IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN, the Christmas market season, and yesterday, on a very chilly Saturday, the Christmas market at the bottom of my little street opened for business.
Twenty-eight wooden chalets bedecked with local and regional artisanal products stretch from the parvis of the Hôtel de Ville to the local church. Small it may be but it’s an intimate and friendly local Christmas market.
Amidst its wooden chalets, and the ever-present Père Noël, the market also boasts a variety of street entertainers, always a great attraction to both children and adults alike.
Yesterday, the street entertainment included a swing jazz band, Le Quartet Swing Connection, along with Lombardi, a concertina-playing clown on stilts.
I went along to the market yesterday to look at the stalls but also to record the street entertainers to add to my collection of Parisian Christmas Market sounds. As well as capturing the sounds of the jazz quartet I was also lucky enough to capture Lombardi the clown singing to the children.
Swing jazz and a fluttering bird:
Lombardi’s song was À la volette, a traditional French children’s song that first appeared in the mid-seventeenth century.
The song is about a little bird that takes flight and flutters its way to an orange tree (referring to a bird, À la volette means to flutter, or to flap). The bird lands on a branch in the orange tree, which breaks and the bird falls to the ground breaking its wing and injuring its foot. When asked if he can look after himself the bird says that he just wants to heal himself and flutter back to the orange tree and get married.
There are various versions of the song and yesterday Lombardi gave a slightly truncated version although the story is quite clear.
After the song, Lombardi teases out from the children the name of the instrument he’s playing: a con – cer – ti – na!
And, of course, let’s not forget Le Swing Connection and their afternoon playing swing jazz.
MY LAST THREE POSTS on this blog have had a connection to the attacks in Paris on 13th November. Although I will never forget watching the terrible events unfold on that Friday evening or the anguish of the aftermath, it’s now time to move on – at least as far as this blog is concerned.
My local Christmas market opened last Saturday. Although small, it’s my favourite Christmas market because as well as the displays of artisanal products, a nineteenth-century carousel and children’s entertainers, it also features excellent street musicians.
Last Sunday this Dixieland jazz quartet took centre stage.
Dixieland Jazz Quartet
Dixieland Jazz for Christmas:
Dixieland Jazz Quartet – Plus One!
IT’S THAT TIME OF year again and Paris is awash with its annual Christmas markets. This year, I’ve only explored two of these markets, the enormous one at La Défense and the one on my own doorstep, which is small, intimate and always a delight.
My local Christmas market comprises thirty wooden châlets set out on Place de l’Hôtel de Ville and stretching down to the nearby church. These châlets host some exhibitors who come every year but also some new ones from different regions.
As well as the châlets with their gourmet foods and a variety of craft goods, there are the entertainers; a professional storyteller, a make-up artist, a balloon sculptor, magicians, clowns, jugglers and, of course, the street musicians.
This year we’ve been entertained once again by Alexandre l’Agodas: The pedlar of dreams and his barrel organ.
Alexandre l’Agodas: Le colporteur de rêves et son orgue de barbarie
And, as well as Russian Cossacks with traditional Russian music, we’ve had a Dixieland jazz quartet and a very impressive jazz duo.
But my favourites this year were the jazz quartet, Swing Manouche.
As their name suggests, Swing Manouche play in the gypsy swing, or gypsy jazz, style associated with Django Reinhardt in the 1930’s. Because this style largely originated in France it’s often called by the French name, ‘Jazz Manouche’.
And since I think that Django Reinhardt was a genius I was delighted to be able to record ‘Swing Manouche’ playing in my neck of the woods.
Jazz Manouche at my Christmas Market:
The three pieces I recorded of ‘Swing Manouche’ playing ends with a French Christmas favourite, Le Petit Papa Noël, which leads me neatly into wishing all of you who follow this blog regularly, as well as those who drop by as they’re passing, a very Happy Christmas and all you wish for yourselves in 2015.
AT THIS TIME OF THE YEAR the Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets, spring up all over Paris and I have three of them within easy reach of me. To the west is the very large one at La Défense with its 350 châlets standing in the shadow of la Grande Arche, to the east is the most visited Christmas market in Paris stretching along the Champs Elysées and then, at the bottom of my little street, is the one closest to home.
The Christmas markets at La Défense and along the Champs Elysées are very big, mostly swamped with visitors and quite impersonal whereas my local Christmas market is tiny in comparison but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in congeniality.
My local Christmas market is now open for business so I’ve been to have a look, to savour the atmosphere and to capture the sights and sounds.
Contrary to what you might think, the sounds in the big Christmas markets can often be quite bland but in my local Christmas market I enjoyed a sonic treat – two different bands, a street organ and singer, electronic music accompanying butterfly elves on stilts, a balloon sculptress with enormous boots and, of course, the sounds of lots of excited small children.
My local Christmas market in sound:
Alexandre l’Agodas: Le colporteur de rêves et son orgue de barbarie
(The pedlar of dreams and his barrel organ)
Les Elfes-papillons des pôles
(Butterfly elves on stilts)
Sculpture sur ballons avec Bibindum
Swing Connection – New Orleans Jazz
WHEN THINKING ABOUT which sounds of Paris I might publish here on this Christmas Eve it became obvious that I needed to look no further than the bottom of my little street and what is still my favourite Christmas market in Paris. I went to it this afternoon.
Paris is full of fabulously rich sounds but sometimes the most intimate sounds are to be found closest to home, like the sound of this man singing on the parvis of my local Hôtel de Ville.
Singer at my local Christmas market:
This man on his unicycle provided an interesting diversion.
And then I found this man playing a most extraordinary accordion.
LA DÉFENSE IS A MAJOR business district in the far west of Paris. It lies at the extreme western end of the axis that begins at the Louvre and continues along the Champs Elysées beyond the Arc de Triomphe to La Défense.
At this time each year, La Défense is host to a large Christmas market built in front of La Grande Arche, one of François Mitterrand’s Grands Projets. Designed by Danish architect Johann Otto von Spreckelsen and Danish engineer Erik Reitzel, La Grande Arche was built as a monument to humanity and humanitarian ideals.
Standing in front of La Grande Arche last Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the contrast between the 350 tiny wooden châlets and the giant office blocks that surround them. I was also struck by the stark contrast of the traders in the châlets trying to sell their wares to ordinary punters like me with some of the madness associated with these giant buildings.
Take the building on the left for example, Coeur Défense. At the height of the financial madness in 2008, Coeur Défense became the most expensive piece of real estate on the planet when it was bought by Lehman Brothers for an astonishing €2.1bn. They bought it just as the property market peaked and we know what happened next. Property prices fell, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and disposing of Coeur Défense become Europe’s largest distressed property sale.
I was also thinking about Société Générale, France’s second largest bank, whose offices are a short walk from the Christmas Market in La Défense. On January 24, 2008, the bank announced that a single futures trader had fraudulently lost the bank €4.9 billion, the largest such loss in history.
All this stands in stark contrast to the individual stallholders at the Christmas market trying to make a living and bringing some Christmas cheer in the process.
Music at the Christmas market:
Christmas markets in Paris are always enjoyable to visit even if you do tend to see the same stalls in more or less the same places each year selling more or less the same things. Each year, I set off to capture the sounds of the Christmas markets but, as each year passes, I find it more difficult to find something different to record. These musicians for example, good as they are, are always at the Christmas market in La Défense, in the same place and often playing the same music.
So this year, even though the sounds I found at La Défense were pretty much the same as every year, I’ve tried to capture a different emphasis by putting the individual stallholders centre stage as they go about selling their wares.
Consider it a poke in the eye to the ‘suits’ who plundered the pension funds of the unsuspecting public to the tune of billions!
La Défense Christmas Market – A Soundwalk:
DON’T YOU JUST LOVE it when an otherwise ordinary day turns out to be extra special! That’s what happened to me earlier this week.
After a rather tedious morning I met a friend for lunch in Saint-Germain in the 6th Arrondissement. We arranged to meet at a restaurant I hadn’t been to for a long time and I had quite forgotten what a delightful place it is. The restaurant, the food and my friend were on sparkling form so our three-hour lunch simply couldn’t have been better.
After lunch my friend left for another engagement and I wandered along the Boulevard Saint-Germain to have a look at the Christmas market … my fifth Paris Christmas market this year.
My walk ended with me going into the Eglise Saint-Germain as I often do when I’m in this area. I hadn’t though expected the surprise that awaited me when I went inside. The organ was being tuned.
Organ Tuning in L’Eglise Saint-Germain:
These sounds are a short extract of the thirty minutes of the organ tuning that I recorded all of which have now been consigned to my Paris sound archive.
Regular visitors to this blog will know of my love of the organs of Aristide Cavaille-Coll, many of which are to be found in Paris, but the organ in this church is not one of his creations.
This organ was built by Pierre Thierry in 1679 and it was modified by Louis-Alexandre and François-Henri Clicquot in 1766. Organ enthusiasts will know that the magnificent Cavaille-Coll organ in the Cathédrale Nôtre Dame de Paris was built around an original François-Henri Clicquot organ.
Earlier this year, I was in L’Eglise Saint-Germain for a wedding when the organ was in full flow and what a delight it was to listen to.
The Organ of L’Eglise Saint-Germain:
So, there we are – an ordinary day transformed into a perfect day by a delightful lunch in a perfect setting with the company of a dear friend followed by an unexpected sound feast. What could be better?
Well, hot, roasted chestnuts might come a close second!
For another organ tuning experience you might want to look at this – my visit to Warsaw in March of this year when I happened upon the tuning of the organ in Saint John’s Cathedral in the old city of Warsaw.