Friday, 10 June
Right now, this early morning, all I can hear through the open window is a pair of cooing wood pigeons and the faint, intermittent din of traffic on the boulevard Saint Germain.
But in the next hours, the noise will ratchet up, be close to unbearable by lunch.
The first assault to my ears occurs on the way to the Tuileries. A few years ago, people started boxing in the morning under the pont de Solférino. The bam, bam, bam, pow, pow, pow under our feet makes Tasha’s ears flatten and my shoulders jump.
Sometime in the middle of breakfast, the construction project on the hôtel particulier in our courtyard that I’ve already written about and that is still nowhere near finished…
...starts tuning up.
Ditto for the work site across the street at the former Ministry of Defence...
...and, for the last couple of weeks, the one on the boulevard St Germain.
By the time I’m up in my office, it’s a John Cage symphony, heavy on the percussion: the drills syncopated and in stereo, the hammers booming contrapuntally from across the street. The string section (metal saw) whines mezzo out back. Enter fortissimo the sirens that constantly screech, howl and keen down the boulevard St Germain, pitched like a mega-piccolo.
Those I can hear going by now, at 10am, are likely to be the cavalcade of motorcycles and penitentiary vehicles taking the defendants in the 13 novembre terrorist trial to the Palais de Justice, near Notre Dame. For the last nine months, they have blared by me on Thursdays while I wait for Tasha to be picked up for her weekly outing with Koffi & Cie, and it chills me to the bone every time.
Now, I admit that my ears are particularly (overly, my husband might say) sensitive to noise. Loud chewing, for example, drives me to distraction, and I cannot be in the same room when someone else is typing on a computer. But hearing does not improve with age, so if Paris is bothering me more, the reason must be that the city is noisier than it used to be. For a while, I thought it was just my quartier. These last two weeks, however, biking here and there to various meetings, I've found it’s everywhere the same: major construction noise, ceaseless sirens and drivers hooting like Italians.
Furthermore: “People are getting louder,” says my friend Nathaële, who lives in the lively Bobo quartier around the rue des Martyrs. “When I walk the dog past restaurants in the evening, voices boom from the restaurants, often over blasting music.” There’s a general sense of heightened, feverish agitation, she says. “It’s worse than the schoolyard.”
Since we have recently experienced that very phenomenon in a restaurant (in the boring 7ème, no less) that we used to like for its hushed timbre, I believe her.
Should you remain unconvinced that the plural of anecdote is data, take a look at the study published by money.co.uk late last year on the noisiest cities in Europe. Guess what? Paris was Top of the Pops. Among the contributing factors: "crowds packing into bars and terraces."
The other day I went to a medical centre for some tests and saw this sign taped all over the place:
It warns people that aggressive behaviour against the medical or administrative staff can be prosecuted. It reminded me of the sign that flashed up every five minutes during a Eurostar trip earlier this year.
Lately I've been wondering if the rising noise level and the increase in incivility and hostility aren't related. Is the boxing under the bridge, for example, a healthy sign of stress release or a worrying indication of building belligerence?
Are drivers honking more because all the construction makes them feel like caged animals or do they just need to spend more time boxing under the bridge? Are there more sirens because the police are keeping us safer or are the forces de l'ordre displaying the same feverish symptoms as the Bobos in the crowded restaurants?
Cause and effect, it seems, are playing off one another, ramping up tension, towards a frenzied crescendo. The coda promises to be anything but melodic.