I am delighted to present a new piece in my Paris – A Personal View series.
For each piece in the series I invite a guest who lives in or has a close connection to Paris to visit one of their favourite places or a place in the city that has a special meaning for them. With access to a microphone and sound recorder the guest talks about the place and tell us why it’s special to them.
Today my guest is Heather Munro.
Heather is a writer, editor and photographer (though not always in that order) who grew up in Great Britain, Mexico and Peru (in exactly that order) before finally settling down in the United States. Whenever she is able, she greatly enjoys travelling and discovering new places and new cultures. But of all the places she’s visited, Paris is still her favourite.
This is Heather’s second contribution to my Paris – A Personal View series. Last year she told us about the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris and why it is important to her. This time her chosen place is …
Heather says …
“In January of 2013, I had the privilege of meeting Des and talking about the Notre Dame cathedral. It was such a wonderful experience that Des was among the very first people I contacted when I learned I’d be returning to Paris. Through our correspondence, I discovered that he hadn’t yet visited another of my favourite Paris places. And although the catacombs may seem like an odd choice for soundwalk, I realised in hindsight that a tour of these dark tunnels was in fact the perfect companion to our previous piece about Notre Dame, the monument that for me most symbolizes the City of Light. I extend warm thanks to Des for another extraordinary Paris experience.”
Heather Munro at the Catacombes de Paris:
A simple stone staircase takes visitors about 65 feet below the streets of Paris into a small portion of the sprawling network of tunnels known as ‘the catacombs’
This curving tunnel is typical of the first half of the catacombs tour. Visitors must walk through tunnels like this for over a mile before they arrive at the ossuary.
Above and below … The sculptures of Décure
The Arche Fontis
A white plastic tag in the roof to measure the movement of the crack
Above and below … The entrance to the ossuary – The Empire of the Dead
The Cloche de Fontis
I am very grateful to Heather for giving up so much time on her busy European trip to record this visit to the Catacombes de Paris and for the opportunity to meet her husband, Steve, for the first time. My thanks to them both for their company and hospitality.
Heather Munro narrated this visit to the Catacombes de Paris and took all the photographs. The sound was recorded by me, Des Coulam.
Unlike other sounds on this blog, the sound piece ‘Heather Munro at the Catacombes de Paris’ is not covered by a Creative Commons license. The copyright for this piece rests jointly and exclusively with Heather Munro and Des Coulam. It follows therefore that the downloading of this piece for any purpose is not permitted without the express permission of both Heather and Des. We have no wish to spoil your enjoyment of this piece but simply ask you to respect that the work is ours. The copyright for the pictures rests exclusively with Heather Munro. Thanks for understanding.
I SPENT THE AFTERNOON of Christmas Day in the Jardin des Tuileries. The weather was perfect with bright sunshine and a gentle breeze.
I had rather expected the Jardin des Tuileries to be a haven of tranquillity, this was Christmas Day after all … but it was not so. I discovered that lots of other people had also decided to spend the afternoon of Christmas Day in this former garden of the Tuileries Palace created by Catherine de Medicis in 1564.
On the afternoon of Christmas Day people were doing what they’ve always done here, meeting friends, promenading and relaxing.
And what was I doing? I was listening to the feast of sounds around me – footsteps over the gravel, half-heard conversations, distinctive Parisian park chairs being hauled into just the right place, birds scavenging for their Christmas lunch, tourists admiring the Louvre, a student singing and two Gendarmes on horseback passing in front of the Café Marly.
So here are the sights and sounds I enjoyed on the afternoon of Christmas Day.
Christmas Day in the Jardin des Tuileries:
CHRISTMAS IS UPON US, so it’s time for me to publish my audio Christmas card for 2013. It’s made up of just a handful of the many sounds of Paris that I’ve recorded during this year.
My Audio Christmas Card 2013:
This audio Christmas card is dedicated to all those who visit this blog regularly as well as to those who happen to drop in as they’re passing by. I extend my grateful thanks to you all.
I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all that you wish for yourselves in 2014.
WHEN I PUBLISHED my previous blog piece I thought that I’d said everything I needed to say about my local Christmas market – but it turns out there is a post-script.
When I went to get bread from my local boulangerie last Saturday afternoon I discovered a different Jazz band playing in the Christmas market, the Gibsy Quartet. They were very good and so I decided to record them for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
The Gibsy Quartet
Over the years I’ve learned many lessons about how to record the sounds of urban life around me and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is never to turn my sound recorder off as soon as I think I have a recording in the bag. Urban sounds can often be quite unpredictable and fascinating sounds can sometimes turn up when you least expect them. Another lesson is that what you might think are fairly ordinary sounds can suddenly become quite extraordinary.
One could argue that recording a jazz band playing in a Parisian street is nothing out of the ordinary, once you’ve heard one you’ve heard them all some might say. But when events have a twist in the tail then the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
I recorded the Gibsy Quartet on Saturday afternoon. They were going to be at the Christmas market for much longer than I was so I recorded them playing two pieces and then I was about to head off for home. As is my practice, after they finished their second piece I left my sound recorder running and then, as I turned to walk away, this astonishing man appeared.
From his lofty perch he began singing and playing his concertina and I, the jazz band and several other people began to gather round him.
He spied the band beneath him and without hesitation he began to sing the Neapolitan song, O Sole Mio, an open invitation to the jazz musicians so used to improvising.
And improvise they did turning the ordinary into something quite extraordinary.
The Gibsy Quartet … and friend:
I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for recording the soundscapes of Paris, but if I ever do I shall listen to this recording and remind myself of why I do it. Capturing unexpected and unrepeatable sounds like this always gives me a buzz and listening to these sounds will always remind me of my local Christmas market, the infectious enthusiasm of musicians and the delicious smell of freshly baked bread in my local boulangerie.
AT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR the Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets, spring up all over Paris and I have three of them within easy reach of me. To the west is the very large one at La Défense with its 350 châlets standing in the shadow of la Grande Arche, to the east is the most visited Christmas market in Paris stretching along the Champs Elysées and then, at the bottom of my little street, is the one closest to home.
The Christmas markets at La Défense and along the Champs Elysées are very big, mostly swamped with visitors and quite impersonal whereas my local Christmas market is tiny in comparison but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in congeniality.
My local Christmas market is now open for business so I’ve been to have a look, to savour the atmosphere and to capture the sights and sounds.
Contrary to what you might think, the sounds in the big Christmas markets can often be quite bland but in my local Christmas market I enjoyed a sonic treat – two different bands, a street organ and singer, electronic music accompanying butterfly elves on stilts, a balloon sculptress with enormous boots and, of course, the sounds of lots of excited small children.
My local Christmas market in sound:
Alexandre l’Agodas: Le colporteur de rêves et son orgue de barbarie
(The pedlar of dreams and his barrel organ)
Les Elfes-papillons des pôles
(Butterfly elves on stilts)
Sculpture sur ballons avec Bibindum
Swing Connection – New Orleans Jazz
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!
THIS STREET WAS OPENED in 1865 as the avenue Millaud but in 1897 its name was changed to rue Crémieux in honour of Isaac Moïse also known as Adolphe Crémieux.
Adolphe Crémieux was a French-Jewish lawyer, statesman and a staunch defender of the human rights of the Jews of France. He had a distinguished career but he is perhaps best remembered for the Crémieux Decree of 1870 that secured full citizenship for the Jews in French-ruled Algeria. This was to play a part in the deteriorating relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities and proved fateful in the Algerian War of Independence.
Rue Crémieux is a narrow pedestrianised street in the 12th arrondissement stretching some 144 metres from rue de Bercy to rue de Lyon. It’s most notable for its two rows of colourfully decorated houses.
Sounds in rue Crémieux:
In January 1910, heavy winter rains gave rise to the great flood that engulfed Paris including rue Crémieux. At N° 8, a plaque on the wall indicates the height to which the water reached.
Here are some more of the colourful sights in this street.