IT’S THAT TIME of the year again! An annual colourful procession through the streets of the 18th arrondissement, an elephant representing Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune, people adorned with strings of jasmine and shattered coconuts laying at the roadside means that it must be La Fête de Ganesh.
The Parisian Fête de Ganesh begins at the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple in rue Pajol, the largest Hindu temple in France, where religious ceremonies precede the procession through the streets of the neighbourhood.
As the procession gets underway, a water truck precedes it and the streets are washed. It seems that cleanliness really is next to godliness.
Leading the procession are the drum dancers.
Dancers carrying an arch of peacock feathers on their shoulders come next …
… and then ladies carrying clay pots with burning camphor on their heads.
Next, pulled by two large ropes made of vegetable fibre each twenty metres long, comes the five metre high chariot carrying the statue of Ganesh, the God with an elephant’s head. The chariot is entirely covered with red and white cloth and decorated with garlands of fresh flowers, bananas and areca wrapped in betel leaves.
Coconuts play a significant part in the procession. Piles of them are placed at the roadside and during the procession they are broken by smashing them onto the ground. The coconut shell symbolises the world, the flesh represents individual Karma and the coconut milk the human ego. By breaking the coconut, one offers one’s heart to Ganesh.
The milk from hundreds of coconuts is spread across the streets for Ganesh’s chariot to pass over.
Singers and musicians follow Ganesh’s chariot and throughout the course of the procession offerings are made and food and drink distributed.
Sounds of la Fête de Ganesh 2015:
With its vibrant colours, intoxicating exotic smells and multi-textured, rhythmical sounds, la Fête de Ganesh is truly a multisensory experience.
CHARLES FRANÇOIS BOSSU (1813 – 1879) was a French photographer who photographed architecture, landscapes and the urban environment. He is much better known though as Charles Marville, the pseudonym he adopted around 1832.
Charles Marville, photographic self-portrait, c. 1861
Marville worked as an illustrator of books such as Histoire Pittoresque de l’Angleterre and La Seine et ses Bords (the Seine and its Banks) before taking up photography around 1850.
In 1858 he received his first commission from the Paris authorities, to photograph the renovated Bois de Boulogne − the first of Baron Haussmann’s modernising projects for Emperor Napoleon III.
By the early 1860s, Haussmann’s urban development scheme to transform Paris was gathering pace. Although Haussmann was keen to eradicate parts of old Paris, he wanted to preserve their memory: ‘The City of Paris must disregard nothing, forget nothing, neglect nothing of its past.’
In 1862, Marville became the official photographer of Paris and he was commissioned to photograph the pre-modern city before its demolition. He made 425 photographs of the narrow streets and crumbling buildings, which collectively became known as the ‘Album du Vieux Paris.’ The complete series of photographs are held by the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris.
One of Charles Marville’s photographs that fascinates me is one he made of Place Saint-André des Arts in the 6th arrondissement.
Place Saint-André des Arts: Charles Marville
The remarkable thing is that, despite the destruction and reconstruction that occurred in the surrounding area in the 1860s, this little corner of Paris, which takes its name from the ancient church of Saint-André-des-Arts which was demolished during the French Revolution, remained completely untouched by Haussmann’s wrecking ball.
Place Saint-André des Arts: August 2015
Like Charles Marville and his successor, Eugène Atget, I too document the city of Paris, but in my case in sound rather than in pictures. Whenever I come across a photograph of a part of Vieux Paris that has survived almost untouched I can’t resist recording the contemporary soundscape around it.
Place Saint-André des Arts in Sound; August 2015:
Charles Marville died in Paris in 1879. His ‘Album du Vieux Paris’ allows us to see Paris as he saw it before its late nineteenth century transformation and we can compare what he saw with what we can see today.
But when it comes to the sounds of Charles Marville’s Paris we lack a reference point. There are no recordings of the urban soundscape of the time and descriptions of the sounds of Paris in literature during Haussmann’s transformation of the city are few and far between.
So, while we can capture and archive the contemporary sounds of Paris we can, alas, only imagine the sounds that Charles Marville would have heard while he photographed Place Saint-André des Arts.
FOUNDED BY NAPOLEON III in 1863 as an asylum, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne in rue Cabanis in the 14th arrondissement is now not only an official monument historique, it’s also a hospital specialising in psychiatry and neuroscience.
The origins of the hospital date back much further though.
On 7th July 1651, the governors of the Hôtel-Dieu and representatives of the Queen regent, Anne of Austria, signed a contract in which the Hôtel Dieu gave up buildings and land of the Maison de la Santé in Faubourg St Marcel in exchange for which the Queen regent gave twenty-one acres of land to establish a hospital. A condition was that the new hospital should take the name of the patron saint of the Queen regent, mother of Louis XIV: Saint Anne.
The hospital began as a farm, la ferme Sainte-Anne, which employed inmates from the nearby Asylum de Bicêtre, a notorious prison and lunatic asylum, but where in 1793, Superintendent Philippe Pinel is credited as being the first to introduce humane methods into the treatment of the mentally ill.
In 1863, Napoleon III decided to create a psychiatric hospital in Paris on the site of la ferme Sainte-Anne. The Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne was to be a clinical asylum marking a shift of emphasis from just the containment of the mentally ill towards research into and the treatment of mental illness.
The French architect Charles-Auguste Questel took charge of the project and work proceeded over a period of four years. The hospital was inaugurated on 1st January 1867 and the first patient was admitted on 1st May of the same year. Most of the original buildings still exist and are still in use.
The asylum in 1877: Revue générale de l’Architecture et des Travaux Publics, 1877, n°4 (volume 34ème)
Le pavillon Magnan de l’hôpital Sainte-Anne
In the years that followed, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne expanded its role beyond just the psychiatric treatment of its patients. Departments for general surgery and dental surgery were created to provide treatment for patients from all the asylums in the Département de la Seine along with an obstetric department and laboratories for radiology, microphotography and biology.
A major breakthrough occurred in 1920 when the French psychiatrist, Edouard Toulouse, set up the Comité d’hygiène mentale, a mental health committee designed to seek the most effective medical and social means for treating mental illness. In 1922 this resulted in the Centre for mental disease prevention, which aimed to improve the treatment of patients by developing outpatient as well as inpatient centres.
Another breakthrough came in 1952 when the French psychiatrist, neurologist, writer and member of the Académie française, Jean Delay, along with J. M. Harl and Pierre Deniker discovered that a high dose of chlorpromazine produced a considerable reduction in the agitation and aggression of those patients with symptoms of schizophrenia. Chlorpromazine was released onto the market in 1953 by Rhône-Poulenc and given the trade name Largactil and it’s still in use today.
Today, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne has seven adult psychiatric units, two child and adolescent psychiatric units as well as an addiction unit. It also has centres for neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neurophysiology, neuropathology, anaesthetics, dentistry, physical medicine and rehabilitation.
The hospital is also a teaching hospital for students of the faculty of medicine at the Université Paris Descartes.
I went to explore the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne and discovered that the site covers thirteen hectares (32 acres), including seven hectares (17 acres) of protected green space. Some of this green space is reserved for patients but most of it is accessible to the public.
On one side of a staff car park close to the central pharmacy I discovered some sounds of summer.
Sounds of the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne:
One of the modern additions to the hospital is the new home of the Clinique des Maladies Mentales et de l’Encéphale (CMME), a sixty bed psychiatric unit supervised by four university professors.
The unit specialises in four main areas; eating disorders, mood disorders (including recurrent depression resistant to treatment, seasonal affective disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety disorders), suicidal patients and addiction.
Clinique des Maladies Mentales et de l’Encéphale (CMME)
The CMME is one of several new developments at the hospital so as I walked past it I was not surprised to discover the sound of construction work pervading the air. I stopped to capture the sounds of nature and construction work competing with each other.
Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne – Outside CMME:
Walking around the grounds of the hospital looking at some of the original buildings I couldn’t help but imagine what this place must have been like when the treatment of mental illness was in its infancy, even though France was quite enlightened in its approach by the standards of the time.
In 1838 France enacted a law to regulate both the admissions into asylums and asylum services across the country allowing mentally ill patients to gain access to treatment for their disorders in specific and appropriate institutions. This law remained in force until as late as June 1990 when it was revised.
Outside the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne in rue Cabanis stands the controversial Le plancher de Jeannot / Jeannot´s floor, a chilling reminder of the effect that mental illness can sometimes have.
Inside the three panels are sections of a fifteen square metre wooden floor engraved with a message of eighty lines by a young man named Jeannot.
Jeannot was born in 1939 in a small community in the Béarn department in the south of France where his parents owned a farmhouse and some forty hectares of land.
In 1959, Jeannot’s father committed suicide. Jeannot, one of his sisters and his mother continued to live in the house but the family gradually became more and more isolated. Jeannot began to exhibit paranoid behaviour and he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital but he reacted so violently that he was unable to be treated. When his mother died in 1971, Jeannot buried her in the house, under the staircase.
Over the next few months, using a hand drill to make small holes, which he then connected with lines cut out with a knife and a gouge, Jeannot composed a text on the wooden floor of the living room. In brief, the text says that religion is the cause of evil in society,
Soon after completing the text Jeannot died, probably starving himself to death. Together with his mother he was buried in the local cemetery. His sister continued living in the house, alone. She was found dead in 1993.
The house was sold but the brocanteur who dealt with the house clearance noticed the inscriptions on the floor. Finding this unusual, he made contact with a psychiatrist, Dr Guy Roux. Dr Roux bought the floor from the new owner of the house. He later sold it to the pharmaceutical company Bristol Meyer Squib.
Le plancher de Jeannot was exhibited for the first time in the year 2000 at an international psychiatric congress in Paris as part of an exposition entitled 50 ans d´expression en milieu psychiatrique. It was later exhibited in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris where it gave rise to a heated public debate around the question: is it acceptable to present as a work of art the expression of someone in such psychological distress?
In 2007, Jean Pierre Olié, professor of psychiatry and chief psychiatrist of the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne became involved and it was arranged that the floor, cut into three parts, should be put on display outside the hospital in the rue Cabanis.
The complete text of Le plancher de Jeannot: Click to enlarge
“A sick thought can devour the body’s flesh more than fever or consumption.”
Guy de Maupassant : Le Horla et autres contes fantastiques
The days of ‘lunatics’ and ‘asylums’ may be gone but the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness still persists. It may be less now than in the past but it’s still there.
Institutions like the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne have contributed significantly to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness but it’s up to of the rest of us to come to terms with the fact that mental illness is exactly what it says, an illness – an illness that one in five of us will suffer from at some point in our lives.
“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shames us all”.
SET IN A SHALLOW basin in Place Stravinsky in the shadow of the Centre Pompidou, sixteen works of sculpture move and spray water into the air.
La Fontaine Stravinsky was part of a larger sculptural programme, launched by the City of Paris in 1978, to build seven contemporary fountains with sculptures in different squares in the city. As well as la Fontaine Stravinsky, the project included new fountains at the Hotel de Ville and within the gardens of the Palais Royal. These were the first public fountains to be built in Paris since the fountains of the Palais de Chaillot were constructed for the Paris Exposition of 1937.
The basin containing the sixteen sculptures sits above the offices of IRCAM, the Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique, an organisation devoted to promoting modern music and musicology. The founder of the IRCAM, the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, suggested the works of the composer Igor Stravinsky as a theme for the fountain.
The sixteen sculptures therefore represent:
L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird)
La Clef de Sol (the Musical Key of G)
La Spirale (The Spiral)
L’Elephant (The Elephant)
Le Renard (The Fox)
Le Serpent (The Serpent)
La Grenouille (The Frog)
La Diagonale (The Diagonal)
La Mort (Death)
La Sirène (The Mermaid)
Le Rossignol (The Nightingale)
La Vie (Life)
Le Cœur (The Heart)
Le Chapeau de Clown (The Clown’s Hat)
Because of the IRCAM rooms below, the Fontaine Stravinsky was designed to be as light as possible with the basin being very shallow and made from stainless steel and the sculptures made of plastic and other lightweight materials.
Funding for the Fontaine Stravinsky was provided by the City of Paris who paid two million French francs for the project, which was matched by a further two million French francs from the French Ministry of Culture.
Originally, the commission for the fountain was given to Jean Tinguely, best known for his kinetic art, or sculptural machines. It was envisaged that the fountain would have been entirely composed of his black-painted mechanical sculptures but, in May 1982, Tinguely asked that brightly coloured works by his second wife, Niki de Saint Phalle, also be included. This proposal was resisted at first because it was thought that the brightly coloured works would visually overwhelm the dark works of Tinguely but, after much descussion, it was agreed that it would be a joint project by Tinguely and Saint Phalle.
I went to the Fontaine Stravinsky the other day to try to capture the different sound textures from each of the sixteen sculptures but when I arrived I found that the basin had been drained and routine maintenance work was going on. Far from being disappointing, it gave me a chance to see the inner workings of the kinetic art.
All sixteen statues move and spray water and the cables and hoses that feed them are laid along the bottom of the basin.
There are a host of cafés and restaurants in the thirteenth century rue Brisemiche running alongside Place Stravinsky so I decided to head off for something to eat while the maintenance work was being carried out.
When I returned the basin was being refilled and the sculptures were bursting into life.
Sounds of la Fontaine Stravinsky:
I walked around the perimeter of the fountain pausing to explore the sonic texture of each of the sixteen statues. Some of the textures are quite distinctive but others, the more delicate ones, tend to be overshadowed by their more raucous neighbours – but they are there if you listen very carefully.
I recorded in the evening so I was not surprised to capture the sounds of the gentlemen from the Mairie de Paris arriving in their smart, green, electric truck to replace the large translucent rubbish bags beside the fountain. I was though surprised to capture the sound of the water to the fountain being turned off for the night from a stopcock behind the neighbouring Eglise Saint-Merri. The sudden absence of running water seemed to leave a curious sonic vacuum in the air.