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Saturday in the rue Mouffetard

Like the rue de la Huchette and the rue Saint-Jaques, the rue Mouffetard is one of my favourite streets in Paris. Each are hustling, bustling places steeped in history.

The rue Mouffetard is to be found in the V arrondissement a stone’s throw from the Panthéon and a ten minute walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg. At its northern end, on top of the Mont Sainte-Geneviève, the rue Mouffetard becomes the rue Descartes leading to the Place Contrescarpe. At it’s southern end, at the bottom of the hill, is the Square Saint-Médard where there is a permanent open-air market. It was in this street that I chose to spend my Saturday afternoon.

Dating back to Roman Lutetia, the rue Mouffetard as it became was a major Roman thoroughfare which along with rue Galande, rue Lagrange, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève and rue Descartes, ran from the Roman Rive Gauche city south to Lyon and on to Italy.

Before the fairly recent gentrification of the area, the rue Mouffetard had a less than glorious past. From the late middle-ages the area was associated with trade including tanneries, starch-makers and dyers some of which only disappeared towards the end of the twentieth century. By the eighteenth century the area had gained a reputation for violence and in the nineteenth century men from la Mouffe’ were always to be found on the Paris barricades at every opportunity from 1830 through to 1871. Balzac said that, “No neighbourhood of Paris is more horrible and more unknown”. Writing in 1920, Georges Duhamel noted that, “Mouffetard country has its own customs and laws which have neither meaning nor jurisdiction over the other side of the rue Monge”. Ernest Hemingway, a resident in la Mouffe’ in the 1920’s, gives a colourful description of the rue Mouffetard that he knew when wrote, “The Café des Amateurs was the cesspool of the rue Mouffetard … The squat toilets of the old apartment houses, one by the side of the stairs of each floor with the two cleated cement shoe-shaped elevation on each side of the aperture so a locataire would not slip, emptied into cesspools which were emptied by pumping into horse-draw wagons at night. In summertime, with all the windows open, we would hear the pumping and the odour was very strong …”

I am pleased to report that the rue Mouffetard is much improved today. It may be one of the oldest streets in Paris but it is also one of the liveliest with wall-to-wall restaurants, shops, cafés and the daily, open-air market which is one of the oldest street markets in Paris .

Join me for a walk along the rue Mouffetard:

… and a diversion into the only bookshop in the street:

… and, of course, a beer in the bistro Le Mouffetard:

These are binaural recordings. To get the best effect you should listen using headphones.


The ‘Manifestation’ – It’s a French Thing

Demonstrations, or “manifestations” as the French call them, are a way of life in France and particularly in Paris so if you live here you just have to get used to them. When I first came here eleven years ago I found this ‘leap to the streets’ at every opportunity quite mystifying. As time has moved on I have not only got used to it but I have come to respect the right of the demonstrators to protest and to enjoy the enthusiasm with which the do it.

Here in Paris manifestations seem to happen all the time except of course in the summer when even the most ardent demonstrators, along with everyone else, go on holiday. But come September and ‘La Rentrée’, that peculiar time of the year when everyone returns from holiday and life slowly gets back to normal, they will be back on the streets advancing whatever cause it is they support or are opposed to. And the causes are many and varied. I have seen demonstrations varying from opposition to pension reform to anti-globalisation to gay rights, to the regularisation of the ‘sans-papiers’ to more parking spaces for motorcycles and all points in between. It seems that nothing is too great or too small to take to the streets about.

At this point I should admit that I am not a natural demonstrator. I enjoy watching the demonstrations and I enjoy recording them but I am not a natural participant. I did though take part in one demonstration. It wasn’t planned, it happened by accident. I happened to be in the Place de la République one Saturday afternoon when I spied a demonstration approaching. It was a protest against ‘la peine de mort’ the death penalty, something I feel particularly strongly about and before I knew it I was joining in. It was the first and only time I’ve done it but I’m pleased I did.

Most of the demonstrations in Paris are peaceful if often enthusiastic. It is only on very rare occasions that any violence occurs and then only by a tiny minority. On the whole things are mostly good-natured. And just for once, a word in support of the police. At any demonstration in Paris the CRS (the French riot police) are present in force but, in my experience, they always seem to keep a discreet distance and never become visible unless things get hopelessly out of control which happens only very rarely. In all the time I have been watching demonstrations here I have never once seen the police be provocative in any way.

Love them or loathe them, manifestations happen here. People take to the streets to express their support for, or opposition against, a wide variety of causes. For the most part they do it peacefully, enthusiastically and with good humour. Long may it continue.


Blog Update

Two new things:

First, to let you know that I have added a new sound file to the “street music” page of this blog. This is a recording I made a few weeks ago of six jazz musicians having a lot of fun playing outside the gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg here in Paris. It’s well worth a listen. I have also included this as my “Sound of the Week”.

Second, I have added a link to the site of Vladimir Kryutchev under the “Links to other sound sites” segment. Vladimir is a journalist who lives in Russia and he specialises in binaural ambient recordings of his home town. I recommend that you click on the link to his site and have a listen.


A Strangely Quiet Saturday

Yesterday was a strange Saturday in Paris. I went out sound-hunting as usual. I left my apartment and went out into my little street to find it totally deserted – nothing, no people, one or two parked cars with no drivers and all but two of the shops resolutely shut. It occurred to me that this might be a public holiday that I had missed, it has happened to me before, but no, this was not a public holiday it was simply the weekend in the year when most people are away on holiday. It was quite an eerie feeling to see the streets here in my neck of the woods quite so deserted. And it was not only my quartier that people had deserted, the rest of Paris had the same air of emptiness.

Last week the temperature hovered around the low twenties with a tinge of autumn in the air. Yesterday, it was back to a summer thirty degrees making Paris hot and sultry.  Read more »


“Hot News” – Two New Blog Pages

I am currently building two new pages on this blog. One is entitled “Street Music” which will include some of the recordings I’ve made of street musicians mainly in Paris. The other is called “Sound Of The Week” which will include my choice of a Paris sound for the week.  Over the coming weeks I will add more sounds to these pages so keep an eye on them.

Take a look and tell me what you think.


Nagra LB – An Update

It’s now some eight weeks since I wandered down to Le Microphone in the rue Victor Massé and bought my Nagra LB sound recorder and I thought that, having now given it a good workout, I might share my impressions of it.

I have always rather been in awe of the name “Nagra” and the reputation of their products and this is the first time that I have actually owned a grown-up Nagra. I have my hand-held Nagra ARES – M which has proved to be a real workhorse, but comparing the ARES-M to the Nagra LB would be like comparing chalk and cheese.  Read more »


My Least Favourite Job

Sometimes things just don’t go to plan as I discovered yesterday evening when I went to dump some bottles in the rubbish place in my apartment building.

I live on the fifth floor of the building and there is a chute on each floor which we can use for disposing of small items. The chute is just big enough to take a small Monoprix supermarket bag full of trash. However, we are supposed to separate our used glass bottles, plastic bottles, paper waste and garden rubbish and put each into separate coloured wheelie bins parked down in the basement of the building.

I don’t know why, but this is my least favourite job – well, this and standing in an interminable Monoprix supermarket checkout queue which deserves a whole blog to itself. Because I find disposing of my bottles such a drag I tend to let them collect for much longer than I should before disposing of them. Yesterday evening I excelled myself and did the job but, to make it more interesting, I thought I would take my recorder with me to record the sound of the bottles going into the bins for my sound effects collection.

I collected the bag of bottles from the kitchen, took the lift down six floors to the basement and then dumped the bottles into their respective bins. So far so good.

All that now remained was to take the lift back up the six floors to my apartment carrying my empty bag. Lifts are rather like computers, they’re wonderful things especially when they work – and this particular lift didn’t! Somewhere between me arriving and wanting to leave au sous-sol the wretched thing had died. Persistent button pressing failed to bring it to life, “Beam me up Scotty”, had no effect either and so there remained only one alternative – to climb up six flights of stairs! This wasn’t in the script and it shouldn’t happen to someone who only uses stairs if they’re moving. Climbing up one floor brought me into the lobby which I had to cross before making the ascent up the remaining five floors.

In my defence, it’s not just a question of being unfit. Whilst most people run on high-octane natural energy, I am battery-powered. Next time, I shall let the bottles pile up even higher before I embark on another expedition au sous-sol.

These recordings are binaural. To get the best effect you should listen using headphones.


Opéra National de Paris – Der Fliegende höllander

For any opera fans, and particularly any Wagner opera fans following this blog, I can tell you that a new production of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, or “Der Fliegende höllander”, opens on 9th September at the Bastille opera in Paris.

Matti Salminen sings the role of Daland with James Morris as the Dutchman and Adrianna Pieczont as Senta. The conductor is Peter Schneider.

As always with Wagner operas, they they jack the ticket prices up and still manage to sell them all. Ticket prices vary from €140.00 down to €5.00. For anyone who can get a ticket this should be really worth seeing.

Opéra national de Paris – Der Fliegende höllander.


Saturday Afternoon in Belleville

For some time now I have been aware that I have perhaps been spending too much time recording sound in the centre of Paris where the pickings are easier and not enough time further afield. Last Saturday I decided to do something about that.

I took this photograph, which I thought was quite amusing, when I arrived at my target for the day, Belleville, most of which lies in the XIX arrondissement.

There were two reasons for choosing Belleville. First, this is where Edith Piaf, whose singing I adore, was born, allegedly under a lamppost on the steps of N° 72 rue de Belleville, at least that’s what the plaque on the wall of N° 72 says. My second reason for choosing Belleville was for it’s colourful multi-cultural community. Read more »


Beth Arnold’s “Letter From Paris” Blog

I have some good news.

Beth Arnold has invited me and several other people to contribute monthly posts to her very popular “Letter From Paris” blog starting in September. Together, we will be contributing articles on art, design, photography, sound (that’s my bit), fashion, decorating, reviews, talk of the town … and more. Take a look at the build up she has given us:

Beth is a very successful American  journalist living in Paris with a host of credits to her name. Her site is well worth a visit: