I LAST FEATURED rue Dénoyez, the plein air art gallery in the 20th arrondissement, in this blog in November 2014. At that time, under the banner ‘Sauvons la rue Dénoyez’ – Save rue Dénoyez, a petition had been drawn up to challenge a plan by the local authority to demolish part of rue Dénoyez and replace the artists’ workshops and galleries with subsidised housing and a community centre.
‘Sauvons la rue Dénoyez’ – November 2014
The other day, I went back to rue Dénoyez to see what has happened since I was last there.
Rue Dénoyez – July 2016
The development proposal calls for the buildings between N°18 bis and N° 22 bis to be demolished and replaced with 18 subsidised housing units and a crèche as well as the redevelopment of N° 24 and N° 26 rue Dénoyez and N°10 Rue de Belleville into 29 subsidised housing units and a community centre.
Despite the petition opposing the development receiving 10,000 signatures in six months it seems the project is still going ahead.
Although the demolition work was due to have been completed by April this year I found that little seems to have happened so far except that the occupants have left and the buildings stand hauntingly empty.
Undaunted though, I found one street artist still leaving his mark.
A soundwalk in rue Dénoyez:
At the end of my soundwalk I came upon a man who had lived in rue Dénoyez in the early 1970s and he reflected upon life here in those days.
If all goes to plan, work on the new development will be completed in the spring of 2018.
While new social housing is to be welcomed one can’t help feeling that some of the character of this unique street will be lost in the process. As the man who spoke to me said, “il faut que ça change”.
You can see the presentation prepared by the local authority about the new development here.
THE HÔTEL DIEU was founded in the middle of the 7th century, which makes it the oldest hospital in Paris. It sits on the Parvis du Notre Dame alongside its more prestigious neighbour, the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, which was founded some four hundred years later.
Originally, the Hôtel Dieu was situated on the other side of the Parvis next to the river Seine. During the Middle Ages it grew in an unplanned and rather chaotic way and by the 17th century it had spilled over the river occupying two bridges and a parcel of land on the Left Bank.
Of course, to say that the Hôtel Dieu was founded as a hospital is not exactly true; there were no hospitals as such in the 7th century. It did cater for the sick after a fashion but it was founded more as a refuge for the poor and it continued to be a refuge for Parisians until the 17th century. By this time though it had gained a terrible reputation and by the time of the Revolution in 1789, a quarter of those admitted died often of diseases contracted within its walls.
It was only in the mid-19th century when the hospital moved to a new, purpose-built home on the other side of the Parvis, the home that it occupies today, that it began to shed its reputation as a disease trap and became a place where people might be treated and even cured.
Today, the Hôtel Dieu has 350 beds and it’s the primary casualty centre for emergency cases in the first nine arrondissements in Paris. It also specialises in research into and the treatment of diabetes and it has a major ophthalmology department, which caters for ophthalmic emergencies, surgery and research.
Recently, I went to have a look at the Hôtel Dieu. From both the outside and the inside it has the feel of rather a cold, unwelcoming place.
Like most 19th century hospitals its buildings are arranged around a central courtyard connected by colonnaded walkways.
Beneath these walkways are long, seemingly endless corridors, which have a rather haunting feel to them.
Whilst these long corridors have a curious haunting elegance about them and the hospital wards themselves are perfectly clean and functional, the spaces in between are rather shabby and have a run-down feel. The entrance to the ophthalmic emergency unit for example doesn’t really inspire confidence even though it’s a state-of-the-art facility.
Regular visitors to this blog will know that, whilst I have a passion for the city of Paris, I have an even greater passion for its sounds and I found the sounds inside the Hôtel Dieu simply fascinating.
To illustrate that, I offer you two sound pieces, both recorded inside the hospital but both recorded in different ways. Both illustrate how sound can describe the atmosphere a place and create images equally as powerful as words or pictures.
The first piece is a soundwalk inside the hospital. I simply recorded as I walked along the corridors and in and out of any door that would let me pass. I didn’t of course invade any private areas – the emergency room, the wards or the laboratories, I simply kept to the public spaces.
Hôtel Dieu – A Soundwalk:
In the first piece I walked through the hospital discovering the sounds. In the next piece, I sat in one place and let the hospital walk past me.
I sat on a long wooden bench in the seemingly endless corridor shown above, outside what I discovered was the bloc opératoire which to my ear at least sounds much more elegant than the operating theatres.
Hôtel Dieu – Outside the bloc opératoire:
If you listen carefully, amongst other things you can hear the soft tread of operating theatre staff dressed in hospital scrubs and white coats returning to work after lunch.
Both these sound pieces illustrate the everyday sounds of a busy hospital, sounds that would go largely unnoticed to the ordinary visitor or to someone with more important things on their mind.
People often ask me why I record sounds like these and my answer is always the same.
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 ten seconds or so on our historical clock that we’ve been able to capture and archive sound. Almost all our sonic heritage has passed by completely unrecorded.
In the 16th century this hospital catered for some 3,500 patients at a time often with four or more to a bed. In 1832 it was overwhelmed with victims of the great cholera outbreak. We have written and pictorial evidence of what the hospital was like during those times but we have none of its contemporary sounds to listen to. Sitting on my long wooden bench in a seemingly endless corridor I was not only able to listen to and record today’s sounds of this place but to create a record of these sounds for others, now and in the future, to explore. I think I may even have been able to hear faint echoes of this place’s past.
As a final note, I have to record that the Hôtel Dieu has an uncertain future.
Thanks to a restructuring of l’Assistance Publique Hôpiteaux de Paris, the body that oversees the hospital, changes are afoot. There are proposals to close the emergency department and to change the hospital into a Hôpital Universitaire de Santé Publique, in effect, a teaching hospital which will take walk-in patients without appointment. That’s why there are banners up on the hospital walls and why the CGT union were collecting signatures for a petition on the day I went.
If these changes come to pass then maybe the sounds I recorded in the Hôtel Dieu will become more important than I thought – a genuine piece of history captured before this hospital as we know it disappears.
LAST SATURDAY I headed off for the rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement to record a soundwalk to add to my archive of Paris Soundscapes. As is often the case, things didn’t turn out quite as I’d planned.
The rue des Martyrs stretches for a little under 1km from rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette to rue Lamartine in Montmartre. The street has had several names during its lifetime beginning with rue des Porcherons, then rue des Martyrs followed by rue du Champ de Repos and then finally, from 1868, once again rue des Martyrs.
I decided to make life easier by beginning my soundwalk at the Montmartre end, which is the street’s highest point and so everything would be downhill from there. When I reached the top of the street I realised that the Place des Abbesses was just round the corner so, before embarking on my task for the day and since I hadn’t been to the Place des Abbesses for a while, I thought I’d go and take a look. It proved to be a most fortuitous diversion.
I discovered a Bretagne weekend in full flow the centrepiece of which was la Fête de la coquille Saint-Jacques, sponsored by le département des Côtes-d’Armor. A dozen or so stalls were selling all things Bretagne from crêpes and craquants au beurre salé to regional wines and wonderful coquille Saint-Jacques, freshly brought from port d’Erquy.
I couldn’t resist stopping to savour the atmosphere and taste a selection of the fare on offer. And then I came upon a complete surprise, something to make a sound hunter’s day complete.
A group of singers were assembled and as I came upon them they began to sing a French song I particularly like, Le Gamin de Paris.
Le Gamin de Paris:
Adrien Marès composed the music for Le Gamin de Paris and Mick Micheyl who, contrary to what you might think, is in fact Paulette Michey, a very popular French singer who later in life became a respected sculptor, wrote the words.
Le Gamin de Paris draws a fascinating picture of a typical 1950’s Parisian ‘kid’ –
“Il est tout l’esprit, l’esprit de Paris qui musarde,
Pantalon trop long pour lui
Toujours les mains dans les poches
On le voit qui déguerpit
Aussitôt qu’il voit un képi”
Roughly translated as:
‘… the spirit of Paris that dawdles, with pants that are too long for him, hands always in his pockets, who takes off at the first sight of a kepi’ (a French policeman).
Whenever I hear this song I am instantly transported to the black & white world of Robert Doisneau and the other great French street photographers who captured so brilliantly the atmosphere upon which this song is based. This particular rendition was unexpectedly, but not unpleasantly, accompanied by the bells of the Église Saint Jean-de-Montmartre which made a dramatic intervention but which I think added a delicious extra atmosphere.
And so, awash with the spirit of Bretagne and the black and white world of 1950’s Paris, it was back to the present day, the rue des Martyrs and a soundwalk along the full length of the street capturing the everyday mélange of sounds that I always find so fascinating.
Rue des Martyrs – A Soundwalk:
Some sights of the rue des Martyrs:
THE RUE MOUFFETARD is a very old Parisian street, a Roman road leading south to Italy. In the eighteenth century the area around the rue Mouffetard gained a reputation for violence and in the nineteenth century men from la Mouffe’ were always to be found on the Paris barricades at every opportunity from 1830 through to 1871. Balzac said that, “No neighbourhood of Paris is more horrible and more unknown”.
Times have moved on. Today, the rue Mouffetard is a street lined with shops, cafés, restaurants and a busy market. It’s a popular place and ideal for a soundwalk.
Much has been written about soundwalks and the art of sound walking and I confess that I find most of it impenetrable. It might be simplistic and perhaps unfair to those who toil over such things with such diligence, but I often think that if you have to explain it in great detail, and usually at great length, then you’ve somehow missed the point.
To me, soundwalks are simply about observing through active listening; listening to the sounds around us. Sometimes, the sounds around us are significant enough to define a particular place but more often they are simply the transitory sounds that provide the sound tapestry without which a place loses part of its identity.
I find soundwalks endlessly fascinating. I love the different textures of the sounds – the chatter of people and snatches of overheard conversations, the transitional sounds from outside to inside and from inside to outside, the clatter of teacups in a busy café, the differing sound texture of the traffic and the captivating sound of footsteps over the pavé.
For this soundwalk, I began by sheltering from the rain opposite a Franprix supermarket at the top of rue Mouffetard. The rain passed and I meandered down the hill calling into the bookshop, a café and another Franprix at the bottom of the hill.
A soundwalk in the rue Mouffetard:
And here is a visual account of my soundwalk:
A word about editing:
The sounds reproduced here are an edited version of my soundwalk which took over an hour. There is no processing or layering of the sounds, so the sounds you hear are the sounds exactly as they were recorded save for reducing a long recording down to a more manageable listening experience of some eight minutes and forty-five seconds.
OVER THE LAST YEAR, I’ve collected many sounds in Montmartre in the 18th arrondissement. It’s one of the most visited parts of Paris and it’s easy to see why.
People come here to experience the atmosphere, to see the artists at work, to savour the food, to sample the nightlife and to enjoy the magnificent view of Paris.
In this soundwalk I’ve tried to capture some of that atmosphere.
A Soundwalk in Montmartre:
Those of you who have visited Montmartre will recognise some of these sounds I’m sure. For those of you who have never had the Montmartre experience, the soundwalk includes the sound of con men busily ripping off unsuspecting tourists on a Sunday morning at the foot of La Butte de Montmartre. Yes, I’m afraid that Paris does have its ugly side too! We take the funicular to the top of the hill where the bell on the tourist train is beckoning customers. The man making key rings from coloured wool is a permanent fixture, as is his running commentary. A walk along the rue Norvins brings us to the bistro, La Petaudiere and lunch complete with piano. We hear an Edith Piaf sound-alike, one of the better ones in Paris. We cross the Place du Tertre and come upon an altercation, a perfect demonstration of the way the French turn an argument into an art form. I’ve written about this before on this Blog. And finally, we are summoned by bells – the bells of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur peeling out on a Sunday afternoon.
I hope these sounds give you a flavour of Montmartre and for those of you who have never been, I hope it will tempt you to come and listen to the sounds for yourself.
Montmartre has its own website so you can catch up with all the news here.