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Posts tagged ‘Paris’


Pigeons Beware!

RECENTLY, I RECEIVED a mail from Adam, who writes the fascinating Invisible Paris blog.  This is what he said:

“Each time I’m at the Gare d’Austerlitz I think about your blog, and keep meaning to tell you about the sound recording opportunity that is there.

As with most similar large spaces, I imagine that they have big problems with pigeons, and the solution that they seem to have found is to play a recording of some kind of bird of prey. You just need to stand in the main station concourse and you’ll hear the sound very regularly, and very clearly too!”

For some reason, the Gare d’Austerlitz is the only one of the main stations in Paris that I haven’t visited since I’ve been here so I went to check it out.

And Adam’s right, there are pigeons in the Gare d’Austerlitz and they do play the sounds of predatory birds over the public address system in the station.

Pigeons Beware:

Undoubtedly, this is a novel and humane way of scaring the pigeons, although I’m not sure how effective it is.  The fact that they have to play these sounds repeatedly at regular intervals seems to suggest that the pigeons have got wise to it. Nevertheless, I applauded the station authorities for a good effort.


Beanz Meanz … ???

REMEMBER THE ADVERTISING slogan, “Beanz Meanz Heinz” ? A corruption of the English language maybe, but a classic nevertheless. In Paris though Beanz Meanz … something quite different.

Tins of Heinz baked beans stacked on shelves – and where would you expect to find them – in a supermarket?  No, these beans are to be found where you would least expect them … in a bookshop in Paris!

Established in 1903 and claiming to be the largest English bookshop in Paris, W H Smith, The English Bookshop as they style themselves, is to be found at the corner of the rue Rivoli and the rue Cambon.

The ground floor of the bookshop is much as you would expect – a wide range of books, novels ranked by author from A to Z, new releases, a travel section, a crime section as well as a wide range of magazines and English newspapers.

Climbing the wooden staircase to the first floor though brings a surprise.

The sounds inside WH Smith:

As well as selling English language books, WH Smith is capitalising on the rising demand in France for things British and particularly British food.

Fueled by expats who want food that reminds them of home and by the increasing popularity of Le Snacking, the Anglo-Saxon style snacks, fast food and sandwiches that are encroaching on the traditional French long sit-down lunches, sales of British food are booming.

On the first floor of WH Smith, bookshelves have given way to a cornucopia of British specialities – OXO cubes, Walker’s shortbread, Twining’s tea, Cadbury’s cream eggs, McVities chocolate digestives, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, Mr Kipling cakes and the ever mysterious but highly popular, Marmite – to name but a few.

They still sell books on the first floor but the space occupied by food has increased at the expense of the space occupied by books.

If the appetite for British food in Paris continues I wonder if The English Bookshop that also sells food will one day become The English Food Shop that also sells books?

Although, at first sight, it does seem a little odd to sell food alongside books, there is no doubt that it is a success and, as an English expat, I admit to more than a whiff of nostalgia as I look at the shelves.

The real question though is, when will we see the arrival in Paris of that peculiarly English curiosity fish ‘n chips? I suspect that even WH Smith will not rise to that particular challenge!



SOUND RECORDING CAN often be a solitary business – and I actually prefer it that way.

Photo courtesy of:

Standing recently on the foreshore of the Wherry and later on the Leas, a stretch of the Sunderland coastline in north east England, I had plenty of time to reflect on this whacky interest of mine – recording the everyday sounds around me. Using the minimum equipment and the maximum imagination I explore the sonic environment wherever I go.

I’m a city dweller fortunate enough to live in what is often described as the most romantic city in the world – Paris. And Paris has bounteous delights for the sound hunter but, sometimes, an escape to the country or, even better, an escape to the sea makes a refreshing change.

I specialise in recording the street sounds of Paris, the everyday sounds that we often ignore or, at best, only take a passing interest in. As a Parisian city dweller, I found the sounds of the sea on the Wherry absolutely captivating.

Sounds of the Wherry:

And that set me reflecting about sound.

It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words – but what is a sound worth? How would we perceive for example da Vinci’s Last Supper or Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa if we could hear them as well as see them?

This is what the doyen of wildlife sound recordists Chris Watson hears when looking at Constable’s The Cornfield:

“I can hear birdsong billowing out from the leaf cover and a great spotted woodpecker drumming on the trunk of a skeletal tree, which temporarily distracts the Border collie from its herding duties. Unseen and almost unheard a freshwater spring bubbles into the drinking pool, a resource that is shared by animals and people alike on days such as this. Above, a gusting breeze ripples through the tree canopy and out across the open fields where ripe corn heads swish and sigh on dry stems, their slow rhythm accompanying a skylark singing from high above, a pin point of silver sound lost to all sight, in a pewter sky.

In the early 19th century Constable could not only see into the distance but also hear it. From his memory no doubt the warm song of a yellowhammer and drifting tones of the church clock would carry far in the humid air. Noise pollution was yet to reach rural Suffolk revealing a quality of sound that has, like the landscape, passed into history.”

Imagine if we could actually hear the original early nineteenth-century sounds of rural Suffolk as we look at the picture rather than relying on Chris’s imagination however beautifully expressed.

Sound gives us information but it also creates emotion. Sound lets us paint our own pictures. Every sound, whether it’s a street sound of Paris, an award-winning sound by Chris Watson or even the sound of me walking on the Wherry in Sunderland, is an important part of our environment, our culture and of our heritage.

A Walk on the Wherry:

For most of our history we have used artefacts, architecture, pictures and words to create a vision of our past. It’s only in the last thirty seconds or so on our historical clock that we have been able to capture and record sound. Almost all our sonic heritage has passed by unrecorded.

That is why I, and many others, are dedicated to recording and archiving the sounds around us so that future generations will have the sounds of our time to explore, to study and to enjoy.


Cité des Fleurs

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!


Ladurée – An English Tea-Room in Paris?

ENGLISH TEA-ROOMS are unique and the benchmark that I measure all tea-rooms by is Betty’s in York. My English audience and particularly my audience in the North of England and Scotland will know exactly what I mean.

Paris has its quintessential cafés of course (see a blog piece I did some time ago) and two of the most famous are to be found in Saint-Germain-des-Prés – Les Deux Magots and the Café de Flore.

Both are hugely popular so be prepared to join the queue if you want a table.  Listening to the sounds inside the Café de Flore, there is certainly none of the calm, genteel atmosphere of the genuine English tea-room.

Inside the Café de Flore:

But these Parisian cafés are not English tea-rooms. What we need to find is what the French call a salon de thé … and not just any salon de thé.

Louis-Ernest Ladurée, was a miller, a prolific writer and an outspoken supporter of social reform. He founded a bakery on the Rue Royale in 1862, which was burnt down during the Paris Commune of 1871. After the fire, Ladurée replaced the bakery with a pastry shop and he commissioned the painter and poster artist, Jules Chéret, to design the interior. For the ceiling, Cheret took his inspiration from the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel and the newly opened Opéra Garnier. He adorned the ceiling of Ladurée with chubby cherubs which are still a feature of Ladurée today.

Today, Ladurée is still a pastry shop as well as a chocolaterie, confiseur and a salon de thé. It’s perhaps most famous for its double-decker macaron, two macaron shells stuck together with a creamy ganache as the filling which sell in their thousands.

Today, Ladurée has expanded and as well as its pastry shops and tea-rooms in the Champs Elysées, Le Printemps and the rue Bonaparte (where I took these photographs), it’s also present in Monaco, Switzerland, Japan, Italy, Lebanon, Turkey, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, Kuwait, and Ireland. It has come a long way from Louis-Ernest Ladurée’s first enterprise in the rue Royal all those years ago.

Inside Ladurée in the rue Bonaparte:

Ladurée is the closest I’ve yet come to an English tea-room in Paris. However, it’s a well-kept secret, but tea first arrived in Paris in 1636, twenty-two years before it appeared in England! Maybe I should be thinking about how Betty’s in York measures up to Ladurée in Paris instead of the other way round!


Le Village du Jasmin

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.


One Year On …

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 and Padlock Pollution

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.


A Celebration in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris

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:


Going Up – Going Down

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.

Going up:

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.

Going Down:

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!