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30
Apr

The Square d’Anvers and its Sounds

BUILT ON THE SITE of a former Montmartre abattoir, the Square d’Anvers takes its name from the Belgian port of Antwerp. It was named to mark the French victory against the Dutch at the Siege of Antwerp in December 1832. The square was opened in 1877.

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The French architect, Jean-Camille Formigé, chief architect of buildings, promenades and gardens in the city of Paris during the French Third Republic, designed the Square d’Anvers as well as many other things across the city. In addition to the Square d’Anvers, his legacy includes the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz, the dramatic sloping park in front of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, the crematorium of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise and the greenhouses in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.

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One of the main features of the Square d’Anvers is the elegant kiosque à Musique, or bandstand.

These ‘kiosques’ first became fashionable in France in the eighteenth century although, save for one employed by a Turkish café in the boulevard du Temple so that an orchestra could play shaded from the sun and rain, they didn’t really become popular in Paris until the late nineteenth century.

The word ‘kiosque’ comes from the Arabic-Persian word, ‘kiouch’, a decorative oriental style pavilion originally with no connection to music. At the beginning of the Second Empire, some French garrison towns erected kiosques in public squares so that the regiments could offer free concerts to the public. Kiosques, or bandstands, began to appear in Paris, first in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 1888 and then in other neighbourhood squares. Their popularity declined in the second half of the twentieth century but they are now gaining a new lease of life in some parts of the city.

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Originally, the Square d’Anvers had two monuments: a statue of the philosopher, Denis Diderot, by Leon Aimé Joachim Lecointe (1826-1913) and a colonne de la Paix armée, a column surmounted by a statue of Victory.

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Square d’Anvers. Statue de Diderot et colonne de la Paix armée. Paris (IXème arr.). Photographie de Charles Lansiaux (1855-1939). Plaque de verre, 22 avril 1920. Département Histoire de l’Architecture et Archéologie de Paris. 

© Charles Lansiaux / DHAAP / Roger-Viollet 

Image courtesy of Paris en Images

The statue of Diderot was acquired by the city of Paris in 1884. It was originally installed in the Square Maurice-Gardette (formerly Square Parmentier) in the 11th arrondissement but in 1886 it was transferred to the southern end of the Square d’Anvers.

Along with about seventy other Parisian statues, the statue of Diderot and the bronze statue on top of the colonne de la Paix armée were melted down in 1942 during the Nazi occupation.

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Sounds in the Square d’Anvers:

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In the 1970s an underground car park was constructed beneath the Square d’Anvers and the square was refurbished. More recently, further work has been done to incorporate a multi-sport space for teenagers and new play areas for younger children.

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At this time of the year the dominant sounds in the square are the sounds of birds singing and children playing but, for me, the most intriguing sounds come not from the birds or the children but from the squeaky gates leading to the avenue Troudaine at the southern end of the square. You can hear these sounds towards the end of my sound piece above: a perfect example of, to use Aimée Boutin’s phrase, the City as Concert.

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24
Apr

L’Église Notre-Dame du Travail

FROM THE OUTSIDE it looks much the same as many other medium size Parisian parish churches. The five-bell array on the roof and the larger, exposed bell in the bell tower are perhaps a little quirky but apart from that nothing else seems out of the ordinary. So why then is the Église Notre-Dame du Travail listed as a monument historique?

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Despite its rather undistinguished exterior, for me this is one of the most interesting churches in Paris. Inspired by the doctrine of social Catholicism, the church was founded largely thanks to the devotion and zeal of one man, Abbé Soulange-Bodin.

Stepping inside the Église Notre-Dame du Travail, it’s easy to see that this is no ordinary church; on the contrary, it’s quite extraordinary.

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Jean-Baptiste Roger Soulange-Bodin was born on 4th February 1861 in Naples where his father was the French Consul General and his mother was the sister of a former French ambassador to Rome.

Roger spent his early years in Italy but in 1869 the family moved back to France where he was enrolled at the Collège Stanislas in Paris. When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870 the family quit Paris and moved to Arcangues, near Biarritz where Roger went to the Petit Séminaire de Laressore. He then went on to spend a year studying at the Grand Séminaire de Bayonne before moving back to Paris and the Grand Séminaire de Saint-Sulpice. He was ordained at the age of 23.

Once ordained, Roger’s family were keen to see him established as a priest at one of the fashionable Parisian churches, Saint-Augustin or Saint-Philippe du Roule perhaps, but Roger was having none of it. Instead, he was appointed vicar at a church in a working-class parish in a district almost unknown to the rest of Paris.

The church of Notre-Dame de Plaisance was located in rue du Texel in what is now the 14th arrondissement. It was small, built of wood and served a small settlement of residents between Montrouge and Vaugirard. It became a parish church in March 1848 when its name was changed to Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.

In 1848, the parish comprised some 3,500 souls; there were a few maisons de plaisance with gardens and a few guinguettes and main occupation was market gardening.

By the time Abbé Soulange-Bodin arrived there in 1884, the neighbourhood had been completely transformed. It had been incorporated into the City of Paris in 1860 and with a population of over 35,000 it had become one of the most densely populated districts of Paris. The old wooden church had doubled in size but could still hardly contain more than 250 to 300 people. Even so, the church was seldom filled with the faithful, they preferred the neighbouring parishes of Saint-Pierre de Montrouge and Notre-Dame des Champs, or the chapel of the Franciscan Fathers in the rue des Fourneaux, where the services were better and the preachers more renowned.

In spite of the desolate nature of his new parish, the Abbé set to work with all the ardour of his impetuous nature. He carried out his parochial duties with enthusiasm and a personal warmth that endeared him to his flock but he sometimes grew weary of what he saw as the immense spiritual misery of his densely populated parish. He felt that the old parochial methods seemed so ineffective and he dreamed of a more popular, more direct, more practical, apostolate.

On Wednesday, 17th January 1896, Abbé Soulange-Bodin’s hard work and devotion to his parish were rewarded when he was promoted and installed as parish priest and given the task of building a new church.

He resolved to build a church that would unite the workers of all classes by the bond of religion. In honour of the workers in the parish, many of who were involved in constructing the massive Exspositon Universelle site in the Champs de Mars, the new church was to be called the Église Notre-Dame du Travail. The style would be modern: “Stone on the outside, but iron on the inside. Our ancestors had only stone and built enormous pillars, which prevented the altar and the pulpit from being seen; we shall henceforth have light iron columns which will terminate in thin ribs like the leaves of the palm. “

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Land for the new church between rue Vercingétorix and rue Guilleminot was acquired and the architect Jules-Godefroy Astruc was engaged to design the church. But money was needed for the construction so, mustering all his vivacity, impetuosity, communicative warmth and fighting spirit, Abbé Soulange-Bodin set about the considerable task of raising over one million francs to finance the work.

The parish was poor so the Abbé needed to extend his appeal for money to a wider audience. From commerce and industry he copied their innovative use of advertising. He printed 100,000 prospectuses outlining his project, which he supplemented with brochures and posters and advertising in the successful monthly newspaper he founded, L’Echo de Plaisance. He was also not beyond appealing to his prospective subscriber’s vanity: “Benefactors of 1000 francs will have the right to a vault arch with arms or inscriptions of their choice.”

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The final design of the church came from the third of three plans put forward. As far as the architect was concerned, using iron in the design was a practical solution to make the structure as cheap as possible. But for Abbé Soulange-Bodin the use of iron had a deeper meaning: iron was a material that allowed large spaces to be supported with few pillars but it also offered the workers of the parish a familiar framework, close to that which they knew in their world of work.

At that time, iron was used on this scale exclusively in civil and utility buildings (railway stations, factories, halls, etc.) so to incorporate iron in a church structure was a controversial decision. Conversely, the choice of the church’s outside façade was more conventional, inspired by Romanesque façades.

Inside the church, ten chapels decorated with floral lines painted with stencils representing several patron saints of the workers and the oppressed, flank the large nave. Local artists Giuseppe or Joseph Uberti and Émile Desouches painted these chapels. These paintings, paying tribute to the world of work through holy protectors, imitated an approach dating back to the Middle Ages.

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Sounds inside the Église Notre-Dame du Travail on the day I visited:

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Despite the extraordinary fund raising efforts of Abbé Soulange-Bodin, money often ran out and construction work had to be stopped but, on 1st January 1902, the church was finished; the roof was in place, the huge windows were filled with stained-glass and now it was a question of furnishing the interior. Once again using his newspaper, l’Écho de Plaisance, as a megaphone the Abbé called for donations in cash or in kind for ornaments, furniture and decorations to complete the church.

One thing the Abbé didn’t have to call for was a bell. In 1860, the Emperor Napoleon III had given the previous church, Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, a bell from the siege of Sevastopol and it now sat proudly on a wooden frame close to the front door of the new church. Today it hangs in the bell tower at the side of the church.

The new church was finally inaugurated in April 1902 and on 15th July 1976, the interior of the church was listed as a monument historique.

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The man largely responsible for the Église Notre-Dame-du-Travail, Abbé Soulange-Bodin, was a devoted parish priest dedicated to carrying out his apostolic mission, but his unfailing commitment to his parish made him one of the outstanding figures of social Catholicism at the turn of the nineteenth century. He was very much attached to syndicalism, the movement influenced by Proudhon and the French social philosopher Georges Sorel for transferring the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution to workers’ unions. He was also a defining figure in personal commitment in an age of power relations between the Catholic Church and the French State. In later life he was involved in serious incidents related to laws against congregations and the separation of the Church and the State. He once published a book in which he defended the idea of ​training in economics and social policy for future priests. It was quickly banned from sale.

In 1909, the Archbishop of Paris appointed him pastor of Saint-Honoré-d’Eylau, after twenty-five years of service to the parish of Plaisance. In 1924 he resigned and died in May 1925.

The Église Notre-Dame-du-Travail is an interesting landmark in the history of the architecture of Parisian churches, but it is also a testimony to a social current in Catholicism at the end of the nineteenth century and to the dedication of one man in particular, Abbé Soulange-Bodin.

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La Main Creatrice by Serraz

18
Apr

Place du Caire and its Sounds

THE PLACE DU CAIRE is a triangular Parisian square at the northern end of the 2nd arrondissement. Flanked by rue d’Aboukir and rue du Caire, place du Caire lies in the heart of an area of Paris known as a multicultural textile and garment manufacturing district and more recently, home to many Internet start-up companies.

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Along with the Passage du Caire, one of the oldest Parisian passages couverts, the place du Caire dates from 1798. Both the Passage du Caire and place du Caire take their name from the Egyptian capital, Cairo, a place much in vogue at the time as Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798 – 1801) was unfolding. As well as the military objectives of defending French trade interests and weakening Britain’s access to India, Napoleon also took a group of scientists with him to establish scientific enterprise in the region. The scientists began to describe and illustrate the country’s natural resources and cultural heritage, from the geology, flora and fauna to the various ancient structures. This gave rise to a fascination with all things Egyptian, a fascination that manifested itself on the streets of Paris.

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The oriental influence was reflected in some of the street names, rue du Caire, rue d’Aboukir and rue du Nil for example, but also in architecture. One example of this is the neo-Egyptian building in place du Caire.

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It was built in 1799 and the large heads ornamenting the façade represent the goddess Hathor, who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. Above Hathor is an Egyptian inspired decorative frieze and vaguely Moorish arched trefoil windows.

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Maison de style néo-égyptien sur la place du Caire- Photo d’Eugène Atget, 1903

While the place du Caire unashamedly boasts its Egyptian influence there is another chapter in this Parisian square’s history that is less obvious.

In medieval Paris a large portion of the population relied on begging for survival. Since begging was a competitive business, those with the most severe handicaps could expect more alms. It was therefore quite common for beggars to fake unsightly infirmities, injuries or dieseases. Once their day’s work was done, the beggars would return to their slums where miraculously the blind could see again and the crippled walk. This phenomenon gave the generic name to these areas where so many ‘miracles’ occurred every day: the cour des miracles, the courtyard of miracles.

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The cour des miracles as imagined by Gustave Doré in an illustration to The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Referring to the cour des miracles in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pierre Gringoire, the struggling playwright and philosopher says, “Miracles, upon my soul! Here the blind see, and the lame run.”

The cour des miracles were the haunts of thieves, beggars, prostitutes, pimps and other marginalised people. In Paris there were a dozen of them, the most famous of which was in the Sentier district between place du Caire and rue Réaumur. This is the cour des miracles Victor Hugo was referring to.

Hugo’s cour des miracles consisted of three interconnected courtyards, the main one being the loop formed by the rue de Damiette and rue des Forges. It was accessed by the present day rue du Nil, or by an alley, now disappeared, at 100 rue Réaumur.

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N°100 rue Réaumur – once an entrance to the cour des miracles du Sentier,

Work to clean up the cour des miracles began in 1667 when Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, holder of the new office of Lieutenant General of Police, was charged with curbing the growth of crime but it wasn’t until 1750, when some of the slums were demolished and more respectable trades like blacksmiths and fishmongers moved in that improvement began. The last vestiges of the old cour des miracles were eliminated with the Haussmannisation of the area in the 19th century.

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Listening to and recording the sounds of Paris is my way of exploring the city. The sounds invariably arouse my curiosity about the social and cultural history of the places in which they occur. It was listening to the sounds in the place du Caire for example that led me to discover the Egyptian connection and the history of the cour des miracles.

But as well as opening a window on the social and cultural historical connections, for me at least the sounds of a place have an absolute value in their own right. Listened to attentively, sounds can paint a picture of and tell a story about a place.

So what does the place du Caire sound like?

Today, the place du Caire still has its share of mendicants but no more than many other areas of the city. On a normal working day it’s a hustling, bustling, multi-cultural part of the city with people going about their every day business.

Sounds in the place du Caire on a normal working day:

So, is this what the place du Caire sounds like?

Well, yes it is – at least some of the time. But there are times when it sounds completely different, when the sounds have a different story to tell.

More sounds in the place du Caire:

I recorded these sounds last Monday, a public holiday in France, when all the boutiques and the passage du Caire were closed. In this different atmosphere all the sounds usually subsumed by the more aggressive sounds of a normal working day are now free to take centre stage.

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The piece begins with the sound of a man with an artificial leg walking by; not a refugee from the former cour des miracles but a middle-aged man out for a stroll with his wife. A mendicant wearing sandals approaches me but then thinks better of it. The normally drowned out sounds of pigeons cooing can clearly be heard. The sound of passing two-wheelers fuelled by testosterone is inevitable. The most characteristic sounds are those very familiar to Parisian apartment dwellers like me – the sounds of an apartment gardien on one side and a gardienne on the other bringing out the refuse bins and lining them up on the trottoir ready for collection later in the day. There is even the sound of a lady, under the gaze of Olivier Brice’s ‘L’Homme au Bras Leve’, walking her cat on a leash.

For those just passing through the place du Caire, the sounds to be found there on a normal working day will perhaps be the most familiar. But I hope I have shown that these sounds don’t represent everything the place du Caire has to say.

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