Las Vegas. It's the sort of place which has been portrayed in mythical terms in the movies and on television to such a scale that it seems impossible to think of it as a real place, an actual city where people live and work.
I had been meaning to take a trip there for a long time, and this past weekend, as spring break sprung to life, a few friends and I set off from Santa Fe, New Mexico due northwest to "Sin City."
I encountered many thoughts and feelings over the course of those few days. As many of my American friends had foretold, the word "surreal" kept popping up much more than "magical" or "mythical" in Las Vegas.
On the way, though, the first stop was the Hoover Dam. There is some history to it, and it is no doubt a very impressive structure indeed. Where I grew up, in Delhi, dams were famously referred to as "the temples of modern India." They were symbols of modernization and economic progress. I can definitely see that with the Hoover Dam, especially given that it was made during the Depression. But that a dam could in and of itself be a tourist attraction with a gift shop seemed a little out of place to me.
More than once I have noticed that the U.S. is a place where anything can be marketed or merchandised. Las Vegas is the epitome of that fact. Gambling is what is packaged and sold to the teeming masses there, along with other activities that are less regulated, less legal.
For me, what is a real draw to a place is the history, culture, and cuisine. In many parts of the U.S., the above are not terribly distinct. History, for example, never goes back more than a few centuries. So, in response, Americans make their own traditions to celebrate, such as dams and gambling. The above might have sounded a little facetious, but I did mean it in all honesty, in a positive way.
And, in truth, Las Vegas has a great deal of real beauty to share. The strip, which is the central road with all the attractions, consists of lovely buildings and lighting, and the insides of the casinos were all wonderfully done. The dancing fountains in front of one had a delightful water-and-light show with musical accompaniment. The people-watching was really fun, too; all the girls were always decked out (I didn't really notice the guys, sorry!). Plus, I got to see a Cirque du Soleil show, which was absolutely mind-boggling and jaw-dropping.
I admit that it was disturbing to see so many suggestive and explicit advertisements, not to mention the fact that police officers making arrests and medics with sirens blaring are a common sight. I was left overall with a feeling of being overwhelmed, sometimes with extravagance, which might not always be a bad thing, and sometimes with other, more negative emotions.
All in all, though, I can appreciate how truly remarkable it is that some place out in the desert could be transformed in such a unique manner (in part, by the way, due to a particularly wealthy Armenian-American).
I believe I would go there again, although not to see the Little Bo Peep Show, or Menopause: The Musical, but definitely to see other performances, which are worthwhile.
But I wouldn't take any kids along.