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Home for the Holidays

By Frank Gruber

My office is just a block off the Promenade, and I'm on the Promenade for at least a few moments nearly every day, running an errand, or just taking a walk.

Last week the uptick in activity was palpable, as schools let out and the high season for tourists kicked in.

Speaking of kicks, I always get one when I see people taking snapshots of themselves in front of the triceratops fountain across from Santa Monica Place.

Last Friday I took these pictures all in the span of ten minutes.

It's kind of humbling to think that people would travel thousands of miles to Santa Monica and memorialize their visit to our dinosaur topiaries.

Usually they take multiple shots to ensure that everyone gets "in the picture."

I see the dinos everyday, and I wonder what the point is.

Do Florentines feel the same way about tourists who photograph themselves in front of the replica of Michelangelo's David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio?

Okay, sorry, that implies a snide comparison between their art and ours, which isn't the point I want to make. Maybe a better comparison would be to the wild boar fountain the Florentines have in their public market; people not only like to photograph themselves in front of that, but also rub the boar's nose and drink the water.

Do the Florentines shake their heads?

The point I do want to make is that I'm flattered that Santa Monica is a "tourist Mecca." I get a charge seeing all those tourists walking around, smiling even when the marine layer is at its gloomiest.

I mean, a lot of Santa Monicans complain about the tourists, as if they expect something different in a town that's been a resort for most of its existence, but how can one not be charmed by people who take pictures of themselves with Santa Monica Place in the background?

A couple weeks ago after I wrote about the fences and hedges controversy, I received an email from a Santa Monica homeowner who didn't like the prospect of passersby looking into her living room window. She was ready to sell out and leave town; it wasn't just the prospect of the hedge inspectors showing up, she said, but because "Santa Monica is in essence part of LA and it has become too crowded and generally unfriendly overall."

"Unfriendly overall?" How many Santa Monicans think that? I will not make too much of the irony of worrying about unfriendliness from behind a tall hedge, but perhaps if this woman's concerns are common, more Santa Monicans should get out and mingle with the smiling tourists. Something good might rub off.

We who live here become so caught up in our day-to-day complaints, that like the Moliere character who was shocked to find out that all his life he'd been speaking prose, what's prosaic to us is poetry to others.

* * *

One reason I've been thinking of this tourism stuff is that it's going to be a no Italy summer.

As readers of this column know, I was sagacious enough to choose parents who bought an old farmhouse in Italy, and in the summer my family and I like to visit them and dolce far niente as much as possible.

Every so often, however, a summer comes along when for one reason or another, we don't take advantage of our good fortune, and stay home.

This summer is going to be one of those.

But all is not lost. Living in a tourist Mecca, I will make a go of it. I can console myself with a "Via Dolce" gelato from the kiosk on the Promenade just north of Arizona and with the porcini mushrooms my wife buys at the Wednesday farmers market.

In fact, I resolve to spend this summer doing touristic things. I will try to see Santa Monica through the eyes of a tourist, and enjoy myself as if I were one.

But I still can't see myself posing for a snapshot in front of the triceratops.

* * *

Awhile back I wrote about how our State Senator, Sheila Kuehl, was trying to do something constructive about delivering healthcare in California. ("WHAT I SAY: No Time Like thePresent, January 26, 2004")

I'm happy to report that Sen. Kuehl's bill, which would create a state-run health insurance system covering all Californians, passed a major hurdle last week when the State Assembly's Health Committee approved it 12-5.

Although there isn't time in this session of the legislature for all the fine-tuning and data collection that will be necessary before the bill can be passed by the Assembly and forwarded to the Governor, the committee approval is an important step, and Sen. Kuehl plans to reintroduce the bill in 2005.
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