The City of Light and Illusion

The “Old World Elegance” of Bellagio (1998) on the right, the “Urban Sophistication” of City Center (2009) on the left

There is perhaps no less spiritual city in the country than Las Vegas. So why did I just get back from a Solstice / Christmas trip there? Well, Cathy loves the slot machines. And after the past couple months at work, all I wanted to do was kick back, read a bit, and forget about things. Las Vegas is good for that: plenty of good food and drink, all kinds of distractions and diversions, and a great place to people-watch. Plus with the economy being down the room rates are really cheap right now.

Cathy and I have made several trips to Las Vegas, the first in 1996. In that time it’s gone from “DisneyWorld for adults” to “old world elegance” to what’s now being called “Urban Sophistication” – lots of glass and steel and sharp angles. What hasn’t changed is what Las Vegas sells – illusion.

I’m not talking about Lance Burton or David Copperfield. And I’m not really talking about gambling, although gambling is still a major source of the city’s income. Anybody with a high school proficiency in math can figure the odds, and more importantly, that they aren’t on the players’ side.

No, I’m talking about the illusion that you can become someone glamorous just by going to Las Vegas. First it was being cool like Frank and Sammy and Dean, or hanging out with the mob. Then it was visiting Rome or Paris, Egypt or Camelot. In the 90s the illusion was being wealthy enough to afford it all. Now the emphasis is on clubs and lounges and ultra-expensive restaurants and shopping – you too can be a rich idle celebrity with nothing better to do than spend thousands looking sexy and chasing the latest novelties.

I’ve always been uneasy in Las Vegas, fascinated (and a bit seduced) by the gaudy decadent excess of it all, but also unwilling to pay the fare to buy the illusion. I’m either maturing or just getting old, because the last couple of trips the illusion hasn’t bothered me in the least.

There is one piece of spirituality in Las Vegas – the Cirque du Soleil shows. I’ve described them as one part circus, one part gymnastics and three parts psychedelic drugs. The shows and the performers are incredibly beautiful, but they’re so bizarre my logical mind can’t figure them out. So for once, I don’t try. I just experience, and enjoy.

This time we saw Le Rêve, which technically isn’t a Cirque show, but since it was developed by former Cirque du Soliel director Franco Dragone you’d never know it. I’m not going to try to review it, but here’s a review I mostly agree with. I’ll just say the ticket prices are horrible but they’re worth every penny.

Maybe there are some illusions I will buy…

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