Donnerstag, 21. Juli 2011

The Travelogue, Part XXVIII - USA: Vegas and the Bomb

I went to Vegas originally intending to only stay a day or two, and ended up staying for a whole week. Despite what you might think, Las Vegas is actually quite a pleasant town with a unique and interesting history. Originally a simple water stop on the way to California, Vegas' famous reputation as a gambling capital began with the construction of the Hoover Dam. During its construction, workers in need for entertainment flocked to Vegas to spend their money. So strong was this desire that even when the government took steps to prevent workers from indulging in illegal pleasures, they came anyway. When the dam was completed, it provided electricty first to Vegas, which enabled local entrepreneurs to coax their guests with the garish light decorations Vegas is famous for today. Nevada legalized gambling against much resistance in 1931 and paved the way for Vegas' main industry. 

In the 1940's the American government chose a location for atomic bomb testing close to Las Vegas, and development of the town proper began. Bomb testing became a major tourist draw, and the history and culture of Las Vegas is closely linked to the bomb, a fact that the "Atomic Testing Museum" pays suitable homage to. It gives an interesting insight in the amount of impact the bomb had on popular American culture. For fans of "Fallout" an absolute must.


"The power of the atom" symbolized by a giant
Civil Defense was the keyword during the cold war
Soldiers where handed pamphlete about atomic warfare
Mannequin dummies were used to measure the effects of a blast
Bomb testing was open for tourists: they even got certificates
"Miss Atomic Bomb" models were photographed in front of blast clouds

Seamless transition from the cold war to the war on terror....
The kids' corner. Hooray mushroom clouds.

Many of the large resorts that make up the Vegas skyline where created in the late eighties and nineties, and are now the biggest tourist attraction. Apart from being tacky copies of existing international architecture they feature live shows, such a battling pirate ships, shark diving or indoor lion cages. Add waterslides, musicals and magic shows and you will find that Vegas is actually a very family friendly place that is visited by many parents and their kids, even if they don't gamble. 

Entrace to the Egyptian-themed Luxor
The Excalibur
Excalibur interior
New York, New York
Lion statue outside the MGM Grand
Italian Renaissance light.
Paris, oui?
Interior of Caesar's Palace
Fake blue skies make sure your sense of time leaves with your money
Pirates battle scantily clad sirens outside Tropical Island
Circus Circus, of Fear and Loathing fame.

Another reason to come to Vegas is marriage. Roughly 5 percent of all American marriages are preformed here,which is around a 120000 marriages a year. Las Vegas is also the easiest and fastest place to get a marriage certificate, and wedding chapels abound. There is even drive-in ones.

Outside the strip, I found Vegas to be a laid-back enjoyable town, full of seedy bars and tattoo parlours filled with likeable sleazebags. The wacky and the surreal are never far in Vegas, and you can easily spend some weeks (and dollars) on and off the strip and have a great time.

Freitag, 15. Juli 2011

The Travelogue, Part XXVII - USA: Coastal Liberties

San Francisco

What better place to start American adventures than the West Coast, home of Hollywood, hippies and high technology? After all, it's known to be the most liberal and progressive of all the states and would ease me into the realm of the gun-toting fundamentalist rednecks that us Europeans believe this country is populated with. And actually, it's much more liberal than I expected.

Walk through any San Francisco street at any given time, and you are guaranteed to smell wafts of a certain green herb coming your way. While still illegal on a federal level, California has effectively legalized marihuana by making prosecution lowest priority for its police officers. If you want to be safe, get a 'medical' prescription for the good stuff and enjoy some of the world's finest legally grown weed straight from the farm. Some places, like Humboldt county in the northwest, live almost exclusively off psychoactive agriculture. Friendly couples sell you home made hash brownies in every park, with police men watching.

San Francisco used to be dominated by Catholic missions.

Maritime heritage is still strong

Californian tolerance with human oddities is refreshingly high. So high in fact that naked people are surprisingly common on the streets. Whether they are gay men in Castro, dressed just in sneakers and a backpack, or naked bike-riding hippy ladies along the Marina Boulevard, they remind me how stuck up the rest of the world can be.

Some people like to pick fights they can't win.

So for a genuinely San Franciscan experience, how about touring a adult entertainment company? Don't worry, it's work-safe. has a longstanding reputation as a professional and friendly (or so say the porn actresses I met) producer of deviant footage. They reside, and in fact own, one of San Francisco's oldest existing buildings, the giant National Guard Armory. Abandoned and neglected for decades, apart from the occasional Star Wars space ship shoot, it was bought under premise to not alter the historic appearance of the historic building and houses all facilities necessary for adult film production. Which is actually much much more than you would expect.

Meet Ava, my friendly tour guide.

All of the movie props are made inhouse,  giving permanent employment to several carpenters, metalsmiths and mechanics. Rooms are left to their original state as much as possible, but are brushed up by professional set artists to look like various fantastic scenarios with high detail. Even signs of wear like rust and dust are just make-believe and sets are much more detailed and less "cheap" as you would associate with porn production. The "classy" rooms, known as "the upper floor", sport mahagony tables and actual custom furniture and stucco. Some of the guys here take great pride in their work and it shows through: you can even find fake little bumper stickers.

A bar set, complete with fake stag heads.

Props are all made by hand.

Even rusty chains aren't real: everything needs to be sterile.

Far less creative and glamorous, there is an entire mundane support chain surrounding the actual studio work, and the banality contrasts starkly with the smut that finally makes it to the consumers. Industrial grade laundry rooms and sterilizers work around the clock to clean costumes, toys and equipment. A kitchen serves actors and event guests, and a lounge provides couches and free coffee.

The laundry room. They actually just do laundry here.

The kitchen.

Upper floor complete with buffet.

By nature of the material being produced, objects relating to sex are ubiquitous, making wandering around a very hilarious experience. Something normally only encountered in contexts of intimacy and treated with a certain special secrecy suddenly becomes an everyday object. Boxes of dildoes and piles of vibrators are a amusing sight, not even to speak of rows of normally singular bondage equipment.

A moveable closet with all the "standards" so sets can be easily switched.

Part of the storage room.

These are actually barrels of lube!

In a typical Californian manner, Kink opens the space to the public and houses events such as farmers markets to give back to the community. Small art exhibitions and educational spaces are to follow. I am really amazed by the naturalness with which people in this city deal with issues that would be considered morally questionable or touchy in other parts of the world.

The main hall is used to host community events. Part of Star Wars was filmed here.

Exhibition about love culture in Asia.

Highway One


Going all along the coast towards Los Angeles, Highway 1 is one of Americas great scenic routes. And when they say 'scenic' they bloody well mean it. The landscape in this country is simply mindblowing. Everything here is just bigger and more majestic than anywhere else I've been. Nature feels wilder, stronger and more primal, although I couldn't pinpoint why that is. The feeling it evokes cannot be adequately captured by camera, but I hope the pictures might give you an idea.

Sea lions gather on outlying rocks

Oil pumps as far as the eye can see...