HOME FOR SOME, a workplace for others and a thoroughfare for all, the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot in the 11th arrondissement is a narrow street linking the relatively quiet Rue Amelot and the very busy Boulevard Voltaire.
Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot from Rue Amelot
At 275 metres long and 3.5 metres wide the street hosts a large Renault garage, offices for the telecommunications company, Orange, student accommodation and apartment buildings. There are no cafés, restaurants or shops. Cars may pass along the street but a speed limit of 15 km/h is in force.
Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot from Boulevard Voltaire
The Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot has been on my soundwalk ‘to do’ list for some time simply because it’s an ordinary Parisian street, and listening to and capturing the sound tapestry of ordinary Parisian streets, known and used by locals and largely ignored by tourists, appeals to me.
Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – the offices of ‘Orange’ on the right
Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – A Soundwalk:
At first hearing you might think these sounds are the ordinary, everyday sounds of an ordinary Parisian street and in one sense they are. But sounds don’t exist in a vacuum, either in reality or metaphorically, all sounds have a context and when you know the context ordinary sounds can sometimes become quite extraordinary.
When you hear the toothless man saying ‘Bon Courage’ and know that he is directing it at a police officer armed with a high-powered rifle, and when you hear the sounds of a police radio you might begin to suspect that all is not what it seems in the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot.
When you know that the wall on the left in the picture above belongs to the Bataclan café and concert venue where 89 people were shot dead on the night of 13th November and when you know that the large door along the wall is where many young people, some injured and others about to die, spilled out onto the street trying to escape, then these ordinary sounds become quite extraordinary.
The Bataclan emergency exit through which some people escaped and where some died
I recorded these sounds ten days on from the attack on the Bataclan. The police presence, although still there, is diminished and the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot is regaining its composure even though stark reminders of the tragic events are still to be seen.
For over a week after the attack, the Bataclan was completely cordoned off and it’s only in the last few days that the cordon has been partially removed. Now, leaving the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot and crossing over the Boulevard Voltaire, it’s possible to get a perspective on the scene.
The Bataclan with the entrance to Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot on the left
I began my work capturing and archiving the sounds of Paris several years ago and at that time I resolved to capture the city’s complex sound tapestry as comprehensively as I could. My aim was to capture sounds from all parts of the city and the surrounding suburbs, to capture sounds ranging from the spectacular to the ordinary and to be part of the soundscape without changing it.
Occasionally, I’ve become part of the media circus jostling with TV and radio crews to get prime position to capture major events but most of my work is carried out as an aural flâneur, working alone, simply observing through active listening. And working alone gives me the advantage of being able to choose where I record and what sounds I record.
Twice this year Paris has been attacked and twice I’ve had to choose what sounds to record to reflect these events.
Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January I published sounds on this blog from the national day of mourning and sounds from the huge wave of public sympathy that followed. I also recorded sounds that I chose not to publish.
Last week, I published sounds on this blog in the aftermath of the latest attacks but I’ve also recorded sounds that I’ve chosen not to publish.
During the last week I’ve visited all the attack sites again and I was surprised to find that I was affected by the experience more than I expected. At each site, although the media circus has long gone, the tributes are still there but the candle flames are dimmed, the flowers are wilting and the written tributes are fading. The pictures of some of the victims though stand out starkly and, looking at the pictures, it’s impossible not to make a personal connection with these victims.
The sounds I recorded in the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot beside the Bataclan may be ordinary, everyday sounds to some but they are extraordinary and very personal sounds to me.
For me, these sounds will always reflect not only a moment in time and a sense of place, a place recovering its composure, but also echoes of the tragedy that took place here and across the city and the emotion that I felt as the events unfolded and in the aftermath.
FOLLOWING ON FROM the previous post, I went to the Rue de la Roquette again on Saturday and explored the street from its intersection with the Boulevard Voltaire to the cemetery Père Lachaise.
A wave of sadness overwhelmed me as I left a café and embarked on my journey. Just round the corner from the café, at 144 Rue de la Roquette, is an Ecole Maternelle, a nursery school. On the wall is a plaque which tells its own sorry story.
Plaques like this on are to be found on many schools in Paris. I’ve seen many of them and they always make for chilling reading.
Further along the Rue de la Roquette I came upon the Square de la Roquette, which is not without its own history. Originally the site of the Convent from which the Rue de la Roquette takes its name, a prison, La Petite Roquette, was opened here in 1830 and it was here that some four thousand members of the French resistance were held during the Nazi occupation in the early 1940’s.
All that remains of the prison today is the gateway beyond which is a delightful park with a fountain, a garden, basketball courts and a children’s playground.
And the history continues. Directly across the road from the Square de la Roquette where apartment buildings now stand, is the site of another prison, La Grande Roquette.
Opened in 1836, La Grande Roquette became home to Madame Guillotine in 1851. Although all signs of this prison have now gone, its grizzly history lives on in the shape of five granite stones embedded in the road at the junction of Rue de la Roquette and Rue de la Croix-Faubin.
These stones formed a firm foundation for the guillotine to ensure that the blade slid straight down to the lunette.
Sounds of this part of the Rue de la Roquette:
And yes, I did stand in between the stones on the very spot where the guillotine stood but my thoughts were less with the headless victims of this grizzly apparatus and more with the innocent children from the Ecole Maternelle further down the street whose fate lay in the Nazi death camps.