It is time to ‘Experience the sights and sounds of the Italian Riviera at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando®’ – a place beyond satire, almost beyond description. The buildings, which appear separate but are mostly part of one large joined-up complex, are painted with trompe l’oeil effects – pretend windows painted next to real ones, unreal streaks of dirt to give an illusion of aged plaster hard to distinguish from real discolouration. A restaurant called Mama Della’s advises helpfully that
“Mama” invites you into her “home”
(Note correct use of quotation marks, denoting an unreal Mama in something other than a home, though the website does threaten that ‘Mama herself often greets guests in person and encourages everyone to “Eat! Eat!”‘)
Deserted when we arrive the place has a Prisoner-like air of benign captivity. Italian (or “Italian”) music is piped into the empty square, dotted with stationary scooters bolted to the ground.
I had thought we were coming to Orlando, but this is Orlando Universal, an entertainment enclave ruled by one of the world’s largest factories of the imaginary. Like a rival city-state, Disney World sits a few miles away amidst a cluster of lesser ‘worlds’.
Portofino offers such a feast of hyperreality that it is hard to imagine consuming actual food or sleeping real sleep: a hologram of sleep would be more appropriate here (and that’s what I get, still enjoying dual citizenship of timezones.) Still, please don’t confuse my amazement with ingratitude; it’s great to be here on a work gig and within its folly-like bizarreness it’s comfortable, friendly, and uber-nice.
I walk along the “harbour” towards the theme park area. Movies and TV shows of many kinds have a kind of extra life there, from classic Laemmle-era horror films (closer in time to the era of magic lanterns than our CGI present) to current popular stuff. A Simpsons ride has replaced a Back to the Future ride. Actually this is Brighton Pier accelarated into the future: the ghost train process evolved and dressed in the current styles with mummies and terminators. There is a lot of talk about a Hulk rollercoaster, which I am too scared to go on.
I am however moved that Hulk exists at all, including this multi-million-$ incarnation, capable of entertaining college presidents and thousands more. Back in the early 60s Jack Kirby drew a crude, Frankenstein’s monster type of character which could easily have lasted no longer than the countless monster books of the time. But he’s still with us, stomping through mega productions like this ride which themselves seem like science fiction.
Somehow Kirby’s few rapid pencil strokes generated the energy to project an idea forward in time, expanding into gigantic baroque forms as it travels. Kirby was of course a great artist, arguably the greatest of all conceivable artists, with his ability to incarnate the raw stuff of myth itself on to paper. But maybe all art has some chance to create an unusual energy, ripples in the universal time pool – in infinite time every drawing, poem and blog post will become a golem-rollercoaster city lined with souvenir shops.
I’m writing this travelling back to England via Boston, having made the rash choice to volunteer for a multi-stop flight in return for a free return ticket to anywhere (well, anywhere to which Virgin Atlantic will fly). Hopefully I’ll arrive, with suitcase and therefore walking gear, in a time and place that will let me walk on from Wythall.