IN A RECENT ARTICLE on this blog I explored the Métro station Jaurès in the 19th arrondissement. This Métro station fascinates me partly because it is one of Fulgence Bienvenüe’s Métro stations aériennes, (all his stations aériennes fascinate me), and partly because it is named after a man who particularly interests me, Jean Jaurès.
Jean Jaurès in 1904 – Image via Wikipedia
In the blog piece, I refer to the fact that Jean Jaurès was assassinated in the Café du Croissant in rue Montmartre just days before the outbreak of the First World War.
The other day I found myself in rue Montmartre and, in need of shelter from the rain, I ducked into the nearest café which just happened to be the very same Café du Croissant, or La Taverne du Croissant as it’s now called, in which Jaurès died. Since I had recently published my blog piece about the Métro station Jaurès, and since this year is the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, Jaurès has been much on my mind so coming upon the Café du Croissant like this seemed a curious coincidence.
Café du Croissant – rue Montmartre
La Taverne du Croissant with its dark wooden furniture and its wooden floors has a comfortable feel to it but, save for the plaque on the wall outside, there is little to remind one of the event that took place here a hundred years ago.
Auguste Marie Joseph Jean Léon Jaurès was born on 3rd September 1859 in Castres in the south west of France. He was educated in Paris and admitted to the prestigious École normale supérieure in 1878 to study philosophy. He graduated in 1881 and then spent two years teaching philosophy in southern France before taking up a lecturing post at the University of Toulouse.
Jean Jaurès’ political career began in 1885 when he was elected deputy (member of the legislative assembly of the French Parliament) for the Tarn département. He was initially a moderate republican but by the late 1880’s he had fully embraced socialism.
Over the next few years, Jaurès won and lost seats to the National Assembly several times but in 1902 he was returned as the deputy for Albi, a seat he retained until his death.
As well a being a politician, Jaurès was also a journalist. He edited La Petite République, and was, along with Émile Zola, one of the most energetic defenders of Alfred Dreyfus during the notorious Dreyfus Affair. In 1904, he founded the socialist paper L’Humanité, a newspaper that still exists.
At the end of the 19th century, with its leaders either dead or exiled after the failure of the Paris commune in 1871, French socialism was in disarray. It wasn’t until 1905, with the establishment of SFIO, the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (French Section of the Workers’ International) that the Left gained some coherence. SFIO was led by Jules Guesde and Jean Jaurès, but it was Jaurès who quickly became its most influential figure.
Jean Jaurès was also a pacifist, something that was to cost him his life.
As the dark clouds descended over Europe in 1914, Jean Jaurès passionately believed that it was worth trying to use diplomatic means to prevent war. He tried to promote understanding between France and Germany and then, as conflict became imminent, he tried to organise general strikes in France and in Germany in order to force the governments to back down and negotiate. Jaurès though was swimming against the tide. Defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine still loomed large in the minds of the French establishment; revenge for the former and the return of the latter seemed to overshadow Jaurès’ efforts.
Café du Croissant – Inside
On the afternoon of 30th July 1914, Jean Jaurès returned to Paris from an emergency meeting of the International Socialist Bureau of the Second International in Brussels. Austria had already mobilised and upon his arrival in Paris Jaurès learned that Russia had now mobilised as well.
The following morning, the 31st July, Jaurès had a succession of meetings and then, during the afternoon, he went to his newspaper, L’Humanité, to write a piece about ‘antiwar mobilisation’ for publication the following day.
In the evening he went to the Café du Croissant for dinner with four colleagues. Jaurès sat at a table with his back to an open window shielded from the street by a drawn curtain. In the street outside, a 29 year old archaeology student, a member the League of Young Friends of Alsace-Lorraine and a French nationalist, Raoul Villain, stood poised ready to assassinate a man he had never met. He fired two shots from a Smith & Wesson revolver. One shot missed and lodged into some woodwork, the other pierced Jaurès’ skull and he fell dead.
Reaction to Jaurès’ death was mixed, the Left were understandably angry while some on the Right rejoiced but across Europe the reaction was a wave of shock. This seemed to be yet another link in the chain of uncertainty that was engulfing Europe.
Le Temps, one of Paris’ most influential newspapers at the time, lamented that he was extinguished ‘just at the moment when … his oratory was about to become a weapon of national defence‘.¹
Café du Croissant in 2014:
Sitting in the Café du Croissant in 2014 over a cup of coffee with the rain pattering on the windows close to the spot where Jaurès was shot, I couldn’t help thinking about how normal everything seemed, people engaged in conversation, the sound of crockery clinking, the lady behind the bar going about her work.
I also couldn’t help thinking about Jean Jaurès and his ideals and wondering what might have been if his vision that ordinary people acting in sufficient numbers and with sufficient strength could have prevented the terrible slaughter that subsequently unfolded.
Professor Colin Jones sums it up: “The assassination of the eminent socialist Jean Jaurès … removed a leading figure on the Left who might have prevailed against what became an almost Gaderene rush into war”.²
In death, Jean Jaurès received the ultimate accolade the French can bestow. Ten years after his death, his remains were transferred to the Panthéon.
Astonishingly, in 1919, Raoul Villain was acquitted of the murder of Jean Jaurès. On the 17th September 1936 he was shot and killed during the Spanish Civil War. He is buried in the cemetery of Sant Vicent de sa Cala on the island of Ibiza.
Here is an extract from the article Jean Jaurès wrote for his newspaper, l’Humanité, a few hours before his death on 31st July 1914, just three days before war was declared …
“Le plus grand danger à l’heure actuelle n’est pas, si je puis dire, dans les événements eux-mêmes. […] Il est dans l’énervement qui gagne, dans l’inquiétude qui se propage, dans les impulsions subites qui naissent de la peur, de l’incertitude aiguë, de l’anxiété prolongée. […] Ce qui importe avant tout, c’est la continuité de l’action, c’est le perpétuel éveil de la pensée et de la conscience ouvrière. Là est la vraie sauvegarde. Là est la garantie de l’avenir.”
My translation …
“The greatest danger today is not, so to speak, in the events themselves. […] It is in the nervousness that grows, in the concern that is propagated, in the sudden impulses that arise from fear, of acute uncertainty, prolonged anxiety. […] What matters above all is the continuity of action, it is the perpetual awakening of thought and of working-class consciousness. That is the real safeguard. That is the guarantee of the future.”
¹‘Catastrophe’ by Max Hastings (page 83)
²‘Paris – The Biography of a City’ by Colin Jones (page 377)
La Taverne du Croissant, 146 rue Montmartre, 75002 Paris
THE CITY OF PARIS has never been shy about celebrating the work of the great twentieth-century photographers who have lived and worked here.
In 2012, the Hôtel de Ville hosted an exhibition of the work of Robert Doisneau entitled “Doisneau: Paris les Halles”. This exhibition included some two hundred photographs taken by Robert Doisneau over forty years of the quartier les Halles, the enormous food market once known as the ‘Belly of Paris’ and its subsequent transformation into the Forum des Halles. Had Robert Doisneau been alive today he would no doubt have continued to photograph the quartier les Halles as the Forum des Halles is being transformed once again.
Currently, the Hôtel de Ville is staging another exhibition this time celebrating the work of the renowned photographer, Brassaï. Although Gyula Halász (Brassaï was a pseudonym) was Hungarian, he lived in Paris from 1920 until his death in 1984.
This exhibition, “Brassaï, Pour l’amour de Paris” or “Brassaï – For the Love of Paris”, recounts the extraordinary story of one man’s passion: that which united Brassaï with the nooks and crannies of the French capital but also with intellectuals, artists, large families and prostitutes – all those who have made Paris the mythical place it is.
The Brassaï exhibition runs until 29th March.
I went to the Doisneau exhibition in 2012 and to the Brassaï one earlier this year and I was captivated by them both.
I make no secret of the fact that in the work I do recording the urban soundscapes of Paris I take enormous inspiration from the great twentieth-century Parisian street photographers. There are many similarities, both technically and artistically, between street photography and urban soundscape recording and I’ve learnt a lot from reading about these artists and studying their work. It’s not by accident that the strapline to this blog is a quote from Robert Doisneau – “Exploring that gratuitous, never-ending show for which no ticket is needed”, which was how he summed up his work.
And now we are blessed with yet another photographic exhibition in Paris, this time just a stone’s throw from the Hôtel de Ville at the post-modern Centre Pompidou.
Through more than five hundred photographs, drawings, paintings, films and documents, the exhibition is a completely new retrospective look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the first in Europe since his death ten years ago.
Simply called, “Henri Cartier-Bresson”, the exhibition, organised with the support of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, opened on 12th February and it runs until 9th June although, judging by the number of people who were there when I went earlier this week, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it isn’t extended.
Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Centre Pompidou– Listening to the Pictures:
This retrospective illustrates the depth and variety of Cartier-Bresson’s work and his wide-ranging career as a photographer – one that covered Surrealism, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, decolonisation and the Cold War. The exhibition features his iconic pictures but also puts a spotlight on lesser-known images. It reassesses a number of little-known photo reportage works, brings to light collections of paintings and drawings and focuses on Cartier-Bresson’s forays into the world of film.
Both chronological and thematic, the exhibition is structured around three main viewpoints: the period between 1926 and 1935, marked by Cartier-Bresson’s contact with the Surrealists, his early work as a photographer and his travels all over the world; a second section devoted to his political commitment when he returned from the US in 1936 until he set off for New York again in 1946, and a third sequence opening with the creation of Magnum Photos in 1947 and finishing with the early 1970s when he stopped doing photo reportage.
Despite moving away from photography Cartier-Bresson’s international renown continued to grow and in France, he embodied, almost alone, the institutional recognition of photography. He spent a great deal of time supervising the organisation of his archives, sales of his prints and the production of books and exhibitions. Even though he had officially stopped being a photographer, he still kept his Leica within reach and occasionally produced more contemplative images. But above all, he frequently visited museums and exhibitions and spent most of his time drawing.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004)
I’ve never considered myself to be a photographer but, as well as recording the sounds of people inside the gallery looking at the exhibits, I did take some pictures at the exhibition and they include some of my Cartier-Bresson favourites. Unfortunately, my absolute favourite and perhaps Cartier-Bresson’s best known image, “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare” was, rather like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, submerged in a constant sea of people so although I saw it and pondered it for some time, I wasn’t able to quite capture it for this blog piece.
Here though, are some of the other images I captured.
Three Cartier-Bresson self-portrait drawings
This retrospective illustrates just why Henri Cartier-Bresson became known as “the eye of the century”, one of the great witnesses of our history and why he became, and remains, such a dominating figure in the world of photography.
Galerie 2 – Centre Pompidou, Paris
12th February 2014 – 9th June 2014
Open from 11.00 to 23.00 every day except Tuesday.
LET’S BEGIN WITH some geography! If you look at a map of Paris you will see that the city is more or less in the shape of a circle with the circumference circumscribed by the wall of traffic that is the Boulevard Périphérique. The Périphérique in effect delineates the Paris city limits, the area within the Périphérique is considered to be Paris and the immediate area beyond, the suburbs.
As you can see from this map, the River Seine crosses Paris in a semi-circle across the south of the city. The river flows from right to left as you look at the map so it enters the city upstream from the south-east and it leaves downstream from the south-west after passing through the centre of the city. The area within the semi-circle to the south is known as the Left Bank and everything to the north, the Right Bank.
Paris is well known for its bridges and there are thirty-seven of them crossing la Seine within the Paris city limits. However, if you look at a Paris city map and count the named bridges you will come to a total of thirty-five rather than thirty-seven. The discrepancy is accounted for by the two bridges that that carry the Boulevard Périphérique over la Seine, neither of which has an official name. Unofficially though, they do have names: the one that crosses in the south-east is known as Pont Amont, amont being French for ‘upstream’ and the one that crosses in the south-west is known as Pont Aval – and yes, you’ve guessed it, aval is French for ‘downstream’.
I’ve set myself the task of exploring all thirty-seven bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits. As well as exploring the history of each bridge I’m also attempting to identify the characteristic sounds of each bridge. I’ve already discovered that some of the bridges do have characteristic sounds, the sounds on, under or around the bridges and in a few cases, and more excitingly, the sounds of the actual bridges themselves.
The work I’m doing on this Paris Bridges project (that’s the working title at the moment) is not specifically designed for this blog but rather for an audio documentary that I plan to produce. I will however publish cameo blog pieces like this one from time to time to illustrate the work I’m doing.
The other day, I went to explore the first of the named upstream bridges, the Pont National.
Pont National looking from upstream
The Pont National was built between 1852 and 1853 during the Second Empire and was originally named the Pont Napoleon III. It became the Pont National in 1870.
The bridge is 188.5 metres long, it’s made up of five stone arches and it was originally built as a railway bridge to carry the Petite Ceinture across the Seine and to link the fortifications on either side.
Built between 1852 and 1869, the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture, or “little belt railway”, was the first public urban transportation service in Paris and was the forerunner of today’s Paris Métro. It comprised a thirty-five kilometre line that encircled Paris and it was built mainly for transporting goods between the five main railway stations in Paris but it also offered a public transport service up until 1934.
The first Paris Métro line opened in 1900 with more modern and more rapid rolling stock together with more comfortable stations and more competitive prices than the Petite Ceinture. Consequently, the urban passenger service of the Petite Ceinture gradually began to decline. In addition, the local goods traffic grew. The Petite Ceinture operators used the loss of passenger traffic to decrease the number of passenger train movements and increase the number of goods train movements since the transportation of goods was much more lucrative than transporting urban passengers. Eventually, the urban passenger service ceased on 22 July 1934 and was replaced by a bus service. Today, twenty-three kilometres of the railway tracks of the Petite Ceinture remain including the original tracks across the Pont National.
Picture taken from the centre of the Pont National looking downstream with the surviving Petite Ceinture tracks in the foreground
With the demise of the Petite Ceinture the Pont National lost its original purpose and so in 1936 work began to widen the bridge to accommodate road traffic. When the work was completed in 1944 the bridge had expanded to a width of 34 metres.
Today, as well as carrying the surviving tracks of the Petite Ceinture and the roadway, the Pont National also carries two footpaths, one on the upstream side of the bridge and one on the downstream side.
It also carries a cycle lane on the downstream side …
And, as though bringing the original purpose of the bridge back to life, the Pont National now has two relatively new rail tracks spanning the length of the bridge.
These tracks don’t carry rail traffic today but they do carry the trams of Tram Line 3, the line that circles Paris following the site of the old military road that ran along the inside of the fortified Thiers Wall, the last defensive wall surrounding Paris.
And, along with the constant flow of traffic, it is these trams plying back and forth across la Seine that give the Pont National its characteristic sound from on the bridge.
Sounds on the Pont National:
While we can say that the sound of the trams are the characteristic sound of the Pont National from on the bridge these sounds represent only one sonic perspective of the bridge. What happens if we listen under the bridge?
Well, it is possible to go under one arch of the bridge and from there we can get a different sonic perspective.
Sounds under the Pont National:
We can hear the sound of the traffic and the trams passing overhead almost as a mirror image of the sounds on the bridge but with less precise definition. We can also hear the bridge groan from time to time whilst carrying its burden above. The constant sound though on this particular day is the sound of dripping water and this is a very functional sound. It’s the sound of water pouring out of the bottom of a large drainpipe, which is draining rainwater from the roadway above. As I was recording these sounds it was raining heavily and so the drainpipe was working overtime.
As I was about to stop recording under the bridge, a ready-mix concrete lorry passed by me under the arch and this brings me on to another sonic perspective of the Pont National.
Pont National from the Pont de Tolbiac
The Pont National does not of course stand in isolation, it’s very much part of its environment and since the mid nineteenth-century the area around the bridge has been the industrial heart of Paris.
At one end of the Pont National is the old and now closed Gare Frigorifique de Paris Bercy. Opened in 1906, this station with its refrigeration facility was built specifically to receive wine destined for the ‘Entrepôt des Vins’ in nearby Bercy, at the time the largest commercial wine distribution centre in the world. In the nineteenth century most wine arrived in Paris by boat and could only be sold in the city after passing through Customs but by the late twentieth century wine could be shipped directly from the French vineyards to the rest of the world without having to pass through Paris and so the need for the ‘Entrepôt des Vins’ declined and eventually it and this station were abandoned.
Today the immediate area around the Pont National has its fair share of large corporate offices but it’s more particularly associated with cement, concrete and aggregates for use in the building industry.
The French industrial company Lafarge occupies the Right Bank between the Pont National and the Pont de Tolbiac …
… and the Mexican company Cemex occupies the Left Bank.
Both of these companies rely heavily on industrial barges to bring in their raw materials.
Industrial barges like this one travel up and down la Seine all the time and so it’s not surprising that their sounds form a third sonic perspective of the Pont National – the sounds around the bridge.
Sounds around the Pont National:
One of the things I find fascinating about these barges is that they leave a long sonic footprint generated by their wake that can last sometimes long after the barge has passed. I find these sonic footprints as acoustically interesting as the sound of the barges themselves.
Pont National looking from downstream
I went to explore the Pont National as part of my research for my Paris Bridges audio documentary. So what did I learn?
I learned that bridges like this have a history and associations, which are themselves worth exploring. I learned that this bridge at least does have some characteristic sounds but what those sounds are depends upon where you’re listening from. Although I was able to capture three sonic perspectives of the bridge – on it, under it and around it, the fourth perspective eluded me. Save for hearing the occasional groan of the bridge from underneath, I was unable to capture the sound of the bridge, the sound of the bridge itself speaking. But I won’t give up, the sounds are in there somewhere and I shall return with my contact microphones and attempt to capture the sounds inside the structure of the bridge to complete the sonic tapestry of the Pont National.
What I also learned was something that I knew already. The contemporary sounds tapestry of the Pont National is not only fascinating but it’s also important.
For the average person crossing or passing by the Pont National, these sounds, if heard at all, will simply be part of the everyday sound tapestry that accompanies their lives, at best taken for granted and at worst, ignored. But these sounds are important because they are not only part of our contemporary urban soundscape but also part of our sonic heritage.
It’s a sad fact, but most of our sonic heritage has passed by completely unrecorded. For example, we can find pictures and written descriptions of the Pont National at the end of the nineteenth-century but we have no record of its sounds, even though the sounds are part of the very fabric of the bridge. What would the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture have sounded like to us if we had stood on or under the bridge as it passed? Would the barges have sounded the same as they do today? What sounds would we have heard then that we don’t hear now?
It is questions like these that compel me to record and preserve the sounds that make up our contemporary urban soundscape. In time these sounds will become history but, unlike in the nineteenth-century and before, we are now able to record and preserve that history for future generations to explore, to study and to enjoy. I think that’s worth doing.
IT’S THAT TIME OF the year again, Chinese New Year. Last year was the year of the water snake and this year it’s the year of the wooden horse.
On Sunday, the 13th arrondissement was awash with people participating in and watching the glittering annual parade to celebrate Chinese New Year. The parade began in the Avenue d’Ivry and wound its way along Avenue de Choisy, Place d’Italie, Avenue d’Italie, Rue de Tolbiac, Boulevard Massena and back to Avenue d’Ivry in south-central Paris. I along with thousands of others lined the streets to listen to and watch the spectacle. As always, it was a magnificent cavalcade of sound and colour.
Sounds of the year of the wooden horse:
THE OTHER DAY I was walking along the Quai Branly from the Tour Eiffel towards the Pont Bir-Hakeim, the magnificent double-decked bridge that carries traffic, pedestrians and Métro Line 6 across la Seine.
Pont Bir-Hakeim from Quai Branly
Unusually for early February it was a beautiful day. It was warm, the sun was shining and all was well with the world save of course for the constant stream of traffic hurtling along the Quai Branly. I decided to escape at least some of the traffic noise by negotiating some steps down to the towpath beside the river and continuing my journey from there. This towpath is part of the Promenade du quai Branly that stretches from the Pont de l’Alma to Pont Bir-Hakeim and it follows the old railway track from Invalides to Versailles, which is now RER Line C, on one side and the river Seine on the other. The Seine of course is a working river and so there are many boats berthed here along what is known as the Port de Suffren.
As I walked along the towpath my attention was drawn to these two boats. The larger of the two, the white one, is Le Maxim’s, one of three Bateaux Maxim’s owned by the legendary Maxim’s de Paris. The other boat is a working barge.
It wasn’t the sight of these boats that attracted my attention but rather their sounds. The two boats carried by the waves were rocking gently back and forth with each straining at its moorings.
Boats in conversation at Port de Suffren:
It seemed to me as though the two boats were having a conversation; the flighty, high-pitched, sounds from Le Maxim’s being tempered by the more sonorous interjections of the barge straining against the wire hawser stretched over its bow. Even the ever-present traffic noise from the quai Branly above and behind seemed to be partially mitigated by their conversation.
There were many people walking along the towpath on this sunny afternoon but none of them, save for me, stopped to listen to or even seemed to be aware of this nautical chorus.