THE FIRST GALIGNANI bookshop in Paris was opened in 1801, on rue Vivienne but, thanks to Baron Haussmann’s redevelopment of Paris, it moved to the rue de Rivoli in 1856.
The Librairie Galignani is the oldest English bookshop on the Continent and given its setting in the rue de Rivoli, its delicious wooden floors, dark wooden shelves and its wooden ladders for reaching the higher shelves, it’s certainly one of the most elegant.
Sounds inside the Librarie Galignani:
The Galignani family have been involved with books since 1520 when Simone Galignani published a Latin grammar in Venice. This was followed in 1597 by the Geografia by Ptolemaus.
At the end of the seventeenth-century, Giovanni Antonio Galignani, left Venice for London, and shortly after, Paris, where he opened a bookshop together with a reading room specialising in the English language. He also continued the family publishing business. He founded Galignani’s Messenger, a daily newspaper for the English-speaking community on the Continent to which several notable English authors contributed.
Galignani’s Messenger and the publishing house were discontinued at the beginning of the twentieth-century, but the bookshop continued to thrive. During the German occupation, it was forbidden to stock English language books and so André Jeancourt-Galignani opened a section devoted to art books and the Fine Arts section continues to flourish today.
Today, the Librarie Galignani remains independent and is now owned by the sixth generation of the family.
If you love books, and especially books in an elegant setting, then browsing through both the English and French sections of the Librarie Galignani is an absolute delight.
WHEN THINKING ABOUT which sounds of Paris I might publish here on this Christmas Eve it became obvious that I needed to look no further than the bottom of my little street and what is still my favourite Christmas market in Paris. I went to it this afternoon.
Paris is full of fabulously rich sounds but sometimes the most intimate sounds are to be found closest to home, like the sound of this man singing on the parvis of my local Hôtel de Ville.
Singer at my local Christmas market:
This man on his unicycle provided an interesting diversion.
And then I found this man playing a most extraordinary accordion.
FOLLOWING ON THE HEELS of Aristide Boucicault’s hugely successful Au Bon Marché, which opened in 1852, Jules Jaluzot and Jean-Alfred Duclos, opened their department store, Printemps, at the corner of Rue du Havre and Boulevard Haussmann in 1865. The store was designed by Jules and Paul Sédille.
The building was expanded in 1874, and elevators (then a great novelty) from the 1867 Universal Exposition were installed. Rebuilt after a fire in 1881, the store became the first to use electric lighting and it was one of the first department stores with direct access to the Métro to which it was connected in 1904.
Like all the big departments stores in Paris, Printemps decorates its windows at Christmas and large crowds gather to try to get a glimpse of the displays. This year, the fashion house, Dior, has taken over the Printemps windows.
Seventy-four hand-made poupettes dressed in Dior haute couture crafted in the Dior atelier in the Avenue Montaigne are to be seen – if you can get close enough!
The cacophony of sound outside the Printemps windows:
By 1900, Printemps was in trouble. Gustave Laguionie replaced Jules Jaluzot as owner after the business came close to collapse. In the early 20th century, the building was extended along the Boulevard Haussmann by architect René Binet in an art nouveau style.
In 2010, the Canadian architectural firm, Yabu Pushelberg, completed a redesign of the interior of Printemps. The award-winning designers, George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg say that, “The Printemps’ retail space is conceived as a series of ‘rooms’, like a large mansion, each with its own unique and identifiable character, to create an exclusive residential ambience in order to avoid commercial stereotypes and promote a relaxing atmosphere.”
Yabu and Pushelberg have done a good job. Their design is trés chic as befits a flagship store – but sound design is clearly not their strong point! I can’t help wondering why they went to so much trouble to perfect the interior design and then infested the entire ambience with mind numbing ‘musac’, not quite loud enough to be annoying but certainly loud enough to be irritating. It seems to add nothing except to raise the ambient sound level for no obvious reason.
Sounds inside Printemps:
Across the street from Printemps I found the Armée du Salut, the Salvation Army, in festive mood.
Armée du Salut:
Not perhaps the best Salvation Army band I’ve heard, but full marks for effort and enthusiasm on a cold winter’s day.
Looking back at Printemps from across the street I was reminded that on 16th December 2008, the store was evacuated following a bomb threat from the FRA (Afghan Revolutionary Front). The bomb disposal services found five sticks of dynamite in a toilet in the store. The FRA claimed responsibility and demanded the withdrawal of 3,000 French soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.
I remember this incident very well and perhaps it’s a reminder that there are more important things in the world than glitz, glamour and bad sound design!
JUST ONE WEEK TO GO and Christmas will be upon us so this seems like the appropriate time to post my audio Christmas card.
My Audio Christmas Card 2012:
This audio card is made up of a handful of the sounds of Paris that I’ve recorded during the past year. It’s been a good year for the Brits in Paris with Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France and Mark Cavendish winning his fourth consecutive stage of le Tour in the Champs Elysées. We also had a presidential election and I was in the Place de la Bastille recording the sounds on that memorable night in May when the crowd erupted as the exit polls showed that François Holland had won. I’ve also included sounds from the Elysées Palace when François Holland was sworn in as Président de la République. There is some of the wonderful street music that enriches our lives in Paris as well as a glimpse of the French Army male voice choir and, of course, the wonderful sounds of the Paris Métro.
This compilation is dedicate to all those who visit this blog regularly as well as to those who happen to drop in as they’re passing by. I extend my grateful thanks to you all.
I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all that you wish for yourselves in 2013.
LA RUE GEORG FRIEDERICH HAENDEL is off the beaten track so, unless you live in the neighbourhood, it’s unlikely you’ll come across it. It’s in the 10th arrondissement in the Hôpital-Saint-Louis quartier and it stretches just 131 metres from the quai de Jemmapes to the junction of the Rue Francis-Jammes and the Place Robert-Desnos.
The street is fairly modern, it was constructed in 1978 by the architects Jacques Labro and Jean-Jacques Orzoni and, of course, it’s named after George Frideric Handel, the German born composer who is perhaps best remembered for his Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks as well as the Messiah and other oratorios, operas and anthems.
I came upon this street the other day completely by accident. I was especially pleased to find it because, alongside the youngsters playing football outside the gates to the adjacent Jardin Amadou Hampâté Bâ, I discovered the sounds of birdsong, sounds not that easy to find amidst the bustle of Paris.
Birdsong the Rue Georg Friedrich Haendel:
The birds were nestled in the foliage on top of the metal archways that line the street and it made for a pleasant interlude on an otherwise cold December day.
THE BRAZILIAN ARCHITECT Oscar Niemeyer, one of the leading figures in the development of modern architecture, died last week at the age of 104.
Niemeyer was perhaps best known for his design of civic buildings for Brasília, which became Brazil’s capital in 1960, as well as his collaboration with other architects on the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. His exploration of the aesthetic possibilities of reinforced concrete was highly influential on the architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Over his long career he designed approximately 600 projects.
A lifelong socialist, Niemeyer fled Brazil after the 1964 military coup and subsequently opened an office in the Champs Elysées in Paris from where he left his mark on the city. He designed a job centre in Bobigny in the northeast of Paris and the offices of L’Humanité, the communist party newspaper, in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis. But perhaps he will be best remembered for his design of the national headquarters of the Parti Communiste Français in the Place du Colonel Fabien in the 19th arrondissement.
National Headquarters of the Parti Communiste Français
Constructed between 1967 and 1972, the building has a sinuous glazed façade and concrete support pillars. The upturned white saucer on the forecourt – reminiscent of Niemeyer’s work for the parliament building in Brasilia – is, in fact, the ceiling of the underground central debating chamber of the communist party; probably one of the most breathtaking internal spaces in Europe.
Inside the debating chamber, the walls are all curved and the light is diffused through thousands of steel squares that hang from the ceiling. Niemeyer also designed the furniture including the brown leather chairs all facing the white concrete podium at the front.
The building is surrounded by rather daunting green painted iron railings with only one apparent entrance, a small gate, which can only be opened by using a security code or by requesting permission via the not so efficient intercom system. Interestingly, the concrete architecture in front of the building is designed to hide from view those who do manage to gain entry. Despite being seemingly unwelcoming, the building is, in fact, open to the public – although not on the day that I went.
The inside of the building is quite spectacular but I also rather like the view from the Place du Colonel Fabien. The contrast between the Morris Column and Hector Guimard’s entourage Métro entrance in the foreground set against Neimeyer’s dominating creation appeals to me.
Sounds of the Place du Colonel Fabien recorded outside the HQ of the Parti Communiste Français:
Unlike Niemeyer’s building, the sounds in the street outside are not in the least spectacular but they are what they are, the sounds of that space at a given moment in time and so they are equally important in the cultural history of this place.
LA DÉFENSE IS A MAJOR business district in the far west of Paris. It lies at the extreme western end of the axis that begins at the Louvre and continues along the Champs Elysées beyond the Arc de Triomphe to La Défense.
At this time each year, La Défense is host to a large Christmas market built in front of La Grande Arche, one of François Mitterrand’s Grands Projets. Designed by Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and Danish engineer Erik Reitzel, La Grande Arche was built as a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals.
Standing in front of La Grande Arche last Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the contrast between the 350 tiny wooden châlets and the giant office blocks that surround them. I was also struck by the stark contrast of the traders in the châlets trying to sell their wares to ordinary punters like me with some of the madness associated with these giant buildings.
Take the building on the left for example, Coeur Défense. At the height of the financial madness in 2008, Coeur Défense became the most expensive piece of real estate on the planet when it was bought by Lehman Brothers for an astonishing €2.1bn. They bought it just as the property market peaked and we know what happened next. Property prices fell, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and disposing of Coeur Défense become Europe’s largest distressed property sale.
I was also thinking about Société Générale, France’s second largest bank, whose offices are a short walk from the Christmas Market in La Défense. On January 24, 2008, the bank announced that a single futures trader had fraudulently lost the bank €4.9 billion, the largest such loss in history.
All this stands in stark contrast to the individual stallholders at the Christmas market trying to make a living and bringing some Christmas cheer in the process.
Music at the Christmas market:
Christmas markets in Paris are always enjoyable to visit even if you do tend to see the same stalls in more or less the same places each year selling more or less the same things. Each year, I set off to capture the sounds of the Christmas markets but, as each year passes, I find it more difficult to find something different to record. These musicians for example, good as they are, are always at the Christmas market in La Défense, in the same place and often playing the same music.
So this year, even though the sounds I found at La Défense were pretty much the same as every year, I’ve tried to capture a different emphasis by putting the individual stallholders centre stage as they go about selling their wares.
Consider it a poke in the eye to the ‘suits’ who plundered the pension funds of the unsuspecting public to the tune of billions!
La Défense Christmas Market – A Soundwalk:
THE PASSAGE DU PRADO makes its way into my series about the surviving Parisian passages couverts by stealth rather than by virtue. Built in 1785, it might claim to be the oldest of the passages couverts in Paris – but it isn’t.
It was indeed built in 1785 but it was originally an open-air passage like many others built around the same time. It only became covered in 1925.
Its owners, inspired by the national Museum of Madrid, named it the Passage du Prado and it enjoyed some success in the 1930’s but, despite the best efforts of Les Amis du Passage du Prado, it looks pretty sorry for itself today.
About the only thing to commend this passage are the Art Deco style buttresses made of wood and plaster attached to the glass roof which remain in good condition despite dating from 1925.
Sounds inside the Passage du Prado:
The Passage du Prado used to host mainly wholesale clothes retailers but today it is home to a selection of African hairdressers, a hotel, cafés and an assortment of individual businesses.
Passage du Prado:
16, boulevard Saint-Denis / 16 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis
Open every day from 09.30 – 19.00