bright lights in the City of Sin

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no, dear readers, I have neither abandoned nor forgotten you. there was merely the matter of four fantastic weeks of football which I was obliged to watch and celebrate. lots of persuasive arm-twisting to get people to join me for 6:30 a.m. or mid-work-day matches. now it’s back to the important work of dreaming about what new (or old) places I might visit (or re-visit) here and in my travels.

during this hiatus, one of my co-workers went to Las Vegas for the first time (to celebrate her twenty-first birthday) and was, in a word, underwhelmed. it’s hard not to have certain expectations for a city with such notoriety; pop culture has cultivated such an unattainable image of what Vegas ought to be, what ought to happen there, the insanity and hilarity that will ensue on any visit, that reality won’t be able to compare. or, at least, not for anyone I know. with the bigger-than-reality dimensions Vegas takes on in popular culture, upon hearing her reflections I was rather thankful that my primary purpose in visiting Vegas each time was to see friends.

my first trip was chock-a-block with tourist attractions that were, for the most part, worth the effort. no matter how kitschy or cliched, you can’t avoid the sights that make a place famous. I find that the ones that I even have passing interest in are worth the effort, if for no other reason than to say you’ve seen one cultural icon or another. the fountains & gardens at the Bellagio were impressive, the canals at the Venetian something different, the floor shows were what one would expect, the Forum Shops gave me a headache from the lack of natural air, the lions at the MGM Grand were rather depressing, the Cirque du Soleil production of Ka was unquestionably spectacular — a stage that went fully vertical !, if also priced spectacularly.

but for all it’s glitz and glamor, had I not been visiting friends, I’m fairly certain I would have hated Vegas. (of course, if not for visiting those friends, I’m also fairly certain I would never felt any need to go to Vegas …) the very principles on which the city thrives — consumption, excess, careening headlong towards something “bigger” and “better” at any cost — are antithetical to the kind of travel that I enjoy. how many of the casinos that I saw when walking down the Strip for the first time in August of 2005 will be there in five, ten, fifteen years? some of them are already gone. the Bellagio seems iconic now, but so was The Dunes, which stood on the same location from 1955 to 1993. Vegas suffers from the same lack of “historical weight” as does San Diego and other sites in the American West, but Vegas has taken this deficit and capitalized on, exploited and extrapolated it. not only is there a lack of history, but there’s a complete rejection of the remotely culturally passe. Arabian themes? so early 90s (the Aladdin is now defunct). perhaps the Bellagio remains so iconic because it has modeled itself on something with historical weight (Lake Como in Italy) and Paris-Las Vegas is kitschy but memorable because it, too, rests on the historical cred of another structure.

my co-worker was disappointed that nothing truly “spectacular” happened; there were moments, she said, but nothing sustained, nothing that lasted. and maybe the fact that she didn’t have a sustained feeling of the exceptional lies rooted in that lack of historical weight. someplace that so cavalierly discards the icons of its past cannot produce the environment necessary to create moments of historical significance. I’m sure it happens for some people, that Vegas provides that experience for people who seek it out, but I’m also sure that I’m not the type of person to get satisfaction from that kind of experience (and I suspect that neither is my co-worker). I like my travel experiences to have more depth, and more permanence associated with them.

Author: Erica

born in the midwest with wandering feet.