Monday, August 20, 2001

Playing the Ponies

After we got back to the Excalibur, I met up with George and Ben to bet on horse racing. No, not real horses. That would be silly. I'm only talking about the best game they have in Vegas -- the Derby. The Derby consists of a miniature racetrack around which plastic horses move. Since this is the Excalibur, the jockeys are all knights. (At the Luxor, they race camels. At Caesars' Palace, chariots. At the Imperial Palace, horses. The Imperial Palace is kind of boring.) The racetrack area is decorated with all sorts of painted fantasy miniatures. My friends and I discovered that we had painted some of them. (Actually, Ben called me up in the middle of the night to tell me that. But that's another story.) Anyway, when the horses reset, odds flash up for any of the 10 possible combos of 5 horses to finish 1-2 (in whatever order). You plunk your quarters in the machine and root for your horse(s) as they jostle around the track. (A strategy I found helpful was to put a quarter on each pair involving one particular horse, thus reducing the complexity of my rooting.) I mostly involved betting on long shots. Even if they didn't win, it was only a quarter a bet, which took place every minute or two. And they brought us free drinks. (Which was a reason why the simplicity in betting was a bonus.)

We played that a while, and then it was time to get ready for dinner at the Monte Carlo. Instead of a traditional rehearsal dinner, Martin and Jeanene's families were having a dinner for the people who were in town Friday night. Very cool. So we got together with others headed over there, and hopped into a taxi to the Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo is supposed to be a "quieter and classier place" and it seemed to be, as we headed to our destination.

We met up with the happy couple and their families in the Monte Carlo Pub & Brewery. It was a pretty fun place, as microbreweries tend to be. And it was nice to see the families in place, though I had to confess to Martin's mother (a library employee) that I had lost the guidebook. Gasp. That, and much else, was soon forgotten as we ordered enormous quantities of beer. The giant cylinders of beer towered over the table, and Ben and Steve soon became engaged in a bet (this is Vegas, remember) over which one would be finished first. I was proud and am now a little embarrassed to say that the one on our end finished first.

I engaged with a conversation with John Giglio about the meaning of modern art. Poor John. He just got into Vegas, and here he was serving as the designated artist for a bunch of drunk people (hey, it wasn't just me). But he did help give me insight into some of the things I saw on my visit to the Tate Modern last year. With respect to things like Duchamp's toilet seat, he pointed out that it was part of a conversation on the nature of art. That conversation may not involve me, and that may raise the question of why it was in a public exhibition. But that didn't mean what I saw wasn't art. Secondly, although he pointed out the futility of denying something as art (what are you going to do, argue with the artist?), he said people shouldn't be afraid to criticize what they thought of as bad art. Cool. Then we toured the pool (much better than Excalibur's) before being asked to leave and enjoyed the convivial company.

After the party wound down, we took the monorail up to the Bellagio. The Bellagio is one of the swank joints on the Strip and it showed. Our first stop was the conservatory. Filled with beautiful plants, it was what Christina called "the only real thing in Las Vegas". After a brief walk there, we were off to our next stop.

Continuing my art lesson for the evening, we headed over to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. Actually, instead of the permanent "for sale" collection that the gallery opened with, it now showcases a series of exhibits. The exhibit currently there is Steve Martin's collection of art. Yes, that Steve Martin. He's got a good bit of money, and has used it to collect some very nice "Modern and Contemporary" paintings. A drawing by Picasso, a Lichtenstein piece...these were some interesting works. One artist I was introduced to through this work was David Hockney, a Brit who transplanted to California. It was weird because after I saw this exhibit, he seemed to pop up Bill Bryson's Britain book I was reading, in a weblog I read... I don't know if it was because I started with the Tate Modern, but I've really gotten interested in modern art.

I did manage to set off the alarms at one point when I pointed a bit too closely (in their opinion) at one of the paintings. Maybe the best part was the audio tour. First of all, I love those audio sticks where you punch in a number and somebody tells you about the painting. Second, the "someone" in this case was Steve Martin. How cool was that?

Anyway, after touring the collection, we were too tired to make it downtown with Ben & co. for more gambling, so we headed back to the Excalibur. (I was awakened a few hours later with the news about the painted miniatures.)

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