Ten years have passed and I can still clearly recall my three month trip to the USA. My memory is aided by the fact that my first stopover was in Las Vegas.
I was greeted by glitzy billboards of clubs that shouted out loud the material wealth and the decadence galore. I felt intimidated and overwhelmed at that extreme fuckfest of capitalist power. There were posters of paid sex, escorts, hooters clubs, shows and casinos. An utterly vulgar display of wealth with the loud bars and fast cars. The fountains were man-made and street lights were so bright they replaced the night sky.
Men and women displayed glamour and high fashion, looking high, happy, yet they seemed to be constantly searching for more and more, just that one more something more than would make it even more happier and fulfilling.
I saw the transaction of human time and moments that was surely not for free. The rich men and the good looking women looked like commodities in a retail flesh market of flash. I stared in awe at the Playboy club in Vegas made so famous by Hugh Hefner.
My mind took me back to the first edition of Playboy magazine that had Marilyn Monroe as the cover girl. Playboy was unashamedly addressing sexual content for the Uber classic man of the 50s. It was doling out advice on how to dress & how to date.
Marilyn Monroe was a dream that united powerful men as well as the commoners. She embodied innocence and sexuality, sophistication and wildness, perfectly balanced.
But we can’t forget that beneath that gloss was a troubled, moody and temperamental woman who never felt loved and died with an overdose of drugs in her room all alone.
Vegas is rightfully renowned as a destination for revelry, talent, performance arts, culture, fine dining and the best that life has to offer. There is no city like it on earth. But like many things so bright and shining, there is darkness and deep longing beneath.
Those golden words of what the great bard, “all that glitters is not gold”, came rushing into my mind on the night streets of Vegas as I was kicking and walking over the posters of women on sale in clubs, on the footpath and on railings and every nook and corner, the city was strewn with flyers selling more and more.
To me, there are few places in the world where the loud, theatrical side of Shakespeare– with its love of human drama and freedom– are as well represented as Las Vegas. Beneath all that neon and modernist architecture, beneath the cabarets, the skin, the suits and rich colognes, is the heart and spirit of Shakespeare’s own Globe Theater in London.
You see, the Globe Theater we imagine was nothing like what it really was. It had none of the refined, stylish airs of modern plays. It was a bawdy, wild affair. Nobles and commoners rubbed shoulders in a crowded space where stalls and hawkers shouted at you to buy their wares, refreshments, alcohol and merchandise. It was not uncommon to see fights break out and prostitutes selling their services. The area was known for gambling and illegal activity of all kinds. Acting was considered a lowly and vulgar profession. On top of that, Shakespeare made his actors loud and dramatic and their make-up garish, so they could be heard and seen among the 3000 people sitting and standing in the open-air theater raucously applauding, cheering and booing every great line, dirty joke and betrayal.
Shakespeare was part-owner of this place, and his job was much the same as a Casino owner in Vegas: to entertain at all costs.
But with the genius and empathy that fueled his words, he did so much more than simply entertain.
I wish you dear Shakespeare a happy birthday (which is also, poetically, your death anniversary), and feel glad that you were born, so many centuries ago, yet you still live forever in our speech and our analogies of this crazy thing called life.
We do not know if your wife Anne Hathaway was happy with you, but Romeo & Juliet and the soft human core of every one of your plays, makes us believe that you understood love deeply.
Thank you for giving us idioms, wisdom and drama, so that wherever I go, whatever situation I find myself in, there’s a handy phrase crafted by you that describes it perfectly.