HIDDEN AWAY IN THE 17th Arrondissement with the rue Guy Môquet at one end and the rue de la Jonquière at the other is the Cité des Fleurs.
A private street, three hundred and twenty metres long with iron gates at each end, the Cité des Fleurs is a beguiling village within the city.
It was created in 1847 when a parcel of land owned by Jean-Edmé Lhenry and Adolphe Bacqueville de la Vasserie was divided into equal lots. Each lot was sold for housing but to a very strict building code.
Every detail was set out in this building code – the alignment of the facades, the height of the buildings, the height of the walls, the details of the gardens, including at least three trees in every garden and even a specification for the ornamental vases on the gateposts and what could be planted in them.
Like so many places in Paris the Cité des Fleurs has a gruesome historical connection. A plaque on the gate of N°25 says it all.
During the second world war, N°25 was a base for network Plutus, part of the MLN, Mouvement de Libération Nationale, responsible for producing false papers for the French Résistance. On the 18th May 1944, N°25 was raided by the Gestapo. Colette Heilbronner, the leader of the Résistance group, was executed on the spot. The other members of the group were deported and subsequently killed.
Sound in the Cité des Fleurs:
On a lighter note, the regulations governing the Cité des Fleurs dating from 1864 declares that public traffic on the street was tolerated but could be prohibited at any time and for as long as it was deemed to be in the interest of the community. How enlightened was that!
SIGNS OF THE ARAB SPRING have reached Paris. The Village du Jasmin, set up on the parvis of the Hotel de Ville over the weekend, was a celebration of la Tunisie nouvelle – the new, post-revolution, Tunisia.
The sights, smells, tastes and sounds of Tunisia, complimented by the wonderful weather, were on show and they attracted a large number of visitors of which I was one.
There were exhibits of wickerwork, furniture made from palm wood, weaving, jewellery and traditional pottery as well as a selection food of course including various olive oils and traditional delicacies. The sounds of Tunisia were also present particularly from the enthusiastic and energetic musicians.
The sounds of Tunisia in Paris:
I’ve never been to Tunisia but, having now had a taste of it, I just might go and see la Tunisie Nouvelle first hand.
IT’S ONE YEAR AGO since I began this blog … and the past year has been a great adventure and a great joy. A year ago, the world of blogging was very new to me and I had little idea of what I was doing or what shape this blog would take. All I had was a vague idea that I wanted to share two of my passions – the city of Paris and recording the everyday sounds around me.
The result is this three-dimensional blog comprising words, pictures and sounds, mainly of Paris but occasionally of other places too.
If I do my job properly, the sounds should add an extra dimension to the words and the pictures and create a sense of atmosphere and a sense of place. The sounds should also allow the audience to create their own pictures of this wonderful city. Whether I have succeeded or not is not for me to say, but I hope I have.
Much to my surprise, creating this blog has led to several things I hadn’t expected. I’ve been forced to explore the city of Paris to a much greater extent than I had before. That in itself has been a great delight. I’ve developed an ear for the everyday sounds of Paris which is more acute now than it was before and my technique for capturing those sounds has been fine-tuned. Being in the right place at the right time is often a matter of luck – but sometimes it’s a matter of judgement. My skill at differentiating the one from the other has been sharpened.
Without doubt, the thing that I least expected a year ago is the number of people who would show an interest in this blog and the number of people who would keep coming back to see what I’m up to. Knowing that I’ve accumulated a regular audience is a great spur to do even more and to do it even better.
I’m also astonished by the number of friends I’ve made through this blog. I’m in contact with people all round the world, some of whom I’ve been fortunate enough to meet in person. Without exception, all of these people have been very friendly, often complimentary about my work and always willing to share experiences and to offer advice and support.
Through these contacts and friends I’ve also been introduced to the work of other bloggers – sound blogs, Paris blogs and blogs on almost every subject you can imagine. This has taught me that the standard of blogging is exceptionally high – another spur for me to do even better.
I make hundreds of recordings of the sounds this city each year. Some of them feature on my blog but many of them never reach the front page. As a ‘thank you’ to both my regular and occasional readers and listeners on this, the first anniversary of this blog, I offer this petit cadeau – a recording that didn’t make the front page but which is a particular favourite of mine.
Singers rehearsing in the Eglise Saint–Séverin:
I am looking forward very much to what the second year of this blog will bring.
THE PONT DES ARTS is one of many delightful bridges in Paris. It’s an iron-framed, wooden-floored, footbridge spanning the Seine from the Louvre to the Institut de France – a symbolic conjoining of knowledge to power.
The original Pont des Arts was built at the beginning of the nineteenth-century and comprised an iron framework with nine arches. Over the years it suffered structural damage from a succession boats colliding into it and from aerial bombardment during two world wars. In 1977 the bridge suffered a partial collapse after being hit by yet another barge. This proved to be terminal and the bridge was rebuilt between 1981 and 1984 preserving the look of the original bridge but reducing the number of arches from nine to seven, presumably to give the river traffic a fighting chance of negotiating the bridge without damaging it.
Today, the Pont des Arts is a favourite with artists, photographers and of course, tourists, taking advantage of the unique view along the Seine while the working barges and pleasure boats rumble past on the river below.
The sounds on the Pont des Arts:
A relatively new feature to be found on the Pont des Arts, as well as on some other bridges in Paris, are the cadenas d’amour – the love padlocks.
Love them or hate them, there they are – love tokens locked to the bridge by couples who have thrown the keys into the river.
The Paris city authorities are not in favour. They say the practice “poses the question of preserving heritage,” and that “in time, these padlocks will have to be removed”, … “the rusty locks are becoming an eyesore on one of Paris’ most photogenic monuments.” I’m inclined to agree.
In conciliatory mood, the Paris authorities say they will only remove the padlocks from its bridges once it has come up with an “alternative solution”.
One possible solution might be to install one or several iron, tree-like structures, as has already been done in Moscow for example, where people can hang their padlocks.
The sounds under the Ponts des Arts:
The Pont des Arts is a delightful structure and, personally, I think that the cadenas d’amour add nothing to its charm. They seem to be impossible to escape from. Even viewing the bridge from below and with the magnificent façade of the Louvre in the background these trinkets are seen to litter the bridge. But, I’m sure there are those who think the cadenas d’amour have a charm of their own – not least the people, now long gone, who left them there in the first place.
I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT recording and archiving the everyday sounds around me. I record anything and everything. But even I have a couple of self-imposed rules I try to adhere to – I never record people’s private conversations and I never record people at worship. To record private conversations is simply wrong and, it seems to me, the act of worship is a personal and private thing and to record it would be an unforgivable intrusion. Yet, last Saturday, I broke the second rule and recorded an act of worship!
My excuse for doing so was that this was a very public act of worship broadcast live both on television and on radio. It took place in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and, according to the order of service, it was a Messe d’action de grâce pour la beatification de Jean-Paul II – a mass to celebrate the beatification of Pope John-Paul II.
The Cathedral was full to the rafters so, by the time I got there, it was standing room only. The mass was presided over by no less than the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois. He was appointed Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2007.
Cardinal André Vingt-Trois at work:
Regular readers of this blog will know of my love of the wonderful creations of the master organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
The organ of Notre Dame de Paris that we see and hear today is a Cavaillé-Coll creation built around the François-Henri Clicquot 18th century organ. Over time the organ has been restored, modified and upgraded and today it even makes use of state-of-the-art computer technology. With five keyboards and close to eight thousand pipes it is the largest organ in France.
Louis Vierne, Léonce de Saint-Martin and Pierre Cochereau have played this organ – immortal names in the world of Cathedral organists. Imagine then the thrill of listening last Saturday to Jean-Pierre Leguay, Organist Titulaire de Notre-Dame, playing this ‘King of Instruments’ as the ecclesiastical procession left the cathedral with Cardinal André Vingt-Trois bringing up the rear. Around a thousand people, me included, followed the procession bathing in the majestic sounds of the Grand-Orgue de Notre-Dame.
For everyone else this was a celebration of the beatification of Pope Jean-Paul II – but for me it was a celebration of the genius of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
The Grand-Orgue de Notre Dame:
I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but as I get older, the prospect of climbing hills becomes much less attractive. There aren’t that many hills in Paris but, if you want to visit Montmartre, then you have no option but to negotiate a hill.
Walking up the hill is one option but there is an alternative – the funicular railway. The original funicular was built in 1900 and was water powered. In 1935 it was converted to electricity. The funicular we see today was modernised in 1991.
Climbing 36 metres in a little over a minute, the funicular carries over two million passengers a year.
It’s easier to walk down hills than to walk up them so it’s not surprising that more people use the funicular to go up than to go down. Occasionally, I do take the down trip.
The Montmartre funicular has become part of the Paris Metro system so a simple Metro ticket will avoid the need for the alternative – a 220-step climb. I recommend the funicular!
A WEDDING TOOK PLACE in London last Friday. In Westminster Abbey, nineteen hundred invited guests and an estimated television audience of two billion watched as the bride entered the Abbey as a commoner and left as a Princess.
A wedding took place in Paris last Saturday. In the Eglise Saint-Sulpice around one hundred invited guests and no television audience watched as the bride entered the Church as a commoner and left feeling like a Princess.
In Westminster Abbey, the bride entered to a fanfare sounded by the trumpeters of the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. In the Eglise Saint-Sulpice, the bride entered to the majestic sound of the original, completely un-restored, Cavaille-Col organ.
Last Friday, Westminster Abbey was in total lock-down. No one except the invited guests was allowed in and every move inside the Abbey was scripted in advance.
Last Saturday, the Eglise Saint-Sulpice was hosting a wedding but it was still a working church, anyone and everyone was allowed in… and in they came – tourists and locals all stumbled upon this wedding.
In Westminster Abbey the bride and groom left to the sound of the London Chamber Orchestra and William Walton’s ‘Crown Imperial’.
In the Eglise Saint-Sulpice the bride and groom left to another majestic sound from the wonderful Cavaille-Col organ together with unscripted and completely spontaneous applause from the uninvited guests.
These two newly married couples face very different futures. I wish them both well and much happiness in their new lives together.
THE MOULIN ROUGE in Pigalle is a magnet for tourists. At almost any time of the day or night you will find people standing in front of it queuing to buy tickets or waiting to get in to see the scantily clad dancers perform. Across the street, people with cameras in hand flirt with the traffic trying to capture images of this Paris icon.
Of all the tourists who flock to this place I suspect very few venture a few steps to the left of the Moulin Rouge and explore its next-door neighbour, the Cité Véron.
Named after a local resident and Mayor of Montmartre from 1830 – 1841, this charming cul-de-sac sits cheek by jowl with its more well-known and lively neighbour in quiet contentment. On a beautiful spring day I went to explore the Cité Véron.
This cobblestone alley has an intimate feel. It’s eighty metres long and just three metres wide and in the springtime the lush vegetation leans over to occupy what little space there is for pedestrians.
The sound of the traffic from the busy Boulevard de Clichy close by seems to almost disappear the further along this alley you go. But on the day I went, the sound of the traffic was replaced by a completely different sound.
Not surprisingly on a beautiful spring day, birdsong was in the air but there was something else too … the sound of a piano. The Cité Véron is lined with high walls causing the sound to reverberate so it was difficult to tell exactly where the sound was coming from. I could tell though that it was not coming from an extra loud CD player, this was the real thing – somewhere, someone was playing a piano.
Further investigation eventually led me up some stone steps to an open window and a wonderful surprise. Through the window came the sounds as a répétiteur played the piano accompanying a full-blown ballet class.
This was no children’s Saturday afternoon dance class – this was the real thing. Beautiful, supple young women gracefully pushing their bodies further than bodies should be pushed – all under the command of an authoritative, elderly gentleman issuing his orders in time to the music.
Beautiful young women, arabesques, pliés and the sound of a piano through an open window is not quite what I expected when I arrived in the Cité Véron. But, it seems that this place does, after all, have something in common with its more raucous next-door neighbour.
This post is dedicated to a friend of mine, a former ballet dancer. I’m sure these sounds will bring back mixed feelings for her – the pain of the tortuous practising rewarded only by the joy of performing.
HAVING HAD A TOUR of the blogging world earlier today, I see that much has been written about the success of the Paris Obscura Day which took place last Saturday and I expect that much more will be written in the days to come. I would like to add my contribution.
Thanks and congratulations to Adam, Invisible Paris, not only for conceiving the idea but also for masterminding the organisation and making the day such a success. The idea to use the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale as the theme for the day was inspired.
My contribution to the day was to record the sounds of the garden and then to reproduce them at the evening event in Dorothy’s Gallery.
Sounds Inside the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale:
To record the sounds I made four trips to the garden, which is in a remote corner of the Bois de Vincennes, so I got to know it rather well. It’s far enough away from Paris city centre to have a countryside feel to it but not far enough away to escape the noise pollution we would all like to escape from.
The natural sounds of the garden – the birds, the occasional barking dog, the wind brushing the trees and the water sit cheek by jowl with the man-made sounds – traffic, aircraft passing overhead, workmen, bicycle riders and joggers. Like it or not, the sounds of the garden are what they are and what they have always been– a mélange of natural and man-made sounds.
The natural and man-made sounds of the garden:
This place may be decaying but sonically it’s far from dead.
And another place that is far from dead is Dorothy’s Gallery where the guests gathered on Saturday evening. This too provided a unique sonic tapestry.
A church bell recorded from Dorothy’s Gallery:
A surprising sound to be found in a gallery perhaps but there it was, unheard by the guests, but captured nevertheless.
And something else captured during the evening was this message from the caterers, Emperor Norton of Paris, whose quirky food take on the evening was a delight.
As far as I know, only one book has been written about the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale but there are lots of photographs providing an historical record of the place. To my knowledge, there is no record of the historical sounds of the garden. I have at least been able to capture its early twenty-first century soundscape which, alongside the photographs taken by Shane Lynam, may be of value to future historians. Let’s hope so.
SOME TIME AGO I was commissioned by a broadcasting organisation to record some very specific street sounds of Paris. They sent me a recording brief and when I read it I discovered that amongst the many other sounds they wanted, I was being asked to make a recording inside the Musée Carnavalet in the rue de Sévigné.
I had mixed feelings about this. The Musée Carnavalet is a museum I know well and visit often … but what on earth is there to record in a museum that could possibly be of interest to an international broadcasting company – and to me for that matter?
The Musée Carnavalet is an absolute gem. It is a museum dedicated to the city of Paris and entry is free. It occupies both the former Hôtel Carnavalet and the former Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau. The notorious socialite, Madame de Sévigné lived there from 1677 until her death in 1696 and so it was in her shadow that I entered the museum to embark upon my task.
This proved to be an interesting experience. On my previous visits to this museum I had been engrossed with the exhibits, looking at them and reading the texts associated with them, trying to understand them and putting them into context. The history of the Paris fascinates me and so my visits have always been enjoyable and I have come away feeling that I know much more about this wonderful city.
But this visit was different. I was working, hunting for sounds – the sounds that characterise this museum, the sounds that distinguish this museum from any other museum.
Sounds Inside the Musée Carnavalet:
Seek and ye shall find! In my experience, the distinguishing sounds are always there – it’s just a matter of perseverance, the thrill of the chase and finding the quarry.
And here it was – a creaky wooden floor.
This floor was laid by craftsmen who would have ensured that it was inch perfect and totally silent. Madame de Sévigné would have tiptoed across this floor oblivious to the fact that that it was even there. But today, it lives and breathes. Age has taken its toll, the cracks have appeared and we are left with a wonderful sound legacy.
For me, this wooden floor and its sound is just as much a part of the history of Paris as the exhibits that surround it in the Musée Carnavalet.