Great cities sound great. Beyond the people and the food and everything else that makes them wonderful, cities are a kind of impromptu orchestra of competing noises, often as rich in culture as they are cacophonous. Helicopter noise in LA says volumes about that city, for example, as do church bells in a small Italian village.
No where is this more true than Paris, a city that is as aurally pleasurable as it is culturally rewarding. Below, I’ve gathered a handful of the sounds I’ve collected over my last few visits to the City of Light. I think they offer a glimpse at a Paris that, at least for me, is easy to overlook when I’m otherwise overwhelmed by a plethora of sights and smells.
Drummers along the Seine
Paris is filled with street performers, but the group of young men playing the drums in the recording above weren’t putting on a show for anyone. Instead, they had gathered (apparently) just to play among themselves on a quiet, mostly abandoned strip of riverside walkway.
A train stopping in a tunnel above La Petite Ceinture
La Petite Ceinture is a beautiful, abandoned railway in the heart of Paris that we explored last year. Near the place where we found the tracks there’s a tunnel cutting deep into a hillside, and while walking through that tunnel a train passed above us. We couldn’t see it — it was apparently somewhere in the hillside above — but we could hear it very clearly come to a stop.
Boys playing soccer near the Pantheon
One afternoon after a long walk, I sat down to rest on some steps near the Pantheon, and quickly realized I was at the edge of a soccer game between a group of boys. As a traveler, it’s easy to think of Paris as a city of restaurants and museums, but this scene was a pleasant reminder that it isn’t just a destination, it’s also a home.
Ambient noise on Rue Mouffetard
Speaking of great everyday scenes, the audio above includes someone singing, the sound of recess at a nearby school, passersby, and the sizzle of crepes frying at a nearby stand. Rue Mouffetard can be pretty touristy. But, clearly, for a bunch of people it’s also home.
Sirens near Notre Dame
I’m slowly gathering a collection of siren noises from around the world. They vary considerably from country to country (and sometimes from city to city), and are consequently one of the quickest aural cues that identify a place.
— Jim Dalrymple II