Thanksgiving is not one of my favorite holidays. Like Christmas, Passover etc, it arouses all sorts of expectations of love and good will and fulfills very few. I kind of dread this time of year in general: cold, dark and depressing. I recently read that in medieval times, farm families in France would often sleep huddled together for warmth through most of the winter, getting up only to do necessary chores. Wonder if I could get away with that?
However, one of the more interesting Thanksgivings I ever spent was in Las Vegas several years ago. Imagine having a traditional family dinner in a strip mall restaurant next to a hockey rink off a barren eight-lane highway in one of the most desolate cities in the United States. Hardly a Norman Rockwell image of Thanksgiving. One of my teen-age grandsons was starring in a hockey tournament and his family wanted to spend the holiday with him. Andrew, his father, my oldest son, sent out a plea to his siblings to join him and create some semblance of a holiday celebration. I had never been to Vegas before, was curious to see the place and accepted their invitation. The casinos and the hotels, as expected, were swollen and grotesque, caricatures of contemporary architecture, but the rest of the city, the “normal” part, was even more depressing.
My daughter Eve, an assiduous researcher, discovered that Las Vegas held two hidden treasures. One was the Pinball Machine Museum, a couple hundred or so clanking, squealing examples of American ingenuity and vulgarity that you could actually play. The other, the Neon Museum was an “elephant’s graveyard” of old neon gambling and nightclub signs, acre after acre of abandoned neon letters - some fifty years old - advertising the best that Sin City had to offer. Remember the old United Housewrecking on Selleck Street? It kind of looked like that, On a more artistic level, it was like being inside a Schwitters collage. (Kurt Schwitters was a German dada-ist artist who loved commercial signage and used cast-off scrap in his assemblages.) He would have gone berserk with joy at the sight of all these wonderful letters thrown on the ground and abstracted into a jumble of colors and shapes. The neon sign museum was the high point of our visit, although I have to say, the untouched desert surrounding the city, - landscape that up until then had escaped development - was spectacular in its own way.
I had a great time photographing the remains of broken signs and lights We were told that there were plans in the works to “fix everything up” (ruining it in the process?) Let’s hope whoever is in charge understands the significance of what is there, and leaves it undisturbed, an extraordinary example of a graveyard more exciting than any art gallery. If you ever get to Vegas, never mind the slots or the tired acts or the dancing girls; head straight for the Neon Museum. Now that’s an experience worth having!