We would like to think that our favorite cities are the beautiful ones. I live in San Francisco and I was born in Rio de Janeiro. What two cities could be more perfect for firing up the poetical imagination? Yet the city that inspires me to write is Reno, Nevada.
I spent my high school years in a small town in California close to Reno. Reno was our "big city". You have to imagine coming down from the mountains, then driving into the high desert, passing by Vinton with its small airport and pioneer cemetary and lonely white schoolhouse. At that time, you knew you were near Reno when you passed by a sign that said "Hallujah Junction". Suddenly, from the desert, a city appeared as if by magic, a city at its most crass. At that time, Virginia Street and its casinos were the center of it all, and whereas most cities seemed to include the bustle of human beings going through their daily lives, people on Virginia Street drifted aimlessly as if trying to find something. Casinos are not "necessary" but they exist because of despair. Casinos are "fun", only because they are so strange and otherworldly. The marquee at the Bella Donna Casino used to have plaster revolving showgirl statues, one in a Hawaiian costume, and one in a can-can outfit. The lobby of Cal Neva smelled of cigarettes and greasy 99 cent breakfasts. Harrahs which at that time was the king of casinos, had its parking garage facing the Mitzpah Hotel with its lobby full of old drunks. I stayed in the Mitzpah once, and slept on its slanted mattress. It seemed like the perfect setting for a murder. A few years ago when I heard on the news that the Mitzpah Hotel burned down, I imagined a bunch of people having escaped the fire, standing on the sidewalk and huddled in the faded bedspreads they stripped from the beds as they watched the flames shoot out of the windows, the old lace curtains turning to black ashy rags. All the casinos though, were the same, dark with startling metallic lights. The falling coins made your teeth ache like loose cavity fillings. On the street between casinos were pawnshops, the big windows full of turquoise jewelry and watches and guns.
Reno attracts me because it is both sad and beautiful. The desert is beautiful: the expanse of sage, and free rolling clouds, and tawny colored mountains. The city of Reno seems like it was forced on the landscape. No one seems really comfortable there. Tourists force themselves to have fun, but fun is based on being a loser, not being a winner (as very few people win). Reno seems uncomfortable with itself, an old Silver mining boomtown that has exhausted its treasure. Reno then, is like an interesting character in fiction. It feels out of place, yet has a memory. Driving to Reno from the West, one is surprised and shocked at the city's audacious lack of self-consciousness. In the middle of Reno one feels disoriented. Continuing east on highway 80 after passing through Sparks and the Mustang ranch of melancoly bordello trailers, visitors are once again, treated to solitude.
Causes Kathleen de Azevedo Supports
San Francisco Food Bank
Doctors Without Borders
Friends of the San Francisco Library