October 20, 2004
Vegas wasn't all sleaze. On Saturday afternoon, Kathy and I walked up the Strip to a branch of the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum which is housed in the Venetian Resort. An artshow, "The Pursuit of Pleasure" ($24 for two, cash) had original paintings by Degas, Picasso, Rodin, Titian and my hero, Diego Valazquez. The show was wonderful, although it was housed in a particularly small space (especially when you walk through the rest of the casino and witness the mega-opulent, high ceilings and rococo-meets-deco trimmings). Another unfortunate Vegas attribute rubs off on the walls: when you are looking at a wonderful Valazquez painting called Luncheon, which Diego painted when he was 19 (ca 1617-18), a guy in the foreground is giving a thumbs up, in fact he’s looking right out at us and in the Vegas environment it seems jarringly modern, almost as if the guy is saying, “Hey Babe, nice rack!” Another painting shows a bawdy woman with her left breast peeking from behind a loose blouse, and once again, in the Vegas surroundings it takes on a seediness you wouldn’t expect. Of course this may be my own personal baggage (given the fact I saw too much naked ego at a history conference mere hours before).
This area of the Strip has all of the new instant landmarks like the pyramids, Paris, France, New York, New York, all jammed together. This prompted Thom Ross to quip, "Imagine some poor Las Vegas kid in geography class. 'So where is the Eiffel Tower?' 'Right next to New York, New York.'"
From the Venetian, we walked across the street and took in the Monet show at the Bellagio ($22 for two, cash). Once again they make you walk all the way through the casino, even past the Keno section, until you get to the "art gallery", which, once again, was in a particularly small space by Vegas standards, almost like it's in the tin shed out back.
The Monet stuff was spectacular, especially Grainstack (Sunset), 1891, which was, and is, undeniably genius. Maybe there's hope for Vegas yet.
Of course, after this much culture we were ready for the 99 CENT MARGARITAS!!!! which were really bad (in plastic cups, mostly Slurpy surup). And when did Subway get into casinos? That was jarring.
By four, we were back on the road heading for Kingman. Stayed at the former Holiday House, now the Knight Inn ($45 cash) and ate at the Dambar Steakhouse ($37, cash, includes tip). Ran into an old Kingman High classmate, LeRoy Butler, who owns the True Value Hardware Store (yes, the one where Timothy McVeigh worked). He was there with his entire family, many grandkids. He bought us a beer.
Got back to Cave Creek at about ten on Sunday morning. I felt like I had seen and heard and learned a ton from our decadent trip to see the underbelly of academia.
I got a great quote from Tom Carpenter, who says he stole it out of a recent Farmer's Alamanac:
"Radical historians now tell the story of Thanksgiving from the point of view of the turkey."
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