Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary

Article excerpt

I arrive in Las Vegas bleary-eyed and irritable, having been awake nearly 24 hours. I'm greeted by the familiar airport slot machines and garish show posters, but something is different. Then I realise it's the slot machines: they're functioning but they aren't making any noise -- no electronic jingles, no tinny fanfares. Is it possible they 'mute' the machines at night? A rare example of restraint in the 24/7 city. On the escalator a college-aged kid in front of me spies an advertisement for Celine Dion's 'A New Day'. 'Oh God, that makes me want to go to Caesars so bad, ' he says. 'I don't like her that much, ' his friend mutters. 'I was being sarcastic, ' says the first. There is a mildly awkward moment, and I reflect that irony and jetlag don't mix. Judging from the names of the shows, Las Vegas's love affair with ersatz French culture is undiminished: 'Le Rêve, La Femme', and so on. I've heard that hostility to France at the time of the Iraq invasion led to a boycott of the French-themed hotel-casino Paris Las Vegas (part of the wholly nonFrench Caesars and Harrah's group), but evidently all is forgiven.

Last time I was here I was writing a book about American subcultures, counting my pennies to make my advance go further.

I stayed at a slightly raffish weekly hotel called the Holiday Royale. Now I'm back making TV, I'm at the marginally more salubrious Embassy Suites. The best part about the Embassy Suites is that they are showing World Cup matches on a big screen in the breakfast area. It is oddly disconcerting hearing American commentators. They stress the second syllable of 'Gerr-ard'; they say 'nothing to nothing' instead of 'nil-nil'. Stuart, my director, says he heard one say, 'We're 15 minutes into half number two'. The matches are shown on network TV, so is America finally falling for the beautiful game? Actually, no. The consensus is still that it's too slow and low-scoring. An editorial in USA Today proposes changing the rules so that 'long-range goals' are worth three points and penalties only one.

Other possibilities mentioned: playing with fewer men, and making the goal bigger. The hubris of reforming the world's favourite game is striking. Is it a more anodyne version of the naivety of trying to transplant US-style democracy to the Middle East?

Las Vegas is in the middle of a $20 billion building boom. For the most part, these developments will cater to upscale visitors. Among those planned: The Palazzo ($1.8 billion), the Encore ($1.7 billion), the Fontainebleau ($1.5 billion). …

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