Thursday, June 02, 2005
Buendia and I were recently in Las Vegas, Nevada recently (not to be confused with Las Vegas, New Mexico – a very nice town just up the road from here).
Before you go, there’s lots of things you know about Vegas – it’s hot, in a desert, has lots of gambling, a seedy reputation and is about as lacking in authenticity as anywhere in the world.
And guess what? It’s exactly like that in real life. Only worse.
First, there’s the fact that it shouldn’t be there at all. By dint of the Hoover Dam, what should be a dry speck in the desert is now madly over-watered and luxuriant. Pond and pools and trees and sprinklers are everywhere, part of the massive act of will that’s made this nothing into something very bizarre.
A lot of the casinos have moved upmarket recently, hitching their wagons to a range of supposedly classy themes. So the Venetian has a mock Doge’s Palace out front, and an indoor set of canals, complete with singing gondoliers. The ceiling high above is painted to resemble the sky, and the clatter of shops purport to be an Italian-style street.
Of course the effect is so faky that it’s laughable, and even the mini St Mark’s Square doesn’t impress. When you see power sockets in the supposed-to-look-ancient-but-only-built-last-year stonework, you know something’s not right.
Over at Paris, there’s an Eiffel Tower, a Louvre knock-off and a Musee d’Orsay wannabe, and they use the classic art-deco metro entrance to cover another bank of chattering slot machines.
Real fake paintings
The Bellagio across the road is suppose to be a little more select, but when you’ve seen one marble-clad den of iniquity, you’ve seen them all. Although the Bellagio does manage the cute trick of making real paintings work seem fake. They’ve got an art gallery currently showing a visiting impressionist exhibition. But the whole atmosphere of the place is so venally artificial that I couldn’t bring myself to pay the money to see some real stuff.
And of course, separating you from your money is what the whole city is about. If you don’t fancy gambling in the giant dimly-lit halls of usury, you can go shopping in giant Italianate shopping malls, like the Forum Shoppes in Caesar’s Palace, where they trump the Venetian’s sky vault by having the sun set and then rise again every couple of hours.
There are shops of almost every imaginable type, spread out in malls attached to every casino. But in my three days of wandering, I didn’t see one bookshop.
Inside, or on the patio?
Given the mad temperatures (over 100F when we were there), there’s a strange Tardis-like thing going on. You enter the casino, and have no idea of the interior scale of it. And given the complete absence of windows, any sense of the inside having a relationship with the outside is forgotten. We walked for 20 minutes inside the MGM Grand to reach Buendia’s alumni party.
Restaurants in the casinos often flank the main gaming halls, but in ‘buildings’ that separate them from what tables and slots. So in New York, New York, we were offered a choice of eating inside or ‘on the patio’, which was of course just as inside as the inside, but with a higher ceiling.
Vegas, baby! Yeah!
And then you fill the centre of the city with three types of people. Firstly the conference delegates (20,000 architects, for example). A few of them might welcome the chance to live a little dangerously and go to a strip show, or pick up one of the call-girl cards that are constantly snapped in your face as you walk the Strip. A few more might have one too many mai-tais and cop off with another delegate (‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, remember?’. But most are just there for the conference, and aren’t that impressed by the excess of the place.
The second group is the people that actually chose to come here. As well as a lot of English tourists, there’s groups of lads on stag weekends who walk the casinos in shorts and sandals, clutching some overpriced cocktail in what looks like a big blue glass bong. Then there’s the steel-haired pensioners putting their quarters in the slots while their eyes glaze over.
The third group is the people who have moved to Vegas for work. You might end up as a ‘dealertainer’, running a texas hold-em table while dressed like Rod Stewart or one of the Blues Brothers. But even if you’re working in the Gucci or Prada stores, most of your customers are in one or other of the above groups, so it’s a world away from working in those stores in the real New York or Paris (as opposed to the faky Vegas versions).
I knew Bellagio, I’ve stayed in Bellagio, and you sir are no Bellagio
Some of what’s there is kind of awe-inspiring, but absolutely none of it’s cool. Where’s the Brat Pack themed casino, or the Roppongi district Tokyo future city place?
And it’s even more weird if you’ve actually been to the places so mercilessly ripped off. I’ve been to Bellagio, on the shores of Lake Como, and it’s an elegant and cultured place in a beautiful setting. If I was the town, I’d sue.
So from this you can probably tell that I won’t be going back to Vegas in a hurry. Or maybe never.
Posted by David in • Life