Stepping off the Metro at Pigalle is always an interesting experience. Normally it smells a little bit like beer inside the metro station, which can be surprising depending on what time of day it is. However, the real shock occurs after you ride the escalator up and step out into Place Pigalle. You are suddenly in a busy square with an interesting assortment of restaurants, bars, grocery stores, strip clubs, sex shops, a very large discotheque and the Sexodrome. (click the pictures to enlarge)
The first reason I chose the Sexodrome as my anitsite is the fact that it is instantly recognizable. The Sexodrome is a four-story sex shop that dominates the corner of Place Pigalle directly across from Rue Andre Antoine, which is my street. The building has a flat shiny black façade, outlined with red neon. On the top there is half story high block lettering spelling the name of the store. Over the entrance the name appears again in block letters but curved this time creating a portal that mimics many of the churches in the city, but instead of the Last Judgment there more neon glows advertising the various peep shows. The only place you can see into the store is through the front door through which I have not traveled. Curiously there are no windows on the first floor but very large displays of the shop’s wares dominate the next two stories. These windows are illuminated red at night.
The overall effect of all this red neon and black plastic turns the store into a four-story billboard that stands out spectacularly in a vista dominated by neon and billboards. The black parts of the building disappear in the night and the shine of the black makes the red neon even brighter than normal. This creates a stark red outline that immediately draws your eye. It is so recognizable that it is the easiest landmark to use when describing the area I live in. Nearly everyone who comes to Pigalle comments on the Sexodrome and nearly everyone who has been there will remember it. I have had more than one conversation that went, “where do you live?”
“I think I have been there…”
“You know near Montmartre with the Sexodrome?”
“O yea definitely!”
The other reason I chose the Sexodrome is that it is emblematic of the character of Pigalle as a whole. This is a neighborhood dominated by debauchery, drinking, and dancing. The entire street is lined with sex clubs and bars. For example, my otherwise quiet, residential street contains two bars, a strip club, a hotel and a massage parlor. The signage there is rather subdued but the rest of the area is loud and in your face much like the Sexodrome. When I say in your face I mean that quite literally. Many of the strip clubs have promoters who will approach you (especially if you are a young male walking alone) and get right in your face trying to tell you about “how the club works.” These men and women will often physically grab your arm as you walk by. The Sexodrome doesn’t have these promoters but the building itself grabs your eye every time you are near it. The building effectively promotes itself.
I think that the Sexodrome and Pigalle occupy an interesting position in the 18th Arrondissment as a whole. Situated on line 2 they are one stop away from the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur in either direction. The Moulin Rouge used to be the beacon of debauchery in Paris holding infamous burlesque shows. It is still in use but no one regards it as very dirty anymore. The shows these days are so expensive, that the only ones standing in line are what appear to be older rich tourists. Sacre Coeur on the other hand is an enormous basilica sitting on the highest hill in Paris looking out over the entire city. Many argue that it was put there to curb the rampant sexuality that places such as the Moulin Rouge were promoting in Montmartre. Right in between the red windmill of old immorality and the white walled church of old morality sits the four-story neon monstrosity of the Sexodrome. It feels like all the sexuality of Montmartre was squeezed and condensed into this single building and cordoned off with a strip of red neon.