PARIS IS NOT JUST for the French, other communities live here too. And while the French celebrate their Fête Nationale in style and the Chinese in Paris celebrate their new year with fabulous displays of colourful dancing lions and dragons accompanied by endless firecrackers, today it was the turn of the Indian community to have their celebration with La Fête de Ganesh.
Genesha, with his elephant’s head to make him easily recognisable, is the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune and a temple is dedicated to him in Paris, the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple, in the rue Pajol. And it was from here that today’s colourful procession set off around this part of the 18th arrondissement. The women dressed up, the men dressed down and a good time was had by all.
So let’s celebrate the sights and sounds of today’s Fête de Ganesh.
The sounds of La Fête de Ganesh:
And after a long, hard day …
THE PASSAGE DU GRAND-CERF is far more elegant than its modern day surroundings. Entering from the less than elegant and, in parts, rather seedy Rue Saint-Denis I was transported back into early nineteenth-century Paris.
The month of August, in the depths of the Paris holiday season, is not perhaps the best time to visit this passage since most of the boutiques are shut. I’ve lived in Paris for a long time but I’m still amazed by the seemingly casual way in which the commerçants deal with the summer holidays. The notice in the shop window below simply says that they are shutting for the summer holidays and they will let us know when they will reopen!
At least Carine in the shop next door approached things in a slightly more formal manner.
The records are unclear as to the precise date when the Passage du Grand-Cerf opened but sometime in 1834 is the generally accepted date. It takes it’s name from the roulage du Grand-Cerf, the terminus of the former mail coaches.
Sounds inside the Passage du Grand-Cerf:
Entering the Passage du Grand-Cerf, the striking characteristics are it’s height and the flood of light coming in from the verrière filant, literally, the free-flowing glass roof. It comprises two floors with glazed facades and then a third, attic floor, which contains living accommodation. At just over one hundred metres long and almost twelve metres high this passage is the largest of the passage couverts in Paris.
On the day I went perhaps the most intriguing boutique in the passage was open. This boutique, full of bric-a-brac with genuine antiques thrown in, is the sort of place one could spend all day in and still not see everything.
From the late nineteenth-century, the passage du Grand-Cerf began a long and painful decline and for many years it was in a state of complete neglect. However, in 1990 its rehabilitation began and a complete restoration has returned it to its former glory. It’s easily missed but once found, it’s an absolute delight.
I have set myself the challenge of recording the sounds in all the surviving Passages Couverts in Paris. This is the third in the series.
You can find more about the Passage Jouffroy here:
And more about the Passage Brady here.
THE PLACE COLETTE IS named after Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the French novelist and former music hall performer who, amongst other things, wrote Gigi, the novella that was made into the Lerner and Loewe movie starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier.
Some time ago, I published a blog piece about the Palais Royal, which stands behind the Place Colette and I featured the sounds of a string orchestra entertaining the crowd there.
On Saturday, on my way to the Galerie Vero-Dodat to collect material for a new blog piece for my series about les passages couverts, I had to cross the Place Colette. Once again, the same string orchestra was playing there.
I couldn’t help stopping to listen … and to record.
Mozart in the Place Colette:
Set against the grandeur of the Comédie Française on one side and the delightful Café Nemours on the other, a little Mozart seemed perfect on this blisteringly hot Saturday afternoon.
It’s worth reading up on Rambuteau because, as Préfet, he did a lot to improve the public health and sanitary conditions of Paris in the early nineteenth-century. He modernised the sewers, introduced gas lighting and began a street-widening programme to improve the existing disease-prone narrow and congested streets. He also introduced the public urinal to the streets commonly known as vespasiennes. It’s a well-kept secret but they were not called vespasiennes when they were first introduced – they were called rambuteaux!
There are no rambuteaux, nor vespasiennes in today’s Rue Rambuteau, but it’s not entirely devoid of curiosities.
I found this one on the corner of Rue Rambuteau and Rue Pierre-Lescot, which just goes to show that when exploring the streets of Paris it’s best to look up as well as from side to side.
Of course, the Rue Rambuteau has its sounds too.
Sounds in the Rue Rambuteau:
The ordinary sounds of an ordinary Parisian street recorded on an August Saturday afternoon, so nothing special then. Actually, these sounds are special; special because they are unique. They capture a slice of time, a moment that can never be repeated.
Had I recorded on the same spot an hour earlier or an hour later I would have probably captured similar sounds but not the same sounds. The actors would have been different, the snatches of conversation different, the footsteps different, the rustle of bags different, the passing bicycles different and maybe even the Vespa would have been different or not there at all.
Making recordings like this fascinates me precisely because these recordings are unique. Standing, or preferably these days, sitting perfectly still in one place listening as the world passes by is endlessly intriguing. There are no sounds that dominate, just people passing by each with a story to tell but only sharing the briefest snatches of that story as they pass. The questions are endless and the answers elusive, which is just as it should be.
IT’S AUGUST AND Paris is much less busy than usual but, whilst the locals may be away on their summer holidays, there’s no shortage of tourists in town. On Saturday the Beaubourg, the area close to Les Halles, rue Montorgueil and the Marais, with the Centre Georges Pompidou at its heart, was awash with visitors.
The area behind the Pompidou Centre is a magnet for the crowds who come to watch the street entertainers perform. Their talents range from the very professional to the utterly bizarre. In the former category was this superb mime artist and children’s entertainer who had both children and adults enthralled.
Entertaining the Crowd:
In the bizarre category was this man whose performance involved eating razor blades, burning cigarettes and matches. I found it rather gruesome but he too had attracted a large crowd.
Slightly away from the crowds I found this man sitting on a stool looking perfectly content playing his Chinese violin.
The Chinese violin or, to give it its proper name, the Erhu, is a Chinese two-stringed instrument whose roots go back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). It’s one of the huqin family of traditional bowed string instruments used by various ethnic groups of China.
The Sound of the Erhu in the Beaubourg:
A very versatile instrument, the erhu is used in both traditional and contemporary music either as a solo instrument or as part of an orchestra.
The sound of this Chinese violin in the Beaubourg was a great contrast to the laughter generated by the children’s entertainer and the grotesque eating habits of the man with the razor blades and burning cigarettes. But, it’s all part of the rich tapestry that is Paris.
To hear a stunning performance of the erhu in concert click here.
I CAME UPON IT by chance. I was strolling along one of Baron Haussmann’s creations, the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle – one of his Grands Boulevards. I stopped to admire the wonderful art deco Rex cinema – worthy of a complete essay to itself.
I walked a little further on and my eye caught some stone steps, the kind of steps that you just know you have to explore. I climbed the steps and discovered that I was in the Rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, named after the Eglise Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, which sits on the left, half way up the street.
Before reaching the church, the garden behind this metal fence caught my attention. From deep within I could hear birdsong. I sat on the wall to the right of the gate, listened and began to record.
Sounds in the Rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle:
What I heard was the birdsong behind me competing with the sounds of exuberant children and both competing with the ebb and flow of the traffic as the traffic lights turned from green to red and then back again in the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle. With the traffic lights at red and the traffic stopped I could hear pigeons cooing on the street in front of me and then, as the lights turned to green, the flapping of their wings as they flew off searching for a traffic and probably a children free zone. I doubt that they found either.
CLOSE TO NOTRE-DAME cathedral and bordering La Seine, the Marché aux Fleurs – the Paris Flower Market – in the Place Louis Lépine, has been here since 1808.
The market is housed in iron pavilions each with a glass roof and it offers a wide range of flowers, plants, shrubs and garden accessories.
Like most places in Paris, the Marché aux Fleurs winds down during the August holidays and, whilst some of the shops and stalls are closed, there is still some activity although much less so than at other times of the year.
This proved to be a plus for your sound hunter. I went to the market on Saturday and without the usual bustle of the crowds I was able to capture sounds that otherwise would have probably gone unnoticed.
Sounds in le Marché aux Fleurs:
Despite its name, the Marché aux Fleurs is not just about flowers. It’s also a flea market as the shop pictured below illustrates … a wonderful cornucopia of hidden treasures.
I especially liked the lanterns.
On Sundays, the Marché aux Fleurs takes on an additional guise when it also becomes the Marché aux Oiseaux – the bird market, where you can find colourful and exotic birds and all the accoutrements to go with them.
The Marché aux Fleurs is open every day from 8 am to 7 pm. The nearest Metro station is Cité on Line 4.
Click here to see a short video about the Marché aux Fleurs and …
Home to the Palais du Luxembourg and the French Senate, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the second largest public park in Paris. The garden and the palace were created at the behest of Marie de Medici, the widow of Henry IV, in the early seventeenth-century. It’s always been renowned for its statues.
Music can be found in most public spaces in Paris especially in the summer. But musicians are not allowed to play in the Jardin du Luxembourg save for the concerts in the gazebo. However, they are allowed to play outside the Jardin and this man, with his delightful street organ, does so regularly.
The Street Organ:
Recording sound in the Jardin du Luxembourg is fraught with difficulties. The Jardin is popular all year round but in the summer there is a constant cacophony of crowd sounds, which makes recording quite specific sounds a challenge to say the least.
But, as always, with determination and a huge amount of patience it is possible to isolate some of the distinctive sounds – the joggers, the tennis players, the Pétanque players and the children’s playground.
Sounds in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
Incidentally, a game of Pétanque with its mystifying rules is, along with fireworks, one of the most difficult things to record. Those metal balls clinking into each other play havoc with a sound recorder and one is never quite sure what the outcome is going to be.
Apart from the Bois de Boulogne, which is a ten-minute walk from my home, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the Paris park that I visit most often. I’ve been there in the summer when the temperature has been 40° and I’ve been there in the winter when it’s been covered in snow and the temperature has been below freezing. But whenever I go, the Jardin du Luxemburg always seems to have a special charm. I recommend it.
I am always experimenting with sound. The sounds that appear on this blog are relatively short and that seems to work … up to a point. Sometimes though, I feel that these “sound bites” don’t do justice to the sounds that I’ve recorded. In a world dominated by the 24 hour news cycle, the 20 second sound bite seems to be all important. And I seem to have fallen into the same trap, crediting my audience with a minimum attention span. For this post, I have decided to take a different tack.
Some time ago, I made a post about the creaking wooden floor in the Musée Carnavalet. After listening to those sounds again today, I realised that all the sounds I recorded in the Musée had much more to say than just the creaking wooden floor. So I have decided to present my ‘soundwalk’ through the Musée Carnavalet as it happened. I have taken the three pieces I recorded in there and added them together. It adds up to a sound piece that is a little over ten minutes long. I think it gives a much better impression of the Musée than just the wooden floor. What do you think?
I have added some pictures to give you a visual feel of the place but it is the sounds that tell the story.
A soundwalk in the Musée Carnavalet: