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August 22, 2010


A Strangely Quiet Saturday

by soundlandscapes

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. 

I walked around the Véme and VIéme arrondissements from le Panthéon down to and then along the Boulevard Saint-Germain. For the most part, everywhere was deserted, a strange sight indeed. I paused outside Starbuck’s at l’Odeon as I always do. I couldn’t help wondering whether Mr Starbuck realises that his coffee shop is sited in one of the bloodiest historical parts of Paris. Somehow I doubt it. Not twenty metres from Starbuck’s once stood the home of the volcanic revolutionary orator, Danton, who came to a sticky end at the hand of Madame Guillotine. Just to the right, where now stands the Ecole de Médecin, was the house in which Marat was murdered in his bath by Charlotte Corday in 1793. The revolutionary group, the Cordeliers, met just up the street where a former monastery has been converted into a Cordeliers museum.

Some way on, in the Place de Saint-Germain, the street musicians were conspicuously absent for once, they too it seemed were on holiday. What a strange place Paris is in August. The tourists still come of course. In the shadow of the ancient abbey of Saint Germain-de-Prés both the Café Flore and Les Deux Magots were full as always mainly with tourists anxious to sit where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir once sat at the very heart of the existentialist movement. Not many branches of philosophy have such a very precise location.

More walking with the sun as strong as ever, more hunting for interesting sound which was proving to be more elusive than normal and a growing thirst that needed quenching. More deserted streets but none more so than the rue de Beaune, a street with art galleries end-to-end on both sides all of which were shut and not another human being in sight. On a regular Saturday it is difficult to move in this street with art lovers and the just curious either spilling out of the galleries onto the street or fighting to get in. Yesterday it was utterly deserted.

My meanderings eventually brought me to the Quai de la Tournelle where, opposite the statue to Saint Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, in one of the maze of side streets I found a charming little bistro, Les Degrés de Notre Dame. A delightful watering hole and the perfect place to sit down, rest my feet and put the world to rights.

Despite all my walking and my interlude in Les Degrés de Notre Dame I still hadn’t managed to hunt down any interesting sound. I always find it frustrating to go home empty-handed although it does happen sometimes. Yesterday I struck lucky but only at the very last minute. I was changing trains in the Metro Charles de Gaulle Etoille when I happened upon a lone busker, perhaps the only one not on holiday, playing the xylophone.

Somehow, it seemed to make the day worthwhile.

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Alexa Michael
    Jun 19 2015

    Dear Robert

    My name is Alexa Michael and I work for the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry in London. I have written an article for the official Chamber publication ‘London Business Matters’ on whether London closes down in summer in the way that Paris does. l am now looking for some photos to illustrate it.

    Your photos of Paris deserted would be perfect to illustrate the article and I am writing to ask if we may use one or two of the photos. We would, of course, acknowledge you with the line “Reproduced by kind permission of Robert Doisneau” or your choice of wording.

    As we will shortly be going to press, I would really appreciate a prompt response from you. Please reply directly to my work e-mail address which is

    I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Yours sincerely

    Alexa Michael


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