamorous, from ostentatious to understated. And, lest we should forget what city we were in, we did happen upon the quintessential Venice, California artist's house, where chandeliers made out of doll heads and bottle caps wafted menacingly on the cool, crazy breeze.
It was a relaxing, fascinating stroll . . . but it was still a stroll. I wouldn't recommend making a big trip to Venice just for the canals, but if you're in the area, don't miss them.
What I missed
The rest of the canals. There were more bends and avenues than I expected, and we had to get back to writing eventually.