Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Mirage City

We’re walking down a loud road, Harmon Ave, I believe, from our hotel, The Alexis Park, towards the downtown. The sidewalks are narrow and we keep dodging a couple of other people here and there, coming or going in the same general direction as ours. Apart from the traffic and the buses, the big city sounds and feels lonely.

It’s a crisp February morning, the desert wind whipping our cheeks and leaving us breathless. We can hardly hear ourselves think much less talk to each other from the noise of the traffic driving by – cars, delivery trucks, cabs, limos. A lot of limos.

We walk on a wide open street, maybe 6 or 8 lane wide, lined with tall palm trees and withered landscape, full of junk – McDonalds wrappers and empty beer bottles mostly. A drainage ditch. A “loading only” street. A couple of homeless people. And the city noise, whizzing by. You still retain a feeling of identity – you are a small soul trying to find your way into this big, open noise. You hear your heart distinctively asking you what is her new place in the world. You’re not sure where you are, how long till the destination, but you still talk to your inner self, and it is there. You’re taking it all in and try to find a place for you …

Once we finish our one and a half mile walk (or so my iPhone says) to Las Vegas Blvd we dive into a completely new world – polished high rises, all glass and steel, we almost fall backwards trying to look up to take them in. More traffic. And music. Lots and lots of super powerful, surround sound blasting speaker systems absolutely deafening. Sort of a Time Square gone Western style. Hundreds of pedestrians bump into you, jostling you left and right, front and back. Almost all of them are under dressed and carry a huge cocktail in their hands while walking, talking, laughing, shopping. Some, just a beer – the shy ones.

The first reaction is: this is complete and utter chaos! There is an almost immediate loss of who you are now. You no longer know anything about your soul and where it’s coming from, and where it’s going. You hardly remember why you set off on this journey at all. Right here, on The Boulevard, the sense of identity is immediately and irrefutably lost. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the crowdedness of the population floods your soul, your body, your mind, and they completely take over. Your only “worry” is where to look next?!

It’s like losing your foothold, but you’re carried away on a wave, so you feel eerily safe – and you let go. Temptations abound. Miles and miles of malls, entertainment halls, outdoor patios, restaurants, strip clubs, and oh, yes, casinos scream at you “come on in” at every corner. What in the world to do? What in the world to do first?!

Yes, we are in Las Vegas, NV. A city of many names and master of none. Before I got there, I had no idea why so many euphemisms and insults were attempted at defining this city in the desert, but once you go, you get it! It’s a city like I have never seen before. It has the feeling that it never sleeps. Whether it’s 8 AM or 1 AM, the music is pounding the streets and the crowds are walking back and forth in a disorganized walking pattern. You have the streets, but then you have the aerial walkways, above the streets, to “fluidize” the traffic – always too much. It also has the feeling that no one really works. It’s like vacation, 24-7. There are entertainment opportunities in every alley – everyone wants to amuse you, relax you, impress you, corrupt you and everyone loves your cash!

It’s all a freak show, contrived and promiscuous, to lure you in and get your wallet. They say everything is bigger in Texas, but I think everything is bigger in Vegas. The billboards are bigger than I have ever seen, the lights brighter, the music louder, prices higher.

As we walked the city for two and a half days, we had the feeling that we’re walking in a dream. A couple of resorts remind you of Italy, with Roman inspired architecture, marble statues, even a river and singing gondoliers (Caesars Palace and The Venetian). The “Eiffel Tower” and restaurants like “Mon Ami, Gabi!” and “Paris” make you believe you’re in France. Restaurants like Sushi Roku and Tao remind you of Hong Kong, maybe, or Japan. The displays celebrating the New Chinese Year reminded you of The Far East.

On one end of The Strip you’re in Europe – on the other you’re in New York, Hollywood or Disney , or even Egypt – when you find yourself staring at ‘The Statue of Liberty’, the impressive MGM resort with probably the hugest bronze statue I will ever see, or The Luxor, with its pyramid shaped hotel and Sphinx sitting quietly in front.

Everything is everything else but American, and definitely everything else but Western. It’s the biggest adult playground I have ever seen or imagined. I called it “Disney for Grownups”, because it’s that much adult fun and endless entertainment.

Everything in Vegas is “too much of”. Too many lights, too much noise, too much drinking, too much of too much.

Maybe, in a way, looking back, everything IS American: looking back to The Old Continent and incorporating it into the New World, the glitz and glamour of people who have reached so much affluence that they shamelessly flaunt it, and the all American made concept of entertainment brought to gargantuan proportions. Opulence. Exaggeration. Polish. Your dreams can come true. Even walking through Rome and Venice, right here, at home.

I was imagining it to be very cheesy – and it is, but it’s cheese brought to hallucinatory perfection. As much gaudiness as your pupils are forced to absorb, nothing seems out of place! You get it, although it’s preposterously decadent and you feel violated and dirty! But you strangely enjoy it. All the hard work back home, and the money, the trouble to travel so long and see this “creation” of human imagination – all is all worth it. You feel enlightened, although you know that it’s all for the strangest reasons of all.

OK! Enough of that. I hope you get it. What we did?! We walked the streets and took hundreds of pictures – of people, of places, of things that will live now in our minds and our albums. We ate the best pizza in a long time, in the heart of The Venetian at Trattoria Reggiano and the freshest sushi in a while, too, at Sushi Roku. Our hotel served the best crepes (sorry, dad!) I have ever had, stuffed with ricotta cheese and drenched in blueberry preserves. We also had the best cocktails we have savored in a while – as you would normally expect from a party town.

We took the Monorail, but it was less exciting than the one in Seattle. It was almost empty. I guess no one wants to be cooped up in a train when there is so much to see pedestrian-style. We visited the Titanic Exhibit, at The Luxor, and that was fascinating (sorry, no pictures allowed). It was extremely well done. The sounds and the pictures brought the mighty ship and its story to life. It was moving. The perfect condition of the objects they brought back from the wreckage was unbelievable. And not just china and jewelry, but journals and newspapers, and documents, too. Just astonishing.

We watched the water show at The Bellagio and again – that was incredibly “too much”, but incredibly well done, as well. Just a splendor of music, lights and water architecture – amazing when water can take shape. We spent some time in a night bar to sip cocktails made by real professionals and lounge on comfy, oversized couches, and of course we gambled. A little. I saw a gambling table where a poor victim (sorry, I judge) laid down 12 $100 bills for his bet. I thought I was going to be sick. They were real bills – I have never seen that much cash at once go away and show nothing for it. Nothing but thrill, that is.

You feel like a movie star no matter what you do in Vegas – disco music beats everywhere, and lots and lots of lights and polish. And lots of money, of course: the cars, the cash, the outfits on some folks, the prices of everything. Everyone is more than willing to make sure you have the best time. Price is just a number – you made it this far, you might as well give in and enjoy it.

We took way too many pictures of posters and billboards announcing concerts, but we didn’t make it to a show – Elton John, Celine Dion, David Copperfield, and way too many look-alike shows, presenting “Michael Jackson”, “Elvis Pressley” and even “The Beatles”. What is Vegas without its illusion, right?!

They kept telling me before going there, “go to Vegas and just get it out of your system”. But the truth is, for me, it’s not out of my system. I just felt like it just got into my system. There is something dangerously addictive about this city. Just like a sweet drug and enters your body slowly and makes you feel good, warm, cozy, free, special, carefree, wanted, adored, rich, on top of the world, … (insert your favorite drug high here) …, you know you’ll want to come here, again and again. Maybe not admit it. Maybe keep it hidden from your family and friends, but looking forward to every single sinful drop of pleasure you get out of it. After all, don't we all need some decadence in our lives?!

It’s a mirage of a city! After driving in the open desert for hours, with nothing but brush and cacti lining the road, with no sign of human existence for miles, you arrive at this citadel of steel and glass, bustling, throbbing of people, of life, of money, of sin, and pleasure, with bountiful water fountains and even a river running through it. It really makes you wonder whether it’s real at all or you just slipped and hurt your head and ended up in Wonderland. And in a way, I am sure you did.

Las Vegas - in one image: palm trees, sunny skies, circus, farce, music, gold, lights, gamble - click on the picture to enjoy more ...