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30
Apr

Passage Choiseul – A Soundwalk

FOR SOME TIME NOW as part of my Paris Soundscapes project I’ve been recording and archiving the contemporary sounds in each of the twenty surviving nineteenth-century passage couverts in Paris. The Passage Choiseul in the 2nd arrondissement is latest of these passages to be added to my collection.

01

Work began on the Passage Choiseul in 1825 and it took two years to complete. The architect, François Mazois, came up with the original design but he died before the work was completed and so another architect, Antoine Tavernier, took over.

02

Like all the passages couverts, the Passage Choiseul resembles a street with two rows of boutiques on the ground floor with living accommodation above joined together by a glass roof. At 190 metres long this is the longest of the surviving passages couverts and it’s registered as an historic monument. The floor originally comprised grey sandstone floor tiles but they were covered over in the 1970’s with the speckled tiles we see today.

03

Like in so many of the passage couverts, the glass roof in the Passage Choiseul suffered over the years. It was replaced in 1907 but the ravages of time took a further toll and it once again descended into a sorry state. Recently, a young architect, Raphaël Bouchmousse, 32, came up with a proposal to renovate the roof at a cost of €740,000.  The proposal was accepted and in May 2012 the work began. It’s now completed and the roof has returned to its former glory.

A Soundwalk in the Passage Choiseul:

04

The Passage Choiseul has a long association with the arts. Anatole France, a French poet, journalist, novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, worked here as a proof-reader from 1867 to 1876. Louis-Ferdinand Céline the French novelist, pamphleteer and physician, lived here as a child. His mother, Marguerite Destouches, owned a curiosity shop in the passage. Alphonse Lemeere published the first poems of Paul Verlaine from here in 1864 as well as the works of the Parnassians who embraced a French literary style that began during the 19th century. Today, the former publishing house of Alphonse Lemeere is occupied by the painter and sculptor, Anna Stein.

05

Another occupant of the Passage Choiseul is the rear entrance to the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens.

06

Inaugurated in 1855 by the composer Jacques Offenbach, the theatre was especially built to perform his opéra-bouffes. Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) was premiered here in 1858, La Belle Hélène in 1864 and La Vie Parisienne and Barbe-Bleue in 1866.

The main entrance to the theatre is in the neighbouring street, rue Monsigny.

07

After early success, like all the other passages couverts the passage Choiseul entered a period of decline. Its fortunes were revived in the 1970’s when the French actress, Sophie Desmarets, opened an antique shop here, Cactus Bazar. This was followed by Kenzo’s first fashion boutique, Jungle Jap, which has now moved to the Place des Victoires.

08

Today, the Passage Choiseul hosts Japanese eateries, clothing stores, jewellery shops, art galleries and art supply shops, as well as a plentiful supply of shoe shops.

09

The Passage Choiseul is to be found at:

40, rue Petits-Champs / 23, rue Saint-Augustine / 40, rue Dalayrac

Métro: Quatre-Septembre

And you can see more of my collection of les passages couverts here.

24
Apr

Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées

NESTLING BEHIND A CLUSTER of trees behind the théâtre Marigny and close to the Rond-point des Champs Elysées, the puppet show, Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées, is simply entrancing.

01

This puppet theatre has been here since 1818 making it the oldest marionette theatre in Paris. For generations it was owned by the Guentleur family but in 1979 it was acquired by José-Luis Gonzalez who has kept it going in the original tradition, a tradition dating back to the beginning of the 19th century.

02

Guignol is the most popular puppet character in France and his name has become synonymous with puppet theatre.  He was created in Lyon at the very end of the 18th century by Laurent Mourguet, one time silk weaver, peddler and later a dentist. Dentistry in the late 18th century was a primitive art consisting entirely of pulling teeth for free and making money by selling potions afterwards to kill the pain. Mourguet had the idea of attracting customers by setting up a puppet show in front of his dentist’s chair.

03

Mourguet’s first puppet shows were based on the Italian commedia dell’arte and featured Puncinella, or Punch as he’s known in England. By the turn of the century Mourguet’s shows were becoming so successful that he gave up dentistry and became a full-time puppeteer.  His puppet shows took a satirical look at the concerns of his working-class audience and included references to the news of the day. This proved to be a highly successful formula which lives on today with TV shows like Spitting Image in the UK and Les Guignols de l’info in France.

04

Mourguet developed characters close to the daily lives of his Lyon audience, first Gnafron, a wine-loving cobbler, and in 1808 Guignol. Other characters, including Guignol’s wife Madelon and the gendarme Flagéolet soon followed, but these are never much more than foils for the two heroes.

Guignol was supposedly named after an actual Lyonnais silk worker and he was originally performed with a regional dialect and the traditional garb of a peasant.

05

Guignol and the puppet shows that feature him are very much a Lyonnais tradition. In Paris, les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées departs from that tradition slightly in that Guignol wears a green coat with red facings whereas in Lyon he wears brown. Also the name of the theatre, Théâtre Vrai Guignolet, is different. This is because, according the current owner, Guignolet is for him the real Guignol of Paris as opposed to the Guignol of Lyon.

06

Mesdames, Mesdemoiselles et Messieurs, je vous présente …

Les Marionettes des Champs Elysées:

This sound piece is an edited version of the full Marionnettes des Champs Elysées show that I recorded but you will still hear a man dressed in black sporting a moustache opening and closing the curtains, Guignol, his wife and son, a misbehaved mouse and, of course, the inevitable gendarme, Flagéolet.

07

These puppet shows are often thought of as just children’s entertainment – Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées is advertised as being suitable for children from 3 to 10 years of age – but they are much more than that. In Lyon they say that, “Guignol amuses children… and witty adults.” Guignol’s sharp wit and linguistic verve have always been appreciated by adults as well as children.

08

It’s over fifty years since I last went to a puppet show and that was a very English Punch & Judy show. When I went to see Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées I was just as excited as I was all those years ago and I probably laughed even more now than I did then.

Whether you are young or old or whether you speak French or not, I hope you will get as much pleasure from listening to Les Marionnettes des Champs Elysées as I do. Guignol’s wife in particular trying to catch the mouse with cries of, “Arrête … Arrête”, reduces me to fits of laughter every time I hear it.

18
Apr

Château Rouge – A Soundwalk

IT MAY BE ONLY a stone’s throw from the tourist magnet of Montmartre but Château Rouge couldn’t be more different. Situated in the Goutte d’Or district, Chateau Rouge is Africa in the heart of Paris.

01

Home to immigrants from Europe in the 1950’s, Château Rouge now boasts an African community from Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Togo, the Congo, Cameroon and probably other places too. It’s said that something like thirty different languages can be heard here.  At the heart of Château Rouge is the Marché Dejean, a busy street market but one unlike any other I’ve seen – or heard – in Paris.

02

Alighting from my train at Château Rouge Métro station I stepped onto a platform full of other people who also had the Marché Dejean firmly in their sights. The crush was so great that we had to queue to get out of the station.

Emerging onto the street the cacophony of the Métro station faded and a different wave of sound enveloped me, the sound of the Marché Dejean round the corner. I could hear the market well before I could see it.

04

The Marché Dejean runs along the rue Dejean but it spills over into two of the neighbouring streets, rue Poulet and rue des Poissonniers and the whole area is a very rich sound environment.

Regular followers of this blog will know that I enjoy soundwalks. Soundwalking is one of the techniques I use to capture the sounds of Paris and particularly the sound tapestry of the city’s streets. The aim of a soundwalk is to capture the mélange of sounds that create the atmosphere of a place as well as the individual sounds that might help to define it. And the Marché Dejean is perfect soundwalking territory.

A Soundwalk in the Marché Dejean:

03

The sights and sounds of the Marché Dejean reflect its soubriquet, Little Africa. Either side of the street small retailers selling beauty products and colourful fabrics sit alongside hallal butchers and exotic food shops selling everything from fish – treadfin, tilapia and barracuda, to exotic spices and vegetables including yam, okra, manioc (cassava) and a host of other things I can’t put a name to.

05

Although these shops are exotic and colourful the real sounds of the Marché Dejean are to be found in the street itself. People using upturned cardboard boxes as makeshift stalls gather in the road to sell everything from beauty products, to clothing, exotic vegetables, peanuts, watches, sunglass, handbags and even mobile phones. At the first sign of the police of course, these itinerant traders disappear in the blink of an eye only to return minutes later when the threat has passed.

06

Taking a camera to these parts is not a good idea. I was very firmly told by an extremely large and rather menacing African gentleman that taking photographs c’est interdit – it’s not allowed. Of course it is allowed, it’s just that they don’t want you to do it – for what reason we can only guess.

07

Château Rouge and the Marché Dejean with the colourful sights, which are much brighter in the summer than when I went, the exotic smells and rich sounds reflect the cultural diversity of Paris. The area is well worth a visit – but it’s perhaps best to leave the camera at home.

08

12
Apr

Fond Memories and a Soundwalk in Rue Lepic

ABOUT ONCE EVERY month or so, I wander up to Pigalle, one of the – how shall I say – one of the more ‘colourful’ areas of Paris.

01

Tourists of course flock here to see the world-famous Moulin Rouge with its sixty strong troupe of Doriss Girls and the plus célèbre can-can du monde. But they might also come to this neck of the woods to see some less glamorous things too!

When I emerge from Pigalle Métro station it’s not the Moulin Rouge or the rows of seedy sex-shops that I see, they are behind me in the opposite direction, it’s this gas station straddling the footpath that always catches my eye.

02

This is the point of departure for my monthly perambulation around Pigalle. Starting from here, I walk along the boulevard de Clichy, turn right into the rue des Martyrs, right again into rue Victor Massé and then right again up to the boulevard de Clichy and Blanche Métro station which is right in front of the Moulin Rouge.

And the purpose of my monthly visits …

I come to look at the sound shops, to see what’s new and to reminisce.

03

When I first came to Paris some fifteen years ago, Pigalle was awash with shops specialising in sound recording. For a sound enthusiast like me it was heaven. You could buy anything and everything to do with sound recording here – reel-to-reel tape recorders, small and large, giant mixing desks, microphones, loudspeakers, and more cables than you could shake a stick at. And the choice was huge, not just the choice of products but the places you could buy them from. Today, it’s very different. Save for a few small enclaves, sound recording shops are few and far between.

04

Star’s Music on the boulevard de Clichy used to be one of the biggest and best sound recording shops in town. Today, it sells mostly electronic keyboards, electronic drum-kits and a few musical instruments. There is a small sound recording department but it’s confined to a couple of shelves in a tiny part of the store. All is not lost though, they do have a separate shop next door dedicated to selling microphones and they have a very good selection.

05

Another shop specialising in microphones, but also selling sound recorders, is Le Microphone. It’s a small shop in the rue Victor Massé and they have a good range of products ranging from affordable, hand-held recorders to top-quality broadcast recorders together with a top-of-the-range selection of microphones.

07

Home Studio used to be a favourite haunt of mine. I used to spend hours in this shop just browsing at things I was sure I ought to have but didn’t actually need. Today, this shop too is full of electronic keyboards and a range of digital gizmos not only above my price range but most of them way beyond my comprehension.

08

Not all that long ago, Home Studio set up a separate microphone shop further along rue Victor Massé, a shop not only with a very impressive range of microphones but also, as I know from personal experience, exemplary customer service, a rare commodity in these parts. Alas, this shop is also no more.  When I went to have a look last Saturday, the shop was empty and shuttered.

I still go to Pigalle every month or so to look at the sound shops and I still get that extraordinary buzz when something new catches my eye and just for a moment I’m absolutely convinced that I can’t possibly live without it … but the moment almost always passes and I come away empty-handed.

A journey around the sound shops of Pigalle used to occupy my entire Saturday afternoon or sometimes even longer. Today it takes me less than an hour to visit them all.

But there is an upside …

09

On my regular visits I now get much more time to explore the rest of Pigalle, the parts beyond the sound shops, the Moulin Rouge and the seedy side of life – places like rue Lepic.

Rue Lepic – A Soundwalk:

Rue Lepic is an ancient road climbing the Butte de Montmartre from the boulevard de Clichy to the place Jean-Baptiste-Clément. In 1852 it was renamed rue de l’Empereur, and renamed again in 1864, after the General, Louis Lepic (1765-1827). It’s one of those engaging Parisian streets where I love to do soundwalks.

10

I suppose it’s all too easy to look upon the past through rose-tinted spectacles. I still though treasure my memories of Saturday afternoon’s touring the seemingly endless sound shops in Pigalle, looking, touching and occasionally buying what was then state-of the-art technology.  But times move on and technology seems to change at an ever-quickening pace. The sound shops that remain in Pigalle today sell some things that I recognise and completely understand and, every once in a while, still might buy. But they also sell things that are way beyond my understanding. I’m sure that even these state-of-the-art products will also become tomorrow’s museum pieces.

Yes, I do mourn the passing of all the sound shops that gave me so much pleasure all those years ago but I take comfort from having more time to explore the rest of Pigalle and being able to capture its sound tapestry – with a recording device that would have been unimaginable fifteen years ago!

6
Apr

Paris – A Personal View

I AM DELIGHTED TO present a new piece in my Paris – A Personal View series.

For each piece in the series I invite a guest who lives in Paris to visit one of their favourite places or a place in the city that has a special meaning for them. With access to a microphone and sound recorder the guest talks about the place and tells us why it’s special to them.

Today my guest is Monique Wells.

02-08-2011 Monique at the Luxembourg Garden

Photo by Kim Powell

A native Houstonian and 21-year resident of Paris, Dr. Monique Y. Wells wears several professional hats.  She is a consultant in preclinical safety assessment, a time management/productivity expert, and an expert on African Diaspora Paris.  She owns two small businesses – one as a solopreneur and the other with her husband.  A writer and editor in multiple disciplines, she enjoys investigating her topics thoroughly with an eye for the unusual, untold story. She is also passionate about travel and about food and wine.

As an African-American woman living in France, her interest in African Diaspora history and culture in Paris led her to create Discover Paris!’ Entrée to Black Paris™ Afro-centric walks and activities.  It also inspired her to found the French non-profit association called Les Amis de Beauford Delaney.  Having successfully placed a tombstone at the previously unmarked grave of painter Beauford Delaney, the principal goal of the organization is now to increase awareness of Delaney’s work.

And Monique’s chosen place? The Jardin du Luxembourg

©Monique Wells at the Jardin du Luxembourg:

01

Preparing to record in the Jardin du Luxembourg 

Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.

02

The photographic exposition of the Tour de France on the gates of the Jardin 

03

Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.

04

Palais du Luxembourg – The Luxembourg Palace

05 Le Poète_early spring 2013_close-up 1

Le poète ou Hommage à Paul Eluard (1954)
Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) 

Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.

06 Apiary_landscape_early spring 2013

The Apiary

Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.

07 Horloge Palais de Luxembourg_with roof

Horloge, Palais du Luxembourg

Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.

08

L’Acteur grec, by Arthur Bourgeois and a view of the Panthéon in the summertime 

09 Fountain Medicis

La fontaine Médicis – The Medici Fountain

Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.

10 First crocuses_Luxembourg Garden_1

The first crocuses

Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.

I am very grateful to Monique for giving up her time on a blustery, early Spring day to visit and talk about the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Courtesy Note:

Unlike other sounds on this blog, the sound piece ‘Monique Wells at the Jardin du Luxembourg‘ is not covered by a Creative Commons license. The copyright for this piece rests jointly and exclusively with Monique Wells and Des Coulam.  It follows therefore that the downloading of this piece for any purpose is not permitted without the express permission of both Monique and Des. We have no wish to spoil your enjoyment of this piece but simply ask you to respect that the work is ours. Thanks for understanding.