Long winding road through North America (Part 2)
By Terrry Reilly (c)
Las Vegas, finally! The Strip. Gamblers’ paradise (or hell?). Sin City. We flew into Vegas from New Jersey and within an hour were cast right into the middle of another world, built on casinos whose profits for the year would surely fund several respectably sized countries.
It’s a place full of contradictions. You can smoke in the casinos but you cannot smoke in the adjoining food outlets under the same roof and just a few feet away. To go anywhere you have to walk through the gambling halls. Sit at a bar and your glass shares the space with the ubiquitous gambling machine. You expect it, the wall-to-wall gambling, of course, but when you are confronted with it cheek by jowl it’s almost like meeting a gunman down a dark alley way. The slots are even in Las Vegas airport, a salutary reminder to those who flee the Strip after probably losing heavily. Needless to say, we were not unduly tempted; after doing the Irish lottery, or putting money on the Mayo football team over the years, we know how hard it is beat the odds!
The Strip is being rebuilt and now resembles something of a manic building site, but the new hotels and the malls are really amazing, as are the shows, of which more anon. Bellagio, with its dancing water fountains, is amazing, Caesars Palace is huge and full of discoveries. But Wynn and Encore are truly wonderful experiences and well worth the visit.
Vegas entertains. Shocks. Jolts. And biggest jolt is the level of blatant prostitution, or rather the sight of hundreds of men and women lined along the Strip wearing Girls Direct T-shirts and pushing business cards on all and sundry. Even saw a guy with a T-shirt emblazoned ‘pimp or die’. The Las Vegas newspapers carry reports of moves to clean up the act by putting the pimps away but suffice to say the evidence we saw doesn’t support that view. Side by side with the ‘clean up’ attempts, there are moves afoot to legalise prostitution in Vegas: it is already legal in parts of Nevada.
Vegas is ideal for visiting the Grand Canyon, and we spent a memorable morning helicoptering over the Hoover Dam and onto one of the great natural wonders of the world, The Grand Canyon itself. We landed high on the edge of the canyon and shared a picnic with our fellow passengers before taking some great photos. We didn’t get to see the canyon from Moran Point, immortalised by Irish American painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926),who first painted the Grand Canyon. Moran is a very common name in Mayo and ‘our’ Moran, born in Lancashire and raised in Philadelphia was entirely self-taught. His paintings change hands nowadays for millions.
Back in Caesars Palace, before almost 4,500 fans every night in the Colosseum Bette Midler was mixing song and comedy in her ‘The Showgirl Must Go on’, a small but powerful figure on a massive stage.
“The Rose,” “When A Man Loves A Woman” and the inevitable “Wind Beneath My Wings” featured in a programme pepperd with typical Midler humor and wit and dynamism: her fans love her, but then she is something of an institution. A great night, and typical of the glam and glitter of the shows of which Vegas is justifiably renowned.
OFF TO BOSTON
From the very acceptable heat of October in Las Vegas it was off to Boston, the most Irish of American cities.
Sporting my trusted Boston Red Sox baseball hat, gifted to me some years ago by one of Mayo’s greats in Chicago, Henry Coyle of Geesala, and a Golden Gloves boxing legend. On both sides of the Atlantic.
Massachusetts claims to be the most Irish-American state in the union. Irish historical links go all the way back to colonial times, when Irish-American patriots like Patrick Carr, one of the Boston Massacre martyrs, and John Hancock, signer of the Declaration of Independence, put an indelible Irish stamp on the state. Today one of every four residents boasts some Irish ancestry, and that is borne out by the cultural vibrancy of the Irish community here.
Boston’s Irish community offers a wonderful way to explore the city’s illustrious history and its contemporary ambiance. The Boston Irish Heritage Trail takes you on three centuries of Irish history through public statues, landmarks, parks, and cemeteries. Irish pubs and restaurants are a big part of the city’s night life, and visitors can enjoy Irish music and dancing, theater, literary readings and parades, festivals and concerts year round.
We visited the Boston Irish Famine Memorial park in downtown Boston, which runs alongside the city’s Freedom Trail. Dedicated to 19th century Irish immigrants who came here to start a new life, the Memorial is a reminder of the great spirit and pride of this thriving community.
Over in the very impressive State House I stepped in a lift to do the tour, and in behind me stepped Tommy McDonagh, who works there. Probably recognising my Irish brogue he kindly invited me on a quick tour. We saw all the best bits in jig time, Tommy taking all the shortcuts and filling in the history.
‘We must be cousins,’ I said to him. ‘We probably are’, he replied, ‘my roots are next door to you in Galway.’ That’s Boston for you!
Reading through the pages of The Globe while in Boston I got an insight into the way the printed word is heading. Cushing Academy in West Boston had a large library with 20,000 books but the collection was barely used, with only 30 books or about 0.15% circulated. The school decided to get rid of the vast majority of the books and replace them with a fully digital collection. Library watchers say it could be the first school library, public or private, to forsake ink-and-paper in favour of e-books. It also represents the first time that a school has placed its students’ intellectual lives so fully into the hands of a few online publishers and electronic-device makers.
Naturally, there was a reaction after the story appeared in The Globe: bloggers and commentators worldwide have called headmaster Jim Tracy a snob, a spendthrift and a book burner, even comparing him to Adolf Hitler. Tracy is bewildered that so many people miss the point: his tiny collection of 20,000 books is mushrooming into millions of choices through the digital route.
“What the students are telling us is ‘we’re not using the print books. You can keep giving them to us, but they’re just going to collect dust.’ “So we’re saying, ‘Let’s be honest: let’s give them the best electronic information available.”
Sixty new Kindles, costing from 200 to five hundred dollars each, have been purchased and onto these e-titles can be downloaded for about 5 dollars, meaning that six can be downloaded for the price of a 30-dollar hardback book.
There are, of course mixed views, and the jury is very definitely still out, though Tracy believes he is saving the demise of his library which would have happened in 5, 10 or 15 years the way the trend has been going.
As an old newspaper man I don’t know whether to weep or jump up and shout ‘way to go.’
Until next time, Slan
This article first appeared in the IrishAmerican News Ohio (www.ianohio.com)