Wednesday, February 21, 2007


It was dark by the time we got to the Hoover Dam, La Patronne, Susie and I. Earlier, we'd been burning up the tarmac on Route 66. The sun had taken forever to set beyond the mountains. The sky was incredible. Like the cover of "Snakehead".

And then there it was, floodlit, spectacular, an extraordinary feat of engineering accomplished in the nineteen-thirties to harness the power of the Colorado River and bring light to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. We felt dwarfed by it, as slowly we drove around its perimeter, rocks rising sheer around us.

A tower showed a clock set to Arizona time at one side of the dam. It was 8.25pm. On the far side, another clock showed Nevada time. It was 7.25pm. It had been a long drive since our early start in Phoenix more than twelve hours earlier. The hour-long TV interview I recorded with Barbara Peters at nine o'clock that morning, seemed like a week ago.

Since then we had braved barren desert scrubland, mountain roads climbing above the snowline, 5000 feet and more, the spectacular red rocks that rise out of the ground all around the little town of Sedona - rocks like cathedrals, stunning in scale and colour.

And now, as we crested the final ridge in the dark, there it was. Las Vegas. Laid out before us like some vast carpet of light, spread across the desert plain between jagged mountain ranges. If ever there was a way to enter Vegas, this was it, hurtling in on the freeway through a blaze of neon, then swooping down on to The Strip, Susie at the wheel, monuments to man's creative madness rising on all sides.

My antipathy for big cities is well-known. But this was an experience not to be missed. For those worshippers of mankind's most fabulous of follies, this is a must-make pilgrimage. It is crazy, but compulsive - escpecially for those gamblers among us.

Treasure Island, Caesar's Palace. And then - how crazy is this? - Paris, the Eiffel Tower. Across the road is Venice. Further along The Strip are Monte Carlo, New York, the Pyramids, Luxor.

We are in the Bellagio. A vast reception area leading into an even larger gambling floor. Row upon row of slot machines, croupiers turning wheels, flipping cards, gathering dice. You have to run the gauntlet of it all to get to the elevators. Clearly they hope to tempt you to lose money en route.

And then our room, on the 26th floor, with ceiling to carpet windows looking out on the Eiffel Tower, and a huge man-made lake with a spectacular water and light show that runs every fifteen minutes.

I stop to pinch myself. It's all so unreal - and at the same time so incredibly real. Because we are here.

A long way from the tiny South Pasadena bookstore of "Book 'Em" that we visited on Sunday to talk to customers and sign books. Or the afternoon drink we shared with our old French neighbours, John and Bettie Jensen in Beverly Hills, before dining at the Los Angeles Country Club - where the maitre d' made me wear a jacket and tie in an attempt to accomplish some veneer of presentability.

Or the long drive through barren moonscapes, punctuated by forests of wind turbines, and a dramatic desert thunderstorm, to the upscale town of Scottsdale on the edge of Phoenix. The vastness overhead on that Arizona desert drive had been extraordinary - a cistine sky of dark, bruising brushstrokes, smeared across a wet, purple fresco (that one's for Ian and Hilary).

Then rain pounding on the skylight as author Mary Anna Evans and myself were interviewed by our publisher, Barbara Peters, before an enthusiastic audience at the Poison Pen bookstore. The one place you don't expect to be cold, or rained upon, is Phoenix. But, then, nothing about this trip is conforming to the expected.

Barbara Peters prays for success...

And now we have a day to play, and I'll leave you to guess at what it is we might get up to in this original sin city. For, after all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

See you in California.

Writing the Vegas blog...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Loved the image of the purple fresco sky . . . reading your Blog from a bruised Leeds skyline!

Hilary & Ian