Anna Haag-Ricci was born in Rome, Italy, on January 18, 1936. She grew up in Rome and spent the years during World War II in a small village called Agriano, Umbria, also known as the green heart of Italy.
My Mom was the middle child in a family of eight children, father Felice and mother Anonietta.
She often told me her brothers and dad were really strict, old-school Italian … in other words, kick your ass when you get out of line!
In 1960 she met an American, Rhodes scholar studying in Rome. His name was John Haag. He was loved and accepted by her whole family immediately. They married in Rome, lived there for a while, and packed it up and moved to Venice…
Venice in the early ‘60s was a far cry from the small village in Umbria where she spent so much of her youth. In Agriano she had to walk miles to get water in buckets to drink, cook, bathe, and wash clothes with. “Tough” is the word that comes to mind when I think of my Mom. She was Mom to many, in Venice, where she raised me and my sister Duanna.
She had a heart of gold, too… But wouldn’t take shit from anyone.
She and John did some really cool things together over their years in Venice. They were involved in local politics, and, eventually, national politics. In fact, John Haag ran for President on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket. They fought for people’s rights, helped found the Peace and Freedom Party and the Free Venice Beachhead. They were a huge part of the political scene in Venice in the ‘60s & ‘70s…
They opened and operated a place at 7 Dudley called Venice West Cafe. It was a hangout for all the beatnicks, poets and political activists. I remember hanging out there when I was young, checking out all the cool artwork by Earl Newman and other local Venice artists.
At some point my Mom started designing and making jewelry, and selling it on Ocean Front Walk. In fact, she was one of the first artists to set up and sell down there. She made earrings, chokers, necklaces, and rings. Many times she would be the only person selling anything on the whole Ocean Front Walk. She would also sell at the Canal Festival as well as many other events.
One time she was selling her turquoise jewelry and a cool-looking dude with a big fro, wearing lots of jewelry came over and bought a bunch of stuff from her. The next thing you know, she sold everything she had. The dude turned out to be Jimi Hendrix. She was always meeting cool people and she never made a big deal of it.
Over the years she stopped making things and started buying them in downtown LA and importing from Italy. Many times, as kids, we all traveled back from our yearly summer months in Italy covered in gold and silver bracelets, necklaces, chains and such, walking like mummys through the airports.
She would hang out and sell her jewelry wherever she was. At friends’ houses, at restaurants, on the beach, or she’d throw parties and sell cool things to the Venice locals. I still have friends that tell me that they still wear things they bought from Anna. Ask Andy or Debi Nevil, Solo Scott, or any other long-time local. If you’ve been around Venice a long time you probably bought something from the feisty Italian lady with jet black hair.
In ’64 she was hit by a car on Speedway, and bed-ridden for six months. She was pregnant with me, and gave birth while still in a cast. She had a steel rod inserted in her leg, so she walked with a heavy limp, from then on you could see her coming from a mile away, that crazy limp, and she always carried a big bag with all her jewelry. She’d always say she could feel if the weather was changing because she could feel it in her leg.
Over the years, if you ever ate at Lafayette Cafe, Hot, Juergen’s, or New Par’s, she probably fed you. Yes, she was the waitress that, if you took too long reading the newspaper (even if it was the Beachhead), she’d say, “Get up! I gotta make some money!” My Mom was never one to hold back! She also fed many people over the years, if you didn’t have enough money, she’d pay out of her own pocket. When she worked at New Par’s she often fed, and got to know people like Arnold, Ken Waller, and all the original Gold’s Gym guys. She was the favorite waitress of many musicians and artists. Dennis Wilson thanked her by bringing her a very special christmas gift: one of his framed gold records with a note to her on the back! He used to come to our apartment above Jurgen’s and play the piano for hours. The piano was on the opposite side of the wall from my bed and I remember screaming: “SHUT UP!”. Now I look back at those times and realize what a cool Mom I had.
Just like with her jewelry, years later I still have people telling me that my Mom helped them through hard times by feeding them. She also cooked up some damn good Italian food at home! It seemed like my friends would smell the food from down the street and come running or skating down to our house at the end of Washington, above Juergen’s or wherever else in Venice we were living at the time. She would feed them all, sometimes she’d serve up a big board of polenta and we would all eat off of it carving out the shape of the boot of Italy as we ate. She also made the best lasagna, pasta, chicken cacciatore, and some amazing split pea soup. In fact, every time she made it, my friend Joel would show up. I don’t know how he did it, but he would just show up in time to eat. Years later, she would make her cancer doctor and nurses huge pans of lasagna. If you were around our family, you never went hungry…
My son Jasen used to watch my Mom cooking all the time and now he’s a chef. I also learned a thing or
two, I love to cook for my friends and family. She taught us well.
Every year we would travel to that same village where my Mom spent so much time. We would leave Venice as soon as school let out in June, and not come back until September, when school started. In 1980 she decided to buy a piece of property and build a house on it. She busted her ass and little by little the house was built. I still go there as often as I can, I love the place and, love to share it with my friends and family, many of who have made the trek over there. Even Jay Adams came through on the way to a surf contest in France once… I take my kids there and I thank my lucky stars that my Mom was so determined to teach us about our Italian heritage because at the time, all I could think about was skating Marina Skate Park, or one of the many ramps we built around the hood, or at the Venice Pavilion, not traveling all the way to Italy with huge duffle bags full of gifts for our huge Italian famiglia. My Mom always thought of others first, making sure everyone around her was well taken care of. I always thought I was missing out, and maybe I was, but now I realize why she took us there…
And yes, I was the only long-haired boy for miles around … maybe in all of Italy, and when people made fun of my hair she backed me up a 100%. I could always count on her…
Anna Haag-Ricci was, and is, another colorful thread in the fabric that we know as Venice.
Miss you and love you Mom!