FOR SOME TIME NOW I’ve been exploring the history of and recording the contemporary sounds inside the surviving Parisian passages couverts, the covered shopping arcades, which were at their zenith in the early 19th century. In all, some 150 passages couverts were built mainly in the area between the Palais-Royal and the Grands Boulevards and in the former industrial area around Saint-Denis.
In the second-half of the 19th century with the demise of the stagecoach, the opening of railway stations, urban redevelopment by Baron Haussmann, and the creation of department stores the fate of the passages couverts was sealed and they largely fell into disrepair, disuse or disappeared altogether. In the middle of the 20th century a wave of enthusiasm emerged to rescue and renovate the surviving passages. Of the original 150 that were built, 20 still survive today and most of those have been restored to their former glory.
The 1820’s and the 1830’s really marked the hey day of the passages couverts but, despite their subsequent decline, a hundred years later a new passage was to appear, a passage equally as elegant as the best of its early 19th century predecessors.
Léonard Rosenthal (1875 – 1955) was a French businessman, diamond merchant, and property developer. In 1924, Rosenthal acquired a property on the Champs Elysées that had been built originally for the department store owner, Georges Dufayel. It was on the site of this property that Rosenthal was to create a new passage couvert – the Arcades des Champs Elysées.
The French architects, Charles Lefebvre, Marcel Julien and Louis Duhayon designed the 120 metres long, 15 metres wide, Arcades des Champs Elysées in a mixture of Art Deco and neo-classical styles. Eight of the Scottish granite columns came from the old Hôtel Dufayel, to which were added eight more in red granite originally surmounted by gold capitals. A facing of blonde and black marble covers the walls.
The decoration inside the arcades was created by some of the top craftsmen in their field – the wrought iron work by René Gobert, the stained glass by Fernand Jacopozzi and the light fittings and shades by René Lalique.
The arcade was designed with a central space containing a café with a terrace and a bandstand surrounded by an array of two-floor boutiques. The boutiques are still there, the café is now a Starbucks and the bandstand has disappeared. And that’s not the only thing that has disappeared. Two fountains designed by René Lalique have gone, one to the Tokyo Museum and one to the United States and two lanterns that framed the entrance on the Champs Elysées mysteriously vanished.
For me, the most spectacular feature of the Arcades des Champs Elysées is the magnificent glass roof.
Sounds of the Arcades des Champs Elysées:
I’ve been to the Arcades des Champs Elysées many times but the other day I went specifically to record the sounds inside to add to my Paris Soundscapes Archive. My sound recording actually began before I entered the arcade because, completely by chance, I happened upon a group of African male dancers performing in the street outside. They were a lively bunch and they had attracted quite a crowd but I didn’t stay for their complete performance, instead I left them to it and I went to record the contemporary soundscape inside the arcade.
The sounds I captured on this particular Thursday afternoon were not as elegant as their surroundings and not as delicate as the sounds I’ve captured in some of the other surviving passages couverts. That is partly to do with the general hubbub emanating from the Starbucks emporium but it’s also a feature of the size and shape of the arcade. Long, narrow arcades seem to highlight and amplify the most delicate sounds but in the 15 metre wide Arcades des Champs Elysées with its high glass roof and coffee shop in the centre, the sounds seem to tend towards the cacophonous rather than the elegant – pretty much like all the other sounds in the Champs Elysées. Still, the sounds are what they are and consequently I think they are worth preserving.
Visitors to Paris may be familiar with the famous Parisian nightspot, the Cabaret Lido, which is a little further along the Champs Elysées. What the visitors may not know is that the nickname for the Arcades des Champs Elysées is the Arcades du Lido. And the reason for that is that the Cabaret Lido was situated in the Arcades des Champs Elysées from 1946 until 1977.
From 1929, one of the features of the Arcades des Champs Elysées was the underground health spa as we might call it these days, which was set up by the Société hydrothérapeutic et balnéaire des Champs Elysées. It occupied 4,400 M2 and comprised a heated swimming pool, a beauty salon, a hairdressers, a hammam, showers and a massage parlour. It was very fashionable and very popular. It was often referred to as The Paris Beach because the evenings had a Venetian theme reproducing the Lido Beach.
Its success though was short lived. In 1933 the establishment went into liquidation and was closed. In 1936 the impresario, Leon Volterra took it on and replaced the swimming pool with an auditorium in which he put on diners-spectacles, dinner shows. In 1946, Joseph and Louis Clerico bought it from Volterra and completely transformed it into the Cabaret Lido. It went from strength to strength until finally in 1977 it was moved from the Arcades des Champs Elysées to larger premises just up the road where it remains today.
For those of you who are perhaps not familiar with the Cabaret Lido, it’s probably best known as home to the famous dancing troupe, the Bluebell Girls.
You can find the Arcades des Champs Elysées at:
76 – 78 Avenue des Champs Elysées and the nearest Métro station is: Georges V on Line 1
You can find more of my Passages Couverts collection by clicking here.
I WENT TO AN EXHIBITION the other day in the fairly recently opened Théâtre des Sablons in Neuilly sur Seine. The exhibition, Histoires d’Automates, consisted of a collection of automata (automates in French), self-operating mechanical devices in the form of musical dolls, clockwork singing birds and tableaux méchaniques or mechanically animated scenes.
Théâtre des Sablons
All the exhibits came from the collection of automata accumulated over the years by the antiquarian and collector, Jacques Damiot. In 1978, five years before Damiot’s death, his collection was acquired by the Musée de Neuilly and from 2002 to 2005 all the pieces in the collection have been carefully restored.
The creation of automata goes back to antiquity. It is said that in the 15th century BC , Amenhotep son of Hapu made a statue of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, which uttered a melodious sound when struck by the sun’s rays in the morning and during sunset. In 520 BC Daedalus was reputed to have made statues that were worked by quicksilver and had the ability to walk.
But it was with the coming of the industrial revolution in the 19th century that automata really became popular. In France, the second half of the nineteenth century was the Golden Age during which the grands automatiers like Alexandre Théroude, Gustave Vichy, Jean Roullet, Ernest Decamps, Blaise Bontems, Jean-Marie Phalibois and Léopold Lambert were at their peak of creativity. They produced automata as collectible items or to decorate rooms or as amusement for adults and children alike.
The fifty items in this exhibition illustrate the various types of automata ranging from the purely decorative such as musical clocks and musical boxes, to the mechanical representations of nature, of human nature and of the circus and the music hall.
Of all the pieces, I think my favourite was the representation of the diminutive music hall comedian and dancer, Harry Relph, who became famous in both London and Paris at the end of the 19th century under the stage name of Little Titch. He was best known for his acrobatic and comedic Big-Boot dance for which he wore boots with soles 28 inches (71 cm) long.
I couldn’t possibly go to an exhibition like this without recording the sounds around me, sounds as varied as mechanical birdsong, the clatter of Little Tich’s big boots, the sounds of excited children looking at the exhibits and the eclectic sounds of a 20th century display complete with 20th century music.
The sounds of Histoire d’Automates:
Here are some more of the exhibits:
Automata are still made today of course but usually as toys or for publicity material or for decorating shop windows rather than as ornamental and collectable pieces, which somehow seems rather a shame. I find them and their sounds endlessly fascinating.
LA FONTAINE DE MÉDICIS, or the Medici Fountain, is a monumental fountain in the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. I’ve been to it many times but early on a bitterly cold morning last week I went with a special purpose in mind, to record the sounds of the fountain.
The fountain was part of the sumptuous palace and gardens that Marie de Médicis, widow of Henry IV and regent for King Louis XIII, commissioned in the 1630’s. The palace, the Palais du Luxembourg, was based on the Palazzo Pitti and the gardens on the Boboli gardens in Florence both of which she had known from her childhood. The fountain was modelled on the grotto built by Bernado Buontalenti in the Boboli gardens. The palace was the work of architect Salomon de Brosse, but the fountain, or grotto, was most probably the work of Tommaso Francini, the Intendant General of Waters and Fountains of the King.
Fontaine Médicis in 1820
After the death of Marie de Médicis the palace and the gardens went through several changes of ownership and the fountain fell into disrepair. Napoleon Bonaparte ordered some restoration work to be done at the beginning of the 19th century but by the second half of the century Baron Haussmann’s massive urban redevelopment of Paris was in full cry and the future of the fountain was in jeopardy. Haussmann had plans to create the rue de Médicis which was to cut through the site where the fountain stood.
The French architect Alphonse de Gisors, who had already extended the Palais du Luxembourg in the 1830’s, was called upon to move the Fontaine Médicis some thirty meters closer to the palace to make way for Haussmann’s new street and in doing so he radically changed its setting by creating a 50 metre long rectangle of water bounded by an alley of trees and he also changed its appearance.
Alphonse de Gisors’ relocation of la Fontaine Médicis today
It was this rectangle of water that was of particular interest to me when I visited the Fontaine Médicis last week.
Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea, by Auguste Ottin (1861)
Looking at the fountain with the giant, Polyphemus, looking down on Acis and Galatea and with Faunus, the god of the forest and Diana, goddess of the hunt (both by Ottin) looking at each other, I was absorbed by the sounds of the fountain.
At this early hour in the morning there were no people around but even so I was not alone. This duck befriended me and stayed close to me the whole time I was there. I had gone to this place to record the sounds around me and although I could hear the sounds of the water I couldn’t help wondering what this duck might hear – assuming ducks can hear.
Anxious to find out, I lowered a microphone to the same level as the duck and began to record. These are the sounds heard by the thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who visit this place each year.
Presently, the duck leapt off the ledge onto the water below and began foraging with its head under the water. I followed by lowering a microphone under the water and I began to hear sounds that only the ducks and none of the visitors hear. Both the duck and I were close to where the water was falling over the ledge so the sounds under the water were an underwater version of the sounds above – the gurgling of the falling water as it hits and then descends below the waterline.
The duck decided to move off to a more interesting feeding ground, a clump of fallen leaves nestling on the water. I let my microphone float down to join the duck and it came to rest under the leaves where I discovered a completely different collection of captivating sounds.
I’ve put together a selection of the sounds I recorded, the sounds from above the base of the fountain, the sounds from below and the sounds from under the bed of leaves so that you can share the sonic tapestry the ducks hear.
The hidden sounds of the Fontaine Médicis:
In Homer’s Odyssey we are told that the man-eating one-eyed giant, Polyphemus, was blinded when Odysseus hardened a wooden stake in a fire and drove it into his eye. If that is so, then from his position on la Fontaine Médicis today Polyphemus will surely be more than compensated by the wonderful sounds around him both above and below the water.
AFTER THIRTEEN YEARS OF PLANNING, four years of construction and a total expenditure of some 360 million Euros the new Paris Tramway T7 opened for business on Saturday 16th November.
Designed to extend the public transport system between the departments of Val-de-Marne and Essonne, Tramway T7 runs from the Métro station Villejuif – Louis Aragon in the commune of Villejuif in the southern suburbs of Paris to Porte de l’Essonne in the commune of Athis-Mons close to Orly international airport.
The route of Tramway T7
In the middle of last week I went to Villejuif to watch and record the final testing of the trams before they entered service. This testing began in May this year but for the last month the trams and the crews have been operating a full service without passengers – a month-long dress rehearsal to ensure that the trams entered revenue service seamlessly.
Final testing of the trams at Villejuif:
On Saturday the scene at Villejuif was very different as I and many hundreds of others arrived for the inauguration of Tramway T7.
The crowd gathered and the band played …
The refreshments and entertainment were free …
And Claudine Cordillot, Mayor of Villejuif made a speech.
The inauguration of tramway T7 :
The planning for this new tramway began as far back as the year 2000 when a process of consultation with the local communities began and then, in 2002, the Syndicat des transports d’Île-de-France (STIF) gave their approval in principle for the project. STIF is the organisation that controls the Paris public transport system and coordinates all the different transport companies operating in Île-de-France including RATP and SNCF.
A public inquiry was held at the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004 to inform the local communities of the proposed plans and to hear any concerns or objections they had.
The proposed project was approved in December 2006 by RATP, STIF and the Conseil général du Val-de-Marne, the key local authority involved. In 2008, an amended proposal addressing some cost and technical issues was brought forward and this was approved in October of that year. This approval left the way clear for the preliminary construction work to begin in 2009.
In parallel with the construction of the tramway work was also begun on the redevelopment of the adjacent RD7, formerly Route National 7, the trunk road that runs from Paris to Italy.
The funding required for Tramway T7 was considerable:
€52 million to acquire the necessary land;
€44 million for the initial studies and project management;
€223 million for the construction of the tramway and the redevelopment of RD7 and,
€48 million for the new rolling stock.
This money was funded by:
The French Government (€10 million), represented by the Prefecture of the Ile-de-France;
Région Ile-de-France (€234 million) – in pursuance of its objective to develop transport links between suburbs;
The Conseil général du Val-de-Marne (€54 million) – for the redevelopment of the RD7 road;
The Conseil général de l’Essonne (€12 million);
Communauté d’agglomération “Les Portes de l’Essonne” (€2.4 million) – for the redevelopment of the south side of the airport platform;
RATP (€5 million) – they operate of the tramway.
STIF – who controlled whole project. The €48 million cost of the rolling stock is funded by STIF in a RATP / STIF leasing agreement.
Tramway T7 runs for 11.2 km from the Métro station Villejuif – Louis Aragon to Athis-Mons – Porte de l’Essonne. There are 19 trams operating the route which means that the average waiting time at any of the 18 stations is just 5 to 6 minutes on a weekday and a little longer at weekends and public holidays. The average travel time for the whole route is 31 minutes. The tramway can handle 30,000 passengers a day.
In yet another example of the joined-up thinking used by STIF and RATP, all but two of the 18 stations on this tramway have connections, or correspondances in French, with one or more bus routes.
Image courtesy of Alstom
The trams used on Tramway T7 are the Citadis 302 trams built by the French company Alstom. These trams are not only energy and noise efficient but their low-floor design gives easy access to wheelchairs, pushchairs and people with reduced mobility. Capable of a maximum speed of around 70 km/h the trams on tramway T7 run at an average speed somewhere around 20 km/h.
Inside the trams great attention has been given to both the signage and to the announcements. The signage in the roof tells passengers at each terminus precisely when the tram is due to depart. Throughout the journey the signage displays the name of the current stop and the connections that can be made there, the name of the next stop and the time it will take to get there as well as the time it will take to get to the next terminus.
Song Phanakem, the man behind the voices on the Paris mass transit system, has produced exceptionally good announcements for Tramway T7. He has used human voices of course and each tram stop announcement appears twice each time with a different intonation. The announcements are very clear and played at exactly the right volume – not too loud and not too soft. Only occasionally, in a very crowed tram with passenger’s voices raised more than usual, are the announcements a little hard to hear but the quality is such that even then they are not subsumed altogether. An interesting new feature is that at every tram stop there is an announcement to inform new passengers of the direction in which the tram is travelling. I can see this being very useful especially for international visitors travelling to or from Orly international airport who may be unfamiliar with this tram system.
Of course, I couldn’t possibly go to the inauguration of Tramway T7 and not ride on a tram especially since for the weekend of the 16th/17th November it was completely free! And I was very lucky because not only did I ride on a brand new tram, it was a very special new tram – the 1,500th Alstom Citadis tram in worldwide circulation.
I travelled all the way from Villejuif – Louis Aragon to Athis-Mons – Porte de l’Essonne – and back again. And, of course, I couldn’t make those journeys without recording them for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
For those of you who have the time to listen, here are the sounds I captured on the outward journey.
Villejuif – Louis Aragon to Athis-Mons – Porte de l’Essonne – the complete journey:
While the creation and opening of Tramway T7 is impressive the story is not over. By 2018 it is planned that the tramway will be extended to Juvisy-sur-Orge and looking even further into the future, by 2020 it should connect to the new planned Métro line 15 at Villejuif- Louis Aragon. I think this is all good news especially since STIF and RATP seem to manage these new developments largely in harmony with the neighbouring local communities and in sympathy with environmental concerns.
Villejuif – The end of the line
And if you think that a tramway can’t have a life of its own, Tramway T7 has its own blog!
IN THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY rue des Lombards and the area close by was the Wall Street of Paris, the city’s banking centre where a vast amount of money changed hands and fortunes and reputations were made and lost.
The street took its name from the large number of money-changers, natives of Lombardy, who established themselves in Paris at the end of the 12th century. At the time when the King and the lords of his court sold prebendaries, bishoprics and benefices by auction the Lombards lent money at a high rate of interest and made immense fortunes.
The Lombard money-changers were obliged to conduct their activities out in the open on the Grand-Pont linking the Cité to the Right Bank which became known as the Pont des Changeurs (Exchange Bridge) now known as the Pont au Change. Whilst these money-changers worked on the bridge most of them lived close by in rue de la Buffeterie which, in 1322, became rue des Lombards. This imprinting of incorporated trades on the urban landscape was quite common with street names quite often being changed to reflect the occupational specialities of the area.
By the fourteenth century political and economic dislocation caused a xenophobic backlash against the Lombards during which their financial expertise was held against them and they became known less as money-changers lubricating the economy and more pejoratively simply as usurers.
As late as the sixteenth century Gabriel Meurier in his book, Trésor des Sentences, xvie siècle, or book of proverbs published in 1568, quotes:
“Dieu me garde de quatre maisons, de la taverne, du Lombard, de l’hôpital et de la prison.”
“God keep me from four houses, the tavern, the Lombards, hospital and prison.”
The parallel between the Lombards in fourteenth century Paris and today’s Wall Street money-changers, and the popular perception of them both, seemed quite uncanny as I walked along rue des Lombards on a dull early November afternoon recording a soundwalk.
Rue des Lombards – A Soundwalk:
Rue des Lombards begins just off Place Sainte-Opportune at rue Sainte-Opportune and stretches for 228 metres to rue Saint-Martin. It crosses the busy nineteenth century Baron Haussmann creation, the Boulevard de Sébastopol and another medieval street, rue Saint-Denis.
If you listen carefully to my soundwalk you will hear the audio aid for blind people at one of the crossings over the Boulevard de Sébastopol.
Today, rue des Lombards is not only one of the oldest but one of the most vibrant streets in Paris. Although my soundwalk was recorded in the afternoon, the street really comes to life at night. It’s renowned for its three jazz clubs, Le Duc des Lombards at the junction with Boulevard de Sébastopol and Le Baiser Salé and Sunset/Sunside, which sit side by side further along rue des Lombards.
N° 14 rue des Lombards is interesting.
Now a restaurant, this is the site a thirteenth-century house built by the Order of the Knights Templar as a place to conduct their business. Inside is a medieval cellar once used as a chapel. During the French Revolution the clergy used to gather here to celebrate Mass in secret. It was also supposed to be the temporary hiding place of François Ravaillac who, on 14th May 1610, stabbed to death King Henry IV as he was passing in rue de la Feronnerie close to rue des Lombards. Ravaillac was arrested outside N° 13 rue de la Ferronnerie. He was tried, tortured and executed by being pulled apart by four horses, a fate reserved for regicides.
N° 13 rue de la Ferronnerie today
Walking along rue de Lombards it’s worth pausing to catch this view from one of the side streets of La Tour Saint-Jacques listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Rue des Lombards was also once famous for confectionary and in particular for La Renommée, the confiserie owned by Nicolas Appert, inventor of airtight food preservation.
As it has for centuries, money still changes hands along this medieval cobbled street but today you’re more likely to part with your cash in one of the Irish pubs, Auvergne bistros or famous jazz clubs than you are buying bishoprics and benefices.
I AM A CITY DWELLER and so the sound of traffic is my constant companion. In a busy city like Paris there is no escape from it. Day and night the cacophony of traffic pervades the air enveloping one in a cloak of constant noise pollution.
The Mairie de Paris has produced a fascinating map of road traffic noise in the city and I’ve reproduced a page of it below.
If you want to explore the on-line version you can do so by clicking here where you can see the road traffic noise levels in each arrondissement measured in dB(A), an expression of the relative loudness of sounds in air as perceived by the human ear.
Academic studies have also been carried out to try to quantify the amount of traffic noise and it’s effect on our lives. I came across a study recently published in the International Journal of Health Geographics entitled ‘Transportation noise and annoyance related to road traffic in the French RECORD study’ which is worth a read.
Extract from: ‘Transportation noise and annoyance related to road traffic in the French RECORD study’: International Journal of Health Geographics
Although both the sound map of the traffic noise in Paris and the study from the International Journal of Health Geographics are interesting and certainly help to quantify the problem I’m not going to dwell on them here. Instead, I want to focus on traffic noise from my perspective as a sound recordist specialising in recording urban soundscapes and particularly the urban soundscape of Paris.
The conventional wisdom is that traffic noise is the enemy of the field recordist and I can attest to that. I’ve lost count of the number of recordings I’ve made that have been blighted by traffic noise. Unlike my wildlife sound recording friends who will often get up at an unearthly hour and travel for miles to find remote places free from the sound of traffic to hunt their quarry I don’t have that possibility. The sounds I hunt for are much closer to home, in the heart of the city and in the case of Paris, a city that is constantly awash with traffic.
Over the years I’ve wrestled with the problem of recording the Parisian soundscape while, if not eliminating, then minimising the effect of unwanted traffic noise but there has always been a problem in the back of my mind. Traffic noise IS part of the Parisian soundscape and while it might not always be an attractive part, it is an integral part of the warp and weft of the city’s sound tapestry.
So I’ve decided to stand this problem on its head and rather than seeking to eliminate or minimise traffic noise I’ve decided to feature it – but this of course requires a change in the way we think about traffic noise.
For me, noise is sound in the wrong place and usually in the wrong quantity. But what if we think not of traffic noise but of traffic sounds. What if we think less about traffic as noise pollution and more in terms of traffic as a sound tapestry in its own right. True, it won’t eliminate traffic as a major source of noise pollution blighting our environment but it might help us to come to terms with it a little better and it might even help us to find something engaging rather than something completely hostile. It might even become, if not a friend, then perhaps less of an enemy.
For the last few months I’ve been recording the sounds rather than the noise of traffic. I’ve been to the traffic hotspots in Paris such as the Champs Elysées, rue de Rivoli, Place de Clichy, Place de la Bastille, Place de la Chapelle as well as to other places less congested. I eschewed the Périphérique, the wall of traffic that surrounds Paris, on the basis that I wanted to record traffic that was actually moving which the traffic there seldom seems to do.
I don’t have a car and so I don’t contribute to the noise pollution caused by traffic – although I do use public transport extensively so maybe I do to some extent – but nevertheless, I tried to listen to the sounds of the traffic dispassionately, as a sound recordist recording yet another urban soundscape.
Parisian Traffic – A Study in Sound:
In this sound piece I’ve stitched together some of the traffic sounds that I’ve recorded. The piece begins with the cacophony of traffic, the dominating, harsh, discordant mixture of sounds that we think of as traffic noise. As the piece develops the sounds of the traffic become less harsh and more distinctive as individual vehicles emerge from the crowd and reclaim their identity. The sounds cease to shout at us and begin to speak in a clearer voice. Finally, pedestrians reclaim the streets although not entirely devoid of traffic but at least sharing them more equitably.
As someone who is passionate about sound I abhor the increasing noise pollution that blights our lives as much as anyone. Traffic noise makes up a large part of that noise pollution and it’s not going to disappear any time soon. At best it can be a nuisance and at worst it can be unbearable.
As a sound recordist capturing the Parisian soundscape I loathe the city’s incessant traffic noise but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t at least try to tease out some of its few redeeming features and embrace its more captivating sounds.
PONT NEUF – LA MONNAIE is a station on the Paris Métro network. All the Paris Métro stations, and the bus stops for that matter, are named after people, places or events that are significant to France and the French and in some Métro stations, like Pont Neuf – La Monnaie, the interior design reflects the station’s name and its associations.
Pont Neuf – La Monnaie station is part of Métro Line 7 and it’s situated on the Right Bank of the Seine. The trains run through the station on an east – west axis parallel to the river. There are two entrances to the station both on the Quai du Louvre, one is right outside the former La Samaritaine department store and the other is across the Quai du Louvre at the northern end of the Pont Neuf.
Why this Métro station should be called Pont Neuf is obvious since it sits at one end of the Pont Neuf, or New Bridge, which, despite it’s name, is in fact the oldest bridge in Paris. But what about the second part of the station’s name, La Monnaie, where does that come from?
Well, across the Pont Neuf on the Quai de Conti running parallel to the Left Bank of the Seine is the Hôtel de la Monnaie which houses the Monnaie de Paris, the French mint. The Monnaie de Paris has had several homes over the years and for some time it occupied a building in the rue de la Monnaie which today bisects two of the buildings that make up La Samaritaine. One end of the rue de la Monnaie abuts one entrance to the Metro station Pont-Neuf – La Monnaie.
Created in 864, the Monnaie de Paris is France’s oldest institution and it’s responsible for striking and circulating coins. It strikes the official French Euro currency as well as producing collector’s coins, medals, official decorations, works of art and even jewellery. In addition, it also strikes several foreign official currency coins, whether in their entirety (as in the case of Luxembourg, Monaco, and Malta) or in part (as for Greece, Bangladesh, etc.).
Employing some five hundred people, the Monnaie de Paris operates from two sites. On the Quai de Conti in Paris they strike special coins, medals and decorations from precious metals but the everyday circulating coins are struck at the site in Pessac in the south west of France.
The Hôtel de la Monnaie on the Quai de Conti is a neo-classical building designed by the French architect, Jacques-Denis Antoine, and built between 1767–1775. Today, it houses the administration of the Monnaie de Paris, a manufactory and a numismatics museum which is open to the public.
And inside the Métro station Pont Neuf – La Monnaie, as well as listening to the trains passing to and fro, we can see the association with the Monnaie de Paris reflected in the interior design.
Sounds inside the Métro station Pont Neuf – La Monnaie:
On the station’s platforms are large reproductions of various coins, some on the roof of the station …
… and some on the walls.
Display cases show different aspects of the work of the Monnaie de Paris and there is also an historic coin press.
Visiting a station like Pont Neuf – La Monnaie can turn a mundane wait for a Métro train into a fascinating experience.
And as for the Pont Neuf – well, I’ll come to that in another post.
THERE HAS BEEN a road running in a north-south direction from the banks of the Seine towards the original Romanesque church, which was later to become the Église Saint-Sulpice, since the middle of the 13th century. In 1489, that road was formalised into a street named rue de Seine.
Rue de Seine from North to South
Today, rue de Seine runs for some 665 metres across the 6th arrondissement from quai Malaquais to rue Saint-Sulpice. Whilst the name, quai Malaquais, may not be familiar to you, most visitors to Paris will immediately recognise the magnificent building which is the Institut de France and it is directly behind this building that rue de Seine begins.
Institut de France
In a kind of shorthand, this building is often referred to as the Académie Française but that is only partially true. The Institut de France is a French learned society that groups five academies of which one is the Académie Française. The five academies are: the Académie Française, guardian of the French language, founded in 1635, the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (Academy of Humanities) founded in 1663, the Académie des sciences (Academy of Sciences) founded in 1666, the Académie des beaux-arts (Academy of Fine Arts) founded in 1816 and the Académie des sciences morales et politiques (Academy of Moral and Political Sciences) founded in 1795, suppressed in 1803, and re-established in 1832.
Walking from the Louvre, across the Pont des Arts and thorough the Institut de France, I went to explore rue de Seine the other day where I recorded a soundwalk to add to my Paris Soundscapes Archive and I took some pictures to share with you. I also encountered a complete surprise … of which more later.
Rue de Seine – A Soundwalk:
My soundwalk began at N°1 rue de Seine, the house in which Saint Vincent de Paul, the Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor, once lived. He was canonised in 1737.
Across the street is the Square Honoré-Champion and the statue of the French enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher, François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume, Voltaire.
Also in the Square Honoré-Champion, if less conspicuous, is a statue to the French social commentator and political thinker Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, usually simply known as Montesquieu. He is perhaps best remembered for his articulation of the separation of powers now taken for granted by modern governments.
La fontaine du Marché-aux-Carmes
A few steps away from the Square Honoré-Champion, just across the street, is the Square Gabriel Pierné named after Henri Constant Gabriel Pierné a French composer, conductor, and organist. In the Square is la fontaine du Marché-aux-Carmes, which you can hear in my soundwalk. It was created by the French sculptor and painter, Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard in 1830 and it was installed in the Square a hundred years later. It’s now a monument historique.
From the fountain in the Square Gabriel Pierné I began walking along rue de Seine accompanied by the sound of building work taking place on the left hand side of the street close to N° 25. I stopped to have a look at N° 25 because this is where Charles Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan once lived. Born around 1611, d’Artagnan served Louis XIV as captain of the Musketeers of the Guard. He died in 1673 at the Siege of Maastricht in the Franco-Dutch War. A fictionalised account of his life by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras formed the basis for the d’Artagnan Romances of Alexandre Dumas, perhaps the most famous of which is The Three Musketeers.
Next door, at N° 27, is the former home of the French poet, Charles Pierre Baudelaire.
Two doors further along, at N° 31, a plaque above the door reveals that Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, later Baroness Dudevant, best known by her pseudonym George Sand once lived here. George Sand was a French novelist but she he is equally well-known for her much publicised romantic affairs with a number of well-known people including Frédéric Chopin.
Some time later, the American dancer, artist, poet and philosopher Raymond Duncan, brother of the dancer Isadora Duncan, also lived here.
Across the street, N° 26 is now a boutique but in 1618 it was opened as the cabaret, Au petit Maure. On 29th December 1661, the poet, libetine, soldier and diplomat, Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant died here.
N° 39, now the Hôtel Prince de Condé, was once home to the French engineer and physicist, Claude-Louis Navier, best known for being one half of the Navier–Stokes equations, which everyone knows (everyone except me that is, I had to look it up!) give a description of the velocity of a fluid at a given point in space and time.
And with that nugget of information under my belt I needed a drink and where better than the Café La Palette.
Now a monument historique, the Café La Palette dates from the 1930’s. It has always been associated with artists – Cezanne, Picasso and Braque were frequent visitors, and it’s a favourite haunt of students from the prestigious art school, l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, which is close by.
Rue de Seine from Rue de Buci
If you know what to look for, rue de Seine is a feast of history and that history continues as we walk beyond La Palette where rue de Seine crosses the Saint-Germain-des-Prés area. Once the haunt of intellectuals and revolutionaries and now a favourite tourist spot, this is the world of Jean-Paul Marat and Georges Danton, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Juliette Gréco.
Crossing rue de Buci, but on this day too late to enjoy the wonderful street market, my soundwalk takes us up to and across the busy Boulevard Saint-Germain passing cafés and delicious food shops on the way.
Rue Saint-Sulpice – the southern end of rue de Seine
My soundwalk ends beyond the Boulevard Saint-Germain at rue Saint-Sulpice, the southern end of rue de Seine close to the Église Saint-Sulpice. This is perhaps my favourite church in Paris, not least because it has a François-Henri Clicquot organ magnificently restored and improved in 1862 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. This organ is considered to be Cavaillé-Coll’s best ever creation and it is perhaps the most impressive instrument of the romantic French symphonic-organ era. Apart from the installation of an electric blower and the addition of two pedal stops the organ remains almost exactly as Cavaillé-Coll left it. And as if that wasn’t enough, two of the finest Cathedral organists ever were resident organists in this church, Charles-Marie Widor from1870 to1933 and Marcel Dupré from1934 to 1971.
I know I’ve digressed a little but magnificent church organs are one of my passions and the one in the Église Saint-Sulpice is as good as they get.
I haven’t though yet quite finished with the rue de Seine. At the southern tip of rue de Seine close to rue Saint-Sulpice is this gem that takes us back to the early history to be found at the northern end of the street.
Founded in 1643, Maison de Cire Trudon is the oldest candle maker in the world. It supplied candles and candle holders to the royal court of Louis XIV, as well as most of the great churches of France. Cire Trudon still make and distribute candles throughout France and across the world and they still have the original wax recipes as well as the original moulds used to form candles bearing the royal blazons.
When I was out collecting the sounds and pictures for this blog piece I thought that Cire Trudon at the southern end of rue de Seine with it’s historic connection, by date at least, with the northern end of the street where I began my soundwalk would bring this blog piece to an obvious conclusion. And so it would have had I not decided to retrace my steps to head for the Métro station Louvre-Rivoli and home.
I walked back along rue de Seine as far as the Café La Palette where I stopped, found a table outside, sat down, ordered a coffee and took out my rather dog-eared Moleskine notebook to make notes for this blog piece. Pausing to sip my coffee, I looked up and sitting two tables down from me was a man I thought I vaguely recognised. He was casually dressed but there were three men in suits hovering around him and a very smartly dressed young lady sitting by his side. I returned to my notes and then, in one of those lightening flashes that sometimes strikes one, it came to me. The casually dressed man sitting just two tables from me was the former Président de la République, Jacques Chirac.
He seemed to be on good form if more frail than I remember him from the TV and when he came to leave he had difficulty walking and the men in suits had to support him. And, no, I didn’t take a picture or record his voice – it simply didn’t seem appropriate.
It does show though that if you keep your eyes and ears open being a soundwalking flaneur can sometimes throw up the most unexpected surprises.
As a final note, perhaps I can mention that my soundwalk in rue de Seine is one of the longest sound pieces I’ve published on this blog. The conventional wisdom is that people tend not to listen to sound pieces for longer than two or three minutes at a time because they either lose interest or have something more pressing to do. I think it’s a function of the sound-bite world we have become used to.
In my sound recording practice I take the view that it is not the sound recordist or the listener who dictates how long a sound piece should be but rather the sounds themselves. Sounds need both time and space to breath, to speak and to tell their own story – and the sounds themselves will tell you how long they need to speak. A three minute sound-bite of the edited highlights of rue de Seine would be rather like reading a newspaper headline and completely ignoring the article beneath. It simply wouldn’t tell the story or reflect the sonic tapestry of the street.
So, if you have the time, I encourage you to listen to the whole sound piece. It is after all unique. The sound colours and textures are those that I recorded at that time and on that day. Tomorrow, both they and the actors will have changed and the sounds will be different.
ON 15th JUNE 2005, La Samaritaine, one of the Parisian Grands Magasins closed its doors for the last time. For the last eight years it has stood empty looking increasingly down at heel and rather sad. Even though work to redevelop the building has just begun the Parisian icon that was La Samaritaine is set to disappear forever.
In 1856, an aspiring young entrepeneur, Ernest Cognacq, opened a small shop called Au petit Bénéfice in the rue de Turbigo in Paris. The venture was a failure and the shop soon closed. Undaunted, Cognacq took to the streets as a hawker selling fabrics of various kinds. He eventually set up a pitch on the Pont Neuf, on the site of the former Pompe de la Samaritaine, a large hydraulic water pump named after the Samaritan women at the well in St John’s Gospel.
Pompe de la Samaritaine – The original pump was built in the early 1600’s. This revised version was built between 1712 and 1719. It was demolished in 1813.
Cognacq’s enterprise prospered and by 1869 he was able to rent a small room across the street from the Pont Neuf in the rue de la Monnaie, which he turned into a shop and called La Samaritaine.
Cognacq’s success was assured when, in 1872, he married Marie-Louise Jaÿ. Not only was she a very active and intelligent woman, she had been the première vendeuse au rayon confection, head sales woman of the clothing department in Aristide Boucicaut’s Au Bon Marché – she came with a tidy sum of twenty thousand Francs.
Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ proved to be a formidable team. Inspired by the success of Aristide Boucicaut’s retail revolution at Au Bon Marché and with the help of Marie-Louise’s twenty thousand Francs combined with Ernest’s more modest savings, they set about expanding the enterprise and building the foundations of what was to become the Grands Magasins de La Samaritaine.
Cognacq’s plan was to establish the ideal, and ideally managed, department store. He arranged La Samaritaine as a collection of individually owned outlets, each managed by petits patrons who operated in concert yet autonomously, a model still found in today’s Grands Magasins.
The growth of the business was rapid. To increase the sales space Cognacq bought up neighbouring buildings – 19, rue de la Monnaie in 1886; 3, rue Baillet in 1889; 17, rue de la Monnaie in 1891; 20 rue de l’Arbre Sec in1893; the buildings located at the corner of rue Baillet and rue de l’Arbre Sec (5-7, rue Baillet, 22, rue de l’Arbre Sec) and at the corner of rue Baillet (1, rue Baillet, 21 rue de la Monnaie) in 1898 and the buildings between the impasse de Provence and rue des Prêtres-Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois in 1903.
All the buildings were made into four separate stores each specialising in different product ranges and rather unimaginatively but very practically named Magasin 1, 2, 3 and 4. The impact on sales of the additional floor space was astonishing. By 1875, sales had topped eight hundred thousand Francs, by 1882 they had reached six million, by 1898 fifty million and by 1925 sales were over one billion Francs.
This dramatic expansion included major architectural changes that gave La Samaritaine its characteristic look. Between 1903 and 1907 the French architect, Frantz Jourdain, applied an Art Nouveau aesthetic to the buildings and by 1933 another French architect, Henri Sauvage, had reworked the architecture to reflect the aesthetic principles of Art Déco.
Towards the end of the 1970’s and into the 1980′s La Samaritaine began to lose its competitive edge and its prosperity began to decline. In 2001, the luxury goods group, LVMH, bought La Samaritaine and it soon became clear that the end was in sight. Magasin 1 and Magasin 3 were leased to other retailers and then in 2005, for safety reasons we were told, LVMH announced that La Samaritaine would be closed and the buildings redeveloped. And it was closed and it remains closed and it is likely to do so until some time in 2016.
La Samaritaine on rue de la Monnaie, 1923. Image: Ministère de la Culture (France)
So what is to become of La Samaritaine?
Well, it will become a mixed-use development designed by the Japanese architects SANAA. The plans include a luxury hotel, the Cheval Blanc, owned by LVMH, two midsize stores – DFS, a duty-free emporium and Louis Vuitton – both owned by LVMH as well as one department store, as of yet unidentified. In addition, there will be 20,000 square metres of office space, 7,000 square metres of social housing along the rue de l’Arbre Sec side of the building, a day care centre and a crèche to accommodate 60 children.
It’s pretty clear that the new development is aimed at attracting big-spending tourists and especially Chinese tourists. To that end, I understand that it is planned make the entrance to the DFS duty-free store large enough to accommodate tour buses.
I went to have a look at La Samaritaine the other day and found a demolition crew at work removing the metal beams that formed part of the covered walkway between Magasin 2 and Magasin 4.
La Samaritaine – Work in Progress:
The site was dominated by the hissing sound of the oxy-acetylene cutting gear cutting through one the beams. Once cut, it was lowered and then cut again into smaller, more manageable pieces and loaded onto a truck.
In the rue de la Monnaie, where once La Samaritaine stood proud and inviting, it was very much work in progress. I was able to circumvent a rather threatening security guard and peek inside the former Magasin 2 to find that it was a completely empty shell shrouded in dust.
Some will argue that this renovation project is part of a bold and innovative vision for the future of the city – and they may be right. LVMH clearly think that the vast amount of money they are investing here will give them a competitive edge and reward them with pots of money – and they may be right too.
But glitzy, fashionable, overpriced hotels, offices and department stores with entrances designed to accommodate Chinese tour buses do nothing for me at all. Call me old fashioned, but I mourn the loss of the La Samaritaine that I was so familiar with.
But before I get completely carried away with my romantic vision of the past, perhaps it’s worth remembering that Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ also had a bold and innovative vision of the future – and they too made pots of money!
THE GARE DE LYON is one of the six main line railway stations in Paris. The Gare du Nord with 190 million passengers a year is the busiest railway station in Paris, in France and in Europe so, with around 90 million passengers a year, the Gare de Lyon is some way behind but still ranked as the third busiest railway station in France.
Named after the city of Lyon, the Gare de Lyon is situated in the 12th arrondissement of Paris and it’s the northern terminus of the Paris – Marseille line. From here high-speed TGV trains travel to southern France as well as to Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The station also hosts regional trains as well as an RER and Métro station.
The first station on this site was built in 1852 by the Compagnie des chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (known as PLM). PLM operated chiefly in the southeast of France with a main line connecting Paris to the Côte d’Azur by way of Dijon, Lyon, and Marseille. This station was a rather drab and low-key affair which, even after being enlarged four times, was continually swamped by the number of passengers passing through. By the 1890’s, with the station unable to cope with the volume of traffic and with the prestigious Exposition Universelle coming up in 1900 it was decided to replace the old station with a new one. The task of building of the new station fell to the French architect Marius Toudoire but the work fell behind schedule and the Gare de Lyon that we know today was eventually opened in 1902.
The design of the Gare de Lyon conceals the working station behind a monumental stone frontage with echoes ranging from the French 17th Century to the northern Italian Renaissance the most significant feature of which is the 64 metre high clock tower positioned so as to be visible from Place de la Bastille.
Gare de Lyon – A Soundwalk:
The clock tower may be the most significant feature of the Gare de Lyon on the outside but on the inside that accolade must surely go to the magnificent restaurant, Le Train Bleu, once rather unassumingly called the “Buffet de la Gare de Lyon”.
But an ordinary station buffet it most certainly is not!
Photo courtesy Le Train Bleu
The Buffet de la Gare de Lyon changed its name to Le Train Bleu in 1963 to celebrate the “Paris-Vintimiglia” service, the luxury French night express train, which operated from 1886 to 2003. Colloquially referred to as Le Train Bleu (the Blue Train) because of its dark blue sleeping cars it gained international fame as the preferred train of wealthy and famous passengers between Calais and the French Riviera.
Inside, Le Train Bleu is richly decorated with caryatides, rococo mermaids, exquisite gilding, mirrors and 41 murals painted by 30 renowned artists depicting scenes of Paris at the time of the Exposition Universelle as well as beautiful French landscapes from the route of the PLM railway.
My soundwalk in the Gare de Lyon includes a walk along the regional train platforms, the main station concourse, the TGV train platforms and a walk right up to the Paris – Milan TGV train as the passengers were about to board.
Today, it takes just three hours to travel by TGV from the Gare de Lyon to Marseille, around four hours to Geneva, about seven and a half hours to Milan and about eleven hours to Venice and, with a little forward planning, all at very reasonable prices.
And while you’re listening to the sounds inside the Gare de Lyon and perhaps musing about taking one of these exotic train journeys, here are some more of the sights inside the station:
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might also like my account of the sights and sounds of the Gare du Nord which you can find here.