SOME TIME AGO I reported that the Gare du Nord, one of the six main line railway stations in Paris and the busiest railway station in Europe, is undergoing a transformation. But it’s not only the Gare du Nord that is being transformed. On the left bank of the Seine, in the southeastern part of the city, another Parisian main line station is having a major facelift.
Since 2012, work has been underway at Gare de Paris Austerlitz, usually called Gare d’Austerlitz, to construct four new platforms, refurbish the existing tracks and rebuild the station interior. The renovation work will be completed by 2020 thus doubling the capacity of the station to accommodate some of the current TGV Sud-Est and TGV Atlantique services which will be transferred from Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse, both of which are at maximum capacity.
The redevelopment of Gare d’Austerlitz is not confined to the station itself. It will also include developing some 100,000 M² of land between the station and the neighbouring Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière to include housing, offices, public facilities and businesses.
Built in 1840 to serve first the Paris-Corbeil then the Paris-Orleans line, the station, known originally as Gare d’Orléans, underwent its first makeover between 1862 and 1867 to a design by the French by architect Pierre-Louis Renaud, much of which is what we see today.
The name, Gare d’Austerlitz was adopted to commemorate Napoléon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805.
Métro Line 5 arrived at Gare d’Austerlitz in 1906, the station survived the great flood of 1910 and in 1926 it became the first Parisian railway station to stop handling steam trains when electrification arrived.
Although the smallest of the Parisian main line stations, until the late 1980s Gare d’Austerlitz was one of the busiest with services not only to Orléans but also to Bordeaux and Toulouse. However, with the introduction of the TGV Atlantique using Gare Montparnasse, Gare d’Austerlitz lost most of its long-distance southwestern services and the station became a shadow of its former self. About 30 million passengers a year currently use Gare d’Austerlitz, about half as many as use Gare Montparnasse and a third as many as use the Gare du Nord.
The 21st century makeover of Gare d’Austerlitz will see the station upgraded to handle TGV trains, some of its former southwestern services restored and its capacity doubled.
Capturing the sounds of Paris is what I do and capturing changing soundscapes of the city has a special fascination for me. Any renovation of public spaces not only changes the visual aspect of the place but also its soundscape and so I am anxious to follow how the soundscape of the Gare d’Austerlitz will change as the current development unfolds.
This is what the station sounds like today:
Gare d’Austerlitz and its sounds:
It will be interesting to compare these sounds with sounds recorded from the same place in 2020 when the work is completed.
Of course, we don’t have to wait until 2020 to find a changing soundscape around Gare d’Austerlitz. We only have to go up from the main station platforms to the Métro station Gare d’Austerlitz to discover how soundscapes change over time.
These are sounds I recorded on the Métro station platform in 2011 when the old, bone shaking, MF67 trains were running.
Métro Line 5 – Gare d’Austerlitz in 2011
And these are sounds I recorded this year from exactly the same place. The difference is that the old rolling stock has been replaced with the newer, more energy efficient, smoother running, much more comfortable, air-conditioned, MF01 trains.
Métro Line 5 – Gare d’Austerlitz in 2017
The old MF67 trains no longer ply Line 5 of the Paris Métro and their iconic sounds have gone forever. I believe that the everyday sounds that surround us are as much a part of our heritage as the magnificent buildings that grace this city and, although change is inevitable and often for the better, the sounds we lose in the process deserve to be preserved.
Just as the sounds on Métro Line 5 have changed so will the sounds in and around Gare d’Austerlitz as its renovation unfolds. And I will be there to capture the changing soundscape for posterity.
IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR again, mid-July, la Fête Nationale and one of the high points of my sound recording year: the défilé aérien du 14 juillet.
Le quatorze juillet is the French National Day, commemorating the 1790 Fete de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.
Each year, La Fête Nationale is celebrated throughout France but the centerpiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République. The défilé aérien, or fly-past, is part of the parade.
This year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I, 145 US troops took part in the parade in the Champs Elysées with their President, Donald Trump looking on.
As a lifelong aviation enthusiast, the parade in the Champs Elysées and the presence of Donald Trump were of much less interest to me than the events in the air.
This year the défilé aérien was made up of 63 aircraft: 49 from the French air force, 6 from the French navy and 8 from the United States, all flying in close formation.
The Aircraft Fly-Past:
Nine Alphajets of la Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team, led the fly-past complete with their signature bleu – blanc – rouge smoke. Then, close behind, came six F-16 Fighting Falcons of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds, and two Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, single-seat, twin-engine, all-weather stealth tactical fighter aircraft developed for the USAF.
Created in 1953 and based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, the Thunderbirds Squadron tours the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft.
The US Thunderbirds and F-22 Raptors heading for the Champs Elysées
This was the first time I had seen either the Thunderbirds or the F-22 Raptor so I was able to tick yet more boxes in my ‘plane spotting’ list as well as adding their distinctive sounds to my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
Another first was to see not one but TWO Airbus A-400M Atlas military transport aircraft flying in formation. This multi-national, four-engine turboprop aircraft was designed by Airbus Defence and Space as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities which, along with its transport role, can also perform aerial refueling and medical evacuation. The first of these aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in August 2013.
Two Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft heading for the Champs Elysées
A little over half an hour after the aircraft had passed, the helicopters hove into view, 29 of them representing the French Army, Air Force, Navy and civilian services all flying in close formation.
The Helicopter Fly-Past:
Note: It’s hard to record the sound of helicopters en masse without making them sound like a hive of insects!
The défilé aérien is an event I look forward to each year, not because of the display of military hardware and fighting power on display, but simply because I have always been fascinated by aircraft. I guess I’ve never lost that child like wonder of watching and listening to flying machines.
Here are some more of my iPhone pictures of this year’s défilé aérien:
IT IS ESTIMATED THAT between 30,000 and 50,000 people visit the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris every day. It’s not surprising then that the queue waiting to get into the cathedral is often longer than the cathedral itself.
The queue stretches across the Parvis Notre-Dame, the square in front of the cathedral, which was renamed Parvis Notre-Dame – Place Jean-Paul II in 2006 in honour of Pope Jean-Paul II who died the previous year.
The square is a magnet for tourists who, as well as visiting the cathedral, often queue up to have their photograph taken at a small octagonal bronze plaque surrounded by a circular stone embedded into the ground bearing the legend, ‘Point zéro des routes de France’.
As the legend suggests, this is point zero, the point from which all distances from Paris to the rest of France are measured.
Visitors to this spot might not know though that this was once the site of the infamous l’Echelle de Justice, the pillory before which the condemned, with bare head and feet and with a rope around their neck and a placard on their chest and back describing their crime, were require to kneel, publicly acknowledge their crime and seek absolution. It was here in March 1314 for example, that Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars, heard the Pope’s decree condemning him to be burned alive!
Tourists weary of standing in line to visit the cathedral or jostling to take a look at point zero often gravitate towards the side of the parvis closest to la Seine to feed, or to be swamped by, huge flocks of pigeons.
Tourists and Pigeons:
Unlike the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris, or point zero, or even the fabulous Crypte Archeologique du Parvis Notre-Dame, which lies underneath the parvis, these sounds of tourists and pigeons may not feature in the tourist guide books, but for me at least they are some of the quintessential summer sounds of Paris.
DURING MY TIME living in Paris I have witnessed and recorded countless street demonstrations, or manifestations as we call them here. Whether it’s the spectacle of one million people filling the streets in 2010 to oppose the then Président Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reforms or a mere handful of people protesting about the implementation of some obscure local byelaw, people here are not shy when it comes to taking to the streets to make their voices heard. Whatever the issue under protest, and whether I agree with it or not, I find the politics of the street endlessly fascinating.
Yesterday afternoon I was in the Beaubourg area of Paris, the area around the Centre Pompidou, recording street musicians. Having made several recordings, I headed off to a café for much needed refreshment and a sit down, but on the way I came upon a manifestation progressing along rue Beaubourg.
I discovered that this was an animal rights protest under the ‘Marche Pour la Fermature des Abattoirs’ banner, a march aimed at closing down abattoirs. I also discovered that this march was not confined to Paris; similar marches are taking place across the world this weekend.
Marche Pour la Fermature des Abattoirs:
As you can hear, the protestors’ vocal theme centred on the chant, ‘Fermons les Abattoirs’, close the abattoirs, a theme supported by leaflets with the message:
It’s time to claim loud and clear the abolition of slavery of all the animals, the abolition of the practices which cause them the biggest wrongs: their breeding, their fishing and their slaughter.
Every year in the world, 60 billion land animals and more than 1000 billion aquatic animals are killed without necessity, which means that 164 million land animals and more than 2,74 billion aquatic animals are killed every day.
This was a large, well-organised, enthusiastic and peaceful march with a wide cross-section of people taking to the street to express their point of view. Which brings me back to what I said at the beginning: whatever the protest, I find the politics of the street endlessly fascinating.
I SPEND A GOOD PART my time recording and archiving the soundscapes of Paris. As fascinating as the contemporary soundscapes of this city are though, I am always thinking about what the city might have sounded like in the past when sounds were impossible to capture and to replay.
It was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that it became possible to record sound and well into the twentieth century before attention turned towards recording urban soundscapes. Before that, our only source for what our towns and cities might have sounded like is to be found in literature – the written accounts of the sounds people heard.
The American writer, John Sanderson, for example arrived in Paris for the first time in July 1835 …
“All things of this earth seek, at one time or another, repose – all but the noise of Paris. The waves of the sea are sometimes still, but the chaos of these streets is perpetual from generation to generation; it is the noise that never dies.”
John Sanderson, Sketches of Paris: In Familiar Letters to His Friends (1838)
Clearly, John Sanderson wasn’t impressed with what he found. But contrast that with a description of a much earlier Paris.
In Chapter 2 of Book Three of his novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, also known as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo offers us a Bird’s Eye View of Paris in which he describes in fascinating detail the visual landscape of fifteenth century Paris from the top of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
A Modern Day View from the Top of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
Image via Wikipedia
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published in 1831 and it is clear in the novel that Victor Hugo was lamenting how the city had changed. About the Cathedral for example he says:
“The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.”
But it is when it comes to the sounds of fifteenth century Paris that Hugo is at his most eloquent.
“And if you wish to receive of the ancient city an impression with which the modern one can no longer furnish you, climb – on the morning of some grand festival, beneath the rising sun of Easter or of Pentecost – climb upon some elevated point, whence you command the entire capital; and be present at the wakening of the chimes. Behold, at a signal given from heaven, for it is the sun which gives it, all those churches quiver simultaneously. First come scattered strokes, running from one church to another, as when musicians give warning that they are about to begin. Then, all at once, behold! – for it seems at times, as though the ear also possessed a sight of its own,—behold, rising from each bell tower, something like a column of sound, a cloud of harmony. First, the vibration of each bell mounts straight upwards, pure and, so to speak, isolated from the others, into the splendid morning sky; then, little by little, as they swell they melt together, mingle, are lost in each other, and amalgamate in a magnificent concert. It is no longer anything but a mass of sonorous vibrations incessantly sent forth from the numerous belfries; floats, undulates, bounds, whirls over the city, and prolongs far beyond the horizon the deafening circle of its oscillations.
Nevertheless, this sea of harmony is not a chaos; great and profound as it is, it has not lost its transparency; you behold the windings of each group of notes which escapes from the belfries. You can follow the dialogue, by turns grave and shrill, of the treble and the bass; you can see the octaves leap from one tower to another; you watch them spring forth, winged, light, and whistling, from the silver bell, to fall, broken and limping from the bell of wood; you admire in their midst the rich gamut which incessantly ascends and re-ascends the seven bells of Saint-Eustache; you see light and rapid notes running across it, executing three or four luminous zigzags, and vanishing like flashes of lightning. Yonder is the Abbey of Saint-Martin, a shrill, cracked singer; here the gruff and gloomy voice of the Bastille; at the other end, the great tower of the Louvre, with its bass. The royal chime of the palace scatters on all sides, and without relaxation, resplendent trills, upon which fall, at regular intervals, the heavy strokes from the belfry of Notre-Dame, which makes them sparkle like the anvil under the hammer. At intervals you behold the passage of sounds of all forms which come from the triple peal of Saint-Germaine des Prés. Then, again, from time to time, this mass of sublime noises opens and gives passage to the beats of the Ave Maria, which bursts forth and sparkles like an aigrette of stars. Below, in the very depths of the concert, you confusedly distinguish the interior chanting of the churches, which exhales through the vibrating pores of their vaulted roofs.
Assuredly, this is an opera, which it is worth the trouble of listening to. Ordinarily, the noise which escapes from Paris by day is the city speaking; by night, it is the city breathing; in this case, it is the city singing. Lend an ear, then, to this concert of bell towers; spread over all the murmur of half a million men, the eternal plaint of the river, the infinite breathings of the wind, the grave and distant quartette of the four forests arranged upon the hills, on the horizon, like immense stacks of organ pipes; extinguish, as in a half shade, all that is too hoarse and too shrill about the central chime, and say whether you know anything in the world more rich and joyful, more golden, more dazzling, than this tumult of bells and chimes;—than this furnace of music,—than these ten thousand brazen voices chanting simultaneously in the flutes of stone, three hundred feet high,—than this city which is no longer anything but an orchestra,—than this symphony which produces the noise of a tempest.”
In articles for this blog I always include a sound, or sounds, of Paris that I’ve recorded, to which I add words and pictures to give the sounds an historical, social or cultural context. On this occasion, any sounds I could add would be quite superfluous to the words of Victor Hugo and the magnificent soundscape he describes.
I suggest you just relax, read Hugo’s words and, as he says, “Lend an ear, then, to this concert … this symphony which produces the noise of a tempest”.
BUILT ON THE SITE of a former Montmartre abattoir, the Square d’Anvers takes its name from the Belgian port of Antwerp. It was named to mark the French victory against the Dutch at the Siege of Antwerp in December 1832. The square was opened in 1877.
The French architect, Jean-Camille Formigé, chief architect of buildings, promenades and gardens in the city of Paris during the French Third Republic, designed the Square d’Anvers as well as many other things across the city. In addition to the Square d’Anvers, his legacy includes the Pont de Bir-Hakeim, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz, the dramatic sloping park in front of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, the crematorium of the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise and the greenhouses in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil.
One of the main features of the Square d’Anvers is the elegant kiosque à Musique, or bandstand.
These ‘kiosques’ first became fashionable in France in the eighteenth century although, save for one employed by a Turkish café in the boulevard du Temple so that an orchestra could play shaded from the sun and rain, they didn’t really become popular in Paris until the late nineteenth century.
The word ‘kiosque’ comes from the Arabic-Persian word, ‘kiouch’, a decorative oriental style pavilion originally with no connection to music. At the beginning of the Second Empire, some French garrison towns erected kiosques in public squares so that the regiments could offer free concerts to the public. Kiosques, or bandstands, began to appear in Paris, first in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 1888 and then in other neighbourhood squares. Their popularity declined in the second half of the twentieth century but they are now gaining a new lease of life in some parts of the city.
Originally, the Square d’Anvers had two monuments: a statue of the philosopher, Denis Diderot, by Leon Aimé Joachim Lecointe (1826-1913) and a colonne de la Paix armée, a column surmounted by a statue of Victory.
Square d’Anvers. Statue de Diderot et colonne de la Paix armée. Paris (IXème arr.). Photographie de Charles Lansiaux (1855-1939). Plaque de verre, 22 avril 1920. Département Histoire de l’Architecture et Archéologie de Paris.
© Charles Lansiaux / DHAAP / Roger-Viollet
Image courtesy of Paris en Images
The statue of Diderot was acquired by the city of Paris in 1884. It was originally installed in the Square Maurice-Gardette (formerly Square Parmentier) in the 11th arrondissement but in 1886 it was transferred to the southern end of the Square d’Anvers.
Along with about seventy other Parisian statues, the statue of Diderot and the bronze statue on top of the colonne de la Paix armée were melted down in 1942 during the Nazi occupation.
Sounds in the Square d’Anvers:
In the 1970s an underground car park was constructed beneath the Square d’Anvers and the square was refurbished. More recently, further work has been done to incorporate a multi-sport space for teenagers and new play areas for younger children.
At this time of the year the dominant sounds in the square are the sounds of birds singing and children playing but, for me, the most intriguing sounds come not from the birds or the children but from the squeaky gates leading to the avenue Troudaine at the southern end of the square. You can hear these sounds towards the end of my sound piece above: a perfect example of, to use Aimée Boutin’s phrase, the City as Concert.
THE PLACE DU CAIRE is a triangular Parisian square at the northern end of the 2nd arrondissement. Flanked by rue d’Aboukir and rue du Caire, place du Caire lies in the heart of an area of Paris known as a multicultural textile and garment manufacturing district and more recently, home to many Internet start-up companies.
Along with the Passage du Caire, one of the oldest Parisian passages couverts, the place du Caire dates from 1798. Both the Passage du Caire and place du Caire take their name from the Egyptian capital, Cairo, a place much in vogue at the time as Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798 – 1801) was unfolding. As well as the military objectives of defending French trade interests and weakening Britain’s access to India, Napoleon also took a group of scientists with him to establish scientific enterprise in the region. The scientists began to describe and illustrate the country’s natural resources and cultural heritage, from the geology, flora and fauna to the various ancient structures. This gave rise to a fascination with all things Egyptian, a fascination that manifested itself on the streets of Paris.
The oriental influence was reflected in some of the street names, rue du Caire, rue d’Aboukir and rue du Nil for example, but also in architecture. One example of this is the neo-Egyptian building in place du Caire.
It was built in 1799 and the large heads ornamenting the façade represent the goddess Hathor, who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood. Above Hathor is an Egyptian inspired decorative frieze and vaguely Moorish arched trefoil windows.
Maison de style néo-égyptien sur la place du Caire- Photo d’Eugène Atget, 1903
While the place du Caire unashamedly boasts its Egyptian influence there is another chapter in this Parisian square’s history that is less obvious.
In medieval Paris a large portion of the population relied on begging for survival. Since begging was a competitive business, those with the most severe handicaps could expect more alms. It was therefore quite common for beggars to fake unsightly infirmities, injuries or dieseases. Once their day’s work was done, the beggars would return to their slums where miraculously the blind could see again and the crippled walk. This phenomenon gave the generic name to these areas where so many ‘miracles’ occurred every day: the cour des miracles, the courtyard of miracles.
The cour des miracles as imagined by Gustave Doré in an illustration to The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Referring to the cour des miracles in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pierre Gringoire, the struggling playwright and philosopher says, “Miracles, upon my soul! Here the blind see, and the lame run.”
The cour des miracles were the haunts of thieves, beggars, prostitutes, pimps and other marginalised people. In Paris there were a dozen of them, the most famous of which was in the Sentier district between place du Caire and rue Réaumur. This is the cour des miracles Victor Hugo was referring to.
Hugo’s cour des miracles consisted of three interconnected courtyards, the main one being the loop formed by the rue de Damiette and rue des Forges. It was accessed by the present day rue du Nil, or by an alley, now disappeared, at 100 rue Réaumur.
N°100 rue Réaumur – once an entrance to the cour des miracles du Sentier,
Work to clean up the cour des miracles began in 1667 when Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, holder of the new office of Lieutenant General of Police, was charged with curbing the growth of crime but it wasn’t until 1750, when some of the slums were demolished and more respectable trades like blacksmiths and fishmongers moved in that improvement began. The last vestiges of the old cour des miracles were eliminated with the Haussmannisation of the area in the 19th century.
Listening to and recording the sounds of Paris is my way of exploring the city. The sounds invariably arouse my curiosity about the social and cultural history of the places in which they occur. It was listening to the sounds in the place du Caire for example that led me to discover the Egyptian connection and the history of the cour des miracles.
But as well as opening a window on the social and cultural historical connections, for me at least the sounds of a place have an absolute value in their own right. Listened to attentively, sounds can paint a picture of and tell a story about a place.
So what does the place du Caire sound like?
Today, the place du Caire still has its share of mendicants but no more than many other areas of the city. On a normal working day it’s a hustling, bustling, multi-cultural part of the city with people going about their every day business.
Sounds in the place du Caire on a normal working day:
So, is this what the place du Caire sounds like?
Well, yes it is – at least some of the time. But there are times when it sounds completely different, when the sounds have a different story to tell.
More sounds in the place du Caire:
I recorded these sounds last Monday, a public holiday in France, when all the boutiques and the passage du Caire were closed. In this different atmosphere all the sounds usually subsumed by the more aggressive sounds of a normal working day are now free to take centre stage.
The piece begins with the sound of a man with an artificial leg walking by; not a refugee from the former cour des miracles but a middle-aged man out for a stroll with his wife. A mendicant wearing sandals approaches me but then thinks better of it. The normally drowned out sounds of pigeons cooing can clearly be heard. The sound of passing two-wheelers fuelled by testosterone is inevitable. The most characteristic sounds are those very familiar to Parisian apartment dwellers like me – the sounds of an apartment gardien on one side and a gardienne on the other bringing out the refuse bins and lining them up on the trottoir ready for collection later in the day. There is even the sound of a lady, under the gaze of Olivier Brice’s ‘L’Homme au Bras Leve’, walking her cat on a leash.
For those just passing through the place du Caire, the sounds to be found there on a normal working day will perhaps be the most familiar. But I hope I have shown that these sounds don’t represent everything the place du Caire has to say.
THE PASSAGE DU PONCEAU may not be the oldest, the largest or the most elegant of the nineteenth century passages couverts in Paris but at least it has survived. Of the one hundred and fifty original passages couverts built, only twenty now remain and I’ve been to all of them to record and archive their contemporary soundscapes for my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
Built as an extension to the neighbouring Passage du Caire in the 2nd arrondissement, the Passage du Ponceau was opened in 1826.
Entrance to the Passage du Ponceau in rue Saint-Denis
Originally intended to link rue Saint-Denis to rue du Ponceau, the length of the passage was reduced in 1854 to make way for the new boulevard Sébastopol.
Entrance to the Passage du Ponceau in boulevard Sébastopol
At ninety metres long and just two-and-a-half metres wide, the Passage du Ponceau is a narrow passage comprising two floors under a glass roof. Little remains of the original decoration save for the upper reaches of the façades and some of the mouldings.
We know that two of the original tenants to occupy the Passage du Ponceau were a wine merchant and a coal merchant but no evidence of their presence survives. Today, the passage is mainly occupied by clothing and media enterprises: it is after all in the heart of the multicultural textile and garment district, which has increasingly become home to many Internet start-up companies.
Sounds in the Passage du Ponceau:
The Passage du Ponceau fell into decline in the second half of the nineteenth century. As the railways became established, the nearby stagecoach terminus, always a ready source of custom, closed and this, together with the arrival of the new department stores heralding a retail revolution, meant that the days of the Parisian passages couverts were numbered. As the French writer and journalist, Alfred Delvau noted in 1867, “Life has withdrawn to go elsewhere on the boulevards.”
And yet, twenty of the original Parisian passages couverts, including the Passage du Ponceau, have survived – even though they may not now be, as the 1852 edition of the Illustrated Guide to Paris said, “ a world in miniature, in which customers will find everything they need.”