Category Archives: American Travel

Book Review: The Strip by Stefan Al

by Danielle Prostrollo

A new book to the library collection is The Strip by Stefan Al. Showcasing the history of the iconic American destination, breaking it down into eras, and delving deep into each casino and hotel’s story. There are photographs that show off each casino, increasingly taller, shinier, and extreme and Al’s writing put each of these casinos into the bigger context of Las Vegas history.

the strip

According to the Al, Las Vegas’ relationship with tourism began with a Wild West phase, resorts styled to look and feel like a frontier town before moving on to the post-War modernist. Innovations were made, such as placing a pool by the casino for leisurely lounging, only to be followed by leisurely gaming in the pool (as was the case at the Sands casino’s floating craps table). This transition was punctuated by the “Big Switch”, the multi-million dollar renovation of the Last Frontier resort into the New Frontier resort. The cowboy image was now in the rear view mirror and the space race was on.

Following this era of change the country, in a frenzy of atomic fever, leapt at the opportunity to partake in mushroom cloud-gazing. Las Vegas was in the right place for the public to make their pilgrimage for a chance to see atomic testing and the city did not waste that opportunity. Providing atomic cocktails and lunch menus, the resorts catered to their clientele. In the 1960s The Strip really started to gain height, with new casinos being built taller and taller. If there was any doubt that the frontier image of the dessert city was dead, this would certainly be it.

Building on the growth of the previous decades, the 1980s saw expansion into hyper-thematic resorts. Treasure Island, Excalibur, and the Luxor were all constructed during this “theme park”-like era. And from the extremes of giant castles and pirate ships, the strip pushed back toward the center focusing on equally enticing flights-of-fancy such as fake beaches, Venetian canals, and world landmarks. Taking the reader into present day, Al talks of the “star-chitect” trend. Recent casinos and resorts have relied on the name recognition of famous architects to bring notoriety and traffic to their destinations.

This book is a great read for anyone interested in American architecture, entertainment, or modern American history.

Find it at the Memorial Library or reserve it here

Check out some of our other recent book reviews here:

Unforgotten New York

Hope in the Dark

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Filed under American Culture, American History, American Travel, Books

Unforgotten New York

By Danielle Prostrollo

 

cover

While everyone is familiar with our biographies of Roosevelt and Lincoln, the monographs of the American Civil War, and our extensive collection of World War II literature, we have a great selection of ‘other’ books that may pique the curious mind. One of these books, which I have been enjoying this week, is Unforgotten New York.

Primarily a photography book, the authors put you on an express train through decades of New York’s infamous club culture. Each entry takes you to a new location, detailing its history and cultural importance with descriptions and photographs as well as a beautifully composed photo of the space as it exists now. Many genre-defining, iconic spaces leave no trace of their former selves – in one case, the current home of a 24-hour grocery store.

This kind of book is easy to overlook, as it looks a bit like a coffee table book to be thumbed through on the sofa of an acquaintance’s house, but this book is as engaging as any historical monograph. Paging through the cultural significance of each spot on the New York City map you begin to realise that the promoters, owners, DJs, and artists involved in each club or venue wanted to create an outlet for the like-minded public – and in so many cases, changed the face of music, art, or even broad entertainment.

You can find Unforgotten New York at the Memorial Library or wherever books are sold.

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Letters From Vermont: Charles Walker Scholarship Recipient Charlie Pritchard

By Charlie Pritchard

A Small Hello From Middlebury

The concept of liberal arts education has only recently become something of a trend amongst British higher education institutions, having taken inspiration from American models, with currently 23 universities offering BA degrees in the subject. The liberal arts in the US however differs in encompassing an institutional ethos rather than focused specialised study. Many are eager to pounce upon this academic regimen with accusations of indulgent elitism over utilitarian value, and to a historical extent, such criticisms are well founded. After all, the Latin root liberalis was inextricable from the concept of nobility, and thus by implication, the liberal arts were subjects worthy only of patricians. Yet despite its isolation, hidden away between the sublime Green Mountains and the Adirondacks in Vermont, Middlebury College has an admirable worldly conscience. Its location instills a concentrated and committed work ethic amongst its student body, which while showing its rewards in university rankings, can take its toll. The curriculum workload is demanding, and yet in spite of its difficulties, its gift takes hold of your intellectual curiosity. Professors set questions provoking fascinating ethic-centred debate among the class with great encouragement with a real pleasure in seeing their students develop. Middlebury gives students time to decide their direction in life – there are many second year students who haven’t yet decided what they are majoring in. The freedom with which students can choose courses from across sciences, humanities and arts is something to be cherished – to my knowledge there is no institution in Britain which compares to such eclecticism.

Towns in Vermont are dominated by their churches. Some towns around Middlebury are worth visiting for their churches alone. The city of Burlington, about 50 miles from the Canadian border, is the closest thing you will get to a metropolis in Vermont. Lazing by the waterfront of Lake Champlain, the centre possesses a modesty combined with smart charm with more coffee shops you can shake a stick at and some great second-hand bookshops full of rare findings.

Burlington

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There are two drinks that keep New Englanders going – coffee and cider. They are serious about their coffee consumption, and with their coffee so cheap, it’s amazing they don’t explode. I remember sitting in a diner in Middlebury town and ordering a coffee for two dollars, and after ten minutes a waitress came round offering free refills. I’d never seen such generosity with coffee. I could almost hear my heart in my ears by the time I came out. Their cider, however, is something that British people might get confused about. New Englanders make a distinction between sweet cider and hard cider, the former being non-alcoholic and the latter being the ‘real stuff’ as it were. I admit my disappointment when college organised events would serve cider and finding that they were in fact only serving sweet cider (I’m missing alcohol, as you can probably tell).

But winter is here now, and I’m currently rejoicing in the hefty snowfall. Here’s some snaps.

Mead Chapel at Middlebury

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Old Chapel at Middlebury

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From Crazy Horse to Wall Drug: Visiting Home

By Danielle Prostrollo

This autumn I am taking a few weeks off from writing, reading, and studying to be with family and introduce my other half, Dan, to the beauty of South Dakota. Having grown up there its easy to go back and entertain myself – its home. But this will be Dan’s first trip to America, so I feel the pressure to make sure he gets to experience everything.

Flag_of_South_Dakota.svg

So I’m going to do what no born-and-bred South Dakotan has ever done (I’m guessing?)… consult a tourist guidebook. The library has an heroic collection of travel guides for all corners of the United States so I was lucky enough to find two different books to use: Mount Rushmore & The Black Hills by Laural A. Bidwell (a Moon guide) and Off the Beaten Path: The Dakotas by Lisa Meyers McClintick.

The obvious ‘Must-See’ attractions are there – Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands. Those aren’t in question, we’ll certainly put those on the list. Other options that would normally be a given include Hill City/Keystone salt water taffy but sadly we’ll have missed out on taffy season.

From the guidebooks I realised I had forgotten about the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and Launch Center Delta-01 – a site we will definitely visit, weather permitting. The old Cold War missile silo and launch center are something a little bit different in a state that is best known for its Wild West history.

While reading I stumbled into the history of Mount Rushmore, something we all learn as kids but hadn’t thought about in a long time and resonated much more now that I have been living abroad for a few years. Specifically, what I found interesting is that Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum was friends with famous French sculptor Auguste Rodin and had exhibited for Queen Victoria before returning to America and taking on large scale projects such as the Stone Mountain project (which his temper eventually saw him relieved from) and Mount Rushmore.

And in a bit of reminiscence, the entry on the Black Hills Institute brightened my day. The Institute was a stalwart of my childhood summers. Sue the T. rex was my favorite. I was of the perfect age to be devastated when she left the Black Hills for good but on this visit I hope to see Stan, the most complete T. rex, to date.

There’s so much to see, hopefully we can tick off as many as possible.

There’s:

Wall Drug – the greatest emporium/roadside attraction around

Alpine Inn in Hill City – ultimate restaurant for the indecisive (you get a steak, either a big one or a smaller one)

A beer in Deadwood – toast one to ol’ Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane (for more info on Wild Bill in South Dakota, we have some great books on the man in the library)

Mount Moriah – a similar but more solemn remembrance of Bill and Jane at their resting place

Nick’s Hamburgers – on the other side of the state these famous burgers are tiny but delicious

Corn Palace – who wouldn’t love a building covered in corn murals?

Falls Park – the namesake of Sioux Falls, the Falls are a great attraction for anyone who enjoys a walk in the park

Al’s Oasis – to get between East and West River you have to stop at Al’s Oasis to recover and recuperate in their cafeteria.

And the list goes on. Undoubtedly, this trip will spark a ton of lists for future visits as the Black Hills and the Great Plains offer such beautiful landscapes and rich culture.

 

 

 

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