Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player

Las Vegas: mutatis mutandis

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Have a look at this advert for the Luxor hotel-casino, which greets you as you walk out into the arrivals hall at McCarran Airport, Las Vegas.


  Is it me, or is there something strange about that? “Get to the point”? What does it mean? I stared at it for some time, looking for a dice pun. “The point” is a dice term. But the people in the picture aren’t playing dice. They’re drinking and flirting, rubbing up against each other. Is the advert saying: don’t waste time, hurry straight to the Luxor bar for drinking and getting off with strangers, because that’s the point of Las Vegas? How weird that it isn’t a pun. It so looks like it should be a pun.

  It confused me a great deal. I’ll leave you to think about it.

  Speaking of the point of Las Vegas - or of travelling at all - here’s something that makes me sad. The following people have taken the “Eiffel Tower ride” at the Paris hotel: a lift that takes you up to the top of the Paris’s fake Eiffel Tower (a lot shorter than the real Eiffel Tower, but still pretty tall) to have a look at the magnificent view. Quite an experience, that. You can see the whole of Las Vegas, from all angles, including a birds-eye perspective on the famous Bellagio fountains.

  Here’s one lady enjoying that view:


  Here’s an old chap really making the most of the experience:


  This woman wants to milk every drop out of the opportunity:


  And this guy’s truly living in the now:


  Come on, people! Put the camera down and look! What kind of film do you think you’ll have when you get home anyway? What kind of photograph? You’ll have a small, square frame of an astonishing view that your eyes could just take in whole! But you’re not actually seeing it, because you’re too busy creating a bad, blurry version of an aerial picture of Las Vegas that’s been taken a million times before, much better than you’re going to manage, and is all over the internet anyway. Here, look. Have this one.

  You don’t need that photo you’re taking! Just have the experience! Just stand there and look at the thing, and then remember it! The vision in front of you is real! Why do you think it will only become real when you look at it on screen later? Stop being so bloody 21st Century!

  Sorry. I got cross for a moment there. Let’s all calm down with a nice cheering image of a man relaxing and enjoying the spectacular night-time lake show at the Parasol bar. There he is with his wife, having a romantic time; they’re fully together as a couple, sharing an experience, nothing but the here and now - themselves, the night, the show - absolutely in the moment.


  Another thing that made me sad, this trip, was going to visit my old haunts from the Once More, With Feeling days: Excalibur and The Luxor. My friend Charlie and I stayed at Excalibur because we loved its “Olde English” ethos, so reminiscent of our homeland. Plastic castles, village greens, King Arthur, Robin Hood and Harry Potter, all jumbled up together in a joyful explosion of themed restaurants, gaming tables and live shows.

  But, this time, it was all gone. No more jesters in the foyer. No ladies in Medieval hats playing Greensleeves on the double bass. Just another boring old casino with brown carpet.

  I was relieved to see a signpost to the old Sherwood Forest Café, where we wrote our terrible porn script, but it seemed to lead only to some shabby-looking blackjack tables.

  “Sherwood’s gone”, said an elderly croupier, sadly. “Ain’t nothing left now but the sign.”

  Next door at the Luxor, it was even worse. The Luxor was the home of our favourite ancient Egyptian motion sensor ride (“Strap yourselves in and shake, rattle and roll back to ancient days!”). We were fascinated by one of the characters on that ride, most especially his name: Reginald Osiris. To the creators of the ride, the 1920s English name “Reginald” was of roughly the same antiquity as the 4000-year-old god Osiris, ie. the past. We loved that concept so much, we named a character in our own film after him.

But the ride is gone. The Nile is gone. The display of ancient Egyptian artefacts is gone. The lobby now looks like this:


  Our favourite drinking hole, Cleopatra’s Barge, is now this.

  “New management”, said an elderly receptionist, sadly. “They sold off all the artefacts to a museum. They was some genuine artefacts.”

  But WHY? Why are the new management so ashamed of the lovely old themed days of Vegas? The Venetian (one of the snazzier new hotel-casinos at the other end of the Strip - a perfect recreation of Venice, with less decay and more slot machines) is a sign of how the joy of theme can be reinvented with a loving touch. What’s wrong with that?

  If The Luxor wants to erase all memory of its thematic past, I think it has a bit of a design problem.

  Yeah. That’s the outside. Ain’t nothing they can do about that, short of knocking it down and starting all over again. Of course, they could knock it down and start all over again - happens here all the time. But they didn’t. They decided to leave the core structure as it was, just rip out everything “Egyptian” from the inside. What does that leave? A pyramid with some slots and a Starbucks inside. What is that? It’s not anything.

  Think back to the advert at the top, the advert for The Luxor that new arrivals see at the airport. Did you get it? Maybe you got it immediately and you’re smarter than I am. But I only got it earlier tonight, planning this blog. And I saw the advert three weeks ago.


  “Get to the point”... of course it’s a pun! It’s a pun on the fact that the Luxor has a pointy top! That’s all the “new management” are left with. Their building is not exciting to them because it’s a pyramid, or because it’s Egyptian, or because it’s in any way themed. It’s just…. pointy.

  Gah, I’ve got annoyed again, thinking about the bad management decisions of the Luxor’s new owners. So here’s a last cheering image - properly cheering this time.

  I was having another walk down Fremont Street, and… why, who’s this cool character? He’s been in Vegas since years before I got here. He loves it even more than I do. He loves poker even more than I do. His autobiographical novel, one of my favourite books of all time, describes how the hero (“Mickey Dane”) wears quirky holiday clothes and crazy sunglasses to get action at the tables.

  I’ll leave you to work this one out on your own.
  It’s just to know that some things never change.

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JazBenz at 2:12 pm on July 9th, 2011

If I get to see VC’s vegas like this on a regular basis, I want you to stay there.

Entertainment value on a scale from 0 to 10 this blog is getting a 9 from me. A 9 (not to be confused with Ace nine) because there are no pictures of the author pointing at things.

Andy B at 3:50 pm on July 9th, 2011

Has Jesse landed a part in Hangover 3? I stayed at El Cortez this summer for my own slice of nostalgia

Luke P at 5:30 pm on July 9th, 2011

Wow is that Jesse May? Don’t think I ever saw him before, just heard The Voice. He looks exactly like I’d imagine/hope he would! But maybe I just saw him on TV a long time ago and don’t remember, so I think I imagine him like that when in fact I subconsciously know he looks like that, I think I’ve got lost in this sentence but that is one cool headband. Tennis theme for summer? I’m liking it.

Clara at 6:30 pm on July 9th, 2011

I completely agree with you about the people filming on their mobiles instead of looking. I went to a wedding where half the congregation were doing the same! We were meant to be there to witness the marriage, I reckoned half of them wouldn’t be witnessing it til they got home and pressed rewind! “Too much recording - ed”.

David Bodycombe at 11:07 pm on July 9th, 2011

It should, of course, say “Get to the vertex”, but maybe that sounds even more gaenacological.

S. Andersen at 7:39 am on July 10th, 2011

Funny and well-written. I give full credit for the grumpy sarcasm. It is truly a very underrated gift, which, when used properly, is just amazingly funny - as it is in this Mutatis Mutandis piece. Especially enjoyed the comments on the “Eiffel Tower.”
Didn’t know who you were (sorry), before my sister pointed me to this page, but do now. Good stuff.

Rog at 8:08 am on July 10th, 2011

Wow, you mean you have flown to Vegas to go to the top of Luxor hotel and take pictures of people taking pictures.. Maybe that is the point… -Now to a more serious matter. I would like to apologise for hacking into your phone… Am surprised however with the message left saying how much you will miss the N.O.W paper !!!!!

Ian Pee at 9:14 am on July 10th, 2011

I stayed at the Luxor on my first trip to Vegas - although it was, as expected, pretty corny, I loved the silly Egyptian theme.
Whilst I probably wasn’t going to stay there again (I like a different hotel each time), I wouldn’t now as it seems from this to have lost the humour which was part of the reason to stay there.

Nicola at 9:45 am on July 10th, 2011

I noticed last time I was there (2 years ago maybe) that the Luxor was being de-Egyptianised. Am incredibly sad to read about the Excalibur… not least because I’m staying there in September. If they’ve removed the Robin of Sherwood slots I shall sulk big time.  Surely when you’re in a building shaped like a pyramid or a castle, you work to your strengths, theme-wise? Idiotic to do otherwise, it seems to me.

Isaac at 10:43 am on July 10th, 2011

Thank you so much for cheering me up on one of the lowest days in my poker career (managed this outside of ME).  I live here and am continually put off by the camera gawkers, primarily for the reason you stated.  Photography should be either personal or special, and the soulless anachronisms that people waste time shooting are anything but.  I suppose that is what Vegas is about though, capturing a taste of the hollow mirage… err the good life.  It’s a bit funny and a shame, that Vegas likely comprises most of the time you’ve spent in the US.  Sure you’ve been to other parts, and there’s non-western places you’d rather visit, but we promise, there are spots here still w/ soul and not just moldings of corporate decision makers.

ceeveebee at 1:09 pm on July 10th, 2011

Isn’t the advert at the airport referring to the fact that the Luxor hotel is pyramid shaped ie has a point at the top?

ceeveebee at 1:13 pm on July 10th, 2011

Ignore last comment, didn’t read whole blog. Have low attention span

Chris W at 3:04 am on July 11th, 2011

You really should go up to people watch in Fremont street - you would love it. Was there for 6 weeks in May/June, and will be back next week.
Victoria, why not write an article for the Review-Journal? I am sure they would love it, and it would show them what great columnists do!!

JB at 5:13 pm on July 11th, 2011

@ChrisW she has been people watching in Fremont Street! See blog dated 5/7.

Curt Nelson at 11:46 pm on July 11th, 2011

You are one groovy chick Vicki.  Very entertaining!

Heinrich at 3:37 am on July 12th, 2011

Wow, if you read this blog and Hugo Martin’s blog one after the other .... isn’t that a bit much nostalgia and anger and yearning for the “good old days”? You’re only like ... 25, 27 years old now, woman, a sponsored poker pro AND a gameshow dominatrix, so life shouldnt be so bad for you after all. Plus what did you expect of Las Vegas - all of a sudden starting to be classy and not cheesy?

Victoria Coren at 8:01 am on July 12th, 2011

Dear Heinrich - oh, but it’s not just me and The Sweep. This is what my friend Charlie (not even a poker player!) emailed me after he read that blog:

“Makes you wonder if that whole theme thing was a hangover of the ‘80s or something. Whatever happened to the joy of panto? It’s so crudely & unproudly mercantile. Strip everything down to the slots. Why not have an oiled Egytian slave hand you a coffee rather
than someone in a Starbucks apron? WHY NOT? Have they ‘done the math’ and worked out that a robotic knight adds less value than he costs? or have they just looked at his wage and gone: “cut that”... ditch the barge, bin the dragon. Why not just theme a casino ‘The Casino’, or ‘The Slot’, and it’s one big fucking slot and you’re carried into the gaping slot on a one-way moving walkway which dumps you in a field of slots and you throw money into slots until your pockets are empty and then you go home. I mean, I know that’s basically how they all function, but for fuck’s sake what’s wrong in dressing it up a little? I mean, even hookers wear mascara.”

Paul Smith at 1:09 pm on July 12th, 2011

I never went to Cleopatra’s Barge before, but there is one in Caesers Palace. I dont know if it was just relocated there. Might be worth a look if it was your favorite bar before. Good live music and room to dance when I was there in May.

PhilbyGood at 6:30 pm on July 12th, 2011

In her book On Photography, Susan Sontag suggested that people take pointless photographs on holiday to avoid feeling lazy.  The protestant work-ethic is too strong to let them relax completely during their time off.

I agree with her and always go on holiday without a camera (apart from the one in my phone which is too low-res to tempt me).

When I get back my relatives give me odd looks when I tell them I haven’t any pictures.  Perhaps they think I spent the fortnight in a brothel instead of the claimed resort.

John Robertson at 9:52 pm on July 12th, 2011

When I was last at the Paris they were certainly paying attention to the theme. We went up the half size Eiffel Tower with some Americans and one of them, as they always do, asked the lift operator where she was from. In a strong southern drawl she replied “Paris” pause “Paris, Texas”.

David R at 11:58 pm on July 12th, 2011

So the Luxor got rid of all its ancient Egyptian artefacts?

I suppose you could say, that’s ‘pharaoh’ enough!

(I’ll get me coat…)

psychofant at 10:05 am on July 13th, 2011

DAVID R if you think thats funny,you are in de-nile!

psychofant at 6:12 pm on July 13th, 2011

Victoria, your fame as a cardmonger has propelled you to the dizzy heights of radio 4. On tonight’s episode of “ed reardons week” you were mentioned by name. Is there any higher accolade than a mention on the 6 30 pm comedy slot on R4?

Rob at 10:21 pm on September 7th, 2011

Hi Vic, reading For Richer, For Poorer atm and loving it. Not a poker player so testament to you as a writer that it’s a great read regardless of not understanding poker terminology! I digress, visited Vegas 3 years ago and made this same observation. Part of book I never got a deal for:
Compared to the slick, flashy aura of The Strip, Fremont Street felt pure and earthy. Sandy Shaw emerging from the Nevada to sing Puppet On a String barefoot. The white light frontage of the Golden Nugget was a visage from a bygone age. Like shooting through a wormhole and turning up in the Wild West.
I had come to visit Binion’s Horseshoe casino. Benny Binion was a true Vegas original, one of the pioneers, and stories abound about his gambling bravado and mob-style approach to business.

Victoria Coren

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