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16
Aug

The City as a Perpetual Concert

SOME NINETEENTH CENTURY OBSERVERS of Paris were quite forthright in their impressions of the sonic tapestry of the city.

For example, the American writer John Sanderson arrived in Paris for the first time in July 1835 and he wasn’t over impressed with what he found …

“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)

And in 1837, the journalist and flâneuse Delphine de Girandin wrote …

“In Paris today, the day is a perpetual concert, a series of uninterrupted serenades; Parisien ears have not one instant of rest.”

Delphine de Girandin: Lettres parisiennes du Vicomte de Launay: August 25, 1837

For John Sanderson the ‘noise that never dies’ included the sound of the notorious cries de Paris, the often piercing cries of the street traders hawking their wares, as well as the sound of traffic:

“… this rattling of cabs and other vehicles over the rough stones, this rumbling of omnibuses.”

Delphine de Girandin’s ‘perpetual concert’ was aimed at the itinerant street musicians:

“Starting in the morning, the organs of Barbary divide up the neighbourhoods of the city; an implacable harmony spreads over the city. [ … ] Finally, in the evening, great serenades! Violins, galoubets, flutes, guitars, and Italian singers! It’s a concert to die for, and there is no refuge; all this takes place under your window, it’s a residential concert that you cannot possibly avoid.”

And so to Paris in the twenty-first century; has anything changed?

The kind of sounds that John Sanderson and Delphine de Girandin encountered still exist in modern day Paris although the emphasis has changed.

The cries de Paris are now largely confined to the traders in the street markets although one can still come across men (it’s almost always men) calling out ‘Le Monde’ as they meander from café to café selling the afternoon edition of the daily newspaper. The street musicians still ply their trade although not quite so prolifically as in the nineteenth century. And then there’s the traffic! The sound of traffic pervades almost every nook and cranny of the city today and it can be overpowering and it’s perpetual; it really is the noise that never dies.

I spend a lot of time listening to Paris, so the notion of the city as a perpetual concert chimes with me. For me, it’s not just the street music that forms the concert, but rather all the sounds of the city. I see each individual sound, musical or not, as a dot on a score which, when added together, form a complete sonic composition. Or, to use a different metaphor, one might consider individual sounds as the warp and the weft, which, when woven together, form a sonic tapestry depicting the city.

Perhaps I can illustrate the notion of the city as a perpetual concert by recounting my perambulation around a part of Paris last Saturday afternoon.

I began at the Jardin du Luxembourg where I came upon this gentleman playing one of Delphine de Girandin’s organs of Barbary.

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Street organ at the Jardin du Luxembourg:

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Outside the gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg this little street organ sounds quite charming but, in different circumstances, I take Delphine de Girandin’s point: “ … there is no refuge; all this takes place under your window, it’s a residential concert that you cannot possibly avoid.”

Listening to this street organ, it’s impossible not to notice the pervading background sound of the passing traffic.

So let’s consider the sound of traffic, or as John Sanderson put it: “… this rattling of cabs and other vehicles over the rough stones, this rumbling of omnibuses.”

From the Jardin du Luxembourg, I walked the short distance to the Église Saint-Sulpice and then to the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

The Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés is home to the church of the former Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, founded in the 6th century, and the famous café Les Deux Magots, once the rendezvous of the literary and intellectual élite of the city.

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But for our purposes, the important thing about the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés is that it is paved with John Sanderson’s rough stones.

When people ask me what my favourite sound of Paris is I usually decline to answer. But if asked what sound most typifies Paris then my answer is unequivocal: “… this rattling of cabs and other vehicles over the rough stones, this rumbling of omnibuses.”

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Traffic over the pavé in Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés:

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The Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés revealed the sounds of passing cycles, cars, the occasional two-wheeler, a luggage trolley and, with a nod to John Sanderson, at least three omnibuses.

And these sounds deserve to be listened to attentively because, thanks to the pavé, the pervasive, noise polluting, cacophonous traffic noise that blights this city seems to have been transformed into a soporific, almost musical composition.

My guess is that most of the people in Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés on Saturday afternoon were probably unaware of these sounds other than providing them with a faint sonic background to their dash from the church to the café. Yet for someone wired up like me, these sounds not only form part of the perpetual concert but they also screech, Paris!

Having listened so far to modern day examples of Delphine de Girandin’s organs of Barbary and John Sanderson’s rattling of cabs and other vehicles over the rough stones, it’s possible to take the notion of the city as a perpetual concert a stage further.

A few steps away from the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés is the Rue de l’Abbaye, a street named after the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It’s a narrow street running some 170 metres from Rue Guillaume Apollinaire to Rue de l’Echaudé and, although Paris is a bustling, sound rich city, Rue de l’Abbaye is one of the few streets shrouded in relative quiet.

So can a quiet street like Rue de l’Abbaye contribute to our perpetual concert? To find out, I perched myself on the steps of N° 3 Rue de l’Abbaye, the Institut Catholique de Paris, known in English as the Catholic University of Paris, and began to record.

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Sounds in rue de l’Abbaye:

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In Rue de l’Abbaye we find the human and avian species intertwined; the footsteps, the voices and the rustle of clothing as people pass by interlaced with the gentle cooing of the pigeons enjoying a late lunch and the flapping of their wings as they flutter to and fro in search of a tastier morsel. The occasional traffic sounds are in proportion to the surrounding ambient sounds rather than dominating them.

It takes concentrated listening to get the most out of these sounds but the effort is worth it because what is revealed is yet another strand to the city as a perpetual concert.

To complete my afternoon’s listening I returned to the Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés and one of Delphine de Girandin’s great serenades! Not the violins, galoubets, flutes, guitars, and Italian singers she referred to but instead, the Dixieland jazz style of the early twentieth century.

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Jazz in Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés:

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This group of jazz musicians can be found most Saturdays at the southwest corner of Place Saint-Germain-des-Prés entertaining an enthusiastic audience comprising mostly tourists.

In conclusion, I look upon Paris as a city of perpetual concert in which all the sounds the city has to offer, ranging from the loud, brash and often unwelcome to the subtle and understated, are performers of equal value. John Sanderson refers to the noise that never dies and Delphine de Girandin to Parisien ears have not one instant of rest, both of which are true: the city is never without sound so the concert is perpetual. It’s just a question of learning to appreciate it.

Important Listening Note:

It’s a quirk of our times that when we listen to recorded sound we tend to crank up the volume too much. In order for you to appreciate the sounds featured in this post I have set the levels so that the sounds correctly relate to each other. In other words, the sounds will replay at the same level relative to each other as I heard them when they were recorded.

To get the best effect, set the level of your listening device to the sounds of the street organ remembering that less is always more! Then keep your listening device set to the same level for all the other sounds. 

Enjoy!

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Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés

 

 

9
Aug

In and Around Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt

NAMED AFTER THE FRENCH comedian, humorist and member of the French Resistance, rue Pierre Dac is just 23 metres long making it one of the shortest streets in Paris. Originally forming the upper part of rue de la Fontaine-du-But linking rue Lamarck and rue Caulaincourt in the 18th arrondissement, the street’s name was changed in 1995 in honour of Pierre Dac.

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The distinctive red sign in rue Pierre Dac points us towards the Métro station Lamarck-Caulaincourt and tells us that this station once formed part of the three Paris Métro lines owned by the Nord-Sud Company, or to give it its proper name, la Société du chemin de fer électrique souterrain Nord-Sud de Paris. In 1931, the Nord-Sud Company was taken over by its competitor, la Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris, which in turn was nationalised in 1948.

The Métro station Lamarck-Caulaincourt is perhaps best known for its distinctive entrance nestling between the two staircases that form most of rue Pierre Dac.

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Lamarck-Caulaincourt station was opened on 31st October 1912 and today it forms part of the Paris Métro Line 12 linking the stations Front Populaire in the north to Issy-les-Moulineaux in the south. The station platforms were renovated in 2000 – 2001 and further work was carried out in 2006.

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Lamarck-Caulaincourt platform before renovation

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Lamarck-Caulaincourt platform today

Since Lamarck-Caulaincourt station was constructed under the butte Montmartre, the large hill that forms the village of Montmartre, it’s not surprising that the station platforms are some 25 metres below the station entrance. For those who arrive at the station by train and find the 25-metre climb out of the station a challenge, RATP have thoughtfully provided a lift to make life easier.

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Sounds around Lamarck-Caulaincourt station platforms and an exit by lift:

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I recorded the sounds inside the station to add to my extensive archive of sounds of the Paris Métro network but I also recorded sounds from the staircases in rue Pierre Dac outside the station, which I found to be equally fascinating.

I sat on one of the staircases and simply observed life passing by just as the photographer did in the 1925 photograph below.

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L’entrée de la station de métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt entre les escaliers de la rue de la Fontaine-du-But, vers 1925. Photo collection Jean-Pierre Rigouard.

Sounds from the staircase in rue Pierre Dac:

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Entrance to the Métro station Lamarck-Caulaincourt between the staircases in rue Pierre Dac (formerly la rue de la Fontaine-du-But), August 2017

Sitting on a staircase in the street observing the world passing by might not be everyone’s idea of a good day out, but at least I wasn’t the only one!

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Observing through active listening is what I do and whether it’s the sounds of a Métro station platform or the sounds of a staircase in the street I’m always captivated by the stories sounds have to tell to the attentive listener.

Although we can see from the photograph what this place looked like in 1925, I can’t help wondering what it sounded like then and what stories those sounds would have told us.

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27
Jul

Gare d’Austerlitz and its Changing Sounds

SOME TIME AGO I reported that the Gare du Nord, one of the six main line railway stations in Paris and the busiest railway station in Europe, is undergoing a transformation. But it’s not only the Gare du Nord that is being transformed. On the left bank of the Seine, in the southeastern part of the city, another Parisian main line station is having a major facelift.

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Since 2012, work has been underway at Gare de Paris Austerlitz, usually called Gare d’Austerlitz, to construct four new platforms, refurbish the existing tracks and rebuild the station interior. The renovation work will be completed by 2020 thus doubling the capacity of the station to accommodate some of the current TGV Sud-Est and TGV Atlantique services which will be transferred from Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse, both of which are at maximum capacity.

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The redevelopment of Gare d’Austerlitz is not confined to the station itself. It will also include developing some 100,000 M² of land between the station and the neighbouring Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière to include housing, offices, public facilities and businesses.

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Built in 1840 to serve first the Paris-Corbeil then the Paris-Orleans line, the station, known originally as Gare d’Orléans, underwent its first makeover between 1862 and 1867 to a design by the French by architect Pierre-Louis Renaud, much of which is what we see today.

The name, Gare d’Austerlitz was adopted to commemorate Napoléon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805.

Métro Line 5 arrived at Gare d’Austerlitz in 1906, the station survived the great flood of 1910 and in 1926 it became the first Parisian railway station to stop handling steam trains when electrification arrived.

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Although the smallest of the Parisian main line stations, until the late 1980s Gare d’Austerlitz was one of the busiest with services not only to Orléans but also to Bordeaux and Toulouse. However, with the introduction of the TGV Atlantique using Gare Montparnasse, Gare d’Austerlitz lost most of its long-distance southwestern services and the station became a shadow of its former self. About 30 million passengers a year currently use Gare d’Austerlitz, about half as many as use Gare Montparnasse and a third as many as use the Gare du Nord.

The 21st century makeover of Gare d’Austerlitz will see the station upgraded to handle TGV trains, some of its former southwestern services restored and its capacity doubled.

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Capturing the sounds of Paris is what I do and capturing changing soundscapes of the city has a special fascination for me. Any renovation of public spaces not only changes the visual aspect of the place but also its soundscape and so I am anxious to follow how the soundscape of the Gare d’Austerlitz will change as the current development unfolds.

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This is what the station sounds like today:

Gare d’Austerlitz and its sounds:

It will be interesting to compare these sounds with sounds recorded from the same place in 2020 when the work is completed.

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Of course, we don’t have to wait until 2020 to find a changing soundscape around Gare d’Austerlitz. We only have to go up from the main station platforms to the Métro station Gare d’Austerlitz to discover how soundscapes change over time.

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These are sounds I recorded on the Métro station platform in 2011 when the old, bone shaking, MF67 trains were running.

Métro Line 5 – Gare d’Austerlitz in 2011

And these are sounds I recorded this year from exactly the same place. The difference is that the old rolling stock has been replaced with the newer, more energy efficient, smoother running, much more comfortable, air-conditioned, MF01 trains.

Métro Line 5 – Gare d’Austerlitz in 2017

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The old MF67 trains no longer ply Line 5 of the Paris Métro and their iconic sounds have gone forever. I believe that the everyday sounds that surround us are as much a part of our heritage as the magnificent buildings that grace this city and, although change is inevitable and often for the better, the sounds we lose in the process deserve to be preserved.

Just as the sounds on Métro Line 5 have changed so will the sounds in and around Gare d’Austerlitz as its renovation unfolds. And I will be there to capture the changing soundscape for posterity.

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16
Jul

Défilé Aérien du 14 Juillet

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR again, mid-July, la Fête Nationale and one of the high points of my sound recording year: the défilé aérien du 14 juillet.

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Le quatorze juillet is the French National Day, commemorating the 1790 Fete de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.

Each year, La Fête Nationale is celebrated throughout France but the centerpiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République. The défilé aérien, or fly-past, is part of the parade.

This year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I, 145 US troops took part in the parade in the Champs Elysées with their President, Donald Trump looking on.

02As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, the parade in the Champs Elysées and the presence of Donald Trump were of much less interest to me than the events in the air.

This year the défilé aérien was made up of 63 aircraft: 49 from the French air force, 6 from the French navy and 8 from the United States, all flying in close formation.

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 10.30.30

The Aircraft Fly-Past:

 

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 10.30.44

Nine Alphajets of la Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team, led the fly-past complete with their signature bleu – blanc – rouge smoke. Then, close behind, came six F-16 Fighting Falcons of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, and two Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed for the USAF.

Created in 1953 and based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, the Thunderbirds Squadron tours the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft.

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The US Thunderbirds and F-22 Raptors heading for the Champs Elysées

This was the first time I had seen either the Thunderbirds or the F-22 Raptor so I was able to tick yet more boxes in my ‘plane spotting’ list as well as adding their distinctive sounds to my Paris Soundscapes Archive.

Another first was to see not one but TWO Airbus A-400M Atlas military transport aircraft flying in formation. This multi-national, four-engine turboprop aircraft was designed by Airbus Defence and Space as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities which, along with its transport role, can also perform aerial refueling and medical evacuation. The first of these aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in August 2013.

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Two Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft heading for the Champs Elysées

A little over half an hour after the aircraft had passed, the helicopters hove into view, 29 of them representing the French Army, Air Force, Navy and civilian services all flying in close formation.

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The Helicopter Fly-Past:

 

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Note: It’s hard to record the sound of helicopters en masse without making them sound like a hive of insects!

The défilé aérien is an event I look forward to each year, not because of the display of military hardware and fighting power on display, but simply because I have always been fascinated by aircraft. I guess I’ve never lost that child like wonder of watching and listening to flying machines.

Here are some more of my iPhone pictures of this year’s défilé aérien:

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28
Jun

Tourists and Pigeons

IT IS ESTIMATED THAT between 30,000 and 50,000 people visit the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris every day. It’s not surprising then that the queue waiting to get into the cathedral is often longer than the cathedral itself.

The queue stretches across the Parvis Notre-Dame, the square in front of the cathedral, which was renamed Parvis Notre-Dame – Place Jean-Paul II in 2006 in honour of Pope Jean-Paul II who died the previous year.

The square is a magnet for tourists who, as well as visiting the cathedral, often queue up to have their photograph taken at a small octagonal bronze plaque surrounded by a circular stone embedded into the ground bearing the legend, ‘Point zéro des routes de France’.

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As the legend suggests, this is point zero, the point from which all distances from Paris to the rest of France are measured.

Visitors to this spot might not know though that this was once the site of the infamous l’Echelle de Justice, the pillory before which the condemned, with bare head and feet and with a rope around their neck and a placard on their chest and back describing their crime, were require to kneel, publicly acknowledge their crime and seek absolution. It was here in March 1314 for example, that Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars, heard the Pope’s decree condemning him to be burned alive!

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Tourists weary of standing in line to visit the cathedral or jostling to take a look at point zero often gravitate towards the side of the parvis closest to la Seine to feed, or to be swamped by, huge flocks of pigeons.

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Tourists and Pigeons:

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Unlike the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris, or point zero, or even the fabulous Crypte Archeologique du Parvis Notre-Dame, which lies underneath the parvis, these sounds of tourists and pigeons may not feature in the tourist guide books, but for me at least they are some of the quintessential summer sounds of Paris.

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11
Jun

Marche Pour la Fermature des Abattoirs

DURING MY TIME living in Paris I have witnessed and recorded countless street demonstrations, or manifestations as we call them here. Whether it’s the spectacle of one million people filling the streets in 2010 to oppose the then Président Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reforms or a mere handful of people protesting about the implementation of some obscure local byelaw, people here are not shy when it comes to taking to the streets to make their voices heard. Whatever the issue under protest, and whether I agree with it or not, I find the politics of the street endlessly fascinating.

Yesterday afternoon I was in the Beaubourg area of Paris, the area around the Centre Pompidou, recording street musicians. Having made several recordings, I headed off to a café for much needed refreshment and a sit down, but on the way I came upon a manifestation progressing along rue Beaubourg.

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I discovered that this was an animal rights protest under the ‘Marche Pour la Fermature des Abattoirs’ banner, a march aimed at closing down abattoirs. I also discovered that this march was not confined to Paris; similar marches are taking place across the world this weekend.

02Marche Pour la Fermature des Abattoirs:

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As you can hear, the protestors’ vocal theme centred on the chant, ‘Fermons les Abattoirs’, close the abattoirs, a theme supported by leaflets with the message:

It’s time to claim loud and clear the abolition of slavery of all the animals, the abolition of the practices which cause them the biggest wrongs: their breeding, their fishing and their slaughter.

Every year in the world, 60 billion land animals and more than 1000 billion aquatic animals are killed without necessity, which means that 164 million land animals and more than 2,74 billion aquatic animals are killed every day.

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This was a large, well-organised, enthusiastic and peaceful march with a wide cross-section of people taking to the street to express their point of view. Which brings me back to what I said at the beginning: whatever the protest, I find the politics of the street endlessly fascinating.

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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.

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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