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29
Nov

Another Good Read

This is another of my “good reads”. I have just finished reading for the third time, Ernest Hemigway’s “A Moveable Feast”. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:

A Moveable Feast is a set of memoirs by American author Ernest Hemingway about his years in Paris as part of the American expatriate circle of writers in the 1920s. The book describes Hemingway’s apprenticeship as a young writer in Europe Paris during the 1920s with his first wife, Hadley. Some of the later prominent people who are featured in his memoirs include Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Hilaire Belloc, Pascin, John Dos Passos, Wyndham Lewis, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. The book was edited from his manuscripts and notes by Ernest’s fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, a respected journalist. It was published in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death. The memoir has Hemingway’s personal accounts, observations, and stories of his experience in 1920s Paris. He provides specific addresses of cafes, bars, hotels, and apartments, some of which can be found in modern-day Paris. The title was suggested by Hemingway’s friend A.E. Hotchner, author of the biography, Papa Hemingway. He remembered they had a conversation about the city during Hotchner’s first visits there: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

I commend it to you.

27
Nov

Animal Rights and Fur Coats

ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON I was buying books in a very over-crowded W.H. Smiths on the corner of the rue Rivoli and the rue Cambon. I came out of the warmth of the bookstore into the chill of Paris in early winter. I turned left into the rue Cambon heading for one of my regular watering holes, Chez Flotte, where I intended to have a well-earned sit down, a small pichet of Beaujolais Nouveau and a good read. As I approached the hostelry I could hear shouting in the distance. I decided to go and investigate.

The rue Cambon was once home to Coco Chanel and her first fashion house in Paris still remains alive and well.

Other glamorous fashion shops also line the rue Cambon.

How appropriate then that at the intersection of the rue Cambon and the rue Saint-Honoré I should find a demonstration taking place – an animal rights demonstration.

A group of young women were protesting about the killing of animals and the use of their skins to provide fur coats and leather handbags for the fashion conscious Parisiennes who frequent this particular quartier of Paris.

Their message was:

These young lady protesters were clearly passionate about their cause … and I found it hard to disagree with them.

23
Nov

Galeries Lafayette

I AM NOT A FAN of shopping but even I have to admit that a trip to the Galeries Lafayette is an experience – especially at Christmas.

Located in the Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement, close to the Opéra Garnier, the Galaries Lafayette welcomes around 100,000 visitors a day – more than Harrod’s in London or Bloomingdales in New York.

The sound of a walk through the Galeries Lafayette

Compared to its status today as a 70,000M2 ‘Temple of Shopping’ and Paris icon, the Galeries Lafayette had humble beginnings. In 1895, Albert Kahn rented a shop in Paris at the corner of Chaussée-d’Antin and rue Lafayette to sell gloves, ribbons, veils, and other goods. The shop was small, but sales were good. It was eventually enlarged, and in 1898 Kahn was joined by his cousin, 34-year-old Théophile Bader. The partnership flourished and they soon purchased the entire building along with adjacent buildings on the Chaussée-d’Antin. The Galeries Lafayette was born.

The magnificent glass dome and wrought iron balconies dominate one end of the store  – a vivid reminder of 19th century Paris – contrasting starkly with the clean-cut, up-market, brand-named, cosmetics counters that lie beneath.

The Galeries Lafayette is famed for its stylish window displays – no more so than at Christmas when crowds of people gather to see the show.

Today, the Galeries Lafayette is a magnet for tourists with the Chinese leading the way followed by Americans and then Japanese. A walk through the store reveals a cosmopolitan mix of people some of whom come just to look and others who come to spend, spend, spend!

It may have begun life as a modest corner shop, but the Galeries Lafayette, along with the other new-fangled 19th century department stores, Printemps, Bon Marché and La Samaritaine, started a revolution in retail shopping which continues today.

The sound of a walk outside past the window displays.

15
Nov

Les Passages Couverts

LES PASSAGES COUVERTS, or arcades as they are known in English, conjure up a wonderful picture of Paris in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The history of the passages couverts goes back to the Galerie de Bois in the Palais-Royal. Built in 1786 by Philippe d’Orléans, the Galerie was open to the public for a variety of commercial and entertainment purposes – some more savoury than others. Whilst the Galerie de Bois was built in the classical style of French public architecture of the time, the new arcades begun at the turn of the nineteenth-century represented everything that was modern.

“These arcades, a recent invention of industrial luxury, are glass-roofed, marble-panelled corridors extending through whole blocks of buildings, whose owners have joined together for such enterprises. Lining both sides of the corridors, which get their light from above, are the most elegant shops, so that the arcade is a city, a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need”. So says the ‘Illustrated Guide to Paris’ of 1852.

The 1820’s and 1830’s marked the heyday of the passages couverts. In all, 150 were built of which around 20 survive today.

Inside Passage Verdeau

In the early nineteenth century, the idea of ‘indoor shopping’, with a collection of shops sitting cheek by jowl offering a wide variety of merchandise, was as new as the arcades that provided it. Before the arcades appeared, shopping in Paris was a hazardous business. There were no pavements, the uncertainties of the Parisian climate and the level of street filth and mud made Paris an unsavoury place – not to mention the constant risk of death in the streets. As Baudelaire said, ‘death comes at the gallop from every direction at once’ . The concept of a group of shops, inside, under cover, was an attractive proposition to the Parisian public. I suppose we can say that these arcades were the first ‘shopping malls’ that our consumer society seems to be so much in love with today – but now we do it on an industrial scale and with far less elegance.

Inside Passage Jouffroy

In the bottom right-hand corner of the 9ème arrondissement there remain two passages couverts – the Passage Verdeau and the Passage Jouffroy. Both are on the north side of the Boulevard Montmartre. Cross that Boulevard into the 2 ème arrondissement, and directly ahead, and in line with the other two, is the Passage des Panoramas, not only the first arcade to be opened but the first to be lit by gas lamps. All three are well worth a visit.

Built in 1847, the Passage Jouffroy was the first passage couvert to be built entirely of iron and glass and the first to be heated. Throughout its life it has been home to shops selling a wide variety of merchandise – from books and post cards to La Boîte à Joujoux, with its magnificent collection of doll’s houses and all things miniature, to G. Segas, famed for its selection of walking sticks and other curiosities.

And speaking of curiosities, tucked away at one end of the Passage Jouffroy is the Hôtel Chopin. Surely one of the more curious locations for a hotel.

At the other end of the Passage Jouffroy is another curiosity, the Musée Grévin – a waxworks museum.

The decline of the passages couverts owed much to Haussmann and the Grands Magasins – the department stores – another French invention. Over the years, many of the passages couverts fell into decay and a good number disappeared altogether. Thank goodness the Passage Jouffroy and others have survived to be restored to their former glory.

Ambient recording made inside the Passage Jouffroy last Saturday afternoon

11
Nov

Lest We Forget …

THURSDAY 11th NOVEMBER – the eleventh day of the eleventh month – Armistice Day. A chilly, wind-swept day in Paris with heavy rain for most of the day.

In the centre of the Arc de Triomphe, the tomb of an unknown French soldier from the First World War, the eternal flame and, on this day of remembrance, a guard of honour.

At 11.00 this morning, the national act of remembrance took place – the tributes were paid and the wreaths laid.

After the crowds had left, I made my way across to the wind-swept Arc de Triomphe as I do every year on this day. 

The Unknown Soldier was interred here and the eternal flame lit on Armistice Day 1920. Originally, the tomb was a memorial to the unknown French soldiers who died in the first world war. The inscription on the tomb reads – ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914–1918  – Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914–1918. Today, the tomb embraces all those who died in the first and second world wars as well as all the subsequent conflicts. The tomb was the inspiration for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey in London.

One of the things that always moves me is that, after the official ceremonies are over, anyone can approach the tomb and pay their respects either with a simple bow of the head or by offering a wreath to one of the attendants. On doing so the guard of honour, as if by magic, always come to the salute as a sign of respect – the same salute is given to a President as to an ordinary individual paying their respects.

In today’s busy world it is easy to forget the “Lions led by Donkeys” – which seems just as relevant today as it was in 1918.

I always try to remember the first verse of ‘Aftermath’ , a poem by Siegfried Sassoon:

“Have you forgotten yet?
For the world’s events have rumbled on since the gagged days,
Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways;
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same – and War’s a bloody game …
Have you forgotten yet?
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.”
7
Nov

Another Manifestation, Eggs and Satire!

SATURDAY 6th OCTOBER – Place de la Bastille – and yet another manifestation about the French pension reform.

The mild pension reform has passed into law, the tear-gas has dispersed and petrol has returned to the pumps  – but still they took to the streets. Even the heavy rain didn’t dampen their spirits.

Sounds from the manifestation:

This manifestation was led by the CGT, Confédération Générale du Travail, the largest French trade union and, although a large demonstration it was nothing compared to the one that took place in the same place on 16th October. That had huge popular support and people turned out in massive numbers to express their opposition to the pension reform. As a passive observer, I couldn’t help feeling that this latest demonstration was largely made up of the hard-core activists determined to keep the fight going even though the battle is lost. So often in the past, French governments have given in to the voice of the street sometimes by repealing legislation that caused the protests after it has been enacted into law. We shall see if that happens this time – but somehow I doubt it.

And maybe it is because the CGT doubt it too that there seemed to be a harder edge to this latest protest – a last gasp of desperation maybe.

I’ve said before that whilst the participants take these protests very seriously, they are almost always good-natured affairs. But just occasionally, someone doesn’t stick to the script. On Saturday, for the first time for a long time, I saw and encountered first-hand, some unpleasantness.  At the corner of Place de la Bastille and Boulevard Beaumarchais stands a  BNP bank. I rounded the corner into Boulevard Beaumarchais to record the manifestation when I was confronted by three youths wearing white face masks. Their ghostly appearance and aggressive demeanour indicated that they were not going to simply ask if I was having a good day! Instead, they were intent on throwing eggs at the two cash points in the wall of the BNP bank just behind me.

Sound of eggs smashing into cash machines:

Unsettling – yes, but as violence goes I suppose it wasn’t all that important – save for one of the eggs missing my right ear by a whisker.

And what did their particular form of protest achieve? Absolutely nothing, except perhaps for demeaning the thousands of other protestors who genuinely believed in their cause – not to mention the waste of eggs.

By contrast, there was something to cheer about – this wonderfully satirical take on the French Président, Nicolas Sarkozy. Enjoy!

5
Nov

Parisian Birdsong

Paris is a city – and a city with more than its fair share of noise pollution. Often referred to as the City of Light, Paris could also be known by the less glamorous soubriquet, the City of Noise. And the greatest part of the noise comes from the ever-present traffic which never sleeps and which provides a continuous backdrop to all other Parisian sounds.

I like a challenge and at the beginning of this year I set myself the challenge of recording birdsong in Paris without, so far as is possible, wretched traffic noise in the background. This is the result.

Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement,  sits on the Butte Montmartre, one of the highest points in Paris and at its peak rests the Basilica Sacré-Coeur.

Adjacent to Sacré-Coeur is the Place du Tertre with its artists colony much visited by tourists throughout the year.

On the other side of Sacré-Coeur is to be found the much older church of Saint Pierre de Montmartre. It was in the garden of this church on a summer Saturday afternoon that I was able to record these birds.

The Place des Vosges is in the 4th Arrondissement close to Bastille. Formerly known as Place Royale, it was for some time home to the Kings of France.

In one corner of the Place des Vosges, through an unassuming door is to be found the Hotel de Sully and the Centre for National Monuments.

Along one side of the courtyard of the Hotel de Sully is a wall covered in foliage in which nestle hundreds of birds unseen but certainly not unheard.

It was here, at the height of the summer, that I made another recording of Parisian birdsong.

I live in the west of Paris close to the Bois de Boulogne. I have tried many times to record birdsong in the Bois de Boulogne but have always been defeated by the background traffic noise. Big as the Bois is, nowhere within it seems to be completely  free from the constant noise pollution.

In the Spring of this year I got up bright and early one morning and I was able to capture this sound much closer to home – on the balcony of my apartment.

As I said at the beginning, I like a challenge – and recording these sounds certainly was a challenge, but a very enjoyable one.