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30
Nov

Histoires d’Automates Exhibition

I WENT TO AN EXHIBITION the other day in the fairly recently opened Théâtre des Sablons in Neuilly sur Seine. The exhibition, Histoires d’Automates, consisted of a collection of automata (automates in French), self-operating mechanical devices in the form of musical dolls, clockwork singing birds and tableaux méchaniques or mechanically animated scenes.

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Théâtre des Sablons

All the exhibits came from the collection of automata accumulated over the years by the antiquarian and collector, Jacques Damiot.  In 1978, five years before Damiot’s death, his collection was acquired by the Musée de Neuilly and from 2002 to 2005 all the pieces in the collection have been carefully restored.

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The creation of automata goes back to antiquity. It is said that in the 15th century BC
, Amenhotep son of Hapu made a statue of Memnon, King of Ethiopia, which uttered a melodious sound when struck by the sun’s rays in the morning and during sunset. In 520 BC 
Daedalus was reputed to have made statues that were worked by quicksilver and had the ability to walk.

But it was with the coming of the industrial revolution in the 19th century that automata really became popular. In France, the second half of the nineteenth century was the Golden Age during which the grands automatiers like Alexandre Théroude, Gustave Vichy, Jean Roullet, Ernest Decamps, Blaise Bontems, Jean-Marie Phalibois and Léopold Lambert were at their peak of creativity. They produced automata as collectible items or to decorate rooms or as amusement for adults and children alike.

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The fifty items in this exhibition illustrate the various types of automata ranging from the purely decorative such as musical clocks and musical boxes, to the mechanical representations of nature, of human nature and of the circus and the music hall.

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Of all the pieces, I think my favourite was the representation of the diminutive music hall comedian and dancer, Harry Relph, who became famous in both London and Paris at the end of the 19th century under the stage name of Little Titch. He was best known for his acrobatic and comedic Big-Boot dance for which he wore boots with soles 28 inches (71 cm) long.

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I couldn’t possibly go to an exhibition like this without recording the sounds around me, sounds as varied as mechanical birdsong, the clatter of Little Tich’s big boots, the sounds of excited children looking at the exhibits and the eclectic sounds of a 20th century display complete with 20th century music.

The sounds of Histoire d’Automates:

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Here are some more of the exhibits:

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Automata are still made today of course but usually as toys or for publicity material or for decorating shop windows rather than as ornamental and collectable pieces, which somehow seems rather a shame. I find them and their sounds endlessly fascinating.

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Nov

Hidden Sounds of La Fontaine Médicis

LA FONTAINE MÉDICIS, or the Medici Fountain, is a monumental fountain in the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. I’ve been to it many times but early on a bitterly cold morning last week I went with a special purpose in mind, to record the sounds of the fountain.

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The fountain was part of the sumptuous palace and gardens that Marie de Médicis, widow of Henry IV and regent for King Louis XIII, commissioned in the 1630’s. The palace, the Palais du Luxembourg, was based on the Palazzo Pitti and the gardens on the Boboli gardens in Florence both of which she had known from her childhood. The fountain was modelled on the grotto built by Bernado Buontalenti in the Boboli gardens. The palace was the work of architect Salomon de Brosse, but the fountain, or grotto, was most probably the work of Tommaso Francini, the Intendant General of Waters and Fountains of the King.

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Fontaine Médicis in 1820

After the death of Marie de Médicis the palace and the gardens went through several changes of ownership and the fountain fell into disrepair. Napoleon Bonaparte ordered some restoration work to be done at the beginning of the 19th century but by the second half of the century Baron Haussmann’s massive urban redevelopment of Paris was in full cry and the future of the fountain was in jeopardy. Haussmann had plans to create the rue de Médicis which was to cut through the site where the fountain stood.

The French architect Alphonse de Gisors, who had already extended the Palais du Luxembourg in the 1830’s, was called upon to move the Fontaine Médicis some thirty meters closer to the palace to make way for Haussmann’s new street and in doing so he radically changed its setting by creating a 50 metre long rectangle of water bounded by an alley of trees and he also changed its appearance.

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Alphonse de Gisors’ relocation of la Fontaine Médicis today

It was this rectangle of water that was of particular interest to me when I visited the Fontaine Médicis last week.

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Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea, by Auguste Ottin (1861)

Looking at the fountain with the giant, Polyphemus, looking down on Acis and Galatea and with Faunus, the god of the forest and Diana, goddess of the hunt (both by Ottin) looking at each other, I was absorbed by the sounds of the fountain.

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At this early hour in the morning there were no people around but even so I was not alone. This duck befriended me and stayed close to me the whole time I was there. I had gone to this place to record the sounds around me and although I could hear the sounds of the water I couldn’t help wondering what this duck might hear – assuming ducks can hear.

Anxious to find out, I lowered a microphone to the same level as the duck and began to record. These are the sounds heard by the thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who visit this place each year.

Presently, the duck leapt off the ledge onto the water below and began foraging with its head under the water. I followed by lowering a microphone under the water and I began to hear sounds that only the ducks and none of the visitors hear. Both the duck and I were close to where the water was falling over the ledge so the sounds under the water were an underwater version of the sounds above – the gurgling of the falling water as it hits and then descends below the waterline.

The duck decided to move off to a more interesting feeding ground, a clump of fallen leaves nestling on the water. I let my microphone float down to join the duck and it came to rest under the leaves where I discovered a completely different collection of captivating sounds.

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I’ve put together a selection of the sounds I recorded, the sounds from above the base of the fountain, the sounds from below and the sounds from under the bed of leaves so that you can share the sonic tapestry the ducks hear.

The hidden sounds of the Fontaine Médicis:

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In Homer’s Odyssey we are told that the man-eating one-eyed giant, Polyphemus, was blinded when Odysseus hardened a wooden stake in a fire and drove it into his eye. If that is so, then from his position on la Fontaine Médicis today Polyphemus will surely be more than compensated by the wonderful sounds around him both above and below the water.

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If you would like to know more about the Jardin du Luxembourg you can listen to a brilliant exposition in Paris – Personal View narrated by Dr. Monique Y. Wells.  I recommend it. 

18
Nov

Le Tramway T7 – ça roule!

AFTER THIRTEEN YEARS OF PLANNING, four years of construction and a total expenditure of some 360 million Euros the new Paris Tramway T7 opened for business on Saturday 16th November.

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Designed to extend the public transport system between the departments of Val-de-Marne and Essonne, Tramway T7 runs from the Métro station Villejuif – Louis Aragon in the commune of Villejuif in the southern suburbs of Paris to Porte de l’Essonne in the commune of Athis-Mons close to Orly international airport.

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The route of Tramway T7

In the middle of last week I went to Villejuif to watch and record the final testing of the trams before they entered service. This testing began in May this year but for the last month the trams and the crews have been operating a full service without passengers – a month-long dress rehearsal to ensure that the trams entered revenue service seamlessly.

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Final testing of the trams at Villejuif:

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On Saturday the scene at Villejuif was very different as I and many hundreds of others arrived for the inauguration of Tramway T7.

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The crowd gathered and the band played …

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The refreshments and entertainment were free …

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And Claudine Cordillot, Mayor of Villejuif made a speech.

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The inauguration of tramway T7 :

The planning for this new tramway began as far back as the year 2000 when a process of consultation with the local communities began and then, in 2002, the Syndicat des transports d’Île-de-France (STIF) gave their approval in principle for the project. STIF is the organisation that controls the Paris public transport system and coordinates all the different transport companies operating in Île-de-France including RATP and SNCF.

A public inquiry was held at the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004 to inform the local communities of the proposed plans and to hear any concerns or objections they had.

The proposed project was approved in December 2006 by RATP, STIF and the Conseil général du Val-de-Marne, the key local authority involved. In 2008, an amended proposal addressing some cost and technical issues was brought forward and this was approved in October of that year. This approval left the way clear for the preliminary construction work to begin in 2009.

In parallel with the construction of the tramway work was also begun on the redevelopment of the adjacent RD7, formerly Route National 7, the trunk road that runs from Paris to Italy.

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The funding required for Tramway T7 was considerable:

€52 million to acquire the necessary land;

€44 million for the initial studies and project management;

€223 million for the construction of the tramway and the redevelopment of RD7 and,

€48 million for the new rolling stock.

This money was funded by:

The French Government (€10 million), represented by the Prefecture of the Ile-de-France;

Région Ile-de-France (€234 million) – in pursuance of its objective to develop transport links between suburbs;

The Conseil général du Val-de-Marne (€54 million) – for the redevelopment of the RD7 road;

The Conseil général de l’Essonne (€12 million);

Communauté d’agglomération “Les Portes de l’Essonne” (€2.4 million) – for the redevelopment of the south side of the airport platform;

RATP (€5 million) – they operate of the tramway.

STIF – who controlled whole project. The €48 million cost of the rolling stock is funded by STIF in a RATP / STIF leasing agreement.

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Tramway T7 runs for 11.2 km from the Métro station Villejuif – Louis Aragon to Athis-Mons – Porte de l’Essonne. There are 19 trams operating the route which means that the average waiting time at any of the 18 stations is just 5 to 6 minutes on a weekday and a little longer at weekends and public holidays. The average travel time for the whole route is 31 minutes. The tramway can handle 30,000 passengers a day.

In yet another example of the joined-up thinking used by STIF and RATP, all but two of the 18 stations on this tramway have connections, or correspondances in French, with one or more bus routes.

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Image courtesy of Alstom

The trams used on Tramway T7 are the Citadis 302 trams built by the French company Alstom. These trams are not only energy and noise efficient but their low-floor design gives easy access to wheelchairs, pushchairs and people with reduced mobility. Capable of a maximum speed of around 70 km/h the trams on tramway T7 run at an average speed somewhere around 20 km/h.

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Inside the trams great attention has been given to both the signage and to the announcements. The signage in the roof tells passengers at each terminus precisely when the tram is due to depart. Throughout the journey the signage displays the name of the current stop and the connections that can be made there, the name of the next stop and the time it will take to get there as well as the time it will take to get to the next terminus.

Song Phanakem, the man behind the voices on the Paris mass transit system, has produced exceptionally good announcements for Tramway T7. He has used human voices of course and each tram stop announcement appears twice each time with a different intonation. The announcements are very clear and played at exactly the right volume – not too loud and not too soft. Only occasionally, in a very crowed tram with passenger’s voices raised more than usual, are the announcements a little hard to hear but the quality is such that even then they are not subsumed altogether. An interesting new feature is that at every tram stop there is an announcement to inform new passengers of the direction in which the tram is travelling. I can see this being very useful especially for international visitors travelling to or from Orly international airport who may be unfamiliar with this tram system.

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Of course, I couldn’t possibly go to the inauguration of Tramway T7 and not ride on a tram especially since for the weekend of the 16th/17th November it was completely free! And I was very lucky because not only did I ride on a brand new tram, it was a very special new tram – the 1,500th Alstom Citadis tram in worldwide circulation.

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I travelled all the way from Villejuif – Louis Aragon to Athis-Mons – Porte de l’Essonne – and back again. And, of course, I couldn’t make those journeys without recording them for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.

For those of you who have the time to listen, here are the sounds I captured on the outward journey.

 Villejuif – Louis Aragon to Athis-Mons – Porte de l’Essonne – the complete journey:

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While the creation and opening of Tramway T7 is impressive the story is not over. By 2018 it is planned that the tramway will be extended to Juvisy-sur-Orge and looking even further into the future, by 2020 it should connect to the new planned Métro line 15 at Villejuif- Louis Aragon. I think this is all good news especially since STIF and RATP seem to manage these new developments largely in harmony with the neighbouring local communities and in sympathy with environmental concerns.

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Villejuif – The end of the line

And if you think that a tramway can’t have a life of its own, Tramway T7 has its own blog!

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11
Nov

Rue Crémieux

THIS STREET WAS OPENED in 1865 as the avenue Millaud but in 1897 its name was changed to rue Crémieux in honour of Isaac Moïse also known as Adolphe Crémieux.

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Adolphe Crémieux was a French-Jewish lawyer, statesman and a staunch defender of the human rights of the Jews of France. He had a distinguished career but he is perhaps best remembered for the Crémieux Decree of 1870 that secured full citizenship for the Jews in French-ruled Algeria. This was to play a part in the deteriorating relations between the Muslim and Jewish communities and proved fateful in the Algerian War of Independence.

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Rue Crémieux is a narrow pedestrianised street in the 12th arrondissement stretching some 144 metres from rue de Bercy to rue de Lyon. It’s most notable for its two rows of colourfully decorated houses.

Sounds in rue Crémieux:

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In January 1910, heavy winter rains gave rise to the great flood that engulfed Paris including rue Crémieux. At N° 8, a plaque on the wall indicates the height to which the water reached.

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Here are some more of the colourful sights in this street.

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5
Nov

Rue des Lombards – A Soundwalk

IN THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY rue des Lombards and the area close by was the Wall Street of Paris, the city’s banking centre where a vast amount of money changed hands and fortunes and reputations were made and lost.

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The street took its name from the large number of money-changers, natives of Lombardy, who established themselves in Paris at the end of the 12th century. At the time when the King and the lords of his court sold prebendaries, bishoprics and benefices by auction the Lombards lent money at a high rate of interest and made immense fortunes.

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The Lombard money-changers were obliged to conduct their activities out in the open on the Grand-Pont linking the Cité to the Right Bank which became known as the Pont des Changeurs (Exchange Bridge) now known as the Pont au Change. Whilst these money-changers worked on the bridge most of them lived close by in rue de la Buffeterie which, in 1322, became rue des Lombards. This imprinting of incorporated trades on the urban landscape was quite common with street names quite often being changed to reflect the occupational specialities of the area.

By the fourteenth century political and economic dislocation caused a xenophobic backlash against the Lombards during which their financial expertise was held against them and they became known less as money-changers lubricating the economy and more pejoratively simply as usurers.

As late as the sixteenth century Gabriel Meurier in his book, Trésor des Sentences, xvie siècle, or book of proverbs published in 1568, quotes:

“Dieu me garde de quatre maisons,
 de la taverne, du Lombard,
 de l’hôpital et de la prison.”

“God keep me from four houses, the tavern, the Lombards, hospital and prison.”

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The parallel between the Lombards in fourteenth century Paris and today’s Wall Street money-changers, and the popular perception of them both, seemed quite uncanny as I walked along rue des Lombards on a dull early November afternoon recording a soundwalk.

Rue des Lombards – A Soundwalk:

Rue des Lombards begins just off Place Sainte-Opportune at rue Sainte-Opportune and stretches for 228 metres to rue Saint-Martin. It crosses the busy nineteenth century Baron Haussmann creation, the Boulevard de Sébastopol and another medieval street, rue Saint-Denis.

If you listen carefully to my soundwalk you will hear the audio aid for blind people at one of the crossings over the Boulevard de Sébastopol.

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Today, rue des Lombards is not only one of the oldest but one of the most vibrant streets in Paris. Although my soundwalk was recorded in the afternoon, the street really comes to life at night. It’s renowned for its three jazz clubs, Le Duc des Lombards at the junction with Boulevard de Sébastopol and  Le Baiser Salé and Sunset/Sunside, which sit side by side further along rue des Lombards.

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N° 14 rue des Lombards is interesting.

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Now a restaurant, this is the site a thirteenth-century house built by the Order of the Knights Templar as a place to conduct their business. Inside is a medieval cellar once used as a chapel. During the French Revolution the clergy used to gather here to celebrate Mass in secret. It was also supposed to be the temporary hiding place of François Ravaillac who, on 14th May 1610, stabbed to death King Henry IV as he was passing in rue de la Feronnerie close to rue des Lombards. Ravaillac was arrested outside N° 13 rue de la Ferronnerie. He was tried, tortured and executed by being pulled apart by four horses, a fate reserved for regicides.

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N° 13 rue de la Ferronnerie today

Walking along rue de Lombards it’s worth pausing to catch this view from one of the side streets of La Tour Saint-Jacques listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

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Rue des Lombards was also once famous for confectionary and in particular for La Renommée, the confiserie owned by Nicolas Appert, inventor of airtight food preservation.

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As it has for centuries, money still changes hands along this medieval cobbled street but today you’re more likely to part with your cash in one of the Irish pubs, Auvergne bistros or famous jazz clubs than you are buying bishoprics and benefices.

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