Search France Today

Loading...

Monday, 30 June 2008

One woman's French Foly

Right up front it has to be said that this is far from being a hard-hitting news piece. And what's more it'll probably only have a limited appeal bearing in mind that among the roll call of names are those that will only be familiar to the French, or French ex-patriots, Francophiles, Francophones and France-watchers.

There again there are some that will strike a chord around the globe, so forgive the indulgence. And if you’re in the slightest bit curious keep reading to discover an account of a rollicking good evening spent watching a performance that had the audience proverbially “rolling in the aisles”, whooping with laughter and grinning from ear-to-ear for more than two solid hours.

All right it was probably a public easily won over and which had come to see the launch of a very special sort of one-man show. Or perhaps better said, a one-woman show, performed by Liane Foly.

She's no stranger to the French and it's as a singer that the 45-year-old has made her name over the years, releasing her first album in 1988 and following it up with a string of hits and the occasional appearance in films made for television.

But in her one-woman show "La Folle Parenthèse" Foly makes her first real venture into another area of entertainment entirely as an impersonator and she pulls it off with professional aplomb.

In it she single-handedly assembles some of the greats - past and present - of the French music scene, with some international artists thrown in for good measure along with politicians, television stars, and actresses.

The 19th century Théâtre Marigny just off the Champs Elysées in Paris, with seating for over 1,000 was packed to the rafters every night of Foly’s recent opening run as she sang, strutted, croaked and danced her way through 30 plus characters, interspersing her performance with rapier wit and wicked social and political comment.

Whether it was as a swooning parody of France’s first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, or as a majestically strutting Socialist politician, Ségolène Royal, Foly slipped effortlessly from one imitation to the next with a minimum of costume changes, no gimmicks, and a simple mimic of gesture and mannerism to convince the audience that she really had brought along a whole cast of characters.

Accompanied by just two musicians – the pianist Jean Yves d'Angelo and his brother, Pierre, on the saxophone and percussion – Foly presented a simple plot to hold everything together.

She bantered as the gravel-voiced actresses Muriel Robin and Line Renaud, and later as Celine Dion in her rapid-fire French, with the imaginary Pedro somewhere at the back of the theatre.

Pedro wanted her to provide a possible line-up of improbable stars for a cabaret to be performed the following evening in St Etienne, a less than fashionable city in central eastern France better known perhaps as the former capital of this country’s bicycle industry and for its soccer team which in the 1960s and 70s dominated the French league.

A most unlikely venue for some of the past and present greats of the French music and film world and certainly not a place international stars would put high on their list of performance dates.

The scene set, Foly used the “audition” as a vehicle for some spot-on satire, political and social comment and some belting good songs - never letting the audience forget that not only can Foly hold a tune as herself, she can do it as a host of other people too.

As France Gall she warbled some French evergreens and as Sylvie Vartan she flounced about the stage, dangling a wandering microphone and flicking her non-existent lavish blonde locks

Actress Jeanne Moreau growled, the late Serge Gainsbourg's English-born wife, Jane Birkin, sang a tribute to her husband in her much-beloved and heavily accented French, Canada’s very own Mylène Farmer intentionally left everyone wondering exactly what she was singing about as she pirouetted mindlessly around the stage and had her ethereal music mocked for its incomprehensibility. Madonna went in for a touch of S&M just for a change.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy flirted with the pianist as though he were the incarnation of her "Nicolas" and to the strains of la Marseillaise and huge applause on strode last year's defeated Socialist presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, promising not to talk politics and then proceeding to do just that.

Into the mix Foly threw Christophe Willem - a former winner of France's answer to American Idol and the voice of music producer Orlando.

After performing non-stop for just over two hours, Foly was dragged back for the inevitable but hugely welcome encore to perform as two icons of French music no longer around – Barbara and Dalida.

And then, just when you thought there could be no more, France television’s own very dippy and often inappropriately-dressed 50-something meteorologist, Catherine Laborde, came on to give us an update on what weather would lie ahead for tomorrow, the night of the “real” performance.

Foly's run at the sumptuous Théâtre Marigny in Paris ended at the weekend and she’ll now be taking her show on the road around the country for the rest of the year – ending up back in the French capital in December for an encore at Olympia.

If any of the names here have meant anything to you, and you’re planning a trip to France at some time this year, this is one act – or a multitude of them – that you would be well advised not to miss.

One woman's French Foly

Right up front it has to be said that this is far from being a hard-hitting news piece. And what's more it'll probably only have a limited appeal bearing in mind that among the roll call of names are those that will only be familiar to the French, or French ex-patriots, Francophiles, Francophones and France-watchers.

There again there are some that will strike a chord around the globe, so forgive the indulgence. And if you’re in the slightest bit curious keep reading to discover an account of a rollicking good evening spent watching a performance that had the audience proverbially “rolling in the aisles”, whooping with laughter and grinning from ear-to-ear for more than two solid hours.

All right it was probably a public easily won over and which had come to see the launch of a very special sort of one-man show. Or perhaps better said, a one-woman show, performed by Liane Foly.

She's no stranger to the French and it's as a singer that the 45-year-old has made her name over the years, releasing her first album in 1988 and following it up with a string of hits and the occasional appearance in films made for television.

But in her one-woman show "La Folle Parenthèse" Foly makes her first real venture into another area of entertainment entirely as an impersonator and she pulls it off with professional aplomb.

In it she single-handedly assembles some of the greats - past and present - of the French music scene, with some international artists thrown in for good measure along with politicians, television stars, and actresses.

The 19th century Théâtre Marigny just off the Champs Elysées in Paris, with seating for over 1,000 was packed to the rafters every night of Foly’s recent opening run as she sang, strutted, croaked and danced her way through 30 plus characters, interspersing her performance with rapier wit and wicked social and political comment.

Whether it was as a swooning parody of France’s first lady Carla Bruni- Sarkozy, or as a majestically strutting Socialist politician, Ségolène Royal, Foly slipped effortlessly from one imitation to the next with a minimum of costume changes, no gimmicks, and a simple mimic of gesture and mannerism to convince the audience that she really had brought along a whole cast of characters.

Accompanied by just two musicians – the pianist Jean Yves d'Angelo and his brother, Pierre, on the saxophone and percussion – Foly presented a simple plot to hold everything together.

She bantered as the gravel-voiced actresses Muriel Robin and Line Renaud, and later as Celine Dion in her rapid-fire French, with the imaginary Pedro somewhere at the back of the theatre.

Pedro wanted her to provide a possible line-up of improbable stars for a cabaret to be performed the following evening in St Etienne, a less than fashionable city in central eastern France better known perhaps as the former capital of this country’s bicycle industry and for its soccer team which in the 1960s and 70s dominated the French league.

A most unlikely venue for some of the past and present greats of the French music and film world and certainly not a place international stars would put high on their list of performance dates.

The scene set, Foly used the “audition” as a vehicle for some spot-on satire, political and social comment and some belting good songs - never letting the audience forget that not only can Foly hold a tune as herself, she can do it as a host of other people too.

As France Gall she warbled some French evergreens and as Sylvie Vartan she flounced about the stage, dangling a wandering microphone and flicking her non-existent lavish blonde locks

Actress Jeanne Moreau growled, the late Serge Gainsbourg's English-born wife, Jane Birkin, sang a tribute to her husband in her much-beloved and heavily accented French, Canada’s very own Mylène Farmer intentionally left everyone wondering exactly what she was singing about as she pirouetted mindlessly around the stage and had her ethereal music mocked for its incomprehensibility. Madonna went in for a touch of S&M just for a change.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy flirted with the pianist as though he were the incarnation of her "Nicolas" and to the strains of la Marseillaise and huge applause on strode last year's defeated Socialist presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, promising not to talk politics and then proceeding to do just that.

Into the mix Foly threw Christophe Willem - a former winner of France's answer to American Idol and the voice of music producer Orlando.

After performing non-stop for just over two hours, Foly was dragged back for the inevitable but hugely welcome encore to perform as two icons of French music no longer around – Barbara and Dalida.

And then, just when you thought there could be no more, France television’s own very dippy and often inappropriately-dressed 50-something meteorologist, Catherine Laborde, came on to give us an update on what weather would lie ahead for tomorrow, the night of the “real” performance.

Foly's run at the sumptuous Théâtre Marigny in Paris ended at the weekend and she’ll now be taking her show on the road around the country for the rest of the year – ending up back in the French capital in December for an encore at Olympia.

If any of the names here have meant anything to you, and you’re planning a trip to France at some time this year, this is one act – or a multitude of them – that you would be well advised not to miss.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Trash TV's Secret Story - update

You can tell summer has arrived here in France because the signs are all around us.

First up there are the obvious ones - such as the weather and the dress code. Of course the latter, especially in the nation's capital, can still turn into something of a catwalk as this year's chic hits the streets big time in what for many is the Mecca of the fashion world.

Then there are the music festivals, concerts, outdoor productions, and jumble sales held up and down the country and let’s not forget the smell of a BBQ wafting in from the neighbour’s garden.

Prime time television news reports begin focussing on the queues at airports and the number of passengers passing through the French capital's major railway stations, rather than hard news. And national newspapers go in for the inevitable silly season.

The inside lanes of the motorways are bumper-to-bumper full of Dutch cars, trailers and caravans, busting at the seams with provisions for a month.

In August of course, when (hopefully) summer will be in full swing a huge chunk of the country will all but close down for a month and Paris will put up shop almost completely as the French head south literally and metaphorically with “Aoutien” holidaymakers replacing “Juilletistes”.

But the real clue that the whole shebang is underway has to be the reappearance on the small screen of Secret Story.

It reared its less than attractive head on Friday evening on the country’s number one national channel, TF1, and is set to be in everyone's sitting rooms for the next 10 weeks.

In essence it's France's answer to Big Brother - only more downmarket. Impossible you might think, but sadly true.

Basically the idea is very simple. It starts with 15 people, strangers to each other - with the odd exception, as will become clearer later on - moving into a built-for-TV house, where they'll be under the watchful eye of the production team and the viewing public 24/7 (via the Internet of course) for two and a half months.

Each carries with them into the house a "secret" - and the idea is to keep it hidden from the others for as long as possible while trying to cajole out of fellow house mates exactly what they're trying to keep under wraps.

Off camera there is also the deep bass booming tones of The Voice (La Voix), dropping hints whenever he feels like it, setting playful if somewhat idiotic tasks with cash rewards should they be completed successfully without anyone else in the house realising.

Every week two candidates are nominated and television viewers get to vote in a ‘phone poll (at premium rates of course) on who should stay in. Original stuff huh?

Yes the country which so often likes to think that it has taken the cultural highroad, brought the world classics in the fields of literature, art and music, prides itself on its language and traditions, cuisine, fine wines and haute couture - now proves once again that it can mix it with the best and worst of what the world of reality TV has to offer.

The new series, which kicked off on Friday evening will have a hard act to follow.

Last summer, when TF1 first ran the programme, the eventual winner quickly had her secret revealed .She was a triplet – and after the other house members wheedled it out of her, in tramped her two sisters.

Thus the three of them provided viewers with hours of entertainment as they played cards, ate, played cards and slept, eventually being crowned the winners because…. well because they were pretty inoffensive and bland.

Up against them was the nudist, the escort boy, the son of a famous French tennis player (Henri Leconte) a transsexual and an obnoxious couple (their secret) who bickered and manipulated their way to the final, earning their Warhol moment of fame and then (thankfully) disappearing into oblivion.

This year's dollop of dubious “culture” kicked off with the contestants tastefully arriving at the house one by one in his and hers blue and pink limos. Each woman seemingly more buxom than the last, many of them sporting micro dresses of which even pop diva Mariah Carey would have been envious.

And with a few exceptions each man was more muscled, more coiffed and more drop-dead gorgeous than the last, preening and pouting as though they were models in Milan.

Separately they tottered, strutted, swaggered or tripped their way through the jeering and cheering masses into 10-weeks-worth (for the eventual winner) of fleeting public notoriety and a stab at the chance of picking up a €150,000 cheque at the end.

Some of the contestants have had their secrets revealed to the public already – such as the lesbian couple from Belgium, the black mother and white daughter or the 30-something hunk and teenage siren who have to pretend to be “a couple”. But none of the other housemates (apart from those “in” on their own coupled secrets) is any the wiser yet.

Nor do any of the contestants know exactly what secrets they have to find out, although once again viewers have been told that among the 15 there is an Anglican minister (male of female not revealed), an undertaker, a medium (who you would think might just have a head start on the others and know whether he or she would end up winning), a prince or princess and a Don Juan with apparently more than 750 “conquests” under his belt already.

So as the 15 pretenders to the title of French telly’s newest reality TV hero or heroine are busy settling in to their 24/7 life together transmitted live on the Net and daily on the small screen, we can probably expect some tasteless antics similar to last year’s offering – such as the rump steak shoved down the underpants of one male contestant.

There’ll also doubtless be the same sort of petty rivalries, squabbles and handbags-at-dawn stuff that characterised much of the first series.

But breathe a sigh of relief because at least it’s all being done in the name of entertainment. And as much as some might question why and find it “outrageous”, there’ll probably still be millions tuning in.

Let’s also not forget there’s always the “off” button on the TV set or alternative viewing on other channels.

As compulsive and trashy as Secret Story might be it'll still more than likely pull in the viewers and become its own story in itself as the nation tut-tuts and hisses in disapproval and indignation at the antics of the previous night's revelations.

And here's one of the secrets......



And one day later the first "secret" is revealed as the Belgian couple are outed.



Oh well. In the indomitable words of La Voix “C’est tout pour le moment.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Jeannie Longo-evity - a cycling phenomenon

She has done it again.

After winning the French national time trial championship for the eighth time on Thursday, the 49-year-old Jeannie Longo ( yes your read correctly Longo is FORTY NINE YEARS OLD) followed it up on Saturday with yet another blistering performance to win the 113km French Road Race Championship.

It's sixth time she has done the double here in France and the win saw her add to an impressive haul of 54 medals in national, world and Olympic competition. And if that weren't enough, not only does Longo excel on the road, she's also a champion on the track.

Next for Longo will be Beijing where she'll be looking once again to add to her tally of four Olympic medals - one gold, two silver and one bronze.

The first of those came in Atlanta way back in 1996. But you have to go even further back - 12 years before to be precise - to mark Longo's first appearance at the Olympics in Los Angeles.

When she lines up alongside her competitors in August, Longo will be competing in her seventh consecutive Games and facing some women who weren't even born when she started her Olympic odyssey!

Put quite simply, the stats speaking for themselves and Jeannie Longo has to be just about the most decorated woman in sport - certainly in cycling.

But while she deservedly receives national recognition back home in France and certainly plaudits within the cycling world, Longo isn't exactly one of the most high profile sportswomen internationally in spite of her success.

Let's hope that changes in Beijing, which should mark the end of her Olympic career. But who knows with this woman? London in 2012 aged 53 perhaps.

There are probably more than a few people out there who would like an insight into the secret of her longevity.

For the moment though what's the betting that the French and a fair few followers of cycling around the world will be sat in front of their television screens in around six weeks' time screaming "go Jeannie go."

Friday, 27 June 2008

Twice an orphan - barmy bureaucracy or welfare of the child? You judge.

Last weekend here in France an 11-year-old boy, Joris, found himself effectively orphaned for the second time. He was taken into care after his father, 34-year-old Aboubakar Coulibaly, was deported back to his native Côte d'Ivoire.

Coulibaly had been granted sole custody of Joris back in March 2006 after the child's mother committed suicide.

In spite of looking after his son for a year under the supervision of the local authorities in the west-central department of Maine-et-Loire and the agreement of a family judge, Coulibaly only had a temporary residence and work permit.

In addition he had a criminal record, thus in the eyes of the law disqualifying him from being allowed to remain permanently in France. Coulibaly had not only spent time in prison but had also been served deportation papers back in 2005.

Indeed the judge who made the decision to send him back last weekend maintained that Coubilay had only recognised paternity (apparently against the wishes of Joris's late mother) and sought custody of his child as a means to remain in this country.

French law states that a foreigner cannot be deported if he or she has lived regularly in France for 10 years or more and has custody of a French child.

Joris, like his late mother, has French nationality.

But supporters of Coulibaly say that he had served his time for a string of minor infractions, paid his debt so-to-speak to society and for the past couple of years had been a model citizen.

He was in regular employment, described by work colleagues and neighbours alike as diligent and courteous and most importantly looked after his son, according to campaigners from the movement Réseau éducation sans frontières (RESF).

They maintain that not only is the deportation and resulting separation of sole parent and child illegal, it's also immoral. The order had been served before Coulibaly had been granted custody of his child, they say, and hadn't been re-evaluated since the circumstances had changed.

For them this latest move flies in the face of the 2006 decision taken by a family judge, which had been made in the best interests of the child.

But French authorities see the case from quite a different angle.

Coulibaly had a string of convictions, they say - not all of them for minor infractions as maintained by his supporters. And over a period of time he had spent a total of three years behind bars.

He was not only in violation of a previous deportation order but according to Louis Franc, the general secretary of the préfecture of Maine-et-Loire, had also been the object of an investigation following accusations of sex with a minor. That's a claim of which Coulibaly's defence lawyers have reportedly never heard.

"What sort of future would he (Coulibaly) be able to guarantee an 11-year-old?" Franc asks and insists the deportation and the decision to take Joris into care were made in the best interests of the child.

So both sides tussling over the future of a child - and both maintaining that they only have his best interests at heart.

For the moment Joris is with a foster family and his father is back in Côte d'Ivoire.

Is it bureaucracy gone made or administration looking after the welfare of a child?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Public prosecutor recommends dropping (Jean) Sarkozy charges

The mysterious if somewhat exhausting case of the hit-and-run scooter and the role of the French president's son, Jean Sarkozy, could be nearing its conclusion.

A Paris prosecutor has recommended dropping charges against him, but a final decision won't be handed down until September.

The incident dates back to October 2005, when Mohammed Bellouti claimed that a scooter ran into the back of his BMW in the centre of Paris, damaging his rear bumper and driving away without stopping.

Bellouti apparently had the presence of mind to note down the licence number and reported it to the police. But when 10 months later they still hadn't traced the owner, Bellouti's insurance company took matters in hand and discovered the scooter belonged to Jean Sarkozy.

When he failed to respond to several of their letters, Bellouti took the case to court seeking€260 to cover the cost of the repairs and €4,000 in damages for the delay in settling his claim.

He maintained that Sarkozy had received preferential treatment and that the justice system and the police had been lenient in following up the case. At the time Sarkozy's father, Nicolas, was minister of the interior.

Appearing before the public prosecutor on Wednesday, the president's second son pleaded his innocence, although he could offer no explanation as to how Bellouti had been able to take the registration details of his scooter.

"I have never been involved in any sort of road traffic incident of any kind, " he said.

"If I had been the cause of an accident of course I would have stopped because that's my nature.

"I was insured and would have had no reason not to stop."

In good legalese speak, an independent expert called in for analysis concluded that the damage caused was "incompatible" with any impact there could have been between the car and a scooter similar to the one owned by Sarkozy.

Lawyers for the defendant maintained that the incident had never happened and Bellouti was trying to get insurance coverage for other accidents.

The story isn't quite over yet in spite of the prosecutor's recommendation. Judges will give a final ruling on the case at the end of September.

Ah yes the wheels of justice can grind very slowly at the best of times here in France but in this case they seemed to have moved at an almost pedestrian pace, at least certainly as far as Bellouti is concerned.

In case you thought there was nothing else to be revealed about the scooter - think again. It seems to have something of life all of its own.

After allegedly being involved in the 2005 incident, it was back in the news last year when it was stolen.

Police launched a detailed investigation - including using DNA tests - and within 10 days they had tracked down the thief. By this time of course, Sarkozy's father was president.

The 21-year-old Sarkozy is the second son from the French president's first marriage and has already carved out something of a name for himself in local politics.

He won a seat on the regional council of Haut-de-Seine in March and earlier this month was elected president of the centre-right grouping of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party - Nouveau Centre in the same regional council.

Sarkozy's sexist blunder?

Just days before France takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has committed something of a fashion faux pas.

He sent all 577 members of the country's national assembly a rather splendid black leather attaché case containing a pencil, a notepad and.....a light grey tie.

Now quite what the 105 women who sit in the Assembly are expected to do with a tie rather makes the mind boggle - give it to their partners perhaps.

But surely Sarkozy of all people could have ensured that there was a little more thought given as to how appropriate a present it would be.

All right, so it's not the story to end all stories, but it comes as rather a surprise from a man who came to office promising gender equality in politics - and delivering on it as far as cabinet appointments are concerned.

Of the 15-strong team, seven are women, and they've not just been given the traditionally perceived "softer" jobs in health and education. Michèle Alliot-Marie is the first woman to hold the post of interior minister, as is Christine Lagarde at finance. And Rachida Dati is the first woman from a non-European immigrant background, and the first Arab, to occupy a key ministerial position as justice minister.

Add to that the fact that thrice-married Sarkozy has a reputation as something of a lover of women (if the recent exposé of his former wife Cecilia is anything to go by) then offering a tie seems just a little "gauche" (for a man from the Right) to put it mildly.

As some of the women parliamentarians from across the political spectrum lined up for a photo-op "en cravate", one Socialist party member, Aurélie Filipetti, commented that it was yet again proof of how much (male) chauvinism there was still in politics.

Perhaps though it was for Sarkozy a (brief)case of "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't." Had he instead requested scarves to be given to the women rather than ties, would he then have been accused of sexism?

Better still, he could have avoided the issue entirely by offering everyone a classy unisex tee-shirt

There again as one bright wag in the comments section of the national daily Le Figaro wrote, just a few weeks after mourning the passing of Yves Saint Laurent - the designer who so famously made wearing trousers for women fashionable - perhaps Sarkozy was also looking to take over the mantle by empowering women to wear ties.

Is there no end to this man's talents? Europe and the world will soon find out.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Ad’ campaign to promote Sarkozy’s election promise

The French government has launched a media blitz in an attempt to convince people that it really is winning the battle to increase purchasing power.

In the coming weeks the French will be treated to over 1,600 TV commercials as well as Internet advertising and full page spreads in the national and regional daily newspapers.

It’s all part of a drive by the government to get across three measures it has taken to increase purchasing power; the drop in the security deposit required for renting and buying properties, tax breaks for students and untaxed overtime for those who want it.

Nicolas Sarkozy's major promise during his campaign last year in the run up to the presidential elections was that he would increase the purchasing power of the average man and woman on the street here in France.

The solution to boost the country’s sluggish economy was simple, he maintained. He would free up the job market and release businesses from the shackles of the 35-hour working week thereby giving people the chance to put in overtime without it being taxed.

A general "work more to earn more" mantra echoed along the corridors of power and would make its way through the land and eventually into the pockets of the masses. At least that was the premise.

Except it hasn't really turned out that way at all. By all accounts people are still feeling the pinch, the economy isn’t booming and France remains a country in which half the population earns less than €1,500 per month.

The media has been especially critical with Sarkozy and his government, continually questioning when the promised increase in purchasing power would actually happen.

Sarkozy, whose approval ratings have been hovering around the 35 per cent mark for a couple of months now, even admitted in his 90-minute long televised interview back in April that there had been a failure in his fiscal package - but only in terms of communication.

And that’s very much the line his government is now taking in an effort to convince people that it’s on the right track.

At the launch of the campaign earlier this week French prime minister, François Fillon, insisted that measures had been in place for over a year to boost purchasing power but the message hadn’t come across to the general public because the fiscal changes that had been made were complicated and difficult to explain.

That at least was his justification for blowing over €4 million of taxpayers’ money on a television and press campaign to explain how the government is going to win the battle to increase purchasing power.

All well and good but critics point out that the media blitz could also be interpreted as propaganda on behalf of Sarkozy’s ruling Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party, aware that it had failed to deliver on an election promise but trying to convince the public otherwise.

The government can also expect to face an uphill battle in its attempts to convince a largely sceptical public if the latest opinion polls are to be believed. They show that around 63 per cent think the government is failing in its job to run the economy properly.

Mind you both Sarkozy and Fillon can take some comfort from the fact that the French traditionally seem to believe that their governments aren’t really up to the job of running the economy properly.

A similar poll in 2006 when Dominique de Villepin was prime minister showed 74 per cent unhappy with the economy, and under his predecessor Jean-Pierre Raffarin in 2005, the level was at 69 per cent. So on that score at least Sarkozy-Fillon are doing all right.

As a corollary, there’s a perhaps a certain irony in the government using TV commercials to get its message across at exactly the same time as it’s finalising plans for dropping advertising from all public channels.

Maybe for once, the chairman of the Socialist party, François Hollande, summed up best what many are thinking he when he said "quand on n'a rien à dire en politique, on fait sa pub".

Which roughly translates as “When you have nothing to say in politics, you talk about what you’re doing rather than what you’re achieving.” – pretty much a definition of “spin”.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Allo Raymond

It helps if you speak or understand French to really appreciate the sentiment behind this video.

It's the last in a series produced by "Daniel Trezeguet" and follows the non-exploits of the French soccer team at Euro 2008 - three games, one goal and one point before being eliminated in the group stages.

This particular satirical offering revolves (as always) around the team's manager, Raymond Domenech, his proposal of marriage to sports presenter Estelle Denis on national television the very night that France lost their last game 2-0 to Italy, and his refusal to call upon the services of two of the country's most talented players - Ludovic Giuly and David Trezeguet.

Sit back, listen - forget the cheesy tune - and enjoy the fun.


Sunday, 22 June 2008

Sarkozy starts visit to Israel

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, begins a three-day visit to Israel on Sunday in what the press back home is reporting as further proof of an improvement in relations between the two countries.

It'll be only the third time a French president has visited Israel, and Sarkozy is likely to have a far more conciliatory tone than his predecessors.

That shouldn't be too difficult. In 1996, during a visit to Jeruslam's old town, Jacques Chirac lost his rag with Israeli security as he was jostled during a walkabout and famously threatened to take the first 'plane home.

And in 1982 during a speech to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, François Mitterrand received a less than warm welcome when he stressed the need for Palestinians' rights to be recognised alongside Israel.

Not exactly renowned for the lightest of diplomatic touches, Sarkozy's trip has been diligently organised to avoid similar confrontations.

First up he's being kept well clear of East Jerusalem, he won't see the reality of how Palestinians live and he'll be kept well away from the "wall" or "separation barrier" (depending on whose definition you accept) .

Even though he's due to meet the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, it's being interpreted in the French press as "minimum service." The two men will meet on Tuesday in Bethlehem rather than Ramallah for "practical reasons" according to Sarkozy's own press office.

And when he addresses the Knesset on Monday, Sarkozy is bound to receive nods of approval should he renew his call for tougher international sanctions on Iran if it continues to fail to "come clean" on its nuclear programme.

It'll also be interesting to see exactly what he'll have to say about Israeli settlement plans and whether, as rumoured, he'll call for a freeze on them and an easing-up of travel restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sarkozy's trip has several goals - political, diplomatic and business - and has been scheduled a little earlier than planned at the insistence of the Israeli president, Shimon Pires, who was Sarkozy's guest in Paris back in March.

According to Ayelet Frish, a spokeswoman for Peres, he was reportedly blown away by the welcome he received in Paris and wants to return the favour by making Sarkozy feel at home. On Monday Peres will throw a gala dinner in honour of the French president and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

The fast-forwarded schedule shouldn't pose too many problems for Sarkozy and indeed could work to his advantage. It'll give him a chance to test the waters in the Middle East peace process.

France takes on the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union in July and will become the de facto leader of the "Quartet" ( EU, Russia, United States and United Nations) trying to mediate in the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He's also keen to put the finishing touches to one of his major international initiatives - the Mediterranean Union.

It's due to be launched in Paris on July 13, and Sarkozy would like nothing more than a photo-coup handshake between the Israeli prime minister, Ehoud Olmert and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad during that launch. Both men are expected to attend.

Apart from his wife, Sarkozy will also be accompanied by three members of the government: the foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, the interior minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie and the justice minister Rachida Dati - who never seems to miss a chance to collect air miles.

Any state visit by Sarkozy of course also has commercial undertones - he is after all France's best salesman. So there's perhaps no surprise that going along for the ride will be Laurence Parisot, boss of the Mouvement des Entreprises de France (Movement of French Enterprises, MEDEF) the largest union of employers in this country. She'll heading a delegation of business leaders, so don't be surprised if there are a few dotted lines signed or at least negotiations started.

Sarkozy's visit to Israel will be well worth watching to see just how he brings his own very personal style to politics in a part of the world in which he is reportedly being perceived as the most pro-Israeli French head of state in recent years.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Annulled non-virgin marriage "un-annulled" for the moment

An appeals court in the northern French town of Douai has decided to suspend the annulment of a marriage which a Moslem couple had requested because the wife had lied about being a virgin.

The case made national headlines here in France a few weeks ago when the story first broke and now it's back in the news again after the appeals court's decision to suspend the verdict.

It involves a man who suspected that his bride – also a Moslem – had lied about being a virgin before they were married in 2006.

His wife at first assured him she was “pure” but later revealed that she had indeed had sex before marriage. The wife returned to her family “in disgrace” and although she was initially reluctant to assent to her husband’s request to seek an annulment, she eventually agreed.

In April a judge in the northern French city of Lille granted the couple’s request for an annulment on the grounds that the man had been "mistaken about the essential qualities" of his wife-to-be. Such a term of course leaves the door wide open for a myriad of potential interpretations.

The media didn’t actually get wind of the story until the end of May but not surprisingly once it broke it created an uproar with many politicians, women’s rights campaigners and leading French Moslem figures denouncing the court's ruling as both a breach of a woman’s privacy and an offence – in legal terms – to the equality of men and women.

While the debate raged the French justice minister, Rachida Dati, seemed to say very little and do even less.

Dati - herself of North African origin and with an arranged and annulled marriage behind her - appeared almost paralysed by the furore that ensued. And it wasn't until her immediate boss, the prime minister François Fillon, stepped in that Dati did a volte face and asked the public prosecutors office to appeal the original ruling.

Fillon suggested that annulling a marriage on grounds of virginity was tantamount to taking France – a secular country - back in time and he didn’t want “people one day to be able to make virginity a constitutional element of marital consent."

In purely judicial terms there is now the seemingly ridiculous situation of the couple being "married" again even though the original annulment had been made with the agreement of both.

A final decision is expected in September and until then they are in marital limbo.

Should the court overturn the original annulment the only option left open to the couple would be the potentially lengthy and costly process of obtaining a divorce.

Sarkozy muscles in on EU reform

It's just under a fortnight until France takes over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union and already the rest of Europe is getting a taste of what it can expect.

At a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday, Sarkozy said the Union would not be able to go ahead with any further expansion without ratification of the Lisbon treaty.

And guess what? He's right - but that isn't the immediate issue at hand.

Sarkozy is a somewhat lukewarm supporter of further expansion of the EU - especially if it were to include Turkey - and has in his usual way managed to make the current controversy over the Irish rejection of "his" Lisbon treaty even more muddled.

He has linked institutional reform, which just about everyone agrees is outdated for the enlarged Union of 27, with further expansion saying there cannot be one without the other.

While that might be very true the real issue at the moment is how to deal with the problems that exist now rather than those further down the line.

A VERY quick potted history of recent events without breaking into Eurobabble - never very easy:

Ever since the EU took in 10 new members in May 2004 and then another two at the beginning of 2007 it has been chugging along like the proverbial ship without a rudder haplessly trying to make decisions with a voting system made for 15 countries but with 27 in mind.

Gridlock seemed to be inevitable especially if any real progress in joint foreign, defence and judicial policy were to be agreed and a former French president, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was put in charge of a commission to come up with the masterplan to end all masterplans - the unfortunately-named Constitution, a term designed to set get the hackles of any sovereign state rising.

And guess what it was the French themselves - along with another stalwart and original founder member of the EU, the Netherlands, who put the kibosh on the thing. Both countries rejected the constitution and leaders were left with egg on their faces.

May 2007 - the election of Action Man here in France, who hijacks an idea of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, claiming it as his own "mini treaty" and so Lisbon was born - essentially the constitution in the form of a treaty and apparently "simplified".

The Irish were the only country among the 27 required to put the new treaty to a national vote - and we all know what they decided, so now Brussels and the EU are in a sort of limbo with 19 ratifications, six yet to make up their minds and one "no".

So that brings us nicely to yesterday's crisis conference of EU leaders in Brussels and an apparent ultimatum.

Sarkozy's language will perhaps have shocked a few as this is a guy who doesn't pull punches, says what he thinks and doesn't care who he offends in the process.

What he should be saying is something along the lines of "Listen up here fellahs (the Irish) we can't cope now with current size of the Union. Give us a hand and help us out of this mess."

Instead he is being overly aggressive and issuing threats "If you don't do as we (I) say you're going to mess up the party for all of us. Go away and get your act together."

All right that's not exactly how he put it, but you get the gist.

France has had the pleasure of Sarkozy for the past year. Heaven help the rest of Europe over the next six months.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Airbus "contract of the century" deal with US Air Force under threat

The tussle between Airbus parent company EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company) and its American rival Boeing over a billion dollar contract with the US Air Force, took another twist on Wednesday.

In a move which could signal a blow to EADS's chances of delivering on a contract it won back in March, the US government accountability office recommended that its arch-rival, Boeing, be allowed another chance to tender a bid.

At stake is a deal worth a whopping $35 billion to supply the US Air Force with 179 new aircraft - one of the largest military acquisition programmes in US history.

In March the Air Force awarded the contract to the US manufacturer Northrop Grumman and its European partner EADS. It chose the KC-45 - based on the Airbus A330 - ahead of Boeing's slightly smaller KC-767.

In upholding Boeing's protest, the accountability office said a number of errors had been made in the process of awarding the contract to Northrop and EADS and they could have effected the outcome of the competition to the detriment of Boeing.

Up until Wednesday's ruling EADS had publicly said that it was confident of the deal being finalised and indeed its chief executive, Louis Gallois, even though admitting he was disappointed by the latest development, tried to remain upbeat.

"We support our partner Northrop Grumman and remain convinced that the KC-45 best fits the demands of the US Air Force, " he said in a statement.

"It's important to recognise that the announcement is an evaluation of the selection process, not the merits of the aircraft."

Although the accountability office's decision isn't binding on the Air Force, it'll certainly increase the pressure for new bids to be made, thereby re-opening the door to Boeing and putting at risk the original deal.

The Pentagon itself recently recognised that errors had been made in evaluating the offer.

And of course the case over possible job losses on the other side of the Atlantic will be reopened at just the same time as the presidential election campaign swings into full gear.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

It’s all over bar the shouting

In the time honoured tradition of the good old sporting cliché it’s time to break open the thesaurus, cry over the spilled milk and join the rest of the country in mourning France’s humiliating exit from Euro 2008.

On the morning after the night before, the French newspaper headlines are inevitably screaming for the head of the national team’s coach, Raymond Domenech.

Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to Italy could have just been the final straw to break the camel’s back as far as Domenech’s future in the job is concerned, although popping up in front of the microphone on the inevitable post-match post-mortem on national television immediately following the game his mind seemed to be elsewhere.

In front of millions of viewers Domenech behaved as though he had stepped straight on to the set of a Reality TV show by proposing to his long-time partner and one of the programme’s presenters, Estelle Denis.

Red-eyed and clearly brimming with emotion, Domenech mumbled into the microphone that he had only one project for the immediate future.

“That’s to marry Estelle,” he said. “It’s at times like these that we all need someone and I need her,” he continued.

“I thought to myself that there are beautiful things in life such as saying to people that we love them.

And it’s in these difficult moments that everyone wants to say what really matters. I wanted to say that,” he added.

Fairly tugs at the heartstrings doesn’t it? There was no admission of his failure or mistakes he had made, just a mention of “a team for the future” and a marriage proposal into the bargain. Quite a night all round really.

Domenech’s contract with the French Football Federation runs until 2010 and – perhaps luckily for him given his miserable track record as manager – isn’t actually performance related.

But the head honchos of French soccer will be getting together next month with the coach to discuss not only the strategy for qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but most likely his future too.

Already there are a number of experienced managers and former internationals itching to step into Domenech’s shoes and prove that a reign at the top can actually bring home trophies.

Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc – both members of France’s World Cup winning squad back in 1998 are two of the favourites being touted around at the moment.

On a positive note – yes there is apparently one to be spun from France’s early exit – is the pool of talented young players available as Domenech or whoever starts rebuilding for the 2010 campaign.

A number of the old guard 30-somethings have announced their retirement from international football. Lilian Thuram, Willy Sagnol and Claude Makelele have already said they’re hanging up their boots and more are expected in the following days.

While the fat lady might still be singing for Domenech, for the players it’s now time to lick their wounds, pack their bags and take the first flight home.

With the Netherlands beating Romania in the group’s other match, Les Bleus - incidentally playing in white for their last match of the tournament – finished plum last, managing just one measly goal and one even more measly point from their three appearances.

A pretty poor showing in anyone’s books from the 2006 World Cup runner up and one of the pre-tournament favourites.

Monday, 16 June 2008

A crunch match for France and Italy

Not surprisingly perhaps the French media is working itself up into something of a frenzy ahead of Tuesday’s all-important France-Italy match – the last for both countries in the group stages of Euro 2008.

It’s a game that could end up just being a matter of pride and see one, if not both, face elimination from the competition. A win for either side would simply not be good enough if Romania pull off the unexpected and beat the in-form Netherlands in the group’s other match.

Les Bleus will very much have their backs ups against the wall after a humiliating 4-1 loss at the hands (or perhaps better put, the feet) of the Netherlands last week. That defeat came after a much-criticised boring 0-0 draw against Romania in their opening game.

Italy haven’t fared that much better in their campaign so far, taking a 3-1 drubbing from the Dutch and following it up with a spirited but frustrating 1-1 draw with Romania.

Television football pundits here were quick to lay the blame for France’s loss to the Netherlands on the side’s manager, Raymond Domenech, and in particular criticised his decision to leave Karim Benzema on the subs bench. Benzema was the top scorer last season in the country’s domestic league.

And the coach certainly didn’t do himself any favours with supporters or help improve morale among the squad when he insisted that the players hadn’t lived up to their pre-tournament promise and said that some of them had failed to “do what they had to do.”

There have also been persistent rumours over the weekend of friction within the French camp, with the 20-something rising stars such as such as Benzema, Sami Nasri and Lassana Diarra questioning Domenech’s decision to stick with the experienced but out of form “old guard” of 30-somethings (plus) such as Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram, Claude Makalele and William Gallas.

Tuesday’s game will be yet another rerun of the 2006 World Cup final in Germany. Since Italy lifted that title on a penalty shoot-out, the two countries have met twice – both times in the qualifying group stages for the Euro 2008 finals.

If there’s any comfort to be drawn from statistics then the French hold the upper hand. In those games they won 3-1 at Stade de France in September 2006 and drew 0-0 a year later in Milan, eventually finishing runners-up to Italy in their group.

And when the two sides met in the Euro 2000 Final in Rotterdam, France ran out winners 2-1 after extra time.

This time around even though the stakes are high – a quarterfinal berth against Spain – the game could well be over for both sides – depending on what happens in the other match.

As they take on Italy in Zurich the French will also be waiting on the result of the game being played at the same time less than 100kms away in the Swiss capital of Berne.

If Romania beat the Netherlands then its curtains for both France and Italy – and the best either team can hope for will to be to bow out of the tournament with a win and their heads held high.

But if Marco van Basten’s Orange Army put on the same sort of performance that has so far set the so-called “Group of Death” and the tournament alight then maybe, just maybe Domenech’s men will be able to squeeze their way through to the quarterfinals.

Spring-cleaning in the summer at the local brocante

It was an opportunity that was too good to pass up - a chance for a jolly good clear out of all the junk that had been gathering dust in the attic forever with the added bonus thrown in of making a few cents into the bargain.

There’s a tradition here in France every summer for villages and towns up and down the country to throw open their doors so-to-speak and welcome the world to their brocante, or vide grenier.

Basically it’s a glorified sale – jumble, garage or car boot – call it what you will – in which local residents can get rid of some of their clutter and visitors might pick up something at a snip.

Of course there’s bound to be plenty of rubbish on offer, but there again one person’s junk is another’s treasure.

And it was with this in mind that we loaded the car with our assembled assortment of less than tasteful tat.

Old riding boots fought for space with a mess of holiday knick-knacks. There was a pair of mismatching Russian oven gloves - pretty to look at but far too thin to fit their purpose. In went a decorative bread bag and a 25-volume encyclopaedia – a little underused and outdated for a generation that prefers to Google anything and everything. Trays, a Rubik’s cube – one side finished, four matching eggcups, and much, much more.

So with the vehicle virtually bursting at the seams, off we headed for the village main street.

Now this wasn’t going to be totally unfamiliar territory for us. While not exactly being frequent visitors to brocantes we had nonetheless picked up a few bits and pieces over the years.

But we had never really been fired up with the fervent “collection fever” that seems to motivate many who go out treasure hunting. No, we remained more fair-weather friendly in our enthusiasm.

Still it was with a certain amount of trepidation and a healthy dollop of naivety that we approached our first brocante from the other end – as sellers.

What prices should we set for the battered briefcase? Would anyone really want that ghastly set of three porcelain geese with yellow ribbons tied around their necks that we had been given many years ago? And wouldn’t that picnic set – never used – complete with plastic plates and cutlery not look a trifle out of place among the costly booty of the professional stand holder?

Our last fear proved to be largely unfounded as most of our fellow “brocanteurs” turned out to have attics full of riches similar to ours.

Of course you can’t keep the professionals away entirely and there was the odd stand heaving with antique treasures, trinkets and dubious wannabe Old Masters at inflated prices. But on the whole a quick glimpse around was enough to reassure us that we “belonged”.

It might have been indecently early – in fact far too early really, especially for a Sunday morning, but that wasn’t going to stop the real bargain hunters from pitching up.

Moments after we had finished arranging our hoard to maximum effect (we thought) there they were in all their glory intent on proving exactly what the early bird really can catch. Welcome news to us as business got off to an unexpectedly brisk start.

It was at this point that we quickly realised just how keen some people are to haggle – no matter how low the starting price is – presumably just for the sake of having done a deal. Apparently it’s all part of the fun.

Hmmmn. That’s sometimes a hard fact to hold on to. We were there to sell, and enjoy. Even the shyest buyer (a group I would have fallen into had the roles had been reversed) seemed galvanised to ask for our best offer so we learned not to set ridiculously low prices to begin with. But occasionally some customers overstepped the mark.

Such as the woman who spent 10 minutes minutely pouring over a largish suitcase – well known brand, robust and, even if I say it myself, in pretty good condition - pointing out that it had been used (what did she expect at a jumble sale?) complaining that it was too heavy (then don’t buy it, I wanted to scream) and wasn’t large enough (don’t even think about how I was supposed to counter that one).

She asked how much it weighed, its capacity, why it wasn’t larger, lighter, a different colour. And of course she made full use of all negotiating tactics in trying desperately to bring down the asking price (€15) even further. Mind you, it seemed to pay off as we kept our cool and eventually settled on €12 - as much to get shot of her as sell the case.

Ah keeping our cool wasn’t always easy as we listened to all manner of excuses as to why the sale couldn’t be made. They ranged from “I don’t have enough money” (response: ”The cash point is just behind you.”) through “I don’t have any small change only a €50 note” (response: “That’s all right we stocked up on coins ahead of time.” We really had) to “I’ve only just arrived and don’t really want to carry it around with me.” (response – obviously: “If you like it, pay now and we’ll keep it for you until you pass by again.” It worked.)

Then there was the Carrier Bag Hunter, presumably something of a familiar phenomenon at this kind of event. We had the forethought to take along a pile of used bags with us. And they seemed to be among the hottest items, even if we didn’t charge for them. Perhaps we should have done. Of course they certainly came in useful for the excuse “We have nothing to carry it/them in”.

The mad early rush soon became the midday lull as the French headed off for lunch, so some hastily prepared sandwiches and a thermos of coffee hit just the right spot at we sat back to enjoy the break. We resisted the temptation of wandering up and down ourselves to see what “steals” we could make as we really didn’t want to end up packing more into the boot of the car at the end of the day than we had arrived with at the start.

Even though the weather held, there simply weren’t the visitor numbers around after lunch, so we decided to call it a day.

Of course we hadn’t sold everything although most of the larger items had gone and believe it or not someone actually bought the encyclopaedias and bravely hulked them off.

But we headed home less heavily weighed down AND a whole €98 better off.

We’ll be back at the next brocante in September, with more of our junk (yes there’s still more cluttering the attic – isn’t there always?) and hopefully a little wiser into the bargain.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Boonen banned from Tour

Belgium’s former world cycling champion, Tom Boonen, has been forced out of this year’s Tour de France.

The rider was barred after it was revealed that he had tested positive for cocaine use outside of competition in May.

So drugs are yet again making the headlines of cycling’s annual “jewel in the crown” and it hasn’t even started. It doesn’t get underway until July 5.

There again drugs and cycling seem to be two words that are almost synonymous in a sport that is riddled with doping scandals.

The winners of the last two Tours, Spain’s Alberto Contador in 2008 and US rider Floyd Landis in 2007 – have both been at the centre of doping allegations.

Indeed last year’s event overall degenerated into what was termed a “Tour de Frauds” with several top riders forced to drop out during the race after failing controls.

Organisers of the Tour seem to make an annual effort to clean up what is considered by many to be the sport’s showpiece but clearly face an uphill battle.

Reacting quickly to the news of Boonen’s positive test for cocaine, the Tour’s general race director Christian Prudhomme said the actions of the rider had brought disgrace upon cycling and the Tour itself.

And he’s not kidding. Boonen is yet another high profile rider to make the headlines for the wrong reasons. He was world champion in 2005, took last year’s green jersey as the best sprinter on the Tour and just last April won the prestigious Paris-Roubaix race when he beat Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland in a sprint finish.

While Boonen might be out of this year’s race his team, Quickstep, will still take part.

It’s perhaps it’s a little hard to believe that Proudhomme actually thought and apparently still thinks the sport’s image hadn’t been tarnished almost beyond repair.

News of yet another drugs scandal, albeit outside of competition and therefore under the circumstances not considered performance enhancing, will hardly rock the nation or the sport.

Officially even though cocaine is classed as a stimulant, it’s only considered a prohibited substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency if taken during competition.

The Tour’s organisers and the sport’s governing body, ICU, defend themselves, claiming the very tests they carry out prove how much more of an effort they are making to rid the sport of its shame.

This year’s 21-stage Tour de France will get rolling on July 5 from Brest in western France, finishing on July 27 in Paris, and doubtless there’ll be a few more drugs headlines to make the news before, during and after the event.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

France faces fine over lack of hamster love

Weird but true, France is being threatened with a €17 million penalty if it doesn’t clean up its act and come up with a strategy to save the European hamster, one of the continent’s most threatened species.

Last week the European Commission, the executive branch of the 27-member European Union, gave France a two-month deadline or else it would have to cough up the whopping fine for failing to comply with the Habitats Directive (yes we’re in Eurobabbleland here) to prevent the rodent’s extinction.

The Directive requires all member states to designate sites for conservation and to protect various listed species.

The little fellah at the centre of the warning is the Cricetus cricetus better known as the "great hamster of Alsace" or the black-bellied Hamster, and as one of its name suggests is native to eastern France.

According to the Commission’s statistics – and don’t even begin to ask who does the counting, or how - the number of burrows for the rodent have fallen dramatically in recent years, down from 1,100 in 2001 to just 167 in 2007.

The decline in population is put down to urban development and just as importantly increased levels of farming, both of which have led to the hamster’s loss of natural habitat.

In addition apparently the growth of profitable maize crops has left it with little to eat when it awakes from its winter hibernation in March.

It can’t be an easy job being taken seriously when such concerns are raised, but there is an important lesson to be learned from the decline in the hamster’s population according to the EU’s Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

He insists that the drop in numbers is nature’s way of sending out a bigger message and it’s beholden to everyone to heed that fact.

Brussels issued France a warning last December but maintains that not enough has been done and is now demanding a bigger effort from the French government or else face a fine.

France is also in trouble over its plans to extend the port of Saint Nazaire in the west of the country – a proposal which would destroy 50 hectares of wetlands protected under another EU-wide scheme.

On the surface perhaps it would yet again appear that the EU is doing what its critics would say it does best – handing down seemingly daft orders that are totally out of proportion with many of the other issues it faces.

For example there’s a vital vote on the future of the EU itself on Thursday when Irish voters decide on whether to ratify the so-called mini-treaty. A “no” could scupper plans to revamp its institutions and appoint a permanent president.

It would also leave the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, floundering to make his six-month rotating presidency of the EU effective, when France takes over in July.

Perhaps though among all the politicking, Sarkozy will spare a thought for the “cute” (in one Commission official’s words) little hamster and save the French taxpayer a hunk of money into the bargain.

After all “The man who saved the hamster” has a certain ring to it - doesn’t it?

A bore draw when two times zero equals one

The French have rather an appropriate expression for a football game that ends in a draw – “match nul”. And that just about sums up the general sentiment after France’s opening 0-0 non-thriller against Romania at Euro 2008.

With the Netherlands thrashing World Cup holders Italy 3-0 in the so-called “Group of Death’s” other game, perhaps the most comfort French coach, Raymond Domenech, can take from the result is that at least his team didn’t lose and managed to come away with one point.

“I knew this group would be very complicated,” he commented afterwards. “We have to bounce back. There are two more matches and six points for the taking,” he added.

Good on Domenech for not resorting to the usual footballing clichés or stating the blindingly obvious that might have escaped the attention of the millions of armchair fans here who turned on their televisions early Monday evening and tuned in to watch Les Bleus superbly underperform.

From start to finish the game was sheer drudgery, with the French mix of young stars and established quality internationals unable to break down the defences of a Romanian team that added little to the game and seemed content to come away with a point.

All right, so captain Patrick Vieira and striker Thierry Henry were both sidelined through injury, but Domenech was still able to field a crop of young players who would make many a national team selector drool in anticipation. Karim Benzema, Franck Ribéry, Jérémy Toulalan - on paper at least they promised to deliver.

They didn’t. And much of the blame surely has to lie fair and square with the man at the helm – Domenech himself.

His appointment as a successor to Jacques Santini after France lost in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004 to the eventual winners Greece raised more than a few eyebrows among both fans and players. And his management style and tactical strategies have often been less than convincing since he took over.

Domenech’s good fortune has been that his reign has been blessed with a generation of talent - not least one of the game’s greats, Zinedine Zidane, who has now sadly hung up his boots.

Although France struggled to make the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Domenech managed to guide them through to the final before famously losing to Italy in a penalty shoot-out – a result that relieved much of the pressure from the manager’s shoulders and secured the renewal of his contract with the French Football Federation.

The 56-year-old former international (he was capped eight times for his country) has not been shy of courting controversy in some of his decisions. To the bemusement of many fans, he has refused to select – seemingly almost on a whim - international stars still very much in their prime such as striker David Trezeguet or winger Ludovic Giuly.

And he earned the wrath of former Chelsea coach José Mourinho by calling up Claude Makélélé into the squad, in spite of the veteran midfielder’s “retirement” from international football. Mourinho accused Domenech of treating the player “like a slave”.

His tactics once again came in for rigorous questioning in qualification for Euro 2008. France booked their place as runners-up in their group to Italy but along the way twice suffered defeats to Scotland – hardly a powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination in international football.

Simply put though Monday’s result will have disappointed many who had widely tipped the World Cup runners up to go far in this tournament. Sure it’s not over yet and yes, there are two games remaining.

But Domenech’s head is on the block yet again and six points from two games against the Netherlands and Italy would seem something more than wishful thinking.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Ferrari to return as PPDA is given the boot

One of France’s top news anchors, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, will bid farewell to viewers this summer and be replaced by the darling of the French media, Laurence Ferrari.

PPDA as he is more affectionately known has been a familiar face on prime time news for more than three decades. For Ferrari it marks a return to TF1 – the country’s biggest private television channel - which she left in December 2006 to host a weekly political programme on rival station Canal +.

The change signals something of a revolution in French television journalism. After all PPDA has been more or less the face and the voice of television news for the past 30 years.

In February 1976 he was chosen to present the prime time news on the country’s public channel Antenne 2, which later became France 2. He jumped ship nine years later to join TF1, where he has been ever since.

His tenure has been remarkable in the often fickle world of television in which ratings rule. But a recent drop in viewing figures has been compounded by stories of his autocratic style with newsroom colleagues and the desire by the powers-that-be for a change at the top.

Not surprisingly Ferrari didn’t require that much persuading to return to TF1. Despite a recent drop in ratings, the 8 o’clock evening news still regularly attracts more than 10 million viewers and is quite simply the most prestigious job in television journalism.

The 41-year-old first joined TF1 in 2000 and for the next six years formed one half of the golden couple of TV news along with her former husband, Thomas Hugues. The pair presented a weekly fast-paced news magazine and were regular holiday stand-ins for the channel’s main news presenters - Ferrari for Claire Chazal at the weekends and Hugues ironically enough for PPDA on weekdays.

Ferrari’s move in 2006 to Canal + came as a surprise to many, after all it gave her less exposure to the public at large. But it couldn’t have been better timed professionally speaking, coming as it did at the beginning of the campaign for last year’s presidential elections.

Her weekly political programme, “Dimanche”, gave Ferrari the chance to go one-on-one with some of France’s leading figures. And she won accolades for her pugnacity especially with the two main presidential candidates at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy and Ségoléne Royal.

Indeed the chemistry between Ferrari and Sarkozy certainly clicked – if only on a professional level rather than, as falsely rumoured later, the personal one.

Much is being made of Ferrari’s glamour and there’s no denying her looks but she’s also an accomplished journalist with years of experience. Her arrival should provide a boost to TF1, not least from those curious to see a fresh face at the helm.

But for some media watchers there are perhaps more sinister powers at work.

The merry-go-round in front of the cameras is also being accompanied by a shake up behind the scenes at TF1 with appointments in both news production and direction seeming to be made at the behest of the channel’s major shareholder – Bouygues – whose CEO, Martin Bouygues, just happens to be a close friend of Sarkozy.

At the same time public television is getting ready to scrap advertising, as ordered by Sarkozy earlier this year, with rumours a-plenty that the aim is in fact to pave the way to eventual privatisation of the main channel, France 2.

Not surprisingly perhaps there’s speculation in some quarters that Sarkozy is setting himself up as France’s answer to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, with a hands-on approach to setting the media agenda.

Be that as it may, the immediate question is what next for the 60-year-old PPDA? With his experience he’ll certainly be courted by competitive channels and is unlikely to disappear completely from the small screen. And of course there’s also doubt as to how long Chazal will be able to hang on to her weekend slot before being replaced.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The dream continues for Gaël Monfils

France is once again basking in potential tennis glory as Gaël Monfils carries the hopes of the country in today’s semi-finals of the French Open at Roland Garros.

If he makes it past the world number one, Switzerland’s Roger Federer, Monfils will be the second Frenchman to make a Grand Slam final this year.

In January, against all expectations, fellow French tennis ace, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, made it to the final of the Australian Open, before losing to the Serb, Novak Djokovic.

Perhaps the exploits of Monfils at this year’s French Open are all the more extraordinary as he wasn’t really given much of a chance going into the tournament. He’s currently only ranked 59th in the world and he had been short of match practice going into Roland Garros, winning only five matches on the ATP tour this year.

The 21-year-old had been nursing a hamstring injury, which forced him to withdraw from the last two Grand Slams in the United States and Australia.

And in his short professional career Monfils has been overshadowed by other French players of his generation such as Richard Gasquet.

But now the 21 year-old has come of age as far as the French are concerned, and they will be willing him on not just to make it through to the final, but also become the first Frenchman to lift the trophy on home soil since 1983.

His appearance in today’s semi-finals also marks the first time a Frenchman has made it this far in the tournament since Sébastien Grosjean in 2001.

In Wednesday’s quarterfinal match against number five seed, Spain’s David Ferrer, Monfils grunted his way through four sets to upset the Spaniard.

Appearing on French prime time news later in the evening, he was uncharacteristically coy about his exploits, preferring not to mention his planned strategy for this semi-final duel with Federer.

Of course the odds are stacked against Monfils causing an upset. The two players have only met three times before with Federer coming out the winner on each occasion - the last time was on clay in Monte Carlo in April. Indeed Monfils has never taken a set off the Swiss.

The Frenchman might well start as the underdog, and in a sense will be mixing it with the modern greats of the game, cutting a somewhat odd figure perhaps alongside the three most highly ranked players in the world going into the final four.

But don’t underestimate the power of the centre court crowd who will surely be right behind him.

And let’s not forget, Federer doesn’t have the best of track records at Roland Garros. The French Open is the only Grand Slam title missing from his collection.

Should Monfils against all the odds make it through to the final, he would then have a crack at becoming the first French player to win the men’s singles title since 1983, when Yannick Noah famously scored a straight sets win over Sweden’s (then) defending champion Mats Wilander.

France is hungry for success at its own tournament as was clear from the front pages of all the country’s national dailies, which carried pictures of their new hero ahead of today’s match.

Although it has been a long wait for a French victory in the men’s singles, there has been more recent success in the women’s draw with Mary Pierce lifting the title back in 2000.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Carla speaks out

It’s just what France (and the world) has been waiting for – the real story behind the marriage of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his third wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

And that’s exactly what it’s going to get on Thursday – apparently – with the release of a new book “La Véritable Histoire de Carla et Nicolas”.

On the whole since their marriage, Bruni-Sarkozy has remained pretty tight-lipped, gorgeously appearing at her husband’s side on state occasions and uttering the occasional “Hmmmn” and “Delicious.” Indeed the only interview she has granted so far was to the weekly news magazine “L’Express” shortly after their marriage in February.

But now she is “telling the story as it really is” in a book written by two journalists, Valérie Bénaïm and Yves Azérouai. And it promises to make fascinating reading as it reportedly contains approved material from the first lady herself in which she sets straight some of the rumours that have been circulating ever since the couple met, fell in love and tied the knot.

The first tantalising snippets have already appeared in the French press, from which we learn that the two did in fact meet at a dinner organised by the publicist Jacques Séguela in November last year, and Carla quickly realised that they had both in fact been set up on a blind date of sorts.

“There were three couples and us – two single people,” she says. “I had never expected someone so funny, so lively. I was seduced by his physique, his charm and his intelligence.”

So that’s one rumour that has been doing the rounds well and truly confirmed – by Carla herself. That’ll doubtless come as a blesséd relief to all the gossip columnists and Sarkozy-watchers who would seem to have been (accurately) reporting very much the same thing right from the start.

Another rumour though, that Bruni-Sarkozy enjoys less than a warm relationship with the justice minister, Rachida Dati, is one she unsurprisingly sets out to scotch.

Before Bruni-Sarkozy appeared on the scene it was often the justice minister who appeared at the side of the president at official functions after the break up of his marriage to his second wife, Cecilia.

But the current first lady denies that there is any rivalry between her and Dati in spite of what the media might maintain.

“I see her quite often and she makes me laugh a lot,” says Bruni-Sarkozy.

“These rumours must have their source in the fact that she is a close friend of the president’s former wife. But there really is no hostility between us.”

As to her future and role as first lady, Bruni-Sarkozy reveals that she has set herself the goals of campaigning against poverty and ignorance, but she’s not going to give up her music career.

“I have a role to fulfil but it isn’t my metier,” she insists.

“I am not just a folk singer. I tell stories which are the same as everybody else’s. There’s nothing subversive in that.”

The excerpts that have so far appeared in the press would seem to suggest that the book gives a certain “spin” on events. Whether anyone really thinks that an expectant public will completely believe everything that’s written is perhaps a little hard to imagine.

Doubtless though these gems and others will make the book a bestseller. The Carla-Nicolas story is after all is one everybody loves to pretend they’re not really interested in.

That has been proven on countless occasions over the last six months. Whenever a picture of either or both has been slapped on the cover of a magazine, a boost in sales has been guaranteed. And Sarkozy has also been a profitable subject for many a publisher with more than 70 books written about him in the past year.

Only a cynic would dispute the need for yet another one, especially one in which the principle figure and source is the first lady herself.

So go on, rush out and buy your copy tomorrow, while stocks last. And don’t forget Bruni-Sarkozy’s album is released next month – July 21 to be precise.

Serbs shine at Roland Garros

This year’s French Open tennis championships currently entering their final days in Paris are fast turning into a sporting fest for Serbia.

In the women’s tournament it’s assured of having one player in the final and in the men’s competition 21-year-old Novak Djokovic has a fair shot of repeating his success in the year’s opening Grand Slam tournament in Australia.

Not bad going for a nation of just over 10 million and tennis federations from many other countries, who spend millions in nurturing new talent, will be looking on enviously.

Thursday will see Ana Ivanovic take on fellow Serb Jelena Jankovic in a match which pitches both the world’s and the tournament’s second and third ranked players against each other for a place in the final.

Ivanovic has already reached the final of one Grand Slam this year – in Australia – and was runner up at Roland Garros last year, losing in the final to Belgium’s Justine Henin.

And she has been the bookies’ bet to lift this year’s title ever since the surprise defeat of the pre-tournament favourite and world number one, Russia’s Maria Sharapova, in the fourth round.

She also holds a 5-1 lead over Jankovic in head-to-heads, although the self-effacing 20-year-old was quick to point out after her quarter final win that even though the two had played each other in the past and had tough matches, they had not yet met in a Grand Slam tournament.

Neither Ivanovic nor the 23-year-old Jankovic has exactly had a tough time of it in this year’s competition, dispatching opponents with clinical ease without dropping a set between them.

Indeed Ivanovic’s progress this far has also included a 6-0, 6-0 fourth round drubbing of the Czech Republic’s Petra Cetkovska, after which she modestly said that the win had been much tougher than it had probably looked.

The two players are hard-hitting baseliners who are not afraid to come to the net and both of them are firm favourites with the crowds. Much has been made of Ivanovic’s looks – stunning by anyone’s standards – and the ever-smiling Jankovic never seems to let anything on court upset her.

Even though the 23-year-old Jankovic has been nursing a shoulder injury throughout this year’s competition, she remained optimistic after her quarterfinal straight sets win against Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder over her chances of reaching her first Grand Slam final.

While Serbia is guaranteed a player in the final of the women’s draw, it’ll be a much harder task for Djokovic to keep the country’s flag flying in the men’s competition.

He faces a semi-final clash with the three-times winner and reigning champion at Roland Garros, Spain’s Rafal Nadal. The two men have already met 10 times with the Spaniard leading 7-3 in head-to-heads. His most recent victory over Djokovic came just last month on clay in the semi-finals of the Hamburg Masters.

And even if the Serb makes it past Nadal there is always the spectre of possibly having to face Switzerland’s world number one Roger Federer in the final.

Mind you that shouldn’t frighten Djokovic too much. Even though the Swiss leads 6-2 in head-to-heads, Djokovic beat him in the semi-finals of the Australian Open this year, before going on to lift the title.

And he for an extra confidence boost he need look no further than last August’s ATP Masters series in Montreal, Canada, when he beat both Nadal in the semis and Federer in the final.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Dati does U-turn on virginity annulment marriage

The French justice minister, Rachida Dati, has once again shown that she has a less than a firm grasp of her job by doing a complete volte face in a case that has been making the headlines here in France over the past week.

On Monday Dati asked the public prosecutors office to appeal a court ruling, which had annulled a marriage because the wife had lied about being a virgin.

When the case first came to public attention last week, Dati refused to intervene (she actually supported the decision by the court). But a heated debate has since raged – largely fuelled by the media – and the justice minister (or is it the president Nicolas Sarkozy?) has now decided it’s time to act.

The case involves a man who suspected that his bride – also a Moslem – had lied about being a virgin before they were married in 2006.

His wife at first assured him she was “pure” but later revealed that she had indeed had sex before marriage. The wife returned to her family “in disgrace” and although she was initially reluctant to assent to her husband’s request to seek an annulment, she eventually agreed.

In April a judge in the northern French city of Lille granted the couple’s request for an annulment on the grounds that the man had been "mistaken about the essential qualities" of his wife-to-be. Such a term of course leaves the door wide open for a myriad of potential interpretations.

The media didn’t actually get wind of the story until last week but not surprisingly once it broke it created an uproar with many politicians, women’s rights campaigners and leading French Moslem figures denouncing the court's ruling as both a breach of a woman’s privacy and an offence – in legal terms – to the equality of men and women.

While the debate raged Dati appeared to say very little and do even less – until that is her immediate boss, the prime minister, François Fillon, stepped in.

Fillon suggested that annulling a marriage on grounds of virginity was tantamount to taking France – a secular country - back in time and he didn’t want “people one day to be able to make virginity a constitutional element of marital consent."

Dati’s hesitance in taking the decision to request an appeal is perhaps to a certain extent further proof - to put it kindly - of her political inexperience. Before she became justice minister last year Dati had never held office.

Critics – and there are many who accuse Dati of sheer incompetence – will be less generous in their assessment.

She has already raised the hackles of many in the legal profession by the manner in which she has tried to force through reforms to the judicial system. And Dati is often the target of much media ridicule, being portrayed as an overbearing boss. Since she took over at the justice ministry there have been a dozen resignations among her staff.

Dati has also come in for a fair amount of stick for her spending habits especially after she admitted that her department had spent over two thirds of its annual €200,000 entertainment budget in the first three months of this year.

Her delayed decision to act in this latest case – albeit a controversial one - will hardly have increased her political stock.

Lyon - there’s no “s” in French

It’s about 450kms from Paris to Lyon (or Lyons if your prefer in English) but forget about the four-and-a-half hour drive and instead save money, time and the environment by taking the high-speed TGV train service. After all, the journey time is just under two hours.

Added to which there’s a regular service, although you’ll need to reserve your seat in advance – a requirement when buying a ticket on a TGV - as even though ours was one of those double-decker jobs, it was packed. Clearly proof that plenty of people regularly commute between the two cities.

This was my first trip to Lyon – primarily to see a production of Porgy and Bess at the opera house. But it was also a chance for a glimpse at what’s reputed to be one of the most beautiful of France’s cities (the country’s third largest) and something of a gastronomic paradise. Although I knew a late arrival and an early departure the following day wouldn’t really give me the chance for any fine dining.

As fate would have it our arrival at Lyon’s Part Dieu station was heralded by the opening of the skies as the heavens fair chucked it down. This was a case of “April showers bringing forth more showers in May.”

No it doesn’t scan properly and it deviates from the original, but sadly it was the case and arriving umbrella-less meant standing in line for a taxi to take us to the hotel.

After checking in and freshening up it was time to jump into another taxi – yes it was still pouring - to make the short hop to the Opera house.

Now Lyon’s Opera house is a grand old building, dating back to 1831 although it had a bit of a facelift in 1993 as part of a “modernisation” drive.

Unfortunately that seems to have resulted in a pretty dated look in the bits that have been updated with the interior of both the downstairs bar and the main auditorium boasting a wonderful black-red colour scheme - very much of its time.

Then there are the tiled shiny floors of glossy marble that turn into a veritable skating rink for those wearing leather-soled shoes the moment a spot of rain hits the surface.

No prizes for guessing who had squeezed himself into a brand new pair that turned into skates once his feet hit the ground.

On to the performance - which was sold out – and our third row black (plastic-backed of course) seats gave us a splendid view of the stage, a definite plus given the rather special nature of the production, because it wasn’t just all about singing – as fabulous as the voices were.

The directors of this particular version were the choreographers José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu, whose contemporary dance company would add an extra element to the opera.

That proved to be vital factot especially as George Gershwin’s opera is long – very long – very far too long even for my opera-intolerant companion for the evening who insisted on trying to listen with eyes (and presumably ears) wide shut.

Mind you, I had to have some sympathy as apart from the frequently reprised “Summertime” and “Ain’t necessarily so” there aren’t a great deal of instantly familiar and hummable-alongable tunes.

The music was as brooding as ever and the vocal performances marvellous but what really sold this production – to me and most of the rest of the audience – were the dance and visual effects.

Both were spectacular. There were some exhausting yet evocatively hip-hop moves to reflect mood changes and interpret both the music and lyrics. A sort of double effect, complementary rather than repetitive.

The performances were electrifying and although sometimes they appeared perhaps a little clichéd they kept (most of) us on the edge of our seats mesmerised by not just the power and strength but also the grace and beauty.

An extra visual effect was the video backdrop – something of a Montalvo- Hervieu speciality.

It was sometimes a little disturbing particularly when showing recordings of the dancers doing exactly the same routines they were performing live, but purposefully just a little out of synchronisation.

Maybe it’s just an age thing but there seemed to be a few too many assaults on the senses at the same time – very much an “MTV generation comes of age” sort of thing with the ethos seeming to be “let’s sling everything at them (the audience) at once and see how they manage.”

Mostly though the video worked magnificently, especially when it complemented something that was happening slightly off stage such as a bloody murder or a torrid love scene.

The bottom line was that the production wasn’t one that could be listened to with eyes closed and fully deserved the rapturous applause it received at the end.

Ravenous after the performance it was up to the seventh floor for a late night, two-course meal. The set menu at €30 was all right but nothing special. There again at almost midnight there wasn’t really any other alternative, so a return trip to Lyon will have to be made just to confirm that it lives up to its gastronomic reputation.

Fed and watered, strolled back to the hotel – hallelujah it had stopped raining.

If the Opera house left me questioning the tastes of Lyon’s interior designers and architects, then our hotel - Beaux Arts - left me flummoxed.

It’s officially now the Mercure Beaux Arts – part of the Accor group and therefore second only in the category of hotel to the chain’s Sofitels. Maybe the price - €99 for a double room – should have signalled what to expect – nothing special.

While it describes itself as an Art Deco hotel, unfortunately it manages only offer a very poor copy of what could be the real thing. The sad fact is that the heart and soul of the place have been ripped out with no real thought of aesthetics.

Our room should have been a delightful tribute to the past. Instead it had been stripped of all its original features to the point where it was almost devoid of character. True it was vast in volume with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides opening out on to small balconies. But a stale, musty smell hung around even with the windows flung wide open and the room wasn’t made any more appealing by the mustard coloured, plastic lined full-length curtains.

The functional, durable, dull blue carpet only inspired a desire to tear it up to check whether it was hiding some glorious old parquet and the bathroom – well it really isn’t worth mentioning. So I won’t.

And it wasn’t just our room that had been thoughtlessly “made-under.” There were signs everywhere in the hotel of what “might have been” if only a little more TLC had been spread in renovating.

The winding staircase could have been creakingly magnificent but instead it had been thoughtlessly painted over. There was rendering on the indoor walls, which had then been daubed in a nondescript colour and even the tiny old-fashioned lift seemed sadly neglected although it should have been full of charm. There was just the occasional glimpse of what was missing in some of the original giant wooden frames.

But overall the impression was a miserable one. Shame on Accor hotels!

The group could and should take another look at what could be done to a fabulous old building to bring it up to the promise of the blurb.

On the plus side, and thankfully there is one, is its location. The hotel is bang in the heart of the peninsular between the cities two rivers (the Rhône and the Saone) and a few minutes walk from many of the tourist sites and some fabulous shopping.

The service was a bit hit and miss. Front desk had only one person on duty when we arrived and the poor guy, while friendly and efficient, had to split his time between answering guests’ queries (such as booking us a taxi) and serving behind the bar.

Breakfast the following morning was rather a “unique” experience, which can best be described as offering “service with a grimace”. The two ladies greeting the guests certainly seemed to be full of attitude – which from an onlooker’s perspective was mildly amusing -although simultaneously they appeared totally overwhelmed by the number of people stumbling in to eat. Almost as though this was there first morning on the job. Perhaps it was.

They bustled about quite determinedly marching in and out of the kitchen with lists. But apart from taking down our room numbers (breakfast is never included in the price of a room in France and is always charged separately) seemed to do very little else.

Apart that is from scolding one guest, presumably still half asleep, for taking a cup from a pile next to the coffee machine.

“There are cups already on the table to use,” was the information given by one “waitress” as she almost ripped the cup from the poor guy’s hands.

Yikes. I guess nobody DARED question why there was a pile next to the coffee in the first place.

The food was passable. But for €14 a pop, I had been expecting something a little more wholesome than rubbery lukewarm omelette and manky sausages. Two words spring to mind RIP and OFF.

There was just time for a quick coffee outside the hotel and a spot of window shopping – on the whole stores open up for business at 10 o’clock - before taking a taxi to the station to catch our train back to Paris

And here’s a word of warning when looking for a taxi in Lyon. Don’t. It can be a real hassle for the visitor.

If you turn up at the nearest rank there’s no guarantee you’ll find a taxi. Even if there are a couple waiting with “available” lights illuminated, the drivers might simply not be around.

As there seems to be nothing to hail down on the streets of course, your best bet is to ask your hotel reception to book one for you.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Blog Archive

Check out these sites

Copyright

All photos (unless otherwise stated) and text are copyright. No part of this website or any part of the content, copy and images may be reproduced or re-distributed in any format without prior approval. All you need to do is get in touch. Thank you.