We said that Vegas was a weird town in the desert, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s so incongruous, out in the middle of nowhere, like some big kid’s toybox has been spilt in the desert. But it’s exactly what you expect: excess is everywhere, and the big kids imagination is in overdrive: you want the whole of New York to be squeezed into a snapshot? You got it. What about Paris – the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Mongolfier Balloon? You got it. It’s hyper everything – hyperreal, hypercrass and hypercommercial. So using language appropriate for the polarizing feelings that Vegas has provided, it’s safe to say that you’ll love it and hate it in equal measure. So here’re a few of the things that we have loved and hated.
We loved the fountain display at the Bellagio. This is the hotel featured in the Ocean trilogy, out front of which is an enormous pond. Every so often, an amazing water display erupts, with the fountains springing everywhere in sync with the music. That really is magical, especially at night.
We hated the Bellagio. Inside, that is. And most of the other hotels, come to that. These places are so big, so ostentatious and so labyrinthine that it takes you literally half an hour or even an hour to walk round them, during which time you get increasingly lost. Finding your way out is the biggest challenge, and just when you think you have done it and you arrive on the pavement, you find yourself having to take an escalator and whoops, you’re back inside another gargantuan hotel! We got stuck for an hour in the MGM Grand before eventually making it back to the Strip.
We loved the shows we saw, and Vegas is full of these. They are very much based on spectacle and virtuosity, so don’t go expecting Chekhov. However, you can see everything from the big magicians like David Copperfield and Penn and Teller, to the singers like Donny Osmond and Olivia Newton John, to the exotic cabarets that are too numerous to mention. And then there are the Cirque du Soleil shows, for which Vegas is renowned. We saw one of these – Zarkana – and had a fabulous time. It really is just circus, but done with such lavish and spectacular glam (and skill) that you just can’t help being wowed. We also saw the Blue Man Group, who we have seen previously in New York. They never disappoint: this is funny, feel good fun, with once again an amazing degree of skill and expertise.
We hated the street preachers. As you know, Vegas is a land of vice, with all of its gambling, titillation and hedonism. But it’s also packed with plenty of naysayers, brandishing placards and megaphones and warning everybody that they are going straight to the devil. Now this isn’t our thing at the best of times, but these people showed the problems that happen when American values like freedom of speech and right-wing sentiments come face to face. When they started condemning things like homosexuality, we felt like picking our own placards up and preaching them some of our values.
We loved some of the day trips you can go on out of Vegas – it’s so well located for a number of great attractions (such as the Grand Canyon, that we didn’t do). We passed by another of these canyons, Red Rock, on our way in, though on this occasion we chose not to visit that or the Canyon of Fire, partly because we’ve seen a lot of the natural spectacles already. However, we did make a trip to a man-made spectacle, the Hoover Dam, which was truly awesome. More of that tomorrow!
We hated the prostitution laws in Nevada, and what this leads to: open pimping of young girls on the streets by people old enough to be your grandma. They’re very forthright in what they do, thrusting flyers at you even when you are walking as a couple, as if there is nothing more natural in the world. Whatever your views, it’s problematic when you come (as we do) from a culture that is so differently placed in this regard – and when you have kids who are not much younger than the girls being pimped. Even considering the pro-prostitution perspective and the postfeminist perspective, it still feels ‘off’ and wrongly balanced when you consider who is doing the selling and then who might be doing the buying – and what the ‘service providers’ are actually getting from the transaction. I am sure several people will have strong and different views to us though.
You’ll love Vegas and hate it, as we’ve said. We certainly don’t regret coming, and we’ve had a ball during our stay. Will we come back? Dunno. Perhaps it’s somewhere you have to experience once, but perhaps that’s all you need.