In a country of replicas, another copy of a better-known icon should not surprise anyone. Yet, seeing a replica of a cemetery in the middle of one of the most famous beaches in the world and next to a loud, cheap and equally famous pier couldn’t have come as a bigger surprise to me. And Arlington West is a replica, but also a memorial in its own right – it honours those who were killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it’s a temporary memorial too. It appears next to Santa Monica Pier every Sunday thanks to Veterans for Peace. Just like the original Arlington cemetery, which honours fallen American war heroes, its Santa Monica ‘extension’ is a place of reflection, mourning and is intended to draw people’s attention to the ongoing conflict.
I didn’t notice the enormous sea of crosses at first, too preoccupied with the crowds on what was the hottest day in Los Angeles’ history. But neither did most of the visitors. The usual, colourful, loud and laid-back crowd was busy parking their SUVs, cycling along the Malibu to Venice path, eating ice cream and rinsing their flip-flops from the sand on the unbelievably wide and long beach.
The memorial is erected next to the northern entrance to the pier and contrasts sharply with the carnival-like atmosphere of the area. Surfers and coffins. Roller coasters and roll calls of thousands of American soldiers who will never see this beach again.
But the memorial also honours Iraqis who were killed by the Coalition troops, as well as the fallen Coalition soldiers.
Despite the appearances, the site does attract a lot of interest, both from casual passers-by like me and from those who came here to reflect and leave their condolences.
But somehow, like in our everyday lives, the moment of reflection evaporates with the scorching heat and soon posters of Miley Cyrus and Usher, and Spiderman impersonators, take over. Everything goes back to normal on Santa Monica beach.
Until next Sunday.
See the full gallery of images from there on Flickr: