From a West-East Diary

October. Venice, San Michele. The Russian section has been cleared of weeds and tall grass, revealing a stretch of unused ground large enough to contradict Auden’s “Island Cemetery”—

This graveyard…
though new guests keep crowding in,
Must stay the size it’s always been.

—though not the poem’s best couplet:

Wherever our personalities go
(And, to tell the truth, we do not know)

Next to the discolored marble, the blackened lazuli, and the tarnished gold of I.S.’s stone, V.’s looks sadly new. Pound’s grave, near the rows of filing-cabinet tombs, is marked by a small disk flush with the ground. His wishes—

Where I lie let the thyme rise and basilicum
Let the herbs rise in April abundant

—are not fulfilled, but this is the wrong season.

At the Las Vegas airport, slot machines line the walls between the ramp of the arriving airplane and the sign at the entrance to the escalator: “No bare feet, no pets.” Trouble with discalced Carmelites? Do many passengers fly barefoot nowadays, and bring their favorite birds and beasts aboard unbagged? At three-second intervals during the automated walk to the baggage-claim area, alternating soprano, tenor, and bass voices loudspeak the line: “Hi, my name is… Welcome to paradise. Meanwhile, stand to the right, pass to the left.”

At midnight, in the Tropicana Hotel, I join one of five queues backed up from the reception counter. Young female to older male behind me: “I’m not really a hooker.” Too tired to carry my book-filled bags, I ask for a bellhop. A small girl appears, lifts them as if they were empty, calls me “honey” and “darling” en route, having classified me as in all senses “beyond it.” The walls of the rococo bed-room display copies of risqué eighteenth-century paintings.

Breakfast, sent up COD, includes a rose floating in a snifter and the Las Vegas Sun, of which Section Two is dominated by an ad for the “Fabulous Fanny Contest: If you are an admirer of la derrière fantastique, Sam’s Town is the place to be next Wednesday.”

October 18. After my lecture at the University of Nevada, I go as a railbird (spectator) to the hotel casino, a combination purgatory (no clock, no difference between night and day), bordello (ceiling mirrors), and Nibelung underworld (the smithy-like jangle of the slot machines). For a moment I feel self-conscious in my suit and tie, but no eye strays from the blue baize of the baccarat, blackjack, craps, poker, and roulette tables.

Most of the players are elderly, several are in wheelchairs, some ambulate by means of frame walkers, and one man pumping a one-armed bandit is blind (white cane and seeing-eye dog). No one looks prosperous, and no one seems to be having a good time. I worry that some of them may be staking pension and Social Security checks. Everybody, young and old, is in tight jeans. Most women sport high heels and bleached beehives or…

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