The drum circle of Venice Beach

Venice Beach, California is one of the most eclectic communities on this planet. But when the sun starts to dip towards the horizon on a late Sunday afternoon, the place becomes truly primordial.

This is when the Venice Beach Drum Circle knocks into gear.

Most tourists are gone by this time and usually miss the small handful of drummers that kick off the rhythm before being joined by upwards of 100 others banging away on everything from plastic buckets to bongo drums to percussion instruments. And then it starts to get really freaky. Dancers an all states of euphoria–chemical or otherwise–begin to writhe to the beat, like hippies at Woodstock. The crescendo builds as the sun gets closer to the ocean and then positively explodes when it finally dips below. And then, it’s all over.

I used to live in Venice Beach when the Drum Circle was just a couple of guys having fun with their drums. The draw of the beat was always hypnotic and I’d often stop to enjoy it for a while when rollerblading past. The drummers quickly outgrew their little grassy spot next to the boardwalk, however, and eventually migrated down closer to the water where they remain today.

Calypso Tumblers at Venice Beach

This past Saturday, while walking along the promenade of Venice Beach in California, I stopped at a crowd gathered around a street performance. As I craned my neck at the outer circle, unable to see, I wondered if the attraction was the man juggling chainsaws like the last time I was at Venice Beach, although, I didn’t hear any chainsaws. I elbowed my way towards the front of the crowd, politely of course, but I wanted to see. I had to see. How could I write about it, if I didn’t see? I’m glad I was pushy. What a treat. This photo by Malingering posted on Flickr is just a glimpse. Check out the others.)

The Calypso Tumblers were in the middle of their act. Think break dancing but turned up several notches. The group members show off their mettle by spinning on their heads, striking poses while balanced on their hands, and leaping through the air in various twists and turns that causes their muscles to ripple and the crowd to gasp with thoughts like, “If I tried that, I’d break my neck for sure.” The crowning glory of the act was when people were called from the audience to create a line of 10 people. There was a great deal of build up to this act with joke telling, ribbing of the crowd and money collecting.

Finally, once all ten people stood shoulder to shoulder, bent over at the waist with their backs forming a fairly straight surface, the head guy took a running leap and flipped over them. Pretty incredible. Here’s a YouTube video posted by Utopian Flower to show you what I’m talking about. This one, though, was taken in New Orleans. Be patient when the camera seems to be turned away from the action. You’ll see the flip.

Also here’s link to another video posted by silverandblack68 that shows their act on America’s Got Talent.

After the performance I talked with one of the guys who told me about these YouTube links. In my searching I came across a video of a Venice Beach meeting. Some residents weren’t too happy with the Calypso Tumblers. From what I can tell, the complaint is that they take up more than their fair share of the promenade and disrupt the business of the surrounding vendors. I can see their point, but the group is terrific and how wonderful any person who happens to be walking by can see them. Here’s the complaint video.

What’s Your Favourite Souvenir? (The Office Cleanout Continues…)

Thanks to everyone for the feedback on what to do with the old guidebooks at my office. Part of the shift also involves bringing home a few favourite souvenirs from past travels. Here are some special keepsakes I’ve now got to find room for at home.

  1. A framed front page of La Epoca, the Buenos Aires newspaper, from the day after Eva Peron’s funeral.
  2. An 18th century map of Asia Minor I bought in Istanbul
  3. A screen print by an artist called “O” who hangs out at Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Basically it’s an American flag with the word “Democracy” spelt out with the logos of various American corporations. D for Disney, E for Enron, M for McDonalds…you get the picture.
  4. A faux gold plated microphone from when I played guitar (a shocking version of Wild Thing) at an advertising conference in Cannes, France.
  5. A copy of Kerouac’s Big Sur that I bought at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California

What are the poignant, heart rending or downright tacky travel mementos you hold dearest?

Thanks to kristenhillier on Flickr for the stunning pic of Venice Beach.