The Melancholy of Travel

Going to and from home, which I do about once a year now, consistently incites a day or two of melancholy. In the most literal of literal translations of Freud (and in a rather incomplete understanding of his term), I’m struck by a sense of unheimlichkeit–I feel literally “un-homed.” For a few days, everything in Albany–the house, the town, the food, the weather–feels slightly off and a bit unreal.

There’s an irony here, as “home” for me is still the most unreal place on the planet. No one ever thought of Las Vegas as real; if anything, it’s the poster-city for artifice. I don’t know why Baudrillard chose to pick on Disneyland, when Vegas could have functioned as the epitome of simulacrum. Perhaps he avoided it because, unlike other simulacra, Vegas seems to inspire a consciousness about it’s own separation from reality? In other words, no one in the city can seriously believe that it’s real, right? A city of three million in the middle of the desert?

Before this post gets all together too emo, I’ll simply note that of all the things that struck me as characteristic of Vegas, language was at the top of the list during this trip. There is an entire world of words that occur all over the West, that I never hear or see on this end of the continent. Arroyo, for one. And canyon, and wash and gulch and bluff and spring—all kinds of topographical distinctions. Then there are all of the adjectives: verde (good for both food and valleys); arid; atomic; xeri- (good to modify “scape,” as in this movement). And then a handful of nouns, which speak to the fundamental paradox that is the city: paradise; neon; glitter; ranch; rodeo; palms. To quote a very old Mary’s Danish song: “These are all the shapes/Nevada could have been…”

There is one thing, however, that is consistent in Albany and Las Vegas–and it’s one thing that brings me back to earth. Both towns have a profusion of tanning salons. Go figure.

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