Friday, February 23, 2007


Las Vegas is an experience everyone should have. Once.

It is the capital of tack, an assault on the senses - from the doubled over plastic figure outside a trinket store on The Strip blowing bubbles out of his backside (calm yourself, Gary), to Elton John, Celine Dion, and The Beatles.

Sadly, all we got to see were the bubbles.

We arrived mid-week, and all the major shows were "dark" - i.e. not playing. Even the standing exhibition we had wanted to see - a display of plasticised human body parts - was mysteriously closed... although it seemed to be on show everywhere else I've been; Seattle, Phoenix... And The Beatles tribute band, Rain, were away on tour.

We settled instead for a fabulous meal at the Aureole restaurant in Mandalay, where a girl on a pulley system flew up and down a vertical wine cellar housed in an air-conditioned glass column in the centre of the grande salle. We also sent her hurtling skyward - to fetch a bottle of chardonnay from Susie's own Ambullneo winery.

In a sense we were lucky. Because the previous weekend the whole city had been in gridlock - a combination of the NBA playoffs, St. Valentine's Day and President's Day, had brought unprecedented numbers of visitors to Las Vegas. "Worse than New Year's," a taxi driver told us. So although it seemed busy to us, apparently we had the place to ourselves.

Daytime Vegas is less impressive than the nightscape. The lights lend it glamour and glitz. Daylight reveals a certain tawdryiness. It is a city of gapsites and construction, a restless search for the next bigger thing. But in the casinos themselves you'd be forgiven for losing track of time. There are no windows, and so no daylight. Gamblers sit at tables in a constant twilight, long-legged girls feeding them endless free drinks to stay there and lose more money.

Land is cheap, property is readily available, there is no state income tax, and so Las Vegas has become the fastest growing city in the USA. The weather might also have something to do with it.

Before we left, we visited Caesar's Palace, wandering through ancient Rome, with domed skies going through twenty-four hour cycles in a matter of minutes. We ate near the Trevi fountain, pizzas at Spago's, before heading off into the dusty heat of Death Valley.

This is what the moon must look like, minus the craters. Rocky outcrops and stony mountain ranges rising out of the sand of the Mojave desert. Endless, blistering miles of it. It is 86 metres below sea level, and temperatures range from upwards of 130 degrees farenheit during the day, to below freezing at night.

A low pressure weather front was moving in off the Pacific as we headed west, colliding with a standing high pressure. The result, at first, was wind. We saw great clouds of sand whipped up into clouds in its hot, swirling breath. Then, as we rose up through the mountains to over 4000 feet, we met the rain. A thrashing, battering downpour.

And so it was, that we got back to Newport Beach on a blustery wet night, glad to be home. An early night, and a deep sleep, were rewarded by sunshine at dawn, and the fantasy that is Vegas seemed to vanish in the haze of our memories, like a mirage in the desert.

Dawn view from Susie's...

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