Friday, March 25, 2011

Pinky Spud and the Unwitting Felons on Holiday: Vegas, Baby!

Day 4: When it Rains, it Pours

Broken photos. Get used to it for a while. Sorry there's only one for this entry.

…as we say in Bree! [/LotR].

And oh it did. Literally, by the end of the night.

The day opened much as it did yesterday. I woke up at 5:00 AM again, saw a much less spectacular sky, and again I rolled over and went back to bed. Over Starbucks and Mad Zeppelin! We discussed the dastardly and treacherous deeds for the day, and while my traitors took the spoils, we decided to finish up our morning caffeine fix and head to the far-flung end of the strip to the Stratosphere hotel and tower. Vaguely reminiscent of the Seattle Space Needle, the Stratosphere is cited as the tallest free-standing observation tower in the United States, clocking in at a whopping 1,149 ft. But more important is the Stratosphere SkyJump, a not-quite free fall of 855 feet. (Which translates to the following: I was traveling at 42 mph vertically and downward for 835 feet: that last 20 the machine slowed me down for controlled impact.) It was, in a word, epic. [video, if I can get the link to work] (Note the attempted graceful descent and then the fail-landing. My knees gave out; they were shaking from all the hardcore that had just gone down.)

After that we treated ourselves to lunch at the Top of the World restaurant, which, like the Space Needle, is a restaurant which slowly rotates, giving the customer a full three hundred and sixty degree view of the city over the course of an hour and twenty minutes. It’s also home to the most delicious lobster-brie-cheddar grilled cheese sandwich and tomato bisque I’ve ever had in my LIFE. One of the perks includes fancy signs mounted on the walls which read: “SkyJumpers may go by during dinner. Feel free to wave.”

Next we rushed back to the hotel to spend a few precious minutes by the pool only to have the weather turn. Also, the Luxor claims that one pool is heated. I call bull on that crap. I fully acknowledge that the idea of a swimming pool in Vegas is to cool off, not warm up, but seriously people? In the off season, some temp control could be awesome. So much for getting a tan. So I moseyed back upstairs and got all dolled up for O at the Bellagio!

Richard Corliss of Time magazine once concluded, “O is forever.” After seeing it live, after having waited to do so for years, I completely understand what the hype is about. O is beautiful. O is elemental. Most of all, O is human. Though I say this about every Cirque show – that it speaks to things which are real, but in a language fantastic and so far from the everyday monotony twenty-first century life can achieve – O took it to an entirely new level. Perhaps it was that the main character began as an audience-member, planted to look like a tourist and pulled into Cirque’s world only to become a castaway, awash on the shores of his own subconscious. Perhaps it was simply this character’s quality as an everyday person, extraordinary in his quest to return the handkerchief of a sylph, but unsure and occasionally even trepid in his methods of achieving it. Furthermore, the show referenced its own dream-like quality very directly in the very end of the show. But, like a good punchline or a particularly delicious plot twist, that is something which I simply cannot spoil for you.

What I can tell you, however, is that there more was passion in this show than I feel like I’ve seen for a long time. The Fan-Dancer and the Flamenco-Beau/Grave-Riser were particularly great side-characters. The Fan Dancer was perhaps the best example. He had his solo and moved like he meant it, and as he finished the first sequence, he cried to a largely non-responsive audience, “Where is your SPIRIT!?” I cheered, and so did the people around me.

I feel like some of the raw energy, or perhaps the blood and sweat connection between the performer and the viewer, is lost in such huge venues, which is regrettable. O could not be achieved without the technological wizardry which makes the shifting, draining, sinking stage possible, and yet the spirit of the big top is not quite carried to the audience. The same happened with Mystère. The audience felt more removed, less bated-breath and clutched programs. Perhaps I’m alone in this sensation, who knows? But I can tell you that O is indeed forever, and I would recommend it just as highly as I would my other favorites. It’s on par with Koozå, with Varekai, even, dare I say, with Alegría. For those of you who have read my entry on Alegría, my most nostalgic show, you know what that means. For those of you who have not, I will say this: it is one of the most visually stunning, daring, and innovative performances I have ever witnessed, and I firmly believe that it will remain that way. From the moment the curtain pulled back, I was breathless and near tears.

So, dear readers, if you dare, visit and take a gander at the O trailer. It’s worth it, and that show, this whole trip, was the best birthday present I think I have ever received.

I would end on that note, but I have one last gory detail before the tale of these four days is done: strangely, the majority of the Bellagio restaurants close at 10:00 or 10:30 PM. How weird is that in the city that never sleeps? However, it resulted in the lovely discovery of Noodles, a small restaurant tucked away in the back with some of the best Chinese and Thai food I’ve ever had. Bon appétit.

After that late night meal it began to rain. It ushered us back to our rooms to pack, and rejoined us on the ground in Portland today. And that, my dears, cover to cover, is the end.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pinky Spud and the Unwitting Felons on Holiday: Vegas, Baby!

Day 3: Retreat! Hell!

Broken photos?! Still??
Yeah, yeah. I'm on it.

Where even to begin? The sunrise is as good a place as any. I distinctly remember waking up in the neighborhood of 5:15 in the morning entangled in my headphones cable, turning over to investigate, and in doing so being confronted by the strangest sky. I sat up, looked straight at a rising, pumpkin-orange sun, and had the foresight to jot down the phrase “tangerine and key lime sunrise” before completely zonking out again, but not quite enough foresight to grab the camera sitting next to my bed and take a picture of it. Lame.

Once I was actually conscious breakfast proceedings began with Starbucks and Mad Zeppelin! (which was soundly won by my mom). After that victory, we high-tailed it to Mandalay Bay and their Shark Reef Aquarium. It, happily, was home to a Komodo Dragon AND a healthy Python, as well as some of the prettiest piranhas ever witnessed. The best, though, was probably the octopus just due to the fact that he was swimming all over the place. Every other octopus I’ve ever seen since I was young enough to be scared of them has always been hiding and perfectly still. This guy was goin’ crazy. [photo]

After adventures in Sharkington, we broke out the rental car (whut?!), and headed to MGM. Where there are lots of lions. Like this one. [photo] But more importantly, there is the lion habitat, which, much to my happiness, is harm-free and humane. And oh lawd are they fat and happy. I mean look at her. Can that even be comfortable unless one is totally pampered? [photo] [photo] In fact, there was so much lion-ness going around, that I became a lion! [photo]

(No. I did not purchase that hat.)

Next we parked at Paris, breezing through it and taking a shortcut through the Sugar Factory in order to get, that’s right, THE PHOTO. [photo]
Courtesy of my mom <3 So the idea is that you have a fancy holder for your lollipop, right? But even better, it comes with a little plastic case-dome-thing so that you can wrap it up and save it for later. And it’s fancy. MOVING ON.

We popped back into the Bellagio for some Cirque shopping, including some birthday presents for some of my favorite people… The best discovery of the day next to the moment I saw a book of Cirque sheet music for piano, vocals, and guitar (EEP!) was the umbrella rotunda, yet another décor choice which endeared the Bellagio to me. [photo]

Next we headed over to the vicinity of Caesar’s Palace and made the terrible decision of stopping in at Serendipity 3 for “coffee and sweets.” I would like to note that serendipity is defined as “ser•en•dip•i•ty [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] –noun aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. 2.good fortune; luck: the serendipity of getting the first job she applied for” ( In our case, this is hardly accurate. While everything was delicious, it arrived with the kind of fanfare that can only be responded to with “oh NO.” The sundae I ordered, the ‘Lookie Lookie Gimme Cookie sundae,’ could have fed a small nation and was NOT on the “for two” part of the menu. My parents also ordered something to share, which could have fed at least a district or two. This is not to say that the presentation was not spectacular, or that the quality was poor, only that the portions were HULKING and far too much for any of us to handle. Hot damn if all of the designs for the store weren’t adorable, though. [photo]

After suffering minor cardiac arrest and getting stomach pumps, we trekked to Caesar’s Palace, which is gorgeous, but the most confusing, labyrinthine structure we’ve been in yet. There were replicas of classical works everywhere, and after questing to find our way OUT of the Forum Shops, we quested for the Apollo Belvedere copy I’d glimpsed from the car on Sunday. We found him, passing the Winged Nike of Samothrace and Caesar Augustus along the way. [photo]

But we weren’t finished yet. It was barely evening and after all this is Vegas, so heading back wasn’t on the list yet. We schlepped (our word of the day) down to a place called Rave Motion Pictures and watched Battle: Los Angeles. It was actually much better than I expected it to be. Then again, it has Michelle Rodriguez as a tough chick. And aliens. Go see it. Or at least the trailer.

And that, other than bad hotel salads, was the end of the day. Now I have to recharge my mental and physical batteries, an effort I plan on pursuing well into tomorrow next to the pool (weather-gods willing), and get ready for Cirque du Soleil’s O. Sleep tight, all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pinky Spud and the Unwitting Felons on Holiday: Vegas, Baby!

Day 2: Steady as She Goes, Captain

Yes, Photos are still broken. Please refer to the following!

Preface: OOOHHH WHAAAT A BEAUTIFUUUL MOOOORNING! OOOHHH WHAAAT A BEAUTIFUUUL DAAAAAAY!! No thunderheads as of yet, but who knows. Sitting here watching the wind change directions (a la American flag in the parking lot far below) makes me think the possibility is still there. Other than that the sun is shining, and the clouds are fluffy, white, high-velocity cotton balls streaking their way toward the strip. Far out over the mountains more clouds sit, seemingly motionless, with a hulking, grey-stained front moving up over and behind them. But should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government? [/R.E.M.] Coffee and breakfast time.

Over 13 hours later: Oh what a day. In so many ways.

To start we went down to The Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, which currently has its home in The Luxor. I can’t properly conjure words to describe how cool it was. At the beginning of the exhibit, each attendee is handed a boarding pass with a name and basic history on it. I was given the pass of Mrs. Wilhelm “Elna” Strom, and “I” was accompanied by my daughter Selma and my brother, Ernst Ulrik Persson. As we entered we were told to keep these people – as they were indeed real – in mind, and that at the end of the exhibit there would be lists of names: lists telling us whether the passenger we became survived. Elna was in steerage, as was the passenger my mom adopted: we promptly voiced our predictions of our imminent demise in the colorful language we tend to prefer. But we’d a ways to go yet: there were hundreds of artifacts to admire and dozens of stories to read accompanying them. The crowning jewel of both was the Big Piece, which, if you don’t know what that is, go look it up. It’s seriously cool. Here, I’ll give you a head start. The end of the exhibit came suddenly, and there the wall sat. While my parents’ passengers miraculously survived and Elna’s brother Ernst escaped with his life, I/Elna, along with Selma, died in the catastrophe. The adoption of a passenger was a poignant and moving choice, and to whoever thought of it, I salute you.

Next we wandered, ending up in the Excalibur, which is connected to the Luxor via underground moving walkway. We had every intention of buying tickets to Tournament of Kings, a Medieval Times-like affair for those of you who have been to the Disneyland area, but their only off day, naturally, was the day we intended to buy tickets for. We made up for it by playing some skee-ball in the Fun Dungeon arcade and subsequently winning a stuffed unicorn. That was pretty triumphant.

After cruising back to the Luxor for showers, etc. we took to the strip (via rental car, convenient-o!) and made it to Treasure Island. It appears to be under renovations in the front, so everything that identifies it as piratical is rather covered up, which was a minor disappointment. On the other hand, I personally was too pumped about the impending Cirque-tacular goodness to mind all that much. We cruised a bit, killed some time, sat down really early, met the man who drummed for Michael Jackson for thirty years (no joke, he signed a pass to the premiere of This Is It for my mom and told us that he’s going to drum for the Cirque show dedicated to the King of Pop, The Immortal), and the show began.

Like every Cirque show, Mystère was an extravaganza of music, color, light, and movement. What fascinated me the most was that my very first thoughts when it all began ran along organic lines – that this was a jungle of fantastical beings with a hint of magic. All this remained true, but as the stage began moving and changing and the fog rolled out the world of Mystère gained an industrial core, the organic driven by the mechanic. Similarly, while the creatures were indeed fantastical and were wild and free, the two I am tempted to call the Red King (in official terms, the Red Bird) and the Yellow Knave (the Yellow Chicken) seemed to be jungle royalty as much as the darling pets of the Puppeteer/Announcer (Moha-Samedi). In this world driven by brass there existed both the green light of the growing world as well as the red light of fire or furnaces.

But enough of impressions and poetry. The question everyone seems to ask about Cirque shows is “so what was it about?” A photo lady roving the crowd before the show began was asked just this, and she deftly responded, “I don’t know. By the end of it, you’ll tell me.” I think this is the best answer anyone can give, because each Cirque show, whether pseudo-linear like Varekai or timeless like Alegría, means something different for each viewer. My mind spun the show into the dream of the young girl who appeared near the beginning, pet snail in tow, and her sleeping-subconscious creativity gives life and breath to the wild jungle of the industrial world which blossoms all around her. Other people will tell you differently. If you’ve seen Mystère, please comment. Tell me your version of the story.

After Cirque we popped across the strip to The Venetian, which comes in as a close second to the Bellagio for my favorite Vegas location. The interior of the building is modeled to look like high noon in beautiful Venice, complete with gondola rides, restaurants, and shops. [photo] Each building, we were told by our own excellent gondola-navigator David, was modeled directly after an actual building in Venice. The exterior I guarantee was modeled after the Doge’s Palace. [photo] Once we attained our goal of a gondola ride, a much-anticipated event (may I also note that David was pleasant, a soccer fan, born and raised in Madrid, Spain, funny, and had an exquisite singing voice), we made a b-line for Canaletto, Ristorante Veneto, which was modeled to look as though one is dining under open Venetian sky. It was shockingly five-star worthy, with excellent service, and some of the best Italian food I have ever consumed. (The Cannelloni de Pollo was FANTASTIC.) Their espresso was, of course, spot-on.

With that we wandered, slowly, but with our noses pointed home all the same. Not that I passed up the opportunity to demonstrate the awesomeness of the Luxor. [photosphinx] [photopyramid] As for the weather, the wind appears to have finally died, and though there was no thunder or dramatic storm to clear the atmos, we are allegedly due for some much-needed sun very soon. Here’s hoping it’s tomorrow – there’s a swimming pool calling my name. Goodnight, or Goodmorrow, all, and I’ll see you on the flipside.

Pinky Spud and the Unwitting Felons on Holiday: Vegas, Baby!

Day 1: The Eighteen Hour Tour

DISCLAIMER!! My photos are broken. Stupid new Facebook photo layout confusing me. Sorry, all. I'll do my best to get those to you embedded soon. Soon meaning when my tech support isn't sound asleep and when it's not 2:00 in the morning. For now, check them out here.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am indeed in Las Vegas, Nevada and yes indeed I have been awake for more than eighteen straight hours and with only three caffeinated beverages, gods help me. The journey began from my local airport in the land of Cascadia, and Vegas is only a hop skip and a jump from there (especially in comparison to my last vacation flight, a return journey of three terminals and a total of fourteen grueling hours).

The day opened in Cascadia, however, with a slight fiasco. Amidst thoughts of underwear which appear as bits of the constitution for the people reading the body scanners, I was pulled aside so that my over-full carryon could be wanded. Guess who forgot to leave her Swiss Army Knife at home? Insert appropriate facepalm or deaddesk here, please. Did you hurt yourself? No? Good. Moving on.

When said hop skip and turbulent jump were safely over and after finding our rental car, we cruised the strip. What an experience. Being a full supporter of local, small businesses and sustainable goods, Las Vegas felt like a long way from home, and I loved it. The lights, the glamour, even the grit – there’s something so very human about this city, and at the same time something so inaccessible it becomes almost ridiculous. But this is philosophical I-have-no-brain-juices talk. Let’s get to the juicy stuff.

Post-witnessing the hustle and bustle from afar we cruised our way to the Luxor, usually referred to as the “Egyptian” or “Tut” hotel. But once inside, and after seeing the view of it at night lit up, it feels more like something out of the 1994 film Stargate than an Egyptian tomb. Sure there’s a larger than life Sphinx and Anubises, Pharaohs, and hieroglyphics everywhere, but there are also glyphs that are clearly not Egyptian and a few statues that even seem to directly reference the aforementioned film: . I love it. And then there’s the fact that it’s hollow inside, filled up with a veritable city you can look down on from every floor. [insert photo here] There are also some interesting – if slightly unexpected – exhibits here in the hotel, mainly Bodyworks and an exhibit with artifacts from the Titanic: we hope to hit those tomorrow, as the weather is supposed to take a turn for the foul and badass and whip up a thunderstorm.

After checking in and discovering our room – which is only accessible by DIAGONAL elevator, whut?! – we ate terrible buffet food and hit the strip. We strolled our way past Excalibur and New York New York, peeping in to shops (like the four-story tall m&ms store!) and casinos, avoiding the latter for the density of cigarette smoke present, discovering a few gems along the way. Next we marveled at the façade of the Monte Carlo where I nearly stepped off the curb into an idling bus only to turn around and discover a coworker of mine from campus with his girlfriend, both waving enthusiastically. My jaw hit my chest. It was one of the best moments of the day. In retrospect, I wish that I’d been skilled enough to snap a picture of them. After all, I did have the camera out.

Remember those gems I mentioned? Those come next. In one of the many shopping-mall style buildings (the Crystal Shops, I think), we first came across a frames shop (the name escapes me) that was not full of reproductions, oh no. It was instead full to brimming with vintage frames dating from 1910 onward, with their most expensive pieces – at over two thousand bucks a pop – in a fancy safe at the back, the kind with gold and silver scrollwork and old lettering painted on the front. Not only did I get to try on retro frames from the 50s, the salesperson, who was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, showed me to their earliest pieces. Round frames from 1910? That I can try on? Be still, my beating heart!! She then insisted on showing me the WWII aviator frames in the safe, one pair of which she INSISTED I try on. I about fainted I was so excited. If you’re interested, check out their website [link/broken]. But that’s only half the fun. The other shop – which had a store front entirely made of old sewing machines [photo] was AllSaints. Never have I seen a ‘high fashion’ style which so suited my sensibilities, barring only perhaps Skingraft. AllSaints was retro and funky in a fusion, slapped-together with straps and leather and buckles and frogs kind of way, and I quailed at the prices. I think it’s time to hit the goodwill and tear things apart to make them into something chic.

After that slight misadventure we headed to what has become my favorite hotel as of yet – the Bellagio. Speaking of fainting, oh lordie. It’s beautiful. And I mean that in the sincerest way that I possibly can. Not only is there a spectacular ceiling in the lobby a la Portland glass artist Dale Chihuly [photo], there is a garden room. It’s indescribable, almost surreal to find in a place like Vegas. The flowers are real and vibrantly fragrant, there’s a greenhouse which plays home to butterflies, and to top it off there is not only a ferris wheel, there’s a carousel. Neither of which you can ride, sadly, but it’s an incredibly soothing room. Of course the Bellagio is also the hotel which houses Cirque du Soleil’s O, a show we’ll see later this week. I am BESIDE myself. The hotel is also home to the exquisite work of Richard MacDonald, who models his awe-inspiring sculptures off of Cirque performers. Check it out, they’re gorgeous. I’m a particular fan of Blind Faith [photo].
We stuck around to watch the Bellagio’s famous waterworks as well, which was definitely worth it. Next we were off to Paris and the copy of the Eiffel Tower, or, as they call it, the Eiffel Tour. So clever! [/sarcasm]. The ride to the top in the glass-plated, bronze-riveted, vaguely Steamy, triangular elevator was pretty exciting, and the view was beautiful. Now if only I hadn’t accidentally brought the Bellingham wind to the desert with me…

(Also, what is WITH these crazy elevators? Triangular, people!!)

We continued cruising after that, moving down the strip to the Sugar Factory, which broke my will. The walls are lined with photos of celebrities toting their lollipops, and I gave in. They’re just so sparkly…you’ll see what I mean after I get my coveted photo in front of the store.

After that we hit New York New York again, this time for the roller coaster. It was shockingly legit. I had to ride it twice. There was some great anti-gravity (g-force?) action, and I think the photo snapped by the automatic station says it all: [photo/coming soon, when I have a scanner!]

Finally, we hi-tailed it to the Hard Rock café, where we had the best service we received all day and I personally consumed one of the best burgers on the planet (I am convinced) while rocking out to wonders ranging from David Bowie’s China Girl and Queen’s Find Me Somebody to Love to Avenged Sevenfold, Everclear, and Pink.

The last misadventure on the eighteen hour tour was a misplaced tram, but we ended up back in the Luxor eventually, and who really minds a Vegas scenic route? Now it’s far too late, or early, the city is lit up outside the Luxor and the city bounds are distinctly marked where the nothingness of the desert begins. And, while Las Vegas is the city that never sleeps, I can’t quite keep up with that standard. So, for tomorrow, pray for thunder over the Luxor, and I’ll see you at Treasure Island for Cirque’s Mystère.