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Showcase: going out under the bridge

Mar 26

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Thursday, March 26, 2009  RssIcon

In the National Gallery in Dublin, up the right hand stairs from the Shaw Room all the way to the top floor, in the same space as the Monet and Picasso, there used to be a painting by a relatively unknown French artist called Jean-François Raffaelli. The painting was of the Pont Alexandre III, the bridge across the Seine in Paris that connects the glass-roofed Grand Palais exhibition hall to the gold-domed Hôtel des Invalides where Napoléon’s remains are housed.
 
Pont Alexandre III in ParisThe Pont Alexandre III (right), named for the Tsar to commemorate the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1892, features four extravagant gold-leaf statues of winged horses on columns at each corner. Raffaelli’s painting shows them as fauviste blobs of gold above the blurred red and blue dots of passers-by below.
 
The rest of the bridge is impressive too: wrought iron figures, Art Nouveau lamps, imposing stonemasonry and a few more splashes of gold leaf. The Pont Neuf may be the most celebrated and historic bridge in Paris but the Pont Alexandre III is the most ornate and spectacular.
 
Tucked inside the dry arch under the Grand Palais side of the bridge, location for the night-time arms-dealing scene in 1998 action film ‘Ronin’, is one of the hippest music clubs in Paris. It’s called Showcase. In the same way that converted wine cellars make great concert venues (Dublin music fans can think of the downstairs room of the Isaac Butt across from Busáras, if it still exists) the low concave stone ceiling of Showcase creates an intense clubbing experience. The club is generally associated with the trendier Paris electronica and house DJs, but is often rented for corporate functions and promotional concerts. For instance, last September Iggy Pop performed there in a show to mark the centenary of Converse sneakers.
 
Inside the Showcase under the Pont Alexandre IIIUnlike other Paris music clubs and bars facing noise restrictions and complaints, Showcase doesn’t have too many neighbours. There’s the man who sleeps under the next bridge downriver, and houseboat residents upstream who should by now be used to the roar of quayside traffic and tourist cruises. In fact, it’s on a quiet route where your correspondent goes running.
 
Back in Éire, before the days of running along the Seine, your then Dublin-based correspondent would go to the National Gallery and sit in front of Raffaelli’s painting of the Pont Alexandre III. There, we would think about our plans for The Great Leap Forward, i.e. the move to Paris, and wonder if we would ever get there. (As if it were the far side of the Moon or something. In the end it was quite easy.)
 
It seems that we weren’t the only ones dreaming about Paris and that golden bridge. One of 2008’s unfairly-neglected albums was the eponymous debut by English dancefloor-poppers Friendly Fires. The record’s best track is ‘Paris’, where singer Ed McFarlane dreams of moving to the French capital with a friend.
 
And where does he find the glamour and excitement of Parisian nightlife? Why, under the Pont Alexandre III: “I’m gonna take you out to Club Showcase / We’re gonna live it up / I promise.” The lyrics name no other landmark of Paris: just this nightclub. And the song is exactly the sort of dreamy, adrenaline-rushing track to get the Showcase buzzing on a Saturday night.
 
Raffaelli’s painting of the Pont Alexandre III wasn’t on display last time we visited the National Gallery in Dublin. But the bridge is still here in Paris, with its nightclub underneath. And here are Friendly Fires with ‘Paris’:
 

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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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