Ukraine – Part 2

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Aloupka

Aloupka is an endless concrete Riviera. Shops line the road that corkscrews from mountain, as though they’ve fallen from heavy goods trucks speeding towards the sea. Ay-Petri sits at the top of the cablecar ride over pinetrees and vineyards peppering the ochre earth. Natives with the faces of evil sherpas hawk from every square inch of the narrow streets – strange wasp infested nougat and baklava, barbecued mystery meats, rides on emaciated nags that respond only to fear and peck at the sparse grass pathetically if you loose their reins, their foals pathetically attempting to nurse every time they stop, like piglets suckling a peperami.

I flip back in the water, my head goes under and I try to calm myself as the surging waves and the weights around my waist drag me down into the wash. The next wave comes and I stand once more, unsteady on the shifting banks of pebbles that descend into the sea. I try to gesture but they haven’t taught us a hand signal for ‘the idiot in front of me lost his flipper!’

“He’s lost his flipper” I say, futily wiggling my foot under the water.

The swarthy dive coach stares at me uncomprehending – trying to discern whether this flabby tourist who can’t even speak Russian, let alone Ukrainian is in mortal peril, or merely demanding a pre-dive double cheese burger with twisty fries. I give up and follow him into the wash. Face down, breathe evenly through your mouth, descend. I sink too quickly, tip forward, try not to flail with my arms. I’m drowning. I am not drowning. Breathe evenly, touch the top of your mask and breathe out through your nose. Explosion of bubbles on each exhale, surely too much air leaking out? My guide is snapping photos with a chunky underwater camera. Fire engine red, it captures me flailing, trying not to make myself drown. Trying to take in something of the seaweed fronded boulders and tiny jellyfish so much less impressive than the cheapest Nat Geo doc. My flippers don’t work. Oh they were plenty big enough to trip me over and over as we stood at the edge of the water practising emergency manoeuvres. Now they’re useless spandrels dragging me back, weighing down my legs so that I move forward at a sea snails pace. I try various strategies absorbed from Gerry Anderson cartoons – the mermaid, the underwater bicycle, the stumbling goat. None seem effective. Even as I watch my guide, a lithe, superbly muscled sea creature, dart and shimmy, drag me by hand up sheer rock faces, literally swim circles around me.

Now the shore’s approaching, after what can only have been minutes and I puncture the greedy sea, falling back and over as my guide works off my flippers and the weights and the aqualung under the water then haughtily strongmans the cart full of equipment back up the ramp to the harbour. I waddle after, vacuum sealed into a rubber cast, auditioning for aquaman.

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Aikendrum_001211There’s a white elephant on the Black Sea. Massive, unfinished, it looms over the green hills of Crimea like a cartoon grin. Someone flicks a laser over our ferry in the darkening evening: A piercing light from the coast.  A secret signal. A poison pen. No one is blinded. We rumble on over the cooling waves, wrapped in blankets. The vocoded europop fades into Ukrainian ballads and finally to silence. A military boat forces the ferry steer clear of a section of coast between two ash grey and salmon cliffs. The president’s house is there, modestly hidden in the trees, immodestly guarded. Further up the coast a splash of taste, Gorbochov’s old dacha and accompanying white and red chalets, like a piece of Switzerland on Chorne More. Finally, beyond a horseshoe hump of eyesore apartments – 700k euro each, says the middle-aged tourguide with the Princess Di hairdo; the vast palace of  ‘a member of the president’s family’. Unreachable by road, the colossus has the tacky pea green hue and faux Whitehouse design you’d expect from a Ukranian Tony Montana. Further up the coast at, Putin’s  built his own holiday home, with 350 million dollars meant for Russia’s health care infrastructure, and ample pools for disappearing mistresses.

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‘Cock and balls!’ I cackle with delight, overjoyed it’s still here. Don’t hold it by the hat Anya tells me, you might break it. Cock & balls has been all we’ve talked about today and now here it is, wrapped in plastic and cradled in my hands, the perfect present. It’s gift buying day and we’re in Mariupol’s dodgiest supermarket. I pick out a blue policeman to take care of cock and balls on the flight home. I can only hope they’ll survive the trip. What if they push me over the weight limit? I look down at cock and balls sadly. It couldn’t contain more than a litre could it? Perhaps I could sip off the excess.

Back in Alaska we join a barmaid’s birthday party. I’m so tired I have to fake friendliness. Ireland has a reputation to earn. I jokingly suggest taking a photo with the birthday girl – a heavy woman in her forties with tear stained makeup running down her deputy dog muzzle. Instantly I regret it, as Marina runs over to get her attention. ‘Do they have women like me where you come from?’ she asks as I gurn at the camera, thumbs up, feeling like a proper cunt. Not to worry, I cock and balls it out. By the end of the night we’re slow dancing. She won’t let me leave without two fat slices of homemade apple pie. Олеся finds the words hilarious ‘Apple pi’, ‘Apple pi’ she says over and over, as we moonwalk around the table. Every city loves a stranger.

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Every grave after 2004 is laser cut with the face of its occupant. Proudly defiant, they gaze at us as we drive past isometric gravestones under a Stalker skybox. Starocrimski is endless and overgrown. Many graves have a table and bench built right over the body, so you can come and eat with (or feast on) the dead. The gangster’s graves are the best, enormous marble temples to slain bosses and their mamochkas, complete with busts, statues and intricate ornamentation – one even has a crucified jesus gazebo. It’s bad luck to take pictures, but I do anyway, earning a thorn bush ripped knee for my troubles. Somehow cut and bleeding even inside my pants. I imagine memetic microbes, soul pieces of the dead, strange brain parasites suffusing the earth and the plants, inhabiting me, colonising my mind till I’m a gangster zombie with the soul of an assassinated accountant, a refugee from Mariupol.

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Ukraine – Part 1

In Transit
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Detained in Charles De Gaulle, all of us refugees of security theatre. Held en la atrium, locked – by one way funnels of scans and pat downs – out of the consumer concourse. This luxury itinerant camp is bedded with brown tongues, leather chaise longues on which we loll like Jean Paul Marat. We lie sleeping and colouring and cradling our young, behind a smoky glass promenade, stocked with plastic pandas and liquorish black shoots of steel bamboo.

In the super luxurious future all of us are imprisoned in indolence – trapped in liminalities; half light, jet lag, the susurrus of wakeful children excited just to be away from home. Sir Alfred Mehran  spent eight stateless years stuck in this airport, Tom Hanks plays him in the movie. Under these high gauze carpeted ceilings and gill pleated metal columns, driven mad slowly by the fridge coolant hum and the never never sleeping, who will play me?

From Kiev we share a tiny sleeper carriage with an enormous woman and her haunted looking husband. At each stop she bangs his bunk and makes him climb off to look for a concession stand. He changes her socks and helps with her insulin injections. They are travelling from Munich. All night she toys with her iPad, every now and then switching on the cabin light to pour out another bowl of pistachio nuts.

Mariupol

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The Irish start out ugly. We’re born with extra sets of teeth, flaps of skin between our toes, cleft pallets, duck toed, buck toothed, cock eyed. Over time we improve – diet, exercise, most of all money, play their part. Ukrainians are just the opposite. Their children are beautiful, their devushkas heavenly, their women worn and thickening, their babushkas like Baba Yaga. Here the eloi live under the earth and only slowly turn to morlock.

Sergei carries a handbag: A tiny case, like any responsible business woman. ‘Men have them here’, Anya tells me. Mariupol is a pleasing intrusion of nature into a remnant of Soviet utopia. Everywhere public parks spill into the streets. Chestnut trees and weeping willows burst through the cracking pavements. Its the walkable city, arrived at not by enlightened urban planning, but neglect.

In babushka’s apartment there’s a carpet on the wall and the balcony looms twelve floors above a barren quadrangle. All she remembers of the holodomor, is missing sugar on her bread. Mariupol is by the sea, and ‘didn’t suffer as much as other places’. I ask her why the people here are so forgiving, while we Irish hold a grudge over a famine a third as bad, twice as long ago. ‘Other places suffered too’.

Inscription reads 'A man chooses, a slave obeys'Today the coast plays host to heavy metal factories which cast a brown fug over the city and make everything taste of iron. Babushka serves us coldcuts and peppers with rice and meat and cooked liver and pork with mashed potatoes and calamari and spiced cabbage and mushroom salad and smoked salmon and celebration champagne. For desert there’s chocolate mousse with blackberries and raspberries for mixing and profiteroles with buttercream. She packs a leftover feast in buckets to take with us, scuttling back and forth between the kitchen and the living room.

I am a bloated tourist in a Hawaiian shirt. The local dentist scolds me – ‘you must get your teeth cleaned professionally every year’. She reads a war history in my gums: Braces, fillings, scars from the surgery I needed after a lip piercing caused permanent injury. I don’t tell her the cost of a dental check up back home is two weeks wages here. I don’t tell her that it would be cheaper to catch a flight to Kiev and the sleeper out to Mariupol than to get a LUAS from the Phoenix park to Charlemont St for a filling.

As the rain falls on Sergei’s Lada on the journey to Crimea, I am reading. Sergei has rented an apartment near Yalta, at the very southern tip of Ukraine – closer to Iraq or even northern Sudan than to Ireland. Marina has baked pastries with chicken and mushroom and packed them together with leftover beef-chicken burgers and cream fried aubergines from our second and still more opulent feast in baushka’s cramped and cat ridden apartment.

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At a bar called Alaska we drink vodka out of espresso cups with sailors who look as though they may be gangsters. I adopt the persona of the garrulous Irishman abroad. The gombeen armature of ‘slainte’ and ‘conas a ta tu?’. The locals watch in horror as I mix vodka and alcopops. ‘Da, it is like water now, but tomorrow you will wish it was water!’ I race  against Олеся, giddy with sugar, down a slope built for skiing in Winter and for those mad transparent plastic balls which you strap yourself into and go rolling and rolling, sometimes forever. But the ball has broken and so we run instead under the floodlamps into the darkness  at the foot of the slope where it breaks into another steeper cliff. We stop and stare into the dark at the belching factories out over the edge of the water, then stumble back up hill. The girls eat tiny prawns from an enormous plastic bag, tossing them under the table to the stray cats that writhe about our feet like possessed scarves. Night falls on Mariupol.

Trip to Barcelona

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Barcelona from dbspin on Vimeo.

A few weeks ago I travelled to Barcelona, capitol of the Spanish province of Catalonia. On the last day, I cycled through the city and took a few low quality videos with my phone. These were too shoddy to post anywhere, so I had a play with them in final cut. The track is ‘The Weight of My Words’, by King of Convenience. Remixed by Fourtet. Most of these videos were taken in the cities oldest quarter, the Barri Gotic.

East Coast, West Coast

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A mini-documentary about my first trip to America in 2006.


[audio https://garethstack.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/eastcoastwestcoast128k.mp3]

Download: East Coast / West Coast

While I was at the anti DRM demonstration at Apples 5th avenue store, I also interviewed a member of New Yorker’s for Fair Use, Jay Sulzberger. The interview was too long to include in the program, but if you’re interested in issues surrounding DRM, net neutrality or wiretapping, check it out below.

Interview – Jay Sulzberger, 96k, 12megs.

Show Notes:

00.00 – Introduction
00.52 – Car to airport
02.33 – LAX
04.30 – Inglewood
07.15 – Backpackers Paradise Hostel LA
09.42 – UCLA Campus
10.40 – Hollywood Hills
12.15 – LA Hostel Morning
15.37 – Yosemite Bug Hostel
16.31 – Yosemite Bug (contd) – Talking about LA and SF
24.29 – Yosemite Bug (contd) – Dave’s Story
30.36 – Verner Falls Yosemite
31:40 – Half Dome Yosemite
33:45 – Central Park, NY – Talking about Vegas
44:22 – 57th and 5th, NY
46.28 – 5th Avenue Apple Store – Interview with Free culture NYU
48:58 – End

I’m releasing this under a Creative Commons, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

All music included comes from the album Bad Things Happen Every Day, by John Jackson, available from kick ass CC record label Magnatune.com.

Leaving Gotham

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The rain fell my last morning in Manhattan, as if it personally disliked me. It dropped in fat wet polyps that hit and burst as I dragged a sodden case across 55th st. Mere hours before, less hours than it takes to realise last nights felafels have no intention of leaving your stomach either quietly or at a reasonable pace, I’d been drunk and warm and trying to keep my eyes off the midget porn. I had in fact been knocking back Corona’s and ‘Ass Juice’ with the Vitka and his filthy assistant, retired porn star and current roller derby queen, at a seedy punk bar in the East Village. In Midget porn, the money shot is not when a link of thick wet splurge hits chin, but rather the suitcase shot. After all loving has ceased, the differently tall sex worker on the recieving end is neatly lifted, folded, and placed in a suitcase, presumably to be shipped to the next empowering. On the way here we had eaten some cheap imitation of falafel, more of which would follow, perhaps in an effort to negotiate, in some (un)savory mayonnaise filled language, the surrender of the first serving.

I flolloped into the hostel, eyed daggers at the snotty eurotrash counter monkeys, threw my luggage into a laughably insecure storage shed, then raced downtown to spend my last, few, damp dollars on corny American candies for a hot, young, punk chick of my acquaintance; because that’s just the kind of attentive, modest, stallion of masculinity I am. Kind of like the one Ronan Keating is going to ride in the next paragraph.

At fifteen hundred feet above the surface of the spinning earth I’m struggling with Phil Dick’s ‘Valis’, the schizophrenogenic dissociative account of Dick’s gnosis that linear time is a perceptual fallacy; while on the cabin’s in flight video Ronan Keating rides the majestic but elegant beast previously mentioned through a CGI desert, singing – blessedly – in absolute silence. Through Dick’s slyly rhetorical postmodern dialectic my mind becomes fixated on the possibility of a future beneficent hyperdimentional me reaching back through the unimaginable expanses of linear time to facilitate my mental evolution, demonstrating somehow the illusory nature of ‘reality’. Is this Buddha, a universal or particular eternal conscience out of time – Grant Morrison’s alien visitation, Jung’s synchronicity? Is it a pile of drug addled shite spouted by a narcissistic middle aged science fiction writer, struggling to compete in an L. Ron cornered market?

On four screens at once, Mr Bean, posing as a barber, infinitely more amusing without the laughter track, shaves off a mans toupee, then attempts to repair the damage with glue and scraps of shop floor hair. I try to ignore the doughy unattractiveness of the Irish heads around me, raise my dining tray, and attempt to sleep.

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Leaving Los Vegas

At 12.30, drunk on a football shaped bucket of cheap beer, standing under the quarter mile ‘Viva Vision’ screen which roofs the ‘Freemont St Experience’, watching as it runs through an absurd patriotic audio-visual demo, to whoops and applause from the assembled bikers, I think I finally get Vegas. The city is as it must be, simultaneously safety valve for and manifestation of, America’s Christian neurosis. ‘Free’ titty bars with an $18 two drink minimum, ‘limitless’ buffets twice as expensive as advertised, slot machines offering 100% or greater payout; everywhere the promise of pleasure, everywhere the sting of deserved pain. Casino’s offer a chance for limitless wealth – synonymous in the American mind with success – success without effort, the American version of equality of opportunity. Everywhere fast foot joints pump out plastic wrapped fulfilment, with the karmic retribution of obesity and expensive, perpetual, dehumanising ill health, and all of it sold under an all singing, all dancing, loud as hell, electric vision of the American dream.

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Leaving Los Vegas, the radio warns of the danger of ‘Progressive Creationists’, lefty nuts who don’t accept the literal truth of a seven day creation, dangerous ‘liberals’ who presumably don’t consider the consumption of shell fish mortally sinful. On NPR, a baseball umpire talks of paying dues in the little league, at $12k a year, as if promotion were inevitable, as if penury were a noble investment in some grand bottomless pyramid scheme. On a petrol pump in Ashfork south east of Vegas, the screen says ‘God bless and support our troops’, as the black blood of christ fills up the belly of our car.
The motel we stay at has a special rate for pets. Technically you, Buba, Conchita and Dolly could have quite the evening for $41.50 inc. tax. On the TV, blinking sleepless big screen local news, a church is being audited by the IRS for giving anti-war sermons before the first Persian Gulf distraction – seems it’s goodbye charitable status. They should build a Jesus casino here in the desert, what an apposite synthesis that would be, with dancing topless nuns, and lazarus slot machines; the lord givith and he sure as fuck taketh away.

Where Nevada is composed of sand and dust, and the crumbling hillocks of eroded mountains, Arizona is flat plain grassland, and tight wind raked Utah Juniper and Gamble Oak; the state is dotted with small bright prosperous towns with tacky industrial museums and tourist attractions. It’s roads are endless straits, their vanishing points wet mirages and the heat haze reflections of distant automobiles. As we pass Grand Canyon airport, two miles outside the park, a vast forest fire – a managed burn – billows in the distance and the trees and land turn red in the smoke filtered light.

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The majority of tourists today are Japanese, not just elderly couples but punk teenagers and even a couple of brown cowled nuns of some religion – neither Shinto, nor Buddhist – I can’t identify, wandering gentiley around the interpretative centre. The hole itself, when it comes, is much as you’d expect – five thousand feet above the Colorado river at it’s base, and ten miles form South to North rim wall – you stand facing an incomprehensible gulf. The canyon rises out of igneous rock, melted and resolidified crust, up to metamorphic layers fused under enormous heat and pressure, to once living layers of sedimentary sandstone and bright angel shale, cliffs moss spotted with Pinion Pine, thriving out of near dry rock; and at top limestone, eroded like the Burren into smooth lips and darkened hollows. This network of interlinked fissures, drilled out by the Colorado river – a brown sediment rich torrent, dropping fourteen thousand feet through the swollen dome of the Colorado plateau; has been eaten out by multiple oceans and twist cracked by plate tectonics and battered by monsoon seasons and freeze thawed by freakish diurnal and seasonal temperatures, weakening its underlying layers till they collapsed to widen the fissure further on either side. Geologists estimate it’s age at six million years, but this vast tare in the skin of the earth reveals rocks up to a couple of billion years old. From where I stand I can see 94 miles along the winding peaks and troughs of the Canyon, despite pollution – as in Yosemite, sulfate particles hang a haze over more distant vistas, a weird blur to Irish eyes.

We move to Hopi point for sunset, below us the Colorado river clearly visible for the first time – thick and mucky, cutting a dirty crooked path through the canyon. It gets cold quick, my breath steaming as the sun hits the lip of the Canyon, and close by a baby boomer gloats to his wife that after global warming’s wiped us all away, this canyon will still be here, and I wonder if it will open up to swallow Arizona and the sad hot reaches of North West, and the photography nuts are out in force, yelling degrees and compass points and checking their watches, ‘Get the edge of the sunset..Did you get that? That was spiritual..That’s gonna be my computer wallpaper.’ Afterward, driving toward Phoenix, when I close my eyes I can still see the Canyon – no specific view, but an amalgam, gray coloured cliffs crocheted and wrinkled, casting blue shadows on the earth below, crinkling into infinity.

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When we arrive, Phoenix Arizona is torn up by the installation of a billion dollar light rail system, one I’m told would have cost a 20th the price 30 years ago; the city centre a dead zone of corporate monoliths – Price Waterhouse Cooper, Chase Manhattan, JP Morgan; Scottsdale and Tempe the only signs of life in this second largest US sprawl.

At the hostel, a strange creepy place in a bad Latin ghetto; I talk for hours to a mysterious nomad, with degrees in psychology and philosophy, about Herman Hesse and Sam Kinison and the benefits of flossing, even after they turn out the lights and we stand in the front porch, him like an old oaken Indian, his face changing in the darkness, one moment sagacious, the next somehow wicked.

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Yosemite and Vegas

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Just past Sherman’s Summit on US 395, driving east of Yosemite at seven o’clock and the sun’s setting over the melancholy prairie and the mountains. Bitter sweet memories rise with the dust haze off the highway, driving eighty feels like forty on these wide Californian roads, Josh Ritter on the stereo in a warm car with the cool blue evening light outside.
In Yosemite park you climb to Vernal Falls, a steep hike up vertiginous steps to a small ice clear lake, and hike about a thousand feet off the trail up rough scrub and granite boulder till you overlook Nevada falls and a sweet drop below.

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Next day you hike eight miles uphill, bushwhacking work at eight thousand feet and up, and face the Half Dome, a great granite hemisphere which seems shorn in two so that one side overlooks Yosemite valley almost five thousand feet below. The last four hundred meters you climb with the aid of two cables, loosely hammered into the sheer rock face – cables you drag yourself up whilst other visitors on their way down swing past grinning ‘nearly there’s’, as you prepare to loose your grip and plummet. At the top you collapse, breathless for the hundred and first time that day, too empty to do more than stare into the perfectly blue sky. When finally you move, you cross to the domes northwest face, to twitter at the edge in waves of shock at what you’re doing, leaning over and further and closer to the drop, leaning with a gusty wind behind, inches from certain death.

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The place is like Everest, superficially intimidating, yet often visited. To you it seems epic, like the roof of the world. Near Himalayan views in every direction somehow provide the energy to start down, sliding backward, one hand on either steel cable, rappelling without a safety. Then the decent, eight miles of scrag and step and broken dusty path, and a Tennessee racist in a home made ranger uniform ranting about ‘the blacks’, down to fresh water, stolen and no doubt parasitic, from the Vernal waterfall, and down into the sleep of the dead.

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Next afternoon a detour to Bodie ghost town, the partly restored but mostly ramshackle remnants of a 19th century mining community, where you gawp at rusting model T’s and in the windows of school rooms and bars and at the mine rusting and still – the buildings far apart, standing proud against the desert and the cool unfeeling plains.

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In the desert night falls, and I take over the driving. Licenses, who needs em? The road appears, post by reflective post, straights and dips and tight turns, death Vally invisible on either side. We stop the car and I walk out into the desert, to where the road disappears, and look up into the sky, still a little red from the cities ahead and behind, but alive with the streak of milky way and the dust of blinking stars which gradually develop colors.

Back in the car, we see what looks like Vegas, far ahead of schedule, and wake up suddenly, shaking and straightening our seat backs, but something strange happens. Instead of congealing into a city, the mess of lights separates as we approach, becomes buildings isolated on patches of dirt, with roofs lit as if to impersonate a place; becomes casinos large and cold, but certainly no Vegas. This is Parump, a shadow of a town, a slim satellite imitation of the city in the desert, a place at night that has no purpose, save to lurk on the outskirts of nowhere, shining a fools light into the desert.

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When finally we hit ‘the real’ Vegas, at 4am, having driven 300 miles overnight, having overshot Death Valley altogether, having found no room, no cheap room anyhow, and travelled on and on, me clutching my discount travel guide like a talisman to light the way; it’s Friday night in the city, and Bike fest is on, but on our third try we find a place, ‘Motel’, clean and quiet with beds bigger than we need and a gigantic television.

Vegas is truly postmodern, the photos you take are more real than the place itself, the concrete mask of a city literally planted in the sand, even after all this time, even after the Mormon’s and the mob and a ‘restortification’ so complete that ‘Sin City’ is a trade mark, and cannot be used.

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Caesar’s palace is a city onto itself – if you can stomach the kitsch marble statues, painted night skies and immaculate designer stores, the palace has a certain charm.
What’s impossible to enjoy about every Vegas casino, are the dead eyed slot junkies hunched into their one arm bandits, jacked in via credit card to one, two or even three machines at once – compulsively tapping at blinking keys like skinners rats.

In Vegas, perhaps more than anywhere in America, one experiences a bizarre deja vu – these mean dusty streets, these glittering lights, these laughing shouting carousing b boys and homies and preppy college kids – we’ve seen them all before, bigger and louder and iconographically crystallized in moving images. Vegas really is just any other city, just a sad nest of addiction and prostitution with a thin skein of plastic glamour and aspiration; an opulent pimp, the city flicks its head and shakes its swollen belly, thrusting its hips into the desert, immune to its inadequacy.

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Walking down Main street (not the main street, that’s the blvd) Los Vegas on Saturday night I stumble onto Fremont street, a boulevard which stretches three blocks, enclosed up to the centre of the city. Tonight its Bike Fest – always in America such denotative names – and an Ozzy tribute band, not Ozzy as he was, but the Ozzy of today, a rambling shambles of a tribute, which is to say an accurate one, and up further on Main street this place, a bail bond internet cafe, and that is all, and pictures..They will have to wait.

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