Just returned from 9 days out west, in Las Vegas and Southern California. As I'm still trying to catch up on news from the week, I'll say a few words about the travel. Las Vegas was quite fascinating, if troubling. It is one of those man made environments that is constantly inventing new ways of describing its own peculiar artifice: from the tourists lined up to photograph the "landmarks" (the Paris casino with its faux Palais Garnier, Eiffel tower, and Pont Neuf); to the plaques affixed to the "New York, New York" hotel which commemorate the imitation skyline as a mourning site for September 11th victims; to the woman I stood next to on Siegfried and Roy Plaza who announced that she "loved the desert" due to all the "shopping and singing." Las Vegas the city is likewise remarkable in its own right. Looking out the window on the plane coming in, I was marvelling at the sheer barrenness of so much of the country--everything west of Kansas looked like the face of Mars as far as I could tell--and then suddenly a picture perfect suburb blooms from the desert. It is improbable, unsustainable, and utterly remarkable. Unfortunately for the Las Vegas miracle, after the weekend I came to the conclusion that one can probably find more legitimate debauchery on any Monday night in New York than one can find in the suffocating corporate fun of the new Las Vegas. One has the sense that people there (except for the hard core gamblers, of course) have somehow forgotten how to enjoy themselves, and have come hoping that the mega-conglomerates running the casinos can teach them again.

Then it was on to California, where I was smitten again, as usual. I still can't figure out what I would do there, or where I would live, but I wish I could be on vacation there permanently. For people attached to the Midwest or the East, California offers what must be an experience similar to that felt by early European visitors to the United States: the intoxication of being among people who consider theirs the newest history on earth. The tragic naivete, the irrepressible, sweet arrogance of people unfettered by reverence or obsession with their history--there is an easy contentment there which is priceless and not to be found elsewhere.


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