Venice, Como, and Rome could be closer than you think
Las Vegas came up as a topic of conversation at a dinner party. The crowd was surprised when I told everyone that Las Vegas was on my list of places to visit. "You have never been to Sin City?" "No – I answered – but I am sure I would feel perfectly at home." There was a roundabout of winking among the guests. After they nodded toward me, the consensus was that I had to go to Las Vegas sooner than later. Say no more.
Within a few weeks, Viktoria had planned our first mini-vacation in Vegas. The night before our departure, I had a dream. Julius Caesar was marching at the head of a Roman Legion. Armed with a bag of gaming chips, the emperor dismantled his horse and handed it to the valet standing in front of the Bellagio. Then, he went inside to play his favorite game: dice. After playing all day and night, the exhausted Julius Caesar exclaimed: "I came, I played, and I lost." The news traveled fast to the Luxor Resort and Spa down the Strip, where a scream was heard. It was Cleopatra. Julius had lost not only his kingdom but also his tunic and Cleopatra's favorite cat. If the dream was a sign, I knew that I was not going to Las Vegas to gamble.
Vegas and the truth about gambling
According to brain experts, gambling is an addiction. Although I cannot understand why anybody would find boundless pleasure in losing money, I can see why one would be addicted to making money. But Las Vegas cannot be a good investment for everyone. Las Vegas would not have majestic hotels, fine restaurants, and expensive shows if the game favored gamblers. What if anybody playing roulette was guaranteed to win? The poor owners of the casinos would look more like the Romans of Pompei after the explosion of the Vesuvius: dusty, homeless, and poor as a church mouse.
Venice, Como, and Rome are sister cities in Las Vegas, with the same zip code
Soon after entering the red carpet of the Strip, I could imagine my vacation was not in Las Vegas but in Italy. Venice, Como, and Rome had become sister cities within the same zip code, three blocks from each other. "Only in America – I thought to myself - and, indeed, only in Las Vegas." Not too far, the Eiffel Tower emerged from the roof of the Paris Opera House. Four big heads on top of the Mirage were whistling "Yellow Submarine" while following with their eyes our car, rolling on the Strip. Further north, Treasure Island displayed a pirate ship that had seen better days. We arrived at our destination, the Encore at Wynn, convinced that we had seen the Pope walking down the street with a hooker and Elvis Presley with Micky Mouse.
Leaning Tower of Pisa and Vatican City Palace - new Last Vegas hotels coming soon?
I find it hard to believe that nobody has yet thought of squeezing in the Strip, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or the Vatican City Palace. To give a twist to the Pisa tower, the hotel-casino could have been a straight skyscraper with an outside glass door elevator shaped like a can of spaghetti sauce. For the Vatican City Palace, the valets were dressed as Swiss guards. Upon entering the colonnaded porticoes, guests would be greeted by an intense odor of incense and an all-you-can-eat papal buffet. The Gregorian chants in the background would mix with the jingling of quarters disappearing in the slot machines, shaped as offering boxes for the remission of future sins. One could book online among the many options of pontifical apartments. The most expensive suite, Sinning Chapel, would be a replica of Pope Alexander VI Borgia's pompous residence, without forgetting a theatre for another Cirque the Soleil show, "Inferno" – with artistic director Dan Brown – and activity tours offered by the Pope's Automobile.
Going to Las Vegas instead of Italy - perhaps a sensible solution
Going to Las Vegas to soothe a lack of my home country seemed a possible solution. I could even save money. The cheapest flight to visit my family in Florence is seldom less than a thousand dollars. San Diego is only 5 hours away from Las Vegas by car. A full tank of gas would have done the trick. My math failed soon enough when I began exploring the menu of Brea Osteria and Mercato della Pescheria, restaurants with humble names but opulent prices. I guess when in Las Vegas, I cannot pretend to have good Italian food for peanuts. Since I knew I could get a better deal in Florence – and better food – Viktoria and I decided to skip the line and opt for a more reasonable alternative. Another remarkable difference in Las Vegas is the variety of cuisines offered at the casinos. And so, why not have Chinese food in Venetian, Japanese food in Paris, and Mexican food in Madeline Bay? No, I don't think British and German cuisines are present: Las Vegas is all about gluttony, not dieting.
Las Vegas is all about Italy
The Forum Shops at Caesar and the Grand Canal Shoppes offer the best names in Italian fashion and replicas of Bacchus, Venus, Neptune, cupids, and emperors. The copy of the Ponte di Rialto, the oldest bridge on the Grand Canal in Venice, has been upgraded with escalators. Instead, the Fontana di Trevi has been downgraded to a smaller size and seems to be the preferred spot for crack addicts. In the real one, tourists are encouraged to toss a coin into its waters if they want to return to Rome. Apparently, the news has reached Las Vegas as well, and the misfortunate hooked on drugs are waiting for somebody to throw in the fountain a donation for their next dose. What about the statue of David? The real David is neither in Rome nor in Venice, and as a Florentine at heart, I can hardly pass on this oversight. And what happened to the famous Venetian navigator Marco Polo? I would add one of his reproductions with a lifeguard jacket to attend the sunbathers at the pools of The Venetian.
Sin City or a family vacation spot?
Vegas could offer summer camps for kids where they would be introduced to the theoretical academic basics of Sin City: drinking, smoking, and gambling. They could learn that to make a good living, one needs to be the provider in the entertainment business rather than the consumer. They could also learn that prostitution is illegal in most developed countries but that, in Las Vegas, it is highly encouraged. Hookers are a photographic reality; they work day and night, walk down the street, and greet you at the entrance of the casino's bathroom. Prostitution doesn't undermine – for some reason – that Las Vegas is still a great place for a family vacation.
To summarize, our Italian vacation in Las Vegas was worth the 5-hour drive. Viktoria and I didn't hit the jackpot but didn't hit rock bottom either, especially since we did not gamble. I can see why people say Las Vegas is the only town in the country where you can have a good time without enjoying yourself. Will we be back in Las Vegas? I will use Viktoria's favorite answer, "Yes, no, maybe," and mine, "We'll see what happens." One thing is certain: if we return, we will take a picture with Captain Jack Sparrow and the Wizard of Oz.