I SPEND A LOT of my time walking the streets of Paris listening to and recording the everyday sounds around me, the sound tapestry of the city.
Recording urban soundscapes is not as easy as you might think. In our modern digital world where we’ve come to expect affordable technology to turn us all into instant experts, one might be forgiven for thinking that recording urban soundscapes is simply a matter of pointing and shooting and hoping for the best – but it doesn’t quite work like that. Capturing the most expressive and lasting images of the sounds around us requires a heady cocktail of active listening, enthusiasm, hard work, endless patience, attention to detail and an ear for a captivating subject, not to mention copious amounts of shoe leather.
Captivating sounds seldom appear to order, they are often elusive and need to be hunted out and to hunt them one needs time, often lots of time. Few things are more frustrating than spending an entire day pounding the streets searching for that special sound only to come home empty-handed. But on a good day, it only takes one chance moment to come home with an absolute gem.
The great 20th century Parisian street photographer, Robert Doisneau, summed up this element of chance by saying, “Chance … You have to pay for it and you have to pay for it with your life, you pay for it with time – not the wasting of time but the spending of time.”
And sometimes the spending of time can bring a huge reward.
Les Halles – the former ‘belly of Paris’
Recently, I was wandering around Les Halles, once the huge covered food market known as the ‘Belly of Paris’, and a part of Paris now undergoing much needed renovation. I’ve recorded there many times but this time captivating sounds seemed particularly elusive. I’d been there for most of the afternoon spending time but recording nothing and I was on the point of giving up and going home when the element of chance that Robert Doisneau spoke about intervened.
In the distance I could hear the sound of bells, the bells of the Église Saint Eustache, the gothic masterpiece in which the young Louis XIV received communion, the church chosen by Mozart for his mother’s funeral, the church where Richelieu was baptised and where both the future Madame de Pompadour and Molière were married. I followed the sound of the bells and began recording. The sounds led me into a little courtyard at the side of the church. I waited until the sounds of the bells faded and then, spying a very old, well-worn door, I opened it, entered the church and walked into a magnificent wall of sound coming from the Van den Heuvel organ being played by a young man sitting at the giant five manual console in the nave.
The Bells and Organ of Église Saint Eustache:
“… not the wasting of time but the spending of time.” And in this place, on this day, the spending of time was an investment richly rewarded.
Yesterday marked the third birthday of this blog. When I began it the world of blogging was very new to me and I had little idea of what I was doing or what shape this blog would take. All I had was a vague idea that I wanted to share two of my passions – the city of Paris and recording the everyday sounds around me. Now, three years on, this blog has taken on a life of its own with over 200,000 visitors and over 1,000 loyal followers.
To all those who visit this blog regularly, to those who just stop by as they’re passing and to all the friends I’ve made all over the world as a result of this blog I just want to say a heartfelt “Thank You”.
This recording of the sounds of the bells and the organ of Église Saint Eustache is a celebration of the life that this blog has taken on and I dedicate these sounds to you all.
WITH ITS COBBLESTONES, bakeries, cheese and wine shops, restaurants and vibrant atmosphere, rue Montorgueil is a quintessential Parisian street ideal for a soundwalk.
The rue Montorgueil begins in the 1st arrondissement close to the Église Saint-Eustache and the former covered market of Les Halles and it stretches to the north, across rue Étienne-Marcel, into the 2nd arrondissement as far as rue Saint-Sauveur. From there, it continues north where it becomes rue des Petits-Carreaux.
Rue Montorgueil – A Soundwalk:
There are some places of note in rue Montorgueil.
At N° 38 is the restaurant, L’Escargot, easily spotted by its distinctive sign. Founded in 1832, L’Escargot is, not surprisingly, famous for its snails. Sarah Bernhardt, Picasso, Salvador Dali, Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Proust all dined here and the restaurant still retains its authentic Second Empire décor and its traditional cuisine.
At N° 78 is Le Rocher de Cancale, famous for its oysters and crumbling facade which was painstakingly restored with gilt panache in 2012.
It was founded in 1804 and is now a listed historical monument. In times past this was a fashionable place to be seen where its clientele included dandies, courtesans, aristocrats and members of the Jockey Club de Paris.
At N° 51 is the La Pâtisserie Stohrer, the oldest pâtisserie in Paris. In 1725, Louis XV married Marie Leszczynska, daughter of King Stanislas of Poland. Her pastry chef, Nicolas Stohrer, came with her to Versailles. In 1730, Stohrer opened a bakery at N° 51 where he invented desserts for the King’s Court including the Baba au Rhum or Rum Baba.
If you’ve never been to rue Montorgueil it’s well worth a visit. Here are some more sights to enjoy while you listen to the sounds of the street.
ONE YEAR AGO I stood in place de la Bastille amongst a jubilant crowd as they received the news that François Holland had been elected Président de la République, the first French socialist president to have been elected since François Mitterand back in 1981. I produced a piece for this blog about that evening in which I said, “As 8.00 pm approached the excitement became palpable and when the result became clear the party began.”
Place de la Bastille – 5th May 2012
One year on and the party’s over, the excitement has evaporated and the opinion polls show that François Hollande is now the most unpopular president in modern French history.
Place de la Bastille – 5th May 2013
On Sunday crowds once again filled place de la Bastille, not to celebrate but to protest at what they see as betrayal. In a nutshell, their argument is that François Hollande was elected last May on the back of a promise to spare France the austerity measures imposed elsewhere in Europe. Instead, the French government has cut spending, increased taxes, reduced hiring in the public sector and introduced plans to allow companies to cut workers’ hours during economic downturns. Meanwhile, France’s economy has continued to deteriorate, with growth stagnating and unemployment rising above 10%.
Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets on Sunday. According to the police they numbered 30,000 while the organisers, Le Front de Gauche, put the figure at 180,000. How the police and demonstration organisers always come up with such widely varying estimates of crowd numbers continues to baffle me. All I can say is that I was in place de la Bastille when the demonstration moved off on its march to place de la Nation and I was there three hours later as the tail end of the march was just setting off.
This demonstration was the brainchild of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Front de Gauche coalition. One time government minister and member of the French Senate, Mélenchon has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009. He now heads the Front de Gauche comprising the Unitarian Left (Gauche Unitaire), the Federation for a Social and Ecological Alternative (Fédération pour une alternative sociale et écologique, FASE), Republic and Socialism (République et socialisme), Convergences and Alternative (Convergences et alternative), the Anticapitalist Left (Gauche anticapitaliste), the Workers’ Communist Party of France (Parti communiste des ouvriers de France, PCOF) and The Alternative (Les alternatifs).
Jean-Luc Mélenchon came to national prominence in 2010 during the huge demonstrations against pension reform and in 2012 he represented Le Front de Gauche in the French presidential election where he came in fourth place with 11.05% of the vote.
Marching under the banner Marche citoyenne pour la 6e République, the Front de Gauche want to see, according to one of the leaflets handed to me, a sweeping away of the current constitution and fundamental change to the way things are done – an end to the dominance of the financial markets, a democratisation of the institutions, more power to the people, new and greater rights to employees, a democratisation of elections with proportional representation and genuine independence of justice without conflicts of interest.
Marche citoyenne pour la 6éme République:
These street demonstrations are always colourful and loud and for the most part good-natured, although I will have something to say about that in a moment.
On Sunday there was the usual mix of serious minded protestors, occasional eccentrics and endless loudspeaker vans blasting out slogans and music at full volume often drowning out the chants of the marchers. The cacophony of sound can be overpowering especially to promiscuous microphones that pick up anything and everything. So for the sound hunter, capturing the atmosphere of such large demonstrations is a challenge.
In the sound piece above I’ve tried to give you a flavour of the atmosphere and to highlight some of the distinctive sounds. In the next piece, I will give you a flavour of what it’s like to walk amongst a crowd of tens of thousands of people. It’s a walk from the Opéra Bastille to rue de la Roquette, which on a normal day takes about two minutes. On Sunday it took me closer to twenty minutes (and I was lucky to do it that quickly) as I weaved my way through the throngs of people.
Walking from Opéra Bastille to rue de la Roquette:
My final sound piece though tells a different story.
As I said earlier, street demonstrations in Paris are usually pretty good-natured and pass off without any trouble. The largest demonstration I’ve attended was the massive protest against pension reform in 2010 when one million people took to the streets. Even with a demonstration of that size and with passions running very high, I saw nothing that could be described as trouble. On Sunday though, I saw something I’ve never seen before and I also learned something about the Front de Gauche.
This group of Africans were at the very back of the demonstration and it was them that I joined some three hours after the leading demonstrators had left place de la Bastille. True, unlike most of the other demonstrators, they were not protesting specifically about la finance et l’austérité although they all professed sympathy with the aims of the demonstration.
Their specific concern was for the situation in Côte d’Ivoire. They were demonstrating for the release of political prisoners in that country and in particular for the release of Simone Gbagbo. You can find out more about the former French colony of Côte d’Ivoire here.
To be honest, I know very little about Côte d’Ivoire other than what I occasionally glimpse on French TV news and, until Sunday, I wasn’t at all sure who Simone Gbagbo was. But these people clearly felt they had a point to make and they were doing it peacefully and with enthusiasm. In my experience it is quite usual for minority groups with off-piste interests to meld into large demonstrations.
All was well until the time came for them to move off and follow the tail end of the larger demonstration. I had moved slightly ahead of them when I was aware of a scuffle taking place behind me. I turned round to see three or four young white men all sporting Front de Gauche stickers trying to break up the African group. The African stewards were brilliant. They responded swiftly by shepherding the African group away from the trouble and calm ensued. What happened next I simply found beyond belief.
When I turned round to look towards the larger demonstration about twenty or thirty Front de Gauche people, men and women, all white, had linked arms and facing the African group had formed a double cordon to prevent the Africans getting close to the main demonstration. Not only that, but when the Africans remonstrated, the language from the all white cordon was, how shall I say … provocative.
Here’s how events unfolded:
What seemed to have escaped the attention of the all French, all white, cordon was, as one of the Africans told me with passion in her voice, “We are all French citizens!”
I must say that for me, the man in charge of the African group – the man in the orange cap, white trousers and holding the microphone in the picture above, was the hero of the hour. He showed real leadership, not by responding as vocally as some of his group but by exerting the sheer force of his personality, calmly talking to people and getting the music and the chanting going again.
I must also say, that having seen what I did, any sympathy I may have had for Le Front de Gauche, and I did have some, melted away in an instant as their darker side revealed itself.
The all white, all French, cordon clearly believed that Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité is a wonderful thing … so long as you’re white and French. If you’re black and African then it seems to be quite a different story.
FOR SOME TIME NOW as part of my Paris Soundscapes project I’ve been recording and archiving the contemporary sounds in each of the twenty surviving nineteenth-century passage couverts in Paris. The Passage Choiseul in the 2nd arrondissement is latest of these passages to be added to my collection.
Work began on the Passage Choiseul in 1825 and it took two years to complete. The architect, François Mazois, came up with the original design but he died before the work was completed and so another architect, Antoine Tavernier, took over.
Like all the passages couverts, the Passage Choiseul resembles a street with two rows of boutiques on the ground floor with living accommodation above joined together by a glass roof. At 190 metres long this is the longest of the surviving passages couverts and it’s registered as an historic monument. The floor originally comprised grey sandstone floor tiles but they were covered over in the 1970’s with the speckled tiles we see today.
Like in so many of the passage couverts, the glass roof in the Passage Choiseul suffered over the years. It was replaced in 1907 but the ravages of time took a further toll and it once again descended into a sorry state. Recently, a young architect, Raphaël Bouchmousse, 32, came up with a proposal to renovate the roof at a cost of €740,000. The proposal was accepted and in May 2012 the work began. It’s now completed and the roof has returned to its former glory.
A Soundwalk in the Passage Choiseul:
The Passage Choiseul has a long association with the arts. Anatole France, a French poet, journalist, novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, worked here as a proof-reader from 1867 to 1876. Louis-Ferdinand Céline the French novelist, pamphleteer and physician, lived here as a child. His mother, Marguerite Destouches, owned a curiosity shop in the passage. Alphonse Lemeere published the first poems of Paul Verlaine from here in 1864 as well as the works of the Parnassians who embraced a French literary style that began during the 19th century. Today, the former publishing house of Alphonse Lemeere is occupied by the painter and sculptor, Anna Stein.
Another occupant of the Passage Choiseul is the rear entrance to the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens.
Inaugurated in 1855 by the composer Jacques Offenbach, the theatre was especially built to perform his opéra-bouffes. Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) was premiered here in 1858, La Belle Hélène in 1864 and La Vie Parisienne and Barbe-Bleue in 1866.
The main entrance to the theatre is in the neighbouring street, rue Monsigny.
After early success, like all the other passages couverts the passage Choiseul entered a period of decline. Its fortunes were revived in the 1970’s when the French actress, Sophie Desmarets, opened an antique shop here, Cactus Bazar. This was followed by Kenzo’s first fashion boutique, Jungle Jap, which has now moved to the Place des Victoires.
Today, the Passage Choiseul hosts Japanese eateries, clothing stores, jewellery shops, art galleries and art supply shops, as well as a plentiful supply of shoe shops.
The Passage Choiseul is to be found at:
40, rue Petits-Champs / 23, rue Saint-Augustine / 40, rue Dalayrac
And you can see more of my collection of les passages couverts here.
NESTLING BEHIND A CLUSTER of trees behind the théâtre Marigny and close to the Rond-point des Champs Elysées, the puppet show, Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées, is simply entrancing.
This puppet theatre has been here since 1818 making it the oldest marionette theatre in Paris. For generations it was owned by the Guentleur family but in 1979 it was acquired by José-Luis Gonzalez who has kept it going in the original tradition, a tradition dating back to the beginning of the 19th century.
Guignol is the most popular puppet character in France and his name has become synonymous with puppet theatre. He was created in Lyon at the very end of the 18th century by Laurent Mourguet, one time silk weaver, peddler and later a dentist. Dentistry in the late 18th century was a primitive art consisting entirely of pulling teeth for free and making money by selling potions afterwards to kill the pain. Mourguet had the idea of attracting customers by setting up a puppet show in front of his dentist’s chair.
Mourguet’s first puppet shows were based on the Italian commedia dell’arte and featured Puncinella, or Punch as he’s known in England. By the turn of the century Mourguet’s shows were becoming so successful that he gave up dentistry and became a full-time puppeteer. His puppet shows took a satirical look at the concerns of his working-class audience and included references to the news of the day. This proved to be a highly successful formula which lives on today with TV shows like Spitting Image in the UK and Les Guignols de l’info in France.
Mourguet developed characters close to the daily lives of his Lyon audience, first Gnafron, a wine-loving cobbler, and in 1808 Guignol. Other characters, including Guignol’s wife Madelon and the gendarme Flagéolet soon followed, but these are never much more than foils for the two heroes.
Guignol was supposedly named after an actual Lyonnais silk worker and he was originally performed with a regional dialect and the traditional garb of a peasant.
Guignol and the puppet shows that feature him are very much a Lyonnais tradition. In Paris, les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées departs from that tradition slightly in that Guignol wears a green coat with red facings whereas in Lyon he wears brown. Also the name of the theatre, Théâtre Vrai Guignolet, is different. This is because, according the current owner, Guignolet is for him the real Guignol of Paris as opposed to the Guignol of Lyon.
Mesdames, Mesdemoiselles et Messieurs, je vous présente …
Les Marionettes des Champs Elysées:
This sound piece is an edited version of the full Marionnettes des Champs Elysées show that I recorded but you will still hear a man dressed in black sporting a moustache opening and closing the curtains, Guignol, his wife and son, a misbehaved mouse and, of course, the inevitable gendarme, Flagéolet.
These puppet shows are often thought of as just children’s entertainment – Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées is advertised as being suitable for children from 3 to 10 years of age – but they are much more than that. In Lyon they say that, “Guignol amuses children… and witty adults.” Guignol’s sharp wit and linguistic verve have always been appreciated by adults as well as children.
It’s over fifty years since I last went to a puppet show and that was a very English Punch & Judy show. When I went to see Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées I was just as excited as I was all those years ago and I probably laughed even more now than I did then.
Whether you are young or old or whether you speak French or not, I hope you will get as much pleasure from listening to Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées as I do. Guignol’s wife in particular trying to catch the mouse with cries of, “Arrête … Arrête”, reduces me to fits of laughter every time I hear it.
IT MAY BE ONLY a stone’s throw from the tourist magnet of Montmartre but Château Rouge couldn’t be more different. Situated in the Goutte d’Or district, Chateau Rouge is Africa in the heart of Paris.
Home to immigrants from Europe in the 1950’s, Château Rouge now boasts an African community from Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Togo, the Congo, Cameroon and probably other places too. It’s said that something like thirty different languages can be heard here. At the heart of Château Rouge is the Marché Dejean, a busy street market but one unlike any other I’ve seen – or heard – in Paris.
Alighting from my train at Château Rouge Métro station I stepped onto a platform full of other people who also had the Marché Dejean firmly in their sights. The crush was so great that we had to queue to get out of the station.
Emerging onto the street the cacophony of the Métro station faded and a different wave of sound enveloped me, the sound of the Marché Dejean round the corner. I could hear the market well before I could see it.
The Marché Dejean runs along the rue Dejean but it spills over into two of the neighbouring streets, rue Poulet and rue des Poissonniers and the whole area is a very rich sound environment.
Regular followers of this blog will know that I enjoy soundwalks. Soundwalking is one of the techniques I use to capture the sounds of Paris and particularly the sound tapestry of the city’s streets. The aim of a soundwalk is to capture the mélange of sounds that create the atmosphere of a place as well as the individual sounds that might help to define it. And the Marché Dejean is perfect soundwalking territory.
A Soundwalk in the Marché Dejean:
The sights and sounds of the Marché Dejean reflect its soubriquet, Little Africa. Either side of the street small retailers selling beauty products and colourful fabrics sit alongside hallal butchers and exotic food shops selling everything from fish – treadfin, tilapia and barracuda, to exotic spices and vegetables including yam, okra, manioc (cassava) and a host of other things I can’t put a name to.
Although these shops are exotic and colourful the real sounds of the Marché Dejean are to be found in the street itself. People using upturned cardboard boxes as makeshift stalls gather in the road to sell everything from beauty products, to clothing, exotic vegetables, peanuts, watches, sunglass, handbags and even mobile phones. At the first sign of the police of course, these itinerant traders disappear in the blink of an eye only to return minutes later when the threat has passed.
Taking a camera to these parts is not a good idea. I was very firmly told by an extremely large and rather menacing African gentleman that taking photographs c’est interdit – it’s not allowed. Of course it is allowed, it’s just that they don’t want you to do it – for what reason we can only guess.
Château Rouge and the Marché Dejean with the colourful sights, which are much brighter in the summer than when I went, the exotic smells and rich sounds reflect the cultural diversity of Paris. The area is well worth a visit – but it’s perhaps best to leave the camera at home.
ABOUT ONCE EVERY month or so, I wander up to Pigalle, one of the – how shall I say – one of the more ‘colourful’ areas of Paris.
Tourists of course flock here to see the world-famous Moulin Rouge with its sixty strong troupe of Doriss Girls and the plus célèbre can-can du monde. But they might also come to this neck of the woods to see some less glamorous things too!
When I emerge from Pigalle Métro station it’s not the Moulin Rouge or the rows of seedy sex-shops that I see, they are behind me in the opposite direction, it’s this gas station straddling the footpath that always catches my eye.
This is the point of departure for my monthly perambulation around Pigalle. Starting from here, I walk along the boulevard de Clichy, turn right into the rue des Martyrs, right again into rue Victor Massé and then right again up to the boulevard de Clichy and Blanche Métro station which is right in front of the Moulin Rouge.
And the purpose of my monthly visits …
I come to look at the sound shops, to see what’s new and to reminisce.
When I first came to Paris some fifteen years ago, Pigalle was awash with shops specialising in sound recording. For a sound enthusiast like me it was heaven. You could buy anything and everything to do with sound recording here – reel-to-reel tape recorders, small and large, giant mixing desks, microphones, loudspeakers, and more cables than you could shake a stick at. And the choice was huge, not just the choice of products but the places you could buy them from. Today, it’s very different. Save for a few small enclaves, sound recording shops are few and far between.
Star’s Music on the boulevard de Clichy used to be one of the biggest and best sound recording shops in town. Today, it sells mostly electronic keyboards, electronic drum-kits and a few musical instruments. There is a small sound recording department but it’s confined to a couple of shelves in a tiny part of the store. All is not lost though, they do have a separate shop next door dedicated to selling microphones and they have a very good selection.
Another shop specialising in microphones, but also selling sound recorders, is Le Microphone. It’s a small shop in the rue Victor Massé and they have a good range of products ranging from affordable, hand-held recorders to top-quality broadcast recorders together with a top-of-the-range selection of microphones.
Home Studio used to be a favourite haunt of mine. I used to spend hours in this shop just browsing at things I was sure I ought to have but didn’t actually need. Today, this shop too is full of electronic keyboards and a range of digital gizmos not only above my price range but most of them way beyond my comprehension.
Not all that long ago, Home Studio set up a separate microphone shop further along rue Victor Massé, a shop not only with a very impressive range of microphones but also, as I know from personal experience, exemplary customer service, a rare commodity in these parts. Alas, this shop is also no more. When I went to have a look last Saturday, the shop was empty and shuttered.
I still go to Pigalle every month or so to look at the sound shops and I still get that extraordinary buzz when something new catches my eye and just for a moment I’m absolutely convinced that I can’t possibly live without it … but the moment almost always passes and I come away empty-handed.
A journey around the sound shops of Pigalle used to occupy my entire Saturday afternoon or sometimes even longer. Today it takes me less than an hour to visit them all.
But there is an upside …
On my regular visits I now get much more time to explore the rest of Pigalle, the parts beyond the sound shops, the Moulin Rouge and the seedy side of life – places like rue Lepic.
Rue Lepic – A Soundwalk:
Rue Lepic is an ancient road climbing the Butte de Montmartre from the boulevard de Clichy to the place Jean-Baptiste-Clément. In 1852 it was renamed rue de l’Empereur, and renamed again in 1864, after the General, Louis Lepic (1765-1827). It’s one of those engaging Parisian streets where I love to do soundwalks.
I suppose it’s all too easy to look upon the past through rose-tinted spectacles. I still though treasure my memories of Saturday afternoon’s touring the seemingly endless sound shops in Pigalle, looking, touching and occasionally buying what was then state-of the-art technology. But times move on and technology seems to change at an ever-quickening pace. The sound shops that remain in Pigalle today sell some things that I recognise and completely understand and, every once in a while, still might buy. But they also sell things that are way beyond my understanding. I’m sure that even these state-of-the-art products will also become tomorrow’s museum pieces.
Yes, I do mourn the passing of all the sound shops that gave me so much pleasure all those years ago but I take comfort from having more time to explore the rest of Pigalle and being able to capture its sound tapestry – with a recording device that would have been unimaginable fifteen years ago!
FOR THE SECOND time in the last three months I’ve been to see a newly opened Paris Métro station. In December I went to have a look at Front Populaire, the new terminus at the northern end of Line 12. That station was opened on 18th December and it became the 302nd station on the Paris Métro network.
Last week, I crossed to the south of Paris to visit the latest addition to the Paris Métro network, the 303rd station, Mairie de Montrouge, which now becomes the new southern terminus of Line 4. The station was officially opened on 23rd March by Frédéric Cuvillier, Junior Minister for Transport and the Maritime Economy.
The extension to Mairie de Montrouge is the first extension of Métro Line 4 since its construction was completed in 1910. For over a hundred years Line 4 ran within the Paris city boundaries from Porte de Clignancourt in the north to Porte d’Orléans in the south. The extension to Mairie de Montrouge now takes Line 4 beyond the city limits into the suburbs.
At a cost of over €152 million, the extension is 780 metres long and the work took five years to complete.
In yet another example of RATP’s joined up thinking, Mairie de Montrouge station links with three RATP bus routes, 68, 126 and 128 as well as with the SQYBUS (Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines) network.
Sounds inside Mairie de Montrouge station:
Inside, the new station has a bright and airy feel to it in part due to the use of natural light coming through the glass panels set into the roof which also form part of the concourse outside the station.
Glass panels set into the concourse outside which provide natural light inside the station:
The seats both inside and outside are quite comfortable despite their rather futuristic look.
The station has two entrances at the moment. The main entrance is on the parvis of l’Eglise Saint-Jacques le Majeur.
There is a second entrance at Place du Général-Leclerc and a third entrance, opposite the Mairie, is under construction and is due to open next year.
Extending the line to Mairie de Montrouge is only the first stage of the southern extension of Line 4. In 2014 work will begin on a further extension with two new stations, Verdun Sud and Bagneux. These stations are planned to open in 2019.
Mairie de Montrouge (The Town Hall)
Until 2011, the trains on Line 4, the MP 59, were the oldest on the Paris Métro system, some of them 50 years old. During 2011 and 2012 newer MP 89 trains, formerly running on Line 1 but now redundant since the automation of that line, were cascaded to Line 4 making for quicker and more comfortable journeys.
With 154 million passengers a year, Line 4, the second busiest line on the system after Line 1, now has faster and more comfortable trains taking passengers further than ever.
FOR THE LAST FIVE years or so I’ve been recording the contemporary sound tapestry of Paris in, as far as I know, a more comprehensive way than it’s been done before. During that time I’ve recorded both the ordinary and extraordinary sounds of this city in ordinary and extraordinary places.
Occasionally, I’ve been able to record history in the making and last Saturday was one such occasion. It was quite sobering to think that the event I was about to witness will never be seen again in the lifetime of anyone who was there.
Bells have rung out from the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris since the end of the 12th century, long before the building of the cathedral was completed. As the cathedral’s life evolved and its influence developed more bells were added to reflect its increasing importance.
By the middle of the 18th century Notre Dame had a magnificent array of bells – eight in the north tower, two bourdons, or great bells, in the south tower, seven in the spire and three clock bells in the north transept.
But their days were numbered. The ravages of the French Revolution took their toll and the bells were removed, broken up and melted down. One bell though escaped this destruction. The biggest of the cathedral’s bells, the great Emanuel bell, was saved and reinstalled on the express orders of Napoleon I and it still sits in the south tower today.
After the dust of the Revolution had settled new bells were installed in Notre Dame – four in the north tower, three in the spire and three in the roof of the transept. Unfortunately, the best that can be said about these new bells is that they were second rate. Poor quality metal was used to cast them and they were out of tune with each other and with the magnificent Emanuel bell. And these second rate bells are what Parisians have lived with, at least until last Saturday – and then everything changed.
To mark the 850th anniversary of the founding of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris it was decided to replace the existing cathedral bells with new ones, exact replicas of the bells that were in place before the Revolution. With eight new bells in the north tower cast at a foundry in Normandy and a new bourdon cast in the Netherlands sitting beside the frail and now very carefully used Emanuel in the south tower, once again the soundscape of 18th century Paris can be recreated and sounds that have been lost for over two centuries can again be heard.
In February, the new bells were delivered to Notre Dame and were blessed by Cardinal Vingt-Trois. They were then set out in the nave of the cathedral for the public to see and to touch. I saw and touched them all.
A Call for Silence:
I was there on the Parvis du Notre Dame or as it’s called today, Place Jean-Paul II, as the crowds gathered and the anticipation mounted.
The dignitaries arrived and proceedings got underway with three chimes from the great Emanuel bell which brought a gasp from the crowd. Singing by children from the Sacred Music Choir of Notre Dame was followed by an explanation of what was to happen next by a lady whose French was impeccable and whose English accent was far from perfect but nevertheless, an absolute delight to listen to. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, recently returned from the Papal conclave in Rome, then gave a short address.
The Opening Ceremony:
The smallest of the new bells, Jean-Marie, in memory of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the 139th archbishop of Paris, from 1981 to 2005.
782kg – 997mm
When the Cardinal finished speaking there was an eerie silence and then the moment came – the very first ringing of the new bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, sounds that haven’t been heard for over two centuries.
The first ringing of the new bells:
Maurice, in memory of Maurice de Sully, the 72nd bishop of Paris, from 1160-1196, who launched the construction of the current cathedral in 1163.
1,011kg – 1,097mm
After that historic and quite breathtaking experience, which kept the crowd spell bound, it was the turn of the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, to speak which he did fluently and without notes.
Bertrand Delanoë :
Benoît-Joseph, in honour of Pope Benedict XVI. Joseph Ratzinger was made Pope in 2005 and retired in 2013.
1,309kg – 1,207mm
Then came quite remarkable sounds from the bells, a conversation between the smallest bells and Gabriel, one of the largest.
A conversation between bells:
Étienne (Stephen), in honour of Saint Steven, the first Christian martyr. The church constructed (from 690 AD onwards) on the same site as the current Cathedral bore the name Étienne.
1,494kg – 1,267mm
Next to take to the podium was Aurélie Filippetti, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication.
Aurélie Filippetti :
Marcel, in honour of Saint Marcel, the ninth bishop of Paris, at the end of the 4th Century.
1,925kg – 1,393mm
Denis, in honour of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, c. 250 AD. He is the patron saint of the diocese.
2,502kg – 1,536mm
Over the centuries, the sounds of the bells of Notre Dame have told of the joys and sorrows of the Christian community and the major moments that have marked the history of France.
Anne-Geneviève; in honour of Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary and in honour of Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris.
3,477kg – 1,725mm
Hearing the sounds of the new bells for the first time was a very special moment but more was to follow.
Introduced by Monseigneur Patrick Jaquin, recteur-archiprêtre de la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the climax of the ceremony was a magnificent grande solenelle, all ten bells ringing at once.
La Grande Solenelle:
Gabriel, in honour of Saint Gabriel, who announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. In the 15th Century, the largest of the North Tower’s bells already bore the name Gabriel.
4,162kg – 1,828mm
Bells have been associated with Christianity since its earliest times and, although they have marked the passage of time, their primary purpose has always been liturgical. Their chimes summon people to come together and call them to prayer.
It seems appropriate therefore that I should conclude with the sounds of the new bells at Notre Dame doing just that – calling people to the evening service in the cathedral just as they have done for hundreds of years.
And it was quite special to know that the sounds engulfing the Place Jean-Paul II and beyond were the same sounds heard over two centuries ago.
Call to Prayer:
Marie, in honour of the Virgin Mary and in memory of the first great bell of the Cathedral, which was cast in 1378.
6,023kg – 2,065mm
THE HÔTEL DIEU was founded in the middle of the 7th century, which makes it the oldest hospital in Paris. It sits on the Parvis du Notre Dame alongside its more prestigious neighbour, the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, which was founded some four hundred years later.
Originally, the Hôtel Dieu was situated on the other side of the Parvis next to the river Seine. During the Middle Ages it grew in an unplanned and rather chaotic way and by the 17th century it had spilled over the river occupying two bridges and a parcel of land on the Left Bank.
Of course, to say that the Hôtel Dieu was founded as a hospital is not exactly true; there were no hospitals as such in the 7th century. It did cater for the sick after a fashion but it was founded more as a refuge for the poor and it continued to be a refuge for Parisians until the 17th century. By this time though it had gained a terrible reputation and by the time of the Revolution in 1789, a quarter of those admitted died often of diseases contracted within its walls.
It was only in the mid-19th century when the hospital moved to a new, purpose-built home on the other side of the Parvis, the home that it occupies today, that it began to shed its reputation as a disease trap and became a place where people might be treated and even cured.
Today, the Hôtel Dieu has 350 beds and it’s the primary casualty centre for emergency cases in the first nine arrondissements in Paris. It also specialises in research into and the treatment of diabetes and it has a major ophthalmology department, which caters for ophthalmic emergencies, surgery and research.
Recently, I went to have a look at the Hôtel Dieu. From both the outside and the inside it has the feel of rather a cold, unwelcoming place.
Like most 19th century hospitals its buildings are arranged around a central courtyard connected by colonnaded walkways.
Beneath these walkways are long, seemingly endless corridors, which have a rather haunting feel to them.
Whilst these long corridors have a curious haunting elegance about them and the hospital wards themselves are perfectly clean and functional, the spaces in between are rather shabby and have a run-down feel. The entrance to the ophthalmic emergency unit for example doesn’t really inspire confidence even though it’s a state-of-the-art facility.
Regular visitors to this blog will know that, whilst I have a passion for the city of Paris, I have an even greater passion for its sounds and I found the sounds inside the Hôtel Dieu simply fascinating.
To illustrate that, I offer you two sound pieces, both recorded inside the hospital but both recorded in different ways. Both illustrate how sound can describe the atmosphere a place and create images equally as powerful as words or pictures.
The first piece is a soundwalk inside the hospital. I simply recorded as I walked along the corridors and in and out of any door that would let me pass. I didn’t of course invade any private areas – the emergency room, the wards or the laboratories, I simply kept to the public spaces.
Hôtel Dieu – A Soundwalk:
In the first piece I walked through the hospital discovering the sounds. In the next piece, I sat in one place and let the hospital walk past me.
I sat on a long wooden bench in the seemingly endless corridor shown above, outside what I discovered was the bloc opératoire which to my ear at least sounds much more elegant than the operating theatres.
Hôtel Dieu – Outside the bloc opératoire:
If you listen carefully, amongst other things you can hear the soft tread of operating theatre staff dressed in hospital scrubs and white coats returning to work after lunch.
Both these sound pieces illustrate the everyday sounds of a busy hospital, sounds that would go largely unnoticed to the ordinary visitor or to someone with more important things on their mind.
People often ask me why I record sounds like these and my answer is always the same.
For most of our history we have used artefacts, architecture, pictures and words to create a vision of our past. It’s only in the last ten seconds or so on our historical clock that we’ve been able to capture and archive sound. Almost all our sonic heritage has passed by completely unrecorded.
In the 16th century this hospital catered for some 3,500 patients at a time often with four or more to a bed. In 1832 it was overwhelmed with victims of the great cholera outbreak. We have written and pictorial evidence of what the hospital was like during those times but we have none of its contemporary sounds to listen to. Sitting on my long wooden bench in a seemingly endless corridor I was not only able to listen to and record today’s sounds of this place but to create a record of these sounds for others, now and in the future, to explore. I think I may even have been able to hear faint echoes of this place’s past.
As a final note, I have to record that the Hôtel Dieu has an uncertain future.
Thanks to a restructuring of l’Assistance Publique Hôpiteaux de Paris, the body that oversees the hospital, changes are afoot. There are proposals to close the emergency department and to change the hospital into a Hôpital Universitaire de Santé Publique, in effect, a teaching hospital which will take walk-in patients without appointment. That’s why there are banners up on the hospital walls and why the CGT union were collecting signatures for a petition on the day I went.
If these changes come to pass then maybe the sounds I recorded in the Hôtel Dieu will become more important than I thought – a genuine piece of history captured before this hospital as we know it disappears.