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It was only after I began to create Venice that I began to examine all of these issues,”  Abbot said.

“And why was that?”

“This storytelling seems to be one-sided; I seem to be doing all of the talking.  Are you sure you would you like to hear and yet another story?”  I nodded my head, and Abbot began his tale as we continued our vigorous walk.  Actually, I knew much of Abbot Kinney’s story already.  It is that way with celebrities; people like to discuss them all the time, sharing any bits of information they had heard so as to appear to know the individual first hand.

With some partners, Abbot had bought a large parcel of land south of Santa Monica on the Pacific Ocean. Using their combined resources, the partnership extensively developed Ocean Park, the northern area, including the construction of a pier.  But when one of the partners died, his replacements quarreled constantly with Abbot Kinney.  Abbot called for a meeting to dissolve the partnership and to divide the land into equitable holdings.

“At the meeting, my partners appeared, thronged by lawyers.  It was then I knew our battles would continue on indefinitely if I took any portion of the already developed real estate. It was true I had already invested a great amount of capital into Ocean Park, but I have always preferred peace to security.  So, I proposed to take only the salt marshes which lay to the south.

We had left the marshes undeveloped because they had been deemed impossible to develop.

“You can imagine my partners’ euphoria at my proposal.   They thought I had gone mad, and not believing their good fortune, had their attorneys draw up the papers before I had a chance to change my plainly deluded mind.  But I was not going to change my mind.  I had often strolled those marshes and felt something very strong, almost magical there.  Whatever it was, it had gripped my heart and had not let go.  I had no idea how I was going to build a city on marshes, but I also seemed to know that if the city was to be, it would occur.”

From the stories he had already shared with me, obviously Abbot Kinney was a man who had spent his entire life trusting himself, and as such, possessed quite a strong intuition.

“My Grandmother Lena calls that ‘destiny’s consent’, when a person relies upon the universe to supply the doorways for one’s life.”

“What a wonderful terminology for the phenomenon…but I believe it is we who must ultimately turn the doorknob.  It has not been my experience that the doors open all by themselves.  But again, it is often the difficulties in one’s life, which supply their own answers.  If we are open to them.”

“The difficulties being the new investors and their arguments,” I asked.

“Exactly, Anne.  You do learn so quickly or perhaps you already knew.”

“Perhaps.”  We shared a grin.  “So what did you do,” I urged him back to his story.

“I hired an engineering firm, and they proposed that the marshes could be reclaimed by the creation of canals.

I was delighted by the prospect; I had spent some of my most memorable hours in the golden light of the canals of Venice, Italy, and I decided to name my new city St. Marks after the main square in Venice.

“You can imagine my great anticipation on the first day of canal dredging, and with great pride, I accompanied the huffing bulldozers to the site.  The bulldozers set to work at once, pushing the dank black ooze from the marshes up into banks to create basins deep enough to allow the seawater to flow in and out easily.  Piercing whistles and shouted ‘hees and haws’ guided mule teams and wagons to cart away the extra clay and earth.

“Perhaps I began a daydream, but I realized, with a start, that though the bulldozers still roared and coughed as their great blades banked the heavy earth, I could no longer hear their engines.  I shook my head to rouse myself from this odd consciousness, but it did not break the spell.  I actually shouted to ascertain whether I had gone deaf.  Since I heard my voice, I began to chide myself for my foolishness.  But the strange feeling persisted.  Even though everything was as it was before, everything had become somehow very different.  From the bulldozers’ excavations, I could see light escaping from the swamp in a vaporous breath.

“I looked across the canal ditch, and there an apparition stood, so naturally, it was a long time before I realized she was totally naked.  Her golden tresses played on the winds, her large sensuous eyes seeking mine.  I do not know how, but I knew at once she was a goddess emerged from the interred sea-earth, and I could see her as plainly as I could the busy machines.  But seemingly I was alone in this ability, for not one of my workmen was the least bit altered in his actions.  Their mechanistic sensibilities seemed to be incapable of registering the existence of a supernatural being or goddess.  And I saw at once it was not just any goddess; it was Venus, the goddess supreme, thrust from the foaming mud to govern a city being created for her.  For that is what she told me.”

“She spoke to you?”

“No, she did not speak to me directly; it was more like an altered state of melodic harmonies.  But I instantly knew Venus had arrived to ensure her marshes would be transformed into a realm of the extra-ordinary.  And she plied my mind with visions so I could visualize the city of canals she wanted, and that I would create…the Venice you see here.

“Venus further informed me that her new city would be called Venice – a golden city dedicated to rebirth or ‘Renaissance’ in the New World; it was to be a place of learning and enlightenment, a haven for those who were interested in the arts.   The city’s beauty would enchant and intensify sensory impressions.  More importantly, Venice would be a place where the magical processes of transformation would be not only permissible, but encouraged and guided by muses.  From that day forth, I ceased to call the city the name I had given to it: St. Marks, and renamed it Venice after her.

“Do you still see her,” I asked, looking around me.

“Sadly, though I feel her presence, I have never seen Venus since that day.  That’s why I come here often at night when I can’t sleep.  Perhaps it is just superstition, but I believe, no I know, the reason people crowd into Venice is because of her…because of Venus.  The unique aura of Venice is grounded in her goddess energy, the energy released from the primordial swamp the first day the canals were dug.  It became obvious to me that day how much I, and I daresay, the rest of the world, craves this female energy.”  Abbot paused.

“What a long way to express why I am so interested in Woman’s Suffrage.  Attending those lectures today has moved me to a rare chattiness, Anne.  I am careful never to advertise or to associate Venice with Venus; our society is female-phobic and would, in all probability, shun Venice if there were any direct knowledge of all of this.  For unfortunately, the world today is a world designed by men, for men.  Venice was supposedly designed by me, a man, but it was really a goddess who created it.  Anyone who heard me say this would certainly regard me as crazy.”  Abbot looked me directly in the eyes.  “Do you think I’m crazy, Anne?

“Not many people walk the earth loving so entirely that which they have created, as you love Venice.  You are confusing fortunate with crazy.”  My comment made Abbot Kinney chuckle, his eyes twinkling light all over me.

“Venice exists all because of Venus.”

“And you are the mortal to whom Venus has chosen to speak,” I said.  Inside myself, I silently sang, “remarkable man, remarkable man”.

“Well Anne, I am beginning to suspect that you are as crazy as I am.  That is why I believe we shall get along famously.  But Venus is why I built Venice as a mecca for artists, or for any person in pursuit of muses and knowledge.  That is why the lectures at the Venice Assembly are so important to me, though seemingly not to others.”  Abbot Kinney’s face narrowed with his sadness. “For in spite of my best efforts to create a city of culture, people come to Venice for amusement and diversion…to be entertained by bathing suit contests and rides, rather than feeding their intellects, much less their heart and their souls.”

I knew exactly what Abbot meant.  If I were to describe Venice, I would never think of it as ‘a Mecca for those in pursuit of muses and knowledge’.

Venice was a paradise of azure blue sea, white sand beaches, ringed with hazy purple mountains, and a flawless sky.  Regardless of the season, every day was a day saturated with sunshine, and Venice was the destination to which thousands of Angelinos flocked, to escape their worldly cares, a perfect backdrop for amusement and diversion.  It was also a place where one could see almost any oddity.

But I had been among oddities at the Circus of Cairo’s carnival area, so I knew Venice was much more than that.  Venice had an ability to immerse everyone and everything within its golden glow.  I had felt it from the first moment I had first entered the city, and surely my feelings made more sense now knowing about the goddess, Venus.  What better setting could there be for Venus than Abbot’s creation, a place newspapers described as ‘the perfumed gardens of the gods on the temporal plane of fantasy’?  They had just substituted the word, ‘god’ for the word, ‘goddess’.  Abbot’s bitter-saddened eyes forced me to try to convey my thoughts to him.

I wonder how I came to formulate the next sentences that I uttered.  Years later I still wonder about its source.  For all I know, it could have been from a movie poster for a Clara Bow movie that was touting her as the modern day Venus.  Actually though, I attribute it to Venus herself interceding.  I believe she overheard our conversation, knew of Abbot Kinney’s suffering, and supplied the words to help me.  In any case, out of my mouth the thoughts tumbled.

“But Abbot, remember that Venus is also a goddess of sensuousness and amusement.  Maybe it is important to her that Venice is a place where people can escape from their cares and have fun.”  Abbot Kinney regarded me with astonishment.

“You do not know what a rare treat this is for me, Anne.”

“How so,” I asked with some trepidation.

“People do not usually tell me anything, much less things I do not already know.  And they certainly never lecture me,” Abbot replied.

“I did not mean to lecture you,” I said.

“Well, in any case, I am enjoying it.  Please continue.”  And so I did.

“Most people think knowledge only comes to us from words or books.  But it can come in so many other ways.  To learn to fly on the trapeze, I never read one book.  That intelligence lived in my body before my brain could understand it.  Your ‘Venice of America’ rises above normal life, as a supernatural force, which seeks to make each of us better.”  Abbot Kinney was quiet for a moment before responding.

“You are correct, Anne.  I forget in my zealous pursuit to try to enlighten the world, that Venus is also Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love whose son was Eros, the god of passion.  Have you ever been in love?  No?  Well, you’re still very young.  It will happen to you, if you’re lucky.  It is when the soul soars to rhapsodic heights, for it sees and is seen all at once; it is recognized, and grasped by another soul as never before.”  Abbot Kinney chuckled.

“Perhaps Venus is trying to teach me that beyond wisdom is love.  And that pleasure and fun are vital to one’s life as well.”  Abbot was silent for a long moment.  “These thoughts are a great balm for an ache I have carried within my heart for many, many years.  I had thought that all of my endeavors had failed Venus, and that is why she left me.  I do not know how to thank you for your insights and your wisdom, Anne.”

“You already have by taking me to the Assembly with you to see the suffragettes,” I said.  But that was not enough of what I meant to say and so I added, “I shall never forget this day as long as I live”.

“Nor shall I, Anne.  You have helped me more than you know.”  And then suddenly shy, we parted company.

Lions and Gondolas


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