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29
Jul

Tour de France 2015

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.

Tour de France 2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tour de France 2015

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.

Tour de France 2015

The Brits are coming!  Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome in the yellow jersey

Rue de Presbourg – The Peloton:

 

Tour de France 2015

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.

Tour de France 2015

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.

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Chris Froome

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.

Tour de France 2015

 

22
Jul

World Listening Day 2015

THE WORLD LISTENING PROJECT is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to understanding the world and its natural environment, societies and cultures through the practices of listening and field recording.

In July each year the World Listening Project promotes World Listening Day celebrating the listening practices of the world and the ecology of its acoustic environments.

The theme for World Listening Day this year was “H2O”, reflecting on water, metaphorically in how we listen, or through creative events inspired by water and sound across the globe. The 2015 theme resonates at a time where we need to shift our collective thinking and actions towards water globally.

Since the theme of World Listening Day this year was water, I decided to explore the sounds of la Seine, the river that arcs its way through the centre of Paris, for my contribution.

Rather than seeking out the typical sounds of the river, waves lapping or boats creaking for example, I decided to set up my microphones at a very popular Parisian beauty spot to see what sounds I might capture.

The place I chose, the western tip of the Île Saint-Louis, is in fact in the centre of the river with river traffic passing on both sides.

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The Île Saint-Louis, named after King Louis IX, whose piety and generosity led him to be canonised in 1297, is one of two natural islands in la Seine, the other being the Île de la Cité. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, King Louis XIII, along with the queen mother Marie de Médicis, decided to implement an urban plan first devised by Louis’ father, King Henri IV, which transformed the Île Saint-Louis from little more than a cow pasture to a much sought after conclave of elegant residences where wealthy businessmen and politicians came to live away from the noise of the inner city. Today, the Ile Saint-Louis is one of the most authentic seventeenth century neighbourhoods in Paris.

Ile Saint-Louis

The western tip of the Île Saint-Louis is much frequented by tourists and locals alike.

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Pêcheurs à la ligne à la pointe ouest de l’île Saint-Louis. 1935. © Albert Harlingue / Roger-Viollet : Image courtesy of Paris en Images

I set up my microphones on the tip of the Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis pointing downstream towards the Île de la Cité and the Hôtel de Ville and began to record.

I didn’t move the microphones to follow any particular sound but rather just left them in one place to capture the ambient sound just as one would do with a long exposure photograph.

Brasserie de l’Île Saint-Louis

Sounds from the Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis:

Brasserie de l’Île Saint-Louis

I was immediately reminded that while the banks of la Seine might be romantic for some, la Seine is and always has been a working river. The industrial barges passing by remind us that this part of the river was once the commercial heart of the city.

The Port Saint-Landry was the first port to serve Paris but it was soon surpassed in importance by the Port de la Grève, which was situated alongside the wall on the right in the picture above. The port was controlled by the Prévôt des Marchands and it was the entry point for a wide variety of merchandise including wine – mainly Burgundy and Champagne, wheat, hay, fish, wood, charcoal and soil.

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Les bateaux sur le port de grève. Plan de Gomboust, 1652

All the goods shipped in by river were unloaded on a grève, a kind of beach made of sand and gravel which gave its name to both the port and to the Place de Grève, the open space in front of the Hôtel de Ville, depicted so graphically by the poet, novelist and dramatist, Victor Hugo, in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Anyone living in France today will be all too familiar with the expression faire grève, which means to go on strike. Originally though it had quite the opposite meaning. It referred to the unemployed men who would stand around the port actively seeking casual work.

Brasserie de l’Île Saint-Louis

The sounds I recorded from the Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis may perhaps not be the most elegant sounds I’ve recorded along the banks of la Seine but I think they are nevertheless important.

Both locals and tourists, young and old, come to the Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis in great numbers to relax, to meet friends, to picnic, or just to admire the view. With other things on their mind it’s easy to imagine that they are perhaps scarcely aware of the busy, work-a-day sounds around them.

But the sounds are there and if we care to listen to them carefully we can hear the engines of commerce plying la Seine as they have for centuries and much else too.

These sounds are really what World Listening Day is about – understanding the world through the practice of listening.

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Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis: Image via Wikipedia

And while on the World Listening Day theme of water, la Seine is not a place you would want to plunge into for a quick dip. But Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, has pledged to have us bathing in the river after the 2024 Olympic Games she hopes will be held in the city. We shall see!

15
Jul

La Fête Nationale 2015

LE QUATORZE JUILLET, or la Fête Nationale Française, is the French National Day, commemorating the 1790 Fete de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.

Each year, La Fête Nationale is celebrated throughout France but the centrepiece 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.

And each year, when all eyes are on the Champs Elysées, my eyes turn skywards to the défilé aérien, the fly-past by aircraft from the French L’Armée de l’Air and helicopters from the air force, the navy, the army, civil security and the police.

This year, this wonderful piece of aerial choreography was masterminded by Général de division Jean-Christophe Zimmermann, commandant en second de la défense aérienne et des opérations aériennes, Paris.

La Fête Nationale 2015 - La Défense

Watching and waiting for the défilé aérien

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of France and the l’Ordre national de la Libération, France’s second national Order after the Légion d’honneur, instituted by General De Gaulle, Leader of the “Français Libres” – the Free French movement – with Edict No. 7, signed in Brazzaville on November 16th, 1940. Admission to the Order is meant to “reward individuals, military and civil organizations for outstanding service in the effort to procure the liberation of France and the French Empire“.

To mark this anniversary the French aerobatic display team, the Patrouille de France, opened proceedings by paying a tribute to the French Resistance by flying twelve Alphajets in a formation representing the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French movement.

La Fête Nationale 2015 - La Défense

The Free French Air Forces (FAFL) were honoured with a C135 tanker aircraft from flight refuelling group 2/91 “Bretagne”, followed by four Rafale C jet fighters of 2/30 squadron “Normandie-Niemen” and four Mirage 2000 multirole jet fighters of the 2/5 fighter squadron “Ile de France”.

La Fête Nationale 2015 – The Aircraft:

While listening to my recording of the aircraft passing you can see the composition of the entire aircraft procession in the chart below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 18.44.54

Click on the image to enlarge

Apart from the Patrouille de France formation the highlights for me were the magnificent Airbus A400M multi-national, four-engine turboprop, military transport aircraft with its delicious throaty growl and, bringing up the rear, the Airbus A340 strategic transport aircraft.

Appearing in the defilé aérien for the first time, this A340 from the transport squadron 3/60 “Esterel” took part in a recent operation to transport of 17 tons of emergency humanitarian cargo to Nepal following the earthquake that struck the capital, Kathmandu, in April this year.

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Airbus A400M: Image via Wikipedia

About an hour after the aircraft passed it was the turn of the helicopters.

La Fête Nationale 2015 – The Helicopters:

While listening to my recording of the helicopters passing you can see the composition of the entire helicopter fleet in the chart below together with some interesting facts about the height, speed and distances flown by all the participants in the défilé aérien.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 18.29.01

Click on the image to enlarge

I’ve been fascinated by flying and anything that can fly for as long as I can remember and to see all these aircraft and helicopters passing overhead is always a highlight of my year.

And every time I see flying displays like this I am reminded of the poem, Locksley Hall, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in which he foretells the future with prophetic accuracy:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,           

Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;                  

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,           

Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;           

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew           

From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;           

Locksley Hall

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)

 

8
Jul

Exploring the Fontaine de Belleville

AS WELL AS BEING a plein-air gallery of street art, the pavilion at the top of the Parc de Belleville also affords a panoramic view across Paris.

Parc de Belleville

While the Parc de Belleville vies with Montmartre for the distinction of being the highest point in Paris, the Parc de Belleville is unchallenged as the highest park in the city and the view from the top is quite spectacular.

Parc de Belleville

Designed by the architect, François Debulois, and the landscaper, Paul Brichet, the Parc de Belleville covers 45,000 square meters of hillside in the 20th arrondissement stretching from rue Piat in the northeast to rue Julien-Lacroix in the southwest. It was opened to the public in December 1988.

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In medieval times the fertile land and natural springs on this hillside were perfect for cultivating grapes and so vineyards appeared. From the fourteenth century onwards, taverns and guinguettes also began to proliferate. Guinguettes were drinking establishments that also served as restaurants and dance halls. Up until the mid nineteenth century Belleville was outside the Paris city limits and was exempt from the tax on alcohol so the taverns and guinguettes offering cheap drink were hugely popular.

In the mid nineteenth century a gypsum quarry was carved out of the hillside and that attracted a population of seasonal workers who worked on Baron Haussmann’s Parisian construction projects during the winter and returned home in the summer to tend their fields. Itinerant workers together with cheap drink didn’t exactly enhance the reputation of the hillside and the area was dubbed ‘insalubrious’.

In the nineteenth century this hillside was also known for the grand party organised each year for Mardi Gras. On the last day of the Mardi Gras celebrations huge crowds came to witness the ‘Descente de la Courtille’, named after the cheap taverns and restaurants that lined the rue de Belleville.

Parc de Belleville

The Open-Air Theatre

Today, the Parc de Belleville has a small museum, the Maison de l’Air, designed to highlight the importance of fresh air and the problems of pollution. There is also a wooden playground for children and an open-air theatre all set against a background of some 1,200 trees and shrubs and 1,000 m² of lawn.

Parc de Belleville

A feature of the Parc de Belleville that makes full use of the sloping hillside is the Fontaine de Belleville. The name is perhaps a little misleading because it’s really a water cascade rather than a traditional fountain. It falls for 100 metres down the hillside making it the longest water feature in Paris.

I went to the Fontaine de Belleville to explore the different sound textures as the water falls from the top of the park to the bottom. Although I’ve been to the Parc de Belleville many times I’ve never managed to be there when the entire water cascade has been working … and this visit was no exception. Some stretches were inexplicably dry and others were subject to construction work but I was nevertheless able to explore most of the cascade.

Parc de Belleville

Sounds of the Fontaine de Belleville:

Parc de Belleville

At the top of the park the cascade begins its descent in two parallel streams separated by a walkway. Each stream falls over two flights of steps into a pool at the bottom. I began recording the sounds at the foot of the pool where excess water was overflowing into a drain. Presently a little girl appeared and, bedecked in her summer dress, she jumped into the pool with a splash. This was obviously fun because she kept on doing it completely oblivious to my microphones.

Parc de Belleville

Moving on, I passed part of the cascade nestling in the pavé and then I came upon more steps where the cascade again splits into two. I stopped to record the water trickling over the steps on one side.

Parc de Belleville

I found these sounds particularly interesting. First, the sonic texture of the water seemed to be gentler and better defined at this point than it was further up the hill. Second, the speed of the water varied which changed the sonic profile. And third, there was a curious sound in the background which sounded a little like the rumble of thunder. On this particularly hot summer’s day I can confirm that it wasn’t thunder but rather the rumble of the water emerging from the previous section of the cascade from a hole at the back of the top step in what seemed like a procession of large bubbles. As each bubble burst the flow of water increased. I found this absolutely fascinating to listen to.

Parc de Belleville

Moving on again, I became aware that this water cascade does not operate entirely thanks to gravity, it requires assistance. At the end of the pavé circle is a pool where the sounds of water compete with the mechanical sounds of the pumping system.

Parc de Belleville

I recorded sounds from the edge of the pool where the sonic texture of the water changed to more of a hiss competing with the sounds of the pumping system and where the sound of occasional birdsong provided a welcome counterpoint.

Parc de Belleville

I ventured down some steps to stand underneath the pool where I found the sounds of the water falling over the edge neatly relegated the sounds of the pumping system back into second place. The pumping system is required not only to assist the flow of water down the hillside but also to pump it back up to the top again. It follows therefore that the mechanical sounds of the pumping system are as much a part of the sound tapestry of the cascade as the sounds of the water itself.

Parc de Belleville

This graffiti covered section of the cascade did not carry water so I could only imagine what it might sound like if it was in full flow.

Below this point a large section of the cascade was being renovated so it too was out of action, which was rather a shame because it’s the part of the cascade that usually attracts most visitors especially on a hot summer’s day. But all was not lost; this section at the bottom of the cascade leading to rue Julien-Lacroix at least was still open.

Parc de Belleville

I found exploring the Fontaine de Belleville and listening carefully to its sounds a fascinating way to spend a morning.

Listening to the little girl splashing in the pool at the top and the children at the bottom doing much the same I was reminded of a line from the poem by Richard Wilbur, A Baroque Wall-Fountain in the Villa Sciarra;

Happy in all that ragged, loose collapse of water, its effortless descent and flatteries of spray…”

Parc de Belleville

26
Jun

Une Soirée au Pré Catelan

MANY PERIODS OF French history interest and fascinate me but perhaps none more so than the period between 1871 and 1914, years characterised by optimism, relative peace, economic prosperity, technological and scientific innovation and a flourishing of the arts – a period that became known as La Belle Époque.

The term La Belle Époque, which means little more than ‘the good old days’, wasn’t coined until much later when the period could be viewed through the prism of history. Although debate surrounds the precise dates used to define the period, 1871 to 1914 seem the most logical since La Belle Époque was sandwiched between two catastrophes, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the subsequent bloody events of the Paris Commune and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Set against these events, it’s easy to see how the intervening years came to be seen as a golden age.

Hanging on the wall of a gallery in the Musée Carnavalet, a museum dedicated to the history of Paris, is a painting that for me at least epitomises La Belle Époque.

Musée Carnavalet

Une Soirée au Pré Catelan (1909): Henri Gervex (1852 – 1929): Musée Carnavalet

Painted by Henri Gervex using oils on canvas, Une Soirée au Pré Catalan is 217 cm high and 318 cm wide and it depicts an evening scene at the prestigious Pré Catelan restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne.

In 1905, the architect Guillaume Tronchet was asked by the City of Paris to build Le Pré Catelan, a luxury casino and restaurant. The casino didn’t materialise but the restaurant did. In 1908, the celebrated Parisian restaurateur, Léopold Mourier, owner of the restaurant Foyot, the Café de Paris, the Pavillon d’Armenonville and later Le Fouquet’s, bought Le Pré Catelan and made it one of the most fashionable places in town.

It was Léopold Mourier who commissioned Une Soirée au Pré Catelan, presumably to advertise just how fashionable a place Le Pré Catelan was.

So let’s take a closer look at the picture:

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In the foreground we see a group of three people. The lady on the left in orange is Madame Gervex, wife of the painter.

The lady with her back to us is the celebrated American heiress and socialite, Anna Gould, daughter of the financier, Jay Gould. She was married to Paul Ernest Boniface de Castellane, elder son and heir apparent to the Marquis de Castellane. They divorced in 1906 after he had spent about $10 million of her family’s money. The gentleman in the group is Anna Gould’s second husband, Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord, Duc de Sagan, cousin of her first husband.

Inside the restaurant we see three more celebrated figures.

Seated at a table on the right is a rather portly gentleman looking directly at us. This is the Marquis Jules Félix Philippe Albert de Dion de Wandonne, pioneer of the French automobile industry. The Marquis and the engineers, Georges Bouton and Charles Trépardoux, formed a partnership in 1883, which became the De Dion-Bouton automobile company, once the world’s largest automobile manufacturer.

Seated at a table on the far left is the moustachioed figure of the Brazilian aeronaut, Alberto Santos-Dumont. He designed, built, and flew the first practical airship, demonstrating that routine controlled flight was possible. Following this pioneering work, Santos-Dumont constructed a heavier-than-air aircraft, the 14-bis. On 23 October 1906 he flew this to make the first verified powered heavier-than-air flight, certified by the Aéro Club de France and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

And seated at a table in the centre wearing a black hat and a coquettish countenance is Anne Marie Chassaigne, a former dancer at the Folies Bergère, now known as Liane de Pougy, a noted demimondaine and one of the most famous women in France at the time, constantly sought after by wealthy and titled men. Although we can’t see a companion we can assume that she’s not dining alone.

We can see three people leaving Le Pré Catelan.

One is Arthur Meyer, a French press baron. He was director of Le Gaulois, a notable conservative French daily newspaper eventually taken over by Le Figaro. With him are the Count and Countess Greffulhe who are about to get into their car.

Such was the fashionable clientele in Le Pré Catelan one evening in 1909.

Pré Catalan; Bois de Boulogne

Although now owned by Sodexo, the giant French food services and facilities management corporation (that’s a fancy way of saying they provide food and hire out meeting rooms), Le Pré Catelan under it’s head chef, Frédéric Anton, is still a very fashionable place. With three Michelin stars it’s among the best restaurants in Paris.

Pré Catalan; Bois de Boulogne

Today, from the outside, the restaurant is hidden from view behind a large hedge, presumably to deter the paparazzi but inside it remains pure Belle Époque.

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Image: Le Pré Catelan

I’ve spent many hours looking at Une Soirée au Pré Catelan, absorbing the atmosphere of La Belle Époque. I can see the optimism in the faces of the Marquis de Dion and Alberto Santos-Dumont foretelling the day when the motor car and air travel will become common currency.

I can see the pride in the face of the Countess Greffulhe under her feathered hat knowing that she helped the artist James Whistler and actively promoted the artists Auguste Rodin, Gustave Moreau and Gabriel Fauré, who dedicated his Pavane to her. She is no doubt proud too that she was a patron of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and helped Marie Curie to finance the creation of the Institut du Radium and Edouard Branly to pursue his researches into radio transmission.

With my Belle Époque eye I can see that it would be perfectly normal for a rich socialite like Anna Gould, or a high-class courtesan like Liane de Pougy, or a press magnate like Arthur Meyer to be found at Le Pré Catalan. They were after all what we would now call ‘celebrities’ and after the ignominy of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the hiatus of the Paris Commune they were surely entitled to a little joie de vivre.

Maybe so, but La Belle Époque was never the reality of life in Paris or in France. There was a large economic underclass who never experienced much of the Belle Époque’s wonders and entertainments. Poverty remained endemic in Parisian urban slums for decades after the Belle Époque ended and the Dreyfus Affair exposed the dark realities of French anti-Semitism and government corruption. No wonder that some of the artistic elite saw the fin de siècle in a pessimistic light.

Today, a hundred years on from the end of the period we call La Belle Époque, Le Pré Catelan remains a preserve of the rich and famous. If you have to look at the prices on the menu then you shouldn’t be there.

Pré Catalan; Bois de Boulogne

But the gardens of Le Pré Catelan are free to all and it was while walking through the gardens that I had time to think and to contemplate how I could express Une Soirée au Pré Catelan not only in words but also in sound.

Pré Catalan; Bois de Boulogne

A simple water sprinkler gave me the answer … use the natural sounds recorded in the Musée Carnavalet sitting in front of the painting, morph to the natural sounds in and around the Jardin du Pré Catelan and then back again to the painting.

And this is the result.

Pré Catalan; Bois de Boulogne

Une Soirée au Pré Catelan:

Pré Catalan; Bois de Boulogne

Even though I bristle at the excesses of the rich and the plight of the economic underclass, both then and now, and although I’m very aware of the danger of slipping into an overly romanticised view of history, I remain fascinated by La Belle Époque. I’m quite sure I shall return to the Musée Carnavalet to contemplate Une Soirée au Pré Catelan and visit the Jardin du Pré Catelan many more times. I shall though leave my rose-tinted spectacles at home!

Pré Catalan; Bois de Boulogne

19
Jun

The Halle Pajol and the Jardin Rosa Luxemburg

STEPPING OUT OF the Métro station La Chapelle in the 18th arrondissement it’s easy to forget that you’re in Paris.

Historically a working class area with a predominantly immigrant population, the Quartier de la Chapelle is lively and extremely cosmopolitan. A large Sri Lankan community together with smaller Turkish, Pakistani and Chinese communities as well as an influx over the last ten years or so of ‘bobos’ (a term coined by the American journalist David Brooks to describe a group of “highly educated folk who have one foot in the bohemian world of creativity and another foot in the bourgeois realm of ambition and worldly success”) make La Chapelle a diverse and fascinating neighbourhood.

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The Quartier de la Chapelle straddles the array of railway tracks entering both the Gare du Nord and the Gare de l’Est and it is in rue Pajol, a street alongside the railway approaching the Gare de l’Est, that an impressive urban renewal project has been undertaken.

Originally known as rue de la Gare du chemin de fer de Strasbourg, the name rue Pajol was adopted in 1865 in honour of Général d’Empire Pierre Claude Pajol, a distinguished cavalry officer in Napoléon’s Grande Armée.

An interesting fact about rue Pajol is that in 1870, Joseph Meister and Marie-Angélique Sonnefraud married and settled at N° 22. In 1885, their nine-year old son, also Joseph Meister, was bitten by a rabid dog. He became the first person to be inoculated against rabies by Louis Pasteur and the first person to be successfully treated for the infection.

Today, the Hindu Temple de Ganesh de Paris Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam dedicated to Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune, stands at the southern end of rue Pajol while at the northern end, adjacent to the railway tracks of the Gare de l’Est, is the impressive Halle Pajol, which opened early in 2014 after three years of construction work.

Jardins Rosa Luxemburg

The Halle Pajol

Funded by the City of Paris and designed by JAP (Jourda Architectes Paris) led by Françoise-Hélène Jourda, the new Halle Pajol emerged from an old SNCF warehouse built in the 1920s but long since abandoned. The City of Paris bought the site in 2004 and earmarked it for redevelopment. The idea was to enhance the district by providing increased public amenities and improving the urban landscape through the creation of green spaces while preserving the architectural heritage of the original building.

What had become an unsightly piece of industrial archaeology has now been transformed into a centre for the community comprising the largest youth hostel in the capital, a library – the Vaclav Havel Library (named after the former President of the Czech Republic), offices, an auditorium, shops, a bakery and cafés.

Jardins Rosa Luxemburg

The Halle Pajol

The Halle Pajol has been designed with sustainability in mind. Along with its elegant wooden frontage it produces its own electricity from 3,500 M2 of photovoltaic panels in the roof.

As well as the Halle Pajol itself, this urban development also includes some 9,000 M2 of green space. Named after the philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist, Rosa Luxemburg, the Rosa Luxemburg Gardens comprise covered and uncovered gardens stretching alongside the railroad tracks blending in with the surrounding landscape.

Jardins Rosa Luxemburg

As with the Halle Pajol, ecology rhymes with economy. Almost all materials used in the gardens, the crushed tiles, the pavers and the rails, all come from the original building.

Jardins Rosa Luxemburg

Under the Halle Pajol, a 2,500 M² covered garden provides a quiet space; a place to stroll and discover a variety of plant species including birch, cedar, wild flowers and aquatic plants. The garden is irrigated by rainwater collected on the roof.

Jardins Rosa Luxemburg

The covered garden extends outside and includes play areas for children. Outside, the garden is covered with decontaminated soil to a depth of one metre and is planted with local species including pine, ash, mountain ash and flowering cherry.

Alongside the rail tracks, two plots of 100 M2 kitchen gardens have been established and made available to neighbourhood associations. Local residents can go there and grow flowers or vegetables.

In addition, small plots are available for children to create their own gardens.

Jardins Rosa Luxemburg

The sounds outside and inside the Jardin Rosa Luxemburg:

Jardins Rosa Luxemburg

In the north, the garden follows the topography leading pedestrians by successive slopes out onto rue Pajol and rue Riquet.

In the last few weeks a 1,010 M² extension to the Jardin Rosa Luxemburg has been opened with two lawns and a wooden playground suitable for children from 3 to 8 years, which includes a giant wooden elephant, giraffe and crocodile.

Jardins Rosa Luxemburg

Sadly, the award-winning architect and driving force behind the Halle Pajol and the Jardin Rosa Luxembourg, Françoise-Hélène Jourda, passed away on 31st May 2015.

This post is dedicated to her memory.

10

 

 

14
Jun

Alphonsine Plessis – Echoes of a Courtesan

OPENED IN JANUARY 1825 as la Cimetière des Grandes Carrières (Cemetery of the Large Quarries), Montmartre cemetery was built in the hollow of an abandoned gypsum quarry previously used during the French Revolution as a mass grave. Located near the beginning of Rue Caulaincourt in Place de Clichy its sole entrance was constructed on Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.

Montmartre Cemetary

Avenue Rachel looking towards the entrance to Montmartre cemetery

Halfway between the traffic-strewn Place de Clichy and the fin de siècle Moulin Rouge cabaret, the Avenue Rachel may be a calm and reassuringly quiet street today but in February 1847 this street was lined with hundreds of people gathered to mourn the passing of a French courtesan and mistress to a number of prominent and wealthy men. Charles Dickens was there and reported, “One could have believed that she was Jeanne d’Arc or some other national heroine, so deep was the general sadness.”

Today, her body lies entombed in the cemetery’s 15th Division. Few flowers adorn the tomb and even the picture once attached to the front of it has gone. It seems that she has been abandoned.

Montmartre Cemetary

The tomb as it is today

03a

The tomb as it once was: Image courtesy of Paris en Images

Many will know her as Marguerite Gautier, the main character in La Dame aux Camélias by Alexandre Dumas the younger, or as Violetta Valéry, the leading soprano character in Guiseppi Verdi’s opera La Traviata but few will remember her for who she really was, Alphonsine Plessis, who died from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-three.

04

Alphonsine Plessis: Portrait by Édouard Viénot

Alphonsine Rose Plessis was born on 15th January 1824 at Nonant-le-Pin in Normandy. She was the daughter of Marin Plessis, an alcoholic who offered her to men from the age of twelve. At the age of fifteen she moved to Paris where she found work in a dress shop and by the time she was sixteen she had become aware that prominent men were willing to give her money in exchange for her company in both private and social settings. One of her suitors, Agénor, son of Duc de Guiche, took care of her education and turned her into a well-mannered lady. By now she preferred to be called Marie and she also added the faux noble “Du” to her name making her Marie Duplessis.

05

Watercolour of Marie Duplessis at the theatre, by Camille Roqueplan

By the age of twenty, Alphonsine Plessis or Marie Duplessis as she now preferred, had reached the height of the Parisian demi-monde. She was taken up by the elderly and very wealthy Comte de Stackelberg, a former Russian ambassador to Vienna. He kept her in high style, paying her bills, importing her carriage horses from England, and providing boxes in the best theatres in Paris. She was briefly married to one of her lovers, the French nobleman, Count Édouard de Perregaux, as a result of which she became the Comtesse de Perregaux.

Her apartment on the elegant boulevard de Madeleine was filled with 18th-century furniture, paintings, silks and her modest collection of 200 books. Here, many of the brilliant minds of France gathered at her dinner parties, including Honoré de Balzac, Theophile Gautier, and Alexandre Dumas, fils. For almost a year, between September 1844 and August 1845, Alphonsine was the mistress of Alexandre Dumas, fils and then, towards the end of her life, she is believed to have become the mistress of the pianist and composer Franz Liszt, who reportedly wished to live with her.

Alexandre Dumas, fils, was so enamoured of Alphonsine that he based his romantic novel, La Dame aux Camélias, on her. The novel appeared within a year of her death. In the book, Dumas became ‘Armand Duval’ and Alphonsine ‘Marguerite Gautier’. Dumas also adapted his story as a stage play, which in turn inspired Verdi’s opera La Traviata.

06

Poster for the world premiere of La Traviata

In both Alexandre Dumas’ book and in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera the heroine’s death is described as an unending agony during which she is abandoned by everyone and can only regret what might have been.

In real life, Alphonsine died from what is now called tuberculosis but was then called consumption, a disease that in the nineteenth century accounted for one in four deaths. She was aged twenty-three. Within a few weeks of her death her belongings were auctioned off to pay her enormous debts.

Montmartre Cemetary

Despite her appalling start in life, Alphonsine aspired to make her way in ‘society’. She became one of the nineteenth century’s grandes horizontales, courtesans who were able to maintain lavish lifestyles and who influenced the dress and tastes of cultured women while inspiring other pretty but poor young women with high ambitions.

She was a popular courtesan with a catalogue of lovers and was not shy about taking advantage of their wealth and position to enhance her own status. She hosted a salon where politicians, writers, and artists gathered for stimulating conversation, she rode in the fashionable Bois de Boulogne, she attended opera performances and had her portrait painted.

But, despite her apparent success, just like Marguerite Gautier in La Dame aux Camélias and Violetta in La Traviata, Alphonsine died abandoned, regretting what might have been.

I’ve been fascinated by Alphonsine Plessis for a very long time. My first reading of Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias captivated me and Verdi’s La Traviata can reduce me to tears in the blink of an eye. Both of course are fictions inspired by Alphonsine Plessis but both I think capture the essence of this ultimately tragic young woman.

Standing beside Alphonsine’s tomb in Montmartre cemetery the other day I decided to produce something to convey my fascination with Alphonsine Rose Plessis:

Alphonsine Plessis – Montmartre Cemetery:

Montmartre Cemetary

Placing microphones around the foot of Alphonsine’s tomb I recorded the ambient sounds on a sunny summer afternoon. I then added the sounds of the ‘Fantasia sur La Traviata’ composed by Pierre Agricol Genin and played by two exceptional musicians, Barbara Hill on flute and Laurie Randolph on guitar. For those familiar with La Traviata, this music depicts the life and death of Violetta, and by extension, of Alphonsine Plessis. The subdued ambient sounds provide both a contemporary context and echoes of the past, they are after all the sounds that Alphonsine hears and has heard every day lying in this place.

Note:

My especial thanks to Barbara Hill for permission to use this recording of ‘Fantasia sur La Traviata’.

Alfons_Mucha_-_1896_-_La_Dame_aux_Camélias_-_Sarah_Bernhardt

Poster for a performance of the theatrical version of La Dame aux Camélias, with Sarah Bernhardt (1896)

 

8
Jun

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil – Latest News

IN MARCH THIS YEAR I published a blog piece about the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, the botanical garden set within a large greenhouse complex at the southern edge of the Bois de Boulogne.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

In that piece I recounted how these gardens, first established in 1761 under Louis XV, are under threat because of plans by the Fédération Française de Tennis to extend the neighbouring Roland Garros international tennis complex into the south east corner of the gardens. This extension, if it goes ahead, will include the demolition of the nineteenth-century Jean-Camille Formigé greenhouses to make way for a new, semi-sunken, tennis court with seating capacity for 5,000 spectators.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

At the time of writing my last piece about the gardens the Paris City Council had just unanimously adopted a resolution that a further study into an alternative plan proposed by local residents associations and supporters of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil should be conducted by an independent organisation so that the Paris City Council could debate and then vote on it.

But now, things have moved on again.

Last Wednesday, despite the unanimous resolution of the Paris City Council, the French Prime Minister, Manual Valls, issued a statement instructing Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, to sign the Permis de Construire, the building permit required before work on the Roland Garros extension can proceed. So far, Ségolène Royal has not done so.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

On Sunday afternoon, as Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic were locking horns on the Philippe Chatrier court in the Men’s Final of the French Open Tennis Championship at Roland Garros, friends and supporters of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil were making their voices heard at the entrance to the gardens on the avenue de la porte d’Auteuil.

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

I went along to offer my support and I was able to speak to Madame Lise Bloch-Morhange, Speaker of the Comité de Soutien des Serres d’Auteuil, the lead opposition group to the proposed extension. This is what she told me:

Lise Bloch-Morhange:

Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil

The recently opened Fondation Louis Vuitton, the privately financed modern art gallery designed by Frank Gehry, has, with government acquiescence, encroached on to what was supposed to be an environmentally protected part of the northern Bois de Boulogne. The government claims to have conceded to the choice of site because of the prestige the gallery brings to the city.

In the southern Bois de Boulogne the Fédération Française de Tennis claims that retaining the prestigious French Open Tennis Championship at Roland Garros depends upon extending their facilities and that the only credible plan is to extend into the Jardin des Serres. In addition, France intends to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games and it is claimed that, as part of that bid, an extended Roland Garros is essential.

Undoubtedly, a Frank Gehry designed modern art gallery, the French Open Tennis Championships and the Olympic Games are smothered in prestige, probably adding millions if not billions to the economy. But one is surely entitled to ask, at what cost?

Imagine a desecrated Jardin des Serres with a semi-sunken tennis court with seating capacity for 5,000 spectators standing empty and completely unused for fifty weeks of the year. The cost of that would not be measured in millions or billions of Euro’s but in a more intangible and equally important currency, what the French call patrimoine, our heritage, the value of which lies in our hearts not in our pockets.

Note:

My thanks to Lise Bloch-Morhange for taking time out of her very busy afternoon to stop and record these comments.

29
May

Georges Perec – Exhausting a Place

HAVING BEEN IN hospital recently for surgery to replace my portable life support system with a newer model I thought I would take this opportunity to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Soundlandscapes’ Blog by posting something close to my imperfect heart.

For the last seven years or so I’ve been recording and archiving the sounds of Paris, the agglomeration of individual sounds which, when woven together, form the sound tapestry that surrounds our everyday lives in this city. When people ask me what I do I usually say that I’m a professional listener, or that I’m a flâneur, endlessly walking the streets of Paris observing through active listening.

My sound work in Paris is influenced to a large degree by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century street photographers including, but not confined to, the work of Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Brassaï. Eugène Atget for example created a tremendous photographic record of the look and feel of nineteenth-century Paris just as it was being dramatically transformed by modernisation while the others featured the human condition in public places. I’ve learned a lot about recording the sound tapestry of Paris from studying the work and techniques of these photographers.

While these great photographers certainly influence my work the inspiration to begin my detailed exploration and documentation of the contemporary sound tapestry of Paris came from a different source, the French novelist, essayist, and filmmaker, Georges Perec.

01

Georges Perec 1936 – 1982

Georges Perec was born on 7th March 1936 in Belleville in the east of Paris, the only son of Polish Jewish parents who had emigrated to France in the 1920s. Both his parents died during WWII, his father from untreated wounds whilst serving in the French army and his mother in Auschwitz.

Adopted by his parental aunt and uncle in 1945, Georges went on to study history and sociology at the Sorbonne, he spent a year in the army as a parachutist, got married and then took up a job as an archivist in the research library at the Neurophysiological Research Laboratory at the Hôpital Saint-Antoine, a job he retained until four years before his untimely death at the age of 45.

Georges Perec’s talents ranged from writing fiction to compiling crossword puzzles for Le Point to creating the longest palindrome ever written to working in radio and making films. In 1965 his first novel Les Choses (Things: A Story of the Sixties) won the prix Renaudot and in 1978 his most acclaimed novel, La Vie mode d’emploi (Life a User’s Manual) won the prix Médicis and finally brought him financial and critical success.

Perec was a member of Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians devoted to the discovery and use of constraints to encourage literary inspiration. One of their most famous products was Perec’s own novel, La disparition (A Void), written entirely without the letter “e.”

02

Journaux Place St Sulpice : [photographie] / [Atget]

Just over eight years ago I emerged from a Parisian hospital after an uncomfortably close brush with death. Having been given a second chance in life’s lottery I was in need of a new challenge … but what?

The answer came unexpectedly. Browsing around a musty second-hand bookshop one day I came upon a small French book, just sixty pages or so, written by Georges Perec, someone I’d never heard of. Scanning through it my first impression was that it was a journal of some sort, lists of what seemed like random observations. I was curious so I bought it for next to nothing. As I left the bookshop I could never have imagined what an impression this little book would have on me and how it would fundamentally shape my work in Paris.

The book is called, Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien, published in English as An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, and it’s a collection of observations that Georges Perec wrote down as he sat in Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris. The point of these observations was to record “ce qui se passe quand il ne rien se passe”, what is happening when nothing is happening.

For three consecutive days in October 1974, Georges Perec flitted from one café to another in Place Saint-Sulpice recording everything that passed through his field of vision. Rather than describing impressive or notable things such as the architecture, he describes all the things that usually pass unnoticed.

In Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien Perec begins by setting the scene:

Il y a beaucoup de choses place Saint-Sulpice, par exemple : une mairie, un hôtel des finances, un commissariat de police, trois cafés dont un fait tabac, un cinéma, une église à laquelle ont travaillé Le Vau, Gittard, Oppenord, Servandoni et Chalgrin et qui est dédiée à un aumônier de Clotaire II qui fut évêque de Bourges de 624 à 644 et que l’on fête le 17 janvier, un éditeur, une entreprise de pompes funèbres, une agence de voyages, un arrêt d’autobus, un tailleur, un hôtel, une fontaine que décorent les statues des quatre grands orateurs chrétiens (Bossuet, Fénelon, Fléchier et Massillon), un kiosque à journaux, un marchand d’objets de piété, un parking, un institut de beauté, et bien d’autres choses encore.

But it’s the last paragraph that outlines his intention:

Un grand nombre, sinon la plupart, de ces choses ont été décrites, inventoriées, photographiées, racontées ou recensées. Mon propos dans les pages qui suivent a plutôt été de décrire le reste : ce que l’on ne note généralement pas, ce qui ne se remarque pas, ce qui n’a pas d’importance : ce qui se passe quand il ne se passe rien, sinon du temps, des gens, des voitures et des nuages.

My rough translation :

Many, if not most, of these things have been described, inventoried, photographed, recounted or recorded. My purpose in these pages was instead to describe the rest: what one generally does not notice, that which does not matter: what happens when nothing passes but time, people, cars and clouds.

Georges Perec made his observations while sitting in three cafés facing the Place Saint-Sulpice, the Tabac Saint-Sulpice, the Café Fontaine Saint-Sulpice and the Café de la Mairie. When he got tired of one he would move to another. Today, only the Café de la Mairie remains.

Place Saint Sulpice - Café de la Marie

Café de la Mairie, 8, Place Saint-Sulpice

The other day I went to the Café de la Mairie with my second-hand copy of Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien. I took a seat outside by the door and turned to one of Georges Perec’s entries for 18th October 1974:

La date : 18 octobre 1974

L’heure 12 h. 40

Le lieu Café de la Mairie

Plusieurs dizaines, plusieurs centaines d’actions simultanées, de micro-événements dont chacun implique des postures , des actes moteurs , des dépenses d’énergie spécifiques : discussions à deux , discussions à trois, discussions à plusieurs : le mouvement des lèvres, les gestes , les mimiques expressives

modes de locomotion : marche, véhicule à deux roues (sans moteur, à moteur), automobiles (voitures privées, voitures de firmes, voitures de louage, auto-école), véhicules utilitaires, services publics, transports en communs , cars de touristes

modes de portage (à.la main, sous le bras , sur le dos)

modes de traction (cabas à roulettes)

degrés de détermination ou de motivation attendre , flâner , traîner , errer , aller, courir vers, se précipiter (vers un taxi libre, par exemple), chercher , musarder, hésiter, marcher d’un pas décidé

positions du corps : être assis (dans les autobus , dans les voitures , dans les cafés, sur les bancs)

être debout (près des arrêts d’ autobus , devant une vitrine (Laffont, pompes funèbres), à côté d’un taxi (le payant)

Trois personnes attendent près de l’arrêt des taxis.  Il y a deux taxis, leurs chauffeurs sont absents (taxis capuchonnés)

Tous les pigeons se sont réfugiés sur la gouttière de la mairie.

Un 96 passe.  Un 87 passe.  Un 86 passe.  Un 70 passe.   Un camion « Grenelle Interlinge » passe.

Accalmie.  Il n’y a personne à l’arrêt des autobus .

Un 63 passe.  Un 96 passe

Une jeune femme est assise sur un banc, en face de la galerie de tapisseries « La demeure » elle fume une cigarette.

Il y a trois vélomoteurs garés sur le trottoir devant le café.

Un 86 passe.  Un 70 passe.

Des voitures s’engouffrent dans le parking

Un 63 passe.  Un 87 passe.

Il est une heure cinq. Une femme traverse en courant le parvis de l’église .

Un livreur en blouse blanche sort de sa camionnette garée devant le café des glaces (alimentaires) qu’il va livrer rue des Canettes.

Une femme tient une baguette à la main

Un 70 passe (c’est seulement par hasard, de la place que j’occupe, que je peux voir passer, à l’autre bout, des 84)

Les automobiles suivent des axes de circulation évidemment privilégiés (sens unique , pour moi, de gauche à droite) ; c’est beaucoup moins sensible pour les piétons : il semblerait que la plupart vont rue des Canettes ou en viennent.

Un 96 passe.

Un 86 passe.  Un 87 passe.  Un 63 passe

Des gens trébuchent.  Micro-accidents.

Un 96 passe.  Un 70 passe.

Il est une heure vingt.

Retour (aléatoire) d’individus déjà vus : un jeune garçon en caban bleu marine tenant à la main une pochette plastique repasse devant le café

Un 86 passe.  Un 86 passe.  Un 63 passe.

Le café est plein

Sur le terre-plein un enfant fait courir son chien (genre Milou)

Juste en bordure du café, au pied de la vitrine et en trois emplacements différents, un homme, plutôt jeune, dessine à la craie sur le trottoir une sorte de « V » à l’intérieur duquel s’ébauche une manière de point d’interrogation (land-art ?)

Un 63 passe

6 égouttiers (casques et cuissardes) prennent la rue des Canettes .

Deux taxis libres à l’arrêt des taxis, un 87 passe

Un aveugle venant de la rue des Canettes passe devant le café ; c’est un homme jeune, à la démarche assez assurée.

Un 86 passe

Deux hommes à pipes et sacoches noires

Un homme à sacoche noire sans pipe

Une femme en veste de laine, hilare

Un 96

Un autre 96

(talons hauts : chevilles tordues)

Une deux-chevaux vertpomme.

Un 63

Un 70

I haven’t included the full entry for this particular observation session but you can see from this extract, whether you understand French or not, that Georges Perec is what one might call a contra-flâneur; he sits still and observes as the world moves by. Incidentally, the numbers that he lists are the numbers of the buses that pass and, as I could see for myself the other day, buses with the same numbers still pass.

From the time I first discovered it, Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien made a huge impression on me. I could immediately see how Georges Perec’s detailed observations of everyday life, his quest for the infraordinary: the humdrum, the non-event, the everyday “what happens when nothing happens” could be replicated equally compellingly in sound. That revelation inspired me to begin my own observations of Paris, detailed observations of the city through its intricate and multi-textured sound tapestry.

Because Georges Perec inspired me to undertake my exploration of Paris in sound I couldn’t possibly have left the Café de la Mairie without making my own infraordinary observations of the Place Saint-Sulpice.

‘Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien’ in sound:

From my contra-flâneur’s seat outside the Café de la Mairie, probably a seat once occupied by Perec himself, I recorded my own Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien, ‘what is happening when nothing is happening’, which is both my homage to Georges Perec and my ‘Thank You’ to all the loyal visitors to Soundlandscapes’ Blog who have supported me over the last five years and who inspire me to continue with this work.

 

22
May

The Pont du Carrousel and its Sounds

FURTHER RESEARCH FOR my Paris Bridges Project took me to a bridge in the centre of Paris adjacent to the Palais du Louvre, the Pont du Carrousel.

01

Connecting the Quai des Tuileries on the Right Bank to the Quai Voltaire on the Left Bank the reinforced concrete bridge we see today is the second bridge to bear the name Pont du Carrousel.

Pont du Carrousel

Pont du Carrousel looking upstream

Construction of the first bridge, originally called Pont des Saints-Pères, began in 1831. With the work completed the bridge was inaugurated in 1834 by King Louis-Philippe. It was renamed Pont du Carrousel because on the Right Bank it faced the Palais du Louvre near to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Place du Carrousel, a public square located at the open end of the courtyard of the Palais du Louvre.

The Place du Carrousel was the site of the Palais des Tuileries, the Parisian residence of most French monarchs from Henry IV to Napoleon III until it was burnt down during the Paris Commune in 1871.

The name, Place du Carrousel, dates back to 1662 when Louis XIV used this space for equine displays of military dressage known as a carrousel, which is why many of today’s fairground carousels still feature horses.

On a more gruesome note, during the French Revolution Place du Carrousel was one of the homes to Madame Guillotine. From 21st August 1792 until 11th May 1793, with two short interruptions, thirty-five people were guillotined in Place du Carrousel.

Pont du Carrousel

Pont du Carrousel looking downstream

The first Pont du Carrousel, built on an axis connecting the Montparnasse and Saint-Lazare railway stations, was the creation of the French engineer, Antoine-Rémy Polonceau. In the 1830s many Parisian bridges were suspension bridges but in such a prestigious location the use of the towers and cables associated with a suspension bridge was unacceptable and so Polonceau designed a 169 metre long and 11.5 metre wide three-arched bridge made of iron and wood.

At each corner of the bridge he erected classic style stone allegorical sculptures by Louis Petitot representing Industry, Abundance, The City of Paris and The Seine.

Pont du Carrousel

By the turn of the century the Pont du Carrousel was showing its age. Seven decades of continuous use meant that a major restoration was required. In 1906 the wooden elements, including the wooden deck, were replaced with beaten iron but this was not enough to secure the long-term survival of the bridge. As the twentieth century progressed it became clear that the Pont du Carrousel was too narrow to cope with the increasing flow of traffic over the bridge and too shallow for the larger river traffic to pass underneath it and so drastic action was required.

In 1930 it was decided to scrap the first Pont du Carrousel and to build a completely new bridge a little further downstream opposite the gates to the Louvre.

The task of designing the new bridge fell to the French architects Gustave Umbdenstock and Georges Tourry and the French engineers Henri Lang and Jacques Morane. A draft design was presented in 1932, the work was authorised by a decree of the State Council of 26 August 1933 and the final green light to proceed was given on May 23, 1935.

The new bridge retained the three-arch design of the first bridge but this time it was made from reinforced concrete.

Pont du Carrousel

Apart from the original allegorical sculptures by Louis Petitot which were retained, perhaps the most eye-catching feature of the new bridge are the réverbères télescopiques, the Raymond Subes designed telescopic lamps that adorn the bridge.

A graduate of l’École Boulle and l’École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs, Raymond Subes was one of most celebrated French artists specialising in wrought iron during the Art Deco period. His lighting for the bridge, set up in 1946, comprised an ingenious system of telescopic lamps rising from 13 metres in the daytime to 20 metres at night. Unfortunately, the telescopic mechanism broke down shortly after commissioning but it was successfully restored in 1999.

Pont du Carrousel

The Palais du Louvre from on the Pont du Carrousel

In my Paris Bridges Project I’m not only looking to explore the history of each of the thirty-seven bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits, I’m also trying to seek out the characteristic sounds of each bridge and trying to identify any sounds that might be unique to each bridge.

My exploration of the sounds of the Pont du Carrousel began on the bridge.

Sounds on the Pont du Carrousel:

Pont du Carrousel

The view from my recording position on the Pont du Carrousel looking downstream

It is sometimes said that the sound of traffic exists only to blight the work of the urban field recordist and after years of recording urban soundscapes in Paris I have some sympathy with that view. But I also recognise that the sound of traffic is an integral part of every city soundscape so it would be disingenuous if my exploration of the Pont du Carrousel did not feature the sounds of the traffic passing over it. After all, the sounds of the traffic passing over the pavé on this bridge are as much a part of the fabric of the bridge as the reinforced concrete it’s made from.

Pont du Carrousel

After recording the sounds on the bridge I went to explore the sounds under it. An archway on the Right Bank led me under the bridge from where I found a position from which to record.

Sounds under the Pont du Carrousel:

Pont du Carrousel

My recording position under the Pont du Carrousel

From here I was not only able to capture the characteristic sounds under the bridge, the tourist boats passing along la Seine and the sounds of people passing under the bridge, but also the sounds of a creaking pontoon permanently tethered to the quai alongside the bridge – the unique sounds of the Pont du Carrousel.

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