205 Las Vegas, NV: Gates of Hell

[Rodin's Gates of Hell]

Vegas does have an art museum. Sort of. It was attached to the back of the Las Vegas Public Library. At the front desk stood a stocky, energetic young woman with olive skin; green, almond-shaped eyes; and dark hair pulled back by a headband. She modeled black pants, a gray shirt, and stiletto flip-flops (essentially sandals with high heels) that I had seen on a lot of the local women. When I asked if this was the main art museum in town, she told me of a place in the "art district somewhere" that was about to become a museum and carry "works by Matisse and Robert De Niro!"

Rodin's "The Gates of Hell" was the show here in this museum, which I found appropriate for Vegas, which many called "Sin City." Amidst a crowd of about forty people admiring the mid-level Rodin works, I spied a mousy white woman with blond, bobbed hair and big blue eyes that outsparkled her tiny diamond earrings. When I mentioned the Steve Martin show, she nodded, "Went the day after it opened. There was nobody at the VIP openings. I think that collection is one of my favorites."

When I asked about Vegas and Hopperesque isolation, she responded, "In Nighthawks, the folks in this diner appear to be there because there is no other place open and they are the few that are out so late. In Las Vegas, most bars and eateries are open twenty-four hours. No need to be lonely or isolated anytime in Las Vegas. But many people come here specifically to be isolated or anonymous. In Hopper's Hotel Room, a woman sits in her underwear on a bed looking at a paper that could be a suicide note. Many people come to Las Vegas to commit suicide. At least four of the terrorists of September 11 came here, perhaps for meetings or a 'last fling.' Often, when I hear of 'most wanted' criminals or missing people, Las Vegas comes up somewhere in their travels. Nicholas Cage's movie Leaving Las Vegas showed his character coming here to drink himself to death. Why Las Vegas? Perhaps they can be 'isolated' and anonymous.

"Las Vegas is two cities: the big-city Strip with tourists and visitors, and the small town where locals like me live and work. I moved here from Kentucky five years ago next week, attracted by the weather and the excitement. Kentucky has even less culture than Las Vegas," she snorted. "It's all horseracing and basketball.

"When I moved here, I knew only three people here, had no job, and my closest relative was in Oregon. I immediately felt more at home, welcomed and involved (and not through the three people I knew) than I ever did in the South. (So much for Southern Hospitality!) Many people have moved here from other places and made this their home. Many don't have family or old friends close by, so we have gravitated together for companionship. My social life is so full, I actually welcome a night at home to watch a video with my dog! (This was my whole life in Kentucky.) Even when I go someplace alone, I see people I know and they recognize me. That's what I had hoped for when I left Kentucky: to be part of a community, have a circle of friends and 'unisolate' myself. Here, I couldn't be isolated if I tried. This is a strange place, but it has some very normal folks."

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