Travel

In downtown Stockholm is a small park, the Kungsträdgården, perhaps fifty yards by two hundred, with a familiar assortment of benches, pathways, and plots of grass. By itself this bucolic urban oasis looks scarcely different from other small downtown parks around the world; but what is different is that, in several years of visits, I have rarely heard any of its patrons turn his of her radio loud, or play an instrument and make any other noises that might disturb the acoustic tranquility of one’s neighbors. A centerpiece of this King’s garden is a floor chessboard with waist-high pieces; and even as moves are made, the onlookers are all silent. To me this park epitomizes Stockholm’s enviable quest for urban quietude.

—“The Quietude of Stockholm” (1987)

My next step was Montevideo, a city on the other side of the Plata river; and it seemed a different world, with fewer people and far fewer cars, cleaner air, a more civilized tone. To a New Yorker who had fallen in love in Buenos Aires, Montevideo reminded me of Boston.

—“Buenos Aires” (June, 1987)

It is common to speak of Las Vegas as a one-industry town, but that industry is not just legalized gambling, which is part of the whole. Nor is the principal industry tourism, though the airport remarkably close to the city reportedly ranks tenth in the world in gross passenger traffic. No, the business of Las Vegas is simply, shamelessly, and amicably separating outsiders from their money.

Precisely by making gambling legal (or refusing to make it illegal), the state of Nevada created economic opportunity, incidentally epitomizing the American genius for mass-merchandizing something that Europeans thought strictly for the very rich—the pleasure of casino gambling (and losing money). Given these egalitarian openness, Las Vegas became a thousand times larger than Monte Carlo, servicing millions of avid bettors annually.

—“Remembering a First Trip to Las Vegas” (1996)

San Juan is no beach resort in the middle of some Caribbean nowhere; it is a city like any other North American metropolis its size, say Kansas City, in having an sophisticated public that wants first-rank music, dance, and film and, thus, a wealth of activities to suit their tastes.

—“High Culture In San Juan (Spring 1990)

Some speak of Las Vegas as a sexy town, but I had just the opposite impression. I didn’t see single people picking each other up. Instead of the attractive young women normally dominant in deluxe hotel lobbies, I saw plenty of middle-aged, ill-looking, poorly dressed, frumpy, and overweight people, most of them Americans. What the city offers is not sex but its substitute in the form of orgasmic euphoria that can come from the surprise of winning more money than expected.

You don’t believe Las Vegas architecture until you experience it close up. Photographs of individual hotels are simply inadequate for conveying essentially sculptural qualities and thus visceral experience, not to mention their proximity to one another. (The same limitation applies to photographs of the Grand Canyon.)

—“Remembering a First Trip to Las Vegas” (1996)