CAN YOU IMAGINE a city without traffic? Well, in Paris last Sunday we had a glimpse of what such a city might look and sound like.
In August 2014, an organisation called Paris sans Voitures, a citizen collective made up of scientists and high-profile individuals, residents of all ages, professionals, activists and dreamers, put forward a proposal to the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to reclaim Paris and liberate the streets. Their vision was for a car-free day; a day when private vehicles would be banned in Paris and public transport would be free.
Anne Hidalgo was impressed but the Paris police were more difficult to convince. Nevertheless, a decision was reached on 5th March this year that for one day Paris would experience ‘une journée sans voiture’ – a car free day.
The Mayor was not able to persuade the police that the car free zone should extend across the entire city so an accommodation was reached.
Click to enlarge
On Sunday 27th September, between 1100 and 1800, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements – the heart of the city – were car free zones. Several areas away from the centre, including part of the quai on the Left Bank, most of the Champs-Élysées, the Bois de Boulogne, the Bois de Vincennes and the tourist area of Montmartre were also to be car free.
There were exceptions – buses, taxis and emergency vehicles were allowed.
I spend a large part of my life recording the street sounds of Paris and the sound of traffic is my constant companion so this ‘Journée Sans Voitures’ was an opportunity for me to capture an unusual sound tapestry of the city, one without the weft of constant traffic.
L’Avenue de l’Opéra on Sunday afternoon
On Sunday afternoon I walked along the Avenue de l’Opéra from Place de l’Opéra to Place Colette and, apart from occasional buses and taxis, the restriction on other motor vehicles seemed for the most part to be effective.
I thought it would be particularly interesting to contrast the sounds in Place Colette on this unique day to those found in the same place on a normal working day.
Place Colette on a normal working day
Sounds in Place Colette on a normal working day:
On a normal working day Place Colette is a space shared between Parisians going about their daily business and tourists passing through. The sounds of passing traffic pervade the air all the time.
Place Colette: Journée sans Voitures
Sounds in Place Colette – ‘Journée Sans Voitures’:
On Sunday in Place Colette there were Parisians and tourists but the sound tapestry was very different. The absence of traffic highlighted sounds that are always there but seldom heard, the rustle of the leaves in the trees for example. The sounds of the people reclaiming the city took centre stage.
When you listen to these sounds, remember that they were recorded in exactly the same place as the working day sounds above.
One might conclude that the Journée sans Voitures was either an experiment worth trying or simply a wheeze by the city authorities to provide a late summer’s fun day out. But it’s worth remembering that for a few hours in March this year Paris gained the unwelcome accolade of being the most polluted city in the world.
Excessive vehicle emissions were at the root of the problem. These emissions, combined with sunshine, a drop in temperature and an absence of wind to disperse the pollutants, caused a stagnant cover of warm air to settle over Paris. A toxic haze enveloped the city obscuring some of its most well known landmarks. Schools were instructed to keep children in classrooms and limit sports activities and health warnings were issued to the elderly to avoid even moderate exercise.
Paris usually enjoys relatively clean air for a city its size so the bad press stung the city authorities.
Is it too fanciful to suggest that the Journée sans Voitures might be a signpost to the future – cities without noxious vehicle emissions, cleaner air and a much less polluted sonic environment?
“BUILD HERE – BUILD HIGH”, commanded the archangel Michael to St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches, in the year 708. “If you build it … they will come”. The bishop resisted, that is until the archangel poked a hole in the bishop’s skull to emphasise the point. It was built … and they did come.
Perched on a rocky islet surrounded by treacherous sandbanks exposed to powerful tides stands the Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael together with the village that grew within its protective walls.
For centuries le Mont Saint-Michel has been a place of pilgrimage but it wasn’t the search for salvation that brought me to this rocky islet. Instead, it was a chance remark made in November last year by my Minnesotan friend, Heather. That remark led me, Heather and her husband Steve, to decamp from Paris in mid-September this year to spend a couple of days exploring this remarkable place.
A little history …
Le Mont Saint-Michel stands about one kilometre off the coast of northwest France between Brittany and Normandy at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches.
In prehistoric times, the bay in which it now stands was part of the landmass but millions of years of rising sea levels and erosion reshaped the coastline. The granite rock we now know as le Mont Saint-Michel survived the ocean’s wear and tear leaving it standing in an otherwise flat and ever-changing landscape. The first occupants of the rock, then known as Monte Tombe, were Amorican Gauls who used it as a stronghold of Breton culture and power.
Thanks to the intervention of the archangel Michael (or so legend has it) a church was built on the top of the rock in 708. The Benedictines moved in some two hundred and fifty years later creating the abbey that still stands today.
The mount’s rivalry with neighbouring Normandy came to a head in 933 when William “Long Sword” annexed the Cotentin Peninsula from the weakened Dukes of Brittany thus making the mount Norman, and Norman ducal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture of the abbey in subsequent centuries.
During the Middle Ages a village grew up around the abbey, mostly on the eastern side of the island. During the Hundred Years War between France and England the abbey and the village were surrounded by a fortified wall, which successfully fended off repeated attacks by the English.
There were many ups and downs for the abbey and by the time of the French Revolution there were few monks in residence. Post-Revolution the abbey was converted into a prison holding religious and political prisoners.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that a religious presence returned. Today, the abbey is maintained by monks and nuns from the Fraternity of Jerusalem.
The connection between le Mont Saint-Michel and the mainland has changed over the centuries. Once connected by a tidal causeway uncovered only at low tide, this was converted into a raised, permanently dry causeway in 1879, preventing the tide from scouring the silt around the mount.
The coastal flats were polderised to create pastureland, decreasing the distance between the shore and the island, and the Couesnon River was canalised, reducing the dispersion of the flow of water. Together, these developments encouraged the silting-up of the bay.
In 2006, the French Government stepped in with a €164 million project to build a hydraulic dam using the waters of the river Couesnon and the tides to help remove the accumulated silt and to make Mont Saint-Michel an island again. In July 2014 a new bridge, designed by architect Dietmar Feichtinger, was opened linking the island to the mainland. The bridge allows the waters to flow freely around the island and improves the efficiency of the dam.
Approaching le Mont Saint-Michel from the new bridge and then passing through the medieval gate and crossing the drawbridge into the citadel, we discovered the narrow main street, lined with cafés, restaurants and shops selling trinkets, awash with tourists. Of course, a moment’s thought told me that this was nothing new; this same street has been awash with tourists for centuries.
While a good many of today’s visitors may be ticking off yet another item from their bucket-list of ‘things to do before you die’, in the past many of them would have been pilgrims risking their lives crossing the treacherous sandbanks to get here. Then, just like now, this medieval street would have been lined with eating places and traders catering for the needs of the visitors.
Apart from enjoying the company of my friends, my objective during my visit to le Mont Saint-Michel was to capture the atmosphere of this UNESCO World Heritage Site in sound.
Staying on the island overnight revealed that le Mont Saint-Michel has two quite distinct soundscapes: the soundscape during the day when all the tourists are there and the soundscape overnight when they are not. I set out to discover both.
The soundscape on le Mont Saint-Michel at dawn:
Listening tip: To get the best effect you should listen to these sounds at the same level that I heard them at the time of recording so it’s best not to crank up the volume too much – less is more!
This soundscape reflects le Mont Saint-Michel coming to life at dawn, the golden hour before the tourist invasion begins.
The first part of the soundscape was recorded from over halfway up the mount next to the cemetery just below the entrance to the abbey. The birds are singing from the rooftops and if you listen very carefully you will hear the distant baa of a sheep and the purr of a motor vehicle being carried on the wind from the mainland beyond.
Le Mont Saint-Michel is still medieval in that there are no motor vehicles so the only access is on foot. Consequently, you can hear the sound of two men manhandling boxes of early morning supplies up the steps to a small hotel close to where I was standing and to another small hotel further up the hill. A bell from the cemetery’s clock tower chimes the quarter-hour interrupting their efforts. The brief sounds of footsteps over gravel are from a nun who has come down from the abbey to pick wild flowers from the cemetery.
From the foot of le Mont Saint-Michel we hear the sounds of waves lapping as the tide comes in and the mount is set to become surrounded by water. The abbey bells give a full-throated peel before fading away to the distant sound of a single bell.
The dawn soundscape passes and as the new day’s visitors arrive the soundscape on le Mont Saint-Michel changes dramatically. The sound of a sea of people fills the air.
I wanted to capture the sounds of this sea of people but not simply the sounds of the endless stream of passing tour groups making their way up the Grand Degré, the narrow, steep, main street. Instead, I wanted to capture sounds that inextricably linked these people to le Mont Saint-Michel – sounds that described the location and told a story.
One place on le Mont Saint-Michel with an easily recognisable ambience of course is the abbey and since visiting the abbey is the main reason most people come to the island it seemed to me to be the most appropriate place from which to record the daytime soundscape.
Perched on top of the rock, eighty metres above sea level, on a platform eighty metres long, the abbey church was built in the early eleventh century. The church with its wood-panelled barrel vault roof is mainly Romanesque in style although after the collapse of the Romanesque chancel in 1421 the chancel was rebuilt after the Hundred Years War in flamboyant Gothic style.
The abbey is a complex structure. With the church perched on top of the rock many underground crypts, chapels and gigantic stone pillars had to be built to support its weight.
The soundscape inside the abbey of le Mont Saint-Michel:
Unlike the dawn soundscape, this soundscape was recorded as a long-form soundwalk. I believe that sounds need the space and the time to breathe, to express themselves and to tell their own story. It takes these sounds thirty-six minutes to tell their story. Apart from topping and tailing, this soundscape has not been edited so what you hear is exactly what happened as it happened. To edit the sounds would be to edit the story and by editing the story the integrity of the soundscape as it was in this place at that time on that day would I think be diminished.
To set the scene …
Heather, Steve and I resolved to visit the abbey. We climbed what seemed like an endless number of steps to get to the abbey entrance but once there we heaved a sigh of relief thinking that we’d finally arrived and the hard work was behind us. Imagine our joy then when, having bought our tickets, we discovered that we had another ninety steps still to climb!
But the extra climb was worth the effort.
The soundwalk begins in the abbey church and then follows a prescribed tourist route spiralling down through the abbey around the tip of the rock. As well as the abbey church, the route includes passing through the cloisters, the refectory, the guest’s hall, the great pillared crypt, Saint Martin’s crypt, the monk’s ossuary, the Saint Etienne chapel, the Knight’s hall and the almonry.
We arrived at the abbey quite late in the afternoon, a little before the ticket office closed. As we moved from the abbey church into the cloisters a rather jovial official appeared and gently ushered us on. As we passed through each door on the tourist route this official followed us and closed and locked each door behind us. It was rather like, ‘last one out turn off the lights!’
In fact, this was a blessing. It meant that we had time to see all there was to see without getting snarled up in the crowd. It also helped me to capture a more modulated soundscape than perhaps I would have done at the height of the day.
As you listen to the soundscape you will hear the ambience change as we move from room to room and as the tide of people ebbs and flows. There are rare periods of near silence as I fell back to let the crowd move ahead and there are times when the tour guides have to tell their flocks to ‘Shush’ because they’re making too much noise.
For me, listening attentively to the sounds around me is my way of observing the world. In my all too brief stay on le Mont Saint-Michel I tried to capture the feel of this remarkable place in sound. Capturing the sounds at dawn without tourists and then in the abbey with the tourists in full cry may not reflect all of the intricately woven sound tapestry of the island but it does perhaps reflect a significant part of it.
Had I been there longer I would no doubt have captured many more sounds but economy of opportunity concentrates the mind.
With my thanks to Heather, our brilliant Chef d’Équipe, without whose energy, enthusiasm and meticulous planning this trip would not have happened. And, of course, to Steve whose company it’s impossible not to enjoy.
FOUNDED IN 1635 as a medicinal herb garden, the Jardin des Plantes is now the main botanical garden in France.
Under the patronage of King Louis XIII, the royal garden of medicinal plants was created between the River Bievre and the current rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. It was opened to the public in 1640 offering free education in botany, chemistry and anatomy.
In 1739, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, was appointed superintendent of the garden, a position he held until his death in 1788. During his tenure, Buffon expanded the garden significantly..
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
In 1793, a scientific research institution, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) was founded adjacent to the garden and the two have been intimately linked to the present day.
In 1794, a small zoo was added, the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes, founded by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre from animals of the royal menagerie at Versailles. Today, the Ménagerie covers 6 hectares and comprises some 200 mammals, 300 birds, 200 turtles, crocodiles, lizards, snakes and amphibians and over 300,000 insects, crustaceans and spiders.
Kangaroos in the Ménagerie
In 1832, Charles Rohault de Fleury, was appointed as the architect of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and between 1832 and 1838 he designed the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie, the monkey house and two serres carrées (tropical greenhouses).
The botanist, Sébastien Vaillant built the first greenhouses in the garden in 1714. They were built of stone and glass and were designed to protect fragile trees from frost. Rohault de Fleury’s early nineteenth century designs though were much bigger and were made of iron and glass, a combination of materials that symbolised the new era of modernity and progress.
Connecting the two large greenhouses, the Serre de Nouvelle-Calédonie (formerly the Serre Mexicaine) and the Serre de l’Histoire des Plantes (formerly the Serre Australienne) is a long gallery of the same design.
The greenhouse complex traces the 430 million year evolution of plants and has micro-ecosystems with plant species from tropical rain forests to arid deserts, from Africa, the Americas and South-east Asia to the Sahara and Australia.
The statistics for the Jardin des Plantes are impressive. The gardens cover 28 hectares (280,000 M2) and the complement of 45 gardeners care for around 8,500 species or varieties of plants, 2,000 trees, 2,500 shrubs, 8,500 herbaceous perennials, 2,000 greenhouse plants and 80,000 seasonal plants.
An alpine garden, a wildlife garden, a garden for irises and perennials, a rose garden, an ecological garden, a garden for bees and birds and a labyrinth are among the specialist gardens.
The Alpine Garden
Of all the species to be found in the Jardin des Plantes, one above all others leaves by far the biggest sonic footprint – the human species. Some eight million people visit the gardens each year and the sounds they make dominate the sonic environment.
Sounds in the Jardin des Plantes:
The Jardin des Plantes is just one of the sites belonging to the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. As well as the gardens, the greenhouses and the menagerie, the 28-hectare site also includes various galleries and research institutions open to the public:
La Grande Galerie de l’Évolution
La Galerie des Enfants
La Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie
Les Galeries d’Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie
Le Cabinet d’Histoire du Jardin des Plantes
La Galerie de Botanique
The Rose Garden
There are multiple entrances to the Jardin des Plantes and they can be found in rue Cuvier, rue Buffon, rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire and place Valhubert – all in the 5th arrondissement.
The closest Métro stations are:
‘Gare d’Austerlitz’ – Métro Line 5 or Line 10 or …
‘Jussieu’ – Métro Line 7 or Line 10
A Hotel for Bees
IN THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY it was part of the fossé, the ditch that surrounded the wall built by Charles V to encircle Paris. Today, the Bassin de l’Arsenal (also known as Port de l’Arsenal) is a marina connecting the Canal Saint-Martin to the Seine.
Bassin de l’Arsenal looking towards Place de la Bastille
After the destruction of the Bastille fortress in November 1789 during the French Revolution, the Bassin de l’Arsenal was excavated to replace the ditch that had been in place at the fortress.
The Bastille fortress with the fossé (ditch) in the foreground. The fossé was later converted into the Bassin de l’Arsenal.
From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries an arsenal existed here, which accounts for the name of the port and the name of the neighbourhood bordering the westerly side of the Bassin.
In the early nineteenth century, the construction of the Canal Saint-Martin was undertaken connecting the Bassin de la Villette to the Bassin de l’Arsenal and the Seine. With the increased barge traffic on the Canal Saint-Martin during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, the Bassin de l’Arsenal became an important commercial port handling mainly wine, wheat and wood.
Separated from the Seine by the ninth and final lock on the Canal Saint-Martin, l’Écluse de l’Arsenal, the port was converted into a port de plaisance (a marina) in 1983. At the same time, a 1.4-hectare public park, the Jardin du Bassin de l’Arsenal, was created along the eastern side of the marina, which includes maple and willow trees and a rose covered pergola.
Jardin du Bassin de l’Arsenal
The Bassin de l’Arsenal stretches for six hundred metres between Quai de la Rapée and Place de la Bastille and it forms the boundary of the 4th and the 12th arrondissements.
Running over the lock leading to the Seine at the southern end of the Bassin are two bridges, the road bridge Pont Morland and an iron bridge carrying Métro Line 5. The sounds of the Métro trains running over the iron bridge into and out of Quai de la Rapée station dominate the soundscape around the lock.
Sounds of Métro Line 5 running over l’Écluse de l’Arsenal:
The gates of l’Écluse de l’Arsenal at the southern end of the Bassin de l’Arsenal
I’m fascinated by industrial soundscapes and so I’ve made many recordings of l’Écluse de l’Arsenal in operation but all of them have been punctuated by the sounds of passing Métro trains. The sounds of the lock operating are really interesting and so for several years I’ve been trying to capture the sounds of the lock without the Métro sounds in the background. The other day I finally succeeded thanks to a temporary interruption to the service on Métro Line 5.
The lock is operated from la Capitainerie, the Harbourmaster’s office on the eastern side of the Bassin. Against a background of hammering from building work on a neighbouring apartment block, two boats are waiting to leave the Bassin de l’Arsenal to enter la Seine.
Sounds of l’Écluse de l’Arsenal in operation:
In this soundscape we hear the lock filling and then a warning signal before the lock gates creak open. The first boat to enter the lock is a bateau école, a training boat. It passes into the lock almost imperceptibly.
The next boat is larger but its sounds are equally tranquil.
Once the two boats are in the lock the lock gates are closed with more creaking. A grandmother comes alongside and explains the process to her petite-fille. Note the fascinating sounds of the hydraulics after the lock gates are shut.
Water drains out of the lock, the boats drop three metres, the lock gates at the far end of the lock are opened and the boats are free to enter la Seine.
But as the water level is lowered, the soundscape closest to the Bassin de l’Arsenal changes as water seeps into the lock from gaps in the closed but exposed lock gates.
Some of the best sounds in my Paris Soundscapes Archive are sounds of the Paris Métro but even though the sound rich Métro Line 5 was so close this was one occasion when I was pleased that the Métro sounds were absent.
FRENCH FARMERS ARE ANGRY and on Thursday their anger spilled over from the French countryside to the streets of Paris.
Hundreds of farmers and more than 1,300 tractors converged on the city in the latest protest against collapsing incomes.
From all parts of the country, farmers and their tractors trundled along the major roads into the capital on Thursday morning. Many Parisian commuters took police advice and travelled to work by public transport to avoid the disruption.
While the farmers were converging on Place de la Nation in the east of the city, their spokesman Xavier Beulin, Président de la Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles and his delegation were meeting the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is not unsympathetic to their cause.
Following the meeting with the Prime Minister, Xavier Beulin addressed the farmers in Place de la Nation on Thursday afternoon. You can listen to their response in the sound piece below.
French farmers are facing stiff competition. Production costs in neighbouring countries are much lower, they have been hit by tough competition between supermarkets as well as a Russian embargo on EU food imports, and dairy farmers in particular have seen incomes collapse because of over-production on the world market.
Just six weeks ago, the government came up with a package of debt relief worth €600 million. But the farmers say they need much more, arguing that French agriculture is on the verge of collapse. They are seeking tax breaks from the government as well as action from the EU in Brussels.
Sounds of French farmers in Place de la Nation on Thursday:
French farmers have been particularly vocal throughout this summer, blocking roads on the German border and targeting major tourist destinations such as the Mont Saint-Michel peninsula.
Some of the farmers who were in Place de la Nation on Thursday will be joining a pan-European protest on Monday in Brussels during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.
IT’S THAT TIME of the year again! An annual colourful procession through the streets of the 18th arrondissement, an elephant representing Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune, people adorned with strings of jasmine and shattered coconuts laying at the roadside means that it must be La Fête de Ganesh.
The Parisian Fête de Ganesh begins at the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple in rue Pajol, the largest Hindu temple in France, where religious ceremonies precede the procession through the streets of the neighbourhood.
As the procession gets underway, a water truck precedes it and the streets are washed. It seems that cleanliness really is next to godliness.
Leading the procession are the drum dancers.
Dancers carrying an arch of peacock feathers on their shoulders come next …
… and then ladies carrying clay pots with burning camphor on their heads.
Next, pulled by two large ropes made of vegetable fibre each twenty metres long, comes the five metre high chariot carrying the statue of Ganesh, the God with an elephant’s head. The chariot is entirely covered with red and white cloth and decorated with garlands of fresh flowers, bananas and areca wrapped in betel leaves.
Coconuts play a significant part in the procession. Piles of them are placed at the roadside and during the procession they are broken by smashing them onto the ground. The coconut shell symbolises the world, the flesh represents individual Karma and the coconut milk the human ego. By breaking the coconut, one offers one’s heart to Ganesh.
The milk from hundreds of coconuts is spread across the streets for Ganesh’s chariot to pass over.
Singers and musicians follow Ganesh’s chariot and throughout the course of the procession offerings are made and food and drink distributed.
Sounds of la Fête de Ganesh 2015:
With its vibrant colours, intoxicating exotic smells and multi-textured, rhythmical sounds, la Fête de Ganesh is truly a multisensory experience.
CHARLES FRANÇOIS BOSSU (1813 – 1879) was a French photographer who photographed architecture, landscapes and the urban environment. He is much better known though as Charles Marville, the pseudonym he adopted around 1832.
Charles Marville, photographic self-portrait, c. 1861
Marville worked as an illustrator of books such as Histoire Pittoresque de l’Angleterre and La Seine et ses Bords (the Seine and its Banks) before taking up photography around 1850.
In 1858 he received his first commission from the Paris authorities, to photograph the renovated Bois de Boulogne − the first of Baron Haussmann’s modernising projects for Emperor Napoleon III.
By the early 1860s, Haussmann’s urban development scheme to transform Paris was gathering pace. Although Haussmann was keen to eradicate parts of old Paris, he wanted to preserve their memory: ‘The City of Paris must disregard nothing, forget nothing, neglect nothing of its past.’
In 1862, Marville became the official photographer of Paris and he was commissioned to photograph the pre-modern city before its demolition. He made 425 photographs of the narrow streets and crumbling buildings, which collectively became known as the ‘Album du Vieux Paris.’ The complete series of photographs are held by the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris.
One of Charles Marville’s photographs that fascinates me is one he made of Place Saint-André des Arts in the 6th arrondissement.
Place Saint-André des Arts: Charles Marville
The remarkable thing is that, despite the destruction and reconstruction that occurred in the surrounding area in the 1860s, this little corner of Paris, which takes its name from the ancient church of Saint-André-des-Arts which was demolished during the French Revolution, remained completely untouched by Haussmann’s wrecking ball.
Place Saint-André des Arts: August 2015
Like Charles Marville and his successor, Eugène Atget, I too document the city of Paris, but in my case in sound rather than in pictures. Whenever I come across a photograph of a part of Vieux Paris that has survived almost untouched I can’t resist recording the contemporary soundscape around it.
Place Saint-André des Arts in Sound; August 2015:
Charles Marville died in Paris in 1879. His ‘Album du Vieux Paris’ allows us to see Paris as he saw it before its late nineteenth century transformation and we can compare what he saw with what we can see today.
But when it comes to the sounds of Charles Marville’s Paris we lack a reference point. There are no recordings of the urban soundscape of the time and descriptions of the sounds of Paris in literature during Haussmann’s transformation of the city are few and far between.
So, while we can capture and archive the contemporary sounds of Paris we can, alas, only imagine the sounds that Charles Marville would have heard while he photographed Place Saint-André des Arts.
FOUNDED BY NAPOLEON III in 1863 as an asylum, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne in rue Cabanis in the 14th arrondissement is now not only an official monument historique, it’s also a hospital specialising in psychiatry and neuroscience.
The origins of the hospital date back much further though.
On 7th July 1651, the governors of the Hôtel-Dieu and representatives of the Queen regent, Anne of Austria, signed a contract in which the Hôtel Dieu gave up buildings and land of the Maison de la Santé in Faubourg St Marcel in exchange for which the Queen regent gave twenty-one acres of land to establish a hospital. A condition was that the new hospital should take the name of the patron saint of the Queen regent, mother of Louis XIV: Saint Anne.
The hospital began as a farm, la ferme Sainte-Anne, which employed inmates from the nearby Asylum de Bicêtre, a notorious prison and lunatic asylum, but where in 1793, Superintendent Philippe Pinel is credited as being the first to introduce humane methods into the treatment of the mentally ill.
In 1863, Napoleon III decided to create a psychiatric hospital in Paris on the site of la ferme Sainte-Anne. The Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne was to be a clinical asylum marking a shift of emphasis from just the containment of the mentally ill towards research into and the treatment of mental illness.
The French architect Charles-Auguste Questel took charge of the project and work proceeded over a period of four years. The hospital was inaugurated on 1st January 1867 and the first patient was admitted on 1st May of the same year. Most of the original buildings still exist and are still in use.
The asylum in 1877: Revue générale de l’Architecture et des Travaux Publics, 1877, n°4 (volume 34ème)
Le pavillon Magnan de l’hôpital Sainte-Anne
In the years that followed, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne expanded its role beyond just the psychiatric treatment of its patients. Departments for general surgery and dental surgery were created to provide treatment for patients from all the asylums in the Département de la Seine along with an obstetric department and laboratories for radiology, microphotography and biology.
A major breakthrough occurred in 1920 when the French psychiatrist, Edouard Toulouse, set up the Comité d’hygiène mentale, a mental health committee designed to seek the most effective medical and social means for treating mental illness. In 1922 this resulted in the Centre for mental disease prevention, which aimed to improve the treatment of patients by developing outpatient as well as inpatient centres.
Another breakthrough came in 1952 when the French psychiatrist, neurologist, writer and member of the Académie française, Jean Delay, along with J. M. Harl and Pierre Deniker discovered that a high dose of chlorpromazine produced a considerable reduction in the agitation and aggression of those patients with symptoms of schizophrenia. Chlorpromazine was released onto the market in 1953 by Rhône-Poulenc and given the trade name Largactil and it’s still in use today.
Today, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne has seven adult psychiatric units, two child and adolescent psychiatric units as well as an addiction unit. It also has centres for neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neurophysiology, neuropathology, anaesthetics, dentistry, physical medicine and rehabilitation.
The hospital is also a teaching hospital for students of the faculty of medicine at the Université Paris Descartes.
I went to explore the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne and discovered that the site covers thirteen hectares (32 acres), including seven hectares (17 acres) of protected green space. Some of this green space is reserved for patients but most of it is accessible to the public.
On one side of a staff car park close to the central pharmacy I discovered some sounds of summer.
Sounds of the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne:
One of the modern additions to the hospital is the new home of the Clinique des Maladies Mentales et de l’Encéphale (CMME), a sixty bed psychiatric unit supervised by four university professors.
The unit specialises in four main areas; eating disorders, mood disorders (including recurrent depression resistant to treatment, seasonal affective disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety disorders), suicidal patients and addiction.
Clinique des Maladies Mentales et de l’Encéphale (CMME)
The CMME is one of several new developments at the hospital so as I walked past it I was not surprised to discover the sound of construction work pervading the air. I stopped to capture the sounds of nature and construction work competing with each other.
Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne – Outside CMME:
Walking around the grounds of the hospital looking at some of the original buildings I couldn’t help but imagine what this place must have been like when the treatment of mental illness was in its infancy, even though France was quite enlightened in its approach by the standards of the time.
In 1838 France enacted a law to regulate both the admissions into asylums and asylum services across the country allowing mentally ill patients to gain access to treatment for their disorders in specific and appropriate institutions. This law remained in force until as late as June 1990 when it was revised.
Outside the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne in rue Cabanis stands the controversial Le plancher de Jeannot / Jeannot´s floor, a chilling reminder of the effect that mental illness can sometimes have.
Inside the three panels are sections of a fifteen square metre wooden floor engraved with a message of eighty lines by a young man named Jeannot.
Jeannot was born in 1939 in a small community in the Béarn department in the south of France where his parents owned a farmhouse and some forty hectares of land.
In 1959, Jeannot’s father committed suicide. Jeannot, one of his sisters and his mother continued to live in the house but the family gradually became more and more isolated. Jeannot began to exhibit paranoid behaviour and he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital but he reacted so violently that he was unable to be treated. When his mother died in 1971, Jeannot buried her in the house, under the staircase.
Over the next few months, using a hand drill to make small holes, which he then connected with lines cut out with a knife and a gouge, Jeannot composed a text on the wooden floor of the living room. In brief, the text says that religion is the cause of evil in society,
Soon after completing the text Jeannot died, probably starving himself to death. Together with his mother he was buried in the local cemetery. His sister continued living in the house, alone. She was found dead in 1993.
The house was sold but the brocanteur who dealt with the house clearance noticed the inscriptions on the floor. Finding this unusual, he made contact with a psychiatrist, Dr Guy Roux. Dr Roux bought the floor from the new owner of the house. He later sold it to the pharmaceutical company Bristol Meyer Squib.
Le plancher de Jeannot was exhibited for the first time in the year 2000 at an international psychiatric congress in Paris as part of an exposition entitled 50 ans d´expression en milieu psychiatrique. It was later exhibited in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris where it gave rise to a heated public debate around the question: is it acceptable to present as a work of art the expression of someone in such psychological distress?
In 2007, Jean Pierre Olié, professor of psychiatry and chief psychiatrist of the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne became involved and it was arranged that the floor, cut into three parts, should be put on display outside the hospital in the rue Cabanis.
The complete text of Le plancher de Jeannot: Click to enlarge
“A sick thought can devour the body’s flesh more than fever or consumption.”
Guy de Maupassant : Le Horla et autres contes fantastiques
The days of ‘lunatics’ and ‘asylums’ may be gone but the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness still persists. It may be less now than in the past but it’s still there.
Institutions like the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne have contributed significantly to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness but it’s up to of the rest of us to come to terms with the fact that mental illness is exactly what it says, an illness – an illness that one in five of us will suffer from at some point in our lives.
“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shames us all”.
SET IN A SHALLOW basin in Place Stravinsky in the shadow of the Centre Pompidou, sixteen works of sculpture move and spray water into the air.
La Fontaine Stravinsky was part of a larger sculptural programme, launched by the City of Paris in 1978, to build seven contemporary fountains with sculptures in different squares in the city. As well as la Fontaine Stravinsky, the project included new fountains at the Hotel de Ville and within the gardens of the Palais Royal. These were the first public fountains to be built in Paris since the fountains of the Palais de Chaillot were constructed for the Paris Exposition of 1937.
The basin containing the sixteen sculptures sits above the offices of IRCAM, the Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique, an organisation devoted to promoting modern music and musicology. The founder of the IRCAM, the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, suggested the works of the composer Igor Stravinsky as a theme for the fountain.
The sixteen sculptures therefore represent:
L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird)
La Clef de Sol (the Musical Key of G)
La Spirale (The Spiral)
L’Elephant (The Elephant)
Le Renard (The Fox)
Le Serpent (The Serpent)
La Grenouille (The Frog)
La Diagonale (The Diagonal)
La Mort (Death)
La Sirène (The Mermaid)
Le Rossignol (The Nightingale)
La Vie (Life)
Le Cœur (The Heart)
Le Chapeau de Clown (The Clown’s Hat)
Because of the IRCAM rooms below, the Fontaine Stravinsky was designed to be as light as possible with the basin being very shallow and made from stainless steel and the sculptures made of plastic and other lightweight materials.
Funding for the Fontaine Stravinsky was provided by the City of Paris who paid two million French francs for the project, which was matched by a further two million French francs from the French Ministry of Culture.
Originally, the commission for the fountain was given to Jean Tinguely, best known for his kinetic art, or sculptural machines. It was envisaged that the fountain would have been entirely composed of his black-painted mechanical sculptures but, in May 1982, Tinguely asked that brightly coloured works by his second wife, Niki de Saint Phalle, also be included. This proposal was resisted at first because it was thought that the brightly coloured works would visually overwhelm the dark works of Tinguely but, after much descussion, it was agreed that it would be a joint project by Tinguely and Saint Phalle.
I went to the Fontaine Stravinsky the other day to try to capture the different sound textures from each of the sixteen sculptures but when I arrived I found that the basin had been drained and routine maintenance work was going on. Far from being disappointing, it gave me a chance to see the inner workings of the kinetic art.
All sixteen statues move and spray water and the cables and hoses that feed them are laid along the bottom of the basin.
There are a host of cafés and restaurants in the thirteenth century rue Brisemiche running alongside Place Stravinsky so I decided to head off for something to eat while the maintenance work was being carried out.
When I returned the basin was being refilled and the sculptures were bursting into life.
Sounds of la Fontaine Stravinsky:
I walked around the perimeter of the fountain pausing to explore the sonic texture of each of the sixteen statues. Some of the textures are quite distinctive but others, the more delicate ones, tend to be overshadowed by their more raucous neighbours – but they are there if you listen very carefully.
I recorded in the evening so I was not surprised to capture the sounds of the gentlemen from the Mairie de Paris arriving in their smart, green, electric truck to replace the large translucent rubbish bags beside the fountain. I was though surprised to capture the sound of the water to the fountain being turned off for the night from a stopcock behind the neighbouring Eglise Saint-Merri. The sudden absence of running water seemed to leave a curious sonic vacuum in the air.
THE GLORIOUS SUNSHINE that we’ve been enjoying in Paris over the last few weeks completely deserted us last Sunday. Successive days of temperatures in the high 30s gave way to a leaden grey sky and heavy rain. But the change in the weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds gathered in the Champs Élysées to watch the final stage of this year’s 102nd edition of the Tour de France.
Starting in Utrecht in the Netherlands on Saturday 4th July, this year’s Grande Boucle was made up of 21 stages covering a total distance of 3,360 kilometres. After two stages in the Netherlands, the Tour crossed Belgium and northern France before moving south for the gruelling mountain stages in the Pyrenees and the Alps.
The stage profiles this year included nine flat stages, three hill stages, seven mountain stages with five altitude finishes, one individual time-trial stage, one team time-trial stage and two much needed rest days.
Stage 20 Profile – Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire – Les Sybelles
After the penultimate gruelling stage from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire – Les Sybelles in the Alps, including an ascent up the tortuous Col de la Croix de Fer and the Alpe d’Huez, this year’s final stage of the Tour was much more leisurely. It is customary that the result of the Tour de France is settled at the end of the penultimate stage so, barring something completely unexpected happening, the final stage is largely a procession for the victor. Of course, there are still points to be scored and prize money to be won so the final sprint finish in the Champs Élysées is always exciting.
Stage 21 Profile – Sèvres – Grand Paris Seine Ouest to the Champs-Élysées
This year’s final stage, a mere 109.5 km from Sèvres – Grand Paris Seine Ouest to the Champs-Élysées in Paris, saw the Tour pass very close to my home. Entering the outskirts of Paris, the 160 riders crossed the Bois de Boulogne, rounded Porte Maillot and headed up the Avenue de la Grande Armée before turning right into rue de Presbourg. From here their route took them to the Trocadéro, the Tour Eiffel, Les Invalides, the Assemblé Nationale, the Louvre and then into rue de Rivoli and ten laps of the Champs Élysées.
An hour and a half before the riders were due to appear I took up position in rue de Presbourg, a narrow street leading to the Trocédero. Armed with my microphones and camera I was preparing to capture the riders passing so close to me that I could reach out and touch them.
As I waited a procession of team buses passed me, each a temporary refuge for the riders before and after each race stage.
Then, right on cue, three motorcycles from the gendarmerie hove into view heralding the approach of the convoy of official cars, press photographers and TV cameramen on motorcycles, the medical cars, the ambulances and the team cars surrounding the peloton, all 160 riders tightly bunched together.
The Brits are coming! Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome in the yellow jersey
Rue de Presbourg – The Peloton:
As you can hear, it took seven minutes for the convoy of attendant vehicles to pass but, as is the way with the Tour, you wait for hours and then the riders pass in the blink of an eye.
So, with the riders and their entourage safely on their way I made off for the Champs Élysées to record them negotiating ten laps of la plus belle avenue du monde before a dramatic sprint finish.
Tour de France 2015 in the Champs Élysées:
André Greipel won the final stage, his fourth stage of this year’s Tour de France despite Bryan Coquard’s final rush.
Chris Froome was declared the overall winner of the 102nd Tour de France and also King of the Mountains, making him the only British rider to have won the Tour twice and the first rider since Eddy Merckx in 1970 to claim the yellow and polka-dot jerseys in the same Tour.
The other podium finishers were Nairo Quintana who came second and his Movistar team mate, Alejandro Valverde, was in third place.
Last year’s winner, Vincenzo Nibali, was in fourth place and the two-time Tour winner, Alberto Contador, was in fifth place.
Peter Sagan won the points competition for the fourth straight time, Nairo Quintana was the best young rider, Romain Bardet was declared the the most aggressive rider of the whole race and the Movistar team won the team classification.
And spare a thought for Sébastian Chavanel, the Lanterne Rouge, the last man in the general classification, who finished with a time 4 hours 56 minutes and 59 seconds behind the winner.
This year’s Tour de France has been as exciting as ever and not without controversy but Chris Froome claimed the maillot jaune, the yellow jersey, after Stage 7 and with brilliant support from his team mates in Team Sky, and despite several serious challenges from Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali in the mountains, he successfully defended it to the end.
Bravo to Chris Froome and Team Sky for not only winning this year’s Tour but also for showing such resilience in the face of some remarkably inept journalism. And thanks too to all the other riders, including those who didn’t make to the end, all of whom showed enormous courage, determination and panache in the face of what seems to most of us to be an impossible challenge.