American Southwest - Part 1

I'm back after a ten day trip to visit friends in New Mexico. I thought I would do a series of posts to describe the experience, since there were several distinct elements.

First off is Las Vegas - our arrival and departure point. I always swore I would never set foot in Vegas, however the absurdly cheap plane ticket made the whole trip financially possible. Much has been written about the city, which certainly lives up to its reputation. I was not seduced by its tawdry charms, and really wouldn't want to go back.

We went to see George Thorogood at the House of Blues on our last night. We're not fans especially, but the show was a little more up our alley than Carrot Top. I have to describe the venue, which encapsulates all that is Vegas. House of Blues, being as corporate as Donald Trump, appears to keep a pretty tight lid on images, so you will have to use your imagination.

After the fake plastic environment out on the strip, I was quite impressed by the warm, textured decor of House of Blues. Every inch of the walls are covered with folk/outsider art paintings, the floors are rough, wide planks that looks like they came from a barn, the ceilings are painted in deep, rich colours and patterns, and all the woodwork, railings, bars are covered with bottle caps and old license plates, creating a tarnished shimmer of texture. It was kind of a cross between Louisiana Voodou and Mexican Day of the Dead, all on a spectacular scale.

But look a little deeper, and one realizes that in no way does the room resemble the roadside tavern it is striving to be. The scale, like everything else in Vegas, is so over the top that it becomes fantasy, an adult Disneyland. The curtains on the stage were particularly fascinating to me. (Always trust me to zero in on the textiles!) Two stories high, they were patchwork - apparently real patchwork, not painted. Warm, homey feeling, right? But imagine how much the things would weigh! Dozens of quilters would have had to work on them - one person could never manage.

And a trip to the ladies room revealed another disparity. The decor tickled the eye to be sure - the stalls were of that chromed steel that you see on good ol' boy pickup trucks, and the walls were deep red, with hand painted patterns covering every surface. And there was a young woman attendant, working for TIPS ONLY. Broke my heart that this place could apparently spend millions on decor, but wouldn't pay a staff person minimum wage.

We left before the show was over - George was fine, but I had much more authentic experiences with that kind of music at Toronto's El Mocambo, back when I was in my 20's. I didn't need a slick, synthetic, manufactured version of a nostalgia that doesn't really resonate with me anyway.

Don't worry, the curmudgeon on my shoulder disappeared as soon as we made our way into the desert. Tomorrow: The Really Grand Canyon.


  1. Anonymous6:07 PM

    I guess Las Vegas is the American Dream on steroids and that's where we're all headed. The U.S. turns everything into entertainment. I digress, but have you seen the Obama Girl videos on You Tube? They are hilarious, and at the same time, serious. I can't imagine another any other country turning something as important as a political election into an MTV specatcle. Can you imagine a Harper Girl?

    I look forward to the next excerpt from your trip.


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