WHEN I PUBLISHED my previous blog piece I thought that I’d said everything I needed to say about my local Christmas market – but it turns out there is a post-script.
When I went to get bread from my local boulangerie last Saturday afternoon I discovered a different Jazz band playing in the Christmas market, the Gibsy Quartet. They were very good and so I decided to record them for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
The Gibsy Quartet
Over the years I’ve learned many lessons about how to record the sounds of urban life around me and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is never to turn my sound recorder off as soon as I think I have a recording in the bag. Urban sounds can often be quite unpredictable and fascinating sounds can sometimes turn up when you least expect them. Another lesson is that what you might think are fairly ordinary sounds can suddenly become quite extraordinary.
One could argue that recording a jazz band playing in a Parisian street is nothing out of the ordinary, once you’ve heard one you’ve heard them all some might say. But when events have a twist in the tail then the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
I recorded the Gibsy Quartet on Saturday afternoon. They were going to be at the Christmas market for much longer than I was so I recorded them playing two pieces and then I was about to head off for home. As is my practice, after they finished their second piece I left my sound recorder running and then, as I turned to walk away, this astonishing man appeared.
From his lofty perch he began singing and playing his concertina and I, the jazz band and several other people began to gather round him.
He spied the band beneath him and without hesitation he began to sing the Neapolitan song, O Sole Mio, an open invitation to the jazz musicians so used to improvising.
And improvise they did turning the ordinary into something quite extraordinary.
The Gibsy Quartet … and friend:
I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for recording the soundscapes of Paris, but if I ever do I shall listen to this recording and remind myself of why I do it. Capturing unexpected and unrepeatable sounds like this always gives me a buzz and listening to these sounds will always remind me of my local Christmas market, the infectious enthusiasm of musicians and the delicious smell of freshly baked bread in my local boulangerie.
AT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR the Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets, spring up all over Paris and I have three of them within easy reach of me. To the west is the very large one at La Défense with its 350 châlets standing in the shadow of la Grande Arche, to the east is the most visited Christmas market in Paris stretching along the Champs Elysées and then, at the bottom of my little street, is the one closest to home.
The Christmas markets at La Défense and along the Champs Elysées are very big, mostly swamped with visitors and quite impersonal whereas my local Christmas market is tiny in comparison but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in congeniality.
My local Christmas market is now open for business so I’ve been to have a look, to savour the atmosphere and to capture the sights and sounds.
Contrary to what you might think, the sounds in the big Christmas markets can often be quite bland but in my local Christmas market I enjoyed a sonic treat – two different bands, a street organ and singer, electronic music accompanying butterfly elves on stilts, a balloon sculptress with enormous boots and, of course, the sounds of lots of excited small children.
My local Christmas market in sound:
Alexandre l’Agodas: Le colporteur de rêves et son orgue de barbarie
(The pedlar of dreams and his barrel organ)
Les Elfes-papillons des pôles
(Butterfly elves on stilts)
Sculpture sur ballons avec Bibindum
Swing Connection – New Orleans Jazz
WHEN THINKING ABOUT which sounds of Paris I might publish here on this Christmas Eve it became obvious that I needed to look no further than the bottom of my little street and what is still my favourite Christmas market in Paris. I went to it this afternoon.
Paris is full of fabulously rich sounds but sometimes the most intimate sounds are to be found closest to home, like the sound of this man singing on the parvis of my local Hôtel de Ville.
Singer at my local Christmas market:
This man on his unicycle provided an interesting diversion.
And then I found this man playing a most extraordinary accordion.
LA DÉFENSE IS A MAJOR business district in the far west of Paris. It lies at the extreme western end of the axis that begins at the Louvre and continues along the Champs Elysées beyond the Arc de Triomphe to La Défense.
At this time each year, La Défense is host to a large Christmas market built in front of La Grande Arche, one of François Mitterrand’s Grands Projets. Designed by Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and Danish engineer Erik Reitzel, La Grande Arche was built as a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals.
Standing in front of La Grande Arche last Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the contrast between the 350 tiny wooden châlets and the giant office blocks that surround them. I was also struck by the stark contrast of the traders in the châlets trying to sell their wares to ordinary punters like me with some of the madness associated with these giant buildings.
Take the building on the left for example, Coeur Défense. At the height of the financial madness in 2008, Coeur Défense became the most expensive piece of real estate on the planet when it was bought by Lehman Brothers for an astonishing €2.1bn. They bought it just as the property market peaked and we know what happened next. Property prices fell, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and disposing of Coeur Défense become Europe’s largest distressed property sale.
I was also thinking about Société Générale, France’s second largest bank, whose offices are a short walk from the Christmas Market in La Défense. On January 24, 2008, the bank announced that a single futures trader had fraudulently lost the bank €4.9 billion, the largest such loss in history.
All this stands in stark contrast to the individual stallholders at the Christmas market trying to make a living and bringing some Christmas cheer in the process.
Music at the Christmas market:
Christmas markets in Paris are always enjoyable to visit even if you do tend to see the same stalls in more or less the same places each year selling more or less the same things. Each year, I set off to capture the sounds of the Christmas markets but, as each year passes, I find it more difficult to find something different to record. These musicians for example, good as they are, are always at the Christmas market in La Défense, in the same place and often playing the same music.
So this year, even though the sounds I found at La Défense were pretty much the same as every year, I’ve tried to capture a different emphasis by putting the individual stallholders centre stage as they go about selling their wares.
Consider it a poke in the eye to the ‘suits’ who plundered the pension funds of the unsuspecting public to the tune of billions!
La Défense Christmas Market – A Soundwalk:
I WENT TO THE Marché aux Puces at Porte de Clignancourt on Saturday, the largest flea market in the world so they say. I was on a mission, hunting for sounds and particularly for the sound of a rag and bone man.
In the late nineteenth-century, the area around Porte de Clignancourt was awash with rag and bone men, known as chiffoniers in French or sometimes, more poetically as, pêcheurs de lune, moonlight fishermen. Why I need the sound of a rag and bone man is a long story but let’s just say that it wasn’t my most successful sound hunting day. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a rag and bone man to be found.
Nevertheless, the day was far from wasted. On my travels I came upon what appeared to be an ordinary café in the Rue des Rosiers.
I should have known better. Few things in this city are ordinary.
This is the celebrated Chope des Puces de Saint Ouen, a restaurant, a concert hall, a music school, a recording studio, a shop selling musical instruments and above all, a temple to jazz manouche, gypsy swing or hot club jazz, inspired by the magic of Django Reinhardt.
Espace Django Reinhardt:
If you happen to be in Paris between the 22nd and 25th June this would be a good place to visit since the Festival Jazz Musette des Puces is taking place.
Also taking place at the moment is a wonderful exhibition in the Marché Daupine.
“Hifi Génies” is an exhibition specifically designed to send sound nuts like me into a state of rapture. It includes a selection of equipment covering the history of sound reproduction. As always, it was the tape recorders that captivated me, ones like these studio models from Ampex and Studer.
And this one made by the French company Bordereau and used by the French national broadcaster RTF (Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française) in the 1950’s.
There were other tape recorders on show including Revox, Pioneer and some cassette recorders as well as some other Hi-Fi equipment but undoubtedly, for me at any rate, the stars of the show were these three beauties from Nagra.
Nagra II c (First introduced in 1955)
Nagra III (First introduced in 1961)
Nagra 4.2 (First introduced in 1972)
The Marché aux Puces comprises fourteen individual markets with around three thousand individual shops and stalls. It sells everything from complete junk to eye-wateringly expensive antiques. In every narrow alleyway and round every corner a surprise lies in wait. But few surprises could please me more than finding the Espace Django Reinhardt and three classic Nagra’s on the same day. I think the search for a rag and bone man can safely wait for another day.
For those of you who wonder what all the fuss is about when it comes to tape recorders, thank you for getting this far and I hope you at least enjoyed the music from the Espace Django Reinhardt.
For those slightly crazy people like me who find reel to reel tape recorders, and especially Nagra tape recorders, things of wonder and endless enjoyment you can find more Nagra recorders here … and here. Enjoy!
IT’S DECEMBER AND SO it must be the Christmas market season and Paris seems to be awash with Christmas markets this year. During my travels this week I’ve seen four of the Christmas markets that Paris has to offer. I seldom travel without a microphone and sound recorder to hand and so I was able to catch snatches of sound at each of them.
This week I’ve seen the most glamorous Christmas market that Paris has to offer, along with the biggest, the most intimate (for me at any rate), and what I think might be the smallest.
Sounds from four Christmas markets in Paris:
With it’s white painted châlets stretching from the Rond-Point to the Place de la Concorde, Le Marché de Noël in the Champs Elysées has to be the most glamorous Christmas market in Paris.
With some fifteen million visitors each year this is the most visited Christmas market within the Paris city limits and, like most Christmas markets, it offers the usual fare of mulled wine, gingerbread, sausages and specialties from various regions of France together with countless gift items and more woolly hats than you could shake a stick at.
The largest Christmas market in the Ile de France is to be found on the Parvis of La Défense. With its three hundred and fifty châlets, I’ve watched this market being erected in late November every year for the last twelve years and I admit to a tinge of disappointment when it’s demolished every January.
For me, the Christmas market in La Défense sells the best food of any Christmas market in and around Paris.
Not surprisingly, the most intimate Christmas market for me is the one closest to home. Turn right at the bottom of my little street and voila, there it is. I always associate this market with two things; it’s very friendly, intimate atmosphere and the children. The market sits either side of an Ecole Maternelle, a primary school, and so as the school empties each day the children all drift towards the market on what always seems to me to be a wide-eyed, voyage of discovery. Their excited chatter says it all.
The smallest Christmas market I’ve seen so far I came across completely by chance. I emerged from the Metro at Nation at the Boulevard Voltaire exit to find the station entrance surrounded by a tiny market.
In some ways I found this market very different from the others I’d seen. The inflatable rubber Santa seemed to provide a compass point to the Christian festive season amid the stalls below, which served largely Arabic fare. A Christmas carol sung in Chinese added wonderfully to the multi-cultural dimension.
And, as a final note, I was reminded when I was in La Défense to post early for Christmas to avoid disappointment. Is it possible that Father Christmas, or Père Noël as he’s known here in France, really does exist? I like to think so!
CLOSE TO NOTRE-DAME cathedral and bordering La Seine, the Marché aux Fleurs – the Paris Flower Market – in the Place Louis Lépine, has been here since 1808.
The market is housed in iron pavilions each with a glass roof and it offers a wide range of flowers, plants, shrubs and garden accessories.
Like most places in Paris, the Marché aux Fleurs winds down during the August holidays and, whilst some of the shops and stalls are closed, there is still some activity although much less so than at other times of the year.
This proved to be a plus for your sound hunter. I went to the market on Saturday and without the usual bustle of the crowds I was able to capture sounds that otherwise would have probably gone unnoticed.
Sounds in le Marché aux Fleurs:
Despite its name, the Marché aux Fleurs is not just about flowers. It’s also a flea market as the shop pictured below illustrates … a wonderful cornucopia of hidden treasures.
I especially liked the lanterns.
On Sundays, the Marché aux Fleurs takes on an additional guise when it also becomes the Marché aux Oiseaux – the bird market, where you can find colourful and exotic birds and all the accoutrements to go with them.
The Marché aux Fleurs is open every day from 8 am to 7 pm. The nearest Metro station is Cité on Line 4.
Click here to see a short video about the Marché aux Fleurs and …
IT WAS ONE OF THOSE days when I set off without a plan. I left home equipped to record anything and everything that crossed my path. I took the Metro and followed my nose.
Eventually I found myself in the Butte-aux-Cailles in the 13th arrondissement where I found a street market in full flow. I love street markets, especially when I discover them by accident and this one didn’t disappoint.
Occupying the space between the rue Butte-aux-Cailles and the rue des Cinq-Diamants, this market was very busy and hustling and bustling.
Named after Pierre Cailles, who bought a vineyard here in 1543, the Butte-aux-Cailles has deep roots. The river Bièvre once cut through here in spectacular fashion until it was engineered underground and out of sight. On this sixty-metre hill, windmills were once to be found. By the time the Butte-aux-Cailles became part of the City of Paris in 1860, shoemakers, ragmen, laundrywomen and many others in search of work and a home lived here.
Street Market in the Butte-Aux-Cailles:
Although now gentrified and a ‘trendy’ place to live, the Butte-aux-Cailles still clings to its working-class roots. The workers here fought in support of the Paris Commune in 1871 and today, the headquarters of the “Amis de la Commune de Paris 1871”, the oldest workers organisation in France, still exists in the rue des Cinq-Diaments.
In a way, this market reflected those roots. There was nothing expensive on sale, just ordinary things looking for a new home. The clothes stalls and the bookstalls seemed to be especially popular but almost everything else was attracting interest. For those with things to sell but without a stall, improvisation was the key.
And, late in the evening as the light was beginning to fade, the hunt for last minute bargains was still going on.
Paris has many places like the Butte-aux-Cailles, places that have adapted to the modern world but are still in touch with their roots. It’s one of the things that makes this city so endlessly fascinating.
I HAD NEVER BEEN to a horsemeat market before until I visited the Parc Georges-Brassens, a nineteen acre green space in the 15th arrondissement. Where today witch hazel brightens the winter landscape and magnolia heralds the spring, a gruesome past is never far away.
From 1898 until 1978 this was the site of the Vaugirard abattoirs, six groups of buildings surrounding a vast courtyard covering almost six acres where slaughtering and butchering took place on an industrial scale to feed the Parisian appetite.
At the eastern end, bordering the rue Brancion, was the half-acre or so reserved for the slaughtering and butchering of horses.
The only surviving buildings from the original abattoir complex are two former administrative buildings at what was the main entrance in the Rue des Morillons, a campanile where auction sales were held and the iron pavilion of the former horsemeat market.
This pavilion still hosts a market but a less gruesome one than that for which it was originally designed. Each weekend throughout the year a market for old and second-hand books takes place here.
Bibliophiles travel from far and wide to visit this market where everything from comics to rare and sometimes very expensive books can be found.
Inside the market:
Today, this iron pavilion has survived to satisfy a different sort of appetite but the former sounds within it, like the horsemeat, are gone forever.
WHEN IT COMES TO PARIS markets, the Marché d’Aligre is about as lively as they come. Situated between rue de Charenton and rue du Faubourg St-Antoine in the 12th arrondissement, the market actually comprises two markets, the indoor Marché Couvert Beauvau and an outdoor street market.
Sounds inside the Marché Couvert Beauvau:
The indoor market sells a wide variety of food from its fromageries and charcuteries, as well as seafood and a host of other things – but get there early if you want the best choice.
Unlike some indoor markets in Paris, the Marché Beauvau is not all that big so, especially in the mornings, it can be a bit of a crush. However, even at its busiest, it becomes a haven of tranquillity compared to the outdoor market.
The outdoor market consists of a flea market in the square next to the Marché Beauvau where clothes, antiques and a range of bric-a-brac are on sale. But it’s along the adjoining rue d’Aligre where the market really comes to life with the street vendors, many of Algerian origin, doing a frenetic trade in fruit and vegetables.
Sounds of the outdoor street market:
This colourful melange of sound fascinates me. It reaches its peak on Saturday and Sunday mornings when the market is at its busiest. For people busy shopping for their fruit and vegetables these sounds probably go largely unnoticed or, at best, they just become part of the background atmosphere, but for me, fascinated as I am by our sonic environment, these sounds form a rich tapestry and an important part of our social history.
As well as engaging in frenetic shopping it’s also possible find some light entertainment. Wherever there are crowds in Paris there will always be street entertainers to keep them amused.
How to get there:
The Marché d’Aligre is a ten-minute walk from Place de la Bastille and the closest metro is Ledru Rollin on Line 8.