Jan 8, 2012

Tour on a Broomstick (I Wish!)

Harry Potter has long been the standard to compare anything strange and magical for me, and my recent tour of Western America was no different. As we walked into the Venetian hotel, all the tourists collectively drew their breath: the man made sky was quite a sight. We were standing in a courtyard, and there were houses (actually hotel rooms that looked like ordinary houses) all around us. The dome of the building was high above the ground. It was colored a light blue and clouds seemed to be floating in it. Even the moon shone in a remote corner. It immediately reminded me of Hogwarts where the ceiling is enchanted to look exactly like the sky outside. Well, the sky at the Venetian hotel was not enchanted to look like the natural sky, I assume it stays sunny and bright, come hell or high water. However, the effect was pretty much magical.
the inside view of hotel venetian. the sky is man made

The next stop was hotel Bellagio, where fountains danced to the sound of music.  As water suddenly rose up from an otherwise calm pool, I was reminded of Harry’s Aguamenti charm, which can generate water out of the ground. As jets of water slowly swayed to the music, I was reminded of Minerva McGonagall, who is exceedingly adept in transfiguration, and often animates chess pieces and suits of armor to walk around and do her bidding.


The next day we were taken to see a chocolate factory. All the varieties of chocolates, some dark, some milk, some with nuts in them, some with caramel in them. Some nicely wrapped in packets, some displayed in sweet baskets. I could not help but think of Honeydukes, the sweetshop in Hogsmeade, which is full of such delicacies as Bertie Bott’s every flavor beans, Liquorice Wands and Chocolate Frogs.


Sometimes when the guide took us to Chinese stores, we would see weird things like pickled frog legs and pig intestines, and then I would again think of Honeydukes. These outlandish dishes reminded me of blood flavored lollypops at Honeydukes, which Harry thinks are marketed for vampires. The dishes in the Chinese shops were no less exotic to me, though I assume these are eaten by normal human beings.


Visiting the prison of Alcatraz reminded me of the prison of Azkaban (notice how they even sound eerily similar). Both Alcatraz and Azkaban are located in small islands the middle of a chilly ocean, and are famed for being home to the most notorious prisoners. Azkaban is the only prison mentioned in Harry Potter, and home to celebrated death eaters like Bellatrix Lestrage, Ronan Dolohov and many others. Alcatraz was home to celebrity criminals like Al Capone and many others. Alcatraz officials claim that no prisoner has successfully escaped this prison, which was also claimed of Azkaban (until Sirius did it, yessss!).
alcatraz island

The gift shop of Alcatraz prison was also very reminiscent of Harry Potter.  One thing I noticed in America is that gift shops at every tourist destination are the same. I almost have their entire inventory by heart now: a rack with key-rings and nail cutters, a rack with ear rings and necklaces and bracelets, several racks full of t-shirts that have the picture or name of the tourist attraction, and several racks with souvenirs, like cups, plates, little statues and magnetic disks to stick to your fridge. Also, there’s going to be a stall with personalized knickknacks, like a key ring or something, with a name already engraved on it. The most common and popular American first names, like Sarah and Ashley and Robert, can be found already engraved on these items. But the gift shop of Alcatraz prison was quite different. This shop contained shirts that looked like prison outfits, and the souvenirs included statues of prisoners trying to escape from the bars and glorified lists of famous escapes. I felt like I had stepped into Borgin and Burkes, Draco Malfoy’s favorite dark arts shop in Diagon Alley.


At Los Angeles, we were shown the famous Hollywood walk of fame. Enshrined in the pavement of an ordinary looking street were bronze stars with the names of Hollywood celebrities. Like Tom’s teashop in London that is the entrance to Diagon alley, the street looked so ordinary that I would not give it a second glance if the guide had not informed me.



At Las Vegas, though, I felt like I had moved the brick and gone through into Diagon alley, when I saw two cute guys dancing with each other in a concert. I didn’t have to guess if they were gay, they both had similar t shirts on, with “I think he is gay” emblazoned on the front in hot pink. Each t-shirt had an arrow that pointed to the other guy.  One even did a filmy pirouette holding the other’s hand. Seeing this level of openness was almost like getting a glimpse of a magical world that you never believed existed.

I realize that I am making a roundabout comparison by comparing everything to Harry Potter, when Harry Potter came later than most of the things mentioned here. I should be identifying familiar ideas in Harry Potter instead. I guess this is a tribute to Rowling’s extraordinary powers of imagination that for me, these books that have become the standard for comparing anything out of the ordinary. For a generation that has grown up with Harry Potter, I guess it might always be so.
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