We arrived home from Las Vegas – my first visit – last night very, very late. We had been there all last week for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary dinner. My parents, who have also been married fifty years this year, were able to attend. At the dinner, one of Viv’s cousins accepted her long-time beau’s proposal of marriage. This was an astonishing event to witness, particularly if you, like me, also proposed at a crowded holiday table with nearly every member of all involved families present.

We stayed at the Luxor, one element of the MGM complex of hotels and casinos which includes the MGM Grand, the Luxor, Mandalay Bay, and the Excalibur. There may have been even more hotel/casino complexes that are directly connected to these; I never found a comprehensive map of the vast interior city spaces that make up tourist Las Vegas. I found the gigantism and scale absurd and surreal, and was reminded of the architectural fantasias seen in King Morpheus’ Palace of Dreamland in Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo, and of course of Disney’s mimetic streetscapes. The repeated use of arched ceilings painted to resemble a summer sky with light, fluffy clouds (we noted this in the Luxor, the Venetian, Paris, the Bellagio, and at Caesar’s Palace) also reminded me of dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction in which the survivors of a global holocaust retreat to underground simulacra, such as in Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog. If memory serves, that story itself was partially inspired by Disneyland, so it’s fair to say that Vegas’ great indoor cityscapes are in dialog with Ellison.

I tried manfully to arrange a dinner or drink with the illustrious B^2, whom I have not seen since our secret military service in the Far East during the 1950s. Unfortunately, his implant was acting up and prevented a reunion. We’re currently hoping to be able to see one another in the Pacific Northwest, and on that day the signs will be unmistakable all across this great land of ours.

The overwhelming expanse of interior space in Vegas redefines the concept of the Big Room, and an irony of my life in Imperial America is that during the week Vivian and I spent in the desert, Seattle sweltered under near-100 degree heat. Our house here, of course, does not include air conditioning. While in Vegas the amount of time we spent outside during daylight hours totaled less than 8. We did walk the south strip, from Caesar’s to Excalibur (about two miles) in the dark and relative cool of midnight’s mid-eighties. All told, we actually experienced cooler ambient personal temperatures in las Vegas in high summer than we would have had we remained at home.

Our plants and animals navigated the shoals of dehydration as handily as did we, with the kind assistance of friends and neighbors. The highlight of our unsupervised plant growth is the successful sprouting of a batch of ferns from sporophytes gathered from extant plantings. Running a close second is the riotous growth of my windowbox herb garden, the plantings practically thundering their demands for harvest.

Our meals in Vegas were a mixed bag. The Luxor buffet was overpriced and so-so. We shared cocktails and sushi with my parents the evening of our first day in. We had promised them a lunch on that day, but delayed due to airline oversales, we substituted drinks at the Luxor’s pan-Asian joint, Fusia. The sushi was OK, but nothing special, as befits a desert location, and the dim sum appetizer was really quite excellent. Later in the trip, we ate at the restaurant en famille grande, and the food was again adequate. Strangely, the first evening my martini was quite outstanding, while the second night it had a peculiar and unpleasant perfumey quality.

Our large family event dinner was held at Trevi, which is located in what I recall as Caesar’s Forum, hard by a large-scale fantasia on an Italian Renaissance fountain. The dinner was both reasonably priced at well under $40 per seat and really excellent in every dimension from service to food. My sister in law had arranged for an event photographer who provided the family with a burned CD of all his shots, license transferred to the family, by 6pm the very next day. Amusingly with regard to the venue my brother-in-law (who hosted the dinner) and the young gentleman who proposed at table are both Sicilian by extraction.

After the rest of the family left on Friday Vivian and I explored the south strip area on our own, learning the hard way that a taxi beats a bus from complex to complex. The municipal strip shuttle was hot, overcrowded with grouchy people trying to get their money – all four dollars – back, and slow as an asphalt river. The cabs were prompt, amusing in ethnicity and radio chatter (we rode with a Dubliner, an Egyptian, an American, and an Indian), and cost less than two dollars more than the equivalent shuttle ride, net.

Vivian wanted to see both New York New York and Paris; as we had explored the Italianate casinos the day before she was interested in my commentary regarding the appearance of the arcades and objets d’art. I was interested in the quality and disposition of the many copies of this or that building or sculpture and had been chattering about them as we encountered them.

On one of the family’s evening strolls, my father-in-law and I found ourselves separated from the rest of our group just outside the Venetian, whose frontage consists of a reasonable facsimile of the Piazza San Marcos in Venice and features what appears to be a full-scale replica of the Doge’s Palace. Pipo, busy fiddling with a new camera, looked up as we were about halfway past the front of the building and gasped, grasping my arm. His English temporarily defeated by the sight, he still conveyed that it looked the same to him as he recalls it appearing in his experience from a visit to Italy and Yugoslavia some twenty years ago.

The next day, with family gone, Viv and I made our way to these other destinations, eventually settling in for an early dinner at a steakhouse in New York New York. I hassled the junior server by asking if the water was flown in from Brooklyn daily (Las Vegas has one of the worst-tasting municipal water supplies in the country, and New York’s has long been one of the best), and the senior server by asking if we could borrow a set of reading glasses. To my joy, he immediately proffered the pair that perched on his nose, and this set the tone for the meal. Vivian and I both had really remarkable steaks, very reasonably priced, and split a bottle of the old reliable Louis Jadot Beaujolais, again, reasonably priced.

Settling in and reflecting on the week, Viv raised her glass and promised me that we too would see our fiftieth wedding anniversary. I smiled, moved, and we toasted our lives together. At that exact moment, a restaurant-retained event photographer asked if we wanted a picture. Normally, of course, the custom is both an anachronism and a nuisance. But in the context of the precise moment and the fantasia of a lower-Manhattan steakhouse of sixty years gone, we welcomed it. I rather wish the photographer had been using a large-format black-and-white Polaroid with a single-use flashbulb, but in the end we did purchase a print, finished the wine, picked up our bags, caught the plane, and made it home.

4 thoughts on “The Desert

  1. I’ve been to Las Vegas twice. It was a carnival in hell:ghastly and festive at the same time. Went to all of the places that you mention, but did it in less than 4 hours. Left town the next morning. Actually, the worst part might have been getting out of town. Miles and miles of shitbox apartment buildings built to within an inch of the freeway. I had (some small amount of) fun visiting but it just seems like a horrible place to live. I really enjoyed your friend’s dry cleaning blog.

  2. I don’t think the Roman, Renaissance, Egyptian and Gilded Age themes employed in the newer complexes is by any analysis an accident, Jon. The darker overtones of such imagery are apparently quite lost in the heat. I can, I imagine, hold out hope for a faux Tenochtitlan at some point, if the economy holds out long enough that it becomes economically promising to celebrate Mesoamerican Imperium on the same footing as Rome and the early Industrial Era.

  3. You left out the part where you dropped $2700 on an ill-advised bluff in the Bellagio’s $10/$20 Pot-Limit Omaha game.

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