THE EARLIEST REFERENCES to the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis date as far back as the Mérovingians, around 750 AD. The street became popular in the Middle Ages because it was the most direct route between Paris and the increasingly prestigious Abbeye de Saint-Denis, the Royal Necropolis of France.
The Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis crosses the 10th arrondissement of Paris linking the Boulevard de la Chapelle in the north and the Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle further south. The street is called the rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis because it’s an extension of the Rue Saint-Denis to the faubourg, the area formerly outside the Paris city walls as marked today by the Porte Saint-Denis.
In September last year I produced a blog piece about the northern part of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis from the Boulevard de la Chapelle to the Gare du Nord railway station, the area known as Little Jaffna because of the Tamil population who live and work there. You can see that blog piece here.
Having completed a soundwalk of that part of the street, I thought it was now time to complete my sonic exploration of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis by doing a soundwalk along the remainder of the street from the Gare du Nord to Porte Saint-Denis. The street may have lost the glitter it once had when it formed part of the King’s processional route to the Basilica of Saint Denis and the accents may have changed – you’re more likely to hear Indian, Arabic or Turkish than anything else, but the street has its own character and is full of interest.
Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis – A Soundwalk:
I CAME UPON IT by chance. I was strolling along one of Baron Haussmann’s creations, the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle – one of his Grands Boulevards. I stopped to admire the wonderful art deco Rex cinema – worthy of a complete essay to itself.
I walked a little further on and my eye caught some stone steps, the kind of steps that you just know you have to explore. I climbed the steps and discovered that I was in the Rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, named after the Eglise Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle, which sits on the left, half way up the street.
Before reaching the church, the garden behind this metal fence caught my attention. From deep within I could hear birdsong. I sat on the wall to the right of the gate, listened and began to record.
Sounds in the Rue Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelle:
What I heard was the birdsong behind me competing with the sounds of exuberant children and both competing with the ebb and flow of the traffic as the traffic lights turned from green to red and then back again in the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle. With the traffic lights at red and the traffic stopped I could hear pigeons cooing on the street in front of me and then, as the lights turned to green, the flapping of their wings as they flew off searching for a traffic and probably a children free zone. I doubt that they found either.