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21
May

A Fifteenth Century Parisian Soundscape

I SPEND A GOOD PART my time recording and archiving the soundscapes of Paris. As fascinating as the contemporary soundscapes of this city are though, I am always thinking about what the city might have sounded like in the past when sounds were impossible to capture and to replay.

It was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that it became possible to record sound and well into the twentieth century before attention turned towards recording urban soundscapes. Before that, our only source for what our towns and cities might have sounded like is to be found in literature – the written accounts of the sounds people heard.

The American writer, John Sanderson, for example arrived in Paris for the first time in July 1835 …

“All things of this earth seek, at one time or another, repose – all but the noise of Paris. The waves of the sea are sometimes still, but the chaos of these streets is perpetual from generation to generation; it is the noise that never dies.”

John Sanderson, Sketches of Paris: In Familiar Letters to His Friends (1838)

Clearly, John Sanderson wasn’t impressed with what he found. But contrast that with a description of a much earlier Paris.

In Chapter 2 of Book Three of his novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, also known as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo offers us a Bird’s Eye View of Paris in which he describes in fascinating detail the visual landscape of fifteenth century Paris from the top of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

Vue de Paris depuis Notre-Dame

A Modern Day View from the Top of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

Image via Wikipedia

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published in 1831 and it is clear in the novel that Victor Hugo was lamenting how the city had changed. About the Cathedral for example he says:

“The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.”

But it is when it comes to the sounds of fifteenth century Paris that Hugo is at his most eloquent.

“And if you wish to receive of the ancient city an impression with which the modern one can no longer furnish you, climb – on the morning of some grand festival, beneath the rising sun of Easter or of Pentecost – climb upon some elevated point, whence you command the entire capital; and be present at the wakening of the chimes. Behold, at a signal given from heaven, for it is the sun which gives it, all those churches quiver simultaneously. First come scattered strokes, running from one church to another, as when musicians give warning that they are about to begin. Then, all at once, behold! – for it seems at times, as though the ear also possessed a sight of its own,—behold, rising from each bell tower, something like a column of sound, a cloud of harmony. First, the vibration of each bell mounts straight upwards, pure and, so to speak, isolated from the others, into the splendid morning sky; then, little by little, as they swell they melt together, mingle, are lost in each other, and amalgamate in a magnificent concert. It is no longer anything but a mass of sonorous vibrations incessantly sent forth from the numerous belfries; floats, undulates, bounds, whirls over the city, and prolongs far beyond the horizon the deafening circle of its oscillations.

Nevertheless, this sea of harmony is not a chaos; great and profound as it is, it has not lost its transparency; you behold the windings of each group of notes which escapes from the belfries. You can follow the dialogue, by turns grave and shrill, of the treble and the bass; you can see the octaves leap from one tower to another; you watch them spring forth, winged, light, and whistling, from the silver bell, to fall, broken and limping from the bell of wood; you admire in their midst the rich gamut which incessantly ascends and re-ascends the seven bells of Saint-Eustache; you see light and rapid notes running across it, executing three or four luminous zigzags, and vanishing like flashes of lightning. Yonder is the Abbey of Saint-Martin, a shrill, cracked singer; here the gruff and gloomy voice of the Bastille; at the other end, the great tower of the Louvre, with its bass. The royal chime of the palace scatters on all sides, and without relaxation, resplendent trills, upon which fall, at regular intervals, the heavy strokes from the belfry of Notre-Dame, which makes them sparkle like the anvil under the hammer. At intervals you behold the passage of sounds of all forms which come from the triple peal of Saint-Germaine des Prés. Then, again, from time to time, this mass of sublime noises opens and gives passage to the beats of the Ave Maria, which bursts forth and sparkles like an aigrette of stars. Below, in the very depths of the concert, you confusedly distinguish the interior chanting of the churches, which exhales through the vibrating pores of their vaulted roofs.

Assuredly, this is an opera, which it is worth the trouble of listening to. Ordinarily, the noise which escapes from Paris by day is the city speaking; by night, it is the city breathing; in this case, it is the city singing. Lend an ear, then, to this concert of bell towers; spread over all the murmur of half a million men, the eternal plaint of the river, the infinite breathings of the wind, the grave and distant quartette of the four forests arranged upon the hills, on the horizon, like immense stacks of organ pipes; extinguish, as in a half shade, all that is too hoarse and too shrill about the central chime, and say whether you know anything in the world more rich and joyful, more golden, more dazzling, than this tumult of bells and chimes;—than this furnace of music,—than these ten thousand brazen voices chanting simultaneously in the flutes of stone, three hundred feet high,—than this city which is no longer anything but an orchestra,—than this symphony which produces the noise of a tempest.”

In articles for this blog I always include a sound, or sounds, of Paris that I’ve recorded, to which I add words and pictures to give the sounds an historical, social or cultural context. On this occasion, any sounds I could add would be quite superfluous to the words of Victor Hugo and the magnificent soundscape he describes.

I suggest you just relax, read Hugo’s words and, as he says, “Lend an ear, then, to this concert … this symphony which produces the noise of a tempest”.

 

11
May

An ‘Indelible Stain’ Remembered

YESTERDAY, ON THE 10th MAY, on his last official outing as Président de la République, François Hollande attended an exhibition to mark the Journée nationale des mémoires de la traite, de l’esclavage et de leurs abolitions in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Accompanied by the new President-Elect, Emmanuel Macron, and the President of the French Senate, Gérard Larcher, Président Hollande laid a wreath and toured the exhibition.

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Like Portugal, Spain and Britain, France has an inglorious past when it comes to the slave trade. Throughout the eighteenth and into the early nineteenth century, French ships transported around 1,250,000 enslaved Africans to plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean.

France officially abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1826, although it did continue unofficially and sporadically for some time after, and slavery in the French colonies was finally abolished in 1848 with a general and unconditional emancipation.

In 2001, the French Senate passed a law recognising slavery as a ‘crime against humanity’ and in 2006, the then French Président, Jacques Chirac, called for the ‘indelible stain’ of slavery to be remembered on a national day of commemoration on the 10th May each year, the first of its kind in Europe.

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After Président Hollande and his party left, I went to take a closer look at the exhibition.

Located in one of the iron pavilions in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the exhibition, which runs until the 9th June, comprises a series of explanatory panels tracing the history of the French involvement in slavery and the slave trade up to its eventual abolition. I found it both interesting and unsettling.

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Having explored the exhibition and being in need of a change of scene, I walked the short distance from the exhibition pavilion to the Jardin de la Roseraie, an enclave set within the Jardin du Luxembourg – a garden within a garden so to speak.

Surrounded by a hedge and with the statue ‘La messagère’ by Gabriel Forestier (1889-1969) as its centerpiece, the Jardin de la Roseraie provides both relaxation for adults and a playground for small children.

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Sounds in the Jardin de la Roseraie:

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I found the contrast between the sun drenched Jardin de la Rosaraie and the slavery exhibition very stark indeed. In my imagination I couldn’t help juxtaposing the sounds of the gamboling children in front of me with the haunting sounds of African slaves entombed in slave ships crossing the Atlantic. Jacques Chirac’s ‘indelible stain’ barely begins to describe it!

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30
Apr

The Square d’Anvers and its Sounds

BUILT ON THE SITE of a former Montmartre abattoir, the Square d’Anvers takes its name from the Belgian port of Antwerp. It was named to mark the French victory against the Dutch at the Siege of Antwerp in December 1832. The square was opened in 1877.

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The French architect, Jean-Camille Formigé, chief architect of buildings, promenades and gardens in the city of Paris during the French Third Republic, designed the Square d’Anvers as well as many other things across the city. In addition to the Square d’Anvers, his legacy includes the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz, the dramatic sloping park in front of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, the crematorium of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise and the greenhouses in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.

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One of the main features of the Square d’Anvers is the elegant kiosque à Musique, or bandstand.

These ‘kiosques’ first became fashionable in France in the eighteenth century although, save for one employed by a Turkish café in the boulevard du Temple so that an orchestra could play shaded from the sun and rain, they didn’t really become popular in Paris until the late nineteenth century.

The word ‘kiosque’ comes from the Arabic-Persian word, ‘kiouch’, a decorative oriental style pavilion originally with no connection to music. At the beginning of the Second Empire, some French garrison towns erected kiosques in public squares so that the regiments could offer free concerts to the public. Kiosques, or bandstands, began to appear in Paris, first in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 1888 and then in other neighbourhood squares. Their popularity declined in the second half of the twentieth century but they are now gaining a new lease of life in some parts of the city.

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Originally, the Square d’Anvers had two monuments: a statue of the philosopher, Denis Diderot, by Leon Aimé Joachim Lecointe (1826-1913) and a colonne de la Paix armée, a column surmounted by a statue of Victory.

80976-20

Square d’Anvers. Statue de Diderot et colonne de la Paix armée. Paris (IXème arr.). Photographie de Charles Lansiaux (1855-1939). Plaque de verre, 22 avril 1920. Département Histoire de l’Architecture et Archéologie de Paris. 

© Charles Lansiaux / DHAAP / Roger-Viollet 

Image courtesy of Paris en Images

The statue of Diderot was acquired by the city of Paris in 1884. It was originally installed in the Square Maurice-Gardette (formerly Square Parmentier) in the 11th arrondissement but in 1886 it was transferred to the southern end of the Square d’Anvers.

Along with about seventy other Parisian statues, the statue of Diderot and the bronze statue on top of the colonne de la Paix armée were melted down in 1942 during the Nazi occupation.

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Sounds in the Square d’Anvers:

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In the 1970s an underground car park was constructed beneath the Square d’Anvers and the square was refurbished. More recently, further work has been done to incorporate a multi-sport space for teenagers and new play areas for younger children.

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At this time of the year the dominant sounds in the square are the sounds of birds singing and children playing but, for me, the most intriguing sounds come not from the birds or the children but from the squeaky gates leading to the avenue Troudaine at the southern end of the square. You can hear these sounds towards the end of my sound piece above: a perfect example of, to use Aimée Boutin’s phrase, the City as Concert.

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24
Apr

L’Église Notre-Dame du Travail

FROM THE OUTSIDE it looks much the same as many other medium size Parisian parish churches. The five-bell array on the roof and the larger, exposed bell in the bell tower are perhaps a little quirky but apart from that nothing else seems out of the ordinary. So why then is the Église Notre-Dame du Travail listed as a monument historique?

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Despite its rather undistinguished exterior, for me this is one of the most interesting churches in Paris. Inspired by the doctrine of social Catholicism, the church was founded largely thanks to the devotion and zeal of one man, Abbé Soulange-Bodin.

Stepping inside the Église Notre-Dame du Travail, it’s easy to see that this is no ordinary church; on the contrary, it’s quite extraordinary.

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Jean-Baptiste Roger Soulange-Bodin was born on 4th February 1861 in Naples where his father was the French Consul General and his mother was the sister of a former French ambassador to Rome.

Roger spent his early years in Italy but in 1869 the family moved back to France where he was enrolled at the Collège Stanislas in Paris. When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870 the family quit Paris and moved to Arcangues, near Biarritz where Roger went to the Petit Séminaire de Laressore. He then went on to spend a year studying at the Grand Séminaire de Bayonne before moving back to Paris and the Grand Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice. He was ordained at the age of 23.

Once ordained, Roger’s family were keen to see him established as a priest at one of the fashionable Parisian churches, Saint-Augustin or Saint-Philippe du Roule perhaps, but Roger was having none of it. Instead, he was appointed vicar at a church in a working-class parish in a district almost unknown to the rest of Paris.

The church of Notre-Dame de Plaisance was located in rue du Texel in what is now the 14th arrondissement. It was small, built of wood and served a small settlement of residents between Montrouge and Vaugirard. It became a parish church in March 1848 when its name was changed to Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.

In 1848, the parish comprised some 3,500 souls; there were a few maisons de plaisance with gardens and a few guinguettes and main occupation was market gardening.

By the time Abbé Soulange-Bodin arrived there in 1884, the neighbourhood had been completely transformed. It had been incorporated into the City of Paris in 1860 and with a population of over 35,000 it had become one of the most densely populated districts of Paris. The old wooden church had doubled in size but could still hardly contain more than 250 to 300 people. Even so, the church was seldom filled with the faithful, they preferred the neighbouring parishes of Saint-Pierre de Montrouge and Notre-Dame des Champs, or the chapel of the Franciscan Fathers in the rue des Fourneaux, where the services were better and the preachers more renowned.

In spite of the desolate nature of his new parish, the Abbé set to work with all the ardour of his impetuous nature. He carried out his parochial duties with enthusiasm and a personal warmth that endeared him to his flock but he sometimes grew weary of what he saw as the immense spiritual misery of his densely populated parish. He felt that the old parochial methods seemed so ineffective and he dreamed of a more popular, more direct, more practical, apostolate.

On Wednesday, 17th January 1896, Abbé Soulange-Bodin’s hard work and devotion to his parish were rewarded when he was promoted and installed as parish priest and given the task of building a new church.

He resolved to build a church that would unite the workers of all classes by the bond of religion. In honour of the workers in the parish, many of who were involved in constructing the massive Exspositon Universelle site in the Champs de Mars, the new church was to be called the Église Notre-Dame du Travail. The style would be modern: “Stone on the outside, but iron on the inside. Our ancestors had only stone and built enormous pillars, which prevented the altar and the pulpit from being seen; we shall henceforth have light iron columns which will terminate in thin ribs like the leaves of the palm. “

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Land for the new church between rue Vercingétorix and rue Guilleminot was acquired and the architect Jules-Godefroy Astruc was engaged to design the church. But money was needed for the construction so, mustering all his vivacity, impetuosity, communicative warmth and fighting spirit, Abbé Soulange-Bodin set about the considerable task of raising over one million francs to finance the work.

The parish was poor so the Abbé needed to extend his appeal for money to a wider audience. From commerce and industry he copied their innovative use of advertising. He printed 100,000 prospectuses outlining his project, which he supplemented with brochures and posters and advertising in the successful monthly newspaper he founded, L’Echo de Plaisance. He was also not beyond appealing to his prospective subscriber’s vanity: “Benefactors of 1000 francs will have the right to a vault arch with arms or inscriptions of their choice.”

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The final design of the church came from the third of three plans put forward. As far as the architect was concerned, using iron in the design was a practical solution to make the structure as cheap as possible. But for Abbé Soulange-Bodin the use of iron had a deeper meaning: iron was a material that allowed large spaces to be supported with few pillars but it also offered the workers of the parish a familiar framework, close to that which they knew in their world of work.

At that time, iron was used on this scale exclusively in civil and utility buildings (railway stations, factories, halls, etc.) so to incorporate iron in a church structure was a controversial decision. Conversely, the choice of the church’s outside façade was more conventional, inspired by Romanesque façades.

Inside the church, ten chapels decorated with floral lines painted with stencils representing several patron saints of the workers and the oppressed, flank the large nave. Local artists Giuseppe or Joseph Uberti and Émile Desouches painted these chapels. These paintings, paying tribute to the world of work through holy protectors, imitated an approach dating back to the Middle Ages.

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Sounds inside the Église Notre-Dame du Travail on the day I visited:

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Despite the extraordinary fund raising efforts of Abbé Soulange-Bodin, money often ran out and construction work had to be stopped but, on 1st January 1902, the church was finished; the roof was in place, the huge windows were filled with stained-glass and now it was a question of furnishing the interior. Once again using his newspaper, l’Écho de Plaisance, as a megaphone the Abbé called for donations in cash or in kind for ornaments, furniture and decorations to complete the church.

One thing the Abbé didn’t have to call for was a bell. In 1860, the Emperor Napoleon III had given the previous church, Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, a bell from the siege of Sevastopol and it now sat proudly on a wooden frame close to the front door of the new church. Today it hangs in the bell tower at the side of the church.

The new church was finally inaugurated in April 1902 and on 15th July 1976, the interior of the church was listed as a monument historique.

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The man largely responsible for the Église Notre-Dame-du-Travail, Abbé Soulange-Bodin, was a devoted parish priest dedicated to carrying out his apostolic mission, but his unfailing commitment to his parish made him one of the outstanding figures of social Catholicism at the turn of the nineteenth century. He was very much attached to syndicalism, the movement influenced by Proudhon and the French social philosopher Georges Sorel for transferring the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution to workers’ unions. He was also a defining figure in personal commitment in an age of power relations between the Catholic Church and the French State. In later life he was involved in serious incidents related to laws against congregations and the separation of the Church and the State. He once published a book in which he defended the idea of ​training in economics and social policy for future priests. It was quickly banned from sale.

In 1909, the Archbishop of Paris appointed him pastor of Saint-Honoré-d’Eylau, after twenty-five years of service to the parish of Plaisance. In 1924 he resigned and died in May 1925.

The Église Notre-Dame-du-Travail is an interesting landmark in the history of the architecture of Parisian churches, but it is also a testimony to a social current in Catholicism at the end of the nineteenth century and to the dedication of one man in particular, Abbé Soulange-Bodin.

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La Main Creatrice by Serraz

18
Apr

Place du Caire and its Sounds

THE PLACE DU CAIRE is a triangular Parisian square at the northern end of the 2nd arrondissement. Flanked by rue d’Aboukir and rue du Caire, place du Caire lies in the heart of an area of Paris known as a multicultural textile and garment manufacturing district and more recently, home to many Internet start-up companies.

01

Along with the Passage du Caire, one of the oldest Parisian passages couverts, the place du Caire dates from 1798. Both the Passage du Caire and place du Caire take their name from the Egyptian capital, Cairo, a place much in vogue at the time as Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798 – 1801) was unfolding. As well as the military objectives of defending French trade interests and weakening Britain’s access to India, Napoleon also took a group of scientists with him to establish scientific enterprise in the region. The scientists began to describe and illustrate the country’s natural resources and cultural heritage, from the geology, flora and fauna to the various ancient structures. This gave rise to a fascination with all things Egyptian, a fascination that manifested itself on the streets of Paris.

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The oriental influence was reflected in some of the street names, rue du Caire, rue d’Aboukir and rue du Nil for example, but also in architecture. One example of this is the neo-Egyptian building in place du Caire.

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It was built in 1799 and the large heads ornamenting the façade represent the goddess Hathor, who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. Above Hathor is an Egyptian inspired decorative frieze and vaguely Moorish arched trefoil windows.

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Maison de style néo-égyptien sur la place du Caire- Photo d’Eugène Atget, 1903

While the place du Caire unashamedly boasts its Egyptian influence there is another chapter in this Parisian square’s history that is less obvious.

In medieval Paris a large portion of the population relied on begging for survival. Since begging was a competitive business, those with the most severe handicaps could expect more alms. It was therefore quite common for beggars to fake unsightly infirmities, injuries or dieseases. Once their day’s work was done, the beggars would return to their slums where miraculously the blind could see again and the crippled walk. This phenomenon gave the generic name to these areas where so many ‘miracles’ occurred every day: the cour des miracles, the courtyard of miracles.

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The cour des miracles as imagined by Gustave Doré in an illustration to The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Referring to the cour des miracles in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pierre Gringoire, the struggling playwright and philosopher says, “Miracles, upon my soul! Here the blind see, and the lame run.”

The cour des miracles were the haunts of thieves, beggars, prostitutes, pimps and other marginalised people. In Paris there were a dozen of them, the most famous of which was in the Sentier district between place du Caire and rue Réaumur. This is the cour des miracles Victor Hugo was referring to.

Hugo’s cour des miracles consisted of three interconnected courtyards, the main one being the loop formed by the rue de Damiette and rue des Forges. It was accessed by the present day rue du Nil, or by an alley, now disappeared, at 100 rue Réaumur.

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N°100 rue Réaumur – once an entrance to the cour des miracles du Sentier,

Work to clean up the cour des miracles began in 1667 when Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, holder of the new office of Lieutenant General of Police, was charged with curbing the growth of crime but it wasn’t until 1750, when some of the slums were demolished and more respectable trades like blacksmiths and fishmongers moved in that improvement began. The last vestiges of the old cour des miracles were eliminated with the Haussmannisation of the area in the 19th century.

07

Listening to and recording the sounds of Paris is my way of exploring the city. The sounds invariably arouse my curiosity about the social and cultural history of the places in which they occur. It was listening to the sounds in the place du Caire for example that led me to discover the Egyptian connection and the history of the cour des miracles.

But as well as opening a window on the social and cultural historical connections, for me at least the sounds of a place have an absolute value in their own right. Listened to attentively, sounds can paint a picture of and tell a story about a place.

So what does the place du Caire sound like?

Today, the place du Caire still has its share of mendicants but no more than many other areas of the city. On a normal working day it’s a hustling, bustling, multi-cultural part of the city with people going about their every day business.

Sounds in the place du Caire on a normal working day:

So, is this what the place du Caire sounds like?

Well, yes it is – at least some of the time. But there are times when it sounds completely different, when the sounds have a different story to tell.

More sounds in the place du Caire:

I recorded these sounds last Monday, a public holiday in France, when all the boutiques and the passage du Caire were closed. In this different atmosphere all the sounds usually subsumed by the more aggressive sounds of a normal working day are now free to take centre stage.

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The piece begins with the sound of a man with an artificial leg walking by; not a refugee from the former cour des miracles but a middle-aged man out for a stroll with his wife. A mendicant wearing sandals approaches me but then thinks better of it. The normally drowned out sounds of pigeons cooing can clearly be heard. The sound of passing two-wheelers fuelled by testosterone is inevitable. The most characteristic sounds are those very familiar to Parisian apartment dwellers like me – the sounds of an apartment gardien on one side and a gardienne on the other bringing out the refuse bins and lining them up on the trottoir ready for collection later in the day. There is even the sound of a lady, under the gaze of Olivier Brice’s ‘L’Homme au Bras Leve’, walking her cat on a leash.

For those just passing through the place du Caire, the sounds to be found there on a normal working day will perhaps be the most familiar. But I hope I have shown that these sounds don’t represent everything the place du Caire has to say.

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31
Mar

The Passage du Ponceau and its Sounds

THE PASSAGE DU PONCEAU may not be the oldest, the largest or the most elegant of the nineteenth century passages couverts in Paris but at least it has survived. Of the one hundred and fifty original passages couverts built, only twenty now remain and I’ve been to all of them to record and archive their contemporary soundscapes for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.

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Built as an extension to the neighbouring Passage du Caire in the 2nd arrondissement, the Passage du Ponceau was opened in 1826.

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Entrance to the Passage du Ponceau in rue Saint-Denis

Originally intended to link rue Saint-Denis to rue du Ponceau, the length of the passage was reduced in 1854 to make way for the new boulevard Sébastopol.

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Entrance to the Passage du Ponceau in boulevard Sébastopol

At ninety metres long and just two-and-a-half metres wide, the Passage du Ponceau is a narrow passage comprising two floors under a glass roof. Little remains of the original decoration save for the upper reaches of the façades and some of the mouldings.

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We know that two of the original tenants to occupy the Passage du Ponceau were a wine merchant and a coal merchant but no evidence of their presence survives. Today, the passage is mainly occupied by clothing and media enterprises: it is after all in the heart of the multicultural textile and garment district, which has increasingly become home to many Internet start-up companies.

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Sounds in the Passage du Ponceau:

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The Passage du Ponceau fell into decline in the second half of the nineteenth century. As the railways became established, the nearby stagecoach terminus, always a ready source of custom, closed and this, together with the arrival of the new department stores heralding a retail revolution, meant that the days of the Parisian passages couverts were numbered. As the French writer and journalist, Alfred Delvau noted in 1867, “Life has withdrawn to go elsewhere on the boulevards.”

And yet, twenty of the original Parisian passages couverts, including the Passage du Ponceau, have survived – even though they may not now be, as the 1852 edition of the Illustrated Guide to Paris said, “ a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need.”

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26
Mar

The Église de la Sainte-Trinité

USUALLY REFERRED TO simply as ‘Trinité’, the Église de la Sainte-Trinité, a Roman Catholic church in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, was built during the Second Empire as part of Baron Eugène Haussmann’s modernisation of nineteenth century Paris.

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Église de la Sainte-Trinité from Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin

Designed by the French architect Théodore Ballu, construction of the Church began in 1861 and was completed in 1867.

The church’s façade was inspired by the Italian Renaissance although the bell tower and dome bear distinctive marks of the French Renaissance.

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At the four corners on top of the façade, the four cardinal virtues are depicted: Justice, Temperance, Prudence and Fortitude. Crowning the bell tower are the four evangelists accompanied by their symbols: Saint John (the eagle), Saint Matthew (the angel), Saint Mark (the lion) and Saint Luke (the ox).

Further down, the number three is a recurrent theme: three triple-basined fountains (temporarily out of action due to construction work), surmounted by three statues sculpted by Eugène-Louis Lequesne embodying the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity.

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The Église de la Sainte-Trinité is a big church. At 90 metres long and 34 metres wide, with the tip of the dome standing 63 metres high, the sense of size is enhanced inside the church where the roof of the chancel rises to some 30 metres.

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Trinité boasts two Cavaillé-Coll organs. The smaller of the two, the Orgue de Choeur or chancel organ, is a two manual (plus pedals), fifteen rank, fifteen stop mechanical key and stop organ.

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The Orgue de Choeur

The larger organ, the Orgue de Tribune or gallery organ, was built between 1868 and 1869. It is a three manual (plus pedals), eighty-two rank, sixty-stop organ, which today has an electric key and stop action.

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The Orgue de Tribune

The large, gallery organ has been renovated extensively and expanded over the decades.

The original organ was badly damaged during the Paris Commune of 1871 after which Cavaillé-Coll had to reconstruct it.

In 1901, the organ builder Joseph Merklin carried out some restoration work and made some tonal changes.

In 1930, perhaps the church’s most celebrated organist, Olivier Messiaen, was appointed. He would hold the post of titular organist for 61 years from 1930 to 1992. Early in his tenure, a second restoration was carried out by the organ-building firm Pleyel-Cavaillé-Coll. On completion of this work the organ was re-inaugurated with a recital by Marcel Dupré and his former student, Olivier Messiaen.

From 1962 to 1967, the organ builders, Beuchet-Debierre, carried out a third restoration.

Towards the end of his tenure as titular organist at the Église de la Sainte-Trinite, Olivier Messiaen had this to say about the magnificent gallery organ:

“As it stands now, the St. Trinité instrument is a masterpiece. The original stops by Cavaillé-Coll have been preserved and I have personally insisted on the fact that these stops should retain their wonderful original voice. The various stops added during the restoration works considerably enrich the instrument with mixtures (pleins jeux, nasards, tierces) and a complete battery of reeds. The electrification and the addition of general combinations result in faster response and more frequent and more varied changes of colours. Nevertheless, the most beautiful voices remain those of Cavaillé-Coll: the montres, the flutes, the very powerful reeds, the extraordinary Basson 16′ and the wonderful Quintaton 16′ on the Positif: they were all designed and built by Cavaillé-Coll … I have never heard, anywhere in the world, a sound of such quality.”

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Despite the twentieth century modifications to the gallery organ, it is easy to imagine its late nineteenth century voice echoing through Sainte-Trinité at the funerals of Hector Berlioz and Georges Bizet, both of which took place in this church.

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Sadly, on my visit to the church I wasn’t able to record the sounds of the Cavaillé-Coll organ but I did nevertheless capture the sound of music. It wasn’t the sound of conventional organ and choral music from the nave of the church but more contemporary music I found below, in the crypt.

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The crypt below the chapel of the Blessed Virgin

Sounds from the crypt of the Église de la Sainte-Trinité:

In the crypt I discovered a service taking place with the celebrants mainly, but not exclusively, African. It made a refreshing change from the rigid conformity that usually takes place in the conventional catholic services held in the nave above.

I think Olivier Messiaen would approve.

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9
Mar

International Women’s Day 2017

IN 2014, I MARKED International Women’s Day on this blog with a visit to the Marie Curie Museum in the 5th arrondissement to see an exhibition in the museum garden of photographic portraits celebrating the careers of prominent women, past and present, who worked or who are currently working in the fields of science and medicine. You can see my report on the exhibition here.

To mark International Women’s Day in 2015 I recorded a women’s march in Paris, the Marche Mondiale des Femmes, which you can see here.

For some reason that escapes me, I didn’t mark International Women’s Day last year so I thought I ought to make up for that lapse by coming up with something for this year.

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International Women’s Day 2017 was yesterday, 8th March, and I spent the afternoon in the 1st arrondissement here in Paris. It’s a neighbourhood I pass through frequently but, although it’s one of the most exclusive and opulent parts of the city, it’s by no means my favourite part. I’m rather like the man in Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ – I don’t care much ‘for high-tone places’.

Still, the 1st arrondissement did set me thinking about International Women’s day.

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The Ritz Hotel, Place Vendôme, 1st Arrondissement, Paris

Apart from the Musée du Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries, the 1st arrondissement is perhaps best known for the Place Vendôme. With it’s Ritz Hotel, it’s elegant Hôtels particuliers and establishments like Boucheron, Chaumet, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Cartier, some of the world’s finest jewellery houses, the Place Vendôme attracts a regular clientele of European royals, Middle Eastern sheikhs and billionaires from all over the world. Undoubtedly, it’s one of Nina Simone’s ‘high-tone’ places.

A few steps away from the Place Vendôme though is another street, much less elegant and opulent but a street I know well: Rue Danielle Casanova.

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Originally known as rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, the street dates back to the early seventeenth century when it was then part of the rue des Petits-Champs. It acquired the name Danielle Casanova in December 1944.

The street is named in honour of Danielle Casanova, a militant communist, a tireless activist, a member of the French resistance and a remarkable woman.

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Danielle trained as a dentist in Paris and in 1928 joined the Communist Youth movement eventually becoming a member of its Central Committee. In 1936, she became the first president of L’Union des jeunes filles de France (UJFF).

The UJFF was founded partly as a response to the resentment of young communist militants who had little responsibility within the then young French Communist Movement, and partly as a way for the French Communist Party (PCF) to recruit young female members.

Danielle and the other founders of the organisation wanted to focus on issues related to all areas of gender equality: work (referring in particular to the difficulties encountered by Marie Curie in her career), education and leisure. They emphasised the double discrimination of women from the working class due to both gender and social background. The UJFF supported the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, participating in demonstrations of support and welcoming refugee children from Spain.

After the fall of France in 1940, the French Communist Party and its related organisations were banned and Danielle went into hiding. Working underground, she helped set up women’s committees in the Paris region, she wrote for the underground press, especially Pensée Libre (“Free Thought”) and she founded la Voix des Femmes (“Women’s Voice”). She also helped organise resistance against the occupying forces,

French Police arrested Danielle on 15 February 1942 and she was transported to Auschwitz where she worked in the camp infirmary as a dentist. While in Auschwitz, she continued campaigning and organising clandestine publications and events. She died of typhus on 9th May 1943.

Danielle Casanova was a heroine of the women’s movement and the French Resistance and she has lent her name to streets, schools, and colleges throughout France.

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Rue Danielle Casanova:

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And I might have left my contribution to International Women’s Day there had I not called into the Café Bourbon in rue Danielle Casanova.

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After living in Paris for the past eighteen years I know the 1st arrondissement reasonably well, although I don’t claim to know every nook and cranny. So while sitting in the café with time on my hands, I launched Google Maps to see if there were any streets I had yet to explore … and what I found was astonishing.

The 1st arrondissement is the least populated of the city’s twenty arrondissements and one of the smallest by area and yet I discovered that it contains 182 streets.

Paris streets are mostly named after people, professions, places or events so, since it was International Women’s Day, I decided to count up how many of those streets were named after women.

Out of the 182 streets in the 1st arrondissement, just SEVEN are named after women:

Place Colette: Named after Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, (1873–1954) a French novelist nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Place Marguerite-de-Navarre: (1492-1549), sister of King François Ist

Rue Sainte-Anne: Anne of Austria (1601–1666), queen consort of France and Navarre, regent for her son, Louis XIV of France, and a Spanish and Portuguese Infanta by birth.

Rue Thérèse: Marie-Thérèse (1638-1683), wife of Louis XIV

Passage de la Reine-de-Hongrie: Named after a merchant from the neighbouring Les Halles, Julie Bécheur, who lived in the late eighteenth century. She was said to resemble the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, queen of Hungary (and of Bohemia).

Avenue Victoria: Named after the British Queen Victoria who paid a visit to the nearby Hôtel de Ville in 1855.

And of course:

Rue Danielle Casanova:

Two more streets are named after exclusively female professions:

Rue des Lavandières-Sainte-Opportune: – the washerwomen

Rue de la Lingerie: – the seamstresses

In fact, to be precise, there are only six-and-a-half streets named after women in the 1st arrondissement rather than seven. The Rue Danielle Casanova is bisected by the boundary of the 1st and 2nd arrondissements so half the street is in the 1st and, as can be seen by the sign below, the other half is in the 2nd.

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It seems that, despite having a female Mayor, the Paris City authorities still have more work to do on the gender equality of Parisian street names.

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Feb

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – Game, Set and Match!

OVER TWO WEEKS BETWEEN late May and early June around half a million people will make their way to the red clay courts of the Stade Roland Garros at the southern end of the Bois de Boulogne to watch the French Open tennis championships.

The French Open is the premier clay-court tennis championship event in the world and the second of four annual Grand Slam tournaments, the others being the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

This year, the tournament takes place between 22nd May and 11th June during which time the French Tennis Federation (Fédération Française de Tennis) will accrue approximately €200 million in revenue of which around €30 million will be given away as prize money.

The Stade Roland Garros was constructed in 1928 to host France’s first defence of the Davis Cup. It takes its name from the pioneering aviator, engineer and World War I fighter ‘ace’, Roland Georges Garros who, amongst many other things, completed the first solo flight across the Mediterranean Sea.

Stade Roland Garros is a 21-acre (8.5-hectare) complex containing twenty tennis courts, including three large-capacity stadiums: the Court Philippe Chatrier, the principal court seating almost 15,000 spectators, the Court Suzanne Lenglen, seating 10,000 spectators, and Court 1, seating 4,000 spectators.

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Across the leafy Avenue Gordon Bennett, directly opposite the Stade Roland Garros, is another space almost comparable in size, the 18-acre (7.2-hectare) Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, which, along with the Parc de Bagatelle, the Parc floral de Paris, and the Arboretum de l’École du Breuil, make up the Jardin botanique de la Ville de Paris, a collection of four gardens maintained by the city each with their own history and architectural and botanical heritage.

The Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil was created in 1761 under Louis XV and is arranged around a parterre in the traditional French style. The main greenhouses, designed and constructed between 1895-1898 by the architect Jean-Camille Formigé, were constructed around this central area.

Among the botanical collection are many varieties of plants including azaleas, orchids, begonias, cactus, ferns and some carnivorous plants. There is also a palm house and an aviary with tropical birds.

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The Grande Serre, the largest tropical greenhouse in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

While most long-term next door neighbours cohabit relatively peacefully, conflict can sometimes break out.

After living harmoniously next to each other for almost ninety years, the Stade Roland Garros through its proprietor, the Fédération Française de Tennis, has been locked in conflict over several years with the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil over a plan to extend the Stade Roland Garros into the historic garden.

I have already featured this conflict in this blog (here and here) but I can summarise the situation as follows:

The Stade Roland Garros is falling behind its Open championship competitors, Melbourne Park in Australia, Flushing Meadows in the United States and Wimbledon in the United Kingdom, in terms of the space and facilities required to stage a Grand Slam tournament. In order to compete and to satisfy the International Tennis Federation, the governing body of world tennis, and to satiate the inexhaustible appetites of the corporate sponsors and the media, the Stade Roland Garros has to improve its offer or risk losing its prestigious Grand Slam status.

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Stade Roland Garros, Court 1, across the Avenue Gordon Bennett from the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil 

In 2009 a significant expansion of the Stade Roland Garros was proposed, which included the addition of lights and a retractable roof over the Court Philippe Chatrier. The proposal also called for a new, fourth stadium with a retractable roof and 14,600 seating capacity, along with two smaller courts with seating for 1,500 and 750 to be built at the nearby Georges Hébert municipal recreation area, east of Roland Garros at Porte d’Auteuil. Factions within the Paris City Council scuppered this proposal.

This was followed a scheme to move the French Open to a completely new, fifty-five-court venue outside the Paris city limits but the Fédération Française de Tennis scuppered that.

In May 2013, the Fédération Française de Tennis announced a proposal to completely rebuild the Court Philippe Chatrier on its existing foundations with the addition of a new roof and lights, together with the demolition of Court 1. To replace the demolished court the proposal called for a 5,000-seat, semi-sunken stadium to be built in the southeast corner of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.

Here are two photographs I took from a Fédération Française de Tennis publicity banner showing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ effect of their proposed invasion of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.

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Before

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After

Maybe it’s just me, but the caption in the picture above: Près des serres historiques, un merveilleux geste architectural contribuant au renouveau du jardin botanique de ville de Paris (Near the historic greenhouses, a wonderful architectural gesture contributing to the revival of the botanical garden of the City of Paris), seems to stretch publicity propaganda to the absolute limit – or maybe we have just become so brainwashed that we simply accept ‘alternative facts’ as the norm these days.

The sad thing is that these ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures are no longer just publicity propoganda – they are now a reality.

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Nine greenhouses were demolished to create this building site

Local residents, municipal authorities, garden and wildlife enthusiasts and others have vigorously opposed the plan to extend the Stade Roland Garros into the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil. They even came up with a credible alternative scheme, which seemed to gain traction for a time, and they have fought several expensive court cases to try to thwart the ambitions of the Fédération Française de Tennis. But it was the the announcement of the bid by the City of Paris to host the Olympic Games in 2024 that probably sealed the fate of the garden. Integral to the Paris Olympic bid is the new, expanded, Stade Roland Garros.

Earlier this month, on the 2nd February, the Tribunal administratif de Paris rejected an appeal against the construction permits previously authorised by the Mayor of Paris and, as a result, the final the green light was given for both the reconstruction of the Court Philippe Chatrier and la construction d’un court de tennis sur une parcelle dans le Jardin des serres d’Auteuil, dans le Bois de Boulogne’. You can read the court’s judgement here.

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More publicity from the Fédération Française de Tennis

In one of my previous posts I referred to the development in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil and how the soundscape would inevitably change as a result. Well, this is today’s soundscape in this once idyllic garden.

Digging for Profit:

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Of course, developments like this are nothing new, Paris is littered with places revered today built on the ruins of places revered by previous generations. So why should we care about the destruction of some old greenhouses containing a few potted plants when the alternative is a spanking new tennis stadium helping to secure a prestigious Grand Slam tennis tournament in the city and the possibility of hosting the Olympic Games?

I suppose some ‘suit’ somewhere has done the calculation: the cost-benefit analysis of keeping or losing a Grand Slam tournament, appeasing corporate sponsors, gaining or losing an Olympic bid, the prestige to the city, the country and of course, to the politicians. It will also be blindingly obvious to our ‘suit’ that there is no long-term monetary cost at all to disfiguring the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil. After all, a single ticket to the French Open costs between €55 and €2,200 depending on which day and which package you choose (and will no doubt increase substantially when the new facilities are opened) whereas entry to the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil is currently free. And as a bonus, we will close the entire garden to the general public for the duration of the French Open tournament and reserve it exclusively for our paying customers. What’s not to like?

And when it comes down to it, that’s the problem. Costs are easily measured whereas value is intangible and elusive.

How do you compare the value of an 18th century garden, its original 19th century architectural features and its horticultural collection, not to mention the pleasure it gives to those who visit it, to the money making machine that is the Stade Roland Garros and the French Open tennis championships? Does one have greater value than the other? Should the lust for prestige and profit defeat the preservation of heritage?

And to argue, as some do, that only a part of the garden is affected so it doesn’t matter all that much, is akin to arguing that someone is just ‘a little bit pregnant’!

Whatever we might think about this garden and the development taking place there, it seems that the Fédération Française de Tennis, assisted by the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and the courts have served an unplayable ace and the umpire has finally called ‘Game, Set and Match’!

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14
Feb

Métro Station ‘Assemblée Nationale’ and its Sounds

RETURNING FROM A recording assignment in the 7th arrondissement the other day, I called into the nearest Métro station, Assemblée Nationale, to catch a train home. Faced with a choice of two entrances to the station I couldn’t resist using the elegant Hector Guimard entourage entrance with its classic red METROPOLITAIN sign, distinctive of the former Nord-Sud line, instead of the rather plain entrance across the street.

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The station was opened on 5th November 1910 as part of the original section of the Nord-Sud Company’s line between Porte de Versailles and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. The Nord-Sud Company (Société du Chemin de Fer Électrique Nord-Sud de Paris) was established in 1904 and built two underground lines, now line 12 and part of line 13. The company was taken over by the Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris (CMP) in 1930 and incorporated into the Paris Métro.

The station was originally called Chambre des Députés, the former name of the French National Assembly, a name the station held until 1989 when it became Assemblée Nationale.

Both the original and the current name of the station of course derive from the Palais Bourbon, the seat of the French National Assembly, the lower legislative chamber of the French parliament, which stands close by.

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The Palais Bourbon – The Assemblée Nationale

The identifying feature of Métro station Assemblée Nationale is that there are no advertisements anywhere in the station. Instead, the walls sport ninety-metre long murals featuring various aspects of the work of the National Assembly. The murals are changed with each renewal of the legislature.

Both the Palais Bourbon and the Hector Guimard métro station entrance are located in Faubourg Saint-Germain, an aristocratic neighbourhood bristling with government ministries and foreign diplomatic embassies and it was from here that I descended into the station. Once on the platform, I paused to examine the murals and listen to the sounds in the station before boarding a train to take me home.

This is what I saw and heard:

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The Métro Station Assembléé Nationale and its Sounds:

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