FOLLOWING ON FROM the previous post, I went to the Rue de la Roquette again on Saturday and explored the street from its intersection with the Boulevard Voltaire to the cemetery Père Lachaise.
A wave of sadness overwhelmed me as I left a café and embarked on my journey. Just round the corner from the café, at 144 Rue de la Roquette, is an Ecole Maternelle, a nursery school. On the wall is a plaque which tells its own sorry story.
Plaques like this on are to be found on many schools in Paris. I’ve seen many of them and they always make for chilling reading.
Further along the Rue de la Roquette I came upon the Square de la Roquette, which is not without its own history. Originally the site of the Convent from which the Rue de la Roquette takes its name, a prison, La Petite Roquette, was opened here in 1830 and it was here that some four thousand members of the French resistance were held during the Nazi occupation in the early 1940’s.
All that remains of the prison today is the gateway beyond which is a delightful park with a fountain, a garden, basketball courts and a children’s playground.
And the history continues. Directly across the road from the Square de la Roquette where apartment buildings now stand, is the site of another prison, La Grande Roquette.
Opened in 1836, La Grande Roquette became home to Madame Guillotine in 1851. Although all signs of this prison have now gone, its grizzly history lives on in the shape of five granite stones embedded in the road at the junction of Rue de la Roquette and Rue de la Croix-Faubin.
These stones formed a firm foundation for the guillotine to ensure that the blade slid straight down to the lunette.
Sounds of this part of the Rue de la Roquette:
And yes, I did stand in between the stones on the very spot where the guillotine stood but my thoughts were less with the headless victims of this grizzly apparatus and more with the innocent children from the Ecole Maternelle further down the street whose fate lay in the Nazi death camps.
The earliest record of the Rue de la Roquette dates from 1672 and it takes its name from the former convent, the Hosptalières de la Roquette, founded in 1636.
Incidentally, the word “Roquette” is derived from the name of a plant with yellow flowers that thrived on wasteland, which this area was until the early seventeenth-century. The word “Roquette” was adopted by the convent and subsequently by the street.
The Rue de la Roquette was also home to two prisons, La Grande Roquette, and La Petite Roquette, one on either side of the road. In November 1851, the guillotine was moved to the Rue de la Roquette outside the gates of La Grande Roquette prison and on this spot sixty-nine people were executed. Evidence of the guillotine survives today in the form of granite stones embedded in the road which formed the supports for the guillotine. The Grande Roquette prison was closed and demolished in 1900. The Petite Roquette became a women’s prison in 1920 and was finally closed in 1974.
But away from the gruesome history, capturing the sounds of the streets in Paris is almost always accompanied by the ever-present sounds of traffic. Late last Saturday afternoon I walked along the Rue de la Roquette and, for once, I found that the traffic rumbling over this pavé street was more in harmony with the other sounds of the street than is usual. It’s almost as though, for once, the traffic takes centre stage rather than being a back-stage distraction.
The sounds in the Rue de la Roquette:
A “SOUND RIDE” IS a term I invented this afternoon. Sound Walks are familiar; lots of people do them including me. But this afternoon I thought I would do something a little different. Taking advantage of the delicious late autumnal weather, I made the ten-minute walk from my apartment across to the Bois de Boulogne and recorded a cycle ride on a Velib.
The Velib system we have in Paris is a wonderful invention. I think it’s been copied in other cities but it appeared here first. I’ll let the sounds tell the story of my Sunday afternoon in the Bois de Boulogne.
My Sound Ride in the Bois de Boulogne:
My Velib together with my black bag which contains my street recording studio
The Bois de Boulogne in summer
The Bois de Boulogne in springtime
The Bois de Boulogne in winter
Yesterday, on a beautiful autumnal day, I returned to this former ‘Entrepôt des Vins’, the wine warehouses in Bercy Village now transformed into restaurants and shops.
I walked along this 220 metre thoroughfare designed in 1990 by the French architects Valode and Pistre, with shops and restaurants on either side and the remains of the old railway line running along the pavé in centre.
The sounds of Cour Saint-Emilion:
New since I was here last are the traditional wooden games set up for everyone to play and a lot of people were taking advantage of them. As well as entertaining both children and adults alike, they added some distinctive sounds to the air.
Next to the Cour Saint-Emilion is the Parc de Bercy with its three connected gardens, The Romantic Garden, The Flowerbeds and The Meadows. This park is always worth a visit.
The Cour Saint-Emilion is an urban-renewal project retaining the 19th Century industrial architecture of the area and putting the former wine warehouses to good use. It’s a popular place and well worth a visit.
THE GARE DU NORD is one of the six terminus railway stations in Paris and it’s the one I use most often.
It’s reputed to be the busiest railway station in Europe with 190 million passengers passing through it each year. That equates to the population of the United Kingdom, France and Italy combined, or the entire population of Brazil.
From the Gare du Nord French SNCF trains head to northern France, Thalys trains to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and the Eurostar to both Brussels and to the United Kingdom. The station is also home to some French commuter train services.
The original station was opened in 1846 but traffic expanded at such a rate that in the 1860’s the French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff was engaged to redesign and rebuild the station. His creation is the Gare du Nord that we see today.
For me, the Gare du Nord is the only station in Paris that has really distinctive sounds enveloped in their own distinctive acoustics. The other main Paris stations sound rather ordinary by comparison.
Inside the Gare du Nord:
The inside of the Gare du Nord is always busy with constant waves of people ebbing and flowing. Outside, the ebb and flow continues but less with people and more with traffic.
Just behind the Gare du Nord is a very busy bus station, which I know well. It’s from here that I catch my 43 bus home every time I arrive at this station after a rail journey.
Outside the Gare du Nord:
Parisian buses may not be the first thing that leap to mind when one thinks of the Gare du Nord but for me, these sounds are also an integral part of the Gare du Nord’s rich sound tapestry.
IT HAPPENS AT NOON on the first Wednesday of every month. Across Paris, and indeed across most of France, the sonorous tones of the Signal National d’Alert fill the air.
This national alert system or réseau national d’alerte (RNA), comprises a network of around 4,000 sirens across the country operated by France Telecom. The system is designed to alert the public to imminent danger. The characteristics of the alert signal are very precisely defined in a 2007 decree issued by the Ministry of the Interior.
There are in fact two signals, one is the ‘alert’ signal itself (shown above) and the other is’ end of the alert’ signal (shown below).
The ‘alert’ signal consists of three successive cycles with each lasting for 1 minute and 41 seconds and each separated by an interval of 5 seconds. Each cycle consists of five periods, the first of which lasts for 10 seconds with the remaining four periods being 7 seconds long. The ramp-up time for the siren between each period is 1 second and the descent time 4 seconds. The ramp-up time at the beginning of each cycle is 3 seconds and at the end of each cycle the descent time is 40 seconds. The frequency of the siren tone is 380 cycles/second.
The ‘end of alert’ signal is one cycle of continuous signal lasting for 30 seconds.
And so it is, at noon on the first Wednesday of every month this alert system is tested. The signal is varied from month to month so as not to be confused with the actual alert signal but on the first Wednesday of each month it appears in some form.
On the first Wednesday of this month I recorded it from my balcony. The nearest sirens are a long way from my apartment but, despite the wind being in the wrong direction, there it was. For some reason, in my neck of the woods they ring the church bell at the same time.
Whilst listening to this test alert it occurred to me that if I heard this sound at any time other than the first Wednesday of each month I, like most people I suspect, wouldn’t have a clue what to do or where to go. Let’s hope I never have to find out.
IN JANUARY THIS YEAR I produced a blog piece entitled, “Mind the Gap”, a piece in which I gave an account of how the French Metro announcers communicate the warning, “Mind the Gap”, to an unsuspecting travelling public.
Here’s how the French do it:
Since then, I’ve made several trips on the London Underground and they too of course have their “Mind the Gap” announcements. Having recorded these announcements in both English and French I thought you might like to hear a direct comparison.
“Mind the Gap” in English and in French:
It occurred to me that to have a collection of “Mind the Gap” announcements from different countries in different accents and different languages might make for an interesting sound art piece.
Do you have a “Mind the Gap” recording from your country and in your language that you would like to share? If so, just send me a comment and I’ll get in touch.