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.
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.
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.
A SOUNDWALK ALONG the rue de la Convention in the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon doesn’t I’m afraid reveal some of the more intriguing and delicate sounds sometimes to be found in Paris. It does though reveal sounds that are familiar to all city dwellers and typical of all too many Parisian streets so I thought they deserved to be recorded.
Rue de la Convention from Pont Mirabeau
Rue de la Convention – A Soundwalk:
Rue de la Convention begins at the elegant Pont Mirabeau and stretches for a little over 2km to the southwest to Place Charles-Vallin. The whole street is in the 15th arrondissement and it takes its name from the Convention Nationale, the revolutionary assembly that sat from 1792 – 1795 and which, amongst other things, abolished the French Monarchy and set up the République.
Some places of interest along the street include, at N° 27, the site of the former Imprimerie Nationale. Founded by Cardinal Richelieu this used to be the official printing works of the French Government.
The Imprimerie Nationale ceased to operate from this site in 2003 and the French Government sold the printing machinery to a French printing firm and the buildings to the Carlyle group for 85 million euros. In a staggering display of ineptitude, the same buildings were repurchased by the French Government in 2007 for 376,5 million euros for use by part of the Ministère des Affaires étrangères, the French Foreign Ministry.
At N° 28 is the église Saint-Christophe-de-Javel. Designed by the French architect, Charles-Henri Besnard and consecrated in 1930, the church is built in a modern style making extensive use of reinforced concrete using a method patented by Besnard a few years before.
Inside l’église Saint-Christophe-de-Javel - Image via Wikipedia
Further along rue de la Convention we come to N° 78. Today it’s a school and cultural centre but it was once the Hôpital Boucicaut.
Marguerite Boucicaut, wife of Aristide Boucicaut, founder of the first department store in Paris, Au Bon Marché, funded the building of the hospital. It was opened in 1897 with 206 beds some of which were reserved for employees of Au Bon Marché. The Hôpital Boucicaut was finally decommissioned in the year 2000 when its services were transferred to the then brand new Hôpital Européen Georges-Pompidou.
There are two other reminders of the Boucicaut family in rue de la Convention …
… this bus stop outside the former Hôpital Boucicaut and the Métro station a little further up the street.
The rue de la Convention continues in a more or less straight line up to the next Métro station, Convention, where it crosses the longest street in Paris, rue de Vaugirard.
Beyond the rue de Vaugirard, rue de la Convention goes up to Place Charles-Vallin where it terminates and morphs into the rue de Vouillé.
A soundwalk along rue de la Convention reveals a sonic environment typical of many Parisian streets. The ordinary but often interesting and intriguing everyday sounds are shrouded in a cloak of unremitting noise pollution – and I use the word noise advisedly.
Take the sound of traffic for example. In my experience, certainly in this city, the quantity of sound emitted by the traffic seems to expand in proportion to the width of the street and as it does so, the quality of the sound deteriorates.
In some of the narrow streets of Paris the sound of the traffic can actually be quite appealing. There’s often less traffic, it tends to move more slowly and the sound of rubber gently swishing over the pavé can have a soothing, almost hypnotic effect. The rue de la Convention on the other hand is 34 metres wide and, although not the widest street in Paris, it’s wide enough to attract a copious amount of traffic moving faster than sometimes seems necessary. Consequently, the sound of the traffic loses any appeal to the ear and the individual traffic sounds that can be so attractive in a narrow, cobbled street, seem to meld into an amorphous mass of indistinguishable sounds that turn into unwelcome noise. Inevitably, the other non-traffic sounds get pushed to the margins or consumed altogether.
So, why do a soundwalk in a street on a busy Saturday afternoon when capturing individual sounds is clearly going to be a challenge?
Well, it’s precisely because it is such a challenge that I feel compelled to do it. There must be individual, interesting sounds there – there almost always are, so it’s simply a question of hunting them down. By listening attentively to the sounds around me and distinguishing the wheat from the chaff it is often possible to tease out distinctive, individual sounds from the cloak of noise pollution.
Hildegard Westerkamp, a pioneer of the soundwalk, said that, “A soundwalk is any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are.”
And soundwalking is one of the techniques I use for capturing the sounds of Paris. It’s an immersive process that involves observing through active listening and it requires intense concentration. The aim of a soundwalk is to capture the mélange of sounds that create the atmosphere of a place and sometimes the individual sounds that might help to define it.
A soundwalk of course never provides a definitive sonic definition of a place, sounds are dynamic, they change in tune with the time of day or night and the seasons of the year, the actors are constantly changing and the rhythm of activity ebbs and flows. But soundwalks are important because they capture the sonic experience of a place at a specific moment and listened to carefully they enable us to experience not only the obvious sounds but the less obvious ones too.
When I do a soundwalk I don’t walk along a street with a microphone and sound recorder simply pointing and shooting, passively capturing the sounds immediately around me – although that is a perfectly legitimate way to do a soundwalk. For me, soundwalking is a very active and intense process. Instead of walking in a straight line pointing and shooting, I meander along the street capturing the general ambience but also exploring, hunting out the individual sounds and deciding how to capture them to best advantage sometimes against a hostile background of incessant traffic noise. Over the years I’ve learned how to employ this technique without interrupting the flow of the soundwalk. It’s all about acute observation, attentive listening and reacting quickly.
By now, you may have listened to my soundwalk in rue de la Convention. Actually, it’s only part of the whole soundwalk that I did. It’s the stretch from the former Hôpital Boucicaut to just beyond the intersection with the rue de Vaugirard – about one quarter of the entire street.
At the start of the street at the Pont Mirabeau the traffic noise is interminable, it’s completely overpowering and there’s simply no escape from it. Coming up the rue de la Convention, the traffic passes in waves in tune with the traffic lights along the street. There‘s a brief intermission just beyond the intersection with rue de Vaugirard where the street narrows and then the traffic noise returns as the rue de la Convention approaches its end at Place Charles-Vallin.
For this blog post I’ve only included the sounds of the intermediate section of the street because it gives the best flavour of the contrasting sounds to be found in the rue de la Convention on a busy Saturday afternoon. The recording of my entire soundwalk from one end of rue de la Convention to the other has of course has been consigned to my Paris Soundscapes Archive for future generations to explore and to study.
Sitting in a café on rue de la Convention after my soundwalk I couldn’t help wondering why, in a city with such an exemplary and affordable public transport system, so many people should choose to use cars for inner city journeys and how many, if any at all, ever contemplate the environmental footprint they selfishly foist upon the rest of us.
And finally … if you’re walking along any street whether you’re soundwalking or not, always remember to look up because fascinating things are often to be found above you.
I ALWAYS THINK it’s better to visit a hospital out of curiosity rather than out of necessity. The other day it was curiosity that led me to the Hôpital Lariboisière in the 10th arrondissement a short step away from the Gare du Nord.
The Hôpital Lariboisière was born out of the cholera epidemic that hit Paris in 1832. The Hôtel Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris, took the brunt of the epidemic and it is said that by the end of March 1832 every admission to the Hôtel Dieu was for cholera and practically no one was discharged. Almost 20,000 souls died from the six-month epidemic.
L’Hôtel Dieu during the cholera epidemic 1832 – Painting by Alfred Johannot
Devastating though it was, the epidemic did produce some positive results. In the 19th century curing cholera was like clutching at straws so attention turned towards prevention rather than cure. Major steps were taken to improve the city’s hygiene and by the time Baron Haussmann began rebuilding Paris in 1853 the hygienist movement had become the major force in urban planning. Slums were demolished, streets widened, the sewage system improved and a new hospital was built to serve the inhabitants on the Right Bank – the Hôpital Lariboisière.
The French architect, Martin-Pierre Gauthier, designed the new hospital based on the hygienist principles of providing plenty of light and air, a free flow of water and pavilions separated by galleries to prevent cross infection. His design comprised six buildings arranged around a central courtyard connected by colonnaded walkways.
A bequest from Eliza Roy Comtesse de Lariboisière financed the building of the hospital. The Comtesse had no heirs and so she bequeathed her fortune to the City of Paris to create ‘un hospice pour les malades qui portera mon nom Hospice Lariboisière’. The Comtesse died on 27th December 1851 and on 29th July 1853 an Imperial decree confirmed that the hospital was to be named Hôpital Lariboisière, the name by which it’s still known today. The hospital was opened in 1854.
The tomb of the Comtesse de Lariboisière, designed by the Italian born French sculptor, Carlo Marochetti, rests in the hospital chapel.
Today, behind it’s 19th century façade, the Hôpital Lariboisière is a busy, modern hospital with around 1,000 beds. Together with two other hospitals very close by, Hôpital Saint-Louis and Hôpital Fernand Widal, the Hôpital Lariboisière is part of the Groupe Hospitalier Universitaire Saint-Louis, Lariboisière, Fernand Widal, which together offer a comprehensive range of medical services.
I went to explore the Hôpital Lariboisière. I wandered through the gardens outside and along the quadrangle of long corridors inside on the ground floor, the arteries that lead to the ars medicina beyond.
Here are some of the sights and sounds I discovered.
Hôpital Lariboisière – A Soundwalk:
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RUE DU FAUBOURG DU TEMPLE is an ancient Parisian street dating back to the 12th century although it didn’t get its present name until the early 16th century. It stretches from Place de la République to Boulevard de la Villette and it bisects the 10th and 11th arrondissements.
Rue du Faubourg du Temple from Belleville
The street takes its name from the Temple Gate in the Charles V wall that once surrounded Paris. Built between 1356 and 1383, the wall marked the then city limits. The rue du Temple was on one side of the wall within the city limits and the rue du Faubourg du Temple was an extension of the same street but on the other side of the wall outside the city limits. The clue is in the word Faubourg. All Parisian street names containing the word Faubourg means that they were streets leading out of the city into the suburbs. The history of Paris is a history of ever expanding circles with the city limits expanding outwards from the centre. In a major expansion of the city in 1860, a clutch of outlying suburbs were incorporated into the city but the ‘Faubourg’ streets formerly outside but now inside the city retained their names.
The newly renovated Place de la République
The rue du Faubourg du Temple starts at Place de la République and then makes its way uphill to Boulevard de la Villette and the Belleville district, the former hotbed of exuberant nightlife which, thanks to the then generous tax regime outside the city walls, boasted a multitude of taverns and copious amounts of cheap liquor.
Rue du Faubourg du Temple from Place de la République
The other day, I went to rue du Faubourg du Temple to look at the street and to record a soundwalk. Here are some of the sights and sounds I collected.
A Soundwalk in rue du Faubourg du Temple:
Behind the Théâtre le Temple is the site of the former Amphithéâtre Anglais, the first purpose-built circus in France, opened by the Englishman, Philip Astley, in 1782. It was originally a round theatre constructed in wood with two seating levels and lit by 2,000 candles. The theatre was open for four months of the year and featured equestrian performances interspersed with juggling and other acts.
The Palais des Glaces, or Ice Palace, is a theatre founded in 1876 and still going strong.
Opened in 1923, La Java is now a dance club with rock and pop music and live performances by up-and-coming bands. But in its early life some illustrious names performed here including Django Reinhardt, Jean Gabin, Fréhel, Maurice Chevalier and Édith Piaf.
And the street also includes …
I really enjoy exploring quintessential Parisian streets like this with their history, their sights and, above all, their sounds.
THE RUE DÉNOYEZ in the east of Paris is about as far removed from the tourist guide, Haussmannian, picture postcard Paris as it’s possible to get.
The Rue Dénoyez is a narrow cobbled street near the bottom of the rue de Belleville. It takes its name from the tavern Dénoyez, a mecca of entertainment in the 1830’s. At the head of rue Dénoyez, where it joins the rue de Bellville, still stands the famous café, Aux Folies, named after an 18th century watering hole in the then rural quarter of Courtille, famous for the annual debauches of the city carnival known as the descent de la Courtille. In the 20th century, Aux Folies was a favourite haunt of both Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier.
Rue Dénoyez – A Soundwalk:
Until fairly recently the rue Dénoyez was in a sad state of decline but today it’s been revitalised. Now it’s home to vivacious street art where spraying graffiti onto the walls is not a crime – it’s actually encouraged, turning the rue Dénoyez into one of the most colourful streets in Paris.
And the street artists go about their work with enthusiasm.
I like Belleville. I find the multi-cultural atmosphere exciting, stimulating and fascinating. And every time I go, I visit rue Dénoyez – and every time it’s completely different. The street art on the walls seems to change by the day.
New artists appear expressing their own talents and creating their own art.
Walking along the rue Dénoyez it’s hard not to be seduced by the visual impact – the shapes, the colours and the artists at work. But for someone wired up like me, there is a listening experience to be had in this street too.
My soundwalk in the rue Dénoyez reveals the sounds of the street artists shaking their aerosol cans.
The sounds of pigeons taking flight in the blink of an eye.
And even the sound of a sewing machine in this tailor’s shop.
All these sounds, and more, are contained in my soundwalk along the rue Dénoyez and, for me at least, they provided a counterpoint to the visual assault on my senses as I walked along the street.
It did occur to me though that a series of loudspeakers along the street would provide a wonderful opportunity to add ‘sonic graffiti’ to complement the ever-changing visual street art.
That sounds like a plan that I shall have to investigate.
THROUGHOUT JULY I’ve been busy recording typical sounds of the Parisian summer, the Carnaval Tropical de Paris, La Fête National and the climax of the Tour de France, sounds that occur here every year in July. I also made time to record my contribution to World Listening Day on 18th July.
As we come towards the end of July some Parisians have already left and others are about to leave for their annual summer holidays leaving the heat and suffocating humidity of the city to the tourists along with the bizarre annual shut down of some café’s, restaurants and shops. The big, set piece, events are over for another year and I’m left with a different sound tapestry to record.
Yesterday, I found myself in the rue Saint Séverin, a short street just some 170 metres long in the Latin Quarter.
The rue Saint Séverin dates from the 13th Century and it takes its name from one of Paris’ oldest churches, the Église Saint-Séverin, which lies midway along the street. For most of the year, and particularly in the summer, rue Saint Séverin is a fairly boisterous street. It’s lined with restaurants and souvenir shops and it’s a magnet for tourists.
Rue Saint Séverin – A Soundwalk:
My soundwalk along this street yesterday in the hot and muggy weather revealed a hotchpotch of tourist languages with very few French accents amongst them and a couple of surprises.
I came across the tail end of a performance by a group of African dancers who were familiar to me. I had come across them a couple of years ago in Montmartre when they were involved in an altercation in the Place du Tertre. You can listen to what happened on that day here. Fortunately, there was no repetition of that yesterday.
My next surprise came as I was approaching the end of the street. The rue Saint Séverin runs parallel to La Seine and, from across the river carried by the leaden air, came the sound of the bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, bells I’m very familiar with and each of which I’ve seen, touched and know by name.
Of course, I could have rushed closer to the river to try to get a ‘better’ recording but I didn’t. Somehow, listening to the distant sound of the bells of a medieval cathedral in a medieval street, albeit awash with modern day tourists, seemed entirely appropriate and it seemed to add an extra dimension to my summer soundwalk.
Here are some more sights of rue Saint Séverin:
YESTERDAY, THURSDAY 18th JULY, was World Listening Day 2013. Organised by the World Listening Project in partnership with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Day is a celebration of listening as it relates to the world around us. People from across the world participate in a variety of ways and I was keen to make my contribution.
World Listening Day 2013 – My Contribution:
What makes this piece different from others that I’ve produced for this blog and elsewhere is that it wasn’t recorded using fancy recording equipment, instead, it was all recorded using only my mobile phone. I think it shows that mobile phones really do have the capacity to turn us all into citizen journalists.
I SPENT A WONDERFUL DAY last week exploring Paris with my friend, Roxanne Escobales.
Roxanne is an independent audio producer and journalist who has decided to slowly take the scenic route away from news and into the sound-based, multimedia world. When she isn’t trying to figure out how to persuade people to give her money for her ideas and production, you can find her at her local pub in South London, appreciating the leafiness of Crystal Palace. You can hear her forays into podcasting with Palace Stories (palacestories.co.uk). You just may hear her news production without realising it if you listen to the BBC World Service.
During the day, I was privileged to introduce Roxanne to the art of soundwalking – something she took to with great enthusiasm.
Later, I rather hesitatingly asked Roxanne if she would consider sharing the experience of her first Parisian soundwalk by writing a guest piece about it for this blog. No hesitation on my part was required of course because she readily agreed.
And so it is with great pleasure and with my grateful thanks that I share with you Roxanne’s story about her soundwalk in the rue Mouffetard.
Soundwalking in Paris – A Personal View From Roxanne Escobales:
Footsteps on my left, laughter just a few meters ahead, and a motorcycle from behind me on the right driving past – watch out! – there’s a car following it and I’m right in its path.
My body instinctively tries to move out of the way, conditioned to save itself by merely hearing the sound of an engine over my shoulder, its wheels on the asphalt.
But at this point, I’m not walking down the street about to be run over by a two-ton killing machine. I’m sitting at a table outside a café on the rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement in Paris, around the corner and down the street from where Ernest Hemingway lived from 1922-3. I’ve got a pair of headphones on, and through my ears I’m re-living the past 20 minutes in binaural stereo. The sound – panning from left to right, or right to left depending on the relative movement of its source in relation to my head at the time of recording – is so realistic, it’s practically 3-D, as if I could touch it, or, in the case of the car, as if it could touch me.
I had just taken a soundwalk with Des Coulam, master of this Soundlandscapes’ blog. He had graciously allowed me to wear his in-ear binaural mics (Soundman OKM II for you knob-twiddling techophiles) to record the whole thing. Honoured, for sure.
“Once you listen back to what you’ve recorded, you’ll be transported to that time and place again,” Des told me over lunch before we set out. I hadn’t realised to what extent said transportation would happen. While I was listening, I could smell the whiff of cheese hanging like a fog around the fromagerie that I had long since passed, and I could see the green jumper and blue jeans of the brown-haired boy whizzing up and down the pavement with his blonde friend as they made tooting noises like sirens, their voices long since silenced.
This was my fifth visit to Paris, and I’ve been working with sound since 2006, so I am no stranger to either. But I had never taken a soundwalk, and it’s changed the way I use my ears, and the way I interact with and understand the world. I felt like a deaf woman who’s heard her child’s voice for the first time.
Before I stuck the mics in my ears, Des tutored me on how to open myself up to the sound of the city – how to acknowledge and distinguish each individual sound instead of filtering it out as a mass of white noise, which is what we normally do every waking moment as we navigate through the aural obstacle course around us.
Then he told me that with the binaural mics I was to pretend my head was the mic shaft, and my ears were now microphones. It’s stereophonic, so it captures a pretty full range. Any sound that I was drawn to I was to slowly turn and/or point my head in that direction.
Thankfully, he used his vast experience with the technology and set the recording levels for me, because, as they are mics and not headphones, you can’t hear how the machine is recording; you can only hear what’s being recorded. Had I been responsible for the recording levels I would most likely have set them too high or too low.
While the result was mind-blowing – those mics pick up quite delicate sounds – the process was an experience itself. Walking down the rue Mouffetard wearing small earbud mics, I blended right in as it looked like I was just listening to music. Concentrating on the soundscape of the street made me aware of a whole new sensory experience. As a fast walker used to busily-busily hurtling down London streets through annoyingly rambling crowds, thinking about the next ten things on my to-do list and not being present in the now, the soundwalk made me stop and hear the roses.
Part of Roxanne’s soundwalk in rue Mouffetard:
Des has graciously edited down a shorter version of the 23’51” piece I recorded for you to enjoy. It’s only one moment in time and space – MY moment. Because you didn’t experience it you probably won’t have the same sense of wonderment that I did upon listening to it. But clamp on a pair of cans for that full stereo effect, sit back and listen to the life of one street in Paris on a sunny May afternoon, and you may just appreciate that moment, because those sounds won’t happen in that order at that place ever again. This is history in a very personal sense.
Maybe, just maybe, it will inspire you to open up your ears and hear the familiar in a startlingly new way.