Friday, May 29, 2009

Viva Las Crazy

I arrived in Las Vegas with a heavy heart. It had been difficult to leave San Francisco. On the flight, we knew we were with a party crowd, because they cheered when the pilot made the announcement that we were making our descent, when we touched down, and again when the seatbelt sign went off. Arriving at our hotel (which is still considered to be the largest in the world, I gather), I was confronted with a technicolour riot of unhinged excess. I don’t quite know what it was that I was expecting – after all, this is Las Vegas we’re talking about here, not Bognor.

Once I adjusted to the insane, searing heat, people drinking two- and three-feet long receptacles full of cocktails (some of which came with their own carrying strap, some of which came in unusual shapes, eg the Eiffel Tower) and the sight of people gambling at 6 in the morning, I started to grudgingly enjoy myself.

We wandered about in some of the hotels, all of which have their own theme of sorts going on. Bally’s theme appeared to be “quiet desperation”. One of their main draws is the “dealertainers” at the tables: lookalikes employed to be croupiers. Now that’s a weird career for you. The only one we really saw was a Joan Jett-a-like. I’m guessing there isn’t a vast amount of work for Joan Jett impersonators, so this left me feeling faintly sad. Harrah’s and the Imperial Palace were two more of old-school style casinos. At the latter, we went to a vintage car museum, where we met a Southern gentleman in a Stetson. He talked to us about hunting, and used the word varmint. That’s one of my favourite words in American English. Result.

We mooched about a Greenwich Village street scene in New York New York. We wandered through a facsimile fifteenth arrondisement in Paris. We went to see the dancing fountains of the Bellagio, which sounds like the lamest thing in the world, until you see it. And we wondered how it’s possible to fill three floors of a shop with M&Ms-related ephemera.

While in Vegas, we did two rather big things. We saw one of the Great Natural Wonders of the World. Then we saw the Grand Canyon.

What can be said about Tom Jones that hasn’t been said before? Nothing: aside from he is the exact same colour as chicken tikka masala. Tom sang and gyrated for 90 minutes with nary a break, as women of a certain age shimmied in the aisles. He was flirting with all of them. As we were but 15 feet from the stage, this got really embarrassing after a while. I have three favourite Tom Jones numbers, none of which he played: the theme to Thunderball, his version of Spinning Wheel and his version of Proud Mary. Typical. Despite this, he was worth seeing.

The Grand Canyon. This was amazing, and I can’t really sum it up in words, so I’ll post up a couple of the best photos I have soon.

One thing I like about Vegas is the fact that it’s a pretty democratic place to be. Everyone is on the same level. You can be the richest person in the world, or a day-tripper with fifteen bucks in your pocket, and you’ll be treated the same. It can be hard to tell who is well-heeled and who isn’t when the dress code is flip flops, beach wear and sunglasses, after all.

However, there's lots about Vegas that I didn't like. I've already gone on long enough, so here endeth the lesson.

Next: New York


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Living just enough for The City

It's time for me to try to document what I did on my holidays into three concise, not-windbaggy-at-all blog posts. Tricky, but here goes then.

[Disclaimer: there is quite a large piece of news at the end of this post, so if you find travelogues tedious, skip to the end.]

I spent my time in San Francisco bedazzled. I kept finding myself looking at beautiful, sun-drenched vistas and muttering to myself, "bloody hell, I'm in California!". It really does do that to you. In a flash, things that Europeans have in their minds when they picture the West Coast are there in reality - enormous roads/cars, surfing, palm trees, the heat haze, tanned bodies...millions of sushi restaurants...

Lots of people talk about how foggy San Francisco is. Well, we barely saw any of this famous fog. The weather was clement the entire time, warm and sunny. So up yours, Mark Twain.

Our first full day blew away those jet lag cobwebs. In the morning we did a Segway tour of SF. I really didn't feel like walking ever again once I had been on a Segway - it's just infinitely better. Especially on hills. Our genial guide Johannes gave us a great start in The City: which is the only name that native San Franciscans use (never Frisco). We then hopped on the Caltrain down to San Carlos to see the Lough-Stevens family for a barbeque. Later in the week, we went to Greens with the family, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant with a view of the Golden Gate bridge.

The following day there was a bit of wandering about to get our bearings, and then a jaunt out to Oakland to the famous Yoshi's to see Brian Auger's Oblivion Express. We had hoped to see Cornelius and Deerhoof (who are a local band!) but the gig was cancelled - at the same time we realised that Auger was playing. He is an old fella now but he's still got it.

We did what all good tourists should do and went to the Haight (via a bus ride through the Tenderloin, which was how I'd imagine a live action version of The Wire to be. As my young friend says, it's "the most hilariously-named ghetto in the world"). I'm sad to say I found the Haight depressing. It's a bit like Camden, only crapper. There were lots of real casualties sitting about looking pitiful. That's is perhaps one of the downsides of The City: there is very little support for those with mental health issues (many of which are self-medicating with drugs). So there is an edge of unpredictability. I know you get that in London, to a certain extent - but our flawed social care system is surely better than nothing at all.

One of the weirder sights we saw was at the bottom of Powell Street, where we saw a man with a dog. On the dog's back was a cat. On the cat's back was a rat. The dog was ambling along. All three animals were behaving like this was the most normal thing in the world. I nearly fell off the pavement in surprise.

Being lovers of art, as all good citizens of the world should be, we spent some time in museums looking at art: specifically, SFMOMA and the de Young Museum. I preferred the latter, with it's brutalist architecture and gorgeous setting in the Golden Gate Park.

We also did what everyone who goes to The City should do - go on a tour to Alcatraz. We went in the evening, which is generally judged to be the best time to go. It was eerie - there's no two ways about it. The audio tour, which is something I usually resist partaking in, was really evocative and very touching at points.

We decided to get a ferry to Sausalito, primarily because JJ admires the Grover Washington Jr song of the same name. Wow, what a place. It's like the SF version of Whitstable. Really posh and gorgeous. We spent a pleasant few hours, drinking Anchor Steam Beer. That evening, we took the cable car uptown to The Tonga Room, a tiki bar of some note. We drank cocktails and listened to the covers band belt out dancefloor fillers. The band play from a raft in the middle of a lagoon. Every half an hour, a "thunderstorm" breaks out, complete with rain and lightning. It's certainly a bit naff, but ferchrissakes, what better way to round off a holiday?

So, winding back a few days, following our trip to SFMOMA, we sat in Yerba Buena Gardens and JJ asked me if I would like to get married. I'm very happy to say that I said yes.

Which is probably another reason why I'll always love The City.

Next: Las Vegas


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

You’re about as easy as a nuclear war

Since I last posted, the usual stuff has been occurring (work, home, etc) but all with a holiday countdown continuing in the background like the clock in the bunker in Lost, which is the one thing keeping me awake.

I went to the cinema to see the hilarious In the Loop with DL, PL and JJ. So many funny lines (two of my favourites: “Oi! Thick white duke!” and “I will hound you to an assisted suicide”). That evening, as we were waiting outside the Palace (which now has a giant shoe on the canopy to denote the arrival of Priscilla the musical, which makes me think of the IT Crowd Work Outing episode), we were approached by a gentleman in a grey suit who invited us to join a semi-secret flashmob advert for a mobile phone company in Trafalgar Square. We had to turn him down about ten times before he got the hint and moved on. It turns out that the singer Pink was at said flashmob. I think we made the right decision there.

I also spotted a young chap wearing a Scheinhardt Wig Company t-shirt. This is a smart joke from 30 Rock (in which, NBC are a subsidiary of said wig company). Given that we are going up to the Top of the Rock, I plan to make a feverish pilgrimage to the NBC gift store to snaffle some fabulous/ridiculous merchandise. Example: a mousemat featuring the Liz Lemon quote: ‘Hey nerds! Who has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn’t cried once today? This moi!”

On Saturday night I was out at the Notting Hill Arts Club for Future World Funk, the night hosted by Hackney Globetrotter. He was in customary good spirits, but even more so, as he has recently announced his engagement to Boogaloo Koo. This is great news. The venue was full of young, pretty and moneyed folk. One unusual sight was three gents in their early 20s, dressed like they had stepped off a Duran Duran album cover: all three were wearing light coloured suits and ties. One even had perfectly neat, highlighted 1980s hair. It was quite a sight and it was momentarily confusing. I suppose it goes to show that things really do go in 20-year cycles…although, of course, the early 80s is now nearly 30 years ago. Shucks. It feels like yesterday.

Labels: , , ,