Siegfried and Roy: A Pilgrimage

Gazing out the seventeenth floor window of The Mirage Hotel-Casino. The Strip undulates before me,beckoning.A Pandora’s Box of opportunity for a bored college student on vacation with her parents. Out of all the seductive glitter, one edifice holds my hungry eye: 160 feet of billboard that make up a significant part of the Mirage exterior. Billboard is not a rich enough word to describe it. A shrine! The Masters of Illusion, chief gods of the town of illusions. When you see it you know to whom you must sell your soul in this town. Towering above the insignificant mortals who dare to enter his realm - the cheekbones alone put you firmly in your place - Siegfried’s ice-blue stare pierces you, invites you, challenges you to enter his lair. Miles of feathered blond hair, smooth chest, all encased in sleek white satin. The faithful Roy at his side, a foil to Siegfried’s Aryan majesty, his flowing dark locks are pulled back (they have since been shorn into a hip spiky look). He too sports the piercing stare and the white satin. (Pay attention to the white theme.) Wayne Newton, eat your heart out - this sign tells us - these boys are in charge.

Many have extolled the glorious vision of the Las Vegas strip lighting up the desert, a modern fairyland promising as much money, booze, and sex as you can squeeze out of it, if you just guess the magic number, or caching the right cachang, or woo the queen of hearts. The Mirage and Treasure Island have become the jewels in the Strip’s crown. Even with such novelties as a miniature New York skyline and a gargantuan green lion, Steve Wynn’s glittering twin sister casinos steal the show. Same shape - a nouveau-baroque pattern of three enormous wings bursting forth from the lurid casino chrysalis - different gimmicks. Treasure Island has the Pirates. Weather permitting, you can watch a Royal British Navy ship sunk in flames by raffish pirates firing cannon shots, and a cast of actors so desperate for work that they are eager to be plunged into the murky waters of this desert oasis every hour on the hour. Ahoy, me maties! The Mirage has the best buffet in Las Vegas. It also has the most advanced climate control technology, revitalizing its world-weary gamblers with extra oxygen and areas of tropical humidity. Fine mists, palm trees, and orgiastic flowers greet you as you walk through the lobby, past the shark tank (as if there weren’t enough sharks in Vegas). And The Mirage has Siegfried and Roy....

I have been to the "NEW" Las Vegas - "family vacation" spot, theme park, ten times the old price - twice. Both times with my parents. Neither time did we see Sieg-fried and Roy at The Mirage. Too pricey, sold out, on Christmas vacation - so we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere, a thrilling theatrical experience. However, my memories of Las Vegas always center around those enigmatic Prussians: the towering Siegfried (a monument worthy of Valkyric passion) and the dark, brooding Roy (maybe it’s just a syllabic impairment, but Roy always seems to me to be the Robin to Siegfried’s Batman). Siegfried and Roy have become for me a symbol not just of Las Vegas, but of America. They serve as Vegas’ lodestone, drawing people towards the casinos, and demonstrating that the dream CAN pay off. A real-life rags-to-riches tale, of the kind all Americans love: only a life-or-death gamble could have brought these boys from Bavaria, who were making their living performing a cheap cruise-line magic show, to their one true home in the enchanted desert.

I am obsessed with Sieg-fried and Roy. I admit it openly. The path through Las Vegas is littered with their relics, and here I follow this path and make my pilgrimage to discover the allure of Siegfried and Roy. Actually walking along the strip, sprung for a brief moment from the cigar smoke and ching ching ching into some kind of air. It’s always a shock, since you never know what time it is in this twenty-four hour world. The sidewalk connecting The Mirage and Treasure Island, for those daring enough to bypass the tram, the secret underground passageway, and the Transporter. The reward: a stunning bust of Siegfried, Roy, and one of their fearsome beasts done in bronze, rising high, with a convenient niche for photo opportunities with the great ones. Pure idol worship. I paused to make the traditional ritual offering: I placed my head in the tiger’s mouth.

Round the clock, a white tiger is on display in a giant case along one of the many labyrinthine corridors of The Mirage. Usually, the tiger is sleeping, but occasionally a little light bathing can be witnessed. The endless loop of video outside the display case provides my first real glimpse into the mystery of Siegfried and Roy. You see them scampering, carefree, with their killer beasts on their desert compound in West Las Vegas. Wrestling, rolling, playing like children, laughing like lovers, rolling like thunder... I don’t dare to contemplate the private lives of the great. But these upstanding men (with their upstanding hair) are committed to a cause. A cause dear to every desperate-for-any-rallying-point-for-their-liberal-guilt American’s heart. Cute, cuddly, near-extinct wild beasts, and they can even make them disappear. The tigers must disappear twice nightly to prevent their ultimate disappearance from the planet. This is a strategy only divine magicians could conjure up. I learned the mantra: "Vee vant to save the vhite tigahs! Vee vant to save the vhite tigahs! Vee vant to save the vhite tigahs!"

The Secret Garden of Sieg-fried and Roy! Had I found the true place of worship at last. White tigers, white lions, Asian elephants, a troubled black panther, and a few other unique specimens compromise this menagerie. Upon entering the hallowed ground, one is given a device, remarkably like a cellular phone which one must hold up to one’s ear and dial the appropriate numbers printed runically on the animal’s domain. Right in your ear, intimate, confiding, is the voice of Siegfried. "Velcome to my secret garden: a vorld betveen the vorlds!" As you wander (vander?) through this exotic safari, Siegfried and Roy, continue whispering sweet nothings about the animals you are observing. "Kimba vaz very depressed. She vouldn’t eat. I meditated vit her, and finally gaint her trust..." An initiation into the mystery. These are the secret rites of Siegfried and Roy, one part new-age spirituality, one part eco-consciousness, and several generous helpings of pure Las Vegas glitz. Add WWII movie accents, ambiguous sexuality, and some kick-ass lighting effects. Stir, stir, stir.

One of the guards said that Siegfried had been there that morning, looking in on the animals. He had chatted graciously with the crowd, and even signed autographs. Tears welled up at the near miss of it, the lost chance for a brush with the divine. I consoled myself with a souvenir Secret Garden of Siegfried and Roy flashlight. Unlike the lingering mystique of Siegfried and Roy, it only worked until I got to the airport.

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