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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The original Panhard & Levassor automobile factory opened in 1891
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Now, what shall we have for lunch?”
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 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.
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 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.
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.
Sounds in the passage d’Eupatoria:
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.
L’Eglise Notre Dame De La Croix from Passage d’Eupatoria
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.
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 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.
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 …
And a variety of metal and mechanical artworks, some of which made delicious sounds.
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.
Square Charles-Victor Langlois
My next stop was the Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux …
Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux
And then, directly opposite, l’Église Notre-Dame-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first fifty metres or so of the street is open to traffic but after that Rue de la République is reserved for pedestrians.
About halfway along Rue de la République I came upon the post office whose elegant exterior belies its rather scruffy interior.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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 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 – the offices of ‘Orange’ on the right
Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – A Soundwalk:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
AS YOU WALK ALONG rue Étienne-Dolet in Ménilmontant in the 20th arrondissement it’s hard to miss the imposing church, l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix at the end of the street. The street was named after the French writer, poet, printer and humanist, Étienne Dolet, who was executed in 1546 for heresy and atheism after publishing a tract denying the existence of the soul. Ironically, the street was named after him in 1879 precisely because it leads to a church.
L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix from rue Étienne-Dolet
The architect, Louis-Antoine Heret, designed l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix to replace a former chapel that stood on the site. Combining neo-Romanesque and neo-Gothic architecture the church is huge – 97 meters long, 38 meters wide, 20 meters high under the vault of the nave – not to mention the massive 78 metre bell tower.
Like many churches in Paris, l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix was used to hold political meetings during the Paris Commune of 1871. In fact, it was here on 6th May 1871 that a resolution was passed by the Communards calling for the death of the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Georges Darboy. The resolution was carried out and the Archbishop was executed as the Paris Commune was about to be overthrown.
L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix – the nave
One feature of l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix that may go unnoticed by the casual visitor, but certainly not by me, is the organ. I’ve long been fascinated by church and cathedral organs and particularly the organs of the master French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and this church boasts a very special Cavaillé-Coll organ, one classed as a monument historique.
The organ was built between 1872 and 1874 and it’s one of the rare examples of a Cavaillé-Coll organ that has not been altered to any significant extent.
Building the organ posed two major problems – a rose window that was not to be concealed and a bell passageway in the gallery used for the operation of the bells and as a route to bring them down for repair that was not to be obstructed.
Cavaillé-Coll came up with a technically complex but very neat solution; he built the organ case in two sections leaving the centre of the gallery and the rose window unmasked.
The Cavaillé-Coll split organ case, the rose window and the bell passageway above
Splitting the organ case though was not the complete solution. There remained a complex problem: the three-manual organ console could not be built in the usual position in the centre of the gallery with a direct action to the two organ cases.
How Aristide Cavaillé-Coll resolved this problem is worth a blog piece of its own!
L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix is built on a hill so to enter by the main entrance it’s necessary to climb fifty-four steps of the grand staircase that leads up from the street.
It was from these steps that I was able to look out over one of my favourite Parisian hideaways – Place Maurice Chevalier.
Located at the corner of Rue Étienne-Dolet the square was originally called Place Gerard Manvusa but that was changed in 1978 in honour of the French singer and entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, a Ménilmontant celebrity who was born close by at 29, rue du Retrait.
The commune of Ménilmontant is far removed from the glamour of central Paris but, for me, that’s its attraction. I’ve spent many hours here, au coin de la rue, watching and listening to everyday life passing by.
Ménilmontant: Sounds in Place Maurice Chevalier – Au Coin de la Rue:
With l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix as a backdrop I sit on a green bench in the leaf-strewn square and begin to listen. It’s a little before 5.00 pm and with a Wallace fountain, a café and a boulangerie and another café across the street all echoing to the sound of passing footsteps crunching the autumn leaves I absorb the mixture of ecclesiastical and secular sounds that fill the air.
A refuse truck pulls up and loads some rubbish. A street sweeper gathers leaves from the gutter. A group of schoolchildren surround me on their way back from an outing. A bell sounds out from l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix calling the faithful to worship. A group of small schoolchildren walk past hand in hand on my right gaily chanting, ‘à gauche … à droite’. A dog barks. A school bus comes to a squeaking halt at the foot of the steps to the church blocking the traffic. As the schoolchildren disembark from the bus music pulsates from a car radio and car horns sound impatiently. The schoolchildren pass me and their sounds fade into the distance. A metal bottle top falls to the ground. A youngster on a bicycle taunts the pigeons. The church clock chimes five o’clock. The pigeons speak. A shopping trolley passes.
Paris has many charms but, to my phonographer’s ear, ordinary people creating a deftly woven sound tapestry as they go about their daily lives in this part of cosmopolitan Paris is one of the most fascinating.
CAN YOU IMAGINE a city without traffic? Well, in Paris last Sunday we had a glimpse of what such a city might look and sound like.
In August 2014, an organisation called Paris sans Voitures, a citizen collective made up of scientists and high-profile individuals, residents of all ages, professionals, activists and dreamers, put forward a proposal to the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to reclaim Paris and liberate the streets. Their vision was for a car-free day; a day when private vehicles would be banned in Paris and public transport would be free.
Anne Hidalgo was impressed but the Paris police were more difficult to convince. Nevertheless, a decision was reached on 5th March this year that for one day Paris would experience ‘une journée sans voiture’ – a car free day.
The Mayor was not able to persuade the police that the car free zone should extend across the entire city so an accommodation was reached.
Click to enlarge
On Sunday 27th September, between 1100 and 1800, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements – the heart of the city – were car free zones. Several areas away from the centre, including part of the quai on the Left Bank, most of the Champs-Élysées, the Bois de Boulogne, the Bois de Vincennes and the tourist area of Montmartre were also to be car free.
There were exceptions – buses, taxis and emergency vehicles were allowed.
I spend a large part of my life recording the street sounds of Paris and the sound of traffic is my constant companion so this ‘Journée Sans Voitures’ was an opportunity for me to capture an unusual sound tapestry of the city, one without the weft of constant traffic.
L’Avenue de l’Opéra on Sunday afternoon
On Sunday afternoon I walked along the Avenue de l’Opéra from Place de l’Opéra to Place Colette and, apart from occasional buses and taxis, the restriction on other motor vehicles seemed for the most part to be effective.
I thought it would be particularly interesting to contrast the sounds in Place Colette on this unique day to those found in the same place on a normal working day.
Place Colette on a normal working day
Sounds in Place Colette on a normal working day:
On a normal working day Place Colette is a space shared between Parisians going about their daily business and tourists passing through. The sounds of passing traffic pervade the air all the time.
Place Colette: Journée sans Voitures
Sounds in Place Colette – ‘Journée Sans Voitures’:
On Sunday in Place Colette there were Parisians and tourists but the sound tapestry was very different. The absence of traffic highlighted sounds that are always there but seldom heard, the rustle of the leaves in the trees for example. The sounds of the people reclaiming the city took centre stage.
When you listen to these sounds, remember that they were recorded in exactly the same place as the working day sounds above.
One might conclude that the Journée sans Voitures was either an experiment worth trying or simply a wheeze by the city authorities to provide a late summer’s fun day out. But it’s worth remembering that for a few hours in March this year Paris gained the unwelcome accolade of being the most polluted city in the world.
Excessive vehicle emissions were at the root of the problem. These emissions, combined with sunshine, a drop in temperature and an absence of wind to disperse the pollutants, caused a stagnant cover of warm air to settle over Paris. A toxic haze enveloped the city obscuring some of its most well known landmarks. Schools were instructed to keep children in classrooms and limit sports activities and health warnings were issued to the elderly to avoid even moderate exercise.
Paris usually enjoys relatively clean air for a city its size so the bad press stung the city authorities.
Is it too fanciful to suggest that the Journée sans Voitures might be a signpost to the future – cities without noxious vehicle emissions, cleaner air and a much less polluted sonic environment?
CHARLES FRANÇOIS BOSSU (1813 – 1879) was a French photographer who photographed architecture, landscapes and the urban environment. He is much better known though as Charles Marville, the pseudonym he adopted around 1832.
Charles Marville, photographic self-portrait, c. 1861
Marville worked as an illustrator of books such as Histoire Pittoresque de l’Angleterre and La Seine et ses Bords (the Seine and its Banks) before taking up photography around 1850.
In 1858 he received his first commission from the Paris authorities, to photograph the renovated Bois de Boulogne − the first of Baron Haussmann’s modernising projects for Emperor Napoleon III.
By the early 1860s, Haussmann’s urban development scheme to transform Paris was gathering pace. Although Haussmann was keen to eradicate parts of old Paris, he wanted to preserve their memory: ‘The City of Paris must disregard nothing, forget nothing, neglect nothing of its past.’
In 1862, Marville became the official photographer of Paris and he was commissioned to photograph the pre-modern city before its demolition. He made 425 photographs of the narrow streets and crumbling buildings, which collectively became known as the ‘Album du Vieux Paris.’ The complete series of photographs are held by the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris.
One of Charles Marville’s photographs that fascinates me is one he made of Place Saint-André des Arts in the 6th arrondissement.
Place Saint-André des Arts: Charles Marville
The remarkable thing is that, despite the destruction and reconstruction that occurred in the surrounding area in the 1860s, this little corner of Paris, which takes its name from the ancient church of Saint-André-des-Arts which was demolished during the French Revolution, remained completely untouched by Haussmann’s wrecking ball.
Place Saint-André des Arts: August 2015
Like Charles Marville and his successor, Eugène Atget, I too document the city of Paris, but in my case in sound rather than in pictures. Whenever I come across a photograph of a part of Vieux Paris that has survived almost untouched I can’t resist recording the contemporary soundscape around it.
Place Saint-André des Arts in Sound; August 2015:
Charles Marville died in Paris in 1879. His ‘Album du Vieux Paris’ allows us to see Paris as he saw it before its late nineteenth century transformation and we can compare what he saw with what we can see today.
But when it comes to the sounds of Charles Marville’s Paris we lack a reference point. There are no recordings of the urban soundscape of the time and descriptions of the sounds of Paris in literature during Haussmann’s transformation of the city are few and far between.
So, while we can capture and archive the contemporary sounds of Paris we can, alas, only imagine the sounds that Charles Marville would have heard while he photographed Place Saint-André des Arts.