Tag Archives: Las Vegas

Four nights in Nice (Parte un)

🇫🇷 The Great France Art Tour of 2017

Nice With Las Vegas Interlude
View of Nice from Parc de la Colline du Château

View of Nice from Parc de la Colline du Château

I knew vaguely of Nice by way of a Frenchman, George, who I worked with at a men’s clothing store on Fremont Street in Las Vegas when I was sixteen. George was a flamboyant character; an excellent salesman with a heavy accent. It was the early seventies, and George almost always wore the brightly colored, tight fitting, and highly flammable acetate shirts with long pointy collars that we sold at the “Knight and Squire”. In his mid-thirties with hair in long dark curls that trailed down his neck, a slightly large rounded nose, full lips and a prominent chin, he had an annoying habit of patting me on the ass. With his rich accent he spoke often of his vacations in Nice, explaining that Nice was a stylish, elegant, beach city in France, where the wealthy dined at fine restaurants, played on their yachts, and in clubs, and in the casino in nearby Monte Carlo. But unfamiliar even with beach towns in California, I was too young and naive to be impressed—which was a great disappointment to George.

He was eventually let go for some reason or other. Maybe for the long unscheduled vacations? Or his tendency to return after long lunches with alcohol on his breath? Through a gossipy co-worker I heard that George had fallen on hard times and was working maintenance, “cleaning rooms and emptying garbage cans at the MGM Grand Hotel”. But never one to fall too far, George, who appeared nearly the same—except for his nose, which was taking on the size and veined red glow of one belonging to an alcoholic—explained to me one afternoon some years later when we ran into each other at a gas station on Flamingo Road, that he now worked for “Lee”.

“Uh, sorry, I don’t know Lee. Who is Lee?” I asked, holding a bright yellow helmet under my arm with one hand, and with the other clenching the gas pump handle to fill the tank of my Suzuki 250cc “Champion” dirt bike.

Preceded by a classic nasal snort of French disdain, George patronizingly explained, “Liberace of course!”

I had no reason to think George’s relationship with Liberace was a lie. George was wiping gas-pump-grime from his hands with a dainty white handkerchief, standing outside a huge limo with the Nevada vanity plate “88 Keys”. This was Las Vegas, and as I did live in the neighborhood, I had driven past the Liberace house many times, around the corner from the one where Redd Foxx was occasionally seen in his driveway shouting at his neighbors to “…get your car washed! You’re givin’ the neighborhood a bad name!”, the house with a black grand piano cutout on the garage door, where everyone local knew “Lee” lived.

He told me he was Lee’s “personal dresser”. I didn’t know what that meant, and didn’t care to ask, although I was a little curious if Liberace himself was sitting in back behind the heavily tinted windows, half dressed. But it didn’t matter, because George made it very clear: I was far below his station in life now, and he could hardly admit he had ever worked retail, selling clothes on Fremont Street, much less waste any more time on a lengthy conversation with me at a gas station. That was the last time I saw him in person, and it was many years before I ever heard anyone mention “Nice” again.

Monday, In France, On the Road to Nice…

Nice was a surprise. I had little idea of what to expect, even having read about it in the tour books. This was after all, the “French Riviera”–whatever that means. Christine informed us the name is anathema to the French, mostly because it was coined by the Brits, who discovered and bought and built up much of Nice as a resort for who else? Themselves. The wealthy Brits. For the French, this was the Côte d’Azur.

We arrived by coach after a few hours on the sunny highway from Avignon. Descending into the mountainous dry east, catching occasional glimpses of the Mediterranean to our right, dark blue slivers between the hills, or as we got closer, silver shimmering behind the enormous sprawling developments and skyscraping townhome complexes. As we passed, Christine pointed to the vineyard of “Brangelina”, remarked that the wine was in fact reputable, despite being owned by Hollywood moguls, (with a few of us wondering what happens to it after the divorce), and she mentioned Cannes, St. Tropez and a few other well-worn and familiar names of communities we would not visit on this trip, advising us of the models and movie and rock stars who frolic in this Southern sun, enjoying the lavish homes and splendid company their fame has purchased. But not to worry, she advised, we would be taking a day trip to Monte Carlo, the capital of Monaco, where she would tell us the real story of the tragic death of Princess Grace.

Eventually we emerged on the Promenade Des Anglais, the main drag, at least four lanes of traffic that runs the length of the Baie des Anges, along the tremendous beachfront crescent from the airport, past all the hotels and resorts to the hodgepodge of bars and restaurants that mark the perimeter of “the old city”, where the road changes its name to the Quai des Etats-Unis, and where the beach abruptly ends, severed by the intrusion of Port De Nice on the right, and steeply on the left, a very old hilltop ruin the Parc de la Colline du Château.

The road continues wrapping to the left around the base of this mountain, with a massive monument to the war dead embedded in the side, and on the right, luxury liners, yachts, or other vessels parked at the Port De Nice before moving on to Monte Carlo or other Mediterranean destinations.

Did I mention surprises? Oh yes. First, the water is the bluest you can imagine. Deep, not exceptionally dark, but luminescent. Next, Nice is huge. An enormous beach city. Not a town. City. With dirty steaming streets and tiny cafés, restaurants, computer stores, plumbing supply shops, architectural and real estate offices, the ubiquitous artisanal ice cream, pizza joints, and every imaginable type of storefront you might find in New York or Los Angeles or Taipei. The “old city” nestled between the beach, Parc de la Colline du Château, and the hotel row of “new” Nice, gives the opposite impression. Not of a city per se, but of an ancient, but large, village, pungent in the mornings on certain days with the fruit, vegetables, and baked goods of the open market, its old concrete, plaster, and brick buildings fronted tightly with bars, restaurants, brasseries, patisseries, charcuteries, and other “ies” that face onto the walking streets and squares.

Saint-Paul de Vence

Saint-Paul de Vence

Though for many the beach is the main attraction in Nice, we put it off a few days, it wasn’t until after we saw the castle town of Eze, and the one time home of Matisse, St. Paul de Vence, and yes, Monte Carlo—which as far as I can tell, consists of one gaudy casino, one hairpin turn, and one big bay for oligarchs and their pretentious yachts—that we ventured to the beach. Having both proclaimed, for reasons I can’t recall, that we would not be swimming in the Mediterranean—even if it was the Côte d’Azur—we found a path down from the wide pedestrian walkway and the Quai des Etats-Unis.

This busy way, straining with pedestrians of all colors, shapes, sizes, and ages, bicycles, Segues, tours of out-of-town tourists, skateboarders, roller skaters, and punctuated by the constant attention of fully dressed French commandos in green fatigues or camo with dark bulletproof vests and carrying automatic rifles and capped in their classic burgundy berets, always traveling two or more, never walking alone, reminded us that to the French we were heroes. We were tourist heroes, crazy Americans foolish enough to brave not just France, but the Riviera, and the same stretch of Nice beach front road where almost exactly a year before, an angry terrorist had squashed sightseers and locals alike, indiscriminately, with a truck, on his mis-guided journey to what any sane person would agree will be his own hell, Islamic or otherwise.

The wide sidewalk, this busy parade route, borders the beach for the length of its crescent, the beach itself broken into public and private subdivisions, the latter discernible by the presence of umbrellas and chaise longue, fenced or walled in, much desired, especially on the hottest, sunniest of days, and which of course must be rented. These private spaces sometimes also have bars or restaurants with expensive and exclusive views of the beach.

Beach and walk, Quai des Etats-Unis

Beach and walk, Quai des Etats-Unis

Public beaches frame the private, with public outdoor showers and toilets, and concrete indoor buildings embedded in the hillside and presumably (since I can’t say that I investigated one..) running under and supporting the walkway above. Instead of sand, the beaches are notoriously covered with round hard gravel: gray, white, black, mottled stones of mostly 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter, but present in many sizes. To enable approach to the beach, authorities, or someone(?) provides a faded, maroon, walkway carpet.

On this aging rug we left our sandals and stepped carefully onto the stones near the lapping water. The feeling was as one might expect. Unfamiliar, prickly although not painful, and with the shifting gravel, a bit unstable. Stepping gradually into the water we found it surprisingly cold.

Its touch was magical.

Standing there, my feet shifting as the waves sucked at the rocks beneath, I felt quickly transported to another place. Or perhaps more accurately, to a realization of where I was, actually standing ankle deep in the Côte d’Azur, the breeze cooling me, the bubbling rasp of a motorbike fading away, my arms comfortably baking in the sun. Far off to my right, a huge plane lifted itself from the Nice airport, like a giant raising its head, upper body, and finally arching sharply over the sea, pushing off the runway, into a sky of blue more faded than the sea and free of all but the most distant clouds.

The  morning bustle slipped away along with all sounds but for the hissing water as it wandered through the rocks, and the giggles of two small children who we’re working hard to bury my sandals, pouring wet pebbles and water onto the rapidly disappearing Keene’s. Standing next to me, Deb appeared to have fallen into a similar reverie.

There was nothing else, just us, the beach of rocks, the warming sun, and the lapping waves of the sea.  Just these.

Still to come, Van Gogh, Avignon, Arles, Matisse, Chagall—the road goes ever on!!

…for Dick Kocher

— Christo


In Las Vegas When I was Growing Up

…and now for a brief diversion from The Great France Art Tour of 2017…

In Las Vegas when I was growing up, the Atomic Energy Commission was always blowing up the desert with underground nuclear blasts that would roll through town at dinnertime, making you feel a little dizzy, until you’d see the chandelier slowly swinging and remember, oh yeah, bomb today.

And the mob was always blowing up somebody–generally a competitor or someone that wasn’t playing by their rules I guess. They’d blow up cars, or a motel, maybe a house. But I didn’t know much about that or pay much attention to it.

Then there were the planes. There was the military plane that famously crashed into Mount Charleston. And the small one that blew up in the desert way out past Rainbow Road on the way to Red Rock.  Where we used to hike, looking for rattlesnakes and Collared Lizards. It was pretty eerie out there, tiny little dime sized pieces of aluminum sheet metal, sometimes bigger, with rivets, scattered across the desert when you stood in the middle of it crunching under your feet and visible as far as you could see in any direction. Sometimes we’d find something bigger, like a wing strut or a piece of landing gear, once, even a briefcase, but it was warped and sunbaked, and if it ever had anything interesting in it, it was long gone. Pretty much all that was left out there was tiny little pieces. It must’ve been some explosion.

Seemed like things were always getting blown up in Las Vegas. Pet World, the store where I bought mealworms to feed my lizards and worked briefly, cleaning dog cages and aquariums, went up in a weekend fireball supposedly from a gas leak, although I had my suspicions. Two goldfish survived.

There were blasting caps at the construction sites, which were all over town, and ads on all of the daytime TV shows warning kids not to touch them or pick them up, which made kids really want to find one, and kids always getting blown up when they did.

And fireworks of course. Cherry bombs and M-80s and kids blowing off their fingers when they tried to throw an M-80. Whoops. It went off too soon.  Like that kid Ken Revis who only had four fingers on one hand. In high school he showed me the photo he always carried in his wallet. A Polaroid of his bloody hand spread out on the  surface of a table and the blown off middle finger on the table separated from its previous home by about 4 inches. Why did he always keep that picture? Did his dad make him keep it, to torture him for the rest of his life? He smoked a lot of dope that guy. He smoked more dope, more dope than anybody I’ve ever known.

I wonder if he is still alive.  I wonder if he still has that picture in his wallet.

If I were him, and I was still alive, and I still had that picture in my wallet, I’d blow up that picture.


A Non-exemplary English Major Claims his Crown

Summer 2017 Book Reviews


Thinking about a house in LA, lying in bed this morning at about 4 AM half awake and the color yellow seemed somehow important, because it had something to do with that house—maybe I remember the house as being yellow. Was it? Or maybe it was that the kitchen or the wall in that little nook was yellow, with the small table where we used to sit and drink coffee and talk with Doctor “Dick” Kocher, our favorite English Professor? I don’t know.

It was a dream. But then, there was some very complex thought in the dream about aging, memory, and the difficulty of communication, which I understood as my brain was presenting it to me (and isn’t this the grand tease of dreams? That as they are happening they seem so brilliant, and we seem so brilliant to be dreaming them, but when we return to the mundane “real world” and wakefulness, we can barely recall the substance, much less the brilliant detail of our brilliance.) So of course, I can hardly remember any of it now. It was a dream.

I had hoped to finish writing about my trip to France (“The Great France Art Tour of 2017”), but that is becoming one of those long narratives that will take a great deal of effort and probably time to complete. Nevertheless I am working on it.

Meanwhile, somehow it occurred to me that it might be of interest to share with you some of the books that I’ve been reading lately. As you probably remember, I have never been a very good reader, and have struggled to finish as few as eight books a year outside of technology publications. I am no idiot, but I am not the exemplary English Major. I’m proud of my friends and colleagues from my college days, who can spout off stanzas of Wordsworth and remember lines of Blake. Me? I can remember Green Lantern’s oath. “In brightest day, in blackest night…” whatever. I probably judge myself more harshly on this than anyone else, but I have decided it is time to catch up!

I am writing this using “dictation”. The Macintosh usually understands what I am saying—although I am not convinced that speaking is any faster than typing—especially with all the corrections. So pardon some non-standard formatting and punctuation, because I, claiming the crown of the non-exemplary English Major, probably won’t correct it all.

For these books I’ve lifted a few descriptions and blurbs to save a little time. (I will enclose these in quotations without the source. You may assume it’s the book description on Amazon.com, for which I have included a minefield of potentially income-generating links!)

Hillerman_Fly_on_the_wall_coverThe fly on the wall Tony Hillerman If you enjoy Hillerman, you’ve probably read this one; it’s a pre-Navaho Police book, using most of his basic plot techniques, suspense, the ticking time bomb, etc., in this case using a journalist as a detective. Nothing great. “A good read.”

McBride_Good_Lord_Bird_coverThe good Lord bird – James McBride  A picaresque/historical novel, by this Award winning, African American author, it’s about a young freed slave who passes himself off as a girl, having many adventures, and ending up with John Brown at the raid on Harper’s Ferry. A book with an engaging first-person narrative reminiscent of Little Big Man or one of the Flashman adventures (of course, Flashy was at Harper’s Ferry too!). I confess I laughed aloud in a number of places. Deeply researched and historically accurate (for a novel), its humor is inconsistent—which is to be expected I guess, given the subject matter.

http://amzn.to/2gViFPEThe autobiography of Mark Twain Samuel Clemens I imagine this is standard reading for all English majors, and I started it, but did not get too far. The Introduction to this older edition went on endlessly about Twain’s difficulty in writing it, finding his voice, all the variant releases, etc. In the end, I don’t care. It didn’t hold my attention. 


Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz Ever since my very good friend Anne gave me The Complete Annotated Sherlock Holmes I’ve been a Holmes fan. “The game is once again afoot in this thrilling mystery from the bestselling author of The House of Silk, sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate, which explores what really happened when Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty tumbled to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls.” The author’s ability to impersonate Doyle’s style is fun, but I will not recommend this book. In fact, I say DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. The plot itself contains an annoying gimmick. Really annoying. Don’t bother.

LIfe_of_Pi_Martel_CoverLife of pi – Yann Martel I was looking for an ebook from my local library and this caught my attention: escaped zoo animals, survival on a boat. I did not see the movie, so I had no idea what I was getting into. It had that odd part at the ending, reminiscent of the Tin Drum, where the whole narrative is called into question and you wonder if in fact he was on the boat with the tiger and other animals, or really humans, and all that suggests about cannibalism etc.. But I enjoyed the adventure, back-and-forth narrative style, and the explanations of zoos and zoo animals throughout.

A_Month_in_the_Country_Carr_CoverA month in the country – J.L.CarrTom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. Living in the bell tower, surrounded by the resplendent countryside of high summer, and laboring each day to uncover an anonymous painter’s depiction of the apocalypse, Birkin finds that he himself has been restored to a new, and hopeful, attachment to life. But summer ends, and with the work done, Birkin must leave. Now, long after, as he reflects on the passage of time and the power of art, he finds in his memories some consolation for all that has been lost.

The above sounds like the parody of some overdone, silly romance. Really this is a beautiful novel, with a little mystery, a little romance, and a bit of information about restoration of old paintings. It seems as if it could easily have been written shortly after World War I instead of it’s actual origin, published in 1980.

Genius_of_Birds_Ackerman_CoverThe genius of birds Jennifer Ackerman This non-fiction book supposedly reveals the recent discoveries about, and studies of, the intelligence of birds. Starts with the premise that most of us assume birds are just “dumb” animals. This assumption is a huge one, since at this point in history, most people have experienced—or at least are aware of—birds using tools, having complex communications, navigational abilities, and so on.

I have a prejudice against this book. Early on, the author labels quail “on the dumber side” of bird intelligence! Then she revels in the brilliance of a Chickadee chirping in different ways to communicate not just the presence of a predator, but of the proximity and type of predator. Those specific communications are exactly the kind that our quail Peep-sight used to share with the rest of the family to warn of a Red-Tailed hawk overhead, a snake in the bushes, or the dreaded basketball rolling in his direction.

If you like the sort of well researched tomes that explain scientific information for the masses, I suppose this book is okay. But I found myself going to “skim mode” for most of it because there’re just too many words about brains and brain development. Great insomnia cure.

H_is_for_Hawk_MacdonaldH is for Hawk – Helen MacDonald This  book was recommended by a few friends as another “bird adoption book” (since they are aware of my personal weakness for those – see Peep-sight ). I have started and stopped twice trying to read “H”. Written by a British woman who loves words. Lots of words. All kinds of words. Too many words. And it seems to be way more about her father and personal loss of family than about the bird…

History_of_Jazz_GioiaThe History of Jazz – Ted Gioia  An excellent, well written, and deeply thorough reference. It took me at least a hundred pages to get into this book. I love jazz and wanted to learn more about it. And if I were more patient, and it weren’t a library book, I might have finished it. But after 2 extensions, and trying to read fast, I stopped just when it was getting interesting – Be Bop and Cool Jazz. I could read more about that era, but I really don’t want to hear any more about Dixieland and Big Bands!!

Chasing_Cezanne_Mayle_CoverChasing Cezanne – Peter Mayle A lightweight novel about art forgery from the well-known author of the non-fiction “A Year in Provence”. Fun reading because of the descriptions of the South of France (where I was going to be traveling). Coming over the high road on the drive to Monte Carlo, it was really a treat to know something about Cap Ferrat sitting on the azure sea below.

Year_in_Provence_MayleA Year in Provence – Peter Mayle  I enjoyed reading a chapter or two of this non-fiction book, but it was an ebook from the library, and the system kept crashing and making me re-download it. So I will use inconvenience as my excuse for losing interest.

Rock_With_Wings_HillermanRock with Wings – Anne Hillerman  No matter how much we want this author to bring back Jim Chee and Lieutenant Leaphorn after her father’s death, it just isn’t happening. Now we have Chee’s wife, Manuelito, and her annoying sister, and aging mother who take up most of the book. Ms. Hillerman put a bullet in Leaphorn’s head in her first “comeback” novel and the poor Lieutenant may never completely recover – saving her the challenge of making him a decent and reliable character, or one that she ruined. Poor Chee is even more of a boob than he was in the past. I finished this, but I don’t think I’ll read another.

Master_and_Commander_O'BrienMaster and Commander  – Patrick O’Brien  My college Professor Dr. Kocher is probably thinking, “Why in God’s name haven’t you read any of these Royal Navy sailing books by now??” And I don’t know. My brother has read all twenty and been pestering me for years to try one. The only thing close I have ever read is Moby Dick. Master and Commander is wonderful storytelling with interesting and likeable characters, although the depth and vocabulary of sailing knowledge is a bit daunting. I looked up a lot of references and skipped or relied on context to understand the rest. There are twenty of these?? I may tackle another one some day.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/518Njq32XkL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Return of Little Big Man – Thomas Berger  Another “picaresque”. After absolutely loving Berger’s Arthur Rex, I was sorely disappointed by his muddled Teddy Villanova hard boiled detective spoof. But somehow I had missed that he wrote a sequel to Little Big Man! I found this in the used book sale at the library, and read a Kirkus review before starting it, just to lower my expectations. (It actually got good reviews.)

I haven’t read Little Big Man in thirty five years, but remember really liking it. This book picks up from the original, explaining how Jack Crabb could come up with more narrative (since he was over a hundred and presumably near death in the last one). What a pleasure to read! We spend a little time with Wild Bill Hickock, and more with Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, and near the end, as much as I want to keep reading, I want to slow down because you just know things are not going to end well for Jack’s friend Sitting Bull. I especially enjoy Berger’s ability to put us into the first person narration of Jack Crabb, who in turn, expresses so well the “different” way in which Indians see things. This book is a gem.

Murder_of_Sonny_Liston_AssaelThe Murder of Sonny Liston – Shaun Assael I’m slogging through this book, which has its moments, but is mostly pretty dull and poorly written. I am a captive audience though, because Assael is writing about the time when I lived in Las Vegas—the 60’s and 70’s—when in addition to the Mob, we had Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and the Beatles visit our city. It’s kind of a shock to me that I never realized that the casinos were SEGREGATED. But then again, I never went to the casinos. He writes a lot about “the race riots”, which I vaguely remember in my mainly white Las Vegas school as fights between ten or fifteen kids of different colors, completely overblown by the press and school administrators. He doesn’t mention what I always thought was the main cause, the abrupt de-segregation of schools by busing, with little preparation or sensitivity, and on all sides, our ignorance and inexperience with people who are “different” which created fear and tension. We’ll see what happens. But I’m pretty sure Sonny Liston is going to be murdered.

And for now, that’s all she wrote!!

— Christo