IN MARCH THIS YEAR I published a blog piece about the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, the botanical garden set within a large greenhouse complex at the southern edge of the Bois de Boulogne.
In that piece I recounted how these gardens, first established in 1761 under Louis XV, are under threat because of plans by the Fédération Française de Tennis to extend the neighbouring Roland Garros international tennis complex into the south east corner of the gardens. This extension, if it goes ahead, will include the demolition of the nineteenth-century Jean-Camille Formigé greenhouses to make way for a new, semi-sunken, tennis court with seating capacity for 5,000 spectators.
At the time of writing my last piece about the gardens the Paris City Council had just unanimously adopted a resolution that a further study into an alternative plan proposed by local residents associations and supporters of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil should be conducted by an independent organisation so that the Paris City Council could debate and then vote on it.
But now, things have moved on again.
Last Wednesday, despite the unanimous resolution of the Paris City Council, the French Prime Minister, Manual Valls, issued a statement instructing Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, to sign the Permis de Construire, the building permit required before work on the Roland Garros extension can proceed. So far, Ségolène Royal has not done so.
On Sunday afternoon, as Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic were locking horns on the Philippe Chatrier court in the Men’s Final of the French Open Tennis Championship at Roland Garros, friends and supporters of the Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil were making their voices heard at the entrance to the gardens on the avenue de la porte d’Auteuil.
I went along to offer my support and I was able to speak to Madame Lise Bloch-Morhange, Speaker of the Comité de Soutien des Serres d’Auteuil, the lead opposition group to the proposed extension. This is what she told me:
The recently opened Fondation Louis Vuitton, the privately financed modern art gallery designed by Frank Gehry, has, with government acquiescence, encroached on to what was supposed to be an environmentally protected part of the northern Bois de Boulogne. The government claims to have conceded to the choice of site because of the prestige the gallery brings to the city.
In the southern Bois de Boulogne the Fédération Française de Tennis claims that retaining the prestigious French Open Tennis Championship at Roland Garros depends upon extending their facilities and that the only credible plan is to extend into the Jardin des Serres. In addition, France intends to bid for the 2024 Olympic Games and it is claimed that, as part of that bid, an extended Roland Garros is essential.
Undoubtedly, a Frank Gehry designed modern art gallery, the French Open Tennis Championships and the Olympic Games are smothered in prestige, probably adding millions if not billions to the economy. But one is surely entitled to ask, at what cost?
Imagine a desecrated Jardin des Serres with a semi-sunken tennis court with seating capacity for 5,000 spectators standing empty and completely unused for fifty weeks of the year. The cost of that would not be measured in millions or billions of Euro’s but in a more intangible and equally important currency, what the French call patrimoine, our heritage, the value of which lies in our hearts not in our pockets.
My thanks to Lise Bloch-Morhange for taking time out of her very busy afternoon to stop and record these comments.
HAVING BEEN IN hospital recently for surgery to replace my portable life support system with a newer model I thought I would take this opportunity to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Soundlandscapes’ Blog by posting something close to my imperfect heart.
For the last seven years or so I’ve been recording and archiving the sounds of Paris, the agglomeration of individual sounds which, when woven together, form the sound tapestry that surrounds our everyday lives in this city. When people ask me what I do I usually say that I’m a professional listener, or that I’m a flâneur, endlessly walking the streets of Paris observing through active listening.
My sound work in Paris is influenced to a large degree by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century street photographers including, but not confined to, the work of Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Brassaï. Eugène Atget for example created a tremendous photographic record of the look and feel of nineteenth-century Paris just as it was being dramatically transformed by modernisation while the others featured the human condition in public places. I’ve learned a lot about recording the sound tapestry of Paris from studying the work and techniques of these photographers.
While these great photographers certainly influence my work the inspiration to begin my detailed exploration and documentation of the contemporary sound tapestry of Paris came from a different source, the French novelist, essayist, and filmmaker, Georges Perec.
Georges Perec 1936 – 1982
Georges Perec was born on 7th March 1936 in Belleville in the east of Paris, the only son of Polish Jewish parents who had emigrated to France in the 1920s. Both his parents died during WWII, his father from untreated wounds whilst serving in the French army and his mother in Auschwitz.
Adopted by his parental aunt and uncle in 1945, Georges went on to study history and sociology at the Sorbonne, he spent a year in the army as a parachutist, got married and then took up a job as an archivist in the research library at the Neurophysiological Research Laboratory at the Hôpital Saint-Antoine, a job he retained until four years before his untimely death at the age of 45.
Georges Perec’s talents ranged from writing fiction to compiling crossword puzzles for Le Point to creating the longest palindrome ever written to working in radio and making films. In 1965 his first novel Les Choses (Things: A Story of the Sixties) won the prix Renaudot and in 1978 his most acclaimed novel, La Vie mode d’emploi (Life a User’s Manual) won the prix Médicis and finally brought him financial and critical success.
Perec was a member of Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians devoted to the discovery and use of constraints to encourage literary inspiration. One of their most famous products was Perec’s own novel, La disparition (A Void), written entirely without the letter “e.”
Journaux Place St Sulpice : [photographie] / [Atget]
Just over eight years ago I emerged from a Parisian hospital after an uncomfortably close brush with death. Having been given a second chance in life’s lottery I was in need of a new challenge … but what?
The answer came unexpectedly. Browsing around a musty second-hand bookshop one day I came upon a small French book, just sixty pages or so, written by Georges Perec, someone I’d never heard of. Scanning through it my first impression was that it was a journal of some sort, lists of what seemed like random observations. I was curious so I bought it for next to nothing. As I left the bookshop I could never have imagined what an impression this little book would have on me and how it would fundamentally shape my work in Paris.
The book is called, Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien, published in English as An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, and it’s a collection of observations that Georges Perec wrote down as he sat in Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris. The point of these observations was to record “ce qui se passe quand il ne rien se passe”, what is happening when nothing is happening.
For three consecutive days in October 1974, Georges Perec flitted from one café to another in Place Saint-Sulpice recording everything that passed through his field of vision. Rather than describing impressive or notable things such as the architecture, he describes all the things that usually pass unnoticed.
In Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien Perec begins by setting the scene:
Il y a beaucoup de choses place Saint-Sulpice, par exemple : une mairie, un hôtel des finances, un commissariat de police, trois cafés dont un fait tabac, un cinéma, une église à laquelle ont travaillé Le Vau, Gittard, Oppenord, Servandoni et Chalgrin et qui est dédiée à un aumônier de Clotaire II qui fut évêque de Bourges de 624 à 644 et que l’on fête le 17 janvier, un éditeur, une entreprise de pompes funèbres, une agence de voyages, un arrêt d’autobus, un tailleur, un hôtel, une fontaine que décorent les statues des quatre grands orateurs chrétiens (Bossuet, Fénelon, Fléchier et Massillon), un kiosque à journaux, un marchand d’objets de piété, un parking, un institut de beauté, et bien d’autres choses encore.
But it’s the last paragraph that outlines his intention:
Un grand nombre, sinon la plupart, de ces choses ont été décrites, inventoriées, photographiées, racontées ou recensées. Mon propos dans les pages qui suivent a plutôt été de décrire le reste : ce que l’on ne note généralement pas, ce qui ne se remarque pas, ce qui n’a pas d’importance : ce qui se passe quand il ne se passe rien, sinon du temps, des gens, des voitures et des nuages.
My rough translation :
Many, if not most, of these things have been described, inventoried, photographed, recounted or recorded. My purpose in these pages was instead to describe the rest: what one generally does not notice, that which does not matter: what happens when nothing passes but time, people, cars and clouds.
Georges Perec made his observations while sitting in three cafés facing the Place Saint-Sulpice, the Tabac Saint-Sulpice, the Café Fontaine Saint-Sulpice and the Café de la Mairie. When he got tired of one he would move to another. Today, only the Café de la Mairie remains.
Café de la Mairie, 8, Place Saint-Sulpice
The other day I went to the Café de la Mairie with my second-hand copy of Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien. I took a seat outside by the door and turned to one of Georges Perec’s entries for 18th October 1974:
La date : 18 octobre 1974
L’heure 12 h. 40
Le lieu Café de la Mairie
Plusieurs dizaines, plusieurs centaines d’actions simultanées, de micro-événements dont chacun implique des postures , des actes moteurs , des dépenses d’énergie spécifiques : discussions à deux , discussions à trois, discussions à plusieurs : le mouvement des lèvres, les gestes , les mimiques expressives
modes de locomotion : marche, véhicule à deux roues (sans moteur, à moteur), automobiles (voitures privées, voitures de firmes, voitures de louage, auto-école), véhicules utilitaires, services publics, transports en communs , cars de touristes
modes de portage (à.la main, sous le bras , sur le dos)
modes de traction (cabas à roulettes)
degrés de détermination ou de motivation attendre , flâner , traîner , errer , aller, courir vers, se précipiter (vers un taxi libre, par exemple), chercher , musarder, hésiter, marcher d’un pas décidé
positions du corps : être assis (dans les autobus , dans les voitures , dans les cafés, sur les bancs)
être debout (près des arrêts d’ autobus , devant une vitrine (Laffont, pompes funèbres), à côté d’un taxi (le payant)
Trois personnes attendent près de l’arrêt des taxis. Il y a deux taxis, leurs chauffeurs sont absents (taxis capuchonnés)
Tous les pigeons se sont réfugiés sur la gouttière de la mairie.
Un 96 passe. Un 87 passe. Un 86 passe. Un 70 passe. Un camion « Grenelle Interlinge » passe.
Accalmie. Il n’y a personne à l’arrêt des autobus .
Un 63 passe. Un 96 passe
Une jeune femme est assise sur un banc, en face de la galerie de tapisseries « La demeure » elle fume une cigarette.
Il y a trois vélomoteurs garés sur le trottoir devant le café.
Un 86 passe. Un 70 passe.
Des voitures s’engouffrent dans le parking
Un 63 passe. Un 87 passe.
Il est une heure cinq. Une femme traverse en courant le parvis de l’église .
Un livreur en blouse blanche sort de sa camionnette garée devant le café des glaces (alimentaires) qu’il va livrer rue des Canettes.
Une femme tient une baguette à la main
Un 70 passe (c’est seulement par hasard, de la place que j’occupe, que je peux voir passer, à l’autre bout, des 84)
Les automobiles suivent des axes de circulation évidemment privilégiés (sens unique , pour moi, de gauche à droite) ; c’est beaucoup moins sensible pour les piétons : il semblerait que la plupart vont rue des Canettes ou en viennent.
Un 96 passe.
Un 86 passe. Un 87 passe. Un 63 passe
Des gens trébuchent. Micro-accidents.
Un 96 passe. Un 70 passe.
Il est une heure vingt.
Retour (aléatoire) d’individus déjà vus : un jeune garçon en caban bleu marine tenant à la main une pochette plastique repasse devant le café
Un 86 passe. Un 86 passe. Un 63 passe.
Le café est plein
Sur le terre-plein un enfant fait courir son chien (genre Milou)
Juste en bordure du café, au pied de la vitrine et en trois emplacements différents, un homme, plutôt jeune, dessine à la craie sur le trottoir une sorte de « V » à l’intérieur duquel s’ébauche une manière de point d’interrogation (land-art ?)
Un 63 passe
6 égouttiers (casques et cuissardes) prennent la rue des Canettes .
Deux taxis libres à l’arrêt des taxis, un 87 passe
Un aveugle venant de la rue des Canettes passe devant le café ; c’est un homme jeune, à la démarche assez assurée.
Un 86 passe
Deux hommes à pipes et sacoches noires
Un homme à sacoche noire sans pipe
Une femme en veste de laine, hilare
Un autre 96
(talons hauts : chevilles tordues)
Une deux-chevaux vertpomme.
I haven’t included the full entry for this particular observation session but you can see from this extract, whether you understand French or not, that Georges Perec is what one might call a contra-flâneur; he sits still and observes as the world moves by. Incidentally, the numbers that he lists are the numbers of the buses that pass and, as I could see for myself the other day, buses with the same numbers still pass.
From the time I first discovered it, Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien made a huge impression on me. I could immediately see how Georges Perec’s detailed observations of everyday life, his quest for the infraordinary: the humdrum, the non-event, the everyday “what happens when nothing happens” could be replicated equally compellingly in sound. That revelation inspired me to begin my own observations of Paris, detailed observations of the city through its intricate and multi-textured sound tapestry.
Because Georges Perec inspired me to undertake my exploration of Paris in sound I couldn’t possibly have left the Café de la Mairie without making my own infraordinary observations of the Place Saint-Sulpice.
‘Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien’ in sound:
From my contra-flâneur’s seat outside the Café de la Mairie, probably a seat once occupied by Perec himself, I recorded my own Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien, ‘what is happening when nothing is happening’, which is both my homage to Georges Perec and my ‘Thank You’ to all the loyal visitors to Soundlandscapes’ Blog who have supported me over the last five years and who inspire me to continue with this work.
FURTHER RESEARCH FOR my Paris Bridges Project took me to a bridge in the centre of Paris adjacent to the Palais du Louvre, the Pont du Carrousel.
Connecting the Quai des Tuileries on the Right Bank to the Quai Voltaire on the Left Bank the reinforced concrete bridge we see today is the second bridge to bear the name Pont du Carrousel.
Pont du Carrousel looking upstream
Construction of the first bridge, originally called Pont des Saints-Pères, began in 1831. With the work completed the bridge was inaugurated in 1834 by King Louis-Philippe. It was renamed Pont du Carrousel because on the Right Bank it faced the Palais du Louvre near to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Place du Carrousel, a public square located at the open end of the courtyard of the Palais du Louvre.
The Place du Carrousel was the site of the Palais des Tuileries, the Parisian residence of most French monarchs from Henry IV to Napoleon III until it was burnt down during the Paris Commune in 1871.
The name, Place du Carrousel, dates back to 1662 when Louis XIV used this space for equine displays of military dressage known as a carrousel, which is why many of today’s fairground carousels still feature horses.
On a more gruesome note, during the French Revolution Place du Carrousel was one of the homes to Madame Guillotine. From 21st August 1792 until 11th May 1793, with two short interruptions, thirty-five people were guillotined in Place du Carrousel.
Pont du Carrousel looking downstream
The first Pont du Carrousel, built on an axis connecting the Montparnasse and Saint-Lazare railway stations, was the creation of the French engineer, Antoine-Rémy Polonceau. In the 1830s many Parisian bridges were suspension bridges but in such a prestigious location the use of the towers and cables associated with a suspension bridge was unacceptable and so Polonceau designed a 169 metre long and 11.5 metre wide three-arched bridge made of iron and wood.
At each corner of the bridge he erected classic style stone allegorical sculptures by Louis Petitot representing Industry, Abundance, The City of Paris and The Seine.
By the turn of the century the Pont du Carrousel was showing its age. Seven decades of continuous use meant that a major restoration was required. In 1906 the wooden elements, including the wooden deck, were replaced with beaten iron but this was not enough to secure the long-term survival of the bridge. As the twentieth century progressed it became clear that the Pont du Carrousel was too narrow to cope with the increasing flow of traffic over the bridge and too shallow for the larger river traffic to pass underneath it and so drastic action was required.
In 1930 it was decided to scrap the first Pont du Carrousel and to build a completely new bridge a little further downstream opposite the gates to the Louvre.
The task of designing the new bridge fell to the French architects Gustave Umbdenstock and Georges Tourry and the French engineers Henri Lang and Jacques Morane. A draft design was presented in 1932, the work was authorised by a decree of the State Council of 26 August 1933 and the final green light to proceed was given on May 23, 1935.
The new bridge retained the three-arch design of the first bridge but this time it was made from reinforced concrete.
Apart from the original allegorical sculptures by Louis Petitot which were retained, perhaps the most eye-catching feature of the new bridge are the réverbères télescopiques, the Raymond Subes designed telescopic lamps that adorn the bridge.
A graduate of l’École Boulle and l’École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs, Raymond Subes was one of most celebrated French artists specialising in wrought iron during the Art Deco period. His lighting for the bridge, set up in 1946, comprised an ingenious system of telescopic lamps rising from 13 metres in the daytime to 20 metres at night. Unfortunately, the telescopic mechanism broke down shortly after commissioning but it was successfully restored in 1999.
The Palais du Louvre from on the Pont du Carrousel
In my Paris Bridges Project I’m not only looking to explore the history of each of the thirty-seven bridges that cross la Seine within the Paris city limits, I’m also trying to seek out the characteristic sounds of each bridge and trying to identify any sounds that might be unique to each bridge.
My exploration of the sounds of the Pont du Carrousel began on the bridge.
Sounds on the Pont du Carrousel:
The view from my recording position on the Pont du Carrousel looking downstream
It is sometimes said that the sound of traffic exists only to blight the work of the urban field recordist and after years of recording urban soundscapes in Paris I have some sympathy with that view. But I also recognise that the sound of traffic is an integral part of every city soundscape so it would be disingenuous if my exploration of the Pont du Carrousel did not feature the sounds of the traffic passing over it. After all, the sounds of the traffic passing over the pavé on this bridge are as much a part of the fabric of the bridge as the reinforced concrete it’s made from.
After recording the sounds on the bridge I went to explore the sounds under it. An archway on the Right Bank led me under the bridge from where I found a position from which to record.
Sounds under the Pont du Carrousel:
My recording position under the Pont du Carrousel
From here I was not only able to capture the characteristic sounds under the bridge, the tourist boats passing along la Seine and the sounds of people passing under the bridge, but also the sounds of a creaking pontoon permanently tethered to the quai alongside the bridge – the unique sounds of the Pont du Carrousel.
THE AREA TO THE EAST of Bastille, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, was traditionally a working class neighbourhood with a focus on craft industries. Its proximity to the Seine with its plentiful supply of wood saw the area develop into an important centre for the furniture industry, which it still is today.
Many of the skilled craftsmen didn’t work in the main streets preferring instead to set up their workshops in the plethora of small, cobblestone, passageways leading off the main thoroughfares. Many of these passageways survive today and some still accommodate skilled craftsmen.
A set of double doors at N°26 rue de Charonne lead into one of these surviving passageways, the Passage l’Homme.
Stretching for 122 metres the Passage l’Homme is lined with ateliers on the ground floor with apartments above. In prime position close to the entrance is an amazing toyshop.
Further along the passage is the atelier of Alain Hollard whose family firm was established here over a hundred years ago. He specialises in a traditional craft long associated with this part of Paris, Vernissage au Tampon, known in English as French polishing.
For me, the most striking thing about the Passage l’Homme is not the sights, delightful though they are, but the sounds.
Sounds in the Passage l’Homme:
Sandwiched between rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, rue de Charonne and l’avenue Ledru-Rollin the Passage l’Homme is surrounded on all sides by busy streets awash with heavy traffic and yet deep inside the passage a curious calm prevails. Such sounds as there are represent life being lived in the street uncluttered for the most part by noise pollution and so each sound seems to take on an extra significance.
Just as Eugène Atget would have set up his large-format wooden bellows camera to photograph this place a hundred years ago, I set up my microphones half way along the passage and with a much longer exposure time than Atget would have used I pressed ‘record’ and walked away leaving the microphones to capture the scene.
Occasional birdsong, the clatter of lunchtime crockery, anonymous footsteps and distant conversation paint the canvas upon which the more prominent sounds can shine. A young lady collects a large sheet of artwork from the graphic designer’s office and rolls it up as she leaves, doors open and close, two French middle-aged men busily clicking their cameras walk by, the apartment gardien emerges and sits on a step taking a phone call, someone whistles, a young child in a buggy passes by proclaiming something obviously very important to the world and Monsieur Hollard returns from his lunch, unlocks the door to his atelier and goes inside to continue with his vernis au tampon.
In the bustling streets of Paris noise pollution is a constant companion and quiet places are hard to find. That’s why I find it so refreshing to visit the Passage l’Homme. For sure, it’s an interesting place to see but it’s so much more interesting to listen to. In this verdant corner of the city the noise pollution subsides and the ordinary sounds of everyday life take centre-stage. Like a fine wine these sounds deserve to be savoured and enjoyed.
NOW A CULTURAL CENTRE hosting trade fairs, exhibitions, music festivals and open-air cinema screenings, La Grande Halle de la Villette at the southern end of the Parc de la Villette once hosted events of a very different kind.
The French architects Jules de Mérindol and Louis-Adolphe Janvier designed this enormous cast iron and glass structure covering an area of 20,000 square metres. Construction work began in 1865 and the building was opened in 1867. When it opened it was known as the Grande Halle aux Bœufs (the Great Hall of Cattle), which gives the clue as to its original use.
Far from being the cultural centre it is today, the Grande Halle aux Bœufs was a huge abattoir despatching some 4,500 cattle per day to feed the population of Paris.
La Grande Halle aux Bœufs: Photograph by Charles Marville (1816 -1878). Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris. Image courtesy of Paris en Images
La Villette, in the northeast of the city, was the place Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann chose to relocate the abattoirs and meat markets forced out of the centre of the city as he embarked upon the major redevelopment of Paris in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Quite soon La Villette became known as la Cité du Sang (the City of Blood) but it also became as much part of the ‘Belly of Paris’ as the wholesale fresh food market in Les Halles characterised so well by Émile Zola in his novel Le Ventre de Paris.
The Grande Halle aux Bœufs survived as a working abattoir until 1974 when it was closed and its activities moved to Rungis, a commune in the southern suburbs of Paris in the département of Val-de-Marne. The wholesale fresh food market at Les Halles had moved to Rungis some three years earlier. The Marché d’Intérêt National de Rungis is the large wholesale food market serving the Paris metropolitan area and beyond and it is said to be the largest food market in the world.
The City of Paris ceded the land at La Villette and its management to the French government and in 1979 l’Etablissement Public du Parc de la Villette was created to restore and manage the 55-hectare site. The Grande Halle aux Bœufs became a monument historique.
In 1982 the Parc de la Villette was included in François Mitterrand’s Grand Projets and Bernard Reichen and Philippe Robert (Reichen et Robert & Associes) were selected to restore the Grande Halle aux Bœufs. The work was completed in January 1985 and the Grande Halle aux Bœufs was renamed La Grande Halle de la Villette. Another renovation was carried out in 2005 – 2007.
Walking under the main canopy at the front of la Grande Halle is like walking back in time. By the mid-nineteenth century the Renaissance tradition of architecture had lost its appeal and Parisians needed something to symbolise a new era. Two new opposing technologies, delicate glass and sturdy iron, used in combination provided a breathtaking solution. Glass and iron symbolised the new era of modernity and progress and these materials began to be used extensively in new structures across the city.
Nothing symbolised the age of modernity more than the coming of the railways and in 1859, Jacques Ignace Hittorff constructed an innovative railway station, the Gare du Nord, using glass and iron as the main materials. In the 1860s, department stores such as the La Belle Jardinière and Le Bon Marché began to use glass and metal in the construction of their exteriors. Victor Baltard’s glass and iron pavilions at the wholesale food market at les Halles and Henri Labrouste’s sumptuous reading room at the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève are other fine examples of the use of glass and iron in large scale building projects.
Underneath the canopy of la Grande Halle de la Villette is a specially constructed dance floor often used by students from the neighbouring Conservatoire de Paris, a prestigious college of music and dance founded in 1795. In the roof above are other regular visitors who help to shape the sound tapestry of this building.
Sounds under the canopy of la Grande Halle de la Villette:
Outside La Grande Halle is a fountain, La fontaine aux lions de Nubie.
Designed by the French mathematician and engineer, Pierre-Simon Girard, the man responsible for the planning and construction of the Canal de l’Ourcq, this fountain was originally located in the centre of Paris in Place du Château d’Eau, now Place de la République. When the Grande Halle aux Bœufs was opened in 1867 the statue was moved here and served as a water trough for the cattle before they met their fate.
In its heyday la Grande Halle aux Bœufs stood at the centre of the Marché aux Bestiaux de la Villette, the enclave of abattoirs and meat markets that helped to feed Paris. It was built using the new technology of glass and iron in combination, a concept that some at the time would have no doubt have found controversial.
Today, this glass and iron structure has survived to stand within a stone’s throw of another new and very controversial building, the long-delayed and over-budget Philharmonie de Paris, the city’s new, state-of-the-art, concert hall.
The Philharmonie de Paris
Considered by some to be an architectural jewel and by others a rusty spaceship crash-landed on the edge of the city, the Philharmonie de Paris stands cheek by jowl with la Grande Halle de la Villette, each in their time symbols of modernity and progress.
IT HAS BECOME a tradition that on the first day of May each year sweet scented sprays of Lily of the Valley (Muguet in French) are sold on the streets across France as a symbol of springtime and good luck.
Amidst the sprays of Lily of the Valley on sale everywhere in Paris yesterday another tradition was playing out.
La Fête du Travail was the name given to several festivals that originated from the eighteenth century onwards to celebrate the achievements of workers. In France, la Fête du Travail merged with International Workers’ Day, a day originally established in the late nineteenth century as an annual day of protest to demand the eight-hour working day. Today, La Fête du Travail and International Workers Day are celebrated on May 1st and the day is a national public holiday.
In Paris it has become traditional for people representing the two extremes of the political spectrum to use the May 1st public holiday to take to the streets to make their voices heard.
On the morning of May 1st, the Front National representing the political far right hold their annual défilé from the Palais Royal to Place de l’Opéra pausing in Place des Pyramides to pay homage at the foot of Emmanuel Frémiet’s gilded statue of Jeanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orléans and heroine to the far right. In the afternoon an assorted collection of organisations representing the far left gather in Place de la République and march along the Boulevard Voltaire to Place de la Nation.
For the past three years I’ve recorded the Front National event on May 1st rather than the event at République because, given the rise of Marine le Pen as Président of the Front National and the party’s increasing popularity with the French electorate, it seemed to me that this was likely to be the more newsworthy event.
This year though I decided it was time to redress the balance and forsake the Front National in favour of the far left manifestation on the other side of the city.
The manifestation beginning in Place de la République was jointly organised by the French Trades Unions, CGT (Confédération générale du travail), FSU (Fédération syndicale unitaire), Solidaires (Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques) and l’Unsa (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes).
From the plethora of literature handed out along the route I was able to deduce that there were two main themes to the manifestation:
First, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 11th this year, democracy, peace and freedom of thought and expression are common goods that must be defended against all forms of totalitarianism, hate speeches, stigma and attempts to divide.
And second, against a background of austerity measures and reforms reducing workers’ rights and social protection in many European countries, these policies must be reversed and investment made in quality jobs and growth.
Sounds of le défilé de la Fête du Travail :
After many years of recording sounds in Paris I like to think that I’ve developed a journalist’s nose for a good story, or at the very least for being in the right place at the right time. But this year I’m afraid I got it wrong, the little spray of Lily of the Valley in my pocket failed to bring me good luck.
While standing in the rain for three hours recording this manifestation passing me in Boulevard Voltaire I was completely unaware that the news story of the day had already taken place elsewhere, at the Front National défilé at Place de l’Opéra!
During Marine le Pen’s speech there earlier in the day three bare-breasted women appeared on the balcony of a nearby hotel. The women from the Femen activist group unfurled banners linking the Front National’s logo with the Nazi party and had “Heil Le Pen” and “Stop Fascism” written across their chests. For five minutes, they drowned out Le Pen’s speech using a bullhorn.
I was particularly disappointed when I discovered what had happened, not because I have any affection for Marine le Pen and the Front National or that I’d missed seeing the topless women, in fact I’d seen them before when I was recording the International Women’s Day march in Paris a few weeks ago. No, my disappointment came from the realisation that I’d completely missed capturing an historic sound event that would have been a priceless addition to my Paris Soundscapes Archive.
I am reminded of the great American poet, Maya Angelou, who in her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
I’m afraid that the sounds of the disruption at yesterday’s Front National rally are and are destined to remain my untold story.
I CAN STILL REMEMBER it very clearly. It was June 2nd, 1953, Coronation day. That day’s newspaper headlines told us that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had conquered Everest and in London, Queen Elizabeth II was to be crowned amid great pomp and ceremony.
As a small boy, Mount Everest and indeed London, despite being only 150 miles from where I lived, seemed to me to be so far away that I found it difficult to imagine either. I can though remember thinking that the conquest of Everest seemed to be much more exciting than a coronation.
As part of the celebrations to mark the Queen’s coronation we had a street party with lots of flags and bunting and, despite Britain still being in the grip of post-war rationing, there was more food on the tables spread along the centre of the street than I’d ever seen.
Also as part of the celebrations a travelling fair came to town and during the afternoon of Coronation day I was taken to it. The fair was set up in a field and right in the centre of the field was something the like of which I’d never seen before – a fairground carousel, or as we called them in those days, a merry-go-round. The brightly painted wooden horses suspended from twisted gold-painted poles bobbed up and down as they went round and round and gales of laughter from excited children and music from a mechanical organ in the centre of the carousel filled the air. The sights and sounds of this incredible spectacle thrilled me and I can remember asking myself, ‘Why can’t every day be Coronation day?’
Over the sixty or so years since that day I’ve learned much more about Hillary and Tenzing’s ascent of Everest and I’ve learned more about the Queen’s coronation but I’ve never lost my sense of childish wonder at that magical carousel. Perhaps because of that sense of wonder no other carousel has had quite the same impact on me as the one I saw on Coronation day.
Living in Paris though means that I’m not short of carousels to see.
The first carrousels (carrousel is French for carousel) appeared in France in the second half of the nineteenth century and soon became highly popular with Parisians. Today, the modern carrousels look very similar to the original ones.
In Paris there are carrousels in the collection at the Musée des Arts Forains at Cour Saint-Émilion in the 12th arrondissement as well as others scattered across the city. Perhaps the most visited of these, not least because of its location, is the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel.
Sounds of the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel:
Whilst small children may look at carrousels with a sense of wonder, for their owners carrousels are a business.
The original Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel was set up by Roger Alliot in 1986 directly across the street from the Tour Eiffel, the city’s most visited attraction. After occupying this lucrative location for twenty years, Monsieur Alliot received an eviction notice from the Paris city authorities claiming that the carrousel was there illegally and they had a court judgement to back their claim. Much wrangling ensued and the carrousel stayed until the cranes eventually arrived to demolish it piece by piece.
Shortly after Monsieur Alliot’s eviction another carrousel appeared to take its place. Behind this was the celebrated showman Marcel Campion. He, with the assistance of the engineer Pascal Pouzet, modified an existing carrousel and installed what is hailed as the first ‘green’ carrousel in Paris consuming it is claimed up to twelve times less energy than a conventional carrousel.
Although this carrousel still uses traditional power this is supplemented by the use of solar panels, photo-sensors and pedal power. The horses and some of the other vehicles on the carrousel are equipped with pedals that turn a wheel, which in turn generates energy. For those who do not ride the carousel, there are several positions with recumbent bikes off to the side that to help generate the power.
This carrousel comes at a price of course. It is reported to have cost some €700,000 to build and install, considerably more than a conventional carrousel. It’s likely to take some time to recoup this investment especially without increasing ticket prices relative to other Parisian carrousels, although the prestigious location at the foot of the Tour Eiffel helps.
Unlike Monsieur Alliot’s carrousel, it seems that this carrousel is deemed to be legal. The owners were granted a ten-year concession in return for a fee payable to the Paris city authorities of 20% of turnover, some 12% higher than previously. With an estimated revenue of more than €1 million per year that seems like a nice little earner for the city.
Sitting by the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel and recording its sounds on a beautiful spring day in 2015, I couldn’t help being transported back to Coronation day in 1953. Back then ‘renewable energy’, the ‘Tour Eiffel’ or the machinations of Parisian city politics would have been as completely beyond my understanding as Mount Everest or even London.
But sharing the delight of small children seeing a carrousel for the first time was a powerful reminder of my memories of the same experience although, unlike me back in 1953, they were also able to savour the majesty of the Tour Eiffel.
YOU PROBABLY WON’T find any reference to it in the guidebooks, the glossy magazine articles or the internet sites that bombard us with the ‘10 best things to see in Paris’ or the ‘Guides to Secret Paris’ – and yet le Cylindre Sonore is quite exceptional.
It stands in the sunken landscape of Alexandre Chemetoff’s Jardin des Bambous, a Bamboo garden in the Parc de la Villette on the north-eastern edge of Paris and it is in the words of its creator, the Austrian architect and composer Bernhard Leitner:
“A cylindrical space that allows concentrated listening to the place, a contemplative rediscovery of oneself in transcendence of the place”.
Le Cylindre Sonore stands some six metres below the level of the park and it can be approached by a staircase lined with tiny water cascades leading down from the Parc de la Villette to the Jardin des Bambous or it can be approached from the garden itself. Either way, this sound space is designed so that one has to walk through it.
The staircase from the Parc de la Villette
Le Cylindre Sonore is sound architecture displayed as public art but unlike Bernard Tschumi’s bright red follies that adorn the rest of the Parc de la Villette, it’s the sound of it rather than the sight of it that attracts attention.
The sounds inside le Cylindre Sonore:
Five metres high and ten metres across, le Cylindre Sonore is in fact two cylinders with a space in between. Behind the eight perforated concrete panels and between the two cylinders are twenty-four loudspeakers arranged vertically, three to each panel, forming eight columns of sound. The circular space between the two cylinders provides access for the maintenance of the loudspeakers and entry to the underground control room. The inner cylinder acts as a resonance chamber with the curved surface shaping the sound.
Standing in le Cylindre Sonore the sounds from the loudspeakers, the sound of water flowing from the columns to a pool beneath the floor, the sounds from the water cascades alongside the staircase and the circular framed sky above create a meditative space sequestered from the city.
I spend much of my life recording the sounds of Paris. My practice mainly involves the relationship between sound and place and how sound can define, or help to define, a place. Very rarely though do I come upon a public space like le Cylindre Sonore where the sounds are the place.
Inside the Jardin des Bambous
A BRIGHT, SUNNY, SUNDAY morning saw 41,342 runners representing 90 countries set off along the 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 kilometres) of yesterday’s 39th edition of the Paris Marathon.
Starting from the Champs-Elysées the course snaked through the city to the Bois de Vincennes in the east and then back through the city to the Bois de Boulogne in the west before finishing in the Avenue Foch close to the Arch de Triomphe. The course is mostly flat and so the finish times for the elite athletes are usually medium to fast.
The sounds of the Paris Marathon each year make a valuable addition to my Paris Soundscapes Archive and so at 8.15 yesterday morning I took up position a little beyond the Mile 1 post in rue de Rivoli ready to record all the 41,342 runners passing by me.
The start of the Paris Marathon is a complex affair. The runners take up position in the Champs Elysées in groups based upon their expected finish times.
At the front are the Handisport athletes led by the Handisport fauteuil, the wheelchair competitors followed by the Handisport debout, the Handisport runners. The Handisport competitors start some 10 minutes ahead of the elite runners who lead the main field.
The elite runners are followed by the préférentials, the best of the rest. After that, the runners depart in seven waves based upon their expected finish time.
Sounds of the Paris Marathon 2015:
Having left the Champs Elysées and crossed the Place de la Concorde, the wheelchair competitors entered rue de Rivoli where they and their distinctive sounds passed me in a flash. Next came the Handisport runners including the blind runners tethered to their guides.
The sound of the French Television helicopter overhead and the arrival of TV cameramen precariously balanced on motorcycles, a flurry of official vehicles and a truck full of press photographers heralded the arrival of the elite runners.
And behind them came the best of the rest.
And then it was the turn of the rest of the leading wave. Still only one mile into the race they were still reasonably well bunched up as they passed me.
It took around twenty minutes for this first wave of runners to pass and then, after a short pause, the second wave came into view and so it continued until all seven waves had passed and then this man appeared, the very last runner in the race, complete with his own police escort.
It took about two hours for everyone to pass, which meant that more or less as the last man was passing me the Kenyan, Mark Korir, was crossing the finish line in the Avenue Foch in a winning time of 2 hours 5 minutes and 49 seconds.
The leading woman was the Ethiopian, Mesert Mengistu, who finished in a time of 2 hours 23 minutes and 24 seconds.
Of the 41,342 runners who started the Paris Marathon on Sunday, 40,172 of them completed the course with the last runner crossing the finish line in a time of 7 hours 55 minutes and 56 seconds.
Even though my sound piece above only contains the sounds of the Handisport competitors, the elite athletes and the first wave of runners, I recorded the sounds of every runner that passed me in rue de Rivoli, all 41,342 of them.
For me, capturing the Paris Marathon in sound is fascinating because behind every footstep and every gasp for air lies not only a personal challenge to complete the course but also many untold stories and I find that intriguing.
Here are some useless facts you might like to know about the Paris Marathon.
There are 10 refreshment stands (one every 5 km) along the route and between them they hand out around 23 tons of bananas, 15 tons of oranges, 2 tons of dried fruit and nuts, 7 tons of apples, 412,500 sugar cubes, 35,600 litres of sports drinks and 436,500 bottles of Vittel water. And, there are also 45 defibrillators available around the course!
Here are some more sights of yesterday’s Paris Marathon.
The clean-up trucks follow the race washing and sweeping the streets
IT WAS ORIGINALLY a very ordinary square in Montmartre, a rural village dotted with vineyards and windmills but today, Place du Tertre is one of the most visited squares in Paris. Standing in the shadow of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur the square is filled with cafés, tourists, artists, street performers and buskers.
Place du Tertre dates back to 1635 when it occupied land owned by the Abbaye de Montmartre, a Benedictine abbey founded in the 12th century. It stands on top of a hill, the Butte Montmartre, and it is from its location that the square derives its name; tertre is the French word for hillock.
As its population increased, Montmartre became an independent commune in 1790 and then in 1860, along with a clutch of other surrounding communes, it was absorbed into the City of Paris.
Although Montmartre is a popular tourist magnet today, it wasn’t always so.
The commune was partially destroyed at the end of March, 1814 in the Battle of Paris when the French surrendered to the coalition forces of Russia, Austria and Prussia forcing the Emperor Napoleon to abdicate and to go into exile. During this time Russian Cossack soldiers set up camp on the hill and, so the story goes, it was at N°6 Place du Tertre, in the café La Mère Catherine, that the Cossacks first introduced the term bistro (Russian for ‘quickly’) into the French lexicon.
Montmartre suffered again during the Revolution of 1848 when the insurgents hid in the underground galleries of the gypsum mines and in the Paris Commune of 1870-71 when it became the cradle of the insurrection. During the Paris Commune, the Communards seized all the canons used for the defence of Paris and gathered them on Place du Tertre.
By the end of the 19th century the character of Montmartre was changing. The extraction of gypsum in the many quarries came to an end, new buildings slowly replaced the vineyards and orchards and some of the windmills were transformed into cabarets.
Place du Tertre, around 1900 : Image courtesy of Paris en Images
“In this bizarre land swarmed a host of colourful artists, writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, architects, a few with their own places but most in furnished lodgings, surrounded by the workers of Montmartre, the starchy ladies of the rue Bréda, the retired folk of Batignolles, sprouting up all over the place, like weeds. Montmartre was home to every kind of artist.”
A thriving bohemian culture driven by its critique of decadent society attracted artists, intellectuals and writers to Montmartre where they frequented its vibrant halls of entertainment and celebrated them in their paintings, literature, and poems. Vincent van Gough, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were just some of the artists who took up residence in the district.
Montmartre reached its artistic zenith around the time of the Exposition Universelle of 1900 by which time it boasted over forty venues comprising cabarets, café-concerts, dance halls, music halls, theatres, and circuses. But it wasn’t to last. The area’s underground bohemian culture had become a part of mainstream bourgeois entertainment and artists like Toulouse-Lautrec and his avant-garde contemporaries lost interest in Montmartre’s nightlife and sought their modern subjects elsewhere.
Artists though are still to be found in Place du Tertre, some with regular pitches in the square and others, more itinerant, walking around capturing the willing, and sometimes the unsuspecting tourists.
Over the years many artists have migrated to Montmartre but one of the few famous ones to have been born there was Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955). Utrillo specialised in painting cityscapes and it was with him in mind that I recorded my soundwalk; my sonic equivalent of an Utrillo cityscape.
Place du Tertre – A Soundwalk:
My soundwalk around Place du Tertre captures some of its contemporary atmosphere but, alas, it doesn’t capture the moment on Christmas Eve 1898, when Louis Renault’s first car was driven up the Butte Montmartre to the Place du Tertre, marking the advent of the French automobile industry.
The plaque to mark the arrival of Louis Renault’s first motorcar in Place du Tertre.
Whilst its artists and entertainers might not be quite as illustrious as in the past, Place du Tertre continues to be at the heart of the vibrant community that is Montmartre.