As a native of by turns fabulous and revolting Southern California, I can honestly say that one of the most odious things to happen to the great California Republic in recent years — despite the election of that ugly (we even looked for the beauty within, found nothing) latter day Inspector Javert, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, is the onslaught — advent is far too polite a word — of ugly Indian-run casinos all across the land. Yes, by that I mean Native American tribes and yes, we still call them Indians. In Palm Springs, California, where there could be more casinos than legitimate plastic surgeons, one of the principle thoroughfares is called Indian Avenue and there aren’t any plans to change that, because the Indians in Southern Cal don’t really care about political correctness. They don’t care about historical accuracy either (there were never very many Indians in most of Southern California, because desert) — what they do care about is cash. Yours. Extracting as many Benjamins as they can from your wallet as Indianly possible, mainly at casinos, is their new tribal way.
And these casinos are without exception ugly, ungainly, garish structures. There’s one at Morongo Valley, along the Interstate 10, where my grandfather used to go to play cards or whatever (you knew not ask my grandfather too many questions) but that more recently has added a vile skyscraper where there was none before; it shoots up from the desert floor like a very unwelcome erection. It’s a shame that when you see all those marble statues in museums the dicks have usually been plucked off. It would be nicer to see something like the Morongo casino tower lobbed off, after all a toddler could have come up with a better design and much cheaper, but I suppose one day an earthquake will take care of all of this. In the meantime, the blight on the land stands, a shocking affront to what was once a pristine desert landscape and one that shows what the “native Americans” in these parts really think of respect for the land: not a whole lot.
So marble statues…balls…it take some to think of sticking a skyscaper in Athens, the first city of Europe, the preeminent ancient-modern metropolis (sorry Rome, but we came, we saw, you’re a bore) and one where the Acropolis means everything, is everything. Even when you do not see it, you know that it is there. You do not fuck with the Western Wall in Jerusalem—don’t even think about it—and you do not fuck with the Acropolis.
America’s Mohegan Gaming, the casino operating unit of Connecticut’s Mohegan tribe, is about to sort of fuck with the Acropolis, indirectly but nevertheless. You see, Athens has a famous former old airport at a seaside site near the center called Elliniko. Old Olympic Airways (remember them? Ah the days of Onassis and the ’70s) 747s still rather gloriously litter the tarmac. According to casino.org (btw how the hell did they get a .org? maybe they gambled on no one pointing out the irony?), Mohegan’s “promising to build two skyscrapers to house a gaming area and high-end hotel.” Oh, rapture. Apparently the complex is going to be called Inspire Athens — because we assume that Mistake Athens was already taken.
This news has not gone down too well with a columnist at Kathimerini, Greece’s leading newspaper, who says of the development plans for the Elliniko site, “of all this great work, the least interesting part, the least important and perhaps the most damaging, is what comes first: the casino.” He goes on to say that “having visited the giant Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, the flagship of one of the two companies that submitted a proposal for Elliniko,” he “can assure” readers “that these casinos…are usually massive, gigantic and gloomy places, that use the guises of decoration, sounds andlights to cover their real content: sadness, anxiety and misery.”
It isn’t just bizarre-o friend-of-Bibi Sheldon Adelson. The Indians of Southern California are experts at peddling anxiety and misery, too: in fact, in the gloomy premises of the mega-casinos in Palm Springs and adjacent Rancho Mirage, smoking is actually still permitting, even though its banned everywhere else in California, because it’s Indian land goddammit and they’ll make their own rules, thanks very much. Most Americans are too dumb or too numbed to call out the Indians on their mind-blowing litany of hypocrisies—and in the case of Palm Springs, the tribal (cough, cough) elders of the “Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians”as they like to call themselves (because the ancient tribes spoke Spanish?) have probably bought off everyone on the famously corrupt Palm Springs City Council, so in terms of environmental costs, moral abdication, and cultural nuking of vast piece of land, you’ll never hear a peep from the municipal stooges as huge chunks of the city go to pot, culturally speaking.
Jobs? Right. In California, we know how much working at a casino will really make your CV shine (hint: it won’t). The Kathimerini columnist goes on to say that “these casinos give hundreds of (mostly difficult and / or badly paid) jobs to many people” and also takes issue with “the questionable category of tourists” such a casino will attract.
You see, what he is tryna say is that casinos, no matter how you dress them up, are tacky (hello, Las Vegas? bye) and couldn’t there have been a better way to repurpose this vast coastal parcel of land? Maybe a university or (egads!) affordable housing? An archaeological museum? In case no one’s noticed, the National Archaeology Museum in Athens is getting a little outdated and overcrowded. Look at what they’re building outside of Cairo, for god’s sake—who would have thought Europe would have to turn to Egypt for cultural inspo? Turn, turn! Other Greek journalists have assailed the planned architectural style, or lack thereof, of the thing.
But there you go. I guess you could say it started with the Maginot Line, but yet again Europe finds itself behind the curve. This is how Brexit came into vogue—can you imagine, after all, a project like this just waltzing into Mayfair, or even Bermondsey? As if to cement its reputation for money laundering, a big casino project is underway in little Cyprus, an island country that can’t even figure out how to toss the Turks out of its occupied north without triggering a second invasion (with NATO on its side, should it really be so hard?) but is making way for gamblers to do their best Las Vegas jig, Eastern Mediterranean style. Incidentally, projects of this kind would absolutely never fly in nearby Israel either—the Jews keep an eye on the money coming in and an even closer eye on the shekel going out, and this is actually not always a bad thing. Keeps the cultural fiber strong (in case you didn’t notice, Vegas hasn’t got any at all; kitsch doesn’t count).
Athens will always have the Acropolis, thank gods, and other peaks that still defy the developers’ schemes. I’m not sure what Thrasybulus and Themistocles and Pericles would have made of a two-pronged skyscraper casino-hotel complex shooting up to the Attica sky and poking Zeus and Athena and Hera right in the rear-a, but one senses the youths of ancient times were better served by their officialdom than their progeny are by theirs.
Viva (sniff) Las Vegas.