Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dancing at the Pont du Gard

Last night we went to the Pont du Gard for a night of music and dancing - not exactly the events that you would think of taking place at a 2,000 year-old aqueduct. However, it seemed like a really good chance to explore some nightlife while seeing the stone edifice in a whole new light, literally.

We arrived just after 9:00. The DJ tent, on the right bank of the Gardon River, was already pumping out some heavy base. I had to wonder of the reverberations would cause some minutely weird reaction in the masonry and bring down the bridge, after centuries of rushing water, high winds and amateur re-engineering had failed to do so. It was a decidedly surreal sight to see the DJ table with neon lights and a smoke machine positioned in front of the Pont. Not surprising, the party hadn't quite taken off and the "dance floor" only had a few people with arms crossed.


We moved on to the other side of the river just in time to hear a tango band. I had assumed that they were going to exclusively play South American dancing standards, but the play list varied considerably, including Hell (Squirrel Nut Zippers) and a very strange comedic Italian song. Unfortunately, the music was badly mixed so that the violin and piano could hardly be heard over incessant bongos and cha-chas. The trumpet/trombone player was also a disappointment - woodwinds can switch instruments mid-song, brass cannot.

The night continued to cool off and so did the bands' energy. Walking along the promenade, we saw several wine vendors. 1.50€ for a glass or 4.10€ for a whole bottle, I don't know what we were thinking when we walked away only with two small plastic glasses. To warm up a little, we also ordered some fries. As is common in Europe, they were served with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. Something about the combination seems to work so much better on this side of the Atlantic.

Immediately after Tango closed their set, we heard what sounded like drum line. Pushing through the quickly growing crowd, we saw an eclectic band of musicians, some dressed in kilts, dancing frenetically to their own rhythm. I initially labeled them gypsies, though this is probably inaccurate, since the term does have a deep social and cultural meaning in Europe. It was more likely that they were college students. Their show included intricate drum routines and rehearsed melodies played on high pitched kazoo-like wind instruments. The instrument was about the size of a recorder, but we could see the performers changing reeds that looked similar to that of an oboe.


The guy playing the shaker stole the show, shown here as just a blur. At first, his performance style appeared to be similar to suffering some kind of seizure, but when we realized how fast all of the songs were played, we could understand that he needed to put his whole body into the effort to keep up. At one point, he was gyrating in double-time with the shaker in his left hand and a huge tambourine in his right. The energy of the gypsies totally eclipsed the other music venues.

We had a great time. Free music at a great venue under a starry sky; it was the perfect weekend soirée.
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