LAST SATURDAY I headed off for the rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement to record a soundwalk to add to my archive of Paris Soundscapes. As is often the case, things didn’t turn out quite as I’d planned.
The rue des Martyrs stretches for a little under 1km from rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette to rue Lamartine in Montmartre. The street has had several names during its lifetime beginning with rue des Porcherons, then rue des Martyrs followed by rue du Champ de Repos and then finally, from 1868, once again rue des Martyrs.
I decided to make life easier by beginning my soundwalk at the Montmartre end, which is the street’s highest point and so everything would be downhill from there. When I reached the top of the street I realised that the Place des Abbesses was just round the corner so, before embarking on my task for the day and since I hadn’t been to the Place des Abbesses for a while, I thought I’d go and take a look. It proved to be a most fortuitous diversion.
I discovered a Bretagne weekend in full flow the centrepiece of which was la Fête de la coquille Saint-Jacques, sponsored by le département des Côtes-d’Armor. A dozen or so stalls were selling all things Bretagne from crêpes and craquants au beurre salé to regional wines and wonderful coquille Saint-Jacques, freshly brought from port d’Erquy.
I couldn’t resist stopping to savour the atmosphere and taste a selection of the fare on offer. And then I came upon a complete surprise, something to make a sound hunter’s day complete.
A group of singers were assembled and as I came upon them they began to sing a French song I particularly like, Le Gamin de Paris.
Le Gamin de Paris:
Adrien Marès composed the music for Le Gamin de Paris and Mick Micheyl who, contrary to what you might think, is in fact Paulette Michey, a very popular French singer who later in life became a respected sculptor, wrote the words.
Le Gamin de Paris draws a fascinating picture of a typical 1950’s Parisian ‘kid’ –
“Il est tout l’esprit, l’esprit de Paris qui musarde,
Pantalon trop long pour lui
Toujours les mains dans les poches
On le voit qui déguerpit
Aussitôt qu’il voit un képi”
Roughly translated as:
‘… the spirit of Paris that dawdles, with pants that are too long for him, hands always in his pockets, who takes off at the first sight of a kepi’ (a French policeman).
Whenever I hear this song I am instantly transported to the black & white world of Robert Doisneau and the other great French street photographers who captured so brilliantly the atmosphere upon which this song is based. This particular rendition was unexpectedly, but not unpleasantly, accompanied by the bells of the Église Saint Jean-de-Montmartre which made a dramatic intervention but which I think added a delicious extra atmosphere.
And so, awash with the spirit of Bretagne and the black and white world of 1950’s Paris, it was back to the present day, the rue des Martyrs and a soundwalk along the full length of the street capturing the everyday mélange of sounds that I always find so fascinating.
Rue des Martyrs – A Soundwalk:
Some sights of the rue des Martyrs:
I entered full of ideas and good intentions but the plethora of big brand names and extravagant prices completely overwhelmed me so I left empty-handed.
Leaving the Galeries Lafayette I found a young man sitting on a stool playing a piano in the middle of the pavement. Living in Paris one gets used to seeing the quirky and accepting it as being quite normal but this spectacle did grab my attention.
Piano Al Fresco 01:
Quirky the sight may have been but, gallantly competing with the very harsh traffic noise, the young man gave a bravura performance.
PIANO Al Fresco 02:
I AM NOT A FAN of shopping but even I have to admit that a trip to the Galeries Lafayette is an experience – especially at Christmas.
Located in the Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement, close to the Opéra Garnier, the Galaries Lafayette welcomes around 100,000 visitors a day – more than Harrod’s in London or Bloomingdales in New York.
The sound of a walk through the Galeries Lafayette
Compared to its status today as a 70,000M2 ‘Temple of Shopping’ and Paris icon, the Galeries Lafayette had humble beginnings. In 1895, Albert Kahn rented a shop in Paris at the corner of Chaussée-d’Antin and rue Lafayette to sell gloves, ribbons, veils, and other goods. The shop was small, but sales were good. It was eventually enlarged, and in 1898 Kahn was joined by his cousin, 34-year-old Théophile Bader. The partnership flourished and they soon purchased the entire building along with adjacent buildings on the Chaussée-d’Antin. The Galeries Lafayette was born.
The magnificent glass dome and wrought iron balconies dominate one end of the store – a vivid reminder of 19th century Paris – contrasting starkly with the clean-cut, up-market, brand-named, cosmetics counters that lie beneath.
The Galeries Lafayette is famed for its stylish window displays – no more so than at Christmas when crowds of people gather to see the show.
Today, the Galeries Lafayette is a magnet for tourists with the Chinese leading the way followed by Americans and then Japanese. A walk through the store reveals a cosmopolitan mix of people some of whom come just to look and others who come to spend, spend, spend!
It may have begun life as a modest corner shop, but the Galeries Lafayette, along with the other new-fangled 19th century department stores, Printemps, Bon Marché and La Samaritaine, started a revolution in retail shopping which continues today.
The sound of a walk outside past the window displays.