WHAT A DIFFERENCE a day makes!
Shortly before 11.00 this morning I arrived in Place Jean-Paul II, the open space in front of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, to find that it was home to a selection of the world’s media. Radio and TV broadcasters were busy establishing satellite links with their studios and preparing to broadcast ‘live’ to their audiences around the world.
Yet twenty-four hours earlier the media would have been hard pressed to find a story here – any story – let alone a story worth reporting. But then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, everything changed.
Shortly before 11.30 yesterday morning, 7th January, two masked gunmen armed with Kalashnikov rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher stormed the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in rue Nicolas Appert in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. They shot and killed twelve people, including eight Charlie Hebdo employees and two police officers, and wounded eleven others.
After the news broke, 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” (“I am Charlie”).
At midday today people in Paris and across France paused for a minute of silence to mourn the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
In declaring today a day of national mourning it was decreed that flags on all public buildings should be flown at half mast and that the bells of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris should be rung in honour of the victims.
The Bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris speaking for the nation:
From the Place Jean-Paul II I listened as the cathedral bells began to peal a minute or two before midday. The rain fell, a crowd gathered and then the sound of the bells faded and the crowd fell silent. The sound of a police siren in the distance reminded us why we were here and brought into stark relief the names of those who were not, those who were murdered at around this time yesterday …
- Frédéric Boisseau, 42, building maintenance worker for Sodexo, killed in the lobby
- Franck Brinsolaro, 49, police officer, was assigned as a bodyguard for Charb
- Cabu (Jean Cabut) 76, cartoonist
- Elsa Cayat, 54, psychoanalyst and columnist
- Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), 47, cartoonist, columnist and editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo
- Philippe Honoré, 74, cartoonist
- Bernard Maris, 68, economist, editor, and columnist
- Ahmed Merabet, 42, police officer, shot in the head as he lay wounded on the ground outside.
- Moustapha Ourad, proofreader
- Michel Renaud, 69, festival organiser, a guest at the meeting
- Tignous (Bernard Verlhac), 57, cartoonist
- Georges Wolinski, 80, cartoonist
After the silence the bells began to peal again and they did so for a further twenty minutes. Despite the heavy rain, practically everyone stayed until the bells had finished after which there was spontaneous applause.
It seemed to me that the silence, surrounded by the sound of the bells and the sound of the rain falling like tears from the sky said everything that needed to be said.
The remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo have announced that publication will continue, with next week’s edition of the newspaper to be released as usual except that, with eight pages, it will be half its usual length – but it will have a print run of one million copies compared to its usual 60,000.
THROUGHOUT JULY I’ve been busy recording typical sounds of the Parisian summer, the Carnaval Tropical de Paris, La Fête National and the climax of the Tour de France, sounds that occur here every year in July. I also made time to record my contribution to World Listening Day on 18th July.
As we come towards the end of July some Parisians have already left and others are about to leave for their annual summer holidays leaving the heat and suffocating humidity of the city to the tourists along with the bizarre annual shut down of some café’s, restaurants and shops. The big, set piece, events are over for another year and I’m left with a different sound tapestry to record.
Yesterday, I found myself in the rue Saint Séverin, a short street just some 170 metres long in the Latin Quarter.
The rue Saint Séverin dates from the 13th Century and it takes its name from one of Paris’ oldest churches, the Église Saint-Séverin, which lies midway along the street. For most of the year, and particularly in the summer, rue Saint Séverin is a fairly boisterous street. It’s lined with restaurants and souvenir shops and it’s a magnet for tourists.
Rue Saint Séverin – A Soundwalk:
My soundwalk along this street yesterday in the hot and muggy weather revealed a hotchpotch of tourist languages with very few French accents amongst them and a couple of surprises.
I came across the tail end of a performance by a group of African dancers who were familiar to me. I had come across them a couple of years ago in Montmartre when they were involved in an altercation in the Place du Tertre. You can listen to what happened on that day here. Fortunately, there was no repetition of that yesterday.
My next surprise came as I was approaching the end of the street. The rue Saint Séverin runs parallel to La Seine and, from across the river carried by the leaden air, came the sound of the bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, bells I’m very familiar with and each of which I’ve seen, touched and know by name.
Of course, I could have rushed closer to the river to try to get a ‘better’ recording but I didn’t. Somehow, listening to the distant sound of the bells of a medieval cathedral in a medieval street, albeit awash with modern day tourists, seemed entirely appropriate and it seemed to add an extra dimension to my summer soundwalk.
Here are some more sights of rue Saint Séverin: