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31
Mar

The Passage du Ponceau and its Sounds

THE PASSAGE DU PONCEAU may not be the oldest, the largest or the most elegant of the nineteenth century passages couverts in Paris but at least it has survived. Of the one hundred and fifty original passages couverts built, only twenty now remain and I’ve been to all of them to record and archive their contemporary soundscapes for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.

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Built as an extension to the neighbouring Passage du Caire in the 2nd arrondissement, the Passage du Ponceau was opened in 1826.

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Entrance to the Passage du Ponceau in rue Saint-Denis

Originally intended to link rue Saint-Denis to rue du Ponceau, the length of the passage was reduced in 1854 to make way for the new boulevard Sébastopol.

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Entrance to the Passage du Ponceau in boulevard Sébastopol

At ninety metres long and just two-and-a-half metres wide, the Passage du Ponceau is a narrow passage comprising two floors under a glass roof. Little remains of the original decoration save for the upper reaches of the façades and some of the mouldings.

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We know that two of the original tenants to occupy the Passage du Ponceau were a wine merchant and a coal merchant but no evidence of their presence survives. Today, the passage is mainly occupied by clothing and media enterprises: it is after all in the heart of the multicultural textile and garment district, which has increasingly become home to many Internet start-up companies.

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Sounds in the Passage du Ponceau:

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The Passage du Ponceau fell into decline in the second half of the nineteenth century. As the railways became established, the nearby stagecoach terminus, always a ready source of custom, closed and this, together with the arrival of the new department stores heralding a retail revolution, meant that the days of the Parisian passages couverts were numbered. As the French writer and journalist, Alfred Delvau noted in 1867, “Life has withdrawn to go elsewhere on the boulevards.”

And yet, twenty of the original Parisian passages couverts, including the Passage du Ponceau, have survived – even though they may not now be, as the 1852 edition of the Illustrated Guide to Paris said, “ a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need.”

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26
Mar

The Église de la Sainte-Trinité

USUALLY REFERRED TO simply as ‘Trinité’, the Église de la Sainte-Trinité, a Roman Catholic church in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, was built during the Second Empire as part of Baron Eugène Haussmann’s modernisation of nineteenth century Paris.

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Église de la Sainte-Trinité from Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin

Designed by the French architect Théodore Ballu, construction of the Church began in 1861 and was completed in 1867.

The church’s façade was inspired by the Italian Renaissance although the bell tower and dome bear distinctive marks of the French Renaissance.

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At the four corners on top of the façade, the four cardinal virtues are depicted: Justice, Temperance, Prudence and Fortitude. Crowning the bell tower are the four evangelists accompanied by their symbols: Saint John (the eagle), Saint Matthew (the angel), Saint Mark (the lion) and Saint Luke (the ox).

Further down, the number three is a recurrent theme: three triple-basined fountains (temporarily out of action due to construction work), surmounted by three statues sculpted by Eugène-Louis Lequesne embodying the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity.

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The Église de la Sainte-Trinité is a big church. At 90 metres long and 34 metres wide, with the tip of the dome standing 63 metres high, the sense of size is enhanced inside the church where the roof of the chancel rises to some 30 metres.

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Trinité boasts two Cavaillé-Coll organs. The smaller of the two, the Orgue de Choeur or chancel organ, is a two manual (plus pedals), fifteen rank, fifteen stop mechanical key and stop organ.

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The Orgue de Choeur

The larger organ, the Orgue de Tribune or gallery organ, was built between 1868 and 1869. It is a three manual (plus pedals), eighty-two rank, sixty-stop organ, which today has an electric key and stop action.

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The Orgue de Tribune

The large, gallery organ has been renovated extensively and expanded over the decades.

The original organ was badly damaged during the Paris Commune of 1871 after which Cavaillé-Coll had to reconstruct it.

In 1901, the organ builder Joseph Merklin carried out some restoration work and made some tonal changes.

In 1930, perhaps the church’s most celebrated organist, Olivier Messiaen, was appointed. He would hold the post of titular organist for 61 years from 1930 to 1992. Early in his tenure, a second restoration was carried out by the organ-building firm Pleyel-Cavaillé-Coll. On completion of this work the organ was re-inaugurated with a recital by Marcel Dupré and his former student, Olivier Messiaen.

From 1962 to 1967, the organ builders, Beuchet-Debierre, carried out a third restoration.

Towards the end of his tenure as titular organist at the Église de la Sainte-Trinite, Olivier Messiaen had this to say about the magnificent gallery organ:

“As it stands now, the St. Trinité instrument is a masterpiece. The original stops by Cavaillé-Coll have been preserved and I have personally insisted on the fact that these stops should retain their wonderful original voice. The various stops added during the restoration works considerably enrich the instrument with mixtures (pleins jeux, nasards, tierces) and a complete battery of reeds. The electrification and the addition of general combinations result in faster response and more frequent and more varied changes of colours. Nevertheless, the most beautiful voices remain those of Cavaillé-Coll: the montres, the flutes, the very powerful reeds, the extraordinary Basson 16′ and the wonderful Quintaton 16′ on the Positif: they were all designed and built by Cavaillé-Coll … I have never heard, anywhere in the world, a sound of such quality.”

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Despite the twentieth century modifications to the gallery organ, it is easy to imagine its late nineteenth century voice echoing through Sainte-Trinité at the funerals of Hector Berlioz and Georges Bizet, both of which took place in this church.

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Sadly, on my visit to the church I wasn’t able to record the sounds of the Cavaillé-Coll organ but I did nevertheless capture the sound of music. It wasn’t the sound of conventional organ and choral music from the nave of the church but more contemporary music I found below, in the crypt.

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The crypt below the chapel of the Blessed Virgin

Sounds from the crypt of the Église de la Sainte-Trinité:

In the crypt I discovered a service taking place with the celebrants mainly, but not exclusively, African. It made a refreshing change from the rigid conformity that usually takes place in the conventional catholic services held in the nave above.

I think Olivier Messiaen would approve.

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9
Mar

International Women’s Day 2017

IN 2014, I MARKED International Women’s Day on this blog with a visit to the Marie Curie Museum in the 5th arrondissement to see an exhibition in the museum garden of photographic portraits celebrating the careers of prominent women, past and present, who worked or who are currently working in the fields of science and medicine. You can see my report on the exhibition here.

To mark International Women’s Day in 2015 I recorded a women’s march in Paris, the Marche Mondiale des Femmes, which you can see here.

For some reason that escapes me, I didn’t mark International Women’s Day last year so I thought I ought to make up for that lapse by coming up with something for this year.

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International Women’s Day 2017 was yesterday, 8th March, and I spent the afternoon in the 1st arrondissement here in Paris. It’s a neighbourhood I pass through frequently but, although it’s one of the most exclusive and opulent parts of the city, it’s by no means my favourite part. I’m rather like the man in Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ – I don’t care much ‘for high-tone places’.

Still, the 1st arrondissement did set me thinking about International Women’s day.

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The Ritz Hotel, Place Vendôme, 1st Arrondissement, Paris

Apart from the Musée du Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries, the 1st arrondissement is perhaps best known for the Place Vendôme. With it’s Ritz Hotel, it’s elegant Hôtels particuliers and establishments like Boucheron, Chaumet, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Cartier, some of the world’s finest jewellery houses, the Place Vendôme attracts a regular clientele of European royals, Middle Eastern sheikhs and billionaires from all over the world. Undoubtedly, it’s one of Nina Simone’s ‘high-tone’ places.

A few steps away from the Place Vendôme though is another street, much less elegant and opulent but a street I know well: Rue Danielle Casanova.

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Originally known as rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, the street dates back to the early seventeenth century when it was then part of the rue des Petits-Champs. It acquired the name Danielle Casanova in December 1944.

The street is named in honour of Danielle Casanova, a militant communist, a tireless activist, a member of the French resistance and a remarkable woman.

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Danielle trained as a dentist in Paris and in 1928 joined the Communist Youth movement eventually becoming a member of its Central Committee. In 1936, she became the first president of L’Union des jeunes filles de France (UJFF).

The UJFF was founded partly as a response to the resentment of young communist militants who had little responsibility within the then young French Communist Movement, and partly as a way for the French Communist Party (PCF) to recruit young female members.

Danielle and the other founders of the organisation wanted to focus on issues related to all areas of gender equality: work (referring in particular to the difficulties encountered by Marie Curie in her career), education and leisure. They emphasised the double discrimination of women from the working class due to both gender and social background. The UJFF supported the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, participating in demonstrations of support and welcoming refugee children from Spain.

After the fall of France in 1940, the French Communist Party and its related organisations were banned and Danielle went into hiding. Working underground, she helped set up women’s committees in the Paris region, she wrote for the underground press, especially Pensée Libre (“Free Thought”) and she founded la Voix des Femmes (“Women’s Voice”). She also helped organise resistance against the occupying forces,

French Police arrested Danielle on 15 February 1942 and she was transported to Auschwitz where she worked in the camp infirmary as a dentist. While in Auschwitz, she continued campaigning and organising clandestine publications and events. She died of typhus on 9th May 1943.

Danielle Casanova was a heroine of the women’s movement and the French Resistance and she has lent her name to streets, schools, and colleges throughout France.

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Rue Danielle Casanova:

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And I might have left my contribution to International Women’s Day there had I not called into the Café Bourbon in rue Danielle Casanova.

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After living in Paris for the past eighteen years I know the 1st arrondissement reasonably well, although I don’t claim to know every nook and cranny. So while sitting in the café with time on my hands, I launched Google Maps to see if there were any streets I had yet to explore … and what I found was astonishing.

The 1st arrondissement is the least populated of the city’s twenty arrondissements and one of the smallest by area and yet I discovered that it contains 182 streets.

Paris streets are mostly named after people, professions, places or events so, since it was International Women’s Day, I decided to count up how many of those streets were named after women.

Out of the 182 streets in the 1st arrondissement, just SEVEN are named after women:

Place Colette: Named after Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, (1873–1954) a French novelist nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

Place Marguerite-de-Navarre: (1492-1549), sister of King François Ist

Rue Sainte-Anne: Anne of Austria (1601–1666), queen consort of France and Navarre, regent for her son, Louis XIV of France, and a Spanish and Portuguese Infanta by birth.

Rue Thérèse: Marie-Thérèse (1638-1683), wife of Louis XIV

Passage de la Reine-de-Hongrie: Named after a merchant from the neighbouring Les Halles, Julie Bécheur, who lived in the late eighteenth century. She was said to resemble the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, queen of Hungary (and of Bohemia).

Avenue Victoria: Named after the British Queen Victoria who paid a visit to the nearby Hôtel de Ville in 1855.

And of course:

Rue Danielle Casanova:

Two more streets are named after exclusively female professions:

Rue des Lavandières-Sainte-Opportune: – the washerwomen

Rue de la Lingerie: – the seamstresses

In fact, to be precise, there are only six-and-a-half streets named after women in the 1st arrondissement rather than seven. The Rue Danielle Casanova is bisected by the boundary of the 1st and 2nd arrondissements so half the street is in the 1st and, as can be seen by the sign below, the other half is in the 2nd.

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It seems that, despite having a female Mayor, the Paris City authorities still have more work to do on the gender equality of Parisian street names.