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Carnaval de Paris 2016

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.

Carnaval de Paris 2016

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.

Carnaval de Paris 2016

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:

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016

Carnaval de Paris 2016


The Métro Station ‘Cité’ and its Sounds

WITH ITS UBIQUITOUS Hector Guimardentourage’ 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.

Cité Métro Station

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.

Cité Métro Station

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.

Cité Métro Station

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!

Cité Métro Station

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.

Cité Métro Station

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.

Cité Métro Station

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.

Cité Métro Station

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.

Cité Métro Station


Passage d’Eupatoria and its Sounds

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

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

Passage d’Eupatoria Passage from rue d’Eupatoria

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

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

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

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

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


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

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


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

Image courtesy of Paris en Images

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

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

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

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

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

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

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

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

Sounds in the passage d’Eupatoria:

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

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

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

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

Passage D’Eupatoria - Ménilmontant

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


Fluctuat Nec Mergitur – A Symbol of Defiance

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.

Rue Fontaine de la Roi

A La Bonne Bière – After the attack

La Bonne Bière

A La Bonne Bière – After it reopened

Rue Fontaine de la Roi

A La Bonne Bière – After the attack

La Bonne Bière

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.

Rue Alibert - La Carillon

Le Carillon – After the attack

Le Carillon

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!

Place de la République


A Clean-Up For The Canal Saint-Martin

ONE OF THE MORE unusual sights in Paris at the moment is the recently drained Canal Saint-Martin.

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.

Canal Saint-Martin

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.

Canal Saint-Martin

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.

Canal Saint-Martin

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.

Canal Saint-Martin

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.

Canal Saint-Martin - République

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:

Canal Saint-Martin - République

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.

Canal Saint-Martin - République

Looking upstream from Rue du Faubourg du Temple


‘Je Suis Charlie’ – One Year On

ONE YEAR AGO TODAY, 7th January 2015, at just before 11:30 in the morning, two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, forced their way into the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in rue Nicolas-Appert in Paris.

Armed with assault rifles and other weapons, they killed eleven people and injured eleven others in the building. After leaving, they killed a French National Police officer, Ahmed Merabet, in Boulevard Richard Lenoir, close to the Charlie Hebdo building.

After the attack and with the gunmen on the run, France was plunged into a state of shock. There was an outpouring of sympathy for the victims, support for freedom of speech and defiance against the perpetrators. The symbol for all this became encapsulated by the declaration, ‘Je Suis Charlie’.

Place de la République - Charlie Hebdo

At about 8:45 the following morning, 8th January, as police continued their search for the Charlie Hebdo attack suspects, a lone gunman shot two people in the southern Paris suburb of Montrouge.

The gunman, armed with a machine-gun and a pistol, shot dead a policewoman and injured a man before fleeing. The French authorities initially dismissed any suggestion of a link between the shooting and the Charlie Hebdo killings, but later confirmed the two were connected.

A breakthrough came later in the day when the Charlie Hebdo attack suspects were believed to be in the Aisne region, north-east of Paris.

By the morning of the next day, 9th January, the manhunt entered its final phase as police closed in on Saïd and Chérif Kouachi who were holed up in a printworks at Dammartin-en-Goele, 35km from Paris.

Meanwhile, in Paris, another siege was under way.

A gunman, Amedy Coulibaly, the man suspected of the shootings in Montrouge, took several people hostage at a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes in the east of Paris and was threatening to kill them unless the Kouachi brothers were allowed to go free.

With the Kouachi brothers surrounded at the printworks in Dammartin-en-Goele and Coulibaly holding hostages in the supermarket at Porte de Vincennes, it was decided to mount simultaneous attacks by special forces to resolve both situations.

At a little after 5:00 pm the special forces at both locations were unleashed and the attacks took place. Saïd and Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly were shot dead. Fifteen hostages were freed from the supermarket and the bodies of four others shot by Coulibaly were recovered.

Notre Dame - Charlie Hebdo

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack and before the supermarket siege, a national day of mourning was held on 8th January with the bells of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris peeling out and then falling silent while a minute’s silence was observed across France.

Place de la République - Charlie Hebdo

On Sunday 11th January, somewhere between one-and-a-half and two million people marched from Place de la République to Place de la Nation in a display of unity and solidarity.

Place de la République - Charlie Hebdo

My memories of the Charlie Hebdo attacks are still vivid. As the events were unfolding, I visited the attack sites, stood outside the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris for the minute’s silence, took part in the march on 11th January and recorded sounds that reflected both the tension in the air and the overwhelming solidarity on the streets.

One year on, I visited the attack sites again and I was not the only one to do so.

On Tuesday this week, François Holland, Président de la République, Manuel Valls, Prime Minister, and Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, visited the Charlie Hebdo site, and then the site where the police officer, Ahmed Merabet, was shot dead and the supermarket at Porte de Vincennes. At each site they unveiled a plaque and laid a wreath in memory of the victims.

I followed in their footsteps and as I did so I couldn’t help reflecting on the sounds I recorded standing in the rain in Place Jean-Paul II outside the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris on 8th January last year, the national day of mourning.

The Bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris speaking for the nation:

What became known as the Charlie Hebdo attacks stunned the nation. At the time, it was impossible to imagine that terror would return to the streets of Paris again later in the year and on a scale that would make the Charlie Hebdo attacks, horrific as they were, seem like a skirmish. But it did.

Things will never be the same again.

Rue Nicolas Appert - Charlie Hebdo

Tributes outside the Charlie Hebdo Office: January 2015

Rue Nicolas Appert

Tribute from the Président de la République and the Mayor of Paris: January 2016

Rue Nicolas Appert

The plaque on the wall of the Charlie Hebdo Office: January 2016

Boulevard Richard Lenoir - Charlie Hebdo

Tributes to Police Officer Ahmed Merabet in Boulevard Richard Lenoir: January 2015

Boulevard Richard Lenoir

Tribute from the Président de la République and the Mayor of Paris: January 2016

Boulevard Richard Lenoir

The plaque in memory of Ahmed Merabet: January 2016

Porte de Vincennes

Tributes at the Hyper Cacher supermarket: January 2015

Hypermarché - Porte de Versailles

The now re-opened Hyper Cacher supermarket: January 2016

Hypermarché - Porte de Versailles

The plaque and tribute from the Président de la République and the Mayor of Paris: January 2016

Rue de Charonne

Rue de Charonne: November 2015


Rue des Blancs-Manteaux – A Soundwalk

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

Clos des Blancs-Manteaux

Jardin Partagé du Clos des Blancs-Manteaux

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux towards the north-west

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux – A Soundwalk:

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

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

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

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

L’Espace d’animation des Blancs Manteaux

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

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


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

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Square Charles-Victor Langlois

My next stop was the Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Théatre des Blancs-Manteaux

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

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

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

I walked up the steps and went into the church.

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

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

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Mont de Piété

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

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

Rue des Blancs-Manteaux

Junction with Rue du Temple

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


Square des Batignolles and its Sounds

AFTER HIS FAILED ATTEMPT to oust King Louis-Philippe in 1836, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoléon I, spent a period of exile in England. He returned to France in 1848, organised a coup d’état in 1851 and took the throne as Napoléon III on 2nd December 1852.

While in exile in England, Louis-Napoléon developed a taste for English gardens and during his time as Emperor he established several English-style gardens in Paris. His re-designed Bois de Boulogne for example was based on Hyde Park in London.

One of the English-style gardens he ordered to be constructed was the Square des Batignolles in what is now the 17th arrondissement.

Square des Batingolles

The engineer Jean-Charles Alphand, the architect, Gabriel Davioud, and the horticulturist and landscape architect, Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, were given the task of converting a wasteland into an English-style garden in the quartier Batignolles, a suburb absorbed into the City of Paris in 1860.

Square des Batingolles

Covering about four acres, the Square des Batignolles was designed as an English landscape garden in a style first made popular by the English landscape architect, Capability Brown.

In contrast to earlier formal gardens with their geometrically designed parterres and pathways, severely clipped shrubbery, and the artificiality of their topiary, the English landscape garden gives the impression of working with nature rather than imposing the gardener’s will on nature.

The idea was to create the illusion that the gardens were untouched by human hands. The landscape architect employed his artistry, through the use of various forms of asymmetric balance, to convince the visitor that the apparent wildness and randomness of the terrain was the product of artful Nature, rather than the artifice of Man.

The English landscape garden also relies heavily on symbolism by using objects that are clearly man-made (architectural follies) as focal points for gazing at the overall landscape. These usually take the form of faux ruins, temples, tea-houses, belvederes, gazebos or pavilions.

Square des Batignolles

The gazebo in Square des Batignolles

These follies were supplemented by vast rolling lawns, well-placed copses of trees, quaint stone bridges, pieces of statuary casually installed in the landscape, grottos, strategically located ponds and watercourses, small waterfalls, and artificial cascades. In the English-style gardens in Paris exotic vegetation was also planted, both to amaze the senses but also to display the power and reach of the Second Empire, which was capable of gathering and nurturing living species from all over the world.

Square des Batingolles

Vautours (Vultures) created by Louis de Monard in 1930 

The Square des Batignolles incorporates all the key features of the English landscape garden.

Amidst the extensive rolling lawns is a large pond fed by a natural stream, home to large Japanese koi carp and over three hundred ducks of various species. In the middle of the pond stands a statue created by Louis de Monard in 1930 called Vautours (Vultures) and close by is a bust of the poet, Léon Dierx (1838–1912), created by Bony de Lavergne in 1932. Perched on top of a mound looking out over the garden is a gazebo.

The pathways weaving through the garden are shaded by a variety of trees ranging from the 140 year old oriental plane trees to a relatively young giant sequoia. There are hazelnut trees from Asia Minor, Siberian elms, Japanese cherry trees, ash trees, willows, black walnuts, and others.

Square des Batingolles

Undoubtedly, the Square des Batignolles brings an English landscape into this part of Paris … but what of its soundscape?

Square des Batignolles

Well, if one sets aside the excruciating cacophony currently pervading the garden from construction of part of the new extension to Métro Line 14 immediately outside the southern entrance, a clue to the soundscape in the Square des Batignolles can be found in the lyrics of ‘Les Batignolles’ written by the French songwriter Yves Duteil:

“So, in the Square des Batignolles

I forded the river to see the pigeons flying.

We were running to catch them …

On the deck, watching the clouds,

We inhaled the crazy smell

That emerged from passing steam locomotives

And, at the heart of the white smoke,

Everything else disappeared …”

Pont de Cardinet

From the Square des Batignolles: Rail tracks running under Pont Cardinet

Sounds from the Square des Batignolles:

The locomotives may not run on steam any more and there is no white smoke but trains do still pass hard by the south-western side of the Square des Batignolles.

The Gare Saint-Lazare, one of the six main line railway stations in Paris, is within walking distance of the south-western tip of the Square des Batignolles. At the north-western tip is the Gare de Pont-Cardinet. From Gare Saint-Lazare, long distance Intercity trains run towards Normandy and regional Transilien trains run to the western suburbs of Paris. Some 1,600 trains enter and leave Gare Saint-Lazare every day and every one of them passes the Square des Batignolles.

Square des Batingolles

While the mind-bending sounds of the Métro construction work just outside the garden are temporary, the sounds of the passing trains are a permanent feature of the garden’s soundscape; they’ve been here since before the garden was built.

I recorded the penetrating sounds of the trains from the south-western edge of the garden close to the railway lines but, further into the garden, the sounds of the trains become intricately woven with the sounds of playful children, trickling streams, artificial waterfalls, the wildlife and the Pétanque players, thus enhancing the soundscape rather than detracting from it.

Square des Batignolles



Gare Rosa Parks – Open for Business

A LITTLE PIECE OF history was made in the north east of Paris on Sunday, 13th December. At noon, without fanfare or ceremony, a train entered the newly completed Gare Rosa Parks for the first time.

Named after the American civil rights activist, Rosa Parks, the Gare Rosa Parks is the first RER station to be built in the city since the Gare Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand in 2001.

Gare Rosa Parks

Gare Rosa Parks becomes the twenty-second station on RER Line ‘E’, part of the RER (Réseau Express Régional) regional rapid transit system serving Paris and its suburbs.

The RER network comprises five lines of which two, Line ‘A’ and Line ‘B’, are operated by RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) and the other three, Lines ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’, are operated by SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français), the state-owned railway company.

Gare Rosa Parks

As the display inside the newly opened station shows, Gare Rosa Parks is not the first station on this site. It was previously home to Gare Est-Ceinture, one of the stations of the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture (the ‘little belt railway’) that, from 1852, was a circular connection between the Paris main railway stations within the fortified walls of the city. The Petite Ceinture was closed in 1934 and Gare Est-Ceinture, like many of the stations on the line, was demolished.

Gare Rosa Parks

It took two hundred companies and almost five years of construction work to complete Gare Rosa Parks and several major challenges had to be confronted along the way.

To construct the 1,300 M2 station and its 25 metre long and 15 metre wide central quay, it was necessary to modify and rebuild 1.5 km of railway tracks. Around one thousand trains a day pass through the construction site so every detail of the work had to be planned some three years in advance to avoid disruption.

During the station’s construction some 150,000 M3 of material had to be excavated and more than 25,000 M3 of reinforced concrete had to be laid but the most impressive part of the operation was the creation of a passageway connecting the north and south of the area under the nine rail tracks above.

For six days, a huge prefabricated concrete parallelogram, 40 metres long and weighing 4,000 tonnes, was pushed into place by high-powered hydraulic cylinders while tons of earth were excavated.

Gare Rosa Parks

The total bill for the station came to 130 million Euros, which was shared by the Île-de France regional authority (51.2%), the City of Paris (25.7%), the State (22.7%) and SNCF (0.4%).

Gare Rosa Parks

Sounds inside Gare Rosa Parks:

Gare Rosa Parks

As you can hear, although the construction work is now completed and the station is open for business, there is still some cosmetic work going on. On the day I was there, a man with a stonecutter was working in the reinforced concrete passageway and the sounds permeated periodically through the entire station.

Gare Rosa Parks

The station, designed by the architects Jean-Marie Duthilleul and François Bonnefille, has been constructed with environmental protection in mind.

A series of photovoltaic cells installed on the 135 metres of platform shelters supply electric power for the exterior lighting. A specially designed roof on the central building heightens its thermal insulation capacity and a storm water recovery system installed on the roof provides water used for cleaning and for flushing the station’s toilets.

During the construction phase a carbon audit was carried out to measure the emissions of greenhouse gases generated by the site, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions commissioning the station will help to avoid (through the shift from road traffic to rail transport). The conclusion was that by 2032, CO2 emissions from the construction site will have been compensated for and by 2066 some 80,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent will have been avoided.

Gare Rosa Parks

To reduce the waiting time, five trains have been added to the RER Line ‘E’ fleet so trains will run every six minutes and every four minutes at peak times.

Approximately 50,000 travellers a day are expected to use Gare Rosa Parks but this will rise to around 85,000 in 2020 when RER Line ‘E’ will be extended westward to Mantes-la-Jolie. This extension will include the construction of an eight-kilometre tunnel between the current western terminus Haussmann – St-Lazare and La Défense from where Line ‘E’ will take over the part of RER Line ‘A’ to Nanterre, Sartrouville and Poissy and then a section of the SNCF tracks to reach Mantes-la-Jolie. The extension is expected to open in 2018 and be fully operational in 2020.

In an example of joined-up thinking, Gare Rosa Parks has connections to other forms of public transport: Tram Line 3b, the N° 54, 60 and 239 buses and Vélib and Véligo bicycle stations. Studies are also being carried out to look at the possibility of extending the recently opened Tram Line T8 to Gare Rosa Parks.

Gare Rosa Parks

The Rosa Parks tram stop outside Gare Rosa Parks

Gare Rosa Parks is situated in the nineteenth arrondissement close to Porte d’Aubervilliers, an area that for a long time has been run down and underserved by rail transport.

Now the area is being redeveloped and with an influx of people expected over the coming years, Gare Rosa Parks is a welcome addition to the local public transport network.

Gare Rosa Parks


Dixieland Jazz for Christmas

MY LAST THREE POSTS on this blog have had a connection to the attacks in Paris on 13th November. Although I will never forget watching the terrible events unfold on that Friday evening or the anguish of the aftermath, it’s now time to move on – at least as far as this blog is concerned.

My local Christmas market opened last Saturday. Although small, it’s my favourite Christmas market because as well as the displays of artisanal products, a nineteenth-century carousel and children’s entertainers, it also features excellent street musicians.

Last Sunday this Dixieland jazz quartet took centre stage.

Neuilly - Christmas Market

Dixieland Jazz Quartet

Dixieland Jazz for Christmas:

Neuilly - Christmas Market

Dixieland Jazz Quartet – Plus One!


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