As the majority of Americans who celebrate Thanksgiving started to starve themselves in anticipation of the yearly beast of a meal that occurs on this day of thanks, my fiancée and I scoured the Internet in search of a mini-vacation, an escape for the sake of sanity.
Much to our surprise The Wynn in Las Vegas offered a tantalizing offer, which we felt impossible to deny. Only in Las Vegas can you find four-star luxury at a negotiable deal. Excited, as this was my first trip to the Land of Sin, I commenced to frantically fling all sorts of exotic outfits into our suitcase. Dear Carlos sighed in disbelief at the quantity I was able to pack for only two nights. When it comes to packing Carlos has taught me something grand. Don’t feel bad about what you pack and don’t listen to what anybody says about it. So, I pack too much, he looks at me knowingly, I attempt to lighten the load and we leave. Wisdom at it’s best, I say.
The drive to Vegas was beautiful and interesting. Most of all, it was fun to have time to talk with Carlos. With so much work it had been a while since we had, had a lengthy conversation about life, love and all one should talk about (more often). As we passed the seemingly dreary Barstow (the name is rather depressing) we finally hit the desert and found ourselves amongst the giant mountains and an arid sea of joshua trees, bramble and, well, desert. As I sat staring out at the vastness before me, listening to country tunes, I had my first of several realizations of the trip. There I was enjoying the nature around me (albeit from a car) on my way to the land of materialism. Why on earth do human beings seek material grandeur when we have such obvious beauty and greatness around us? This is of course not a first time realization per se but it became acutely present and loud as we approached the famous Vegas strip. And, well, here I was, the example of humans seeking distraction, entertainment and a splash of luxury. Guilty as charged.
I admit to being squeamishly excited as we approached the sea of lights, which seemed to chant Vegas in sporadic flickers of lights, calling us in to the lurid world that takes form in Vegas. It was very quiet in Vegas for Thanksgiving, which was wonderful in terms of traffic (car and human). Very soon we were amongst the flashing lights of the Flamingo Hotel, the Cosmopolitan, Bellagio, Aria – passing shops, people with drinks and bags, more bags, more shows advertised on billboards. Carlos kept reiterating that Vegas was not necessarily an elegant place. I think I had some sort of idea that people dressed in suits and cocktail dresses at all times and I quickly saw that Las Vegas is the vacation spot of all sorts and it definitely doesn’t have an elegant feel. As I watched people walk by, in flip-flops and jeans I realized what he had been trying to say. I had arrived to the Disney Land of adults, but worse than that it is a soulless playpen where nothing intangible matters. All that counts are things, objects, chips and coins; whether you possess a lucky hand, whether you win or loose.
The enormous curve shaped Wynn emerged before us, dark and majestic with the gold letters cursively spelling out “Wynn”. The valet took our car and we entered the lion’s den. Large floral arrangements in the form of balls hung effortlessly from the roof as we stepped into the entrances magical forest, which warmly welcomed us. My first impression was one of feeling calm, soothing and lush. A few people took pictures of each other next to these great balls of orchids, roses and all sorts of exotic flowers. It was very beautiful and not as offensive as I had foreshadowed (despite the fact that Las Vegas was built on the solid ground of Mafia money – which gives the whole place a rather doomed feel). We walked over to the reception desk and a friendly young woman checked us in to our room on the 54th floor. We were given a map of the resort (thank God) and off we went to find the elevators.
We had to walk through the casino to get to the lifts and as we stepped on to the casino floor a gust of perfectly tempered air surrounded our heads as we wandered past the roulette, craps, poker and slot machines. “Ching, ching, rakatata rakatata” went the machines followed by a chorus of dull nattering, random cheers and sighs of loss. The casino was full of all types of human creatures, each forming a part of a stereotype. Young groups of Japanese kids in their early 20s with their hair fashioned upwards and sideways, clothes tight, suit jacket fitted, girls in high heels. Russian men with large necklaces, their wives clutching Louis Vuitton bags and smoking long white thin cigarettes. Mexican men sipping on whiskey and Cuba Libres with their wives giggling beside them; A group of young women laughing hysterically around a roulette table. Five older ladies with leathered faces sucking cigars, chewing gum and playing black jack. Over weight men and women slouched by the slots machines. There were a few people in suits and bowties, their ladies dressed to the nines, but not many. I later discovered that the Wynn was the only Casino I saw with people dressed up to gamble.
We observed everything and everybody eagerly as we walked through the casino, randomly receiving a puff of cigar or cigarette smoke in our direction quickly dissolved by clean oxygen pumped air. The security is tight and before you go to the elevators you have to show your room key. Our elevators (for rooms that high up) quietly ascended to the 54th floor. We walked along the carpeted and surprisingly calm hallway. Large white flowers stretched over a sea of black carpet, oval mirrors on the walls and large fake pieces of chiseled rock eluding to history and value and looking quite pretty despite the fakeness, accompanied us along towards our room. In went the key, a quick “beep bleep” and the door opened.
Now, lets step away from the morality of Vegas and let me indulge in the few hours that I marveled in our room. It was large with a big bed draped in Egyptian cotton sheets. Our bathroom, spread over two rooms had me giddy. In between the “his and her” sinks was a makeup table with a mirror and a chair. The little girl fantasy of having a makeup table had me thrilled. Everything was beautiful, white, clean and calming. The view of the Vegas strip with its flirtatious flickering lights was very extravagant and I confess that we enjoyed our first night, the view, the room service, the everything, completely and almost unashamedly.
The first night, which was Thanksgiving, we had a delicious dinner at the SW but before that we had a drink by an enormous fake fountain (one of many at this hotel – they even have a gold course with babbling brooks and more fountains.) The fountain changed colour and in the distance a human form seemed to stand quietly. (We contemplated whether this was a real person or not for quite a while – that is just how big the water/pool and fountain were and just how capable of placing a human being in a giant pool of water for eight hours we feel Vegas hotel owners are). For dinner we ordered the Chefs Thanksgiving dinner. The waiters were polite as ever, service at its height. The waiting staff seemed to adopt a strong sense of pride in their work. Was this real, I wonder? As we sat indulging in prosecco and giggling away our neighbouring table started to chat with us. It was a couple, must have been in their late 60s, from Texas. The gentleman started telling us how wonderful Vegas was. He was elegant ad poised, his wife was as well, however, she didn’t talk quite as much. They had lived in Stavanger, which made me think he either worked for the US government, or in the Petroleum industry. He started to tell us “Vegas, well Vegas is a wondrous place. It is…the all American vacation”. I don’t mean to mock this. I truly don’t and I do genuinely respect each person’s opinion. Suffice to say that this struck me as rather sad. We quickly returned to our meal and subtly went back to talking to just each other.
After our delicious meal we tried to do a tad of gambling. When in Rome right? We lost $25 in a split second. We decided we didn’t like to gamble. That was that. The show, however, was stupendous. Le Réve was a crazy dream indeed, a Cirque de Soleil, which took place in water, with various stages raising themselves out of the water. Several times I felt worried for the safety of these magnificently agile acrobats with their beaming muscular bodies glowing in the scenario as they directed their dive towards water and a sharp edge. How on earth does one practice that from over 10 metres in the air? The choreography and scene were impeccable. The timing superb, it was a truly magnificent show.
After the show we went for a stroll to the Venetian Hotel. I had heard that they had a “Venice” in there and just had to see this with my own eyes. Only in Vegas can you say “hey that hotel has a Venice in it”. How bizarre. You can also say, “I’m going to see the Eiffel Tower or I am going to wander down the streets of New York”. Nuts. We entered Venice, which happens to be on the second floor. Whoever designed this is quite a show off. She or He not only decided to re-create the Venice Canals but also took it upon him or herself to do so on the second floor of a building. Slightly impractical isn’t it? The sky changes colour in the span of an hour taking you through a full days cycle. We arrived as the sun was setting. This plastic and fantastic Venice had me in giggles. No wonder people have told me there is no need to go to the real Venice (in Italy). If you see it for what it is, an outrageously fake and over the top creation then you can enjoy it…or at least try to?
The next day we ordered room service (I know, I know). The lovely Gloria politely and cautiously entered our room with a table covered in fresh fruit, eggs, bread you name it. She set the table for us and chatted away with us enthusiastically. There we sat and ate our breakfast with a view of the mountains before us. Immediately below us and before us the flashing lights continued, this time with a growing amount of people.
If one must go to Vegas, I would suggest going to relax. We did, we sprawled our pale bodies by the pool and talked. As it is considered cold in Las Vegas now (22C which is not cold at all) we sun bathed all morning. Lazy as lizards we then swam and enjoyed one another’s company tremendously. After our morning of relaxation and peace we got ready to go meet our friends who were also visiting Vegas for the weekend. Our dinner was going to be at the Bellagio so Carlos and I first went to see the fountain show. It was rather cool. The music blared the water took on human form and danced about swaying, shooting metres into the air. It was quite a sight.
That night we had fun, however, it was a far more “real” Vegas experience. Well, perhaps it is more accurate to say a more “stereotypical” Vegas experience. I realized that I don’t like to drink a lot (especially not tequila shots – been there, done that) and that large clubs playing “ponchis ponchis” music (as Carlos calls it) is not my thing. Being in very crowded places with this music – no thank you please., because being stuck between somebody’s bottom and somebody else’s crotch is frankly not my idea of a good time. It was, however, fun to be with friends, to talk and be silly, to giggle and wiggle and that was that.
The next day we sluggishly awoke. Time to go home. I never would have thought that two days was enough but Carlos was right, by this time I felt I had seen it all. As the kind gentleman who arrived at our room to serve us breakfast (again) and plated our food (good God) we started to ask what it was like to live in Vegas. He promptly said, “do you want the truth or not?” The truth we said (obviously). “Well, we don’t like to come to this area on our days off. You have no idea the things we see here.” He stared at us with his friendly eyes and in his slightly Chinese accent added, “whatever you are thinking…times it by ten. If not a hundred. You have no idea.” I asked him whether he would ever consider writing a book and he responded that there would be no way. He had signed a confidentiality agreement with the Wynn that would last until the day he died, and beyond.
Prior to jumping in the car and skidding home we wandered one last time around the Wynn. It is full of high end shops, the best restaurants with the best chefs, the most amazing waterfalls, a glorious pool and a stellar spa. The night club XS (clever name) looks quite fun too. Suddenly we found ourselves in the bit between the Encore (the sister hotel) and the Wynn where there are tons of conference rooms. Each room was named after a famous composer so we wandered by Mozart, Ravel, Puccini etc. Why not. If you are in to all this then I can say that the Wynn is a beautiful hotel.
The visit to Vegas made philosophers out of us both, grateful for the privileged upbringing we have had with parents who took us to museums and concerts and taught us the value of art and history. I do not wish to sound elitist or snobby in any way. You don’t have to travel to know your history, but why gamble and waste money when you could save and go to see the real deal. There is something fundamentally wrong with Vegas (in my humble opinion). It is a place without soul and a place without Soul is simply not a place at all; a no man’s land of consumerism. Las Vegas feels as though you are walking around in the Devils screen saver and he (or she) is about to press click. That in effect is what happens, however, instead of the Devil pressing click you do. One becomes the worst of oneself and flushes ones own sense of wholeness and worth down the loo. What happens when you loose it all?
I was listening to a show on NPR that spoke about the people who live in tunnels underneath the Vegas strip. Losing became their reality. These people are from all walks of life that suddenly found themselves in a difficult situation in Vegas. One story that I heard was about an ex-truck driver who lost his wife, then his father and came to Vegas. As he gambled he lost all he owned and turned to drugs. Soon he sought an escape in the tunnels below the Vegas strip. There he has made his home. These tunnels are flood tunnels that were created after several destructive floods in the 70s and 80s to avoid inundations. Matt O’Brian, a Las Vegas based journalist discovered hundreds of people living underground in these flood channels in total isolation. To listen to the interviews and stories click here.
Sin City is a place consisting of various levels all situated comfortably within Pandora’s box. As an experience, however, it was worth every penny. Vegas is a reminder of the plethora of inequalities that exist in our world. It presents a vivid display of the stark contrasts of this world we inhabit. But lets face it, there is no need to go to Vegas to realize this. Just open a newspaper or go online and read the news. Whether I will return in the near future is doubtful. If I do, I will hold present the notion that within this vortex of deceptive promises a bleak reality exists on various levels.
Using places or countries as a place to be “bad” to let off steam to act differently than one does normally, disturbs me. Just as people get off the plane in Cabo San Lucas and start drinking beer compulsively, Vegas brings out the “naughty” in people. But here lies the problem – why adhere to what is categorized as “naughty”? Lets face it, we all know that Santa no longer looks down on us deciding if we have been “naughty of nice” so why not just live our life being honest to who we are, that way we don’t have to have intermittent releases of “sinfulness”. Ever considered that we have been spoon fed this idea of what is “good” and “bad” to such an extent that we are attracted to the “bad” and end up paying a whole lot for it? AND what does it mean to be naughty or bad? Cheat on your wife or husband? Go to strip clubs? Imbibe all forms of drug and alcohol known to man? Are you telling me that nobody does this back “home”? What then is the attraction of Vegas? Is it a place to be “bad” in style? Wrong. Vegas is no more than an optical illusion, a marketing effort that coned us to go to a place where the notion of winning is sold to us whilst the money is delicately taken from under our noses. Who is the sucker now?
Adios Las Vegas and never again unless your glittery lights lead me blindly back into your damned clutch.