Thursday, September 18, 2008
“Keep high aspirations, moderate expectations, and small needs”
-William Howard Stein
Mater, Spouse and I travelled to Las Vegas a few years ago. We did all that tourists ought to do: took chances in the casinos, sat down to an extravagant dinner and paid a visit to the MGM Grand with its old-time atmosphere and with living, breathing lions behind thick glass.
After a time, we fortuitously found ourselves walking on Fremont Street, the lesser known, older and less flashy section of Las Vegas. We could hardly believe our luck. Fremont Street was charming, most unexpectedly so: long passed the glory days, it eventually dwindled to the more benign role of the little sibling of Las Vegas, which overshadowed it.
There were market stalls, casinos and performances at every turn. A fellow played piano atop a truck- few were present to observe him but we three will not forget the sight.
We were astonished, too, by a display of dancing lights that beamed onto a canopy ninety feet high and fourteen hundred feet in length- those twelve million lights were part of a grand performance that took place shortly after nightfall, a great moving picture of monumental sounds and images.
We could hardly have imagined that beyond the popular and the typical, Fremont Street might await with a character all its own.
Mater paused to look at a little collection of five hand painted Russian dolls, the traditional wooden figurines that sit one inside the other until only the largest is visible.
I briefly remarked on how lovely they were, all lined up in order of size, and although they were not at all cheap, Mater immediately requested one for me the instant my attention was elsewhere. The seller- a Russian woman who wore a bright shawl and who looked as though she might moments earlier have stepped off the boat at Ellis Island- took the doll from Mater's hand and slipped it into a little bag. Away we went, happy as anybody could be.
We had not walked more than a few feet when I stopped, reached into the bag, and took out the doll. I pulled the two sections apart.
There was nothing inside.
Panicked, we hurried back to the seller- I whimsically imagined that she might have vanished in a puff of grey smoke in the interim.
Mater, in error, had presumed that all the little dolls were already inside the bigger one- the smaller neighbouring dolls perhaps for display purposes only- and the busy seller had taken the money without questioning whether we had gathered them all together.
It was no trouble to convince the woman we had made a mistake and that four fifths of our paid-for property were in fact still sitting on the shelf. Soon we were away again with the correct number of dolls in our possession.
I have many recollections from our trip to Las Vegas but none so clear and so numerous as those memories we brought with us from Fremont Street.
We found a wealth of stories where we thought to find none. On the contrary, to my dismay, instead of a host of incandescent Russian dolls I found a void.
And as much as there might be a marvellous story tucked away in an innocuous corner far from flamboyance, the world does not consistently live up to the expectations we invent around it. We find joy or tedium as we go along, depending always on what we search for.
I will be going to Maine tomorrow, returning on Monday, and so in between will be accessing this page only in my head. Until then...
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 2:06 PM