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.
THE YEAR WAS 1889 and Belle Époque Paris was in the midst of a golden age. Relative peace, economic prosperity, technological and scientific innovation and a flourishing of the arts had superseded the catastrophe of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the bloody events of the Paris Commune. A spirit of optimism prevailed across the city.
In Pigalle, Mistinguett, (Jeanne-Marie Bourgeois), later to become the highest paid female entertainer in the world, was performing at the café-concert, le Trianon in Boulevard de Rochechouart, Aristide Bruant, dressed in his trademark red shirt, black velvet jacket, high boots, and long red scarf, was poking fun at the upper-crust guests who were out ‘slumming’ in this lower-crust territory and a new mecca of pleasure and entertainment, the now world-famous, Moulin Rouge, had just opened its doors for the first time.
Across town, the Champ de Mars, the Trocadéro, and the quai d’Orsay were hosting the gigantic Exposition Universelle, the latest of four World Fairs to be held in the city. The newly constructed and then still controversial Tour Eiffel stood at one end of the Champs de Mars at the entrance to the Exposition and at the other end, opposite the École Militaire, stood the Galerie des Machines, a vaulted building spanning the largest interior space in the world at the time.
While the American sharpshooter, Annie Oakley, was performing to packed audiences in Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Show” at the Exposition, another American, the inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison, was the centre of attention in the Galerie des Machines.
The Edison exhibition occupied two pavilions, one dedicated to electric light and the other to the phonograph. Edison’s phonograph was not the only sound-reproduction device presented at the Exposition but it was the only one to hit the headlines.
No praise seemed too warm for Edison, the man who had ‘tamed the lightning with his incandescent lightening system’ and ‘organised the echoes with his phonograph’.
Thomas Edison, “The Types of Edison Phonographs,” The Paris Universal Exhibition Album (1889), CXLI
While both the Galerie des Machines and the risqué performances of Mistinguett have long since disappeared, Thomas Edison’s legacy lives on just across the street from the Moulin Rouge and le Trianon in Pigalle.
Opened in September 2014, the Phono Museum is one of the newest museums in Paris and the only museum in the city dedicated to the history of recorded sound.
Jalal Aro, Founder of the Phono Museum
The founder of the Phono Museum, Jalal Aro, is passionate about ‘talking machines’, mechanical sound-reproduction devices from an age when ‘music was magic’*. Although he is an enthusiastic collector and restorer of phonographs and gramophones he doesn’t see them simply as interesting objects, he believes they only have real meaning when they come to life and actually speak. Consequently, as well as his enormous collection of phonographs and gramophones he also has an even bigger collection of wax cylinders, records, posters and other memorabilia which occupies every nook and cranny of his Phono Galerie next door to the Phono Museum.
Founding the Phono Museum was Jalal’s way of sharing his passion for the history of recorded sound with a wider audience.
Jalal has a very democratic approach to sound. He believes these precious objects should be accessible to all and that becomes obvious when you enter the museum. For an admission fee of just €10, you can stay for as long as you like, explore the exhibits on your own or, if you prefer, Jalal, Charlotte, or one of the other staff will give you a personal guided tour of exhibits ranging from Thomas Edison’s 1878 tin-foil machine, to Emile Berliner’s 1897 flat-disc machine, magnificent two-horn, two-reproducer, dance hall machines, gramophones cleverly disguised as elegant furniture, talking dolls and lots more. All the exhibits in the museum work so the sound of music fills the air.
Last Sunday morning, before the museum opened, I went along to talk to Jalal about the museum and, very excitingly for me, to record some of the sounds of his ‘talking machines’.
Jalal Aro talks to me about the Phono Museum:
The museum is a non-profit organisation and, with no financial support so far from the City of Paris, it relies solely on ticket sales and voluntary donations to cover its costs.
As Jalal says in the interview, anyone making a donation becomes a valuable stakeholder in the museum. Click on this link to learn more: https://www.ulule.com/phonomuseum/
In 1889, Thomas Edison’s phonograph captured the public imagination at the Exposition Universelle with a dream: ‘that of preserving humanly generated sound for – as the hyperbole went – eternity’**.
Visit the Phono Museum in Pigalle and you can share that dream.
With my thanks to Jalal Aro for giving up his Sunday morning to talk to me and for his permission to share sounds from the Phono Museum on this blog.
The Phono Museum is at:
53, boulevard de Rochechouart, 75009 Paris
* When Music was Magic: history, phonographs and gramophones from 1879 to 1939 / / by John Paul Kurdyla.
** Musical Encounters at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair By Annegret Fauser
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?”
MARKETS HAVE BEEN a feature of Saint-Denis since the seventh century. Then the markets were held at Place Panetière, in front of the Basilique de Saint-Denis, the Royal Necropolis of France; final resting place of 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm. In the 12th century, Abbot Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis, spoke of Place Panetière as a place where “everything to buy or sell may be found”.
Today, Place Victor Hugo and Place Jean-Jaures occupy the former Place Panetière but the markets have survived and nothing much has changed – everything to buy or sell may be found.
Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday an indoor market, housed in the 19th century Grande Halle, opens for business and an outdoor market appears on Place Jean-Jaures and in the surrounding streets.
The outdoor market is rather like an African souk selling everything from clothes and fabrics to a range of footwear, cosmetics, bags, clay cooking pots and other assorted household goods, tools and plants, as well as some high-end, branded goods at suspiciously low prices.
But for me, the indoor market inside the Grande Halle is the main attraction. With its sights, sounds and exotic smells, visiting the Grande Halle is a multi-sensory experience not to be missed.
Sounds inside the Grande Halle, Marché de Saint-Denis:
To get to the Grande Halle I passed a man on the street selling boxes of what he claimed were top-of-the-range perfumes, Givenchy, Dior etc., for knock down prices and a fascinating lady selling couscoussières. I stopped to listen to their sales patter, which you can hear in my sound piece.
Although tempted, I did though decline an invitation from another stallholder to buy a ‘genuine’ Longines watch for the bargain price of six Euros!
The Grande Halle is a food market but it’s also a microcosm of French history, gastronomy and successive waves of immigration and the sounds inside the Grande Halle reflect this cultural kaleidoscope.
Produce from France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and North Africa sits beside Caribbean cooks, spice sellers from Morocco, magnificent displays of fruit and vegetables from around the world and even more exotic fish. The butchers, including Halal butchers and a horse butcher, sell conventional cuts of meat as well as tripe and meat you won’t find in the swanky shops in the centre of Paris including pig’s heads, feet and everything in between. Nothing goes to waste.
Sunday is the busiest day at the market when whole families turn out to hunt for bargains and they seldom leave disappointed.
Just as in Abbot Suger’s day, everything to buy or sell may be found.
CHINESE NEW YEAR’S DAY is the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar. But on the Gregorian calendar the date is different each year falling somewhere between the 21st January and the 20th February. This year, Chinese New Year’s Day fell on Monday 8th February.
In the Chinese calendar, 2016 is ‘l’Année du Singe’, the Year of the Monkey, the ninth of the 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle.
In Paris, Chinese New Year is celebrated across the city culminating in the Carnaval du Nouvel An Chinois, the Chinese New Year Carnival in the 13th arrondissement, which took place yesterday.
The Carnaval du Nouvel An Chinois is always boisterous occasion. A huge crowd lines the streets to watch the colourful parade circulating around the largest Chinatown in Paris and, as I do every year, I went along to join in the celebrations and to record the sounds.
Parisian Chinese New Year 2016:
This year’s parade may have been dampened by rain and tempered by the lack of firecrackers but it didn’t stop this annual spectacle from being as exuberant as ever.
SUNDAY, 7th FEBRUARY saw the 19th edition of the Carnaval de Paris. The theme this year was Le Monde fantastique aquatique.
Led by Basile Pachkoff, Président de l’association Droit à la Culture, the carnival procession left Place Gambetta in the 20th arrondissement and made its way to Place de la République.
Today’s Carnaval de Paris is a revival of a carnival dating back to at least the sixteenth century when the carnival parade would take place on the Sunday prior to Mardi Gras and was led by the traditional “Promenade du Boeuf Gras”, a decorated live ox.
In those days it was a time of rejoicing lasting from Epiphany until Lent whereas today it’s simply a one-day event. The Carnaval de Paris with its dancers, masks, music and colourful costumes still retains the spirit and exuberance of the medieval festival.
In the February afternoon sunshine, I joined the carnival procession in Avenue Gambetta to record the sights and sounds.
Sounds of the Carnaval de Paris 2016:
WITH ITS UBIQUITOUS Hector Guimard ‘entourage’ entrance, the Métro station Cité is the only Métro station on the Île de la Cité, one of the two islands on the Seine within the historical boundaries of the city of Paris.
The entourage entrance was the most common of Guimard’s Métro entrances. Built in the Art Nouveau style the entrance has waist high cast iron railings around three sides with symmetrical raised orange lamps designed in the form of plant stems, with each lamp enclosed by a leaf resembling a brin de muguet, a sprig of lily of the valley. Between the lamps is the classic Metropolitain sign.
Of the 154 entourage Métro entrances built, some 84 still survive on the Paris streets.
With the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris on one side and the medieval gothic chapel, Sainte-Chapelle, the Conciergerie (a former prison) and the Palais de Justice (all formerly part of the Palais de la Cité, a Royal Palace from the 10th to the 14th century) on the other, Cité Métro station lies at the historical centre of Paris.
The station is on Line 4 of the Paris Métro system, the line that travels 12.1 km across the heart of the city connecting Porte de Clignancourt in the north and, since 2013, Mairie de Montrouge in the south. Until the extension to Mairie de Montrouge was opened, the southern terminus of Line 4 was the original terminus, Porte d’Orléans.
Métro Line 4 was the first line to connect the Right and Left Banks of the Seine via an underwater tunnel built between 1905 and 1907. At the time, this was some of the most spectacular work carried out on the Paris Métro system.
Crossing the Seine was achieved using caissons, assembled on the shore and then sunk gradually into the river bed. The metal structures of the two stations, Cité on the Right Bank and Saint-Michel on the Left Bank, were also assembled on the surface and then sunk into the ground to their final location.
Station La Cité. Fonçage du caisson elliptique à la fin de la station. Vue intérieure. Vers le boulevard du Palais. Paris (IVème arr.). Photographie de Charles Maindron (1861-1940), 18 janvier 1907. Paris, bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville. © BHdV / Roger-Viollet
Image courtesy of Paris en Images
The Seine crossing was commissioned on 9th January 1910 … only to be closed a few days later, a victim of the great Paris flood of 1910.
Cité Métro station was opened on 10th December 1910.
Unusually for the Paris Métro system, the station only has one entrance, at 2 Place Louis Lépine and, unlike other stations on Line 4, the platforms are 110 m in length, longer than the 90-105m platforms at other stations.
Because of the station’s depth, passengers must walk down to a mezzanine level, which contains the ticket machines, and then down another three flights of stairs before reaching platform level. This is fine on the way down but, as I know all too well, it can be a challenge on the way up!
The walls of the station at the entrance at the top and along the platforms at the bottom are lined with conventional white Métro tiles but the decoration of the space in between is curious.
Here, the walls are lined with large metal plates with oversized rivets. I have no idea when these were installed or why, but they give the impression of walking through a huge metal tank.
The station platforms are lined with overhead lamps reflecting the style of the original station lamps.
Until recently, Métro Line 4 had the distinction of using the oldest trains on the Paris Métro network, the MP 59.
Paris Métro train Type MP 59 : Image via Wikipedia
After serving for almost fifty years, these trains were withdrawn from service during 2011 and 2012 and replaced with the MP 89 CC trains from Line 1 when that line was automated.
An MP 89 CC train at Cité station, formerly used on Métro Line 1
Sounds inside Cité Metro Station:
I began recording these sounds at the Cité Métro entrance in Place Louis Lépine, beside the flower market. I went down the steps to the mezzanine level, passed through the ticket barrier, and then descended two more flights of steps. From here, it’s possible to see and hear the trains passing below. I walked along the narrow passageway beside the riveted metal plates and down some more steps to the platform.
Watching and listening to the MP 89 trains entering and leaving the station was quite nostalgic for me since I know these trains so well. When they operated on Line 1, the nearest line to my home, I rode on these trains almost every day for the best part of thirteen years.
I was pleased to see my old friends again at Cité station busy carrying passengers on the second busiest Métro Line in Paris.
Having savoured the atmosphere of the station, all that remained was for me to bid my friends adieu and gird my loins for the climb out of the station back onto the street.
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
FLUCTUAT NEC MERGITUR is a Latin phrase meaning ‘tossed but not sunk’ and it’s been used as the motto of the city of Paris since at least 1358.
The motto is present in the city’s coat of arms depicting a ship floating on a rough sea.
City of Paris Coat of Arms
Just as the declaration ‘Je Suis Charlie’ captured public sentiment following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January last year, so ‘Fluctuat Nec Mergitur’ became the symbol of defiance in the wake of the 13th November attacks.
Image via Wikipedia
Three weeks to the day after the attack that killed five people on its terrace in November, the café A La Bonne Bière reopened.
A La Bonne Bière – After the attack
A La Bonne Bière – After it reopened
A La Bonne Bière – After the attack
A La Bonne Bière – After it reopened
Sounds inside A La Bonne Bière:
Two months to the day after the attack that killed fifteen people in the street outside, the café Le Carillon reopened.
Le Carillon – After the attack
Le Carillon – After it reopened
Sounds inside Le Carillon:
My most profound memory of the aftermath of the November attacks is that of a young woman, in her early twenties I suppose, who, a few days after the attacks, walked across from Le Carillon and sat down beside me on a Parisian green bench and began sobbing uncontrollably. She was distressed and utterly inconsolable.
Sitting beside that young woman on that day it seemed unimaginable that a few weeks later I would be recording the sounds of life returning to Le Carillon and the sounds of young people once again enjoying the company of friends.
Fluctuat Nec Mergitur!
ONE OF THE MORE unusual sights in Paris at the moment is the recently drained Canal Saint-Martin.
The double lock at the upstream end of the Canal Saint-Martin
Opened in 1825, the Canal Saint-Martin is a 4.5 km stretch of water connecting the Canal de l’Ourcq to the Seine.
From the Bassin de la Villette at its upstream end to its junction with the Seine at Port de l’Arsenal downstream, the canal comprises nine locks and two swing bridges and from one end to the other it falls some 25 metres.
For the final 2 km at its downstream end, from Rue du Faubourg du Temple to Port de l’Arsenal, the canal runs underground passing under Boulevard Richard Lenoir and Place de la Bastille.
The double lock looking downstream to Place de Stalingrad
On Monday, 4th January, work began to drain and clean the canal and to do some renovation work to some of the locks.
To get things underway a dam was installed at the upstream end of the canal. Once the dam was in place the lock gates along the canal were opened and some 90,000 cubic metres of water drained from the canal into the Seine.
The dam separating the Canal Saint-Martin from the Bassin de la Villette
The canal has a large fish population and so some 10 cm of water was left in the bottom of the canal initially so the fish that didn’t manage to escape with the flow of water could be rounded up in nets and transferred to the Seine.
Once a waterway supplying Paris with fresh water, grain and other commodities to support a growing population, the canal trade eventually dwindled and the canal came close to extinction.
Today, with its romantic footbridges and mysterious vaulted tunnels, the tree-lined Canal Saint-Martin conveys passenger boats and pleasure craft and has become one of the key tourist spots in Paris.
In contrast to its romantic image though, the canal takes on a different aspect once the water has been drained.
The canal was last drained and cleaned in 2001 and during that operation 18 tonnes of fish were recovered and 40 tonnes of rubbish gathered. The haul of garbage and occasional treasure could be even more this time around.
The other day, I walked along the Canal Saint-Martin from the Bassin de la Villette to Rue du Faubourg du Temple where the canal enters the 2 km tunnel before it reaches the Seine. It is this above-ground stretch of the canal that is being cleaned.
Looking downstream to the tunnel entrance at Rue du Faubourg du Temple
Anxious to capture the cleaning operation in sound and since I couldn’t get close to the canal from either the Quai de Valmy on one side or the Quai de Jemmapes on the other, I chose to record from the top of the footbridge crossing the canal close to Rue du Faubourg du Temple.
The recording doesn’t last for long and it isn’t perfect – but it is historic since these sounds are only heard every ten to fifteen years!
Sweeping bottles in the Canal Saint-Martin:
All the detritus from the canal is being transferred by road to barges on the Canal St-Denis that will take it on for disposal.
At a cost of €9.5 million, the cleaning and renovation work will take three months and the Canal Saint-Martin is due to open for business again on 4th April.
Looking upstream from Rue du Faubourg du Temple