SITUATED AT THE WESTERN edge of Paris, the Bois de Boulogne is the second largest public park in the city covering some 2,090 acres, which makes it two and a half times bigger than Central Park in New York and about the same size as Richmond Park in London.
Amongst other things, the Bois de Boulogne is home to the Hippodrome de Longchamp where each year, on the first Sunday in October, one of Europe’s most prestigious horse races, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe takes place. It’s also home to the Stade Roland Garros, the stadium where the French Open tennis tournament is held each year.
World-class horse racing and tennis are not the only sports played in the Bois de Boulogne. At weekends especially, ad hoc games of football, rugby and even the occasional game of cricket can be found taking place here. Few games though can be as curious as the one I stumbled across recently.
On a stroll through the park late one afternoon last week I came upon a game of football – but football with a difference. Young men and women encased in plastic bubbles trying to kick a football seemed to me a bizarre way to spend an afternoon.
‘Bonding’ in the Bois de Boulogne:
It soon became clear though that this was more than simply a curious game of football. This was an idea dreamt up by some overpaid management consultancy where they take perfectly normal employees in a perfectly normal company and encourage them to make complete fools of themselves in the interests of team-building or ‘bonding’ – a ghastly phrase only a management consultant could come up with!
I learnt that this was only one of several activities that these people were put through throughout the day – each one becoming more bizarre as the day went on.
Throughout each activity, each individual was being watched and scored against a range of criteria no doubt also dreamt up the management consultants. All seemed to be having fun but I couldn’t help wondering if that was genuine, or simply an act to impress the scorers.
PLACE DE LA NATION is both a place of celebration and a place of protest. Every summer, the Carnaval Tropicales de Paris takes place here and most of the big street protests in Paris either start or finish here.
In the centre of Place de la Nation is the monument, “The Triumph of the Republic”, a bronze sculpture created by Aimé-Jules Dalou erected in 1899 to mark the centenary of the French Revolution.
Under the Ancien Regime, Place de la Nation was called Place du Trône because a throne was erected in this space on 26 July 1660 for the arrival of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain following their marriage in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. During the French Revolution the name, Place du Trône, was changed to Place du Trône-Renversé (Square of the Overturned Throne) and, in 1794, it changed from being a place of celebration to a killing field.
Barrière du Trône – Picture from Wikipedia
On 11th June 1794, the guillotine was moved from Place de la Bastille where it had been for a short time to the Barrière du Trône at the southern end of the Place du Trône.
From 14th June to 27th July 1794, Charles-Henri Sanson, Royal executioner of France and his assistants worked the guillotine on an industrial scale. During these six weeks they beheaded some 1,306 people in batches of 40 to 50 at a time.
Today, the Barrière du Trône still stands but, apart from a plaque on a wall marking the site of l’Échafaud (the scaffold on which the guillotine was placed), nothing remains to remind us of these bloody events. That is unless one walks along the neighbouring rue de Picpus. There, behind the heavy wooden doors of N° 35, the reminders are vivid.
This is the Cimetière de Picpus, the largest private cemetery in Paris created from land seized from the convent of the Chanoinesses de St-Augustin during the Revolution. It was to here that the mutilated bodies were brought after Sanson had done his work and after being stripped of their clothing, they were unceremoniously dumped into two freshly dug pits under cover of darkness. These mass graves are still here and today they are tended with much care.
Yesterday, on my way to Place de la Nation to record yet another street demonstration for my Paris Soundscapes Archive, I stopped off at the Cimetière de Picpus. My timing was fortuitous. Yesterday was 15th June; one day after Madame Guillotine set to work in Place du Trône in 1794. In the chapel in the grounds of the cemetery I discovered a memorial service taking place to commemorate the victims buried here.
I recorded some of the sounds inside the chapel and then went to look at the cemetery. Whilst there, I recorded a piece for my audio diary which I’ve been keeping for many years. I’ve never shared any of my audio diary on this blog before, it’s not what I usually do, but I would like to share this piece with you. I’ve added some of the sounds from inside the chapel to my words and I hope that this piece, together with the pictures I took, will give you a flavour of the Cimetière de Picpus – a very special place.
Cimetière de Picpus – A Personal View:
Porte Charretière – The entrance in 1794
Porte Chapelle – The original chapel door in 1794
Family members of the victims are buried here
Memorial to the 16 Carmelites de Compiègne who sang their way to the guillotine
Tombe de La Fayette
The ‘fosses communes’ or mass graves are under the gravel. 304 victims are buried in the smaller grave at the front and 1,002 in the larger grave at the rear in front of the wall
I HAD OCCASION TO visit the French Ministry of Finance last week, the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances.
The Ministry building is in the Boulevard de Bercy and, along with the Louvre Pyramid, the Musee d’Orsay, Parc de la Villette, Institut du Monde Arabe, Opéra Bastille, Grande Arche de La Défense, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, it’s one of François Mitterand’s Grand Projets, officially known as the Grandes Operations d’Architecture et d’Urbanisme.
Designed by Paul Chemetov and built in 1988, the building is T-shaped, it’s seventy metres in length and, because of height restrictions at the time it was built, it rises to only six levels. The building comprises 225,000 square metres of office space that span the rue de Bercy and stretch as far as La Seine. And it boasts it’s own helipad and a private jetty where the building adjoins the river.
When I went to the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances I went on Métro Line 1 to the Gare de Lyon and then walked along rue de Bercy. On the way back, I took a different route and walked along the full length of the Ministry building to the Seine, then across the Pont de Bercy to the Quai de la Gare Métro station on Line 6.
Of all the lines on the Paris Métro, Line 6 is the one I enjoy most. It runs for 13.6 km (8.5 miles) along a semi-circular route around the southern half of the city between the stations Charles de Gaulle – Étoile in the west and Nation in the east. For 6.1 km (3.8 miles) of the route the trains run above ground from where it’s possible to get a different, and sometimes spectacular, view of the city. The view of the Tour Eiffel as the trains cross the Pont de Bir-Hakeim has to be one of the most spectacular sights on any Métro line in the world.
Métro Line 6 crossing the Pont de Bir-Hakeim
Photo from Wikipedia
Quai de la Gare station is at the intersection of the Quai de la Gare and the Boulevard Vincent Auriol in the 13th arrondissement. It opened on 1st March 1909 and it takes its name from the Quai de la Gare, a wharf on the Left Bank of the Seine in the second half of the eighteenth-century that served the nearby Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. When the wharf was constructed the area was part of the village of Ivry, which consisted of two main neighbourhoods, one of which was called Quartier de La Gare.
Near to the station, and also taking its name from the Quartier de La Gare, was the Barrière de la Gare, a gate built for the collection of taxation as part of the mur des Fermiers généraux, the Wall of the Farmers-General. The gate was built between 1784 and 1788 and demolished in 1819.
Sounds of Quai de la Gare Station:
With its entrance at street level, the platforms of Quai de la Gare sit above the Boulevard Vincent Auriol and they’re accessed by very narrow escalators to the left and right.
I find the sounds of Métro stations fascinating, partly for the sound of the trains but also for the sound of the spaces in between the trains coming and going.
In 1971 the trains on Line 6 were converted to use rubber tyres. This of course makes the sound of the trains less dramatic than the sound of the metal-wheeled trains, but that’s exactly the point. The conversion to rubber tyres was made to reduce the noise and vibration not only to passengers but also residents near the elevated portions of the line.
The swish of the trains entering and leaving the Quai de la Gare and the clatter of their doors opening and closing sit in contrast to the quieter, but equally interesting, sounds in between. Sitting on the platforms of stations like this waiting for a train it’s easy to miss the depth and texture of these sounds. For me, it’s often only when I listen to recordings of these sounds away from the station and out of context that they actually come alive. Every time I listen I hear something different. I hope you do too.
Here’s some more sights of Quai de la Gare:
Looking out from the platform to the Ministère de l’Economie et des Finances
THE ALBERT KAHN MUSEUM AND GARDENS are located on the outskirts of Paris in Boulogne-Billancourt conveniently close to the Métro station Boulogne – Pont de Saint-Cloud (Line 10) and the tram stop Parc de Saint-Cloud on tram line T2.
Taking advantage of the sunshine that, for the most part, seems to have eluded us this year, I went to take a look.
The museum and the gardens, now owned by the Conseil Général des Hauts-de-Seine, are the legacy of the French banker and philanthropist, Albert Kahn (1860 – 1940).
Albert Kahn was born in 1860 in Marmoutier, in the Bas-Rhin region of France. At the age of sixteen he went to Paris to work as a junior clerk in the Goudchaux Frères bank where he eventually became a senior partner. In 1898 he set up his own bank.
Kahn believed that knowledge of foreign societies and cultures encouraged respect and peaceful relations between peoples and so, following this theme and using his considerable wealth, he set up the series of bursaries, or travelling scholarships, he called Autour du Monde – “Around the World”. He also founded the Chair of Human Geography at the Collège de France, plus the first centre for preventive medicine, a biology laboratory and two forums for discussion and research, the Société Autour du Monde, and the National Committee for Social and Political Studies.
In 1893 Kahn acquired a large property in Boulogne-Billancourt, where he established a unique garden containing a variety of garden styles including French, English and Japanese.
In 1909, Kahn travelled to Japan on business and returned with a collection of photographs of the journey. This prompted him to begin a project collecting a photographic record of the entire planet. He appointed Jean Brunhes as the project director, and sent photographers to every continent to record images of the planet using the first colour photography, autochrome plates, and early cinematography. Between 1909 and 1931 they collected 72,000 colour photographs and 183,000 metres of film. These form a unique historical record of 50 countries, known as The Archives of the Planet, now housed in the Albert Kahn museum.
The stock market crash of October 1929 dealt a fatal blow to Kahn’s wealth and his plans. His property was confiscated and in 1936, the Prefecture of the Seine acquired the Boulogne estate, although Kahn was allowed the use of it until his death in November 1940. In 1968, the Conseil Général des Hauts-de-Seine was granted ownership of the site and collections.
Eventually the four hectares (eight acres) of gardens were restored and a museum was set up by the Conseil Général des Hauts-de-Seine to exhibit Kahn’s collection of images.
Sounds of the Albert-Kahn Musée et Jardin:
The Albert Kahn garden comprises a collection of gardens of different styles.
There is the Japanese garden complete with an old Japanese village filled with temples, lanterns, stone edged paths, and the contemporary Japanese garden, with azaleas, and streams crossed by stone or timber bridges.
There’s a formal French garden, with a large greenhouse complete with palms and tropical plants, an orchard and a rose garden.
The English garden was a particular delight to me, with its green grass, rocks and a cottage.
Then, a forest of Blue Atlas cedars and Colorado spruces, whose low branches screen a small lily pond surrounded by a wild meadow. After crossing the meadow and passing through a group of slender birches, paths lead to a forest of conifers planted on steep, rocky soil, a reproduction of the Vosges Mountains near Kahn’s birthplace.
Change is afoot for the Albert Kahn museum. The Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, won the competition for a completely new museum building. Work is due to start in 2015 and is expected to be completed in 2017.
Albert Kahn, museum and gardens: 10-14, rue du Port, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt