What Paris can Learn from Reno

I left my SD card reader at the Sienna Hotel Spa Casino, so I can’t begin with a photograph. This thwarts me. I realize how much I have come to depend on the choosing of a photo, the uploading of the choice, and the admiring of it as my necessary prelude to posting to the blog. Here in a spacious Starbucks I am looking across Virginia Street at the Ponderosa Hotel, home of the Wild Orchid Adult Cabaret, voted best cabaret in Reno, according to the pink and black sign. I will have to pretend that I have a photo on my screen, a shot of the Wild Orchid bathed in morning rays that light up an expanse of yellow construction material at the hotel entrance, making the vertical aluminum beams too bright to look at directly. Four young teachers at the next table are cramming for a certification test. “OK, should I quiz?” one girl asks. “Yes, let’s quiz,” another replies. I can’t hear the two guys as well; their voices are muffled by the Starbucks music track and the chatter of the baristas.

Last night before heading up to my room I invested five dollars in the Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania slot machine in the casino. Fifteen minutes later, without really understanding how the machine worked, I was ahead $1.54. A good time to stop? The machine said you could win $1,000 if you were lucky. I printed out my ticket for $6.54 and went to find the cashier. On my way, I wandered into a place I wasn’t supposed to be. “Behind you,” a player at the craps table said, at which a large man in a suit cordially asked me to “please step to one side or the other, out of the pit.” I moved quickly, glancing up at the surveillance cameras.

Prior to Lobstermania, I had attended a dance performance at the University of Nevada-Reno’s Nightingale Concert Hall. The 600-seat hall was packed, mainly with students. The young woman to my left caught my attention with her scanty top and Lolita-like allure. At an intermission I asked if she was a student, attending the performance for a class. Yes, she said. She is a senior majoring in criminal justice. She plans to attend law school and become a prosecutor who goes after the bad guys but also understands principles of rehabilitation. Oh, said the suddenly rehabilitated ogler.

The performance featured “Nocturnal Path” by Minh Tran, a Vietnamese choreographer and dancer from Portland, Oregon. I was tired, my legs were cramping, and most of the dancing took place in a blind spot created by the large head of a man in front of me, so I had to lean left or right to watch Minh Tran’s potent hybrid of Buddhist culture and modern dance sensibility. I will have a chance to meet him later this morning at the Western States Arts Federation meeting which is the reason I am in Reno. WESTAF has gathered a panel of presenters to help us tweak our grants program, TourWest, which distributes money to help bring artists like Minh Tran to venues all over the West.

Reno, Nevada: Easy divorces, adult cabarets, Lobstermania–and cutting edge fusion dance? The arts are alive and well in this city of 300,000. The city’s Riverside Artist Lofts provides living and work space for 35 artists in a historic building facing the Truchee River, near my hotel. The Nevada Arts Council works hard all over the state to spark new vitality in the arts.

The guy sitting on the other side of me last night was Dan DeWayne, head of public events for Chico University in Chico, California, another panelist for today’s meeting. Dan is a handsome, gray-haired creature of my era, born in 1951, a boomer still lit with possibilities. His favorite thing, he said, is to figure out ways to frame situations from new perspectives. As part of the administrative team at his university, he is a suit in artist’s clothing, which gives him a free pass for zany suggestions. I liked his style. We swapped life stories in the 15 minutes before the show began, enjoying the weird candor that sometimes establishes itself between strangers not likely to see much of each other again.

The riots continued last night in the suburbs of Paris. The baffled French are having a hard time shaking old, old conceptions of what it means to be French. This leaves the children of immigrants hopeless and angry, ready to burn cars. In an odd way, I find the zany juxtapositions of Reno, Nevada, to be an antidote to the rigidity now breaking apart in France. Old images of art break down here, and everywhere you look, you can find surprises. I love that. I’m looking for sparks today, little flashes of light that can change the world.

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