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Posts from the ‘Fêtes’ Category

2
May

La Fête du Travail 2015

IT HAS BECOME a tradition that on the first day of May each year sweet scented sprays of Lily of the Valley (Muguet in French) are sold on the streets across France as a symbol of springtime and good luck.

Amidst the sprays of Lily of the Valley on sale everywhere in Paris yesterday another tradition was  playing out.

République, May Day

La Fête du Travail was the name given to several festivals that originated from the eighteenth century onwards to celebrate the achievements of workers. In France, la Fête du Travail merged with International Workers’ Day, a day originally established in the late nineteenth century as an annual day of protest to demand the eight-hour working day. Today, La Fête du Travail and International Workers Day are celebrated on May 1st and the day is a national public holiday.

In Paris it has become traditional for people representing the two extremes of the political spectrum to use the May 1st public holiday to take to the streets to make their voices heard.

On the morning of May 1st, the Front National representing the political far right hold their annual défilé from the Palais Royal to Place de l’Opéra pausing in Place des Pyramides to pay homage at the foot of Emmanuel Frémiet’s gilded statue of Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orléans and heroine to the far right. In the afternoon an assorted collection of organisations representing the far left gather in Place de la République and march along the Boulevard Voltaire to Place de la Nation.

République, May Day

For the past three years I’ve recorded the Front National event on May 1st rather than the event at République because, given the rise of Marine le Pen as Président of the Front National and the party’s increasing popularity with the French electorate, it seemed to me that this was likely to be the more newsworthy event.

This year though I decided it was time to redress the balance and forsake the Front National in favour of the far left manifestation on the other side of the city.

République, May Day

The manifestation beginning in Place de la République was jointly organised by the French Trades Unions, CGT (Confédération générale du travail), FSU (Fédération syndicale unitaire), Solidaires (Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques) and l’Unsa (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes).

From the plethora of literature handed out along the route I was able to deduce that there were two main themes to the manifestation:

First, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 11th this year, democracy, peace and freedom of thought and expression are common goods that must be defended against all forms of totalitarianism, hate speeches, stigma and attempts to divide.

And second, against a background of austerity measures and reforms reducing workers’ rights and social protection in many European countries, these policies must be reversed and investment made in quality jobs and growth.

République, May Day

Sounds of le défilé de la Fête du Travail :

République, May Day

After many years of recording sounds in Paris I like to think that I’ve developed a journalist’s nose for a good story, or at the very least for being in the right place at the right time. But this year I’m afraid I got it wrong, the little spray of Lily of the Valley in my pocket failed to bring me good luck.

While standing in the rain for three hours recording this manifestation passing me in Boulevard Voltaire I was completely unaware that the news story of the day had already taken place elsewhere, at the Front National défilé at Place de l’Opéra!

During Marine le Pen’s speech there earlier in the day three bare-breasted women appeared on the balcony of a nearby hotel. The women from the Femen activist group unfurled banners linking the Front National’s logo with the Nazi party and had “Heil Le Pen” and “Stop Fascism” written across their chests. For five minutes, they drowned out Le Pen’s speech using a bullhorn.

I was particularly disappointed when I discovered what had happened, not because I have any affection for Marine le Pen and the Front National or that I’d missed seeing the topless women, in fact I’d seen them before when I was recording the International Women’s Day march in Paris a few weeks ago. No, my disappointment came from the realisation that I’d completely missed capturing an historic sound event that would have been a priceless addition to my Paris Soundscapes Archive.

I am reminded of the great American poet, Maya Angelou, who in her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

I’m afraid that the sounds of the disruption at yesterday’s Front National rally are and are destined to remain my untold story.

République, May Day

16
Mar

Le Carnaval des Femmes 2015

HOT ON THE HEELS of the Marche Mondiale des Femmes that took place just over a week ago to mark International Women’s Day, Paris was celebrating women again yesterday this time with Le Carnaval des Femmes.

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Organised by L’association Cœurs Sœurs, the Carnaval des Femmes is a revival of the traditional Fête des Reines des Blanchisseuses de la mi-Carême dating back to the eighteenth century. The current president of L’association Cœurs Sœurs, Basile Pachkoff, the man responsible for reviving the Carnaval de Paris, is one of the driving forces behind reviving this historic festival.

Fêtes des Femmes

An 1880 report prepared by the chambre syndicale des blanchisseurs for the Ministry of the Interior estimated that some 94,000 women and 10,000 men worked in laundries in Paris, either in brick-and-mortar laundries across the city, or in the bateaux-lavoirs  – wooden constructions floating on the river. Their ages ranged from about 15 to 60 and they worked 12 to 15 hours a day for a remuneration of between 18 to 35 francs a week.

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A laundry on the banks of the Canal Saint-Martin

Léon et Lévy (1864-1917). Lavoir sur le canal Saint-Martin. Phototypie. Paris (Xème arr.), vers 1900. Paris, musée Carnavalet. Image courtesy of Paris en Images

It was mainly the women who did the washing and the ironing but although the work may have been long and hard and poorly paid, once a year Paris treated them like royalty.

At mi-Carême, or Mid-Lent, an air of celebration gripped Paris with a hugely popular festival often referred to as une grande fête feminine, or a great female party. And it was the blanchisseurs, the laundresses who took centre-stage.

A Queen was elected from each laundry and during the mi-Carême festival all the Queens paraded through the streets with much fanfare.

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The 1874 election of a laundry Queen in a lavoir

La fête des blanchisseuses dans un lavoir du quartier de Plaisance, à Paris, le jeudi de la Mi-Carême 12 mars 1874. Image – Le Monde Illustré

In 1891, the président de la chambre syndicale des maîtres de lavoirs took the initiative to create a committee to bring together all the individual laundry processions in Paris thus giving rise to one large procession and to the Queen of Queens of Paris.

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Yvonne Béclu, Queen of Queens, 3 March 1921. Image – l’Agence Rol

Like the Carnaval de Paris, the Fête des Reines des Blanchisseuses de la mi-Carême faded away in the mid-twentieth century but thanks to Basile Pachkoff and others, both have now been revived.

Now in it’s seventh year, the revived Carnaval des Femmes may be a shadow of the huge nineteenth century festival but at least it has been revived and judging by the procession yesterday it certainly contains some of the same enthusiasm and exuberance as its predecessor.

Sounds of the Carnaval des Femmes 2015:

Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
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Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes
Fêtes des Femmes

9
Mar

The Sounds of International Women’s Day 2015

SUNDAY, 8th MARCH was International Women’s Day and a large number of events took place in Paris to mark the day.

To mark la Journée internationale de la femme last year I went to the Marie Curie Museum in the 5th arrondissement where there was an exhibition in the garden of the museum of photographic portraits celebrating the careers of prominent women, past and present, who worked or are currently working in the fields of science and medicine. You can see my report about that exhibition here.

To mark the day this year, I thought I would do something completely different!

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I arrived in Place de la République on Sunday afternoon to record the sights and sounds of my first manifestation of the year, the Paris contribution to the Marche Mondiale des Femmes 2015.

International Women’s Day - République

It was a very lively and good-natured manifestation and although both women and some men took part I decided to mark my contribution to International Women’s Day 2015 by only recording the sounds of the women.

No further words from me can add anything to the words of these women marching through Paris yesterday, they were quite capable of expressing themselves.

Just a word of warning:

So as not to offend anyone, I should point out that there is a rather explicit picture at the end of this blog piece so if you think you might be offended by it then I suggest you just listen to the sounds and don’t scroll down any further. 

That said, I’ll simply let the women tell their own story.

The sounds of International Women’s Day 2015 in Paris:

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

International Women’s Day - République

19
Feb

Carnaval de Paris 2015

THE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS of a colourful carnival procession are guaranteed to brighten up a dull February afternoon.

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Last Sunday afternoon, the annual Carnaval de Paris wound its way through the east of Paris from Place Gambetta to Place de la République. The theme for this year’s carnival was  Chevaliers, dragons et chatelaines” (Knights, dragons and ladies of the manor) and it involved a long procession of people wearing colourful costumes accompanied by dancers and the throbbing rhythms of drums, cymbals and cowbells.

Carnaval de Paris

Sounds of the Carnaval de Paris 2015:

Carnaval de Paris

The Carnaval de Paris has a long history going back to at least the sixteenth century. In those days it was a time of rejoicing lasting from Epiphany until Lent. People of different origins, professions and social status took part and it was a time of dances, feasts, and marriages. The carnival parade would take place on the Sunday prior to Mardi Gras and was led by the traditional “Promenade du Boeuf Gras”, a decorated live ox.

Carnaval de Paris

The Carnaval de Paris continued up to the twentieth century but in 1952 it came to an abrupt end. It was revived though in 1997 by Les Fumantes de Pantruches and Droit à la Culture groups and it has continued every year since.

Although it no longer stretches from Epiphany to Lent, it’s simply a one-day event now, the Carnaval de Paris with its dancers, masks, music and colourful costumes still retains the spirit and exuberance of the medieval festival.

Here are some more sights of the Carnaval de Paris 2015:

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

Carnaval de Paris

18
Jan

Showtime in the Champs Élysées

AFTER THE SPECTACULAR sound and light show attended by some 600,000 people in the Champs Élysées the night before, New Year’s Day 2015 saw la plus belle avenue du monde filled with marching bands, colourful floats and circus performers for le défilé du jour de l’An, the New Year’s Day parade.

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Organised by the association, Le Monde Festif, under the chairmanship of the celebrated showman, Marcel Campion, the parade consisted of musicians, clowns, jugglers and acrobats from five famous circuses (Pinder, Bouglione, Muller, Phoenix and Romanès), as well as fifteen marching bands from a dozen countries and a fleet of classic cars and decorated floats.

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

I spent the afternoon of New Year’s Day in the Champs Élysées capturing the sounds and savouring the atmosphere.

Showtime in the Champs Élysées:

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

Champs Elysées - New Year’s Day Parade

1
Sep

La Fête de Ganesh 2014

LA FÊTE DE GANESH, along with the celebrations for the Chinese New Year and the Carnaval Tropical, bring an annual wave of colour and spectacle to the streets of Paris highlighting the city’s cultural diversity.

Indian communities across the world celebrate la Fête de Ganesh at this time of the year and yesterday I went to join the celebrations in Paris.

Fête de Ganesh 2014

The Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple, in rue Pajol

Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune, has a temple dedicated to him in Paris, the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple, in rue Pajol in the 18th arrondissement. It was from here that a colourful procession set off yesterday on its tour of the surrounding area.

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Strands of jasmine were on sale everywhere

To experience la Fête de Ganesh is to experience a multi-sensory feast with the colourful costumes and the equally colourful sounds overlayed with wonderfully exotic smells.

Unfortunately, I can’t recreate the exotic smells for you to enjoy but I can share with you this year’s Fête de Ganesh in sounds and pictures and let them tell their own story.

La Fête de Ganesh 2014 in sound:

 

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The Deity Ganesha has been represented with the head of an elephant since the early stages of his appearance in Indian art

Fête de Ganesh 2014

Fête de Ganesh 2014

This is the pile of coconuts that you can hear being smashed in my recording

Fête de Ganesh 2014

Fête de Ganesh 2014
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Fête de Ganesh 2014
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Fête de Ganesh 2014
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Fête de Ganesh 2014

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Lunch after the parade …  if you can find a seat!  Then the clean up begins …

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16
Jul

La Fête National 2014

LA FÊTE NATIONAL forms the centrepiece of the Parisian summer. It’s the French National Day and it commemorates the 1790 Fete de la Federation, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. It also marks the start of the French holiday season. In Paris the day starts with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République and his army of guests.

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The Défilé at a glance courtesy of RTL

In the Champs Elysées this year the défilé comprised 3,752 men and women from the military and civilian services, 285 vehicles, 82 motorcycles, 76 dogs and 241 horses from the Garde Républicain. This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and among those taking part in the défilé were representatives of 80 countries who fought in that conflict.

This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the founding of l’armée de l’Air, the French Air Force and, in a spectacular display of precision flying, 54 aircraft led by nine Alpha Jets of the Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team, approached over La Défense in the west of Paris and flew along the Avenue Charles de Gaulle, the Avenue de la Grand Armée and into the Champs Elysées.

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Being both a sound and an aircraft enthusiast I record this fly-past each year and this year I decided to record it from the Esplanade de la Défense.

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The green arrow indicates the direction in which the aircraft fly and the yellow arrow indicates the position from which I chose to record

The aircraft fly-past:

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The green arrow indicates the fly-past route from la Grande Arche de la Défense to the Presidential review stand at Place de la Concorde

Getting 54 aircraft of different sizes, weights and speeds into exactly the right place at exactly the right time is a complex business but each year the French Air Force accomplishes it faultlessly.

If the défilé in the Champs Elysées is to proceed seamlessly, the first aircraft, the Patrouille de France, have to appear over the plus belle avenue du monde trailing their bleu-blanc-rouge, blue, white and red smoke, at exactly 10.36 am and the last aircraft must arrive 8 minutes and 30 seconds later. For this to happen, the aircraft have to arrive at la Grande Arche de la Défense at precisely the right time, at the right speed and with exactly the right separation between each aircraft or groups of aircraft even though they are all flying in from different places.

The way they do it is similar to the way that air traffic controllers bring commercial airliners in to land at busy airports. The aircraft are directed to fly a given route at a given speed and then at a pre-determined point they are fed from different directions into a single stream taking into account their size, speed and wake turbulence.

For a military fly-past like this one over the Champs Elysées though there is a further complication. Some of the aircraft fly in clusters; the Patrouille de France for example flew in a formation of nine aircraft, the large E3F aircraft with its flying radar dome had three fighter aircraft flying close behind it and the KC135 tanker aircraft had two fighter aircraft flying either side of its tail. These clusters of aircraft have to get into formation and effectively fly as one aircraft as they turn into the stream.

Once in the stream and heading for the Champs Elysées the pilots, as well as keeping a constant height and compensating for the wind speed and direction, must maintain their allotted separation from each other. While it’s just about acceptable for an experienced fast-jet pilot to fly a relatively small fighter aircraft dangerously close to a much larger four-engine tanker aircraft for example, it would be catastrophic for a smaller propeller-driven aircraft to try to do the same, the wake turbulence from the larger aircraft could overturn the smaller aircraft in the blink of an eye.

It was with all these things in mind that I settled down to record the aircraft fly-past.

La Fête National 2014

The Patrouille de France passing over my recording position in La Défense

I was fascinated to watch how all the aircraft entered the stream. The turning point was just beyond la Grande Arche de la Défense and just as with the approach to commercial airports, they approached from the left, the right and from straight ahead.

The Patrouille de France were the first to appear from the far distance. Nine Alpha Jets in perfect formation with their landing lights blazing from the front and blue, white and red smoke issuing from behind. Alpha Jets have a very special sound and by the time they passed me the next cluster of aggressive fast jets were approaching.

From then on it was pure theatre – clusters of aircraft turning in from the left followed by more coming from the right punctuated by those coming from directly ahead, all with perfect timing, perfect separation and all culminating in a faultless display of military might over the Champs Elysées.

If you listen to the sounds I recorded you will probably notice several things. Of course, you will hear the distinctive voices of each aircraft as they pass overhead but you will also hear the subtle differences in the critical separation of the aircraft clusters. In the relatively quiet separation pauses you will hear the sound of young children. As with my recording of the same event last year, I find that the juxtaposition of the voices of innocent young children on the ground and the mighty war machines flying overhead speaks volumes. For those of you with an eye for detail, you will also find that the time taken from the first aircraft passing overhead to the last is exactly 8 minutes and 30 seconds, exactly as it should be.

All these aircraft passing in what I call a fly-past, is officially known as the Défilé arien d’ouverture (the opening aerial parade would be a rough translation) but that implies that more was to follow. And indeed there was.

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At 11.20 precisely, a stream of 36 helicopters was scheduled to pass over the Champs Elysées in what is called the Défilé arien de cloture. Still at my recording position on the Esplanade de La Défense I waited until they appeared.

Getting the helicopters into a stream is much less complicated than with the aircraft. All 36 helicopters approached me from over la Grande Arche in a single line and I could see all of them as they passed over me and headed to the Champs Elysées.

Défilé arien de cloture – The helicopter fly-past

The stream of 36 helicopters included 21 from l’aviation légère de l’armée de Terre, 6 from l’armée de l’Air, 3 from la Marine nationale, 3 from la Gendarmerie nationale and 3 from la sécurité civile.

La Fête National 2014

In previous years I’ve spent the afternoon of la Fête Nationale visiting the Franciliens accueillent leur soldats displays that pop up around Paris. But this year I came upon something a little different.

Bearing in mind that this year is the centenary anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War I went to the Jardin des Tuileries where I came upon a display of First World War vehicles and memorabilia including men and women dressed in costumes of the period.

La Fête National 2014

But what really caught my eye were two magnificent examples of original Taxis de la Marne, Marne Taxis.

La Fête National 2014

What we now refer to as Marne Taxis were originally the Renault Type AG Parisian taxicabs designed by Louis Renault and built between 1905 and 1910.

The 1,205 cc, two-cylinder, 12 horsepower, Renault AG was a robust motor car for its time but it became really popular during these years thanks to a car-rental company who ordered 1,500 of them to which they attached a new invention, the taximétre or, taximeter, which automatically calculated how much the passenger had to pay.

La Fête National 2014

But this little taxicab was about to achieve a fame far beyond that which could be imagined.

La Fête National 2014

By the beginning of September 1914 Paris had lost its glitter. War had been declared, the Germans were approaching the capital at an alarming pace and the French Government had decamped to Bordeaux leaving the defence of Paris to its military governor, General Joseph Simon Gallieni. Retiring from the army in April 1914, Gallieni was recalled in August to oversee the defence of Paris. His only directive: to defend Paris to the last.

With the German army perilously close to the city, fate took a hand. Confusion on the German side, almost inevitable in the fog of war, together with a stroke of good fortune for the French revealed that there appeared to be a gap in the German defences. In order to take advantage of this, Gallieni needed to move his troops quickly. With the rail lines nearly crippled and few army motorised vehicles to hand, Gallieni instructed his staff to commission all of Paris’ taxis to drive French troops to the front.

La Fête National 2014

On the evening of 6th September, hundreds of taxicabs assembled on the Esplanade des Invalides and by morning they were heading off for the front. By the end of the following day some 600 taxis, each making several runs, had delivered over 3,000 troops. The taxi drivers, like taxi drivers the world over, insisted on being paid for their efforts but, after some hasty negotiations and in a spirit of patriotism, they finally settled for 27% of the full fare for each trip.

The troops that the taxi drivers delivered became engaged in what we now know as the First Battle of the Marne, often known because of its significance as the Miracle of the Marne. It was fought from the 5th to the 12th September and it resulted in an Allied victory against the German army commanded by Chief of Staff, Helmuth von Moltke. It was also the prelude to the stalemate that was to ensue for most of the next four years.

La Fête National 2014

Looking at these two original Marne Taxis in the Jardin des Tuileries it was hard to imagine that they had actually taken part in this momentous event.

But both were obviously well loved, well cared for and in pristine condition: a fitting tribute to their contribution to the Miracle of the Marne.

La Fête National 2014

4
May

La Fête du Travail – The Marching Season Begins

THE FIRST OF MAY is a public holiday in France, La Fête du Travail or Labour Day as it’s known in some countries.

Traditionally, the First of May is also the day when Lily of the Valley, or Muguet, is sold everywhere on streets across France as a of the symbol of springtime and of good luck.

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Muguet (Lily of the Valley) being distributed in rue de Rivoli

La Fête du Travail is primarily an opportunity to campaign for and to celebrate workers’ rights and in Paris many people take to the streets to make their voices heard.

For me, as a sonic journalist and dedicated collector of the sounds of Paris, the First of May always marks the start of the Parisian marching season. I know that over the next few months I will spend many hours on the streets capturing the sounds of marches, demonstrations and protests covering every shade of political opinion.

In Paris it’s become traditional for the two extremes of political opinion to take to the streets on the First of May. In the morning the right-wing Front National march from the Palais-Royal to Place de l’Opéra and in the afternoon the left-wing Socialists and Trades Unions march from Place de la Bastille to Place de la Nation. I used to record both of these marches each year but latterly I’ve taken to recording them alternately, the left one year and the right the next.

This year it was the turn of the Front National and so an hour before the march was due to begin I arrived in the Place des Pyramides in front of Emmanuel Frémiet’s gilded statue of Jeanne d’Arc, heroine to the far right, and jostled with the seasoned TV and Radio crews and the press photographers to get the best vantage point.

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I recorded the march as it approached along the rue de Rivoli and then passed the statue of Jeanne d’Arc and then I followed it to the Place de l’Opéra.

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Front National March:

Two things struck me about this year’s march. First, the last time I recorded this Front National march was in 2012 and my impression was that there were more marchers then than there were this year. I have no statistical evidence to base that on but it was just my impression. And second, although this year’s marchers were vociferous, they seemed to me to be a little more subdued than in 2012.

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If, like me, you are a seasoned observer of Parisian political marches and demonstrations from whatever part of the political spectrum, you cannot fail to be impressed by the importance that sound plays. I believe that the rhythm and constant repetition of the chants not only gives everyone a voice but it also acts as a means of discipline.

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As an outside observer on the street, you can see that the rhythm and repetition of the chanting has an almost hypnotic effect on the marchers – although I doubt that they would probably accept that. In any of these political marches there are leaders who dictate what the chant should be, the pace and the rhythm of the chant and how many times it should be repeated and then there are the followers who do exactly that, follow the leader’s command.

It seems to me that through this constant chanting the marchers not only have a voice but they feel that their voice is being heard.

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I am convinced that the power of sound through rhythm and constant repetition is the main reason why marches like this seldom become unruly or descend into mindless violence.

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I followed the march to Place de l’Opéra but, unlike in 2012, I didn’t stay to record the speeches. Instead I had a fascinating chat with a French radio reporter who gave me a guided tour of her Nagra ARES C sound recorder before she went off to file her report for the lunchtime news bulletin.

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11
Mar

The Musée Curie Marks International Women’s Day

I WENT TO THE fascinating Musée Curie last week. To coincide with International Women’s Day the Musée Curie opened a temporary exhibition in the garden of the museum made up of photographic portraits celebrating the careers of prominent women, past and present, who worked or are currently working in the fields of science and medicine.

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A photographic portrait of Marie Curie in the garden of the Musée Curie

The Musée Curie was founded in 1934 just after the death of Marie Curie. It’s located on the ground floor of the Curie Pavillon of the Institut du Radium in the 5th arrondissement and it was formerly Marie Curie’s laboratory where she carried out her research from 1914 until her death in 1934.

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Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a remarkable woman. Born in 1867 in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire, she completed her early education in Warsaw before moving to Paris in 1891 to continue her studies and to begin her scientific career.

Despite the disadvantages and indignities that went with being a woman in what was considered then (and many argue still is) a man’s world, Marie Curie’s achievements were prodigious. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, she was the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice and she remains the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different sciences. She won the Physics Prize in 1903 for the discovery of radioactivity (shared with her husband Pierre Curie and the physicist, Henri Becquerel) and the Chemistry Prize in 1911 for the isolation of pure radium.

Her achievements included not only creating a theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined) and isolating radioactive isotopes but also the discovery of two elements, polonium (which she named after her native Poland) and radium.  She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris and, under her direction, the world’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of tumours using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I she established the first military field radiological centres and it was the excessive doses of radiation that she was exposed to while doing this work that contributed to her subsequent death.

Marie Curie was also the first woman to be interred in the Panthéon in Paris in her own right.

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Institut du Radium – Pavillon Curie

Marie Curie’s achievements were indeed prodigious but so were those of the rest of her family, between them they were awarded five Nobel Prizes.

As well as the 1903 Prize for physics, which Marie shared with her husband Pierre and the 1911 Prize for Chemistry which was hers alone, her daughter and son-in law, Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie each received the 1935 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.

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From L to R – Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie, Frédéric Joliot-Curie

Marie Curie’s husband, Pierre Curie, was a physicist working in crystallography, magnetism and piezoelectricity when they first met but he became so interested in the work Marie was doing that he joined her and they began to work together.

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Marie and Pierre Curie in the garden of the Musée Curie – Note how Marie is on the left and Pierre is on the right but in the text below their names are reversed.

Sadly their partnership was all to short, Pierre died in a street accident in Paris in 1906. Crossing the busy Rue Dauphine in the rain at the Quai de Conti, he slipped and fell under a heavy horse-drawn cart. He died instantly when one of the wheels ran over his head, fracturing his skull. They were reunited though in 1995 when both Pierre and Marie were interred in the crypt of the Panthéon.

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Housed in Marie Curie’s former laboratory, the Musée Curie contains a permanent historical exhibition about radioactivity and its applications, notably in medicine, focusing primarily on the Curies and it displays some of the most important research apparatus used before 1940. It also contains an historical resource centre, which contains archives, photographs, and documentation on the Curies, Joliot-Curies, the Institut Curie, and the history of radioactivity and oncology.

So here is the record of my visit to the Musée Curie on International Women’s Day:

Inside the Musée Curie:

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Marie Curie’s office where she worked for 20 years

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Marie Curie’s chemistry laboratory next to her office

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An original laboratory report

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In 1921, Marie Curie was welcomed triumphantly when she toured the United States to raise funds for research on radium. US President Warren G. Harding received her at the White House to present her with the 1 gram of radium collected in the United States. This is the specially lined box that contained the precious radium handed to Marie by the US President.

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Above and below – In their time, cutting-edge research apparatus

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The Garden Exhibition:

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Institut Curie – Hôpital de Paris – Part of the Institut Curie, one of the leading medical, biological and biophysical research centres in the world.

Marie Curie’s pioneering work affects us all and today we take it for granted – from our simple luminous wristwatch to the most sophisticated cancer treatments. Yet in her lifetime and despite her huge achievements she faced enormous prejudice, not for her work, but for simply being a woman.

Marie Curie succeeded by rising above that prejudice as have all the enormously talented and successful women portrayed in the photographic exhibition in the garden of the Musée Curie.

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Musée Curie, 1, rue Pierre et Marie Curie, 75005 Paris

Open Wednesday to Saturday, from 1pm to 5pm. Admission is free.

The exhibition in the museum garden runs from 8th March to 31st October 2014.

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Feb

Paris Celebrates The Year of the Wooden Horse

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.

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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:

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