Monday, February 10, 2014

Encountering Las Vegas

I had avoided Las Vegas a long time.  Virtually everyone I know has been there at one time or another, and have returned to it.  But it held no attraction for me.  I have no interest in gambling; it seems unreasonable to engage in a pastime which is ultimately for the benefit of the house.  The shows seemed for the most part indifferent at best.  The stars who perform there are not favorites of mine. 

But it was inevitable, I suppose, that I would get there.  Now I can say, when asked (and I am, often enough) that I have indeed been to Vegas.

Some of those who've felt it necessary to explain their enjoyment of the place claim that it is an excellent venue in which to watch people.  Perhaps it is, if that is what is to be done.  But I think people in Chicago and New York are more interesting if one wants to observe.  Watching people in Vegas is much like watching people in Disneyworld.  Of course, it's often claimed that Las Vegas is a kind of adult Disneyworld, or an adult theme park.  Circus Circus, festooned with creepy clowns, plays into that I suppose.  The clowns are a mistake, I think.  Their very presence would keep me from staying there or even visiting it.  It would be difficult for me to retain any kind of self-respect in such a place.

I was there but a short time, and could not see all that's there to see, but I must admit that what I saw was overwhelming.  The extravagance inspires something approaching awe.  How, one asks oneself, and why, did we human beings create such a place?  The size of the resorts with their casinos is most imposing, indeed sometimes staggering.  I didn't visit them all, but wandered about the Wynn, the Bellagio, the Venetian, the Mirage, and Caesar's Palace.  I remembered Henry James' comment when viewing Roman ruins, something to the effect that people who could build nothing small were as unimpressive as those who could build nothing large.  Henry was something of a schlemiel, I think, but size does weigh on the soul after a time.

Perhaps appropriately, the most extravagant, excessive resort I saw was Caesar's Palace.  The place is colossal, filled with stores, restaurants, bars, faux Roman statuary, fountains, symbols, not to mention the casino.  I couldn't help but wonder if the planners of the resort had Nero's Golden House in mind when it was built.  It wouldn't be surprising if that emperor, who pretended to be an artist though mocked by the Arbiter of Elegance, Petronius, built his Domus Aurea to be much the same kind of place.  Replicas of the famous statue of Augustus are everywhere.  One large replica stands at the entrance from the Strip.  The first Roman emperor seems to be gesturing serenely to the large mock hot air balloon emblazoned with the word "Paris" across the way.  It stands next to the mock Eiffel Tower, which in turn is next to the mock Arc de Triomphe on which the visage of Gordon Ramsey is displayed.

The carnival-type barkers who accost you along the strip are annoying, especially those trying to hand you cards on which young women in skimpy outfits appear.  Somewhat more surprising to see was the gentleman laying on the sidewalk, surrounded by yellow-uniformed police on bicycles.  I hope it wasn't a heart attack, and that he was merely flat out drunk.

Las Vegas is, in fact, a very good place to eat and drink, as it is possible to do so quite well, and I confess I enjoy doing both well.  The buffets the big hotels put on are famous, and I attended one which had such a variety of food in such abundance that it would make Trimalchio cringe with shame.

What I feel about Las Vegas is that it is a ridiculous place, truly absurd, but there is a kind of magnificence to its absurdity.  Absurdity can be amusing when it isn't taken seriously.  It's as if a group of people got together and decided to create a vast joke-city exhibiting the most excessive caricatures of famous landmarks and art humanity has constructed and crafted over thousands of years, where people could gather to laugh at the joke while eating good food and drinking good booze.  No doubt this speaks to the decadent in me, but I liked it.  And yes, like a tipsy MacArthur, I shall return to laugh again.

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