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27
Aug

L’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais

DEDICATED TO THE 2nd century Italian martyrs Gervasius and Protasius, the Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais is one of the oldest churches in Paris and it’s to be found in the 4th arrondissement, just east of the Hôtel de Ville.

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There has been a church on this site since the 4th century but work on the present church was begun in 1494. The chapels of the apse were finished in 1530 and the transept in 1578.

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The early building is in the Gothic style but the western front of the church was built in the classical style. It was completed in 1620.

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The Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais is home to a fine French Baroque style organ built by François-Henri Clicquot. The organ was restored in the 1970’s but seventeen of the forty-one organ stops remain from the 17th century and fifteen from the 18th century, including all the reeds. All the wind-chests date from before the French revolution.

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Perhaps the most celebrated organist of l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais was the French Baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist, François Couperin.

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The church also boasts two other, much smaller, chapel organs.

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On 29 March 1918, a German shell fired by the long-range “Paris Gun“, fell on the church during a Good Friday service killing 88 people and wounding 68 others. This was the worst single incident involving the loss of civilian lives during the German bombardment of Paris in 1918.

In 1975, l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais became the headquarters of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem founded by Père Pierre-Marie Delfieu. Devoted to monastic life in an urban context, most of its members work part-time in civil occupations.

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I went into l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais recently. As always, I had a sound recorder with me but the sounds I recorded were not the sounds of a service taking place or the sounds of the François-Henri Clicquot organ. Instead, they were quite unexpected sounds.

Sounds inside l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais:

Yes, I recorded the sounds of the other visitors in the church, their footsteps and their chatter, but the sounds that captivated me were the fascinating sounds of this creaking wooden door.

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From now on, these rather haunting sounds are the sounds I shall always associate with l’Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais. I can’t help wondering if François Couperin would recognise them.

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21
Aug

Place du Marché Sainte Catherine

STANDING ON THE SITE of the former convent Sainte Catherine du Val des Ecoliers, the Place du Marché Sainte Catherine is a short walk from its more elegant and illustrious neighbour the Place des Vosges in the Marais district of Paris.

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The convent Sainte Catherine du Val des Ecoliers was founded in 1228 and stood on this site until it was demolished in 1767. Some ten years later a market, the Marché Sainte Catherine, replaced the convent.

The market has now also disappeared and today, surrounded by 18th century buildings, the Place du Marché Sainte Catherine is a small traffic-free square lined with trees and surrounded on three sides by restaurants. It’s one of those perfect Parisian squares where both locals and tourists gather to while away a lazy summer afternoon.

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I went to the Place du Marché Saint Catherine the other day and found two young musicians adding their own special atmosphere to this delightful place.

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Place du Marché Saint Catherine:

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Sometimes, these hidden corners of Paris can be just perfect!

15
Aug

Sounds From the Parisian Tourist Trail

IT IS SAID THAT Paris is the most visited city in the world and during the month of August when most Parisians are away on holiday the tourists usually have the city pretty much to themselves.

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The other day I went to the Hôtel de Sully, an hôtel particulier, or private mansion, in the Marais district of Paris. It was designed by the architect Jean Androuet du Cerceau and built between 1625 and 1630 in the Louis XIII style.

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Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Sully, former Superintendent of Finances to King Henri IV, purchased the property in 1634 and since then it’s had a variety of owners.  It was classified as a monument historique in 1862 and then bought by the state in 1944. Today, it’s the Centre des monuments nationaux, a public body under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Communication responsible for the management of historic buildings and monuments in the care of the state.

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Not surprisingly, since it’s both an historic monument and it’s next to the fashionable Place des Vosges, the Hôtel de Sully is a popular stop on the Parisian tourist trail and, especially in the summer, it becomes awash with tourist groups.

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I’ve been to, or passed by, the Hôtel de Sully many times so I’m quite familiar with it and I can quite understand why it should be on the tourist itinerary. But when I went the other day it wasn’t the sights that fascinated me but rather the sounds.

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Sounds of the tourist trail around the Hôtel de Sully:

I spend a good deal of my time listening attentively to the sounds of Paris and it’s not always the obvious sounds that capture my attention. The sounds of brilliant Parisian street musicians, the endless street demonstrations, the Paris Métro and the colourful sounds of the annual fêtes are all part of the sonic tapestry of this city but the less obvious and equally compelling snatches of half-heard conversations, the rustle of clothing, the sound of footsteps over the pavé or over the gravel, all create never to be forgotten images and stories waiting to be told.

For me, the sounds of visitors to Paris pounding the tourist trail across the gravel in the garden of the Hôtel de Sully are some of the characteristic sounds of Paris, sounds that you can also hear in most of the city centre parks.

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I always try to make time to stop and listen to sounds like these because I find them fascinating and even compelling. But what I also find fascinating is that while most of the people responsible for these sounds, those trudging wearily from one tourist spot to another, may be aware of these sounds I doubt that many, if any, actually stop to listen to them. And yet these sounds are as just as much a part of the fabric of the Hôtel de Sully as the building itself.

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Unlike hearing, listening is an art and it requires hard work and constant practice. I spend most of my time listening to Paris. And when one listens one’s curiosity is aroused.

If you’ve listened to the whole of my recording in the garden of the Hôtel de Sully you will have probably drawn your own picture of the scene. My photographs may have given you the context but you will have undoubtedly created your own pictures in your mind. If you’ve listened attentively you will have heard a rather curious and unexplained sound – a repetitive chanting in the background, a rather eerie sound.

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That sound came from this lady. Not everyone who pounds the tourist trail through the Hôtel de Sully is a tourist.

9
Aug

Jardin Anne-Frank

THE JARDIN ANNE-FRANK is easily missed. It’s tucked away in a cul-de-sac, the Impasse Berthaud, in the 3rd arrondissement next to the Musée de la Poupée, a private museum housing a collection of some 500 French dolls.

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The Jardin Anne-Frank, as the name suggests, is a green space dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank who gained international fame posthumously after her diary was published in which she documented her experiences hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. Anne Frank died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in March 1945, aged 15.

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Sounds of the Jardin Anne-Frank:

Covering some 4,000 M2, the Jardin Anne-Frank stands in the former gardens of l’Hôtel Saint-Aignan, now the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme, a museum dedicated to the art and history of Judaïsme.

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The garden was opened in June 2007 in the presence of Bertrand Delanoë, Mayor of Paris, Pierre Aidenbaum, Mayor of the 3e arrondissement, and Hans Westra, Director of the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam.

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The Jardin Anne-Frank is a delightful and tranquil place to spend a sunny summer afternoon.

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Jardin Anne-Frank

14 Impasse Berthaud

75003 Paris

Métro Station Rambuteau: Line 11

3
Aug

Les Olympiades

BUILT IN THE EARLY 1970’s, Les Olympiades is a housing complex in the 13th arrondissement comprising a dozen tower blocks built around a pedestrianised esplanade elevated some eight metres above street level.

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The Olympiades complex was originally part of a much bigger but never completed urban development project known as Italie XIII, a planned re-designing of the 13th arrondissement.

The name, Olympiades, comes from the fact that the eight tallest towers in the complex are named after cities that have hosted the Olympic Games – Anvers (Antwerp), Athènes (Athens), Cortina, Helsinki, Londres (London), Mexico, Sapporo, and Tokyo.

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Overseen by the chief architect, Michel Holley, Les Olympiades was built on the principle of vertical zoning. The ground level is a functional level built under the esplanade and consequently more or less invisible. It is dedicated mostly to car parking and delivery bays.  The next level, the esplanade, is dedicated to pedestrians, shops and the main entrances to the tower blocks, while the final level comprises the apartments themselves rising to some 104 metres (341 feet).

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The apartment blocks run in a more or less north-south axis, the southern end of which is home to a large Vietnamese and Chinese community. At the heart of this community is the Centre Commercial Oslo, a shopping centre whose name bears no relation at all to the shops, the goods on sale or most of the customers who frequent this place.

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Inside the Centre Commercial Oslo:

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In keeping with the names of other buildings in the Olympiades complex, the name Oslo was chosen for this shopping centre simply because Oslo was yet another Olympic city.

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On my perambulations around Paris I’ve visited Les Olympiades several times and whilst vast urban complexes like this are not much to my liking (my time spent in Moscow is testament to that), Les Olympiades is not an unpleasant place. In the daytime people stroll around the esplanade, sit outside cafés or visit the shops or restaurants. But, like that other area of Paris, La Défense, which I know particularly well and which was at least in part a model for Les Olympiades, I imagine that the night time environment might be very different.

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