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31
Dec

The Marché Poncelet and its Sounds

ONE WEEK AGO, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I emerged from the overcrowded retail emporium, La Fnac, into the Avenue des Ternes in the 17th arrondissement. Outside the store I found a brass trio from the Armée du Salut (the Salvation Army) braving the cold to give their rendition of some popular Christmas carols.

Salvation Army - Avenue des Ternes

I stopped to listen to them and then, after leaving a contribution in their collecting tin, I walked round the corner into one of my favourite Parisian street markets, the Marché Poncelet.

Market - Rue Poncelet

Within a stone’s throw of the Arc de Triomphe, the Marché Poncelet occupies part of the Rue Poncelet and the Rue de Bayen. Around its edges you can find stalls selling flowers, chocolates, clothes, household goods, jewellery, trinkets and souvenirs but at its heart is the fresh food, the fruit, vegetables, seafood, artisan cheese and freshly baked bread that really makes this market so popular and gives it the reputation of being one of the best food markets in Paris.

Market - Rue Poncelet

The sounds of the Marché Poncelet:

Market - Rue Poncelet

As well as the colourful cornucopia of fresh food and other goods on display, the Marché Poncelet also boasts a fascinating soundscape. Like in most markets, the stallholders here are not shy about advertising their wares by shouting to attract the attention of customers but this market is in the centre of Paris and so, unlike many of the markets at the periphery of the city, the language here is exclusively French. Compare for example, the sounds of this market with the sounds of the Marché Barbès I recorded a few weeks ago where French is barely spoken at all.

Exploring how the soundscape of the city changes from the centre to the periphery is one of the things I find endlessly fascinating about exploring the sounds of Paris.

Market - Rue Poncelet

Perhaps it’s just my natural curiosity, but I always find myself looking for ‘connections’ when I visit places in Paris. Of course, connections between sound and place are at the heart of the work I do here but sometimes I stumble across other, often more abstruse, connections. Take for example the connection between the Marché Poncelet and projective geometry …

Rue Poncelet

The Marché Poncelet takes its name from rue Poncelet, which was named after the French engineer and mathematician, Jean-Victor Poncelet (1788-1867).

Poncelet’s most notable mathematical work was in projective geometry, in particular, his work on Feuerbach’s theorem. He also made discoveries about projective harmonic conjugates among which were the poles and polar lines associated with conic sections. These discoveries led to the principle of duality and also aided in the development of complex numbers and projective geometry.

Of course, Poncelet’s mathematics is all gobbledegook to me but maybe the vendor in the picture above is on to something with his clémentines arranged geometrically.

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The Marché Poncelet should certainly be on your ‘to-do’ list if you’re in Paris and once there, I recommend that you stop off at Daguerre Marée, which just has to be one of the very best seafood shops in town!

Here are some more sights of the Marché Poncelet:

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Market - Rue Poncelet

Market - Rue Poncelet

Market - Rue Poncelet

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Market - Rue Poncelet

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26
Dec

Piano al Fresco on Christmas Day

FOR A CITY DWELLER like me who is fascinated by sound and particularly fascinated by urban soundscapes, Christmas Day can be an absolute feast.

On Christmas Day this year I went out for an afternoon stroll and discovered that Paris was not only awash with tourists but it was also bathed in that wonderful golden light that often appears at this time of the year.

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The Hôtel de Ville

I had in mind to record the ice skaters at the patinoire outside the Hôtel de Ville but so big were the crowds that it was a hopeless task. I walked across to the Île de la Cité where I discovered a sea of people outside the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, many of whom were posing for photographs in front of the huge Christmas tree in front of the cathedral. Although recording the sounds of crowds (and I’ve recorded many of them) – the chatter, the footsteps and the constant shuffling, can be fascinating, I was hoping to search out some different, more unusual sounds on this Christmas Day.

And that search led me to the Pont Saint-Louis.

Pont Saint-Louis

Pont Saint-Louis

It was here, on this bridge, that I found something completely unexpected – a Christmas feast.

Pont Saint-Louis

A young man, Louis Artson, was sitting at a piano in the centre of the Pont Saint-Louis. He can often be found wheeling his piano around Paris and stopping to entertain the crowds.

Pont Saint-Louis

Earlier this year, I had the enormous privilege of being invited to record a professional concert pianist in Paris playing her magnificent Steinway grand piano. Those recording sessions were of course set piece events allowing adequate time to set up very expensive microphones and adjust their placement to ensure the best effect. Those recording sessions also allowed for re-takes if either I, or the pianist, felt that something wasn’t quite right.

Not so with Louis Artson though. Here I was on Christmas Day standing in a chattering crowd on the Pont Saint-Louis with traffic passing from time to time attempting to record this wonderful musician ‘on the hoof’ so to speak.

If recording a professional concert pianist playing a Steinway grand piano was a challenge, then so was this – but a very enjoyable one!

Pont Saint-Louis

Louis Artson playing piano al fresco:

As you can hear, Louis Artson can turn his hand to classical music, jazz or improvisation in the blink of an eye. In this extract from the sounds I recorded listen out especially for the third piece, his improvisation on Chopin’s Piano Sonata N°2, often referred to as the Funeral March. I think it’s just brilliant!

Pont Saint-Louis

Regular readers will know that I’ve recorded many street musicians in Paris some of whom have featured on this blog. By and large, the standard of Parisian street music is very high but seldom higher than that played by Louis Artson.

You can connect with Louis Artson via:

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 Twitter: @LouisArtson

22
Dec

Jazz Manouche for Christmas

IT’S THAT TIME OF year again and Paris is awash with its annual Christmas markets. This year, I’ve only explored two of these markets, the enormous one at La Défense and the one on my own doorstep, which is small, intimate and always a delight.

Christmas Market - Neuilly

My local Christmas market comprises thirty wooden châlets set out on Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and stretching down to the nearby church. These châlets host some exhibitors who come every year but also some new ones from different regions.

As well as the châlets with their gourmet foods and a variety of craft goods, there are the entertainers; a professional storyteller, a make-up artist, a balloon sculptor, magicians, clowns, jugglers and, of course, the street musicians.

This year we’ve been entertained once again by Alexandre l’Agodas: The pedlar of dreams and his barrel organ.

Christmas Market - Neuilly

Alexandre l’Agodas: Le colporteur de rêves et son orgue de barbarie 

And, as well as Russian Cossacks with traditional Russian music, we’ve had a Dixieland jazz quartet and a very impressive jazz duo.

Neuilly Christmas Market

But my favourites this year were the jazz quartet, Swing Manouche.

Neuilly Christmas Market

Swing Manouche

As their name suggests, Swing Manouche play in the gypsy swing, or gypsy jazz, style associated with Django Reinhardt in the 1930’s. Because this style largely originated in France it’s often called by the French name, ‘Jazz Manouche’.

And since I think that Django Reinhardt was a genius I was delighted to be able to record ‘Swing Manouche’ playing in my neck of the woods.

Neuilly Christmas Market

Jazz Manouche at my Christmas Market:

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The three pieces I recorded of ‘Swing Manouche’ playing ends with a French Christmas favourite, Le Petit Papa Noël, which leads me neatly into wishing all of you who follow this blog regularly, as well as those who drop by as they’re passing, a very Happy Christmas and all you wish for yourselves in 2015.

Neuilly

15
Dec

‘La Ville en Tram’ – Tramway T6 Opens for Business

IT’S BEEN A HECTIC few years for the tramway system in and around Paris. In 2012, the tram lines T1, T2 and T3 were extended, in 2013 two new tram lines were opened, T5 and T7, and now, in December 2014, two more new tram lines come on stream. On Saturday 13th December, tram line T6 was opened and on Tuesday 16th December it’s the turn of tram line T8.

I went to the opening of tram line T7 in November last year and last Saturday I braved the cold and the heavy rain and went to the opening of the new tram line T6.

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Le ville en tram – the inauguration logo for tram line T6

At the moment, tram-line T6 runs for 13 km from the Châtillon-Montrouge Métro station (Métro Line 13) to the tram stop Robert Wagner in Vélizy-Villacoublay passing through the communes of Châtillon, Clamart, Fontenay-aux-Roses, Meudon and Vélizy-Villacoublay, although Montrouge, Malakoff and Le Plessis-Robinson will also benefit from their proximity to this service. When the tram line is completed in the Spring of 2016, two further tram stops and a subterranean section of line will extend the tram line a further 1.6 km to Viroflay.

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 The tramline T6 route

Tram line T6 has been designed to ensure easy transfers to Métro Line 13 (Châtillon-Montrouge), RER Line ‘C’ (Viroflay Rive Gauche), SNCF’s Transilien service (Viroflay Rive Gauche and Viroflay Rive Droite) as well as to several bus services at almost every tram stop.

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The other transport connections (click on the image to enlarge)

Building a new tramway is a very lengthy process and the planning for tram line T6 began back in the year 2000. A proposal was put forward and accepted by the Syndicat des transports d’Île-de-France (STIF) in 2002. Preliminary studies and designs were carried out during 2002-2005 followed by a public announcement in 2006.

The cost of the project is around €385m excluding taxes and the cost of rolling stock and the project has been funded by the State (16%), Île-de-France (50%), Conseil général des Hauts-de-Seine (20%), Conseil général des Yvelines (13%) and RATP (1%).

For the rolling stock, a contract worth €171.6m was awarded for the supply of 28 Translohr STE 6 type trams.

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

Translohr STE 6 type trams at Châtillon-Montrouge on tram line T6. Note that there is only one rail per tram and the trams run on rubber tyres.

Each tram can accommodate 250 passengers, 60 of whom can be seated and the low floor facilitates easy access for passengers with restricted mobility. Other features include air conditioning, display screens and sound announcement systems.

Tram line T6 operates from 5h 30 to 00h 30 seven days a week. The journey time is 40 minutes and the trams operate every four minutes during peak hours and seven minutes during non-peak hours. It is expected that some 82,000 passengers will use the line each day.

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

Arriving at Châtillon-Montrouge Métro station last Saturday morning I emerged into an unpleasant winter chill and very heavy rain. I’d arrived about half an hour before the opening ceremony was due to begin so I had time to look round. I came upon two brand new trams parked ready to be moved into position at the appointed time.

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

I also discovered that the TV station, France 3, was covering the event ‘live’ so I was interested in taking a close look at their outside broadcast scanner …

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

But everyone else seemed more interested in the TV personalities on parade …

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

As I walked past the TV tent with its attendant big screen TV outside relaying the live broadcast to those standing in the rain I came upon the Franco-Brazilian drummers, Batucada Zalindé. While they were playing, the two trams I’d seen earlier were manoeuvring into position by the station platforms ready for the opening ceremony.

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

The opening of the new tram line was preceded by speeches from the assembled dignitaries, including Jean-Loup Metton, maire de Montrouge and vice-président du Conseil général en charge des Transports, Yann Jounot, préfet des Hauts-de-Seine, Jean-Paul Huchon, président du Conseil régional d’Île-de-France, président du Conseil du STIF, Pierre Bédier, président du Conseil général des Yvelines, and Pierre Mongin, président-directeur général de la RATP.

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

And then it was off to fight my way through the crowds to clamber aboard the first passenger-carrying tram to leave from Châtillon-Montrouge to Vélizy-Villacoublay on the now opened tram line T6.

Tram Line T6 – Opening:

 

Tram Line T6

Inside the inaugural tram much later in the day when the crowds had subsided 

After leaving the Châtillon-Montrouge terminus, tram line T6 makes a sharp left turn and then heads off up a hill. I was impressed by the speed of the tram as it climbed the hill. The Translohr STE 6 trams can reach a speed of 40 km/h but I think the average speed on tram line T6 is around 20 km/h.

Forty minutes after leaving Châtillon-Montrouge we arrived at the tram stop, Robert Wagner, the current terminus in Vélizy-Villacoublay.

Tram Line T6

Not all the passengers who got on at Châtillon-Montrouge travelled the full length of the line but those of us that did alighted at the Robert Wagner tram stop. There had been an opening ceremony at this end of the line too so some people went off to the marquees that had been set up to see what was on offer. I on the other hand, crossed the tram line and caught the next tram back to Châtillon-Montrouge.

Tram Line T6 Chatillon-Montrouge

I recorded the sounds inside the trams for the full length of both my outward and return journeys. These of course are historic sounds – the sounds inside the trams on their very first day of operation and so they have been consigned to my Paris Soundscapes Archive and, in due course, they will make their way to my Paris Soundscapes Collection in the sound archives of the British Library.

To give you flavour of what it sounds like inside a very full tram on tram line T6, here is part of the recording I made on the return journey, the five-stop section from Division Leclerc to Châtillon-Montrouge.

Tram Line T6 – Division Leclerc to Châtillon-Montrouge :

And when I arrived back at the Châtillon-Montrouge terminus the festivities were still under way, a band was playing – and it was still raining!

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And …

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Tram line T6 has its own Twitter account which provides passengers with traffic updates: @T6_RATP

When the new Tram Line T8 opens on Tuesday 16th December, the Paris tramway system, extending into the  Île-de-France, will stretch for 105 km. From the opening of Tram Line 1 in 1992 to the opening of Tram Lines 6 and 8 in 2014, a huge amount of money has been invested in the tramway system. And there’s the prospect of more to come.

Tram Line T9 is the planned line between Paris Porte de Choisy and the city of Orly, expected in 2020, followed by Tram Line T10 from Antony to Clamart in the southwest suburbs of Paris, expected in 2021.

6
Dec

From Paris by Thalys

EARLIER THIS WEEK I had to travel from Paris to Amsterdam.

After years of criss-crossing Europe courtesy of Air France, I’ve come to realise that being seduced into thinking that a one-hour flight might be the quickest and most convenient way to travel between these two cities is a myth perpetuated only by the prospect of accumulating more, usually unclaimed, air miles.

Now, I’m more than happy to avoid the endless angst associated with airports and opt for a much more civilised mode of travel – the train.

Gare du Nord

My Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam

After walking to the bus stop at the end of my little street I caught the 43 bus, which took me to the Gare du Nord in time for me to catch my 10.25 Thalys train to Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Gare du Nord

Thalys is an international high-speed train operator originally operating on the LGV Nord high-speed line between Paris and Brussels, a line shared with Eurostar trains going from Paris or Brussels to London via Lille and the Channel Tunnel. The line is also shared with French domestic TGV trains.

Beyond Brussels, the main cities Thalys trains reach are Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Liège, Bruges, Ghent, Charleroi, Aachen and Cologne.

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The main Thalys routes

En route to Amsterdam the Thalys crosses France, Belgium and The Netherlands stopping at Brussels (Bruxelles in French), Antwerp (Anvers in French), Rotterdam and Schiphol, before arriving at Amsterdam Centraal Station three hours and seventeen minutes after leaving Paris.

Thanks to a very sensible piece of joined-up thinking, Schiphol railway station is directly under Schiphol airport so for anyone flying from Schiphol, a short escalator ride from the train platform will deposit you directly inside the airline departures area.

Just as with the airlines, train ticketing remains a complete mystery to most of us but since I had the luxury of being able to book my tickets several weeks in advance, I was able to travel in Comfort Class 1 for less than the price of an Economy Class ticket bought close to the day of departure.

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Inside Comfort Class 1 at Amsterdam Centraal Station after all the passengers had left

Since I never travel anywhere without microphones and a sound recorder I couldn’t resist recording my departure from Paris.

From Paris by Thalys:

I began recording as I was walking along Platform 9 at the Gare du Nord towards my carriage, N°13. A very smart young man in a Thalys uniform clipped my ticket and I boarded the train.

I am fascinated by what I call ‘transitional sounds’, the changing sounds we experience as we move from one environment to another. In this case, the sounds of the busy station platform merging into the relative silence of the train carriage.

It doesn’t take long though before this relative silence is penetrated by a different range of sounds – people stowing their luggage and settling into their seats, the rustle of papers, snatches of conversation, a lady progressing along the carriage offering to book taxis for those alighting at Brussels (a perk of travelling business class) and the loudspeaker announcements. On Thalys trains, the announcements are made in four languages, French, Dutch, German and English and since my journey started in Paris protocol dictates that the announcements begin in French. On the return journey from Amsterdam they begin with the Dutch version.

The lady announcer, who speaks all four languages, tells us that departure is imminent, the doors close and almost imperceptibly the train moves off. It’s not until we’re well clear of the station that the sound of the wheels rattling over rails is heard.

I continued recording until we passed Saint-Denis in the northeast of Paris and began picking up speed by which time I’d learned from the announcer that I was on the right train, the Thalys bar was open in the adjacent carriage and that I should keep my ticket with me at all times.

Presently, Charles de Gaulle airport hove into view in the distance and I couldn’t resist raising a glass to all the passengers there mired in the endless check-in queues, complex security procedures and all the other irritations associated with air travel. As one who used to make 150+ flights every year I’m quite content now to leave all that behind and let the train take the strain.

Thalys