Thursday, February 07, 2008

I am on my way back to Minneapolis after an interesting trip out west. I don’t often get a chance to go west, and honestly don’t usually enjoy it, as the two-hour time difference really screws up my sleep schedule. (Oh yeah that’s right…what schedule?)

I got to spend a lot of time in Las Vegas, a city I have successfully avoided up until now. I don’t enjoy gambling, and the “shows” in the past have been more like peep shows that entertaining shows.

For once I had some free time on this trip. My traveling companion’s husband flew in to town, so they went their own way and I got to spend the evening on my own.

I walked up and down the strip a little bit. I felt like a little kid, so small compared to the buildings. I couldn’t believe all the people walking up and down, taking photos of “fake” architecture. Because that’s the only way I could describe it – a “fake” palace, a “fake” pyramid, a “fake” canal.

I felt small in comparison to the buildings, to the expanse between them. Even the sidewalks made me feel small – the city no longer allows pedestrians cross at the intersections; you have to take an outside escalator and go on bridges across the strip – large, wide bridges with glass walls so that the walls do not obstruct the pedestrians’ views of the rest of the strip.

Caesar’s Palace looks like a palace, but the “architecture” is made of cement, painted to look like granite. Instead of the architecture being made by artisans it’s churned out by machines and then put up by low-paid low-skilled workers, not like the true artisans who made the original works.

When I was a little girl I liked to play with toys that made me feel like a grown-up – a BIG playhouse that I could actually walk into without hitting my head, a pretend kitchen that made me feel like I was really cooking. I think that the tourists walking around Vegas get that feeling again, of being a child in a playland that is just a bit oversized for us.

This was evident to me as I people watched during my dinner. I ate at a restaurant called Canaletto, and it was set up as a patio just outside the “canal” at the Palazzo casino. To keep this fakery theme going, when I approached the hostess station to be seated, she asked if I wanted to eat inside or “outside, on the patio.” Keep in mind that the patio is actually a large shopping center, with fake building all around to be the Palazzo in Rome. There is a fake canal that runs through it, and the ceiling is painted like the sky, blue with puffy white clouds and a sunset beginning in the corner of the sky. Outside?? Um…yeah, let me leave the building then…

Anyway, while I was sitting there, enjoying my quiet dinner by myself, I saw two elderly Chinese men walking around, licking ice cream cones. They had pure white hair and shuffled while they walked, wearing matching tan Members Only jackets. They were so happy, the pleasure on their faces was evident for all to see as they walked around the square, taking in the sights and sounds of the fake Venice. After all, had we really been in Venice, the canal water would have been muddy brown or green, not sky blue, and the stench would have put the restaurant I was eating in out of business, or at least farther removed from the canal.

So then the question begs to be asked, “Is happiness at fakery authentic happiness?” And I guess the answer is “yes,” because these two men were taking in the human-made marvels that honored an older time, artisanship that is mostly lost, and preserved it in a sad, pathetic, commercial way. But they were genuinely happy and perhaps that is all that mattered.

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