To Paris Las Vegas, with love

A few tips on keepin' it real for the folks who are bringing the City of Light to America.

Topics: Music,

My fellow francophiles, get out your handkerchiefs. Ready yourselves to
weep tears of joie. For 1999 is the last and final year Americans will have
to commemorate Bastille Day with those costly, wearying trips abroad. Thanks
to the visionaries at Park Place Entertainment, the City of Light is coming
to you. Paris Las Vegas, a $760 million dollar resort on the Vegas strip,
opens Sept. 2. According to the hotel’s promotional materials, “Paris
Las Vegas will bring the passion, the excitement and the ‘savoire-faire’ of
Paris, France, to the entertainment capital of the world.” So next July 14, you will
be able to celebrate the storming of the Bastille by driving your comfy gas-guzzling
American car to the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where you will sing “La Marseillaise”
followed by an accordion-backed rendition of “Vive Las Vegas.”

“Authenticity — the resort’s hallmark,” the spiel continues, “and
culture — will be evident from the very first glimpse of Paris Las Vegas. The
Eiffel Tower will soar fifty stories into the Las Vegas sky. Parisian street
scenes surround the casino. And the Rue de la Paix beckons shoppers with
European-style boutiques filled with the world’s best brand names.” I think
I can help. Having just returned from a Parisian vacation myself, I have a
few handy tips for my Vegas comrades on authenticating the city.

First, on the Rue de la Paix, the cashiers should become visibly miffed when the
shopper pulls out a credit card. The cashier should sneer, “Don’t you have any money?”
in such a way that the shopper feels like buying an overpriced box of chocolates is a
privilege for which she is not worthy. When the shopper replies that yes, she has money,
and that the money is magically inside the credit card, the cashier should scream, “No! Real
money! Cash! Cash!” When the cashier is sheepishly handed the credit card,
she will yank it out of the Yank’s hands and hold it by the edges as if it
were smeared with processed cheese. Oh, and four years later, when the
credit card has been cleared on a hopefully ancient and suspicious-looking
machine purchased at a garage sale at the Visa archives in 1972, the shopper
should feel as drained and lifeless as poor old Marat stabbed dead in his
bath.



As for the street scenes, authenticity requires gutters. And these gutters
should be so river-like as to be tributaries of the Seine. They should be
cascades of food and trash and used-up metro tickets. To really have the
full Parisian experience, the visitor should wear canvas shoes and step in
the gutter unaware, and because the visitor will have taken a tour of the
famously fragrant Paris sewers, the visitor will slosh to her hotel room and
wash her foot like Def Con 3. Also, the street scene will have a movie
theater. Because everyone loves the movies in Paris. At the movie theater,
the visitor will enjoy the ticket-purchasing experience — as essential as
attending the Louvre — which involves bickering with the ticket-taker about
not having correct change. When the ticket-taker throws up her hands and
shrugs until the person behind the visitor takes pity and buys the visitor’s ticket,
the visitor should say to the ticket-taker, “No wonder you were occupied by Nazis.” While the
French excel at Monet, they flop at money. This is where Paris Las Vegas
will most likely beat out Paris, France. Vegas is about money, and I’d bet
my beret that any decent Vegas cashier will show credit cards the proper
respect, not to mention scoff at the idea of losing a sale holding up an
absurd and impossible moral principle about exact change.

“No wonder you were occupied by Nazis” is a traditionally gracious tourist
retort, a synonym of “merci beaucoup.” It may be used in situations as diverse
as tipping waiters and suffering the wrath of concierges who, while taking a hotel
guest’s telephone messages, must inform the hotel guest’s friend that no she isn’t here but the
ingrate took her room key with her and who knows where she is or what she’s
doing with the key, probably tossing it off the Eiffel Tower and making a
wish.

Speaking of hotels: Paris Las Vegas touts its splendor, “From the grandeur
of the Parisian landmarks replicas to the elegant decor to the world-class
cuisine, no stone is left unturned, no detail spared.” In my experience,
this should involve erratic and inexplicable electrical blackouts at least
three times a day. Special sensors in the rooms should make sure this
happens at exactly the moment a guest has returned early for the express
purpose of finishing a novel, or when the guest is applying lipstick or when
the climax of “The World According to Garp” is on TV. This experience is
even more realistic if the hotel guest is informed of France’s insane
reliance on nuclear power so that she’s not just missing the end of the
movie, she can have nightmares of French Homer Simpsons overseeing power
plant meltdowns and yelling, “D’oh!” as they run away from exploding green ooze,
hopefully in Brittany.

This being America, Paris Las Vegas will most likely never get Paris right.
The place will probably be convenient and polite and competently run. It
will be clean and perky and pander to its clientele. I bet the place will
even make its guests feel, mon dieu, welcome. I called their reservations
operator. “Bonjour,” she said. And from what she told me, the Frenchy
details are mostly, thankfully verbal, like calling the closets “armoires.”
There’s a cabaret called “La Cabaret” and eight French restaurants including
the traditional Vegas buffet, though this one serves the cuisine of five
provinces of France. One of the legs of the Eiffel Tower apparently punches
Godzilla-like through the ceiling of the casino.

If the above has yet to send you scurrying to the phone to make a
reservation (877-254-0822, by the way), may I offer the pièce de résistance?
Mesdames et messieurs, meet Antonio. “Antonio” is, according to the
operator, the mascot of Paris Las Vegas. He rides through the restaurant and
shopping areas on a bicycle delivering freshly baked bread. Notice that his
name is Antonio, not Antoine. Could this Antonio be the hotel’s one shot at
critical thinking, its one jab at the French in an otherwise slavishly
francophile concept resort? Is Antonio, perhaps … Italian? And as such, is
he a symbol of France’s increasingly foreign-born citizenry, a refutation of
xenophobic social slogans like “France for the French”? Or is he, an Italian
speaker, a ringer for France’s greatest little strongman, Napoleon himself?
Napoleon, lest we forget, was a Corsican by birth, whose mother tongue was not
the sacred domain of the Academie Francaise but rather that earthier
neighbor, Italian. By making Antonio an intrinsic, honored citizen of Paris
Las Vegas, is this the resort’s greatest attempt at hospitality? Because if
the Antonios feel at home in the city of Antoines, shouldn’t we? The
operator doesn’t say. Though she does add, “He’ll be singing.”

Sarah Vowell is the author of "Radio On: A Listener's Diary" (St. Martin's Press, 1996) and "Take the Cannoli" (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and is a regular commentator on PRI's "This American Life." Her column appears every other Wednesday in Salon. For more columns by Vowell, visit her column archive.

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