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Posts from the ‘Paris Streets’ Category


Place des Fêtes and its Sounds

ORIGINALLY A FOCUS for celebrations in Belleville before that commune was consumed into the City of Paris in 1863, today’s Place des Fêtes in the 19th arrondissement stands in the midst of the experiment that was 1970s urbanism.


Surrounded by 1970s tower blocks, the Place des Fêtes is a large pedestrianised space, 200 metres long and 150 meters wide, occupied for three mornings a week by a popular outdoor market. At its centre is an obelisk created by the Hungarian artist, Zoltán Zsakó.


The obelisk stands on a granite base and is made mostly from translucent glass with bass reliefs surrounding the graffiti encrusted lower portion.


Although I have no idea what the artistic intent behind the obelisk is, it does have a practical purpose. It covers the emergency exit from the underground car park beneath the Place des Fêtes.


Another artistic feature of the Place des Fêtes is la fontaine-labyrinthe, the fountain-maze, created by another Hungarian artist, Marta Pan.


La fontaine-labyrinthe is one of the fountains to emerge from the 1978 competition to create seven contemporary fountains in different squares in Paris. Another winner of that competition was La Fontaine Stravinsky in the centre of the city featured in this blog one year ago.


Sounds in Place des Fêtes:


The sounds I recorded in the Place des Fêtes on a hot August afternoon included the sounds of energetic youths skateboarding and young children enjoying the final days of summer before returning to school on 1st September.

Relief from the 1970s concrete jungle can be found on the western edge of the Place des Fêtes in the Square Monseigneur-Maillet, a garden designed by the ingénieur des ponts et chausséesJean-Charles Alphand, who worked for Baron Haussmann and his renovation of Paris in the late 19th century.


The garden was opened in 1863 and redeveloped, along with the rest of the Place des Fêtes, in the 1970s.

Today, the garden honours the memory of Monseigneur Fernand Maillet (1896 – 1963), a parish priest born close by who, in 1924, took over the direction of the renowned boy’s choir, la manécanterie des Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de bois. In 1963 he founded la Fédération internationale des Pueri Cantores, an international association bringing together twenty-seven national choral associations on five continents.

It seems entirely appropriate that the centrepiece of the Square Monseigneur-Maillet, the kiosque à Musique, or bandstand, reflects the musical association with Monseigneur Maillet.


At the eastern end of the Square Monseigneur-Maillet is a reminder of the garden in Alphand’s time, a nineteenth-century Wallace fountain.


This is not the classic large model fountain resting on an octagonal pedestal on which four caryatids are affixed with their backs turned and their arms supporting a pointed dome decorated by dolphins. This is the small model version, a simple pushbutton fountain that one can find in squares and public gardens across Paris and on a hot, late August day it was a fountain much in demand.



Square Danielle Mitterand and its Sounds

THE SQUARE DANIELLE MITTERAND, formerly the Jardin de la rue de Bièvre, is a small green space at N° 20 rue de Bièvre in the 5th arrondissement.

The Jardin de la rue de la Bièvre was created in 1978 but on 8th March 2013, International Women’s Day, it was renamed Square Danielle Mitterand.


Danielle Émilienne Isabelle Gouze was born in October 1924 at Verdun in the Meuse department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. During the Second World War she was a liaison officer in the French Resistance where she met François Mitterrand. They were married three months after the Liberation, on 28th October 1944. François Mitterand went on to become President of France from 1981 to 1995.


The Square was named after Danielle Mitterand in recognition of her work in the Resistance movement and her subsequent work for human rights.

In 1986 she founded the Fondation Danielle Mitterand – Frances Libertés, an organisation dedicated to building a fairer and more socially-responsible world by defending human rights and protecting shared assets, specifically by promoting the right to water access for all and ensuring that people’s right to utilise their resources is recognised and respected.

The foundation’s work has three component parts: support for projects run by communities at grassroots level, citizen, civil society and political decision-maker awareness raising work, and finally advocacy work with the public authorities and in the United Nations. The Foundation has consultative status on the UN Economic and Social Council.

Over the years, the Foundation has participated in many issues including the right to free potable water for all, the fight against racism, support for the Tibetan people and the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. It has also worked for the reconstruction of the educational and social system in Cambodia and on issues surrounding health security in Africa.


The location of the Square Danielle Mitterand is appropriate since it’s just two doors away from N° 22 rue de Bièvre, the private residence of François and Danielle Mitterand from 1972 to 1995.

Although Danielle lived at N° 22 during that time, François commuted between there and rue Jacob in nearby Saint-Germain and the home he shared with his long-time mistress, Anne Pingeot and their daughter, Mazarine.

The Mitterand ménage was undoubtedly complicated but nevertheless seemed to work remarkably well. In 1958 Danielle acquired a long-term lover of her own, a gym teacher who sometimes fetched the morning croissants and then sat down to a friendly breakfast with François.

All this was widely known in Parisian society but a compliant and complacent French press kept it under wraps until the end of Mitterrand’s presidency in 1995.

Both Danielle Mitterand and Anne Pingeot attended Françcois Mitterand’s funeral in 1996.

Danielle Mitterand died in Paris on 22nd November 2011, aged 87.


Sounds in the Square Danielle Mitterand:


The Square Danielle Mitterand is not the most elegant square in Paris but I like it. Sitting at the back of the Square on an August afternoon I was content simply to listen to life passing by in the Square and in rue de Bièvre.


Rue de Bièvre


Rue Dénoyez Revisited

I LAST FEATURED rue Dénoyez, the plein air art gallery in the 20th arrondissement, in this blog in November 2014. At that time, under the banner Sauvons la rue Dénoyez – Save rue Dénoyez, a petition had been drawn up to challenge a plan by the local authority to demolish part of rue Dénoyez and replace the artists’ workshops and galleries with subsidised housing and a community centre.


‘Sauvons la rue Dénoyez’ – November 2014

The other day, I went back to rue Dénoyez to see what has happened since I was last there.


Rue Dénoyez – July 1016

The development proposal calls for the buildings between N°18 bis and N° 22 bis to be demolished and replaced with 18 subsidised housing units and a crèche as well as the redevelopment of N° 24 and N° 26 rue Dénoyez and N°10 Rue de Belleville into 29 subsidised housing units and a community centre.

Despite the petition opposing the development receiving 10,000 signatures in six months it seems the project is still going ahead.


Although the demolition work was due to have been completed by April this year I found that little seems to have happened so far except that the occupants have left and the buildings stand hauntingly empty.

Undaunted though, I found one street artist still leaving his mark.


A soundwalk in rue Dénoyez:


At the end of my soundwalk I came upon a man who had lived in rue Dénoyez in the early 1970s and he reflected upon life here in those days.


If all goes to plan, work on the new development will be completed in the spring of 2018.

While new social housing is to be welcomed one can’t help feeling that some of the character of this unique street will be lost in the process. As the man who spoke to me said, “il faut que ça change”.

You can see the presentation prepared by the local authority about the new development here.



Place Jean-Baptiste Clément and its Sounds

NAMED AFTER THE French socialist, journalist, songwriter and communard, Place Jean-Baptiste Clément sits atop the Butte de Montmartre between Rue Norvins and Rue Lepic.

To the passing tourists perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Place Jean-Baptiste Clément is an unnamed octagonal structure hidden behind iron railings.


This structure is now home to la Commanderie du Clos Montmartre, an association bringing together wine lovers of Paris, but in the 19th century it was essential to the survival of the inhabitants hereabouts. It is in fact the remains of la fontaine du Château d’eau de Montmartre, the first water tower in Montmartre.

Montmartre sits on top of a hill and because of its altitude and topography getting water up to the 19th century village was a major problem. To alleviate this the water tower, powered by a hydraulic pump installed on the banks of the Seine at Saint-Ouen, was built in 1835. The water tower was abandoned at the end of the 19th century and replaced by reservoirs built close to the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.

While the water tower and its history is interesting there is, for me at least, another distinguishing feature of Place Jean-Baptiste Clément – the delightful pavé surface of the pavements and the road.


I spent most of a Saturday afternoon recently sitting on a Parisian green bench beside the bus stop in Place Jean-Baptiste Clément listening to the captivating sounds of people walking past over the pavé.

Sounds in Place Jean-Baptiste Clément:

Of course, not everyone thinks that pavé is captivating; it can be uncomfortable for pedestrians and particularly cyclists, some argue that traffic passing over it causes too much noise and it has been known for the pavé to be ripped up to form barricades, something Jean-Baptiste Clément would have been very familiar with.

But on the plus side, the pavé does have at least one environmental benefit, especially in an area like Montmartre. It forms a water-permeable surface that helps to prevent the clogging of sewers and flooding during periods of heavy rain.

And as for the noise …

As a professional listener to Paris, I have long thought that the sound of pedestrians and traffic passing over the pavé is as much part of the fabric of the Parisian landscape as the bricks in the walls. Far from being ‘noise’, these sounds are, to my ear at least, some of the defining sounds of the city.



Rue Maître Albert and its Sounds

SET IN THE HEART of medieval Paris, rue Maître Albert began life as an unnamed pathway leading from the Seine to the present day place Maubert. In 1300, the plans of Paris show the street with the curious name, rue Perdue – the lost street – and unfortunately, the reason why it acquired that name seems also to have been lost. In the 17th century it became rue Saint-Michel – it was named after a college of the same name – but in 1763 it reverted back to rue Perdue before becoming rue Maître Albert in 1844.

Rue Maitre Albert

Rue Maître Albert is named after one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of the 13th century variously known as Albrecht von Bollstadt, Albert of Cologne, Albertus Magnus, Albert le Grand and since 1931, Saint Albert the Great, Patron Saint of Christian Scholars.

Born around the year 1200, Albert studied at the University of Padua and later taught at Hildesheim, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Regensburg, and Strasbourg. He then taught at the University of Paris, where he received his doctorate in 1245. He was a philosopher and a natural scientist, gaining a reputation for expertise in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geography, metaphysics, and mathematics as well as in biblical studies and theology. Perhaps the most famous of his disciples was Saint Thomas Aquinas. Maître Albert died in Cologne in 1280.

Rue Maitre Albert

Whether or not Maître Albert actually lived in the street that bears his name is unclear, although he may well have done because we know that he did much of his teaching in the neighbouring place Maubert.

Place Maubert

Place Maubert

Some say that the name Maubert is a contraction of Maître Albert but an alternative view is that Maubert is a corruption of Jean Aubert, abbot of the Abbeye de Sainte-Genevieve, which owned the land on which la place Maubert stood.

What is known for certain is that from the 15th century place Maubert was a place of execution with one of its most notable victims being the French scholar, translator and printer, Etienne Dolet who was tortured, hanged and burned in the square with his books in August 1546.

Rue Maitre Albert

Today, rue Maître Albert still runs from the Seine to la place Maubert and it still has a medieval feel to it – save for the modern day traffic of course that often uses it as a short cut from the quai de la Tournelle to place Maubert.


Seine flood. Neighbourhood of the Place Maubert (Rue Maître Albert). View northward. Paris (Vth arrondissement), 1910. Photograph by Albert Harlingue (1879-1963). Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris. Auteur © Albert Harlingue / BHVP / Roger-Viollet

Image courtesy Paris en Images

I went to explore rue Maître Albert and to capture its atmosphere in sound. Instead of doing a conventional soundwalk along the street I decided to take the contre-flâneur approach and let the street walk past me. I sat on a stone windowsill across the street from the atelier of Philippe Vergain, Ebéniste d’Art, and waited for the street to speak to me.

Rue Maitre Albert

Sounds of rue Maître Albert:

Close to me on my side of the street was a gallery with a window display that had faint echoes of Maître Albert, the natural scientist.

Rue Maitre Albert

Listening to the sounds around me is my way of observing the world and listening to the sounds of relatively quiet Parisian streets always stimulates my imagination. What stories lie behind the sounds of the people walking past going about their daily lives, the snatches of half-heard conversations, the doors opening and closing as people pass in and out of buildings? What did this street sound like in medieval times when Maitre Albert was teaching hereabouts, what did it sound like in the 16th century when Protestant printers were being executed at the head of the street in place Maubert or during the great flood of 1910? Only our imagination can provide the answer.

Rue Maitre Albert



Avenue de Choisy – A Soundwalk … and More

AVENUE DE CHOISY and the neighbouring Avenue d’Ivry in the 13th arrondissement are the main thoroughfares through the largest ‘Chinatown’ in Paris, although the area is perhaps better described as a quartier asiatique because as well as the Chinese, there are also Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians living in the area.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Avenue de Choisy recording the sounds of the colourful Chinese New Year parade as it processed around the neighbourhood but, spectacular as these sounds are, they’re reserved for the Chinese festive season and don’t really reflect everyday life in the area. I wanted to go back and explore the Avenue de Choisy and record a soundwalk capturing the ordinary sounds of ordinary people going about their everyday lives.

Avenue de Choisy

Start of Avenue de Choisy (leading off to the left) at its junction with Boulevard Masséna

A soundwalk is most commonly described as an excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment, but I think sound walking can be much more than that. Soundwalking is my way of observing and exploring the world around me.

Sounds don’t exist in a vacuum, either metaphorically or in reality, all sounds have a context. So for a sound hunter like me, while listening attentively to the sounds around me is important and a great joy, listening to sounds and exploring their social, cultural and historical context never fails to take me on a fascinating voyage of discovery.

My soundwalk along the Avenue de Choisy is a good example of using a soundwalk not only to listen to and record the contemporary urban soundscape but also to explore and learn things I didn’t know before.


The arrow indicates my soundwalk along Avenue de Choisy from Boulevard Masséna in the south to Place d’Italie in the north

The Avenue de Choisy stretches for 1.3 km form Boulevard Masséna in the south to Boulevard Vincent-Auriol and Place d’Italie in the north. Allowing for diversions inspired by my curiosity, it took me almost two hours to complete my soundwalk along the avenue. I’ve edited the soundwalk down to a more manageable length for this blog.

Avenue de Choisy – A Soundwalk:

The Avenue de Choisy began life as part of the Roman road leading from Lutèce (the Roman name for Paris) to Lyon. Later it became the chemin de Vitry and then, in 1672, it acquired the name ‘Choisy’ because it led to the then hamlet of Choisy-le-Roi.

Choisy-le-Roi became significant when a certain Mademoiselle de Montpensier had a château built there, which she bequeathed to the Grand Dauphin, son of Louis XIV.

Mademoiselle de Montpensier was in fact Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier (1627–1693), known as La Grande Mademoiselle, the wealthiest unmarried Princess in Europe.


Château de Choisy at the time of la Grande Mademoiselle

The château became a royal residence becoming for a time an intimate refuge for Louis XV and his chief mistress, Madame de Pompadour. During the French revolution the château was confiscated, its contents sold at auction and its grounds divided into individual lots and sold. The buildings fell into disrepair and were demolished bit by bit during the nineteenth century.

Avenue de Choisy

I began my soundwalk at the southern end of Avenue de Choisy, some 10 km north of today’s Choisy-le-Roi.

From here, despite the conspicuous McDonald’s, the Asian character of the street was immediately obvious not only from the sounds but also from the cluster of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants and shops and the group of Chinese women selling exotic food from upturned cardboard boxes in the street. The women didn’t want to be photographed but they’re the ones near the McDonald’s behind the lady with the buggy.

But before reaching the McDonald’s, at N°3 Avenue de Choisy I came upon something that hinted at life in this street before the 1970s wave of immigration brought the Asian influence here.

Avenue de Choisy

On the wall leading down to an underground car park I found a mosaic of an early motor car designed and built by the French automobile manufacturer, Panhard & Levassor. But what’s it doing here?

Avenue de Choisy

Across the street from the mosaic are a cluster of apartment tower blocks, a shopping centre and an underground car park. These are part of the legacy of the late 1960s and early 1970s Italie XIII project, a vast urban scheme to fundamentally transform some neighbourhoods in the 13th arrondissement. Although never completed, perhaps the best known legacy of the Italie XIII project are Les Olympiads close to Avenue d’Ivry and this complex at the southern end of Avenue de Choisy, L’ensemble Masséna.

Both were built on the principle of vertical zoning. The ground level is a functional level dedicated mostly to car parking and delivery bays built under an esplanade and consequently more or less invisible. The next level, the esplanade, is dedicated to pedestrians, shops and the main entrances to the tower blocks, while the final level comprises the apartments themselves rising to some 104 metres (341 feet).

And the connection with the mosaic on the wall …?

Well, L’ensemble Masséna is actually built on the site of the former Panhard & Levassor automobile plant so I couldn’t resist diverting off the Avenue de Choisy and walking through the tower blocks to see if I could find any trace it.

I found nothing, at least until I’d walked the full length of the complex and emerged into Avenue d’Ivry, whereupon to my great delight I discovered the birthplace of the Panhard & Levassor company still standing.

Avenue d’Ivry - Panhard & Levassor

The original Panhard & Levassor automobile factory opened in 1891

Avenue d’Ivry - Panhard & Levassor

René Panhard and Émile Levassor founded their company in 1887 and sold their first automobile in 1890, based on a Daimler engine licence. In 1891, they built their first model to their own design, a ‘state of the art’ Systeme Panhard consisting of four wheels, a front-mounted engine with rear wheel drive, and a crude sliding-gear transmission that would remain the standard until Cadillac introduced synchromesh in 1928. A front-mounted engine and rear wheel drive was to become the standard layout for automobiles for most of the next century. The same year, Panhard and Levassor shared their Daimler engine licence with bicycle maker Armand Peugeot, who formed his own car company.


An 1895 example of the Systeme Panhard

Over the years, Panhard & Levassor grew as they developed a strong brand and a core of loyal customers but it wasn’t to last. Faced with falling sales and the need to raise cash, the company was sold progressively to Citroën who took full control in 1965 and in 1967 the marque was retired.

Avenue de Choisy

Returning to Avenue de Choisy to continue my soundwalk, at N°15 I came upon the Europasie grocery store and I couldn’t resist going in to capture the sounds.

Avenue de Choisy

Leaving the grocery store I walked further on to N°27 where I found another reminder of the former industrialisation of this area, l’Église Saint-Hippolyte.

Built between 1909 and 1924 by the architect Jules Astruc, this church was built on land donated by Hippolyte Panhard, only son of René Panhard, co-founder of Panhard & Levassor. Hippolyte Panhard (1870-1957) was a Director and then Chairman of Panhard & Levassor until 1941 and the church was named in his honour after Hippolyte, his patron saint.

Avenue de Choisy

The church does perhaps seem a little incongruous now – a neo-Gothic edifice standing in the middle of ‘Chinatown’ – but it’s very peaceful inside and well worth a visit. And of course, I went in and recorded the atmosphere.

Avenue de Choisy

And in the shadow of l’Église Saint-Hippolyte is another, much more recent church, Notre-Dame de Chine, dedicated in 2005 by Archbishop André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris.

Having stopped to look at these two churches I moved on and came upon a surprise.

Avenue de Choisy

Looking through some railings I was able to look down on a surviving part of the Petite Ceinture, the Little Belt railway that circled Paris from 1852 until it was abandoned in 1934. La Petite Ceinture never fails to surprise; a couple of weeks ago I found another stretch of it in the 20th arrondissement that I didn’t know was there either.

Avenue de Choisy

Across the street at N° 34 is the Fung Shun restaurant, one of many Asian restaurants along Avenue de Choisy, but this one is a little different. It used to be a boulangerie, a bakery with an interior designed by the decorators Benoist et Fils and Albert Raybaud. Benoist et Fils were experts in decoration fixed under glass and their work was carried out for three generations between 1860 and 1935. The storefront and the interior decoration were listed as a monument historique in 1984.

At N° 81 Avenue de Choisy is the Lycée Gabriel Fauré, a high school. Once again, this is a reminder of the area’s industrial past because from 1860 until 1940 this was part of the site of the Chocolaterie Lombart, the Lombart chocolate factory.

Avenue de Choisy

Lycée Gabriel Fauré formerly the Chocolaterie Lombart

The Lombart chocolate company, the first chocolate company in France, was founded in 1760 with a shop at 11 boulevard des Italiens.


At the beginning of the 20th century, the Chocolaterie Lombart was known as the largest factory in Paris employing some 500 workers. When it closed the site became part of the Panhard & Levassor empire and eventually the Lycée Gabriel Fauré. In 1957, the company was acquired by the Menier chocolate company.

Avenue de Choisy

The next stop on my soundwalk was at Kawa, le temple de la vaisselle asiatique, at N° 97. This temple of Asian dishes caters mainly for the catering trade but is open to anyone. If you’ve been to a Parisian Chinese restaurant and admired the plates, the bowls, the dishes or the soup spoons then they probably came from here.

Inside, I was intrigued by a lady seeking help from the proprietor about a very specific purchase but since the conversation was entirely in Chinese I have no idea what she was searching for.

Avenue de Choisy - Parc de Choisy

Crossing Rue de Tolbiac, I continued along Avenue de Choisy to the north and the Parc de Choisy. Although looking a bit bare at this time of the year this park is a delight in the spring and summertime.

Designed by the architect Édouard Crevel (1880-1969), chief architect of the City of Paris, the ​​43 000 m² Parc de Choisy was built in 1937. Like other Paris parks of the 1930s, most of the park was built as a modern version of the French formal garden of the 18th century, rather than the picturesque style of the parks of the Second Empire and the Third Republic.

Édouard Crevel also designed the neighbouring red-brick Fondation George Eastman, a dental institute set up to monitor the dental hygiene of children. It was funded by the US industrialist George Eastman, inventor of photographic film and founder of Kodak, who suffered all his life from violent toothache.

The Parc de Choisy also has an industrial connection. From 1836 to 1937 a huge gasworks belonging to the Compagnie parisienne du gaz stood here.

Avenue de Choisy

A short walk from the Parc de Choisy brought me to the Tang Frères supermarket.

Tang Frères (Tang Brothers) is an Asian supermarket chain based in Paris and it’s reputed to be the biggest Asian supermarket chain west of China. They have several retail outlets throughout the city and its immediate suburbs, as well as an outlet in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, from where the company’s founding brothers originate.


“Old courtyard, 178 avenue de Choisy”, Paris (XIIIth arrondissement), 1913. Photograph by Eugène Atget (1857-1927). Paris, musée Carnavalet.

Image courtesy: Paris en Images

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Avenue de Choisy was a rural area outside the Paris city walls. In 1860, along with other surrounding suburbs, it was incorporated into the city and a process of industrialisation and urbanisation began. The Panhard & Levassor automobile plant, the Lombart chocolate factory and the gasworks became the major employers.

Housing conditions though were poor; there were slums and pockets of abject poverty. Many workers’ homes were poorly constructed and were greatly inferior to those of other Parisians.

By the 1960s, things were changing. Industry in the area was in decline, the major employers were closing their factories and a wave of immigration was about to begin.

First to arrive were immigrants from the Maghreb and West Africa and then in the 1970s, as a result of the war in Vietnam and Laos, and the civil war in Cambodia, refugees, particularly from the Chinese communities in those countries, also arrived. Many of those immigrants and refugees made their way to the 13th arrondissement and the area around Avenue de Choisy.

I mentioned earlier the Italie XIII urban development scheme and its tower block legacy at the southern end of the 13th arrondissement around Avenue de Choisy. This high-rise development was designed to rejuvenate the area by attracting high-flying young Paris executives to live there, which it singularly failed to do. Consequently, the towers stood empty. And since nature abhors a vacuum, the newly arrived Southeast Asian refugees occupied this empty accommodation and consequently saved the Italie XIII scheme from total failure.

Since their arrival in the 1970s, this Southeast Asian community has thrived, prospered and brought a vitality to the neighbourhood.

Avenue de Choisy

In conclusion, I want to return to the theme of soundwalking.

I don’t criticise at all those who consider soundwalking to be an excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment, that’s a perfectly valid explanation of what a soundwalk can be. In fact, I sometimes soundwalk exactly like that, listening attentively to the sounds around me to the exclusion of everything else.

But sometimes I find that listening to the environment can be a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Sometimes, listening to the environment, particularly the urban environment, not only paints a picture of the contemporary soundscape but can also summon up echoes of  the past.

And it is searching out the association between the contemporary soundscape and the echoes of the past, the social, cultural and historical context of the contemporary sounds, that I find so compelling.

Listening to the environment is my way of observing and exploring the world around me and I hope that my soundwalk along Avenue de Choisy has helped you to observe and explore this particular corner of Paris.

Avenue de Choisy

“Now, what shall we have for lunch?”


Passage d’Eupatoria and its Sounds

I CAME UPON IT by chance as I was walking alongside l’Eglise Notre Dame De La Croix in Ménilmontant in the 20th arrondissement. At just twenty-five metres long and five metres wide, the Passage d’Eupatoria is easily missed.

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

Passage d’Eupatoria Passage from rue d’Eupatoria

Opened in 1856 as the Passage de l’Alma, the name was changed on 1st February 1857 to Passage d’Eupatoria because it leads off the adjacent rue d’Eupatoria.

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

When I saw the street sign at the head of the passage I was curious about the name ‘Eupatoria’.

Had I known more European history of course, I would have known that Eupatoria is a Black Sea port in Crimea. It was briefly occupied in 1854 by British, French and Turkish troops during the Crimean War, when it was the site of the Battle of Eupatoria during which the Ottomans and their allies successfully defeated an assault by the Russians on the port.

It is after this battle that rue d’Eupatoria and subsequently the Passage d’Eupatoria are named.


Bataille d’Eupatoria (1854). Huile sur bois. Musée des beaux-arts, Nantes.

Eupatoria is still a city of regional significance in Crimea (it’s known as Yevpatoria in Crimea), a region which, since March 2014, has been disputed between Ukraine (as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) and Russia (as the Republic of Crimea).


Passage d’Eupatoria in 1948 © René-Jacques / BHVP / Roger-Viollet

Image courtesy of Paris en Images

Originally, the Passage d’Eupatoria was longer than it is today. A subsequent widening of some of the surrounding streets and the replacement of substandard buildings with newer ones resulted in the length of the passage being reduced.

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

Passage d’Eupatoria looking towards rue d’Eupatoria and L’Eglise Notre Dame De La Croix

Over the years, I’ve collected sounds from many small, inconspicuous looking Parisian streets and so I was keen to explore the sounds here, in the Passage d’Eupatoria. I walked to the wall at the end of the street, set up my microphones pointing towards rue d’Eupatoria, turned on my sound recorder and then walked away to explore the street.

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

I was expecting to capture little more than the sounds of the breeze rustling through the trees, maybe a little birdsong and undoubtedly the sound of traffic and people passing along rue d’Euparoria at the southern end of the passage.

What I actually captured were sounds that I had not expected.

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

Sounds in the passage d’Eupatoria:

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

I had become so absorbed in exploring the writing on the walls of the passage that I had completely failed to notice that a schoolyard ran along the eastern side of the passage. As I began record, children appeared in the yard and their unrestrained voices unexpectedly brought the Passage d’Eupatoria to life.

I don’t know how long the present school has been there but it’s not the first school in these parts.

For many years, the now demolished ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ school was located at N° 3 Passage d’Eupatoria and so, for me, the sound of today’s children playing alongside the street provided an audible link with the past.

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

L’Eglise Notre Dame De La Croix from Passage d’Eupatoria


Rue des Blancs-Manteaux – A Soundwalk

ON A RAINY SATURDAY in October this year I came upon the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs Manteaux, a delightful garden hidden away in a former schoolyard in rue des Blancs-Manteaux in Paris’ 4th arrondissement.

Clos des Blancs-Manteaux

Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs-Manteaux

Having discovered the garden, I resolved to go back before the end of the year and explore rue des Blancs-Manteaux itself. My preferred method for exploring Parisian streets is through sound so the other day I made my way to rue des Blancs-Manteaux in the Marais district and walked along the street recording the sounds around me.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux towards the north-west

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux – A Soundwalk:

Running in a north-westerly direction from rue Vieille-du-Temple to rue du Temple, rue des Blancs-Manteaux is 330 metres long and 10 metres wide.

It’s an ancient Parisian street and it’s had a succession of names – ‘rue de la Petite-Parcheminerie’, ‘rue de la Vieille-Parcheminerie’, ‘rue de la Parcheminerie’ – but its present name was settled upon in 1289.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux took its name from the neighbouring Couvent des Blancs Manteaux, a monastery of religious mendicants known as les Serfs de la Vierge Marie (Servants of the Virgin Mary). The order was distinctive because of the white habits they wore so they became known as the White Friars, hence the name Blancs-Manteaux.

The order of the Servants of the Virgin Mary was wound up, along with other mendicant orders, in 1274 and replaced by an order of Guillemites who wore black habits. However, the name Blancs-Manteaux was retained.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

L’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux

I began my soundwalk at the south-easterly end of the street at the junction with rue Vieille-du-Temple and the Halle des Blancs-Manteaux.

Designed by the French architect, Pierre-Jules Delespine, the Halle des Blancs-Manteaux was opened in 1819 as part of a large covered market. In 1992 it became l’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux, a venue for concerts, exhibitions and other events.


Le marché des Blancs-Manteaux vers 1820 – Image via Wikipedia

On the day I went I discovered a contemporary art exhibition taking place in l’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux, which included paintings and photographs …

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

And a variety of metal and mechanical artworks, some of which made delicious sounds.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Leaving the exhibition, I walked a short way along rue des Blancs-Manteaux to the Square Charles-Victor Langlois. This square is now a children’s playground but in the 13th century one of the buildings of the Couvent des Blancs Manteaux stood here.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Square Charles-Victor Langlois

My next stop was the Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux

And then, directly opposite, l’Église Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

This church was once part of the Couvent des Blancs Manteaux. Originally, the church ran in the conventional east-west direction along rue de Blancs-Manteaux but between 1685 and 1690 the church was reconstructed on the north-south axis it occupies today.

Victor Baltard added the present day façade to the church in 1863. It was originally the façade of l’Église Saint-Éloi-des-Barnabites on boulevard du Palais on the Île de la Cité but that church was demolished during Haussmann’s redevelopment of the city.

I walked up the steps and went into the church.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Listening to the contrast between the sounds outside the church to those on the inside was the highlight of my soundwalk. Captured in sound, the change of atmosphere seemed quite dramatic.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

And I couldn’t possibly visit this church without mentioning the organ.

The Grand Orgue de l’Eglise Notre-Dame des Blancs-Manteaux is a Callinet organ built in 1841. The Callinet family were French organ builders located in Colmar in Alsace and for a little over a century they built some 150 organs of which about 60 are preserved.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Mont de Piété

Leaving l’Église Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux I moved on to look at the building next door, the Mont de Piété.

A Mont de Piété is an institutional pawnbroker. Originating in Italy in the 15th century and operated by the Catholic Church as a charity, they were set up as a reform against money lending. They offered financial loans at a moderate interest to those in need.

The Mont de Piété worked by acquiring a monte, a collection of funds from voluntary donations by financially privileged people who had no intentions of regaining their money. People in need would come to the Mont de Piété and give an item of value in exchange for a monetary loan. The term of the loan would be for a year and would only be worth about two-thirds of the borrower’s item value. A pre-determined interest rate would be applied to the loan and these profits were used to pay the expenses of operating the Mont de Piété.

The Mont de Piété in rue des Blancs-Manteaux was opened in 1778 with Framboisier de Beaunay as its first director.

In 1918, to reflect its gradual move into banking, the Mont de Piété was renamed the Crédit Municipal de Paris, the name by which it’s still known.

In 1987, the Mont de Piété opened a network of local branches in Paris and the Île de France and in 1988 an art conservation department was opened.

In 1992, the Mont de Piété became the responsibility of the City of Paris, which is its sole shareholder.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Moving on from the Mont de Piété, I came to N°21 rue des Blancs-Manteaux, a former school behind which is the Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs-Manteaux.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

A little further on, it’s necessary to cross over rue des Archives before continuing along rue des Blancs-Manteaux to its end point where it meets rue du Temple.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Junction with Rue du Temple

It doesn’t take long to walk the length of rue des Blancs-Manteaux but, if like me, you can’t resist stopping to look at the sites, listen to the sounds and absorb the street’s history, it can take a whole afternoon.


A Soundwalk and the Unexpected

LAST YEAR, I WALKED the full length of the Canal Saint-Denis from its junction with the Canal de l’Ourcq in the Parc de la Villette to the final lock, l’Écluse de la Briche, where the canal discharges into la Seine.

The last leg of that walk took me to the western edge of the municipality of Saint-Denis and since then I’ve been back to Saint-Denis many times to capture more of its sound tapestry.

Saint-Denis is one of the poorest municipalities around Paris and it often gets a bad press, not least because of its high crime rate – not to mention the dramatic headlines it made a couple of weeks ago in the aftermath of the 13th November attacks in Paris.

Saint-Denis - Marie

Mairie de Saint-Denis

The other day I went to Saint-Denis to record more sounds for my Paris Soundscapes Archive and among the sounds I captured were those from a soundwalk I did in Rue de la République, one of the main shopping streets.

Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, Saint-Denis hosts a huge market made up of an outdoor street market in the Place Jean Jaurès, which spills over into the surrounding streets, and a fabulous indoor food market in the neighbouring Grande Halle. I’ve recorded the sounds of these markets several times and I will feature some of them in a future blog piece.

Since Rue de la République is close to the outdoor market it becomes overwhelmed with people when the market is open but on my recent recording trip to Saint-Denis I wanted to capture the sounds in this street when it wasn’t at its liveliest – I simply wanted to capture the ordinary, everyday sounds of an ordinary street in Saint-Denis.

Soundwalking is a fascinating way of exploring and exploring ordinary streets can often reveal the unexpected.

I discovered that Rue de la République has an interesting ecclesiastical symmetry. At its eastern end is a masterpiece of Gothic art, the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis, the Royal Necropolis of France, containing the tombs of 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

The eastern end of Rue de la République with the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis

At the western end of the street is another church, l’Église Saint Denis de L’Estrée, still referred to as the ‘new church’. Compared to the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis of course, which dates from the 12th century, l’Église Saint Denis de L’Estrée is relatively new since it was completed as recently as 1867.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

The western end of Rue de la République with l’Église Saint Denis de L’Estrée

I began my soundwalk along Rue de la République at its eastern end with the Basilique Cathédrale de Saint-Denis and the Mairie de Saint-Denis behind me.

Soundwalk along Rue de la République:

I didn’t realise it at the time but my soundwalk also reflected another symmetry in the street – the sound of a passing bus ringing its warning bell at the start and the sound of a warning bell on a tram on the recently opened Tram Line 8 passing by at the end.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

The first fifty metres or so of the street is open to traffic but after that Rue de la République is reserved for pedestrians.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

About halfway along Rue de la République I came upon the post office whose elegant exterior belies its rather scruffy interior.

Saint-Denis - Rue de la Républic

What I discovered next was quite unexpected.

Directly opposite the post office is Rue du Corbillon, a seemingly ordinary side street leading off Rue de la République. But sometimes the ordinary is not what it seems.

At about 4.20 on the morning of 18th November, five days after the Paris attacks, the police sealed off the entire Rue de la République, evacuated local residents, and focussed their attention on N° 8 Rue du Corbillon.

Saint-Denis - Rue du Corbillon

N° 8 Rue du Corbillon

What followed was an intense gun battle with around a hundred heavily armed elite special forces, supported by the army, firing more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition amidst heavy explosions. The operation ended at 11.37 am by which time three people had died: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, the alleged ringleader of the Paris attacks, his 26-year-old cousin, Hasna Aït Boulahcen, and an unidentified third person. Eight people were arrested.

Saint-Denis - Rue du Corbillon

Listening to the everyday sounds at the junction of Rue de la République and Rue du Corbillon, I couldn’t help imagining the sounds that would have been heard here on the morning of 18th November – echoes of sounds heard across the city five days before.

Unlike at the sites attacked in Paris, there are no floral tributes or messages of sympathy outside the boarded up N° 8 Rue du Corbillon.

For me, the image of this building will soon be forgotten – quite unlike the images of the shuttered cafés and restaurants attacked on 13th November, which will live with me for a very long time.

Saint-Denis - Marie


Yesterday, the Café Bonne Biere in Rue du Faubourg du Temple, where five people died in the Paris attacks, reopened – the first of the attack sites to do so.

You can read about my walk along the Canal Saint-Denis by clicking the links below:

The Canal Saint-Denis and its Sounds – Part 1

The Canal Saint-Denis and its Sounds – Part 2

The Canal Saint-Denis and its Sounds – Part 3

The Canal Saint-Denis and its Sounds – A Postscript


Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – A Soundwalk

HOME FOR SOME, a workplace for others and a thoroughfare for all, the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot in the 11th arrondissement is a narrow street linking the relatively quiet Rue Amelot and the very busy Boulevard Voltaire.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot from Rue Amelot

At 275 metres long and 3.5 metres wide the street hosts a large Renault garage, offices for the telecommunications company, Orange, student accommodation and apartment buildings. There are no cafés, restaurants or shops. Cars may pass along the street but a speed limit of 15 km/h is in force.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot from Boulevard Voltaire

The Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot has been on my soundwalk ‘to do’ list for some time simply because it’s an ordinary Parisian street, and listening to and capturing the sound tapestry of ordinary Parisian streets, known and used by locals and largely ignored by tourists, appeals to me.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – the offices of ‘Orange’ on the right

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – A Soundwalk:

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

At first hearing you might think these sounds are the ordinary, everyday sounds of an ordinary Parisian street and in one sense they are. But sounds don’t exist in a vacuum, either in reality or metaphorically, all sounds have a context and when you know the context ordinary sounds can sometimes become quite extraordinary.

When you hear the toothless man saying ‘Bon Courage’ and know that he is directing it at a police officer armed with a high-powered rifle, and when you hear the sounds of a police radio you might begin to suspect that all is not what it seems in the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

When you know that the wall on the left in the picture above belongs to the Bataclan café and concert venue where 89 people were shot dead on the night of 13th November and when you know that the large door along the wall is where many young people, some injured and others about to die, spilled out onto the street trying to escape, then these ordinary sounds become quite extraordinary.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

The Bataclan emergency exit through which some people escaped and where some died

I recorded these sounds ten days on from the attack on the Bataclan. The police presence, although still there, is diminished and the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot is regaining its composure even though stark reminders of the tragic events are still to be seen.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

For over a week after the attack, the Bataclan was completely cordoned off and it’s only in the last few days that the cordon has been partially removed. Now, leaving the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot and crossing over the Boulevard Voltaire, it’s possible to get a perspective on the scene.

Boulevard Voltaire - Bataclan

The Bataclan with the entrance to Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot on the left

I began my work capturing and archiving the sounds of Paris several years ago and at that time I resolved to capture the city’s complex sound tapestry as comprehensively as I could. My aim was to capture sounds from all parts of the city and the surrounding suburbs, to capture sounds ranging from the spectacular to the ordinary and to be part of the soundscape without changing it.

Occasionally, I’ve become part of the media circus jostling with TV and radio crews to get prime position to capture major events but most of my work is carried out as an aural flâneur, working alone, simply observing through active listening. And working alone gives me the advantage of being able to choose where I record and what sounds I record.

Twice this year Paris has been attacked and twice I’ve had to choose what sounds to record to reflect these events.

Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January I published sounds on this blog from the national day of mourning and sounds from the huge wave of public sympathy that followed. I also recorded sounds that I chose not to publish.

Last week, I published sounds on this blog in the aftermath of the latest attacks but I’ve also recorded sounds that I’ve chosen not to publish.

During the last week I’ve visited all the attack sites again and I was surprised to find that I was affected by the experience more than I expected. At each site, although the media circus has long gone, the tributes are still there but the candle flames are dimmed, the flowers are wilting and the written tributes are fading. The pictures of some of the victims though stand out starkly and, looking at the pictures, it’s impossible not to make a personal connection with these victims.

Boulevard Voltaire - Bataclan

The sounds I recorded in the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot beside the Bataclan may be ordinary, everyday sounds to some but they are extraordinary and very personal sounds to me.

For me, these sounds will always reflect not only a moment in time and a sense of place, a place recovering its composure, but also echoes of the tragedy that took place here and across the city and the emotion that I felt as the events unfolded and in the aftermath.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot