I SPENT THE AFTERNOON of Christmas Day in the Jardin des Tuileries. The weather was perfect with bright sunshine and a gentle breeze.
I had rather expected the Jardin des Tuileries to be a haven of tranquillity, this was Christmas Day after all … but it was not so. I discovered that lots of other people had also decided to spend the afternoon of Christmas Day in this former garden of the Tuileries Palace created by Catherine de Medicis in 1564.
On the afternoon of Christmas Day people were doing what they’ve always done here, meeting friends, promenading and relaxing.
And what was I doing? I was listening to the feast of sounds around me – footsteps over the gravel, half-heard conversations, distinctive Parisian park chairs being hauled into just the right place, birds scavenging for their Christmas lunch, tourists admiring the Louvre, a student singing and two Gendarmes on horseback passing in front of the Café Marly.
So here are the sights and sounds I enjoyed on the afternoon of Christmas Day.
Christmas Day in the Jardin des Tuileries:
CHRISTMAS IS UPON US, so it’s time for me to publish my audio Christmas card for 2013. It’s made up of just a handful of the many sounds of Paris that I’ve recorded during this year.
My Audio Christmas Card 2013:
This audio Christmas card is dedicated 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 2014.
WHEN I PUBLISHED my previous blog piece I thought that I’d said everything I needed to say about my local Christmas market – but it turns out there is a post-script.
When I went to get bread from my local boulangerie last Saturday afternoon I discovered a different Jazz band playing in the Christmas market, the Gibsy Quartet. They were very good and so I decided to record them for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
The Gibsy Quartet
Over the years I’ve learned many lessons about how to record the sounds of urban life around me and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is never to turn my sound recorder off as soon as I think I have a recording in the bag. Urban sounds can often be quite unpredictable and fascinating sounds can sometimes turn up when you least expect them. Another lesson is that what you might think are fairly ordinary sounds can suddenly become quite extraordinary.
One could argue that recording a jazz band playing in a Parisian street is nothing out of the ordinary, once you’ve heard one you’ve heard them all some might say. But when events have a twist in the tail then the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
I recorded the Gibsy Quartet on Saturday afternoon. They were going to be at the Christmas market for much longer than I was so I recorded them playing two pieces and then I was about to head off for home. As is my practice, after they finished their second piece I left my sound recorder running and then, as I turned to walk away, this astonishing man appeared.
From his lofty perch he began singing and playing his concertina and I, the jazz band and several other people began to gather round him.
He spied the band beneath him and without hesitation he began to sing the Neapolitan song, O Sole Mio, an open invitation to the jazz musicians so used to improvising.
And improvise they did turning the ordinary into something quite extraordinary.
The Gibsy Quartet … and friend:
I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for recording the soundscapes of Paris, but if I ever do I shall listen to this recording and remind myself of why I do it. Capturing unexpected and unrepeatable sounds like this always gives me a buzz and listening to these sounds will always remind me of my local Christmas market, the infectious enthusiasm of musicians and the delicious smell of freshly baked bread in my local boulangerie.
AT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR the Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets, spring up all over Paris and I have three of them within easy reach of me. To the west is the very large one at La Défense with its 350 châlets standing in the shadow of la Grande Arche, to the east is the most visited Christmas market in Paris stretching along the Champs Elysées and then, at the bottom of my little street, is the one closest to home.
The Christmas markets at La Défense and along the Champs Elysées are very big, mostly swamped with visitors and quite impersonal whereas my local Christmas market is tiny in comparison but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in congeniality.
My local Christmas market is now open for business so I’ve been to have a look, to savour the atmosphere and to capture the sights and sounds.
Contrary to what you might think, the sounds in the big Christmas markets can often be quite bland but in my local Christmas market I enjoyed a sonic treat – two different bands, a street organ and singer, electronic music accompanying butterfly elves on stilts, a balloon sculptress with enormous boots and, of course, the sounds of lots of excited small children.
My local Christmas market in sound:
Alexandre l’Agodas: Le colporteur de rêves et son orgue de barbarie
(The pedlar of dreams and his barrel organ)
Les Elfes-papillons des pôles
(Butterfly elves on stilts)
Sculpture sur ballons avec Bibindum
Swing Connection – New Orleans Jazz
FOR SOME TIME NOW I’ve been exploring the history of and recording the contemporary sounds inside the surviving Parisian passages couverts, the covered shopping arcades, which were at their zenith in the early 19th century. In all, some 150 passages couverts were built mainly in the area between the Palais-Royal and the Grands Boulevards and in the former industrial area around Saint-Denis.
In the second-half of the 19th century with the demise of the stagecoach, the opening of railway stations, urban redevelopment by Baron Haussmann, and the creation of department stores the fate of the passages couverts was sealed and they largely fell into disrepair, disuse or disappeared altogether. In the middle of the 20th century a wave of enthusiasm emerged to rescue and renovate the surviving passages. Of the original 150 that were built, 20 still survive today and most of those have been restored to their former glory.
The 1820’s and the 1830’s really marked the hey day of the passages couverts but, despite their subsequent decline, a hundred years later a new passage was to appear, a passage equally as elegant as the best of its early 19th century predecessors.
Léonard Rosenthal (1875 – 1955) was a French businessman, diamond merchant, and property developer. In 1924, Rosenthal acquired a property on the Champs Elysées that had been built originally for the department store owner, Georges Dufayel. It was on the site of this property that Rosenthal was to create a new passage couvert – the Arcades des Champs Elysées.
The French architects, Charles Lefebvre, Marcel Julien and Louis Duhayon designed the 120 metres long, 15 metres wide, Arcades des Champs Elysées in a mixture of Art Deco and neo-classical styles. Eight of the Scottish granite columns came from the old Hôtel Dufayel, to which were added eight more in red granite originally surmounted by gold capitals. A facing of blonde and black marble covers the walls.
The decoration inside the arcades was created by some of the top craftsmen in their field – the wrought iron work by René Gobert, the stained glass by Fernand Jacopozzi and the light fittings and shades by René Lalique.
The arcade was designed with a central space containing a café with a terrace and a bandstand surrounded by an array of two-floor boutiques. The boutiques are still there, the café is now a Starbucks and the bandstand has disappeared. And that’s not the only thing that has disappeared. Two fountains designed by René Lalique have gone, one to the Tokyo Museum and one to the United States and two lanterns that framed the entrance on the Champs Elysées mysteriously vanished.
For me, the most spectacular feature of the Arcades des Champs Elysées is the magnificent glass roof.
Sounds of the Arcades des Champs Elysées:
I’ve been to the Arcades des Champs Elysées many times but the other day I went specifically to record the sounds inside to add to my Paris Soundscapes Archive. My sound recording actually began before I entered the arcade because, completely by chance, I happened upon a group of African male dancers performing in the street outside. They were a lively bunch and they had attracted quite a crowd but I didn’t stay for their complete performance, instead I left them to it and I went to record the contemporary soundscape inside the arcade.
The sounds I captured on this particular Thursday afternoon were not as elegant as their surroundings and not as delicate as the sounds I’ve captured in some of the other surviving passages couverts. That is partly to do with the general hubbub emanating from the Starbucks emporium but it’s also a feature of the size and shape of the arcade. Long, narrow arcades seem to highlight and amplify the most delicate sounds but in the 15 metre wide Arcades des Champs Elysées with its high glass roof and coffee shop in the centre, the sounds seem to tend towards the cacophonous rather than the elegant – pretty much like all the other sounds in the Champs Elysées. Still, the sounds are what they are and consequently I think they are worth preserving.
Visitors to Paris may be familiar with the famous Parisian nightspot, the Cabaret Lido, which is a little further along the Champs Elysées. What the visitors may not know is that the nickname for the Arcades des Champs Elysées is the Arcades du Lido. And the reason for that is that the Cabaret Lido was situated in the Arcades des Champs Elysées from 1946 until 1977.
From 1929, one of the features of the Arcades des Champs Elysées was the underground health spa as we might call it these days, which was set up by the Société hydrothérapeutic et balnéaire des Champs Elysées. It occupied 4,400 M2 and comprised a heated swimming pool, a beauty salon, a hairdressers, a hammam, showers and a massage parlour. It was very fashionable and very popular. It was often referred to as The Paris Beach because the evenings had a Venetian theme reproducing the Lido Beach.
Its success though was short lived. In 1933 the establishment went into liquidation and was closed. In 1936 the impresario, Leon Volterra took it on and replaced the swimming pool with an auditorium in which he put on diners-spectacles, dinner shows. In 1946, Joseph and Louis Clerico bought it from Volterra and completely transformed it into the Cabaret Lido. It went from strength to strength until finally in 1977 it was moved from the Arcades des Champs Elysées to larger premises just up the road where it remains today.
For those of you who are perhaps not familiar with the Cabaret Lido, it’s probably best known as home to the famous dancing troupe, the Bluebell Girls.
You can find the Arcades des Champs Elysées at:
76 – 78 Avenue des Champs Elysées and the nearest Métro station is: Georges V on Line 1
You can find more of my Passages Couverts collection by clicking here.