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Saturday, August 18, 2012

On the Wonders of America

This past week, when I stood on the rim of the majestic Grand Canyon, I couldn’t but marvel at the forces of nature that had created the awe-inspiring ravine some 1.7 billion years ago. On a group tour out west my husband and I were to continue to Powell, Brice, and Zion canyons, ending our trip in Las Vegas, from where we’d return to New York after eleven days of traveling.

But a disturbing phone call, and a heat wave combined with high altitude, made my husband felt momentarily ill. Because we were to continue to even warmer weather, higher altitudes and places with no medical facilities, we ended up at the park’s clinic. After a thorough checkup by the attending physician and a consultation with our cardiologist in New York, we all agreed that under the circumstances we should cut our trip short and go home. I would return another time to visit these nature’s wonders which I so anticipated seeing.

 The concierge in the park hotel where we stayed booked us flights back to New York and arranged for a taxi that took take us on a ninety minute drive to the nearest airport at the town of Flagstaff, from where we were to continue to Phoenix, then to Vegas to get home. But because of what amounted to the antithesis of America’s wonders, namely the inefficiency of misinformed airline employees, we missed the flight to Phoenix that evening, ending up spending the night in Flagstaff, a town we would probably never see if it were not for the saga of our trip back home.

 The next morning we arrived from Phoenix in Las Vegas only to find that we missed the connecting flight to NY. Having to stay six hours at the airport to get on the next flight, we decided to spend the following two nights in Vegas.

 I was in this wondrous city forty four years ago after arriving in the States, on a trip I took with three guy friends to the West Coast’s National Parks, San Francisco and Vegas (I almost killed us all when I nearly drove off a cliff), and I had no intention of visiting Vegas again, in spite of or because of what I heard about the new hotels that has been built there in the last few decades at the cost of billions of dollars.

 My husband and I checked in a quiet, elegant hotel away from the tumult of the Vegas Strip. How colonial I thought, when an East Asian member of the hotel’s pool staff offered to spray us with a cool mist of Evian water as we sat comfortably on fancy beach lounges covered with lush terry sheets. Like four decades ago, I balked at the ostentatious nature of Vegas, though living in Manhattan I am exposed to expensive stores and restaurants where two can spend $500 on dinner; and may be, in New York, the two men dinning at a table next to us in Vegas with two young attractive Brazilian women, girls really, would be more discrete fondling these women while talking about their wives back home.

 The following morning my husband and I explored some of the newer hotels . Within a matter of half a day we visited Rome, Venice, Bellagio and Paris. Where else could we do that other than in the grandiose Las Vegas hotels?

 On arrival at the Venetian Hotel with its canals and singing gondoliers, I burst out laughing at the site of instant Venice and the unmistakable kitsch. But then I looked up and saw the replica of St. Mark’s Square with its grand architecture, and I found creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurialism and even beauty.

 Hopping from Venice to Paris via Rome and Bellagio, one can’t help noticing the diversity of the tourist body that visits Vegas. In a matter of two days I heard a multitude of languages, including Assyrian, French, German, Hebrew, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and more; and there was an apparent class differentiation as well. All sharing the dream of escapism however they define it. Here in Vegas, one can hardly recognize that a war is still raging in Afghanistan, or Syria, and that women and children still suffer the consequences of conflict and war.

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