Las Vegas, part II

(The dancing fountains of Bellagio.)

Las Vegas has something to offer to everyone, both off and along the Strip. As a result, you will inevitably find yourself taking in the man-made sights that South Las Vegas Boulevard has to offer.

That's not counting all the free entertainment that is available right on the Strip itself, not limited to a talking tree. Imagine running into that one while drunk.

If you have heard of West Edmonton Mall, multiply it by ten in your head. That's how much each major casino-resort along the Strip has to offer. And there are about thirty of those.

For instance, Caesar's Palace, The Venetian, and Paris Las Vegas each have indoor shopping complexes – calling it a mall doesn't do it justice – that each mimic the look of the respective theme-country, with a blue sky painted on the ceiling.

Caesar's Palace has a complex that depicts what the average American thinks that the Roman Empire looked like, with period architecture, town squares with fountains, pillars, Pegasus (the flying horse from Greek mythology), and fake-stone floors. Since none of them know what Romans ate (or even if they did), there are mostly Italian restaurants among the Dior and Gucci stores.

Just don't look up at the ceiling of the hotel reception, as the amount of gold – probably as fake as everything else – is enough to permanently blind anybody.

The Venetian has exactly what you expect: the canals of Venice – one of them, more specifically, but nobody knows any better anyways – surrounded on either side by more high-end shopping camouflaged in what's considered old Italian architecture, with multi-colored fake tiles adorning the walkways. You can even ride a canal boat propelled by what the rest of the world considers to be a typical American (kind of an ironic twist, actually).

Paris Las Vegas also offers what its name implies, with a movie-set South-of-France style to its complex that boasts fake-cobblestone walkways, various restaurants – most French in name only – and a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower and Arc du Triomphe; you can actually go up to the top of the former and gawk at Las Vegas' lights from five hundred feet above.

Interestingly, the first question the elevator operator asked us all as we ascended to the top of the Eiffel mini-me was if any of us had ever been to the real Eiffel Tower. A few people actually have been there, and the operator was quick to respond with the admission that she hopes to do so "one day" – considering her apparent age, that day better be soon. Though, I was left with the impression that she doesn't expect to cross an ocean to get there...

The same idea goes for the rest of the big themed resorts: Luxor, Treasure Island, New York-New York, Excalibur, Monte Carlo, Tropicana... They are all the same thing: a Universal Studios back-lot set of a particular place, where all the shops actually work and have precisely nothing to do with the prevalent theme.

One of the many bright advertisements said it best: "In Vegas, there's no place like Rome." Why would you go and see the real thing when you have a "drive-through" version in your own backyard? It's not like you can tell the difference anyway...

MGM Grand, on the other hand, has no national stereotype to adhere to. They are a film company with a lion as their logo. As such, that's the only thing that they must live up to, and they've succeeded. There is a lion habitat directly in the middle of the casino, so that you can ogle wild cats while the croupier switches your cards at the Blackjack table.

That's cruel and unusual (for the lions), you must be thinking; "frantic slot machine bonging" is already torture for people, not to mention lions! But never fear: due to the fact that MGM is a film company, they have the means to keep the lions happy.

So, the lions are kept at an outdoor habitat far away from the Strip and visit the glass habitat among the electronic poker machines for a only few hours a day.

They have their own special cube vans that take them to the sound-proof and smell-proof casino habitat that, according to the narrator, costs many millions of dollars.

Smell-proofing is expensive.

Just like the lions, you can't fail to notice the casinos even if you don't gamble. To get to anything in any of the resorts – even the reception – you have to go through their casinos first. And everything inside is poorly labeled – on purpose, I suspect, to get you to stay as long as possible in the casino area, the surrounding promise of ever-increasing free money tempting you like secondhand smoke.

Come to think of it, there's a lot of that as well... So much that the casino operators shoot a ruthlessly sweet fragrance through the air conditioning that, when mixed with the ambient stench of cigarillos, creates an effect the exact opposite of what the hoteliers wanted to achieve. Your lungs are violated in ways you cannot imagine.

Let's pretend for a second that "Texas Hold 'Em" bestowed you with a nice amount of money. It does happen: believe it or not, I saw two real-live people at the cashier's counter, caged off so well that Papillon himself would not be able to get through.

You visit the caged old lady and she counts your bills in front of you. High on victory and secondhand cigarillos, you wander for 25 minutes through MGM – passing the lions twice – until your hunch finally leads you to the completely-unlabeled exit.

You giggle a little bit as you see the modern-art furniture store and decide to show your friends back home what's what: you shall buy the most insane living room spectacle that your winnings can dispense you.

A disassembled chest held together with a fat man's belt? Not crazy enough. A stool made entirely of marine-grade rope? Passé. A dining room table, half of which is carved out with 3D Salvador Dali muses? Creepy. A deck-chair made entirely out of Legos? Perfect!

A closer inspection reveals that the deck chair in question is priced at a very Vegas-like $72,000. Not $72.00, but $72,000. What happens in Vegas (you winning money) stays in Vegas!

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