STANDING ON THE SITE of the former convent Sainte Catherine du Val des Ecoliers, the Place du Marché Sainte Catherine is a short walk from its more elegant and illustrious neighbour the Place des Vosges in the Marais district of Paris.
The convent Sainte Catherine du Val des Ecoliers was founded in 1228 and stood on this site until it was demolished in 1767. Some ten years later a market, the Marché Sainte Catherine, replaced the convent.
The market has now also disappeared and today, surrounded by 18th century buildings, the Place du Marché Sainte Catherine is a small traffic-free square lined with trees and surrounded on three sides by restaurants. It’s one of those perfect Parisian squares where both locals and tourists gather to while away a lazy summer afternoon.
I went to the Place du Marché Saint Catherine the other day and found two young musicians adding their own special atmosphere to this delightful place.
Place du Marché Saint Catherine:
Sometimes, these hidden corners of Paris can be just perfect!
THE PLACE DES VOSGES is a square of perfect symmetry. Comprising thirty-six grand houses, nine on each side, with deep slate roofs with dormer windows over brick and stone arcades – the Place des Vosges is a Parisian treasure.
The Place des Vosges dates back to King Henry IV and the Grand Siècle. Henry was somewhat of a city planner and his original idea for the Place Royale as it was then called was to use the shell of the old Tournelles palace in the Marais as a site in which to develop a silk industry which could, he hoped, combat the Italians and boost the domestic economy. But his scheme quickly took on a different life. With the aid of his Chief Minister, Sully, the idea of providing a workers’ village in the Place was transformed into creating an elegant urban square dominated by the aristocracy.
The famous literary hostess, Madame de Séveigné, was born here in 1626, Cardinal Richelieu stayed here in 1615, the poet Théophile Gautier and the writer Victor Hugo both lived here in the nineteenth-century.
I find the Place des Vosges attractive at any time of the year but it is in the summer when the tourists flock to this space.
As well as the architecture, the green space in the centre and the history, the tourists can also enjoy the up-market street music. The Place des Vosges boasts the aristocracy of street musicians in Paris. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, especially in the summer, classically trained musicians, including opera singers and classical instrumentalists of the highest standard, perform here for free.
But even in the winter – on a cold Saturday in January – excellent street music can be found.
A couple of weeks ago I was in the Place des Vosges hunting for interesting sounds. I started recording as I was walking around the Place with no particular objective in mind – and then I came across this – a walk under the arcade arches, past the front of a café and then, further on, three musicians, a bass player, a guitarist and an accordionist, playing to an audience of one – me! What impressed me was that they were playing music because they thoroughly enjoyed playing music – audience or no audience.
I hope you enjoy the sounds and the enthusiasm of the musicians as much as I do.
I couldn’t help feeling that the ghosts of Madame de Séveigné, Théophile Gautier and Victor Hugo were enjoying it too – but what would Cardinal Richelieu make of it?
Paris is a city – and a city with more than its fair share of noise pollution. Often referred to as the City of Light, Paris could also be known by the less glamorous soubriquet, the City of Noise. And the greatest part of the noise comes from the ever-present traffic which never sleeps and which provides a continuous backdrop to all other Parisian sounds.
I like a challenge and at the beginning of this year I set myself the challenge of recording birdsong in Paris without, so far as is possible, wretched traffic noise in the background. This is the result.
Montmartre, in the 18th arrondissement, sits on the Butte Montmartre, one of the highest points in Paris and at its peak rests the Basilica Sacré-Coeur.
Adjacent to Sacré-Coeur is the Place du Tertre with its artists colony much visited by tourists throughout the year.
On the other side of Sacré-Coeur is to be found the much older church of Saint Pierre de Montmartre. It was in the garden of this church on a summer Saturday afternoon that I was able to record these birds.
The Place des Vosges is in the 4th Arrondissement close to Bastille. Formerly known as Place Royale, it was for some time home to the Kings of France.
In one corner of the Place des Vosges, through an unassuming door is to be found the Hotel de Sully and the Centre for National Monuments.
Along one side of the courtyard of the Hotel de Sully is a wall covered in foliage in which nestle hundreds of birds unseen but certainly not unheard.
It was here, at the height of the summer, that I made another recording of Parisian birdsong.
I live in the west of Paris close to the Bois de Boulogne. I have tried many times to record birdsong in the Bois de Boulogne but have always been defeated by the background traffic noise. Big as the Bois is, nowhere within it seems to be completely free from the constant noise pollution.
In the Spring of this year I got up bright and early one morning and I was able to capture this sound much closer to home – on the balcony of my apartment.
As I said at the beginning, I like a challenge – and recording these sounds certainly was a challenge, but a very enjoyable one.