“I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in New York.”
There’s probably more appropriate songs, but it’s the only one that came to mind. So yeah, I’ve been to Vegas. And there are really no words for how bewildering an experience it was.
That won’t stop me from trying, though.



There’s a bunch of things I knew before setting off. Vegas is in the desert, it’s got big casino’s and neon lights.


All of that turned out to be true, though to a more or lesser extent than I had imagined. For instance, the only way to know you’re in a desert, is because it’s warm and sunny. There’s not a shred of dirt of bare rock to be found, and there’s a lot more grass than there should logically be.


And there *is* neon. My god is there neon. When arriving in Vegas after a grueling 18-hour flight you can’t help but be overwhelmed by all the flashy, sparkly lights and giant video screens. And the neon. I now know exactly what that bunny in the headlight is thinking. And what it’s thinking is ‘Oh crap, that’s bright’.


And yes, the casinos are big and themed. They are, in fact, ridiculously big, to the point where you get lost in them, and are given a treasure style map to find your hotel room. And each one of them is a small theme park, complete with shopping mall, all in itself. The place has buildings, actual buildings in which people sleep, that have a rollercoaster moving pretty much through them, curling round its towers and snaking up and under its windows.


It’s mostly the themes, and the outrageous extravagance to which they are taken, that bewilders a modest little European like me. There really are no words for how weird  it is to see a hotel with two pirate ships in a water feature in front of it, one of which sinks five times daily in a show that involves chain mail bikinis, bad music and fireworks (sorry for the spoiler there).


There’s also an enthusiasm there that is decidedly rare in my neck of the woods. Quite a lot of the casinos are modeled after real life European places, but they don’t try to mimic those places. Mostly, they seem to be built with an attitude that combines ‘what suits me’ with ‘how it should be’. Which makes them look more like a Disney film décor than an actual building.


I’ll give an example.
There is a place with a Venice theme. Its front looks like the Doge’s palace and the Bridge of Sighs connects that front to the Campanile (the big tower thing). These three well known, recognizable items are stuck together in a way that has very little to do with actual architectural placement, but more in a way that is esthetically and space managementy right.


It works.


Inside said Venetian hotel, on the first floor (I would like to stress this, it’s up some escalators), there is an indoor mall, modeled after the Venetian canals. It has narrow cobbled hallways with shop windows encircled by plaster fronts that are made to look like old time Italian houses. It has a ceiling that’s painted to look like a blue sky with fluffy clouds. It has canals of chlorinated water on which you can take gondola rides. Twice a day, a row of gondoliers in stripy outfits with funny hats come by in a row, singing. In tune with each other. Like a barber shop quartet.


Now, as someone who’s visited the actual Venice, I can tell you that the real gondoliers don’t sing (at least not all of them, and even then only if you pay them). The water is usually a murky and potentially lethal liquid. And there are a lot more pigeons, tourist and, generally, signs of decay. That is probably what makes it so unreal. No bits of stone have fallen off the fronts. No dogs have peed against doors. Ages of sun have not bleached the wooden windows. It’s simply  not *old*.


That, and canals full of water should not flow on the first floor of any building.


It’s that opulence and… film set like charm that gets to me. Europeans are used to ‘the real thing’. We’re used to the old stones, and the grime and dust that comes with them. And it takes someone to clone those elements of our culture, rearrange them and put them in carpeted display cases for us to realize just how *old* our real things are.


What’s worse is that Vegas, for all it’s hollow commercialism and blinking lights, makes the real thing look sort of depressing. It’s catchy. It’s probably unbearable for more than a week, but still, there I was, walking down the boulevard, basking in the sun, sucking frappuccino through the lid of a plastic cup, being harassed by people wanting to give me free coupons, and loving it. The place is so loud and full of impressions that you stop and think ‘boy, it’s quiet here’ when you walk three meters without having a loudspeaker on the building you’re passing telling you how great it is inside.


The place also does really good sunsets. Real ones.