LAST WEEKEND WAS the annual Journées du Patrimoine, the wonderful weekend in September when it’s possible to visit a wide variety of well-known but usually off-limits places in Paris and indeed in the rest of France. Places like the Elysées Palace, the French Senate, or the Assemblée Nationale as well as a wide variety of theatres, museums, historical monuments and public buildings open their doors to the public for this weekend in September and entry is free. Even my local mayor opened up his office and was there to greet visitors from my neck of the woods as they passed through.
And my choice of place to visit …
I went here to the Quartier des Célestins the home of the cavalry regiment of the Garde Républicaine. The barracks occupy a rather grand building on Boulevard Henry IV in the 4th arrondissement, a short walk from Bastille.
It’s called the Quartier des Célestins because it stands of the site of the former Couvent des Célestins, the Convent of the Celestines. Philip the Fair introduced the Celestines into France in 1300 and the convent was built in 1352 on the site of what was a former Carmelite convent. The convent was closely associated the French Royal family and it became the second most important burial site for royalty after the Basilique Saint-Denis, albeit for minor Royals. By the 18th century the convent was in decline and it’s demise came in 1778. The buildings were demolished in 1847 and the Célestins barracks of the Garde Républicaine, designed by French architect Jacques Hermant, was built on the site of the convent gardens and opened in 1901.
Picture via Wikipedia
The Garde Républicaine, formed in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte as the Municipal Guard of Paris, is part of the French Gendarmerie. Today, it comprises two infantry regiments, including a motorcycle squadron, and a cavalry regiment. It also has several musical formations including a mounted band and fanfare trumpeters as well as an eighty – piece orchestra.
As well as it’s State ceremonial duties, including representing France at international events abroad and receiving important dignitaries at home, the Garde Républicaine is responsible for guarding important public buildings and supporting other law enforcement forces with intervention groups or horseback patrols. It also has responsibility for transporting and escorting organs for transplant.
The cavalry regiment of the Garde Républicaine is the last unit in the French Army to have horses. It comprises around 500 men and women along with some 550 horses. The regiment includes a training school based at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, three squadrons of cavalry, one of which is based at the Quartier des Célestins and a squadron hors rang, also based at the Quartier des Célestins, which includes the musicians, farriers and veterinary services .
And so to my visit to the Quartier des Célestins …
Passing through the cluster of rather burly but not at all unfriendly Gendarmerie at the main gate, my first port of call was the Salle de Traditions, the museum.
It’s a small museum but I found it really fascinating. It covers the history of the Garde Républicaine from its inception to the present day and it includes an array of exhibits covering every aspect of the life and work of the regiment both from its service at home and overseas.
From the museum, I walked to the exercise yard – this is a cavalry barracks after all and horses need plenty of exercise.
I also had a look at the stables …
… and the enormous riding school.
I never go anywhere without my sound recorder and I’m always on the hunt for fascinating sounds to capture. I did record the sounds inside the museum and in the riding school and later on I recorded the man responsible for making the hats for the infantry regiments of the Garde Républicaine explaining how it’s done. But the sounds I want to share with you are sounds that tell a story – the sounds of the farriers at work shoeing a cavalry horse.
The first thing you need to shoe a horse is a horseshoe, a fer à cheval in French, and the Garde Républicaine make their own – lots of them.
The farriers making horseshoes:
Once the horseshoe is made to approximately the right size the process of shoeing the horse can begin. Here are the sounds of the entire process which I recorded standing in the rain sans umbrella amidst a group of inquisitive children who were fascinated by it all.
Shoeing a cavalry horse:
First, you have to remove the old shoe …
Then you have to tidy up the horse’s hoof with lots of scraping and filing. Next, you present the new shoe to the hoof and see what adjustments need to be made to ensure an exact fit. This involves heating the shoe in the forge and then shaping it by hitting it with a hammer. Once the shoe is tailored to the right size it’s edges, in the best military tradition, are ground down to make them bright and shiny. The shoe is then heated again and presented to the horse’s hoof while the shoe is still hot.
It’s a very steamy process!
Once the shoe is fitted, special nails are hammered in to fix the shoe in place. The points of these nails penetrate the hoof and come out the other side. Some of the exposed parts of the nails are pinched off and then a clinch block is set under each nail on the outer hoof wall and the nail head is hit with yet another hammer and the nail is set into the hoof.
All that remains is a final pedicure and the horse is good to go to a round of applause.
I didn’t know any of this until my visit to the Quartier des Célestins. I’d never seen a horse being shod before so not only did I learn a lot, I also recorded it for posterity – and it made my day.
Here are some more sights of the Quartier des Célestins …
I’m sorry madam, candyfloss does not pass muster as a cavalry plume!
IN PARIS, THE SUMMER SEASON of colourful celebrations and processions came to an end yesterday with the annual Fête de Ganesh. Organised by the temple de Ganesh de Paris Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam, this Chariot Festival as its known has taken place in Paris each year since 1996.
Genesha is the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune as well as the destroyer of evils and obstacles.
The Fête de Ganesh begins with a religious ceremony at the temple de Ganesh de Paris Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam in rue Pajol after which a colourful procession sets off and meanders through the 10th and 18th arrondissements. I caught up with them in rue Marx Dormoy.
Sounds of the Fête de Ganesh 2013:
I’m afraid that I’m not up to speed with all the symbolism of the Fête de Ganesh but I do know that elephants and coconuts are important.
Piles of coconuts are erected at various points along the procession route and when the procession arrives at each pile the coconuts are picked up and then smashed into the ground.
You can hear the sound of the coconuts being smashed in my sound piece although you might be forgiven for mistaking it for the sound of gunfire or fireworks.
To go with the sounds, here are some more sights of my visit to the Fête de Ganesh 2013.
LA FÊTE NATIONALE on 14th July is the centrepiece of the Parisian summer. It’s the French National Day and it commemorates the 1790 Fete de la Federation, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. It also marks the start of the French holiday season. In Paris the day starts with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République and his army of guests.
Before the défilé gets under way there is an opening ceremony at the end of which comes the opening fly-past by the French Air Force, the Armée de l’Air led by nine Alpha jets of the Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team who celebrate their 60th anniversary this year.
Here I have to confess that I’m an aircraft enthusiast and so each year my viewing of the fly-past takes the same form. Half of me is inside watching on the TV and half of me is outside on my balcony watching and recording the aircraft as they fly overhead so close that I can almost reach up and touch them. At least that’s what I’ve done each year for the last fifteen years but this year I was forced into a last-minute change of plan.
With about half an hour to go before the aircraft were due directly overhead with a wonderful sense of timing my next-door neighbours emerged onto their balcony to, rather over-enthusiastically I thought, tuck into a late breakfast. It was quite clear that my plans to record the fly-past free of the clatter of cutlery and minus a running commentary of the event about to unfold was a hopeless cause. What to do?
Not being in the mood for one of those endless arguments that the French seem to enjoy so much I decided to implement Plan B.
My recording position close to home: Photo by julietinparis
I hastily grabbed my sound recorder and a microphone (Nagra LB and Rode NT4), left my apartment and set off up the street to a place close by where I knew I would get an excellent view of the fly-past and from where I could expect to get a good sound recording. From here I could see La Grande Arche de la Défense in one direction and the Arc de Triomphe in the other, the exact flight path of the aircraft. This is a place I pass every day so I know it well. The fact that it’s a bus station and the buses run during La Fête Nationale, and it was full of people, could have been seen as somewhat of a flaw in Plan B but I pressed on undeterred.
I must say, it was well worth it. The view of the aircraft was simply spectacular even though in my hurry to implement Plan B I had left home without my camera.
Défilé aérien d’ouverture - the aircraft fly-past:
Apart from La Patrouille de France who are always good value, the star of the show for me was the appearance of the Airbus A400M, the multi-national four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities.
For those of you interested in these things the running order is listed below.
As I said, I recorded these sounds from a bus station with lots of people around but I think that has added to the recording rather than detracting from it. For me, the sound of small, innocent children playing happily whilst war machines each costing millions pass overhead has a certain poignancy to it and the sound of a Paris bus starting its engine just ahead of five interceptor fighters passing overhead seems to be a sort of ‘poke in the eye’ to this extravagant display of military muscle.
This year some aircraft from the Luftwaffe were invited to take part in the défilé aérien. The last time German aircraft flew over Paris it was in very different circumstances, which thank goodness are long behind us.
While the aircraft appear at the beginning of the défilé in the Champs Elysées, the helicopter fly-past comes towards the end, some ninety minutes later. I decided not to stay at my bus stop location to record the helicopters, instead, it being a glorious sunny day, I decided to go home and record them from my garden. Well, it’s not actually my garden but it is the garden of my apartment building and I’ve been here so long that it feels as though it’s mine.
It takes much less time for the helicopters to pass but their sounds are none the less dramatic.
Défilé aérien de clôture - the helicopter fly-past:
And here is the helicopter running order:
So that was my aircraft fix for yet another year. I always look forward to it and, despite my balcony drama, it didn’t disappoint.
After a quick lunch I set off again to savour more of La Fête Nationale, this time ”Les Parisiens et les franciliens accueillent leurs soldats”.
After the morning’s pageantry in the Champs Elysées some of the forces that took part in the défilé set up static displays in seven different places in and around Paris. It’s a chance for the public to meet the military face to face. I went to the event at Les Invalides. I went there last year and amongst the displays of military vehicles and hardware I was able to capture the sounds of le Bagad Lann-Bihoué, the very popular French Navy musical ensemble who specialise in playing distinctive Bretonne and Celtic music and a French Army Male Voice Choir. You can hear these sounds here.
This year I came upon another male voice choir, this time from the choir school of the French Navy.
French Navy Male Voice Choir:
These sounds were recorded without the aid of the public address system. The French Navy knob-twiddler-in-chief was clearly out of his depth trying to manage the public address system so, despite the appearance of a couple of blasts of feedback early on, he gave up and retreated to his hutch. Let’s hope he never becomes knob-twiddler-in-chief in a nuclear submarine!
This year’s Fête Nationale came to a wonderful climax with a brilliant late-night concert in the Champs des Mars at the foot of Le Tour Eiffel which I watched on TV followed by an equally brilliant firework display which I also watched on TV but listened to from the balcony of my apartment. Le Tour Eiffel is in a direct line from my apartment balcony and I could get a perfect view of it – if it wasn’t for the houses in between!
PARIS IN JULY means that it must be summer – and summer means that it must be Carnival time.
Yesterday, the annual Carnaval Tropical de Paris took place around place de la Nation. Some 4,000 dancers in colourful costumes, dozens of floats and a cornucopia of drummers paraded through place de la Nation and then meandered for some 4.5 km through the 11th arrondissement. This is one of the highlights of the Parisian summer and there is little to compete with it for colour, sound and cultural diversity.
I was there yesterday to savour it all.
Carnaval Tropical de Paris 2013:
IT’S THAT TIME of the year again, Chinese New Year and it’s goodbye to the year of the dragon and welcome to the year of the snake.
The Chinese New Year is a moveable feast. In the Gregorian calendar it falls somewhere between 21st January and the 20th February but the precise date is determined by the lunisolar Chinese calendar and the date when the second new moon after the winter solstice occurs.
Each year in the Chinese calendar is associated with one of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac. This year is the year of the snake.
Chinese communities the world over celebrate their new year with tremendous enthusiasm and the Chinese community in Paris is no exception. The streets are decorated with red Chinese lanterns, wonderful colours abound and the air is filled with the magical sounds of drums and cymbals accompanying the magnificent lion dances.
I went to Place d’Italie in the 13th arrondissement to watch and listen to the celebrations.
The Year of the Snake in Sound:
ARMISTICE DAY WAS MARKED in Paris on Sunday with the national act of remembrance led by François Holland, Président de la République.
Accompanied by the children of two French soldiers killed in Afghanistan, the Président laid a wreath on behalf of the nation under the Arc de Triomphe at the tomb of the unknown soldier.
The act of remembrance is about remembering all those who have died in the service of their country but in a poignant moment, the names of the French servicemen killed in Afghanistan since this time last year were read out while the large crowd stood in absolute silence.
Mort pour la France:
Of all the sounds to be heard at the Arc de Triomphe, it seemed to me that this one best expressed my feelings about this act of remembrance. Some sounds, however simple, can often say all that needs to be said.
INDIAN COMMUNITIES across the world celebrate la Fête de Ganesh at this time of the year. Yesterday, I went to join the celebrations in Paris.
Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune, has a temple dedicated to him in Paris, the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple, in the rue Pajol. And it was from here that a colourful procession set off on its tour of the surrounding area. As always with these kinds of events perhaps it’s best simply to let the pictures and the sounds tell the story.
Sounds of La Fête de Ganesh:
Sounds of La Fête de Ganesh:
Sounds of La Fête de Ganesh:
Sounds of La Fête de Ganesh:
You can find the sights and sounds of last year’s Fête de Ganesh here.
ON SATURDAY, THE CROWDS gathered, the rain held off and the Champs Elysées was decked out for La Fête Nationale and the annual defilé, the parade to mark 14th July, the French National Day.
Picture from Wikipedia
While the defilé comprising most branches of the French military and civilian services were parading on the ground, overhead, sixty-six aircraft from the Armée de l’Air, led by the French aerobatic display team, la Patrouille de France, flew directly over my apartment and down the Champs Elysées in perfect formation. From my balcony it seemed that I could almost reach up and touch them. I couldn’t of course, but I was perfectly placed to record their sounds, the sounds that on this day each year become some of the sounds that define Paris.
After the morning parade and fly-pasts in the Champs Elysées, culminating with the now customary parachutists landing with pin-point accuracy in front of the Président de la République, members of the government, diplomats and invited guests, the afternoon was taken over with operation ”Les Parisiens et les franciliens accueillent leurs soldats”.
Many of those who took part in the morning’s defilé scattered to various locations in Paris taking their equipment with them. This was a chance for members of the public to meet the French armed forces and to learn at first hand what they do. It was also a wonderful opportunity to crawl all over very expensive things one would never get the chance to even get close to normally.
I spent the afternoon at the Esplanade of Les Invalides. Some of the helicopters that took part in the morning’s fly-past were now parked here along with some other vehicles.
Of course, I was interested in what was on show but I was also working, hunting for sounds and I wasn’t disappointed.
I found these two men from le Bagad Lann-Bihoué, the very popular French Navy musical ensemble who specialise in playing distinctive Bretonne and Celtic music.
Music from La Bagad Lann-Bihoué:
And from the Navy to the Army … and representatives from Le Choeur de l’Armée Francaise, the French Army Choir.
The 14th July has become a fixed point in my calendar. I’m not French but I have learned to enjoy La Fête Nationale and all its sights and sounds.
And finally …
Although the defilé in the Champs Elysées is carried out with meticulous precision things don’t always go to plan. This year, the parachutist’s display at the end of the parade was more spectacular than ever. All of them landed inch perfect and bang on target but unfortunately, one of them was injured on landing and, unable to walk, he had to be carried off to one side. These things happen and François Holland, Président de la République, was quick to walk over to have a word with him. C’est la vie!
And this year was no exception. Yesterday, it took over four hours for the carnival to process from la Place de la Nation to le Boulevard Voltaire, la Place Léon Blum, l’Avenue Parmentier, la Rue du Chemin Vert, le Boulevard de Ménilmontant, l’Avenue Philippe Auguste and back to la Place de la Nation.
Sounds of the Carnaval Tropical:
With the theme of Le sixième continent, the Sixth Continent, some 4,000 people from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Mayotte, La Réunion, French Polynesia, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, China, Vietnam and other corners of the globe took part. This was a wonderful celebration of cultural diversity.
The carnival is organised by the Fédération du Carnaval Tropical and the Direction Générale à l’Outre-Mer, part of the Paris city authority concerned with supporting the welfare and cultural traditions of Parisians born overseas.
I went to la Place de la Nation to see this spectacle and I can share with you some of the sights and sounds.
More Sounds of the Carnaval Tropical:
More Sounds of the Carnaval Tropical:
The best that can be said about our weather this summer is that it hasn’t been great but even so, we don’t usually expect a sudden tropical storm like the one that descended without warning yesterday afternoon.
Undaunted though, the carnival continued with everyone still in high spirits. Even as the last of the procession was making its soggy way into the distance the sounds of the crowd were as enthusiastic as ever.
More Sounds of the Carnaval Tropical:
IT’S SUMMER AND AT this time each year la Marche des Fiertés, or the Gay Pride March, hits the streets of Paris.
Around half a million people take part and yesterday, as I stood on the Boulevard Montparnasse at the head of the march, it took over two and a half hours for them all to pass by.
Reporting La Marche des Fiertés is one of those occasions when words seem to become much less important than the sights and sounds which very definitely take centre stage.
Sounds before the start of the march:
For those who think that recording events like this must be simply a matter of pointing a microphone and hoping for the best then think again. It’s actually much more difficult than that.
Sounds of the March:
The seemingly endless, obscenely loud, mind-numbing music plays havoc with those of us trying to capture the much more interesting sounds. Even from the depths of the café, La Consigné, where I retreated to try to escape from this sonic onslaught, the unwelcome sounds penetrated unremittingly.
From inside the café La Consigné:
No, I do not like the excessively loud so-called music that is such a feature of this march every year, but that probably says more about me than it does about the march. There is no doubt that La Marche des Fiertés is an astonishingly well-supported event. The atmosphere is terrific and the people are very friendly and good-natured. Yes, it’s noisy but it’s also very colourful and deliciously outrageous. Long may it continue.