ABOUT ONCE EVERY month or so, I wander up to Pigalle, one of the – how shall I say – one of the more ‘colourful’ areas of Paris.
Tourists of course flock here to see the world-famous Moulin Rouge with its sixty strong troupe of Doriss Girls and the plus célèbre can-can du monde. But they might also come to this neck of the woods to see some less glamorous things too!
When I emerge from Pigalle Métro station it’s not the Moulin Rouge or the rows of seedy sex-shops that I see, they are behind me in the opposite direction, it’s this gas station straddling the footpath that always catches my eye.
This is the point of departure for my monthly perambulation around Pigalle. Starting from here, I walk along the boulevard de Clichy, turn right into the rue des Martyrs, right again into rue Victor Massé and then right again up to the boulevard de Clichy and Blanche Métro station which is right in front of the Moulin Rouge.
And the purpose of my monthly visits …
I come to look at the sound shops, to see what’s new and to reminisce.
When I first came to Paris some fifteen years ago, Pigalle was awash with shops specialising in sound recording. For a sound enthusiast like me it was heaven. You could buy anything and everything to do with sound recording here – reel-to-reel tape recorders, small and large, giant mixing desks, microphones, loudspeakers, and more cables than you could shake a stick at. And the choice was huge, not just the choice of products but the places you could buy them from. Today, it’s very different. Save for a few small enclaves, sound recording shops are few and far between.
Star’s Music on the boulevard de Clichy used to be one of the biggest and best sound recording shops in town. Today, it sells mostly electronic keyboards, electronic drum-kits and a few musical instruments. There is a small sound recording department but it’s confined to a couple of shelves in a tiny part of the store. All is not lost though, they do have a separate shop next door dedicated to selling microphones and they have a very good selection.
Another shop specialising in microphones, but also selling sound recorders, is Le Microphone. It’s a small shop in the rue Victor Massé and they have a good range of products ranging from affordable, hand-held recorders to top-quality broadcast recorders together with a top-of-the-range selection of microphones.
Home Studio used to be a favourite haunt of mine. I used to spend hours in this shop just browsing at things I was sure I ought to have but didn’t actually need. Today, this shop too is full of electronic keyboards and a range of digital gizmos not only above my price range but most of them way beyond my comprehension.
Not all that long ago, Home Studio set up a separate microphone shop further along rue Victor Massé, a shop not only with a very impressive range of microphones but also, as I know from personal experience, exemplary customer service, a rare commodity in these parts. Alas, this shop is also no more. When I went to have a look last Saturday, the shop was empty and shuttered.
I still go to Pigalle every month or so to look at the sound shops and I still get that extraordinary buzz when something new catches my eye and just for a moment I’m absolutely convinced that I can’t possibly live without it … but the moment almost always passes and I come away empty-handed.
A journey around the sound shops of Pigalle used to occupy my entire Saturday afternoon or sometimes even longer. Today it takes me less than an hour to visit them all.
But there is an upside …
On my regular visits I now get much more time to explore the rest of Pigalle, the parts beyond the sound shops, the Moulin Rouge and the seedy side of life – places like rue Lepic.
Rue Lepic – A Soundwalk:
Rue Lepic is an ancient road climbing the Butte de Montmartre from the boulevard de Clichy to the place Jean-Baptiste-Clément. In 1852 it was renamed rue de l’Empereur, and renamed again in 1864, after the General, Louis Lepic (1765-1827). It’s one of those engaging Parisian streets where I love to do soundwalks.
I suppose it’s all too easy to look upon the past through rose-tinted spectacles. I still though treasure my memories of Saturday afternoon’s touring the seemingly endless sound shops in Pigalle, looking, touching and occasionally buying what was then state-of the-art technology. But times move on and technology seems to change at an ever-quickening pace. The sound shops that remain in Pigalle today sell some things that I recognise and completely understand and, every once in a while, still might buy. But they also sell things that are way beyond my understanding. I’m sure that even these state-of-the-art products will also become tomorrow’s museum pieces.
Yes, I do mourn the passing of all the sound shops that gave me so much pleasure all those years ago but I take comfort from having more time to explore the rest of Pigalle and being able to capture its sound tapestry – with a recording device that would have been unimaginable fifteen years ago!
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 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 tells us why it’s special to them.
Today my guest is Monique Wells.
Photo by Kim Powell
A native Houstonian and 21-year resident of Paris, Dr. Monique Y. Wells wears several professional hats. She is a consultant in preclinical safety assessment, a time management/productivity expert, and an expert on African Diaspora Paris. She owns two small businesses – one as a solopreneur and the other with her husband. A writer and editor in multiple disciplines, she enjoys investigating her topics thoroughly with an eye for the unusual, untold story. She is also passionate about travel and about food and wine.
As an African-American woman living in France, her interest in African Diaspora history and culture in Paris led her to create Discover Paris!’ Entrée to Black Paris™ Afro-centric walks and activities. It also inspired her to found the French non-profit association called Les Amis de Beauford Delaney. Having successfully placed a tombstone at the previously unmarked grave of painter Beauford Delaney, the principal goal of the organization is now to increase awareness of Delaney’s work.
And Monique’s chosen place? The Jardin du Luxembourg …
©Monique Wells at the Jardin du Luxembourg:
Preparing to record in the Jardin du Luxembourg
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
The photographic exposition of the Tour de France on the gates of the Jardin
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
Palais du Luxembourg - The Luxembourg Palace
Le poète ou Hommage à Paul Eluard (1954)
Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
Horloge, Palais du Luxembourg
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
La fontaine Médicis – The Medici Fountain
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
The first crocuses
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
I am very grateful to Monique for giving up her time on a blustery, early Spring day to visit and talk about the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Unlike other sounds on this blog, the sound piece ‘Monique Wells at the Jardin du Luxembourg‘ is not covered by a Creative Commons license. The copyright for this piece rests jointly and exclusively with Monique Wells and Des Coulam. It follows therefore that the downloading of this piece for any purpose is not permitted without the express permission of both Monique and Des. We have no wish to spoil your enjoyment of this piece but simply ask you to respect that the work is ours. Thanks for understanding.
FOR THE SECOND time in the last three months I’ve been to see a newly opened Paris Métro station. In December I went to have a look at Front Populaire, the new terminus at the northern end of Line 12. That station was opened on 18th December and it became the 302nd station on the Paris Métro network.
Last week, I crossed to the south of Paris to visit the latest addition to the Paris Métro network, the 303rd station, Mairie de Montrouge, which now becomes the new southern terminus of Line 4. The station was officially opened on 23rd March by Frédéric Cuvillier, Junior Minister for Transport and the Maritime Economy.
The extension to Mairie de Montrouge is the first extension of Métro Line 4 since its construction was completed in 1910. For over a hundred years Line 4 ran within the Paris city boundaries from Porte de Clignancourt in the north to Porte d’Orléans in the south. The extension to Mairie de Montrouge now takes Line 4 beyond the city limits into the suburbs.
At a cost of over €152 million, the extension is 780 metres long and the work took five years to complete.
In yet another example of RATP’s joined up thinking, Mairie de Montrouge station links with three RATP bus routes, 68, 126 and 128 as well as with the SQYBUS (Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines) network.
Sounds inside Mairie de Montrouge station:
Inside, the new station has a bright and airy feel to it in part due to the use of natural light coming through the glass panels set into the roof which also form part of the concourse outside the station.
Glass panels set into the concourse outside which provide natural light inside the station:
The seats both inside and outside are quite comfortable despite their rather futuristic look.
The station has two entrances at the moment. The main entrance is on the parvis of l’Eglise Saint-Jacques le Majeur.
There is a second entrance at Place du Général-Leclerc and a third entrance, opposite the Mairie, is under construction and is due to open next year.
Extending the line to Mairie de Montrouge is only the first stage of the southern extension of Line 4. In 2014 work will begin on a further extension with two new stations, Verdun Sud and Bagneux. These stations are planned to open in 2019.
Mairie de Montrouge (The Town Hall)
Until 2011, the trains on Line 4, the MP 59, were the oldest on the Paris Métro system, some of them 50 years old. During 2011 and 2012 newer MP 89 trains, formerly running on Line 1 but now redundant since the automation of that line, were cascaded to Line 4 making for quicker and more comfortable journeys.
With 154 million passengers a year, Line 4, the second busiest line on the system after Line 1, now has faster and more comfortable trains taking passengers further than ever.
FOR THE LAST FIVE years or so I’ve been recording the contemporary sound tapestry of Paris in, as far as I know, a more comprehensive way than it’s been done before. During that time I’ve recorded both the ordinary and extraordinary sounds of this city in ordinary and extraordinary places.
Occasionally, I’ve been able to record history in the making and last Saturday was one such occasion. It was quite sobering to think that the event I was about to witness will never be seen again in the lifetime of anyone who was there.
Bells have rung out from the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris since the end of the 12th century, long before the building of the cathedral was completed. As the cathedral’s life evolved and its influence developed more bells were added to reflect its increasing importance.
By the middle of the 18th century Notre Dame had a magnificent array of bells – eight in the north tower, two bourdons, or great bells, in the south tower, seven in the spire and three clock bells in the north transept.
But their days were numbered. The ravages of the French Revolution took their toll and the bells were removed, broken up and melted down. One bell though escaped this destruction. The biggest of the cathedral’s bells, the great Emanuel bell, was saved and reinstalled on the express orders of Napoleon I and it still sits in the south tower today.
After the dust of the Revolution had settled new bells were installed in Notre Dame – four in the north tower, three in the spire and three in the roof of the transept. Unfortunately, the best that can be said about these new bells is that they were second rate. Poor quality metal was used to cast them and they were out of tune with each other and with the magnificent Emanuel bell. And these second rate bells are what Parisians have lived with, at least until last Saturday – and then everything changed.
To mark the 850th anniversary of the founding of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris it was decided to replace the existing cathedral bells with new ones, exact replicas of the bells that were in place before the Revolution. With eight new bells in the north tower cast at a foundry in Normandy and a new bourdon cast in the Netherlands sitting beside the frail and now very carefully used Emanuel in the south tower, once again the soundscape of 18th century Paris can be recreated and sounds that have been lost for over two centuries can again be heard.
In February, the new bells were delivered to Notre Dame and were blessed by Cardinal Vingt-Trois. They were then set out in the nave of the cathedral for the public to see and to touch. I saw and touched them all.
A Call for Silence:
I was there on the Parvis du Notre Dame or as it’s called today, Place Jean-Paul II, as the crowds gathered and the anticipation mounted.
The dignitaries arrived and proceedings got underway with three chimes from the great Emanuel bell which brought a gasp from the crowd. Singing by children from the Sacred Music Choir of Notre Dame was followed by an explanation of what was to happen next by a lady whose French was impeccable and whose English accent was far from perfect but nevertheless, an absolute delight to listen to. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, recently returned from the Papal conclave in Rome, then gave a short address.
The Opening Ceremony:
The smallest of the new bells, Jean-Marie, in memory of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the 139th archbishop of Paris, from 1981 to 2005.
782kg – 997mm
When the Cardinal finished speaking there was an eerie silence and then the moment came – the very first ringing of the new bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, sounds that haven’t been heard for over two centuries.
The first ringing of the new bells:
Maurice, in memory of Maurice de Sully, the 72nd bishop of Paris, from 1160-1196, who launched the construction of the current cathedral in 1163.
1,011kg – 1,097mm
After that historic and quite breathtaking experience, which kept the crowd spell bound, it was the turn of the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, to speak which he did fluently and without notes.
Bertrand Delanoë :
Benoît-Joseph, in honour of Pope Benedict XVI. Joseph Ratzinger was made Pope in 2005 and retired in 2013.
1,309kg – 1,207mm
Then came quite remarkable sounds from the bells, a conversation between the smallest bells and Gabriel, one of the largest.
A conversation between bells:
Étienne (Stephen), in honour of Saint Steven, the first Christian martyr. The church constructed (from 690 AD onwards) on the same site as the current Cathedral bore the name Étienne.
1,494kg – 1,267mm
Next to take to the podium was Aurélie Filippetti, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication.
Aurélie Filippetti :
Marcel, in honour of Saint Marcel, the ninth bishop of Paris, at the end of the 4th Century.
1,925kg – 1,393mm
Denis, in honour of Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, c. 250 AD. He is the patron saint of the diocese.
2,502kg – 1,536mm
Over the centuries, the sounds of the bells of Notre Dame have told of the joys and sorrows of the Christian community and the major moments that have marked the history of France.
Anne-Geneviève; in honour of Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary and in honour of Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris.
3,477kg – 1,725mm
Hearing the sounds of the new bells for the first time was a very special moment but more was to follow.
Introduced by Monseigneur Patrick Jaquin, recteur-archiprêtre de la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the climax of the ceremony was a magnificent grande solenelle, all ten bells ringing at once.
La Grande Solenelle:
Gabriel, in honour of Saint Gabriel, who announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. In the 15th Century, the largest of the North Tower’s bells already bore the name Gabriel.
4,162kg – 1,828mm
Bells have been associated with Christianity since its earliest times and, although they have marked the passage of time, their primary purpose has always been liturgical. Their chimes summon people to come together and call them to prayer.
It seems appropriate therefore that I should conclude with the sounds of the new bells at Notre Dame doing just that – calling people to the evening service in the cathedral just as they have done for hundreds of years.
And it was quite special to know that the sounds engulfing the Place Jean-Paul II and beyond were the same sounds heard over two centuries ago.
Call to Prayer:
Marie, in honour of the Virgin Mary and in memory of the first great bell of the Cathedral, which was cast in 1378.
6,023kg – 2,065mm
THE HÔTEL DIEU was founded in the middle of the 7th century, which makes it the oldest hospital in Paris. It sits on the Parvis du Notre Dame alongside its more prestigious neighbour, the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, which was founded some four hundred years later.
Originally, the Hôtel Dieu was situated on the other side of the Parvis next to the river Seine. During the Middle Ages it grew in an unplanned and rather chaotic way and by the 17th century it had spilled over the river occupying two bridges and a parcel of land on the Left Bank.
Of course, to say that the Hôtel Dieu was founded as a hospital is not exactly true; there were no hospitals as such in the 7th century. It did cater for the sick after a fashion but it was founded more as a refuge for the poor and it continued to be a refuge for Parisians until the 17th century. By this time though it had gained a terrible reputation and by the time of the Revolution in 1789, a quarter of those admitted died often of diseases contracted within its walls.
It was only in the mid-19th century when the hospital moved to a new, purpose-built home on the other side of the Parvis, the home that it occupies today, that it began to shed its reputation as a disease trap and became a place where people might be treated and even cured.
Today, the Hôtel Dieu has 350 beds and it’s the primary casualty centre for emergency cases in the first nine arrondissements in Paris. It also specialises in research into and the treatment of diabetes and it has a major ophthalmology department, which caters for ophthalmic emergencies, surgery and research.
Recently, I went to have a look at the Hôtel Dieu. From both the outside and the inside it has the feel of rather a cold, unwelcoming place.
Like most 19th century hospitals its buildings are arranged around a central courtyard connected by colonnaded walkways.
Beneath these walkways are long, seemingly endless corridors, which have a rather haunting feel to them.
Whilst these long corridors have a curious haunting elegance about them and the hospital wards themselves are perfectly clean and functional, the spaces in between are rather shabby and have a run-down feel. The entrance to the ophthalmic emergency unit for example doesn’t really inspire confidence even though it’s a state-of-the-art facility.
Regular visitors to this blog will know that, whilst I have a passion for the city of Paris, I have an even greater passion for its sounds and I found the sounds inside the Hôtel Dieu simply fascinating.
To illustrate that, I offer you two sound pieces, both recorded inside the hospital but both recorded in different ways. Both illustrate how sound can describe the atmosphere a place and create images equally as powerful as words or pictures.
The first piece is a soundwalk inside the hospital. I simply recorded as I walked along the corridors and in and out of any door that would let me pass. I didn’t of course invade any private areas – the emergency room, the wards or the laboratories, I simply kept to the public spaces.
Hôtel Dieu – A Soundwalk:
In the first piece I walked through the hospital discovering the sounds. In the next piece, I sat in one place and let the hospital walk past me.
I sat on a long wooden bench in the seemingly endless corridor shown above, outside what I discovered was the bloc opératoire which to my ear at least sounds much more elegant than the operating theatres.
Hôtel Dieu – Outside the bloc opératoire:
If you listen carefully, amongst other things you can hear the soft tread of operating theatre staff dressed in hospital scrubs and white coats returning to work after lunch.
Both these sound pieces illustrate the everyday sounds of a busy hospital, sounds that would go largely unnoticed to the ordinary visitor or to someone with more important things on their mind.
People often ask me why I record sounds like these and my answer is always the same.
For most of our history we have used artefacts, architecture, pictures and words to create a vision of our past. It’s only in the last ten seconds or so on our historical clock that we’ve been able to capture and archive sound. Almost all our sonic heritage has passed by completely unrecorded.
In the 16th century this hospital catered for some 3,500 patients at a time often with four or more to a bed. In 1832 it was overwhelmed with victims of the great cholera outbreak. We have written and pictorial evidence of what the hospital was like during those times but we have none of its contemporary sounds to listen to. Sitting on my long wooden bench in a seemingly endless corridor I was not only able to listen to and record today’s sounds of this place but to create a record of these sounds for others, now and in the future, to explore. I think I may even have been able to hear faint echoes of this place’s past.
As a final note, I have to record that the Hôtel Dieu has an uncertain future.
Thanks to a restructuring of l’Assistance Publique Hôpiteaux de Paris, the body that oversees the hospital, changes are afoot. There are proposals to close the emergency department and to change the hospital into a Hôpital Universitaire de Santé Publique, in effect, a teaching hospital which will take walk-in patients without appointment. That’s why there are banners up on the hospital walls and why the CGT union were collecting signatures for a petition on the day I went.
If these changes come to pass then maybe the sounds I recorded in the Hôtel Dieu will become more important than I thought – a genuine piece of history captured before this hospital as we know it disappears.
THE MARCHING SEASON continues in Paris. Last Tuesday it was a manifestation Contre la Crise et l’Austérité and on Saturday it was an anti-nuclear demonstration starting from Place de la Bastille.
Timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the disaster at Fukushima in Japan the idea of this manifestation was to form a human chain as a protest to stop both the civil and military use of nuclear power.
By the standards of most manifestations in Paris the turnout was meagre but what they lacked in numbers they made up for in enthusiasm.
In the Place de la Bastille a stage had been erected which was to be used for a concert in the evening at the end of the manifestation but in the early afternoon it was used for the introductory speeches.
One of the speeches involved the reading of a letter sent from a Japanese journalist in Fukushima.
Letter from Fukushima:
After the speeches the protest got under way with the demonstrators splitting into two groups, one to the Avenue Henry IV and the other to the rue de Lyon. I followed the rue de Lyon party as they made their human chain and marched to the Gare de Lyon.
Sounds of Protest:
This was certainly not the biggest or most spectacular manifestation that I’ve seen in Paris, and I’ve seen most of them, but it’s always good to see people taking to the streets and standing up for what they believe in.
It was on 30th September last year when the last big demonstration against the austerity plans contained in the EU fiscal pact took place here in Paris but the discontent has been bubbling away ever since.
On Tuesday thousands of demonstrators marched in towns and cities across France to protest against plans to allow companies to cut workers’ hours during economic downturns – a policy central to President Francois Hollande’s jobs and growth strategy.
The demonstrations were led by two trade unions, CGT, Confédération générale du travail and Force Ouvrière, both of whom are opposed to the recent labour deal central to Hollande’s efforts to restore competitiveness which was agreed in January by three mainstream unions and employers and should pass into law next month. The “flexicurity” reform will mean more job security for workers on short-term contracts while making it easier for firms to cut work hours if orders dry up. It also gives them new rights to dismiss any staff who refuse to participate.
I caught up with the sights and sounds of the demonstration in Paris.
Sounds of protest:
IT BEGAN LIFE in the mid 12th century as a royal hunting lodge in the forest of Vincennes in what is now the very east of Paris. By the 13th century, the hunting lodge had expanded into a more substantial royal manor, a favourite residence of Louis IX, Saint Louis, King of France from 1226 until his death during the eighth crusade in 1270 and the only French king to be canonised.
By the 14th century, the Château de Vincennes had expanded and outgrown the original site. With the outbreak of the Hundred Years War, it became as much a fortress as a family home. Work began on a donjon tower, or fortified keep, which, at 52 meters high, was the tallest medieval fortified structure in Europe.
The keep was completed in 1370 and it comprised a huge square tower flanked by four corner turrets. The tower is divided into six floors with rooms whose archways rest on a single slender central column. Each floor has the same layout with a large central hall and rooms in each corner turret.
During this period the Château de Vincennes was closely associated with Charles V, or Charles ‘the Wise’, as he became known. The donjon served as the residence for the royal family, and its buildings once held the library and personal study of Charles V.
After many years of archaeological and restoration work, the donjon is now open to the public. Access is gained from the chatelet, or gatehouse, in the courtyard via the oldest preserved example of an outwork staircase lit by five openings one above the other.
Climbing to the top of this staircase leads to the chatelet terrace with its magnificent view over the whole of the Château de Vincennes site.
The bell tower is also here. Built in 1369, this bell tower housed the very first public clock in France. Of all the clocks installed by Charles V in his Parisian residencies, this is the only one to survive.
The clock, located above the king’s study in the chatelet and on the same level as his bedchamber on the second floor of the keep, punctuated his life according to the canonical hours marking the daily offices devoted to prayer.
Just below the chatelet terrace is the chemin-de-ronde, the walkway around the battlements along which Charles V used to walk from his study to his apartment.
Crossing the footbridge, which was the only way into the keep in the Middle Ages, one comes to the Council Chamber where official receptions took place as well as meetings between the monarch and his advisors.
Beyond that is the bedchamber, the central room on the second floor with its beautiful fireplace. The king used to keep his finest manuscripts in a chest here placed in the west window recess.
Close by in the northwest turret is the treasury once home to sacks of gold and precious treasure.
Charles V was very fond of music and every day the finest musicians in France would attend upon the king and play music for him. In the king’s quarters in the donjon today an installation recreates the sound of the medieval music that Charles V may well have heard.
Medieval Music in the Keep:
There is an English connection to the medieval keep. In 1422, following the siege of Meaux, the English king, Henry V, victor of the battle of Agincourt, died here from dysentery.
By the 18th century, Château de Vincennes had ceased to become a practical fortress. Instead it became home to the Vincennes porcelain manufactory, the precursor to Sèvres porcelain factory and the keep became a state prison housing such distinguished guests as the Marquis de Sade, Diderot, and the French revolutionary, the Comte de Mirabeau,
Former prison cell with original graffiti
In 1379, Charles V ordered the building of a chapel opposite the keep modelled on Sainte-Chapelle in the Palais de la Cité in Paris, today called La Conciergerie. Although the work began under Charles V it was not until the reign of Henry II (1547-1559) that the chapel was finally completed. And the result is simply breathtaking.
Sounds inside Sainte-Chapelle:
The original bell dating from 1369 which was housed in the chatelet bell tower now rests here in Sainte-Chapelle.
The Château de Vincennes has always had a military connection. As well as being a medieval fortress, Napoleon I converted it into a military stronghold and it also served as the military headquarters of the Chief of General Staff, General Maurice Gamelin during the unsuccessful defence of France against the invading German army in 1940. It is now the main base of France’s Defence Historical Service, which maintains a museum in the donjon.
And one final thing, the spy, Mata-Hari, was executed here in 1917.
AT FIRST SIGHT, the Rue Saint-Roch seems to be an ordinary street in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, a stones throw from the Jardin des Tuileries and the Musée du Louvre. But, as is so often the case in this wonderful city, things are not always quite what they seem.
Let’s start with the obvious. The most prominent feature in the street is the Église Saint-Roch at the junction of the Rue Saint-Roch and the Rue Saint-Honoré.
The church was built in the late baroque style. Louis XIV laid the foundation stone in 1653 and building was completed in 1754.
Sounds inside the Église Saint-Roch:
The church suffered during the French revolution, it was ransacked, and many works of art were stolen or destroyed. Scars of the revolution are still to be seen on the façade of the church with the marks left by flying bullets.
It’s a well-kept secret, but the Église Saint-Roch is notable because the French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, writer and notorious libertine, the Marquis de Sade, was married here on May 17, 1763.
The Église Saint-Roch is special for me because it is yet another Parisian church with an organ that has the fingerprints of the master organ builders, François-Henri Clicquot and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll all over it.
In 1750, François-Henri Lesclop was commissioned to build the first organ but he died before the work was completed. François-Henri Clicquot was asked to finish the work, which he did in 1756. The organ was restored just over a hundred years later in 1859 and again in 1881 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. This magical combination of work by François-Henri Clicquot and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll is to be found in churches all over Paris, not least in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
And so, back to the Rue Saint-Roch itself. The origins of the street date back to somewhere around the tenth-century. It was officially named for the first time in 1450 as Rue Saint-Vincent then, several hundred years and several name changes later, it became Rue Saint-Roche in 1879.
Today, amidst scaffolding and extensive building work, Rue Saint-Roche is home to the Paris Bureau of the BBC who advertise their presence in rather austere terms compared to the other more elegant signage on the rest of the building.
Sounds in the Rue Saint-Roch:
The sounds of the Rue Saint-Roch may be what I came to listen to but what I especially came to see was this house, two doors down from the BBC office, N°41 Rue Saint-Roch. An ordinary looking house you might think, but this house has a history, a secret history. During the First World war, N°41 Rue Saint-Roche was the headquarters of a secret British military intelligence operation involving an underground espionage ring operating behind enemy lines.
The story of 41 Rue Saint-Roch is intriguing and brilliantly set out in Janet Morgan’s book, The Secrets of Rue St Roch. It’s a story of ingenuity, bravery and meticulous attention to detail, the very stuff of espionage behind enemy lines.
During the First World War, the Germans depended on trains to sustain and move their armies. The Allies realised the crucial importance of timetable information and of knowing what troop trains in occupied territories were carrying. Movements of men and guns from one part of the front to another, or the clearing of hospitals in forward areas, indicated the position and timing of the next offensive.
It was difficult to find people who could provide such intelligence, and difficult for it to be passed on. The front line was impermeable, neutral borders mined and electrified, movement restricted and clandestine radio and aerial reconnaissance were in their infancies. The Allies made many attempts, but German counter-espionage was formidable – though one network, La Dame Blanche in Belgium, was an espionage triumph. There was no coverage of tiny Luxembourg, which became, as the war went on, an increasingly important rail hub.
It was partly to address this that Captain George Bruce, later Lord Balfour, was assigned to a department of British military intelligence at 41 Rue Saint-Roch. He identified a possible recruit, a middle-aged Luxembourgeoise called Lise Rischard, whom he persuaded to return to her country as a railway spy. She began reporting by letter and newspaper code, which was a difficult business but this improved when she was joined by another of Bruce’s agents, an irrepressible Polish-Belgian soldier called Baschwitz Meau, who had escaped five times from German prison camps.
Meau was inserted into Luxembourg by hydrogen balloon at a late and crucial stage of the 1918 German spring offensive. The importance of the intelligence that he and Rischard provided from the agents they recruited can be gauged by the honours they later received – she the CBE, he the DSO, and both were made Chevaliers of the Legion d’Honneur.
I often wonder how many of the people who pass along the Rue Saint-Roch every day have any idea of the secret history of the house at N°41.
I walk the streets of Paris endlessly, observing and listening, and I am constantly intrigued by how the seemingly ordinary can often turn out to be quite extraordinary. The Rue Saint-Roch is a perfect example of this serendipity.
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: