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2006 03 25
Palais des congrès
Image: Craig James White

I was waiting for a friend last night at the Place d'Armes Metro and had an hour to kill, so I decided to take a walk in and around the the Palais des congrès. Last night's featured event was The Salon de Vins and the place was swarming with slightly tipsy, happy people clutching either a bunch of drink tickets or empty wine glasses.

Convention centers are odd places. There is a sheen of perfection and efficiency to the Palais des congrès, making it feel like a large, albeit very clean, factory, designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas, money, and promotional brochures. It's a machine that runs on the unofficial currency of business cards and handshakes.

This 'clean' feel at the Palais is similiar to the effect an airport delivers; its reception areas are high ceilinged, light-filled spaces designed to propigate excitement and optimism. Retail operations are all familiar names, and the materials and finishes all point to a building designed to stand the punishment of continuous use. The actual rooms where the conferences and trade fairs take place, are, like all confrence centres, devoid of any natural light--as if to promote an idea that sunlight is anathema to making money. The vast majority of light in the huge conference areas is generated by spot lights, pointed like tens of thousands of tiny suns at specific constellations of products. And this is how it should be, for these vast spaces are where all the business takes place, after all. These large rooms are the corolary to the time spent in an airlane during a flight. The bad air. The sense of unstructured time. The rubbery food. The forced confinement. The ultimate corporeal result of stiff muscles from not sitting, but standing too long.

And yet the Palais des congrès, last night anyway, had a certain allure. Maybe it was the combined effect of thousands of litres of alcohol being consumed by thousands of people glad to be done with another work week, but there is something to be said for the frisson that derives from semi-permanent cohabitation of many people gathered for one purpose and then diffusing.

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