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13
Jun

Marché aux Oiseaux – A Soundwalk

IN MY PREVIOUS POST I recounted how I went to the Marché aux Fleurs last Saturday shortly after the visit by Queen Elizabeth II and how the market had been renamed in her honour as the Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II.

The next day I returned to this flower market to witness its transformation into the Marché aux Oiseaux, a bird market.

Marché aux Oiseaux

The main part of the Marché aux Fleurs comprises two iron pavilions filled with a cornucopia of plants, shrubs, flowers and garden accessories. But on Sundays the road between the two pavilions is taken over by temporary stalls selling a wide variety of birds, from the rare and exotic to the more prosaic, together with a selection bird related accessories.

Marché aux Oiseaux

When I went there on Sunday, the road between the iron pavilions of the flower market was awash with people who, as with most markets, obviously come here not only to buy and sell but also to meet friends and other like-minded people.

Marché aux Oiseaux – A Soundwalk:

Marché aux Oiseaux

I found the soundscape in the Marché aux Oiseaux fascinating – an intriguing interweaving of sounds from two different species in close proximity, the avian and the human, with both speaking to themselves but not to each other. It seemed as though the air was filled with a cacophony of conversation.

Marché aux Oiseaux

At the end of my Sunday morning walk through the Marché aux Oiseaux this cacophony of avian and human conversation seemed to be reconciled by the unifying, man-made sounds of the distant bells of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris drifting across the market on the warm, summer air.

Here are some more sights of the Marché aux Oiseaux:

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

Marché aux Oiseaux

9
Jun

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

THE FRENCH SELDOM name places after living people but in the case of the Marché aux Fleurs in Paris they’ve made an exception.

Last Saturday, at the end of a three-day State Visit to France which included attending the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landings in Normandy, Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Anne Hidalgo, the newly elected Mayor of Paris, and the French Président, François Hollande, visited the Marché aux Fleurs, which has been renamed the Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II in her honour.

Marché aux Fleurs

It’s quite a while since I’ve been to the Marché aux Fleurs so I thought I would go along on Saturday and reaquaint myself with this renowned Parisian flower market.

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Close to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and bordering La Seine, the Marché aux Fleurs, in the Place Louis Lépine, has been here since 1808. Housed in iron pavilions each with a glass roof, the market offers a wide range of flowers, plants, shrubs and garden accessories as well as other hidden treasures.

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Sounds of the Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II:

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

I arrived at the market shortly after the Queen had left and so, on this beautiful sunny day, I was able to walk around unencumbered by the restrictions surrounding Royal visits.

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

I spoke to some of the stallholders and they seemed delighted with the Queen’s visit and with the new name of the market. I also came upon two young ladies clutching an iPhone who were particularly excited since they had just found a photograph of themselves meeting the Queen on a French Television website.

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Not everyone is happy with the new name though. Some on the Left said it was ‘ridiculous’ that an unelected monarch was getting such an accolade in a republic that executed most of its royals more than 200 years ago.

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

At the entrance to the market next to the Paris Préfecture de Police, where earlier the Queen had unveiled a street sign with the new name of the market, I discovered that work was well underway deconstructing the paraphernalia that had been erected for the unveiling ceremony. The four white, padded chairs that moments ago had hosted distinguished bottoms were now stacked on top of each other looking rather forlorn as if contemplating their fate.

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

In my next blog piece I will reveal what happens to the Marché aux Fleurs on Sunday mornings when the flowers and plants take a back seat and the market is transformed into the Marché aux Oiseaux, the bird market.

In the meantime, here are some more sights of the Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II.

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

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The Queen visiting the Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II

Image via PA

30
May

Rue de Steinkerque – A Soundwalk

RUE DE STEINKERQUE must be one of the most visited streets in Paris and yet I doubt that few people who pass along it will know it by name. At a little over one hundred and fifty metres long and seven metres wide it’s quite a small street but it has a footfall that far outweighs its size.

Rue Steinekerque

Rue de Steinkerque was originally a pathway in the commune of Montmartre. It was formally recognised as a street by decree in 1868 and it was officially named in 1877.

Its name comes from the Battle of Steinkerque fought near the village of Steenkerque, fifty kilometres south-west of Brussels, on 3rd August 1692. The battle was won by the French under Marshal François-Henri de Montmorency, duc de Luxembourg against a joint English-Scottish-Dutch-German army under Prince William of Orange.

Rue Steinekerque

Today, rue de Steinkerque is a well-trodden tourist trail leading from the Boulevard de Rochechouart and the Métro station Anvers to the Place Saint-Pierre and Montmartre.

Rue Steinekerque

And sitting at the top of the street on the summit of la butte Montmartre is the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, which seems to act like a magnet for the swathe of tourists in the street below.

But to get to this towering monument built as a penance for the excesses of the Second Empire and the Paris Commune of 1871, tourists have to negotiate the rue de Steinkerque with the crowds of people, the lines of gift shops, the trinket peddlers – and the thieves determined to surreptitiously remove anything of value from the unsuspecting tourists.

Rue Steinekerque

I went to explore rue de Steinkerque the other day and to record a soundwalk and, not for the first time in this street, I arrived at the top find that one of the pockets of my shoulder bag had been completely unzipped without me being aware of it. Thankfully, nothing was taken – this time!

Rue Steinekerque

Rue de Steinkerque – A Soundwalk:

Rue Steinekerque

Not quite all the shops lining the rue de Steinkerque are gift and trinket shops. At the bottom of the street is the Sympa store, a place to find cheap clothing, often big brand names at unbelievably low prices.

Rue Steinekerque

No investment in marketing here, the clothes are just dumped into bins by the roadside for the customers to rummage through.

Rue Steinekerque

By contrast, the street also boasts La Cure Gourmande, a renowned maker of biscuits, chocolates and confectionary …

Rue Steinekerque

… as well as la Maison Georges Larnicol and le Petit Musée du Chocolat, which is well worth a visit …

Rue Steinekerque

… and a couple of antique shops.

Rue Steinekerque

A lot of people who come to rue de Steinkerque come as part of a tourist group and so it’s quite common to see tourist guides with their distinctive umbrellas gathering their flocks for the trek up the street.

Rue Steinekerque

If you find yourself heading for Montmartre you will more than likely find yourself in rue de Steinkerque at some point. Enjoy the atmosphere – but beware those who might be out to spoil your day!

Rue Steinekerque

Rue Steinekerque

Rue Steinekerque

Rue Steinekerque

10
May

The Pont de Bir-Hakeim and its Sounds

MORE RESEARCH FOR my Paris Bridges project took me recently to one of the iconic bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits, the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

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Linking the 15th and 16th arrondissements and crossing the artificial island, the Île aux Cygnes in the middle of la Seine, the Pont de Bir-Hakeim crosses the river just downstream from the Tour Eiffel.

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Pont de Bir-Hakeim looking downstream

The Pont de Bir-Hakeim we see today is the second bridge to cross la Seine at this point. The first was a metal footbridge, the Passerelle de Passy, which was built for the 1878 Universal Exposition. When Paris hosted the Universal Exposition in 1900 it was decided to draw up plans to replace the existing footbridge with something more substantial.

In 1902, the Métropolitan railway and the Seine Navigation department organised a competition for a two-tier bridge, with a road bridge on the lower level comprising two lateral roadways separated by a central walkway and, on the upper level, a Métropolitan railway viaduct supported by metal columns resting on the central space.

A proposal by the French engineer, Louis Biette, was accepted and the firm, Daydé & Pillé, were charged with constructing the new bridge. Construction work began in 1903 and was completed in 1905. The new bridge, the bridge we see today, was called the Viaduc de Passy, reflecting the name of both the original footbridge and the commune of Passy which is located at the Right Bank end of the bridge.

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The monumental stone arch across the tip of the Île aux Cygnes

The Pont de Bir-Hakeim comprises two unequal metal structures, each comprising three cantilever spans separated by a monumental stone structure on the upstream tip of the Île aux Cygnes. The larger of the two structures connects to the Right Bank and its arches measure 30 metres, 54 metres and 30 metres and for the smaller structure connecting to the Left bank, the arches measure 24 metres, 42 metres and 24 metres. The two structures are anchored by an abutment at each end and by a common abutment on the Île aux Cygnes.

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The larger of the two sections of the bridge looking upstream

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The smaller of the two sections of the bridge looking upstream

The lower level of the bridge comprises two roadways each 6 metres wide, two pavements each 2 metres wide and a central walkway 8.7 metres wide, which also doubles up as two cycle lanes. The total length of the bridge is 237 metres.

The upper deck carrying Métro Line 6 comprises a metal deck supported by cast-iron pillars 6 metres apart. The upper deck is 7.3 metres wide.

A Paris municipal architect, Jean Camille Formigé, was responsible for the decoration of the bridge. He engaged three sculptors, Gustave Michel, Jules-Felix Coutan, and Jean Antoine Injalbert to create sculptures to adorn the bridge.

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‘Les forgerons-riveteurs’ by Gustave Michel

The bridge retained the name ‘Viaduc de Passy’ until 1948 when it was renamed to commemorate the Battle of Bir Hakeim, fought by Free French forces against the German Afrika Korps in 1942.

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My Paris Bridges project is not only about exploring the history of each of the thirty-seven bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits, it’s also about exploring the characteristic sounds of each bridge.

Since one of the characteristic features of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim is the viaduct carrying Métro Line 6 on the upper level of the bridge, the sounds of Métro trains crossing the viaduct are clearly one of the characteristic sounds of the bridge and so I went to investigate.

My exploration began at the Métro station Passy at the Right Bank end of the bridge from where I caught a Métro train and made the short journey across the bridge to the next station, Bir-Hakeim.

From Passy to Bir-Hakeim:

Another characteristic feature of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim is the spectacular view of the Tour Eiffel from the bridge and especially from a Métro train crossing the viaduct. Even on the dullest of days the view is quite special.

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Tour Eiffel from a Métro train crossing the viaduct

And when standing on the bridge the view is equally impressive.

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Tour Eiffel from on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Having crossed the viaduct I alighted at Bir-Hakeim station from where I could get an excellent view of the Métro line crossing the viaduct.

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Métro Line 6 crossing the viaduct on Pont de Bir-Hakeim

Next, I wanted to explore the sounds on the lower level of the bridge. I walked across the bridge on the central walkway underneath the viaduct from the Right Bank to the Left Bank listening carefully to the sounds around me. I then walked back in the opposite direction this time not only pausing to listen but also to record.

Sounds of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim on the bridge:

I discovered two characteristic sounds on the bridge – the sounds of the Métro passing overhead and of course, the sounds of the passing traffic.

I found the sounds of the traffic to be different here to that found on some of the other Parisian bridges. Traffic lights at both ends of the bridge regulate the flow and so the traffic passes in waves rather than in a constant stream and the bridge is also long enough to avoid endless queues of traffic backing up across the bridge, at least for most of the time. In addition, the very smooth road surface together with the large expanse of open space either side of the bridge along its length seems to help dampen the more aggressive sounds of the traffic.

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Pont de Bir-Hakeim – On the bridge underneath the viaduct

The sounds of the Métro passing overhead were interesting. As the Métro line approaches the stations at either end of the bridge, Passy on one side and Bir-Hakeim on the other, the sounds of the trains passing over the viaduct are much clearer than they are around the centre of the bridge. The reason for this could be that there are buildings close to both ends of the bridge that reflect and thus amplify the sounds whereas the expanse of open space on either side of the bridge in the centre helps to dissipate the sounds.

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Pont de Bir-Hakeim looking across towards Passy from the upstream tip of the Île aux Cygnes

As well as recording the sounds of the traffic and the Métro crossing the bridge, both of which are clearly characteristic sounds of the bridge, I was eager to see if I could find any sounds that might be unique to the bridge.

On the hunt for any such sounds I walked back and forth across the bridge several times and even went under the bridge but, after much very careful listening, none of the sounds I heard seemed to strike me as being unique to this bridge. After all, this is not the only Parisian bridge to carry a roadway with traffic and a viaduct for the Métro. As part of my Paris Bridges project I published a piece on this blog some time ago about the Pont de Bercy, which although made of stone, is functionally similar to the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

While the sounds of the traffic and the sounds of the Métro are characteristic sounds of both these bridges I wanted to see if there was any sound on or around the Pont de Bir-Hakeim that would distinguish it from its upstream cousin.

My experience of hunting for sounds in the urban environment has taught me that patience is a virtue and that if you search hard enough and wait long enough something almost always turns up.

Seeking somewhere to sit down after all the walking I’d done, I ventured down the steps beside the bridge to the Allée des Cygnes, the pathway that runs along the length of the Île aux Cygnes. A bench hove into view and I sat down and pondered where I might go next to search out the sounds I was seeking.

I sat there for almost twenty minutes before I decided that it was time to get up and leave. And then, quite suddenly, I found that I didn’t have to go and search for more sounds after all — instead, the sounds were coming to me!

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Emerging from under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim from the upstream side was a Bateaux Mouches, the largest of the tourist boats to ply la Seine. Tourist boats ply la Seine all the time and the sound of them passing under the bridges is quite normal and hardly unique – or is it?

Well, the sounds of the Bateaux Mouches passing under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim are, believe it or not, unique to this bridge. But why should that be?

The answer is that the route for most of the tourist boats, irrespective of where they start their journey, stretches from the upstream Pont de Sully to the downstream Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Both these bridges are used as turning points for the tourist boats. At the Pont de Sully, the boats travel quite a long way beyond the bridge before turning round whereas at the Pont de Bir-Hakeim they all, save for the Bateaux Mouches, turn round on the upstream side of the bridge without passing under it. The Bateaux Mouches on the other hand does pass under the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, but only just, before turning round and passing through it again in the opposite direction.

It is the sounds of this nautical ballet as the Bateaux Mouches turns round almost within its own length just beyond the bridge that I contend are the unique sounds of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

This ballet is played out here in sound and in pictures:

Sounds of the Bateaux Mouches turning just beyond the bridge:

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Some might argue that the sounds of the Bateaux Mouches turning at the Pont de Bir-Hakeim are not unique to this bridge because the sounds of it turning upstream at the Pont de Sully might be the same, or at least similar. I would counter that by saying that at the Pont de Sully the Bateaux Mouches turns so far beyond the bridge that its sounds cannot be heard or, given a favourable wind, can barely be heard from that bridge. I know that because I’ve been to find out.

In any event, if you listen to the sound piece carefully you will hear towards the end of the piece the sounds of the Bateaux Mouches completing its turn accompanied by the sounds of a Métro train passing over the viaduct on the Pont de Bir-Hakeim. That confluence of sounds doesn’t happen anywhere else in Paris!

And finally, and nothing at all to do with the sounds of the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, I was captivated by the lamps suspended from the viaduct on this iconic Parisian bridge.

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NOTES:

* Louis Biette also built the Viaduc d’Austerlitz, a metal viaduct that crosses the Seine in a single span.

* Daydé & Pillé also built other bridges in Paris including the Pont de Mirabeau (1896), the Pont Saint-Michel (1890) and the Viaduc du quai de la Rapée (1905). They also built the Grand Palais for the 1900 Universelle Exposition.

 

4
May

La Fête du Travail – The Marching Season Begins

THE FIRST OF MAY is a public holiday in France, La Fête du Travail or Labour Day as it’s known in some countries.

Traditionally, the First of May is also the day when Lily of the Valley, or Muguet, is sold everywhere on streets across France as a of the symbol of springtime and of good luck.

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Muguet (Lily of the Valley) being distributed in rue de Rivoli

La Fête du Travail is primarily an opportunity to campaign for and to celebrate workers’ rights and in Paris many people take to the streets to make their voices heard.

For me, as a sonic journalist and dedicated collector of the sounds of Paris, the First of May always marks the start of the Parisian marching season. I know that over the next few months I will spend many hours on the streets capturing the sounds of marches, demonstrations and protests covering every shade of political opinion.

In Paris it’s become traditional for the two extremes of political opinion to take to the streets on the First of May. In the morning the right-wing Front National march from the Palais-Royal to Place de l’Opéra and in the afternoon the left-wing Socialists and Trades Unions march from Place de la Bastille to Place de la Nation. I used to record both of these marches each year but latterly I’ve taken to recording them alternately, the left one year and the right the next.

This year it was the turn of the Front National and so an hour before the march was due to begin I arrived in the Place des Pyramides in front of Emmanuel Frémiet’s gilded statue of Jeanne d’Arc, heroine to the far right, and jostled with the seasoned TV and Radio crews and the press photographers to get the best vantage point.

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I recorded the march as it approached along the rue de Rivoli and then passed the statue of Jeanne d’Arc and then I followed it to the Place de l’Opéra.

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Front National March:

Two things struck me about this year’s march. First, the last time I recorded this Front National march was in 2012 and my impression was that there were more marchers then than there were this year. I have no statistical evidence to base that on but it was just my impression. And second, although this year’s marchers were vociferous, they seemed to me to be a little more subdued than in 2012.

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If, like me, you are a seasoned observer of Parisian political marches and demonstrations from whatever part of the political spectrum, you cannot fail to be impressed by the importance that sound plays. I believe that the rhythm and constant repetition of the chants not only gives everyone a voice but it also acts as a means of discipline.

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As an outside observer on the street, you can see that the rhythm and repetition of the chanting has an almost hypnotic effect on the marchers – although I doubt that they would probably accept that. In any of these political marches there are leaders who dictate what the chant should be, the pace and the rhythm of the chant and how many times it should be repeated and then there are the followers who do exactly that, follow the leader’s command.

It seems to me that through this constant chanting the marchers not only have a voice but they feel that their voice is being heard.

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I am convinced that the power of sound through rhythm and constant repetition is the main reason why marches like this seldom become unruly or descend into mindless violence.

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I followed the march to Place de l’Opéra but, unlike in 2012, I didn’t stay to record the speeches. Instead I had a fascinating chat with a French radio reporter who gave me a guided tour of her Nagra ARES C sound recorder before she went off to file her report for the lunchtime news bulletin.

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27
Apr

Rue Vavin – A Soundwalk

RUE VAVIN STRETCHES from the Boulevard du Montparnasse to Rue d’Assas in the 6th arrondissement. The street is 375 metres long and 12 metres wide at its widest point and two streets, the Boulevard Raspail and Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs, intersect it.

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Rue Vavin is named after Alexis Vavin (1792-1863), a French politician who, amongst other things, opposed the coup of Napoleon III. As well as the Rue Vavin, the Avenue Vavin (now a short cul-de-sac) and the Métro station Vavin are also named after him.

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The other day I decided to explore the Rue Vavin, to search out the places of historical interest and to do a soundwalk.

I began at the Rue d’Assas outside one of the entrances to the Jardin du Luxembourg and I walked along the street to the Boulevard du Montparnasse at the other end.

Rue Vavin – A Soundwalk:

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N° 12 rue Vavin

The first building to catch my eye was N° 12.

For over eighty years this was home to the French publishing house founded in 1901 by the orientalist Paul Geuthner. He specialised in Oriental studies and published essays, texts, language textbooks and travelogues on the Near, Middle and Far East.

Paul Geuthner died in 1949 but the business continued and although no longer here at N° 12 rue Vavin (it’s now moved to 16 rue de la Grande Chaumière close by), and despite a change of ownership, the Société Nouvelle Librairie Orientalist Paul Geuthner is still very much alive and well.

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Moving on towards the next building I wanted to see I paused to look at two things at the heart of rue Vavin, both of which are emblematic of Paris – a kiosquier selling his newspapers and a Wallace fountain.

The Parisian newspaper kiosk has been around for a 150 years. Today there are about 350 of them in Paris and they account for almost half of all daily newspaper and magazine sales.

And, like the Parisian newspaper kiosk, the Wallace fountain is another piece of iconic Parisian street furniture.

Named after the English philanthropist, Richard Wallace, who lived in Paris and financed their construction, these fountains were designed by the French sculptor, Charles-Auguste Lebourg. Although originally intended as a source of free, potable water for the poor and also as encouragement to avoid the temptation to turn to strong liquor, everyone uses these fountains today. For the homeless of course, they are often their only source of free drinking water. The fountains operate from 15th March to 15th November (the risk of freezing during the winter months would imperil the internal plumbing) and they are regularly maintained and repainted every two years.

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And while the Wallace fountain in rue Vavin might be one kind of watering hole, on the other side of the street there’s another, the Café Vavin.

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N° 19 rue Vavin

Further along the street is N° 19.

This building was once home to the École normale d’enseignement du dessin, a school of drawing founded in 1881 by the architect, Alphonse Théodore Guérin. The only private art school in Paris at the time, it was staffed by volunteer teachers and its students paid no fees. The teaching was based on a mixture of workshops and academic classes in decorative composition, perspective, the history of art and anatomy.

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N° 26 rue Vavin – Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve seen the film Last Tango in Paris you may recognise the next building I stopped to look at. N° 26 rue Vavin was the creation of the French architects Frédéric-Henri Sauvage and Charles Sarazin.

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In 1903, Sauvage and Sarazin formed the Société anonyme de logements hygiéniques à bon marché, a company whose purpose was to construct good quality, affordable housing for the poorest in society. Built in 1912 as an HBM (Habitation à Bon Marché), N° 26 rue Vavin is a good example of what Sauvage and Sarazin sought to achieve. Designed on the hygienist principles of providing accommodation with plenty of light and air the building has open terraces and is covered with white tiles similar to those found in the Paris Métro which self-clean when it rains.

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Unlike with most buildings in Paris, it is forbidden to attach nameplates to the walls of N° 26 partly for aesthetic reasons and partly to avoid damage to the tiles. Consequently, the main door of the building has a very clean and uncluttered look to it.

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After pausing to look at a magnificent display of blooms at a flower shop I walked further up rue Vavin to the intersection with the Boulevard Raspail where I found N° 33.

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N° 33 rue Vavin

Between the two World Wars, N° 33 rue Vavin was home to the famous cabaret Le Bal de la Boule Blanche. It was here on the evening of 20th February 1931 that Georges Simenon hosted a ball to launch the first two books in the then new but now classic Inspector Maigret series – ‘Monsieur Gallet, décédé’ and ‘Le pendu de Saint-Pholien’.

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Crossing the Boulevard Raspail I wanted to find N° 38 rue Vavin, once the home of the French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi who is perhaps best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. Instead, I found a building site with the inevitable site meeting taking place.

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N° 50 rue Vavin

The last stop on my soundwalk along the rue Vavin was at N° 50. Today it’s just one of many boutiques along the street but in the second half of the 19th century this was the Maison Voignier, supplier of organ pipes to, amongst others, one of the world’s greatest organ builders, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.

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Rue Vavin is a fairly typical Parisian street. It’s home to some or a place of business for others, it’s also a thoroughfare from the Boulevard du Montparnasse to the Jardin du Luxembourg and it’s a magnet for shoppers. It has its own life, its own history and, of course, its own sounds all of which I think are worth exploring.

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20
Apr

The Bassin de la Villette And Its Sounds

AT THE END OF the 12th century, Ville Neuve Saint Ladres was little more than a hamlet alongside the Roman road leading from Paris to Flanders. When a church was constructed in 1426 the hamlet’s name was changed to La Villette Saint-Ladres-lez-Paris. In 1790, La Villette, then with a population of some 1,800 souls, was formerly recognised as a commune and in 1860, by which time the population had increased to around 30,000, it was incorporated into the City of Paris.

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Bassin de la Villette

La Villette though was to play an important role in the life of the city before its formal incorporation.

In 1802, mindful that a plentiful supply of water was a key to public health and to public morale, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered work to begin on the construction of a canal, the Canal de l’Ourcq, stretching one hundred and eight kilometres from Picardy to Paris. When completed, this canal would not only provide a plentiful supply of water to the city but also provide an efficient means of communication for provisioning the city.

The Bassin de la Villette was created at the Paris end of the Canal de l’Ourcq from where the canal would link, and still links, to the Canal Saint-Denis, which enters the Seine close to Saint-Denis to the north and the Canal Saint-Martin which enters the Seine south of Place de la Bastille.

Napoleon Bonaparte opened the Bassin de la Villette in 1808.

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Bassin de la Villette with the lock gates leading to the Canal Saint-Martin

Once the Canal Saint-Martin and the Canal Saint-Denis were completed in the 1820s the area around the Bassin de la Villette became not only a transit centre but also a busy commercial hub.

Warehousing companies including the Compagnie des Entrepôts et Magasins Généraux set up on the quays alongside the Bassin mainly to store grain and flour as did a cattle market and several abattoirs.

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Bassin de la Villette – Les Entrepôts

Image via Wikipedia

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Compagnie des Entrepôts et Magasins Généraux: Share certificate from 1952

Image via http://www.scriponet.com/salle.php?idP=6009

This industrialisation of the Bassin de la Villette lasted until the late 1960s by which time decline had set in and the warehouses were either abandoned or demolished. The cattle market and the abattoirs closed in the early 1970s.

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Bassin de la Villette looking towards the Canal de l’Ourcq with some of the original and now renovated warehouses just beyond the boats

The Bassin de la Villette is in effect a man-made lake and at eight hundred metres long and seventy metres wide it’s the largest artificial lake in Paris but, despite its industrial decline, it still plays an important part in the life of the city.

The Canal de l’Ourcq, which terminates at the Bassin de la Villette, still supplies about half of the daily water requirement for the city’s public works. The Bassin is still a transport hub with the intersection where the Canal de l’Ourcq meets the Canal Saint-Denis with its mainly industrial canal traffic and the Canal Saint-Martin with its now thriving and lucrative tourist traffic.

But the Bassin de la Villette has also undergone a revival with some of the former warehouses being converted into cinemas and restaurants and some of the barges into cultural venues.

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La Péniche Opéra for example is berthed on one side of the Basin de la Villette on the Quai de Loire. It’s a former industrial barge now billed as the smallest opera house in the world and it puts on a wide range of operatic events.

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At the head of the Bassin de la Villette in what is now the Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad is another reminder of the history of La Villette.

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La Rotonde de la Villette

Built by one of the earliest exponents of French Neoclassical architecture, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, the Rotonde de la Villette was originally one of the barrières d’octroi in the mur des Fermiers généraux, the Wall of the Farmers-General.

This wall, built between 1784 and 1791 by the Ferme générale, the corporation of tax farmers, surrounded Paris and was intended to ensure the payment of a toll (octroi) on all goods entering Paris.

The Rotonde de la Villette or the barrière Saint-Martin as it was known at the time, was one of sixty-two such tax collection points in the wall. With the expansion of Paris in 1860 and with the octroi by then abolished most of these tax collection points were demolished. The Rotonde de la Villette escaped demolition and survived to become a bonded warehouse for the Compagnie des Entrepôts et Magasins Généraux. Today, it’s a restaurant unsurprisingly called La Rotonde.

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On my visit to the Bassin de la Villette I not only wanted to explore its history but also its sounds.

I recorded a soundwalk for my Paris Soundscapes Archive beginning at the fountain next to La Rotonde de la Villette. I walked along the Quai de Seine on one side of the Bassin, then over the Passerelle de la Moselle to the Quai de Loire on the other side, which brought me back to the head of the Bassin but this time at the Écluses de la Villette, the double lock at the head of the Canal Saint-Martin.

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Écluses de la Villette – Picture taken from on top of the Passerelle des écluses de la Villette from which all distances on the Canal Saint-Martin are measured

The Canal Saint-Martin links the Bassin de la Villette to la Seine. It’s four and a half kilometres long, two kilometres of it run underground and it passes through nine locks and two swing bridges. From the Bassin de la Villette to la Seine the canal drops a height of twenty-five metres, the first eight metres of which occurs at the Écluses de la Villette.

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The first set of lock gates at the Écluses de la Villette

The sounds of a boat full of tourists passing through the Écluses de la Villette seemed to be too good to miss since it seemed to me that they would represent a good part of the life of today’s Bassin de la Villette so I positioned myself just beyond the first pair of lock gates and waited.

This was one of those occasions when I felt that the story would be best told by fixing my microphones in one position and simply waiting for something to happen – a technique I learned from studying the work of the great photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

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The red arrow indicates my recording position

Sounds at the first Écluse de la Villette:

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And presently something did happen – something completely unexpected.

As a Paris Canal boat hove into view people were passing behind me and then I heard the sound of horses hooves. I turned round to see two splendid horses from the Gendarmerie passing by. They passed very quickly but it was long enough for their sounds to transport me back for a fleeting moment to the Bassin de la Villette in a different age.

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Presently, the first lock gates opened and the Paris Canal boat, complete with its running commentary, slowly and carefully entered the first part of the lock. Once in, the gates behind it were closed and the sluices on the gates ahead of it were opened and the boat began the first part of its descent.

Going down ….

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The sounds tell the story as the boat descends.

In making this recording I left the microphones and the recording levels untouched throughout so what you hear is what I heard. If you listen carefully, you will hear the sound texture change as the boat descends and, as the boat gets lower, the voices of the passengers can be heard more clearly.

Eventually, the lock gates ahead of the boat open and the boat slowly moves forward into the second stage of the lock and the sounds get fainter.

If you listen really carefully, above the hissing sound of the water leaking through the first set of lock gates, you will hear two faint thuds as the second set of lock gates close one after the other behind the boat. Immediately after, the sluice on the first set of gates opens and water gushes in to refill the first part of the lock.

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That’s where my sound portrait ends but for the boat and its passengers, now in the second part of the lock, they began their second descent until they were completely out of sight from street level. They then moved off into the tunnel taking them under the road and onto the next part of their journey along the Canal Saint-Martin. Meanwhile, the first part of the lock was continuing to refill ready for the next boat to repeat the process.

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I came away from the Bassin de la Villette with a good and varied collection of sounds for my Paris Soundscapes Archive but I couldn’t help wondering what rich pickings there might have been for a sound hunter like me if I’d been there when it had been a centre of industry rather than of tourism.

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Apr

The Passerelle Senghor and its Sounds

OF THE THIRTY-SEVEN bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits four of them are pedestrian footbridges or “passerelles piétonnières”.

As part of my ‘Paris Bridges’ project I’ve been to explore one of them, the Passerelle Senghor or to give it its full name, the Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor.

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The Passerelle Senghor stretches from the Quai Anatole France and the Musée d’Orsay on the Left Bank to the Quai des Tuileries
 and the Jardin des Tuileries on the Right Bank.

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Passerelle Senghor from upstream

It was in 1861 when the first bridge to cross la Seine at this point was opened. It was a three-arch cast iron bridge built for vehicular traffic.

Built by the French engineers, Paul-Martin Gallocher de Lagalisserie and Jules Savarin, the bridge was named Pont de Solférino after the 1859 French victory of the Battle of Solférino.

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Pont de Solférino 1859 – 1960

Image – Annales des Ponts et Chaussées – 4ème série – Mémoires et Documents, Tome 8 – 1864 – p207-209.

This bridge survived for a century before wear and tear took its toll and it was demolished and replaced in 1961 with a steel footbridge, which survived until 1992.

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Passerelle Senghor from downstream

Work began on a new footbridge in 1997. Designed by the French architect, Marc Mimram, the bridge crosses the river in a single span with no intermediate support. The sweeping steel span is anchored by means of two abutments, one at each end, which sink fifteen metres below ground.

The French engineering company, Eiffel Constructions Métalliques, part of the Eiffage Group, were responsible for the metal components of the bridge and of course, Eiffel Constructions Métalliques is descended from the same company that made the Tour Eiffel, the Statue of Liberty and in more recent times the spectacular Millau Viaduct.

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The walkways on the bridge are made from the exotic hardwood, Lophira alata, commonly known as azobé, or red ironwood.

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This new bridge, the Passerelle Solférino, was opened on 14th December 1999 but not without controversy. There were complaints about the lack of accessibility for people with reduced mobility, environmentalists complained about the choice of wood for the walkways and others complained that when wet the walkways would be dangerous. Most serious of all was that on the opening day several of the guests said that they could feel the bridge swaying as they stood on it. As a consequence, less than a week after it was opened the bridge was closed.

It wasn’t until 12th November 2000, almost one year later, and after an anti-skid system had been applied to the walkways and dampers installed to temper the swaying, that the bridge finally opened to the public. The original cost of the bridge was 91.6 million Francs and the additional work added another 6 million Francs all of which was financed by the State through l’Etablissement public de maîtrise d’ouvrage des travaux culturels, part of the Ministry of Culture.

Upon its reopening the bridge proved to be a great success.

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And the final chapter in the story of this footbridge is that in October 2006 the bridge’s name was changed from the Passerelle Solférino to the Passerelle Senghor. The name change marked the centenary of the birth of Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906 – 2001), a Senegalese poet, politician, and cultural theorist who from 1960 to 1980 served as the first president of Senegal. He was also the first African to be elected as a member of the Académie Française.

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My Paris Bridges project is not only about exploring the history of each of the thirty-seven bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits, it’s also about identifying and capturing the characteristic sounds of each bridge.

So, what are the characteristic sounds of the Passerelle Senghor?

Passerelle Senghor – Under the Bridge:

In a previous post about my Paris Bridges project I said that all the Paris bridges have two sets of sounds in common – the sounds of water and the sounds of river and vehicular traffic although these sounds might in some cases vary sufficiently to help identify each bridge. I also said that my challenge is to find other sounds that are unique to each bridge.

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Passerelle Senghor – River traffic passing from upstream

The Passerelle Senghor certainly has its fair share of passing river traffic. The boats seem to arrive in clusters from both upstream and downstream. Standing on the Quai des Tuileries there were quite long periods with just the sounds of water and then a clutch of boats would arrive sometimes two or three abreast. The tourist boats of course provide most of the traffic with the Bateaux Mouches, the Vedettes de Paris and the Batobus passing regularly but sometimes very long, very workmanlike, industrial barges also pass by.

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Picture taken from the Quai Voltaire looking upstream towards the Passerelle Senghor

The Passerelle Senghor is one of the few bridges in Paris where the sound of river traffic dominates the sound of vehicular traffic for most of the time.

But are there any other characteristic sounds that we might say are unique to this bridge?

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Passerelle Senghor – On the bridge looking upstream

Passerelle Senghor – On the Bridge:

I took my microphones onto the bridge to see what I could find. I sat in the centre of the bridge on the top deck facing upstream and began to record.

The voices of people passing by me with snatches of half-heard conversations, which I always find fascinating, punctuated with the sounds of boats passing to and fro directly underneath me and the distant sounds of traffic on the Quai des Tuileries on one side and the Quai Anatole France on the other provided the canvas upon which was painted the unique sounds of the bridge – the sounds of footsteps passing over the exotic wood of the walkway.

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Although the sounds of footsteps over the exotic wooden walkways of the Passerelle Senghor certainly are characteristic sounds of this bridge I have to be cautious about saying that they are unique to this bridge.

There is another elegant, modern footbridge crossing la Seine further upstream that also has exotic wooden walkways, the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir. I have yet to explore this bridge in detail and it could be that the sounds of the footsteps over this bridge are the same, or similar to the sounds of footsteps over the Passerelle Senghor.

Still, distinguishing the subtleties and nuances of the sounds of each of the Paris bridges is one of the things that makes this project so fascinating.

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As well has searching for unique sounds on the Passerelle Senghor there is one unique visual feature that I found – this statue of Thomas Jefferson, US ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789 and then President of the United Sates. The statue by the French sculptor, Jean Cardot, was erected on 4th July 2004, American Independence Day.

Here are some more sights of the Passerelle Senghor:

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7
Apr

The Paris Marathon 2014

THE THIRTY-EIGHTH PARIS MARATHON took place yesterday. More than forty thousand runners from over one hundred countries competed over the 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 kilometres) course from the Champs-Elysées to the Avenue Foch via the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne.

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In 2012, I watched the race and recorded sounds close to the finish in the Avenue Foch so this year I thought I would find a vantage point somewhere near the start.

I wanted to capture the sounds of all the runners passing by so at just before eight o’clock on Sunday morning I established my pitch and set up my microphones in the rue de Rivoli just beyond the one-mile point.

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When I arrived, the rue de Rivoli seemed a little eerie. It was the only time since I’ve lived in Paris that I’ve seen this most elegant of streets completely deserted – save for the police trucks hastily towing away the last remaining parked cars which I’m sure completely ruined several people’s day!

The Paris Marathon starts in the Champs Elysées and the first to start were the wheelchair athletes. At a little after 8.30 and accompanied by a convoy of police and official cars they passed by me.

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Following the wheelchairs came the handisports athletes including several blind runners each tethered to a guide.

Paris Marathon 2014 – Wheelchair and Handisports Athletes:

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The sound of these athletes passing was soon subsumed by the sound of the French television helicopter slithering sideways overhead with its powerful cameras trained on the elite athletes who were about to enter the rue de Rivoli.

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At the head of the elite group was a tightly packed bunch of world-class marathon athletes setting what was to prove to be a blistering pace.

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And quite close behind came another elite group including two of the fastest women in the race.

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And next came the best of the rest.

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Paris Marathon 2014:

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After the elite group and the best of the rest, a mass of runners converged in the rue de Rivoli each with their own personal challenge ahead of them. Wave after wave of them passed me right down to the very last man.

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The last runner to enter the rue de Rivoli

I stayed in my place on rue de Rivoli and recorded the sounds until every one of the competitors in this year’s Paris Marathon had passed by me. It took a little under two hours for them all to pass.

I didn’t think about it at the time but I now know that about ten minutes after the last runner entered the rue de Rivoli with about 26 miles of running still ahead of him, the winner was crossing the finishing line in the Avenue Foch.

And the winner was Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia.

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Image via ‪ethiopiaforums.com

Bekele, the three-time Olympic champion on the track and 5,000m and 10,000m record holder, crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 5 minutes, 3 seconds – breaking the previous course record set by Kenya’s Stanley Biwott in 2012.

In the women’s race, the pre-race favourite, Flomena Cheyech of Kenya finished in a new personal best time of 2 hours, 22 minutes, 41 seconds.

The double Paralympic silver medallist, Marcel Hug, won the wheelchair race.

The first six men and women finishers were:

Men

1. Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 2:05:03

2. Limenih Getachew (ETH) 2:06:49

3. Luca Kanda (KEN) 2:08:01

4. Robert Kwambai (KEN) 2:08:48

5. Jackson Limo (KEN) 2:09:05

6. Gideon Kipketer (KEN) 2:10:35

Women


1. Flomena Cheyech (KEN) 2:22:44

2. Yebrqual Melese (ETH) 2:26:21

3. Zemzem Ahmed (ETH) 2:29:35

4. Faith Chemaoi (KEN) 2:31:59

5. Gebisse Godana Derbi (ETH) 2:36:27

6. Martha Komu (FRA) 2:36:33

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All the sounds I recorded in the rue de Rivoli have been consigned to my Paris Soundscapes Archive as a permanent record of yesterday’s event.

Incidentally, why is it that some women runners who see a man wearing headphones standing behind a microphone on the edge of the road give a wave and a friendly smile whereas some men insist on leaning over and shouting into the microphone? Maybe it’s a question of testosterone overload!

In all, 39,115 athletes completed the 2014 Paris Marathon. Here are more images of some of them as they began their marathon run around Paris.

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