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Desperately seeking decadence

Jun 8, 2004 6:00 AM

I don’t normally read Vanity Fair, but the lady with whom I share bed and board and other delights of life left a copy on the breakfast table the other morning, and it changed my perspective of life in general and Las Vegas in particular.

I always thought of Vegas as Babylon reincarnate, one giant pleasure dome where, as the advertising strongly implies, anything goes. "What happens here stays here" is, after all, not an invitation to the place that just a few years ago was urging one and all to bring the wife and kids and family dog and cat for a good old picnic outing.

After reading the July issue of Vanity Fair, however, I have concluded Las Vegas is simply one large boy and girl scout encampment, some 30 miles or so east of Pahrump.

I glanced at the cover of Vanity Fair first, unmoved by a shot of "The hottest, coolest athlete on earth," who turned out to be David Beckham, soccer star and husband of Spice Girl Posh, also known as Victoria Adams. It turns out Vanity Fair sent famed photographer Annie Leibovitz to Spain to take pictures of Beckham, and Annie must have had one too many in Madrid. Her cover shot showed him naked to his pubic hair, and inside a crucifixion shot with his arms outstretched, eyes closed, a pained expression on his face, and two crosses around his neck, plus a lot of tattoos and those torn blue jeans pulled down as far as modesty would allow. Ironically, when I opened the magazine, the first page I saw read, "Anatomy of a Genius — the Lower Extremity." I thought it was about Beckham, but it turned out to be an ad for Audi. As for Beckham, he assured the magazine there was nothing to stories about his dalliances with other lovelies around the world, and under his cool hot picture was a caption reading, "People can say what they like ”¦ Me and Victoria will always stay together." Take that to your local bookie.

It wasn’t Beckham and his lower extremities that gave me a new view of Vegas. It was a story tease on the front cover that read, "Class and Trash in Saint-Tropez, the resort that was born with a thong on." Now there’s a real slogan for a sin town.

That sounded educational, so I turned to the story and found that "Nothing could have prepared contributing editor Evgenia Peretz for the decadence of Saint-Tropez." Really? "It was a 21st century Sodom and Gomorrah," sophisticated Evgenia said, shocked. "Rich young people are humping in restaurants, they are spraying each other with champagne — all this starting before two o’clock in the afternoon." But what really stunned Peretz was not all that folderol, but "the women’s bodies — all straight out of the Sports Illustrated swimwear issue." Evgenia wondered, "Where do people with normal bodies go for vacation?"

To Las Vegas, Evgenia. All the things that shocked you in Saint Tropez don’t go on in public here. They have hotel rooms for all that, and they drink the champagne, not squirt it at each other.

The pictures, though, were much prettier than Vegas. The red roofs and blue waters and bare bosoms and brief bikinis and public love scenes are entrancing, and to give the full effect the magazine went back to the woman who started it all: Brigitte Bardot, the patroness saint of Saint Tropez, who, they said, in And God Created Woman 30 years ago "was taking men, she was throwing men ”¦ she gave to everybody the idea of liberty." The movie, according to the magazine, "was a manifesto of sexual liberation, personal freedom, and seaside bliss." We always thought that started 10 years earlier, in San Francisco.

Brigitte still lives in Saint Tropez, with nine dogs, 40 cats, horses and a right-wing husband. She has said that Saint Tropez has become awash "in a tide of human filth”¦. It has been taken over by yobs (slang for rowdy British youth). It is Miami."

At least she didn’t say Las Vegas.

See you next week. I’m off to Saint Tropez. I love decadence.