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Monday, 30 June 2014

A World Cup "dilemma" for François Hollande

All right, so "dilemma" might be a little bit of an exaggeration.

But hey. It's football (and politics). And hyperbole is pretty much par for the course in both domains.

All the same, how about "quandary"?

Yup, "François Hollande's World Cup quandary".

You see, the French president can't have helped but notice the  increasing popularity of Les Bleus during their first three games of the World Cup tournament in Brazil, especially after their convincing wins against Honduras and Switzerland (we'll forget that goalless draw with 10-man Ecuador).

The talk in the French media was about "team spirit" and "the players' pride in representing their country" with the folk back home tuning in by the millions to follow their exploits on telly.

Ah yes. Apparently the French had (and have) falllen in love with their football team once again: to such an extent that some people actually see them as being capable of winning the whole thing.

Meanwhile Hollande watches from the sidelines, or the Elysée palace - just as he did during a soirée he organised; the sumptuous setting and giant-sized screen more "gauche" than "bling bling" and rather spoilt by his constant (caught-on -camera) snacking throughout the game.

Still, "President Normal" and all that.

Anyway, that's all an aside (and a long-winded one at that).

The "quandary" for the French president is when and, indeed even, if he should make an appearance in Brazil, and how that might be interpreted.

Of course, Hollande doesn't have the same sort of PR savvy as the German chancellor Angela Merkel.

She's an "old hand", so to speak, at managing to show how "in touch" she is with what makes a footballing nation tick (during the World Cup) and could be seen in the stands during Germany's opening game, cheering on die Mannschaft as they made mincemeat of Portugal.

Angela Merkel at the World Cup (screenshot Newsloop video YouTube)

And to top it off, Merkel then had a photo op' in the dressing room with the players.

Smart lady - and smart move.

Hollande, in contrast, was last seen with the French squad in Clairefontaine as they prepared for their World Cup campaign.

There was plenty of humour, although it all looked a little awkward at times during the photoshoot with the players which left the president looking and "buffoonly".

But that's perhaps being unfair as there's nothing wrong with not being quite the right shape. After all, how many of us really are?

Since then, nothing much. Well just that ostentatious "soirée". And no real sign that Hollande is about to fly to Brazil to support Les Bleus.

Yes, he has a packed agenda - most political leaders do. But he could have followed Merkel's example and "played safe" by putting in an appearance during the group stage.

After all, the tournament and the group match schedules were published months ago.

Instead Hollande now faces the risk of turning up during the knock out stage when his presence at the country's defeat (should it happen) could well be interpreted as a "jink".

Yes it's (more than) a stretch of the imagination, and there's no way that Hollande's attendance would contribute to the outcome, but that wouldn't stop the more unkindly drawing a link between the two.

Apparently the French president has pencilled in a "surprise (you have to wonder how much of one it will be) visit" should Les Bleus make it through to the quarterfinals after their next match against Nigeria.

The only problem (oh, life can be so cruel sometimes) is that if all goes true to form and planning, France's opponents in the quarterfinal match would be...Germany.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Friday's French music break - Wilhelmenia Fernandez, "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana"

This week's Friday's French music break is a treat for all opera lovers out there; the American soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez singing "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana" from Alfredo Catalani's "Le Wally".

Wihelmenia Fernandez (screenshot from "Diva")

No, not much French about it at all, except that this version of the aria is probably one of the more popular and most well-known (but not necessarily "best") as it featured in Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1981 art house classic film "Diva" in which Fernandez played (and sang) the part of Cynthia Hawkins, "a beautiful and celebrated opera singer who has never consented to have her performances recorded."

So why dig up a version that's more than three decades old of an aria from an opera that first opened in 1892?

Well, even though many famous sopranos have had "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana" in their repertoire (just do a search on YouTube and you'll come up with, among others, versions by Angela Gheorghiu, Renée Fleming and the late Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi ), "La Wally" as an opera is rarely performed.

Apparently that's because it's difficult to stage as it's set in the Tyrolean Alps with the heroine throwing herself to her death into an avalanche at the end, which sounds like hogwash as a reason, given the (sometimes improbable) plots in other operas (think Puccini's "Tosca" for example, in which the heroine "hurls herself off a parapet" at the end).

Anyway, right now "La Wally" is coming to the end of a run at the Grand Théâtre in Geneva - the first time it has been performed there since the venue reopened 50 years ago.

Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta (screenshot  from clip of "La Wally" Grand Théâtre de Genève)

Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta (pictured) shares the lead role with English-born Morenike Fadayomi (you can read her full official biography here) who takes over for the last two performances.

And for those of you who might fancy seeing the Geneva performance of "La Wally", Arte still has the June 20 "live transmission" in its site.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

World Cup fever - let's get a grip

What is it with football?

Yes the World Cup - warts (Fifa) and all - is a major sporting event.

There's no doubting that.

But really, does it mean our elected leaders can afford to forget the really important things happening in the world to ride - albeit briefly - the crest of the feelgood wave they hope might somehow benefit them?

Russia reduces its gas supply to Ukraine "raising the possibility of disrupted transit of gas to Europe" and a difficult winter ahead if things aren't sorted.

And what are our illustrious leaders up to?

Well, the German chancellor Angela Merkel hot-footed it over to Brazil to watch "die Mannshaft" make clinical mincemeat of Portugal (with a little help from an imploding Pepe early into the game)

Back in France as the country limps through its economic muddle, now complete with the inevitable industrial ("non") action from SNCF employees and les intermittents du spectacle, how did the president François Hollande spend his time during Les Bleus' opening game?

He ostentatiously invited 200 people (and the cameras) to la salle des fêtes at the Elysée palace to gawp ("with collective passion") at a giant screen as France ran out victorious over mighty Honduras in their first match.

Giant screen at the Elysée palace (screenshot BFM TV)

Oh well. Winter is months away, so why should politicians care about gas supplies right now?

Perhaps the football commentators will help jog their memories by broaching the subject during Russia's first game against South Korea on Tuesday!

Nigeria kicked off its tournament on Monday with a thrilling 0-0 draw against Iran, and in the meantime the 200 or so missing schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April are still being held hostage. They've been located apparently, but still haven't been freed.

Never mind. Who gives a damn anyway?

French TV news reports spend an inordinate amount of time analysing and speculating on the Les Bleus' chances, interviewing individual French players and managers - past and present - wheeling in the "experts" to give their opinions and asking the man and the woman in the street what they think.

And at the same time Sunni Islamist militants have taken control of Iraq's second city Mosul and are now approaching Baghdad.

The world watches - says little and does nothing as the focus of media attention seems to be elsewhere.

And that "elsewhere" of course is Brazil - the host country, profiting from the glory and the money it's not going to make and the prestige the whole tournament will bring as an answer to its social problems.

Just ask South Africa, the host of the 2010 tournament.

Don't get me wrong. I love the so-called beautiful game. But I also care about other things.

And a World Cup which is as much about business and displays of exaggerated patriotism (whatever that might be) as it is sport, surely simply deflects attention away from those other things that really matter.

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