They say you should never go back. I know that this truism probably relates to relationships, but I think the same can be said of places too, especially if you revisit them with high expectations.
Well that’s exactly what I did for the last 10 days, revisited Las Vegas, capital of excess, after an absence of over 4 years, with a group of like minded friends.
That’s not to say that my expectations were hopelessly crushed. Far from it, I’d gone to play poker and I certainly played a lot of poker, without, it has to be said a whole lot of success, a lot of which can be attributed to the bad luck that all poker players suffer from (and are invariably keen to tell you about!). I’m a better than average poker player, but know that I’m not a great poker player, but that’s OK. I realise what I like about live poker is the comforting amiability of the poker table and the ephemeral relationships that you form with your fellow poker players. I experience a whole range of emotions when playing poker; boredom when not in a hand for some time, elation when winning a pot, anxiety when not sure what to do, right through to self loathing when making a bad play. All of these emotions are surprisingly addictive, even the negative ones.
Las Vegas this time round seems a little jaded, or perhaps that’s just me. There are some new developments on the strip, Aria, Cosmopolitan and the new Crystals City Centre Plaza and by Vegas standards they can be considered as stylish and glamorous, but anywhere else they would be viewed as gauche and vulgar. What did surprise me is the presence of an original Henry Moore sculpture innocuously placed between Crystals and Aria, a beautiful piece, largely ignored by all that pass it by. There’s also an original piece by Turner Prize-winning British sculptor Tony Cragg in the lobby of Aria itself.
Apparently it’s all part of the first major permanent collection of art in Las Vegas to be integrated into a public space, and one of the world’s largest and most ambitious corporate collections in existence today. The art ranges from sculpture to large-scale installations; it features work by 15 acclaimed painters, sculptors and visionaries, including Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Nancy Rubins, and Frank Stella, among others.
Laudable, but Vegas is what it is, a shrine to non stop gambling and shopping. I think the display of Jimmy Choo Icons in Crystals and the Lamborghini parked at Aria garnered more attention than the sculptures.
It’s the relentlessness about Vegas, that this time I found wearing. There is absolutely nowhere to find stillness and tranquility and, being on my own for the large part of the time I was there, that was precisely what I craved at times. On occasions I felt like I was in a ‘stop motion’ video, where I was moving slowly and everything and everyone around me was a blur of sound and movement.
I did manage to find the space and time to read a couple of books, one of which was Jonathan Franzen’s, Freedom, a really good book that is described as ‘a story about the human heart, and what it leads us to do to ourselves and each other’. It also touches on the environmental irresponsibility of the world in general, and Americans in particular, when one of the main protagonists becomes involved in a project to save territory to preserve one particular bird’s breeding grounds. It was apposite reading it in Vegas, surrounded as I was by ample evidence of over consumption. I missed the book once I’d finished it, it was so absorbing and it touched me.
I only observed one other person reading a book in Vegas. That didn’t surprise me. People don’t come here to read, that’s for sure!
I’m home now. My digestive system thanks me for that. It was a welcome break from reality. Will I go back? Not sure. Maybe Italy next year. Better food, more stylish and probably less taxing on the wallet!