WHEN IT COMES TO PARIS markets, the Marché d’Aligre is about as lively as they come. Situated between rue de Charenton and rue du Faubourg St-Antoine in the 12th arrondissement, the market actually comprises two markets, the indoor Marché Couvert Beauvau and an outdoor street market.
Sounds inside the Marché Couvert Beauvau:
The indoor market sells a wide variety of food from its fromageries and charcuteries, as well as seafood and a host of other things – but get there early if you want the best choice.
Unlike some indoor markets in Paris, the Marché Beauvau is not all that big so, especially in the mornings, it can be a bit of a crush. However, even at its busiest, it becomes a haven of tranquillity compared to the outdoor market.
The outdoor market consists of a flea market in the square next to the Marché Beauvau where clothes, antiques and a range of bric-a-brac are on sale. But it’s along the adjoining rue d’Aligre where the market really comes to life with the street vendors, many of Algerian origin, doing a frenetic trade in fruit and vegetables.
Sounds of the outdoor street market:
This colourful melange of sound fascinates me. It reaches its peak on Saturday and Sunday mornings when the market is at its busiest. For people busy shopping for their fruit and vegetables these sounds probably go largely unnoticed or, at best, they just become part of the background atmosphere, but for me, fascinated as I am by our sonic environment, these sounds form a rich tapestry and an important part of our social history.
As well as engaging in frenetic shopping it’s also possible find some light entertainment. Wherever there are crowds in Paris there will always be street entertainers to keep them amused.
How to get there:
The Marché d’Aligre is a ten-minute walk from Place de la Bastille and the closest metro is Ledru Rollin on Line 8.
WALKING ALONG THE RUE du Faubourg Saint-Antoine from Bastille towards L’hôpital Saint-Antoine, past the clutch of wonderful half-hidden passageways, it’s easy to slip back in time. Since the 13th century the Faubourg Saint-Antoine has been full of artisans plying their trade. An exemption from guild membership and the associated fees and taxes attracted carpenters, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths, ironworkers and a variety of other craftsmen to the area. Even today, if it’s furniture you want, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine is the place to be.
On a Saturday in late February I found other artisans also plying their trade. On the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, just beyond the Square Trousseau, I came upon these street musicians thoroughly enjoying themselves.
As someone who is in love with sound, I couldn’t help imagining the cacophony of the 13th century carpenters, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths and ironworkers nearby.
The sounds of the 13th century remain firmly fixed in my imagination but I can share the sound of today’s artisans with you just as they shared them with me … but I can’t help wondering what our 13th century friends would make of it.
A WALK ALONG THE Rue Pouchet in the 17th arrondissement led me to a bridge crossing the railway line of the old Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture.
Built between 1852 and 1869, the Petite Ceinture or, Little Belt, railway line was the first public urban transportation service in Paris, and was the forerunner of today’s Paris Métro.
It comprised a thirty-five kilometre line that encircled Paris and it was built mainly for transporting goods between the five main railway stations in Paris, but it also offered a public transport service up until 1934.
The first Paris Métro line opened in 1900 with more central, more modern and more rapid rolling stock, together with more comfortable stations and more competitive prices than the Petite Ceinture. Consequently, the urban passenger service of the Petite Ceinture gradually began to decline. In addition, the local goods traffic grew. The Petite Ceinture operators used the loss of passenger traffic to decrease the number of passenger train movements and increase the number of goods train movements since the transportation of goods was much more lucrative than transporting urban passengers.
Eventually, the urban passenger service ceased on 22 July 1934 and was replaced by a bus service.
Today, twenty-three kilometres of the railway tracks of the Petite Ceinture remain. Large parts have been turned into nature parks and green walkways like the one I found in the 17th arrondissement.
Birdsong Beside the Disused Tracks:
In between part of the disused railway track and the small Rue du Colonel-Manhès is a delightful green walkway, which doesn’t look at it’s best in February but which I expect looks delightful in the springtime.
Even so, on a cold February afternoon, the birds were singing heartily, defying the traffic noise and the rain and keeping the spirit of the Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture alive.
THE AVENUE DES CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES – La plus belle avenue du Monde, as the French call it, the second most expensive strip of real estate in Europe, is a focus for French national celebration – and no more so than for the Réveillon Saint-Sylvestre – New Year’s Eve.
I spent the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in the Champs-Élysées, walking the two kilometres from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde recording my walk, people-watching and window-shopping.
The car showrooms in the Champs-Élysées are guaranteed to provide fascinating displays at any time of the year and, on New Year’s Eve, the Peugeot showroom didn’t disappoint.
On show wsa a Peugeot concept car and a wonderful Peugeot touring car, neither of which, sadly, appeared under my Christmas tree!
I can’t help wondering why a prestigious French car company who can afford the €1.1 million annual rent per 100 square metres of floor space in the Champs-Élysées, and who can put on such an elegant display, should feel the need to accompany it with sound of such banality.
The sound inside the Peugeot showroom:
It’s Friday and it’s Christmas Eve.
I went out late this afternoon to explore this wonderful city and to see what I could find.
My first stop was the Place Hôtel de Ville. When I emerged from the Métro, light snow was falling. It wasn’t a huge amount, but enough to ensure that this was a ‘white’ Christmas Eve.
The carousel, a permanent fixture, was doing good business.
And, as always at Christmas, in the shadow of the Hôtel de Ville, was the patinoire, the outdoor skating rink, which is always well attended. People of all ages come to the patinoire and all of them much braver than me!
I left the Hôtel de Ville and walked across to the Cathedral of Notre Dame where people were going inside without having to wait in the long lines that seem to be quite normal for most of the year. It will be a different story late this evening of course when they will be queuing up to get into the Midnight Mass.
I walked on to the Square Viviani which was covered in snow. The green benches that I have so often sat on in late summer evenings looking at the Church of Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre, were today covered in snow.
It was all very pretty, especially the view across the square and La Seine towards the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Inevitably, from there I just had to call into the world’s greatest bookshop, Shakespeare & Co, where I bought Gertrude Stein’s memoire of Picasso which I’m sure will make a good Christmas read. Look out for it; I shall put it up on the ‘Books’ section of this blog in due course.
From there I walked on, across the Boulevard Saint-Michel, across the Place Saint-André des Arts into the rue Saint-André des Arts and then, taking a left turn, into the ‘Passage’ that is home to the oldest coffee house in Paris, Le Procope.
This coffee house has been here since 1686. All the 18th century philosophes were regulars in the Café Procope – Voltaire, Rousseau, Beaumarchais and many others. The French revolution brought another swath of visitors including Danton, Marat, Camille Desmoulins and numerous members of the sans-culotte. In later years the Café Procope played host to George Sand, Gautier, Balzac and Victor Hugo.
It was a great joy for me, on this Christmas Eve 2010, to drink coffee in the footsteps of these great 18th century philosophes. A highlight indeed!
After that delight, I retraced my steps – a quick stop for dinner in La Braserade in the Rue de la Huchette and then the Métro and home.
Thus was my Christmas Eve.
I leave you with this Christmas gift to all of you who have followed this blog throughout the year and have offered me so much support.
More from the singers in Saint-Séverin …
I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.
MY LAST POST WAS ABOUT the Christmas market in La Défense. This post is about a Christmas market even closer to home – the Christmas market here in Neuilly sur Seine.
This Christmas market is a short hop from the bottom of my little street. Walking past a couple of cafés, the best boulangerie in Paris, a Chinese traiteur and an electrical shop, one comes to the Parvis of the Hôtel de Ville which hosts our Christmas market. It comprises about thirty wooden châlets nestling close together on the Parvis selling everything one would expect to find at a Christmas market. It’s all very local and very intimate.
Small it may be but this Christmas market still manages to throw up surprises.
Much to my delight, I found this gentleman playing his little street organ and singing as I was walking through the market the other day.
And more was to follow. A small group of children from the Ecole Maternelle close by were being shown round the market. When this gentleman saw them he ushered them around him and began to play a popular French children’s Christmas song – and the children all joined in enthusiastically. It was a real delight to listen to.
Compared to the giant Christmas market in the Champs Elysées our little market here in Neuilly is tiny – but I know which I prefer.
ON MONDAY MORNING of this week I found myself at St Pancras station in London. I had survived unscathed the Eurostar disruption caused by the recent snow in both France and the UK and so, here I was, with time to spare, waiting to meet some people for a meeting.
I ventured into the excellent Foyles bookshop on the lower level of St Pancras and browsed the books on sale – a wonderful feast as always. I received a call to say that the people I was due to meet were in the Costa Café at the other end of the station so I left Foyles and set off to meet them.
On the way, and much to my surprise, I came across this group of people standing in a huddle in the middle of the station concourse They were singing.
Had I arrived earlier I could have recorded more but as it was I was only able to record this short piece. Nevertheless, it brightened up my day.
I AM NOT A FAN of shopping but even I have to admit that a trip to the Galeries Lafayette is an experience – especially at Christmas.
Located in the Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement, close to the Opéra Garnier, the Galaries Lafayette welcomes around 100,000 visitors a day – more than Harrod’s in London or Bloomingdales in New York.
The sound of a walk through the Galeries Lafayette
Compared to its status today as a 70,000M2 ‘Temple of Shopping’ and Paris icon, the Galeries Lafayette had humble beginnings. In 1895, Albert Kahn rented a shop in Paris at the corner of Chaussée-d’Antin and rue Lafayette to sell gloves, ribbons, veils, and other goods. The shop was small, but sales were good. It was eventually enlarged, and in 1898 Kahn was joined by his cousin, 34-year-old Théophile Bader. The partnership flourished and they soon purchased the entire building along with adjacent buildings on the Chaussée-d’Antin. The Galeries Lafayette was born.
The magnificent glass dome and wrought iron balconies dominate one end of the store – a vivid reminder of 19th century Paris – contrasting starkly with the clean-cut, up-market, brand-named, cosmetics counters that lie beneath.
The Galeries Lafayette is famed for its stylish window displays – no more so than at Christmas when crowds of people gather to see the show.
Today, the Galeries Lafayette is a magnet for tourists with the Chinese leading the way followed by Americans and then Japanese. A walk through the store reveals a cosmopolitan mix of people some of whom come just to look and others who come to spend, spend, spend!
It may have begun life as a modest corner shop, but the Galeries Lafayette, along with the other new-fangled 19th century department stores, Printemps, Bon Marché and La Samaritaine, started a revolution in retail shopping which continues today.
The sound of a walk outside past the window displays.
SATURDAY 6th OCTOBER – Place de la Bastille – and yet another manifestation about the French pension reform.
The mild pension reform has passed into law, the tear-gas has dispersed and petrol has returned to the pumps – but still they took to the streets. Even the heavy rain didn’t dampen their spirits.
Sounds from the manifestation:
This manifestation was led by the CGT, Confédération Générale du Travail, the largest French trade union and, although a large demonstration it was nothing compared to the one that took place in the same place on 16th October. That had huge popular support and people turned out in massive numbers to express their opposition to the pension reform. As a passive observer, I couldn’t help feeling that this latest demonstration was largely made up of the hard-core activists determined to keep the fight going even though the battle is lost. So often in the past, French governments have given in to the voice of the street sometimes by repealing legislation that caused the protests after it has been enacted into law. We shall see if that happens this time – but somehow I doubt it.
And maybe it is because the CGT doubt it too that there seemed to be a harder edge to this latest protest – a last gasp of desperation maybe.
I’ve said before that whilst the participants take these protests very seriously, they are almost always good-natured affairs. But just occasionally, someone doesn’t stick to the script. On Saturday, for the first time for a long time, I saw and encountered first-hand, some unpleasantness. At the corner of Place de la Bastille and Boulevard Beaumarchais stands a BNP bank. I rounded the corner into Boulevard Beaumarchais to record the manifestation when I was confronted by three youths wearing white face masks. Their ghostly appearance and aggressive demeanour indicated that they were not going to simply ask if I was having a good day! Instead, they were intent on throwing eggs at the two cash points in the wall of the BNP bank just behind me.
Sound of eggs smashing into cash machines:
Unsettling – yes, but as violence goes I suppose it wasn’t all that important – save for one of the eggs missing my right ear by a whisker.
And what did their particular form of protest achieve? Absolutely nothing, except perhaps for demeaning the thousands of other protestors who genuinely believed in their cause – not to mention the waste of eggs.
By contrast, there was something to cheer about – this wonderfully satirical take on the French Président, Nicolas Sarkozy. Enjoy!
I spend a lot of time walking the streets of Paris hunting for interesting sounds to record. Sometimes I walk in vain – interesting sounds can be an elusive commodity. More often than not finding good sounds to record is a matter of luck rather than expertise – it’s about being in the right place at the right time.
My sound hunting wanderings take me all over the city of Paris but there are some streets that I return to again and again, partly because of their history, partly because of their character but mostly because of their atmosphere – rue de la Huchette, rue St Jaques, rue de Lappe and the street I went to yesterday, rue Mouffetard, about which Balzac said, “No neighbourhood of Paris is more horrible and more unknown”.
The street market at the bottom of rue Mouffetard
It is true that in Balzac’s day rue Mouffetard had, to put it kindly, a reputation! But it’s reputation today is quite different. It is now a lively, bustling street full of history, character and atmosphere and it just keeps drawing me back time and again.
Sitting in the bistro Le Mouffetard last Saturday afternoon with a glass of Leffe and a copy of Le Monde, I was half watching the world go by and half reading the news of terror plots from cargo aircraft, when a sound drifted in through an open window.
A three man jazz ensemble had installed themselves across the street and they were just beginning their afternoon’s work. I went to investigate.
Rue Mouffetard never fails to provide something interesting for this chasseur de son to record. This was one of those elusive moments that comes from being in the right place at the right time.