A “SOUND RIDE” IS a term I invented this afternoon. Sound Walks are familiar; lots of people do them including me. But this afternoon I thought I would do something a little different. Taking advantage of the delicious late autumnal weather, I made the ten-minute walk from my apartment across to the Bois de Boulogne and recorded a cycle ride on a Velib.
The Velib system we have in Paris is a wonderful invention. I think it’s been copied in other cities but it appeared here first. I’ll let the sounds tell the story of my Sunday afternoon in the Bois de Boulogne.
My Sound Ride in the Bois de Boulogne:
My Velib together with my black bag which contains my street recording studio
The Bois de Boulogne in summer
The Bois de Boulogne in springtime
The Bois de Boulogne in winter
I DON’T KNOW WHY but I don’t visit the Parc Monceau all that often, which is silly really because it’s quite close to where I live and always well worth a visit.
This English-style park is in the 8th arrondissement and last Saturday, on a blisteringly hot afternoon, I ventured down there for the first time this year.
Philippe d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres established a formal garden here between 1769 and 1778 on twenty-eight acres of land he had accumulated. It began life as a French formal garden but the anglophile Philippe had it transformed it into an English-style garden where people were allowed to sit and picnic on the lawn much as they still do today.
During the French revolution Philippe d’Orléans was sent to the guillotine and the Parc Monceau was confiscated and nationalised. It was returned to the Orléans family during the Restoration Monarchy only to be confiscated again at the beginning of the Second Republic. Napoléon III stopped this ping-pong ownership by dividing the property, keeping part of it for the State and returning the rest to the Orléans family. The Parc Monceau we know today is the part retained by the French State.
The Parc Monceau has a relaxed, intimate feel to it and it’s enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. Whilst I enjoy the wild flowers, the Greek columns, the lake and the Temple of Mars it’s the sounds that always captivate me. Amongst the sounds of people chattering and children playing are the ever-present sounds of the footsteps over the gravel paths.
There are always people strolling, power walking or jogging and this mélange of footsteps seems to have a rhythmical, almost musical effect. I never tire of listening to it.
THE PARC MONTSOURIS, in the 14th arrondissement, was born in the minds of Napoleon III and his préfet, Baron Haussmann. Paris already had three large parks, the Buttes-Chaumont in the north, the Bois de Boulogne in the west and the Bois de Vincennes in the east. Given Haussmann’s love of symmetry, a park in the south of Paris was also needed. The quarry land around the former hamlet of Montsouris was the chosen site.
A decree for the creation of the park was issued in 1865 and it was to Jean-Charles-Adolphe-Alphand, Inspecteur Général des Ponts et Chaussées, (he was also responsible for the city’s parks) that the task of planning the new park fell. The plans were drawn up, the landscaping completed and the park was opened in1878.
The sounds of the Parc Montsouris today:
Today, the Parc Montsouris covers sixteen hectares (forty acres) and rises to some twenty metres (just over sixty-five feet) at its highest point. On the eastern side there is an artificial lake and a restaurant, the Pavillon Montsouris, which is somewhat of an institution with prices to match.
The park is traversed by two railway lines.
The RER commuter line B crosses the park and the sounds of this can be clearly heard as one explores the southern side. There are also the remains of the railway line of the old Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture, the Little Belt, railway line that was the first public urban transportation service in Paris, and was the forerunner of today’s Paris Métro.
The park boasts many statues one of which is the Mire du Sud. This pinpoints the old Paris meridian, calculated in 1667 and subsequently replaced by the Greenwich meridian in 1911.
The Parc Montsouris is everything that a Parisian park should be. It is well designed, it has rich and lush vegetation with a huge variety of trees, plants and flowers, it has a wide variety of birdlife and, at weekends especially, it is full of people relaxing and enjoying the surroundings.
It is well worth a visit.
I HAD NEVER BEEN to a horsemeat market before until I visited the Parc Georges-Brassens, a nineteen acre green space in the 15th arrondissement. Where today witch hazel brightens the winter landscape and magnolia heralds the spring, a gruesome past is never far away.
From 1898 until 1978 this was the site of the Vaugirard abattoirs, six groups of buildings surrounding a vast courtyard covering almost six acres where slaughtering and butchering took place on an industrial scale to feed the Parisian appetite.
At the eastern end, bordering the rue Brancion, was the half-acre or so reserved for the slaughtering and butchering of horses.
The only surviving buildings from the original abattoir complex are two former administrative buildings at what was the main entrance in the Rue des Morillons, a campanile where auction sales were held and the iron pavilion of the former horsemeat market.
This pavilion still hosts a market but a less gruesome one than that for which it was originally designed. Each weekend throughout the year a market for old and second-hand books takes place here.
Bibliophiles travel from far and wide to visit this market where everything from comics to rare and sometimes very expensive books can be found.
Inside the market:
Today, this iron pavilion has survived to satisfy a different sort of appetite but the former sounds within it, like the horsemeat, are gone forever.
THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE, on the edge of the 16th arrondissement, was once the Royal hunting ground of the King’s of France and the refuge for a one time King of England and of the British Empire, Edward VIII, together with his American wife, Wallace Simpson.
Today, it is associated with Roland Garos, the French aviator, whose name was given to the home of the French Open Tennis Championship and of course, the Hippodrome Longchamps, host to the annual horseracing classic, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. At the northern end, close to where I live, is the Jardin d’Acclimatation, an amusement park with a ménagerie and other attractions not least, a miniature steam train that has featured twice in this Blog.
The Bois de Boulogne comprises an area of 8.459 km² (3.266 sq. miles, or 2,090 acres), which is 2.5 times larger than Central Park in New York, and comparable in size to Richmond Park in London.
In the summer, the Bois de Boulogne is a hive of activity especially at weekends. Biking, jogging, dog walking, boat rowing, remote control speed-boats, ad hoc football games and picnics are common currency – almost everything you can think of except barbeques which are strictly forbidden.
It is just a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment to the Bois de Boulogne – and it was this fifteen-minute walk that I did on the afternoon of Christmas Day. I was in need of fresh air and exercise!
The weather was perfect with bright sunshine and the winter sun low in the clear bright blue sky. There was snow on the ground.
I was not alone. Other people were out enjoying the Christmas Day afternoon – the joggers, the dog-walkers and family groups walking off their Christmas lunches.
The snow was crisp and the ground was frozen – but the lakes were not sufficiently frozen to allow one to trespass on them as the sign above shows.
There are thirty-five kilometres of footpaths, eight kilometres of cycle paths and twenty-nine kilometres of riding tracks in the Bois de Boulogne. It was amongst these highways and byways that I walked on the afternoon of Christmas Day. The landscape of the Bois de Boulogne is much changed from when I first came to live here. In the great hurricane of Christmas in 1999, which I remember well, 10,000 trees were felled by the vicious wind that raged through the Bois de Boulogne but, thanks to a vigorous re-planting programme, on Christmas Day this year, the landscape was set to return to that which I remember all those years ago.
The sound of a walk in the Bois de Boulogne late in the afternoon Christmas Day:
In May this year, I put a post on to this blog with the sound of the little steam train in the Bois de Boulogne which runs from the Jardin d’Acclimatation to Porte Dauphine and is a regular summer attraction.
I live close to the Bois de Boulogne so a couple of weeks ago I went back to take some photographs of the train.
To record the train I stood in the trees close to the narrow gauge railway line that it runs on.
The train came, passed me and went on its way to Porte Dauphine and then back to the Jardin d’Acclimatation.
This is the sound I recorded – a sound very familiar to all those who visit the Bois de Boulogne.
This is a binaural recording so to get the best effect it’s best to listen through headphones.