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August 15, 2010

Saturday Afternoon in Belleville

by soundlandscapes

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.

There are some comparisons between Bellville and the East End of London. Both are in the east of their respective cities. Both are predominantly working-class areas, whatever that means, and both have, or in the case of Bellville, had, distinctive accents, Cockney in the case of the East End and the accent de Belleville which is rarely heard these days except in the recordings of Edith Piaf. Both have been homes for immigrant communities fleeing from persecution, the Huguenots and the Jews in the East End of London and, in Belleville, the Ottoman Armenians fleeing the systematic massacres by the Turks in 1915-1917, something still inexplicably denied by the Turkish government, Ottoman Greeks fleeing persecution in Anatolia around 1920, German Jews fleeing Nazi persecutions during the 1930s, and Spaniards fleeing civil war in 1936. Many Algerians and Tunisian Jews arrived in the early 1960s.

Today, Belleville comprises a large, multi-ethnic community comprising Chinese, North Africans and increasingly, sub-Saharan Africans. Belleville is home to one of the two “Chinatowns” of Paris, the other being centered around the rue de Chesy close to the Place d’Italie where I go to every year to record the Chinese New year celebrations. Chinese restaurants abound in Belleville and I enjoyed a delicious Saturday evening dinner in one of them, Cok Ming, which I can thoroughly recommend.

On an historical note, Belleville played a large part in establishing the Second French Republic during the Revolution of 1848, and in 1871, residents of Belleville were some of the strongest supporters of the Paris Commune. It was all a very bloody affair and the street fighting in both Belleville and the neighbouring Ménilmontant continued down to the last barricade in the rue Ramponeau.

Last Saturday there were no barricades and no street fighting I’m pleased to say but there was a North African street market on the Boulevard de Belleville which I was able to record, including the heavy rain shower that descended upon me.

This is a binaural recording. To get the best effect you should listen using headphones.

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