Sunday, July 4, 2010

The city of dim

Vegas is a striking experience. Right in the airport you are greeded (sp.?) with a lot of slot machines, flashing lights and the feeling of forbidden.

It's a strange feeling - as if you ended up in a backyard of a small apartment in the boringly usual street, just to find a naked champagne-cognac party with violent fireworks.


The hotel where I was staying, Mandalay Bay, like almost everything in Vegas, is gigantic. But, more impressive is what is not seen from the outside. The hotels that stand near each other are interconnected, and this forms a whole separate city underneath them. A casino turns into a shopping mall, which turns into a betting sports bar, which turns into a casino.

Ah, casino. This was the most fascinating of all the experiences - to watch the faces. The faces of those who work there, the faces of those who gamble. You can immediately distinguish the faces of the true tourists - lit with excitement and fueled by a good doze of alcohol, from the other kind of faces.

Usually in their 40-somethings, these faces are so fascinating it hurts. They depict an almost-lost hope, an almost forgotten happiness, they are in a quest. They have almost given up.

This is the expression you might spot in the faces of the countless waitresses, dealers, casino dancers (though calling this kind of entertainment a "display of flesh" might be more appropriate - there was not much dancing in there). You can spot this expression with a fraction of the players too - usually more with those who try their luck with slot machines. These faces have been so air-conditioned down to an average, that they look almost the same, despite being vastly different. A strange form of sameness.

The air-conditioned coolness of the inner hallways is contrasted with the sauna-grade heat on the outside. Dry heat. Here in Brussels, you pay to get that. But of course, not the entire street filled with it, just a small gas chamber, which you can quickly escape. But in Vegas you can't, not unless you dive back into the shelters of the technology. Here you pay to get a cold around you, all the heat is for free.

When I arrived, the faces of the players was first that made me think of a Inferno-under-construction: "they forgot the boiling kettles part!". However, thinking more of it, I realised it is in fact just a next-gen version, and it's already finished and is functioning full steam.

Here's how it works: you arrive, and get the casino tokens proportionally to the amount of sin, and have to start playing. The more you play, the more you get accustomed to the coolness and the gentle light inside, the more you are wary of getting out into the open air where the sun is showering the ground with radiation. But you inevitably lose in the casino, and then are immediately thrown out into the shadowless street. You are still craving to gamble and are sore of your defeat, and heated by the merciless rays of our closest star.

They'd let you work on the dirtiest jobs, and pay with smaller amounts of money, which you could eventually convert into the tokens for the casino and again be admitted to try your luck and enjoy the artificial coolness. But not for long, and soon you are again being beaten up by the merciless ultraviolet. You are thirsty, but there is no water in the streets. If you crawl around, you'll see the fountains, right in the open air. But you can't drink from them. You can only drink in the casino.

So, you get yourself into the next round - go and find the means of getting back into the shelter, to satisfy your needs for water, gambling, and cooler temperature.

Maybe this is how those folks get their eyes of lost hope ? I won't know. The allotted time is coming to its end - the Brussels awaits me back. Maybe there is a next time, and I find out more about these eyes.

The eyes that are sparkling so dim.

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