A postcard from Switzerland

17 06 2011

Dear Donna R.,

Do you remember us? We met you at the Golden Nugget casino in downtown Las Vegas. Fremont Street. About six weeks ago. You were our server in the Buffet, and my three friends were the Swiss folks that inhaled Zelma’s bread pudding for desert. (You remember – I had a scoop of Cookies ‘n Cream instead.)

You asked us where we were from, and, without knowing if we were ax-murderers on leave from jail, you gave us your home address and asked us to send you a postcard when we got back. You collect postcards, you said, and you haven’t yet received one from Switzerland. Well, here it is. Sorry it took so long.

Switzerland at a glance

We chatted a bit, and you said, “Las Vegas is boring, and Switzerland is not boring.” Well, you are right, I suppose. Summer has arrived here, and it’s not boring at all. In fact, it’s quite attractive here, lots to do and generally a very pleasant place to spend one’s days.

But as I told you too, home is where the heart is, and the heart, right now, is elsewhere.

I spent three months in the United States this Spring… it was the longest period of time over on your side of the pond since I finished graduate school in 1992. Before I arrived in the U.S. I knew that it would be a watershed experience for me – either I would go back to Europe saying, “Hey, glad I finally got that out of my system!” or I would be saying, “I want to go home, now more than ever.”

You know how this story ends, don’t you?

For much of the last two decades the idea of returning home has weighed heavily on my consciousness. Europe afforded me a lot of opportunities, too many to name here – and I am thankful for every single one of them. I started a career and a followed a trajectory that would have been unlikely back home. I had cool jobs, traveled and did all sorts of neat things that were only possible while riding on the coattails of the EU passport I am lucky to have.

Yet looking past the superficial, something very basic is missing. It’s nothing concrete, material, or anything I can pick up and hold. It’s more of a feeling, a mentality, an attitude, a sense of community. It’s a deep-seated yet unnamed feeling I associate with the culture in which I was socialized – I can only describe it as a combination of longing, sadness, love and pride – that comes suddenly and unexpectedly, and always takes a while to put away again.

My time with my folk, my people, immersed in my culture taught me a few important lessons. Most important: even after living overseas for about 20 years, the United States is still my home. I can still identify with people, speak their language, laugh at their humor and feel their pain.

It was tough getting on that plane back to Europe last week, with no exit strategy and no timeline for the future. I sit here, in an job I am no longer excited about, in a land I will never be able to call my own, having to deal with the locals in a language I will never be able to speak.

So… interesting? Yes, it’s an interesting place, with an interesting history and interesting characters. (And heck, I met my husband here! He’s great!) Comfortable? Very. There are a lot worse places to have to return to. But home? No, not likely. Ever.

Hope you are well and not wilting in the Vegas summer.

Yours truly,

Evelynn and her Swiss friends

On the road again

23 05 2011

So did the world end last Saturday? I have been so out of touch I wouldn’t have noticed. But somehow it seems like the same place it was prior to May 21st, 2011 – the date all those religious conspiracy-theroist wingnuts, who misused every medium in the country, tried to convince us that The Rapture was upon us.

Looks like Judgement Day came and went, huh?

But that’s kinda why it’s taken me so long to update my blog… I didn’t want to do all the work, you know, for nothing. Just wanted to wait and see if we would still be around after last Saturday.

(And we are! Great!)

I’ve been traveling with my husband and some friends, and have not had time to unpack my computer, let alone look at email or check up on current events since about 10 days ago. I have gone totally radio silent on Facebook. My FB friends are probably wondering if I drove into a ditch or something. Withdrawl has been brutal.

I don’t even know what day of the week it is. (Thursday?)

We have been on a whirlwind tour of the southwest USA, doing things like…this:

Early morning hiking in Grand Canyon. (May 22, 2011)

Our friends – two lovely Swiss folks who have been to the United States only twice before – are thankful guests, and the ultimate tourguide R. has been showing them everything this great part of the world has to offer.

My own role as the sidekick has been to provide the color commentary, filling them in with useful (and useless) USA-flavored information, mostly comprehensible translations of common Americanisms and vignettes from my own childhood in small-town America.

They often greet my explanations with blank, puzzled looks. There is clearly a clash of cultures going on here.

And fun as it has been, I have noticed that I am stressing out quite a bit about not getting enough alone-time. Prior to our roadtrip I spent 2½ months in my own little Evelynn-Starr world, doing all sorts of Evelynn-Starr things whenever and however Evelynn Starr felt like doing them. And now I have to share my time and my space with three other people. It’s been a rather rough re-entry into social life.

Complicating things is that our travel companions are somewhat novice. Imagine innocent camera-toting tourists underway in a foreign country where they don’t speak the language or understand the humor. I need not say more – you’ve all seen them, you know what I am talking about.

So I have decided to take a break from group activities, just for a few hours, to recover a bit of sanity. At this moment, I am sitting on the 18th floor of the Aquarius Casino and Resort in Laughlin, Nevada (also known as “Little Las Vegas”). I just won 50 bucks at a blackjack table downstairs and retreated to my hotel room in order to take some time to stare out the window at the Colorado River and think.

Just call me the Lone Rangerette.

When to hold ’em and when to fold ’em

4 01 2011

On a transatlantic flight recently, I decided to test the aircraft entertainment system’s electronic poker game. Within about 20 minutes, I turned 200 units (call them dollars, francs, dirhams or rupees) into 12,100 units. Not much thinking and equally little effort and I was rich.

So…Why doesn’t this ever happen in real life?

In a real casino two days later, I burned through $300 (real dollars) in the same amount of time.

And here I always thought I was perfect. I don’t smoke, I drink in moderation only and I exercise regularly. But unfortunately, I do have one vice – Black Jack. I blame my husband though, he is a casino fiend himself, and the one who encourages this demonic recessive trait of mine out into the open.

R. has all the accouterments at home – purchased in a casino supply store in Fabulous Las Vegas: His own green Black Jack table layout, semi-professional chips of various denominations, and a shoe full of used (real) casino playing cards. I think our current set is from Circus Circus, after we played five decks from Caesar’s Palace into the ground.

What is wrong with this picture?* (Answer below.)

Though technically illegal in this country, we hold regular Black Jack tournaments in our home behind closed doors and curtains, for money. Little money, but still. We are hoping that someday the bank will have collected enough winnings to sponsor a nice meal out for the two of us.

Someday. Because in the meantime our customers have actually been doing quite well at the table. On every game night in the last couple of weeks the amount in the pot has shrunk ever so slightly. Call it beginners’ luck or shrewd gambling. Or maybe R. and I just haven’t stacked the deck(s) well enough in our favor.

One recent gaming round over the holidays included friends of ours who will travel with us to Sin City next May to make their debut at the Luxor. We are teaching them how to play the game by the book, so that they will hopefully make a decent impression, and won’t be run out of town. In a best-case scenario they’ll be able to finance their hotel stay with the winnings. That means following a strategy which mathematically increases one’s probability of beating the house by as little as 0.1 percent – even if the book’s “rules” are occasionally rather counter-intuitive. This is the part that’s sometimes tough to wrap one’s head around.

Contrary to popular opinion, there really is a lot the beginner can do (“wrong”) that will attract the consternation of seasoned gamblers. Fortunately though, there are also enough tables in Las Vegas to accommodate the greenhorn just out having fun as well as the hardened desperado focused on making enough to pay next month’s rent.

Only practice makes perfect, and we have just five more short months to practice. Knowing when to hold ‘em and knowing when to fold ‘em is certainly integral. But any player will tell you that knowing when to walk away is the toughest part of the game.


* It took six cards for the dealer  (top) to hit 21 – against every probablilty calculation in Black Jack. That means all four players (bottom) lose the hand, despite themselves holding cards that would be considered pretty good under normal circumstances.