The Sounds of Paris


Paris is a smorgasbord for the senses, whether it's the tantalizing smell of crepes as you exit the Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro or the sight of small children at play in the Tuileries Gardens. After watching a film about a young deaf woman in New York City, who marvels at the cacophony of city sounds after she regains her hearing, I decided to pay more attention to the sounds of Paris. Here's what I heard.

On Friday, I had an appointment to test "les ambiances sonores du réseau" of the RATP. Imagining incorrectly that I would be riding on a metro train with a group of people assessing door buzzers or public announcements, I was surprised when the man conducting the test escorted me to the beginning of a long tunnel in the Opéra metro station. As we stepped onto the moving walkway, the RATP representative instructed me to do something that I would have never done on my own - to stop and listen. He explained that the sounds emanating from the four speakers spaced equal distances apart on the ceiling were the subject of the survey.

At the end of our short journey, the man ushered me to the side and started with some fairly generic questions, like "How often do you take the metro" and "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate the Parisian metro system?" The next series of questions pertained to the sounds of musical instruments, singing and clapping that I had heard coming from the speakers: "Did I find them soothing or disturbing?" and "Did the sounds make the experience of going through the tunnel more or less pleasurable?" Considering that comprehending and answering the questions was already a linguistic challenge because we were speaking French, I felt pretty pleased with myself when he asked if there was a connection between the sounds and the location of the tunnel. Mais, bien sûr, the sounds represented the progression of an operatic performance from beginning to end at the Opéra metro station. What a clever idea!

From late Friday night until the wee hours of Saturday morning, I spent most of the time with a pillow plastered over my ears. While our upstairs neighbors had posted the requisite note on the front door of our apartment building forewarning the other residents that he would be hosting a party to celebrate his birthday, he had also promised to be considerate. He lied. With the sounds of high heels clacking on the wooden floors and the vibrations from the music shaking my bed, I nonetheless found myself smiling when the Parisians started singing along with the American songs. Admittedly, their pronunciation left a lot to be desired, but they were young people having a good time. I took two herbal sleeping tablets, clamped the pillow back over my ears and tried in vain to sleep.

On Saturday afternoon, I had the great pleasure of having a poem by the Argentine poet Roberto Juarroz whispered in my ear. Traveling from the mouth of la Souffleuse through the hollow cane placed against my ear, the words went straight into my heart. As part of the 15th Printemps des Poètes ("Spring of Poets"), Les Souffleurs were whispering poetic, philosophical and literary secrets as part of the flashmob gathering at the Pompidou Centre yesterday.

It's amazing what you hear when you take the time to listen. Please click here to see additional photos of Les Souffleurs.


Comments

  1. You do the quirkiest things!

    That kid with the umbrella looks like he's stoically undergoing an unpleasant medical procedure.

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    1. Maybe they're trying to suck a pea out of his ear! Those things have a way of ending up in the strangest places!

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  2. ah, the party upstairs dilemma. What to do? Go join them! I did this once in Istanbul, well, and frankly it was THE experience of the trip but for almost all the wrong reasons. My friend and I realized that all the ladies in attendance were hookers and if we stayed around much longer, well, let's just say, we got out of there.

    I love the Poetry event. I so would have been there. And Mr Frenchy can whisper in my ear any day of the week.

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    1. Oh, Joseph! The idea of you in a den of prostitutes is too funny! Did you feel like a sacrificial lamb? As for me, I think that I would still prefer to try to sleep downstairs rather than party upstairs with our upstairs. We've had some fairly funny interactions with them in the last few weeks, including Sara and me being cheek-to-cheek with one of the young men in our tiny elevator that wasn't intended for three people!

      I couldn't help but wonder which poem Mr. Frenchie was whispering in the woman's ear because one of the other whisperers started fanning the woman with a black fan. It must have been steamy!

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  3. Love the Shhhh man facade near Pompidou, overlooked by many. A great contrast in architectural styles when viewed with the Church behind it. Great post today however with so many references to sound, I'm a bit disappointed that you have not included a Sunday song (and video)....maybe I will stop reading this blog. (NOT)

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    1. My apologies for not living up to your expectations, Nancy! I will try to mend my careless ways and post a song next week.

      Thanks for sending the pics that you took of the Shhh man facade!

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  4. I love this post Mary Kay! Sounds are such an important part of experience, particularly when wandering the streets of a big city. It is amazing what you hear. I often lament the young who have a earphones perpetually plugged into their ears...they miss so much of life. Sounds however, at 3 in the morning when one is trying to sleep, are not always so pleasing!!

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    1. Thanks, Baron! I also wonder about this new habit of people going around with earphones stuck in their ears. Some of them only remove the earphone from one ear when they're talking with their friends. Like you, I always think about what they're missing. Just recently I've started hearing birdsongs again in Paris. I wouldn't trade that for any song!

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  5. Oh man, the neighbors! My neighbors party a lot (mostly during the week, sans note). In your case, it seems like it was an isolated occurrence, so good for you taking letting them have a little fun. You're a cool neighbor! : ) And I love when the drunken American sing along happens! It's always the most random songs too! My neighbors seem to love Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty". So weird.

    Hi MK!!

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    1. Hi Mlle Ella! I'm definitely not a cool neighbor. At some point I'll have to write a post about all of our interactions with the upstairs neighbors, including the one where I was screaming at them like a banshee during one of their parties that lasted past 3:00 am. Since they nicely asked us which night would be the most convenient for us this time, I decided to let them have their fun.

      I did, however, have a good time listening to their drunken American song sing-a-long. When they played "Somebody I Used to Know", I even sang a bit of it by myself downstairs.

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  6. I would love to have a man whisper poetry into my brain like that!!!!

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    1. Mr. French will have to get a book of poetry and a hollow cane for your birthday!

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