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Thursday, 31 December 2009

French holiday "miracle baby" stories

Extra value in this end-of-year piece in that it's a "triple pack" if you will.

Three stories connected to each other only in the sense that they all happened in France over the past week and in each instance involved a baby or a young child.

In two of the cases, the child survived in circumstances that really didn't bode well - to say the very least.

In the third...well it's just an uplifting tale that's surely guaranteed to warm the heart and bring a smile to even the most curmudgeonly reader.

There's sadness in the tale of the first "miracle baby", a 20-month-old girl from the town of Harfleur in northern France.

Just a couple of days before Christmas her 26-year-old mother, who was going through a separation, made her way to the cliffs of the nearby coastal town of Étretat and jumped to her death, her daughter in her arms.

An alert had been raised earlier in the afternoon by the woman's husband who had reportedly 'phoned the emergency services to say that he was concerned about her mental state and the welfare of the child after they had left the family home in nearby Harfleur.

Helicopters were dispatched in the area and two bodies spotted at the foot of the cliffs.

"The mother gave no sign of life, but the girl blinked," Christopher Margrit, a spokesman for the emergency services said.

The girl was rushed to hospital with a head injury and several fractures, her survival attributed to the fact that her body had probably been cushioned by the body of her mother in the 70-metre fall.

On Monday a two-year-old boy also escaped death, this time unscathed, in the ski resort of Arêches-Beaufort in the French Alps.

He was buckled into the child seat as his parents were unloading the car when, in spite of the hand brake being on, the vehicle began sliding backwards.

Although his mother and aunt tried in vain to rescue him, they couldn't reach him in time and the car fell 70 metres into a ravine near where it had been parked, saved from overturning by coming to rest on a tree stump.

When the emergency services arrived on the scene they were able to free the child, who was apparently still ensconced in his seat and emerged without a scratch.

The only injury incurred in the incident was to the aunt who had a fallen into the ravine in her rescue attempt. She was hospitalised with a suspected broken leg.

And finally, as promised, that heart-warming tale, which involves life rather than death in the shape of Tyfène, a 12-year-old girl in the north-west of the country who acted as the midwife in the birth of her sister.

She has become a veritable heroine in France after her exploits on December 26.

When her mother, Stéphanie, went into labour early in the morning the day after Christmas, the father-to-be, Fabrice Raoult, proved to be less than up to the task of handling the situation, and it was Tyfène who took matters in hand.

She dispatched him into the garden "to get some fresh air", rang the emergency services to inform them that the contractions had begun, but was informed there would probably be some delay in their arrival because driving conditions were difficult with black ice covering the roads on the way to the hamlet of Couëdic where the family lived.

The 12-year-old (and it's probably worth repeating that) kept her cool though.

"After a moment of panic, I quickly came to my senses and realised I was the only one who could help," she confidently recounted after the event.

"The baby came out and I washed and placed her on mummy's tummy," she continued rather matter-of-factly in numerous interviews she has given since.

"I didn't dare cut the cord but five minutes later the emergency services arrived to do that," she added.

Just for the record, baby sister Maëlys weighed in at 3,380kg and she, along with mother and older sister are doing just fine.

So is the father apparently, who by all accounts is rightly proud of his 12-year-old step daughter.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

EDF's seasonal electricity bill greeting overcharge

Electricity doesn't come cheap, even in a country where most of it is produced by nuclear power stations.

But in a couple of cases this past week two customers of the French utility company, Electricité de France (EDF) had rather a nasty Christmas surprise.

Perhaps the energy giant was peeved by the French telecommunications company, France Télécom - Orange (FT), hogging the national headlines for presenting some of its mobile 'phone customers with astronomical bills, and although the Yuletide "gifts" it sent its two users pale in comparison to the €159,000 FT charged one of its clients, EDF almost managed to put a dampener on festive spirits.

The first case involved a retired woman in the south-western town of Orthez, who just days before Christmas Eve received a letter from her bank informing her that a payment for her electricity bill of a whopping €10,000 (and 23 centimes to be exact) had been rejected because of "insufficient funds".

An understandable shock to the woman (who wished to remain anonymous) especially as she said that her "annual consumption amounted to around €650" and made all the more unpalatable by the fact that she pays her bills by direct debit.

"Luckily I was sitting down when I received the call (from the bank)," she said.

"I started shaking and was completely disoriented," she continued.

"It's the sort of thing you see on television happening to others and all I can say is that people check their bills," she said.

Sound advice without doubt, and even though EDF has admitted there was a "rare error" in its calculations guess what?

In the very same week another customer - again in the south-west of France, but in a different town, also made the headlines when he received a bill for... wait for it...just over €69,000.

It was an annual bill but one that nonetheless surprised Matthieu Moulierac, a pâtissier in the town of Saint-Émilion, who said he was used to paying far less.

"On average the annual bill is between two thousand and two thousand five hundred euros," he told French news, seemingly unworried at being massively overcharged as EDF had also enclosed a letter apologising for the mistake and informing him that he would shortly be receiving an amended bill for the right amount.

As far as Moulierac was concerned, the story should have ended there, except when he took a look at this bank statement, lo and behold the amount had already been deducted from his account.

He too pays his EDF bills by direct debit and the bank had apparently already authorised the payment.

A quick 'phone call rectified the error initially made by EDF and then compounded by the bank.

But although Moulierac's Christmas and New Year were not soured by the prospect of having to battle to correct a mistake that was in no way of his making, those words of wisdom from the woman at the centre of the first tale ring rather true - and not just at this time of the year.

Happy Holidays.

The French government's million-billion loan muddle

It's an easy enough mistake perhaps getting a few zeros confused especially when the amounts involved are to most of us pretty mind boggling.

But it's not really the sort of error you would expect from a government purportedly more adept at matters financial and charged with balancing the nation's books.

That however, is exactly what the French government has been up to recently, proudly outlining on its official site how the planned €35 billion loan, announced by the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, earlier in the month "to boost the country's competitiveness and fund the best universities in the world" would be spent.

On Christmas Eve it went online with a breakdown of how the money would be apportioned to each of the main sectors such as universities, small businesses, sustainable development and the digital economy that would spearhead Sarkozy's plan to ensure that France could "fully benefit from the recovery, so that it would be stronger, more competitive, and create more jobs."

Except someone clearly got in rather a muddle as to the number of zeros involved, or simply repeatedly hit the wrong letter on the keyboard (after all it can easily happen to those unfamiliar with the French AZERTY layout) because the 35 billion suddenly became a rather more modest 35 million.

And there the blunder remained for all to see until the afternoon of December 29 when the figures were corrected.




For those who might have missed what was - as the government's press service assured - "a mistake" - the national daily Le Figaro helpfully published a screen shot of the "million-billion" mix-up.

Perhaps it was the timing of the release that left the rather embarrassing miscalculation in the public domain for four days.

After all who in their right mind would take a break from the Christmas festivities to take a glance at what was on the government's website?

But of course it's not the first time the French government has had problems with the flow of information making it on to its own site.

Back in August it published the names of Frédéric Lefebvre, Axel Poniatowski and Paul Giaccobi as three new junior minister appointed to the government, before quickly taking them down again the same afternoon in what initially described as a "technical problem" and was later explained as "human error".

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas return home unlikely for French tourists in Brazil plane row

There seems to be little hope that three French citizens detained earlier this month by Brazilian authorities for causing a disturbance on a 'plane, will be home in time for Christmas.

On Monday their families had hoped to have a private audience with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, but all they managed to do was to hand in a letter asking him to intervene on their behalf.

So what's the story all about and how come two retired French men, Michel Ilinskas aged 61 and Antonio Nascimento aged 64 ans, along with Emilie Camus, a 54-year-old hospital worker from the Parisian suburbs are still in Brazil and being held under house arrest?

Well, what happened to them perhaps needs to be seen in the light of the Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris which crashed into the Atlantic in June killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew members and the fears that has understandably engendered to many taking to the skies.

The three were among a group of French tourists who had been on a two-week cruise and were due to return home from São Paulo on December 6 aboard a flight operated by the Brazilian airline TAM.

Their 'plane was reportedly held on the tarmac for three hours because of a malfunction in the aircraft's computer system.

Explanations from the flight crew as to the cause of the delay were apparently only offered in Portuguese and English, and although Camus, who speaks Portuguese, was able to translate, some passengers, among them the three who were later arrested, panicked and requested to be allowed to disembark and take another flight.

That request was refused and somehow "talk of rebellion" reached the cockpit and the police were called in to detain the "ringleaders" and escort them from the 'plane.

As can be seen from the accompanying amateur video, they weren't exactly treated with kid gloves.

Ilinskas and Nascimento were held on suspicion of being the main "rabble rousers" and Camus, was also arrested accused of having "incited violence" through her translations.

On Monday the families of the three and their supporters rallied outside the Elysée palace in Paris, the official residence of the French president, hoping they would be able to persuade him in person to intervene with Brazilian authorities on their behalf.

But all they managed was to hand in a letter, and they hold little hope of seeing their loved ones before the holiday season starts.

"The only hope I have is an intervention at the highest level," Muriel Ilinskas, the wife of one of those detained, told French news.

"It's a complete nightmare and I don't see an end to it."

Monday, 21 December 2009

French unease over national identity debate

Opposition as to whether there's a need for a debate on what constitutes national identity here in France is continuing to increase, according to the latest opinion poll released in the national daily, Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France.

Half of those questioned weren't satisfied with the way in which the debate was being carried out.

And just as significant perhaps was the response to whether the debate should be stopped.

Again 50 percent said "yes": split between those who wanted it halted completely (29 per cent) and those who wanted it suspended (21 per cent).

For Jean-Daniel Lévy, the director of the CSA Institute that carried out the poll, the findings show that the French are sending out a clear message to their president, Nicolas Sarkozy, as even among supporters of the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement) there is some apprehension.

"The survey indicates that a number of UMP supporters prefer not to express their opinion," he says.

"In not wanting openly to find fault with a debate which is being conducted at the wish of the president, his supporters are also avoiding criticising Sarkozy himself," he added.

These latest figures are significantly different from a similar poll carried out just before the debate was launched by the immigration minister, Eric Besson, at the beginning of November, when 60 per cent of French voters said they were in favour of the idea.

The question over whether there's need for a debate has stirred passions from the outset, with political opponents accusing Sarkozy of pandering to the right wing ahead of next year's regional elections.

Indeed even though the French might have given general support to the idea at the beginning, 64 per cent of them also perceived it as electioneering.

Along with the latest opinion poll there has been more opposition from other quarters this weekend.

The French non-governmental organisation, SOS Racisme, launched a petition calling for the debate to be ended saying that the fear of it being "at best stigmatising for the country and at worst racist" had in fact become a reality.

That was a view echoed by Pierre Moscovici, a prominent Socialist party member, during an interview on national radio on Sunday.

He insisted that France had no problem with its national identity and that Besson was simply the messenger carrying out "Sarkozy's dirty work."

The debate, he said had quickly created a link that somehow put into question national identity and being Moslem, and "was damaging to the republic and degrading to France."

In spite of the latest poll and mounting criticism, Besson appears to have lost none of his enthusiasm or determination to keep the debate going, and as he made clear in an in interview the same newspaper which published the survey, Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France, he even intends to extend its duration.

"The debate has been the object of a pounding for a month now and it's normal that some people should be sceptical," he said.

"Media attention has been focussed on some xenopobic remarks, but it (the debate) has partly been a victim of its own success," he continued.

"It's a debate that must unite, allowing us to look forward and provide answers to questions that might sometimes raise doubts among the French," he insisted, adding that, "We will debate this until the end of 2010 well beyond the regional elections (in March)."

Saturday, 19 December 2009

One woman's €4 million holiday gift to a French town

Christmas is a time of giving - something that's drummed into many of us from an early age, although if we're honest receiving might be much more pleasurable.

Well, the town of Chalon-sur-Saône in the south of the Burgundy region of France is the recipient of a huge donation this Christmas thanks to one benefactress.

Jeanne Parent died in July at the age of 90, and in her will she left her whole fortune - estimated at almost four million euros - to the town's centre communal d'action sociale (CCAS), the public body responsible for helping those in need.

It's a sum that will allow the local authority to "strengthen its social policies" as became clear when it announced the 2010 budget last week and outlined how and where the money would be spent.

Almost half of it will be used to move the offices of the CCAS from its current location to one which "will be more adapted to its needs, most notably in terms of access for the disabled.

Another €550,000 has been earmarked to buy a house for "people in difficulty and in particular the homeless during the winter period".

And the remaining €400,000 will be spent on the purchase of a building for a child day care centre.

Quite a legacy by any measure, and one which will the local authority intends to "honour" by naming both a public building and one of the town's streets after Parent.

The bequest was perhaps made easier by the fact that Parent was an only child who never married, and although there were distant family members who could have contested the will and claimed inheritance rights, they chose not to.

Instead they reportedly informed the local authorities that Parent had "always wanted to leave everything she had to the town."

As her second cousin, Raymond Rouch, said in an interview with the local newspaper, le journal de Saône-et-Loire, Parent had been brought up to be frugal.

She worked hard, qualified as a pharmacist and amassed her wealth by investing wisely in local businesses, property, shares and jewellery.

"All money that was earned was put to one side," Rouch told the newspaper.

"Jeanne didn't like to spend."

While the tale of Parent's legacy might well be one of a woman's extraordinary generosity, it's also tinged with sadness.

She left nothing to family members apart from hundreds of photographs because, according to Rouch, that is "what they had asked for" and "what they wanted as souvenirs."

But his wife, Monique, told the newspaper that Parent could have left some money, however that wasn't what they really regretted.

"What we're really sorry about is that when Jeanne died, nobody turned up to her funeral," she said.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Richard Gasquet innocent in doping charges

Good news for Richard Gasquet, the former French number one men's tennis player.

He has been cleared of any claims of doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

While "justice has been done" as far as Gasquet is concerned, and he's "ready to turn the page and get on with his career", it seems as though the 23-year-old still has a few scores to settle and rumours to scotch.

Most notably the remarks made by a former fellow professional, Henri Leconte, who had been less than supportive when the story first broke, and rumours surrounding his relationship with the publishing, media, aerospace and retail mogul, Arnaud Lagardère.

On Thursday the CAS threw out an appeal made by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which had wanted him banned for two years for testing positive for cocaine.

Back in July a three-man independent ITF tribunal had accepted Gasquet's version of events surrounding "the kiss" that had led him to becoming "inadvertently contaminated" during a tournament in Miami; one in which he had been scheduled to play but had withdrawn from before the first round because of a shoulder injury.

The tribunal had given Gasquet a two month and 15 day suspension retroactively from May 1, effectively clearing him to return to competition.

But both the ITF and WADA had appealed to tribunal's findings, requesting that the player be banned from competition for two years. It was that appeal that the CAS rejected on Thursday, effectively supporting Gasquet's claims of having been an innocent victim in the affair.

Since the verdict, Gasquet has given interviews across the French media - an indication perhaps on how much interest there has been in this country in the story over the past eight months.

Appearing on national radio on Friday, Gasquet said he had appreciated the support he had received from people close to him and many other professionals on the tennis circuit, but that he would never forget the comments Leconte had made which had questioned his version of events.

"There weren't a lot of negative remarks thank goodness, and by far the most virulent reaction was from Leconte," he said.

I don't know why he said that. Perhaps he wanted to make himself sound interesting," he added.

"He's not the most refined or intelligent person we know in Paris.

"I won't forget, that's for sure."



On Thursday just hours after the verdict, a relieved Gasquet appeared on the mid-evening television news magazine "Le Grand Journal" on Canal +, alongside Lagardère: a chance for the player to recount what life had been like since the story first broke, his plans for the future and for the two men to put paid to rumours that they had been lovers.

And about those rumours, after Lagardère had unequivocally denied there being any truth of a sexual relationship between the two men, Gasquet added, "Homosexual with Arnaud....Drugged and homosexual, definitely not."

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A French cat with "swine flu"

It's a slightly different take perhaps to begin with on the "swine flu" - or H1N1/influenza A as it's more commonly called here - epidemic in France.

The first case of a domestic pet coming down with the flu, confirmed last week by the director general of health, Didier Houssin.

The sick animal is a cat in the Bouches-du-Rhône département in the south of France and belonging to a family that had also been suffering from the flu.

The vet taking care of it had apparently found the cat to have bronchial pneumonia and diagnosed flu.

No need to panic though that the nation's pets will soon be victim to the same epidemic that has already seen the death of 150 people in this country (according to official statistics released by the health ministry on Wednesday) as it is for the moment just an isolated case.

"There have been several cases of this type abroad in pig and dogs in China recently," said Houssin.

"And then a cat in the United States," he continued before usefully adding that the best way to avoid pets falling victim to the flu was for "people who owned them to get themselves vaccinated."

Ah yes. The vaccination process which started off tentatively in October among health professionals and then a couple of weeks later was extended to certain sectors of the general public according to a priority list of those most susceptible to the possible effects of the flu such as those with nursing infants, children, expectant mothers and people with respiratory problems.

Where does the country stand at the moment?

Well the 3,000 special vaccination centres set up to "handle the hordes" were pretty underused during the first few weeks but then of course the French panicked somewhat and there were reported cases of some people waiting more than three hours before being able to get themselves (and/or their children) vaccinated.

From that slow start though, almost 3.8 million people have now been vaccinated, and the health minister, Roselyne Bachelot, expects the number to reach four million by the end of the week.

And she's obviously hoping that the numbers will increase significantly especially as the rest of the general public have started to receive their "official invitations" required before they can make their way to a vaccination centre.

While the figures for those consulting their doctors with suspected symptoms of the H1N1 had, according to official figures, stabilised over the past week, Bachelot warned against any general complacency.

"You should know that in general, outbreaks of flu evolve in waves and it is very possible that more waves will follow," she said.

"What the experts say is the second wave is often more virulent than the first."

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Rachida Dati counter-attacks

The former French justice minister, Rachida Dati, has given her side of the story to the recently televised clip in which, during a personal 'phone call, she appears to be expressing her frustrations about her job as a European parliamentarian and how she's convinced she won't see it through to the end of her mandate.

Interviewed on national radio on Tuesday, Dati counter-attacked, saying that the private telephone conversation should not have been included in the programme, and she found it regrettable that it had been used.



"I find it a little lamentable that a recorded conversation with a friend was transmitted," she said, adding that it had been at the end of a session and that the idea (of her participation in the documentary) had been not to reveal aspects of her private life.

"The clip only reflected one side of the conversation and was disconnected from the responses of my friend on the other end of the line," she continued.

As for the impression that might have been made that she was not necessarily taking the job seriously, Dati was adamant that since the recording (in September) she had attended every session of the parliament and had every right to be angry at the polemic that had surrounded the airing of the clip.

"What I said in no way reflected a lack of enthusiasm for the European parliament or the work I do here," she said.

"At no moment did I express any reservations or a lack of keenness for the European parliament.'

And just to make matters clear, Dati put the whole conversation into context; a return just after the summer break, her beginning to organise her daily schedule at the parliament and how to balance her private life with her professional one.

"The same thing wouldn't have happened to a man," she said.

"When I arrived here, my routine was followed and journalists were interested to see whether I was really present.

"I can also feel some irritation. I am also human," she added.

Ah well the polemic continues and one thing's for sure: Dati is capable of making headlines in France even if she's far away from what's happening on the domestic political front and has, as she claimed "never sought to attract the attention of the media."

Ahem.

The case of a French man called for jury selection for his own trial

The French judicial system is a notoriously cumbersome creature and of course, as in many other countries, has been is prone to making mistakes, or at least taking a heck of a long time in admitting to, and then correcting them.

Take the case of Loïc Sécher, sentenced to 16 years for a crime he never committed, according to post-trial testimony by the victim.

Or Marc Machin, who spent six years in prison for a murder perpetrated by someone else.

Or Antonio Madeira, a man wrongly found guilty of raping his daughter, Virginie, and after serving six years was released - conditionally. He's still "guilty" in the eyes of the law even though in 2006 Virginie not only retracted her accusations, but published a book "J'ai menti" ("I lied") in which she admitted that she had made the whole story up.

And then of course there was the infamous Outreau child abuse trial, arguably one of France's biggest miscarriages of justice.

There's general agreement among political parties that the French justice system need overhauling, but reform is hard and appears to be in its own right a long and painful process.

Whatever eventually gets through parliament, let's hope it ensures that cases such as those mentioned (and many others of course) won't happen again, and that it can also avoid the administrative mix-up that occurred before the recent trial of a 66-year-old man in the town of Parthenay in western France.

He was accused of sexually molesting a boy between 1994 and 1996 - a charge to which he admitted after the victim revealed what had happened in 2006.

Yes those proverbial "wheels of justice" grind just as slowly here in France as anywhere else.

The trial was set to begin on December 10, but first a jury had to be chosen.

And among those called for selection on November 30...yes you see where this is going don't you, especially as the title has rather given it away...was the accused.

Not surprisingly, he ignored the summons and was fined €150 for not appearing for selection; a sum that was eventually lifted after the court realised the error it had made.

It might not be a tale on the scale of the miscarriages of justice that have continued to plague the system over the years, but perhaps it's an indication that something is not quite right even at the very core of the process itself.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Rachida Dati - hardly a model European parliamentarian

It's surely a tough life being a European parliamentarian especially when you weren't that keen on the job in the first place and now find yourself having to spend your time shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg.

There are those interminable debates to attend, innumerable meetings to show up at, issues that might be a little (or a lot) out of your league when the micro is thrust your way for an "informed" opinion and all that while keeping an eye on what's happening back home where you really, really want to be.

But if you're Rachida Dati, the former French justice minister (and current mayor of the VII arrondissement in Paris), it's simple to dispel any rumours that the whole thing might be getting you down and you're as "happy as larry" doing what you're doing and being where you are.

Simply agree to let the cameras follow you around for a day and bingo, everyone can see that you're really up to the job and having the time of your life.

Ahem.

But of course it didn't quite turn out that way - perhaps because it isn't the case for Dati - as viewers of M6's weekly news magazine "66 minutes" discovered last Sunday.

A clip from the programme (filmed in September) shows her, seemingly forgetting that she still has an open micro attached, making a personal 'phone call during which she expresses her true feelings about the job and how she's convinced she won't last the course.



"I'm in the parliamentary chamber in Strasbourg," we hear her saying.

"I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted," she repeats.

"I think there'll be some sort of drama before I finish my mandate," Dati continues.

"I have to stay here because there are some journalists around and then there's the vote on confirming (José Manuel) Barroso" re-election.

"When you're in Strasbourg they can see whether or not you're voting."

Oops.

The clip first seen by a limited audience - namely those watching the programme - has inevitably found its way on to the Net.

Of course Dati never really wanted to stand for the European parliament in the first place, and even during the campaign showed herself to have less-than-a-firm grasp of issues...a trait she repeated recently when asked about European objectives for the climate change summit in Copenhagen and answered confidently by saying that it was "to reduce the temperature by two degrees Celsius."

But what exactly was it the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said earlier this year when he "encouraged" Dati to stand in June's European parliamentary election - after (the then junior minister for human rights) Rama Yade refused?

Oh yes.

"The way France can best maintain its role in Europe is by sending the 'best' to the European parliament."

Monday, 14 December 2009

Has anyone seen my wallaby?

Understandably perhaps not a question often asked here in France where the most usual "lost" signs when it comes to domestic pets, would be for a missing moggy or a peripatetic pooch.

But for Franck Giroussin the fate of his wallaby, Eora, has become a cause for concern, especially as a cold spell hits large parts of the country including his "habitat" in the southwest of France.

Unlike the Xertigny crocodile, the case of Eora involves a documented animal, who until September this year had been happily enjoying life in his enclosure in the village of Ambax (population just 69 - people that is) in southwestern département of Haute Garonne.

Since heeding the call of the wild and grasping his chance to break free, the missing marsupial has been spotted on a couple of occasions.

The first time was in Espaon just 15 kilometres away when two elderly women apparently saw "a kangeroo in a field" but kept the information to themselves for fear of appearing ridiculous.

And then a few days ago Eora made another appearance - this 19 time kilometres from his home base on the edge of a forest in the town of Rieumes.

Hardly a huge distance for the one-metre macropod which can "leap six metres in length and reach a top speed of 40 kilometres and hour," according to Giroussin.

He has alerted police, local authorities and vets in the area of the animals disappearance.

While Eora is certainly not aggressive and therefore presents no danger and won't bite anyone, he is apparently of a rather nervous disposition and not that easy to approach, let alone capture.

Which is why Giroussin has invested in a special rifle with a hypodermic tranquiliser as being "the only way to catch him" and urges anyone catching sight of the wallaby to contact him or the police directly.

Let's just hope that in a country in which hunting is still a very popular pastime in rural areas, someone won't mistakenly take a shot at Eora thinking they're bagging a more familiar animal.

An affair to follow.

Paris is alive to "The Sound of Music" - apparently

Ask many a native English speaker to hum or sing a tune from the musical "The Sound of Music" and the chances are they'll at least be able to break into song.

Most could probably make a reasonable bash at "My favourite things", "The hills are alive", "Do-re-mi", or "Climb ev'ry mountain" just to mention a few of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein numbers that have become standards over the years.

But that's not necessarily the case here in France, as the popular presenter and comedian, Laurent Ruquier acknowledged on his daily radio show last week, when he and his assembled crew, were hard pushed even to name one song.

That could be about to change though because the 1959 musical is (unbelievably) receiving its first staging in this country, and once again it's audiences at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris who are enjoying some of the unquestionably most memorable and singable songs in the history of musicals.

The Sound of Music, or "La Mélodie du bonheur" as it's rather poetically called in French is 50 years old.



Reviews for Spanish director Emilio Sagi's staging have been full of praise. "A little jewel" said the national daily, Le Monde.

"The audience was on its feet, applauding enthusiastically," wrote Le Figaro after opening night.

Indeed it is rather special. It's a Broadway musical which combines opera singers in the lead roles of Maria, the soprano Sylvia Schwartz and as Georg von Trapp, the baritone Rod Gilfry, alongside established actors/singers such as Kim Criswell as the Mother Abbess.

And that's not forgetting, for Le Monde, "the seven adorable and lively offspring of the Baron" or the Orchestre Pasdeloup under the musical direction of Kevin Farrell as well as the Choeur du Châtelet, the choreography and acting, which after almost two months of rehearsals offer audiences a polished and rounded production.

But there's something missing especially for those who might be more familiar with, and therefore hoping for, the schmaltz and kitsch of the Oscar-winning 1965 film version.

It's somehow just not as escapist or as heartwarming, and of course there's no Julie Andrews.

The spark seemed to be missing.

Although there were some laughs at the mannerisms and light comic touches throughout, and applause after each "number", on the whole members of the public at Saturday's matinee performance remained polite and restrained, perhaps reflecting on the fact that they only had a few days left to prepare for Christmas, or were wondering what had happened to the heating in the auditorium.

And then there were some rather puzzling and distracting French surtitles, projected either side of the stage throughout the performance that rather missed the nuances of Hammerstein's lyrics.

Among the critics there has been general enthusiasm for the production with the recommendation that it's a "must see" for those in Paris over the holiday season.

Perhaps the best way though is to judge for yourself.

Or you could always settle down with a DVD of the film in the comfort of your own home and indulge to your heart's content.

The Sound of Music continues its run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris until January 3, 2010.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Fighting homophobia - the French "kiss-in" goes international

After the success here in France of the previous kiss-in against homophobia in September, the idea is going international.

At four o'clock on Saturday afternoon (December 12), couples - gay and straight - in 19 cities and towns around France are invited to lock lips for five minutes, or simply hold hands if they're a little less demonstrative, in a simultaneous show of affection.

And for the first time they'll be joined by similar actions planned abroad in Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and Peru.

The idea is a straightforward one, as Arthur Vauthier, one of those behind the idea which first took place at the foot of the Eiffel Tower in June this year, said in a recent interview with the monthly French gay magazine, Têtu.

It's not meant to be a demonstration of gay pride with banners and flags, but a sign of tolerance and that same-sex couples don't need to feel embarrassed or ashamed when displaying affection in public.

"The starting point for the whole idea was the simple observation that there's often hesitancy among same-sex couples to show their fondness for one another in public," he said

"That's a result partially of the possible reaction from other people, but also a degree of internalised fear," he continued.

"Our idea is to trivialise the gesture by saying, 'kiss wherever you want to because it doesn't interfere with others and it also doesn't embarrass us'."

The first kiss-in, organised in Paris in June, may only have attracted a few couples, but it was quickly followed by a similar event a month later in Dijon, and in September more French towns and cities including Marseille, Lyon and Lille had joined in.

Social media sites have helped spread the word with more than 3,000 members signing up to the Facebook group "Kiss-in contre l'homophobie !" and of course there's a blog giving a list of where and when the next kiss-ins are planned.

As for the future, Vauthier hopes it'll become an annual event nationally, with various locations being chosen - at least in the capital where perhaps same-sex couples have fewer inhibitions.

"In other French towns and cities it's normal that these sorts of events will take places which are busy," he says.

"As far as Paris, we really must go where we really need to be accepted - so why not at some point the suburbs," he suggests.

If you're interested in taking part, a full list of where and when can be found here.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Sarkozy, the French Socialist party's "head of human resources"

He's at it again. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been bashing the opposition Socialist party.

And while it wasn't supposed to have been recorded on camera, somehow a clip of his sometimes less-than-diplomatic (and in this case probably intentional) way with words has managed to make its way on to the Net.

It occurred earlier this week at a meeting of 800 or so faithful of the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire) Union for a Popular Movement,UMP) party at Lingolsheim in the east of France.

Sarkozy was there rallying support among party members, with an eye on the regional elections next March.

It was supposed to be a "closed" session: no journalists, no cameras and nothing to record what was said - apart from those present.

Except, as often seems to be the case under such circumstances, someone couldn't resist using their mobile 'phone to capture some of the more choice moments, especially when the president chose to tell the audience what he thought was wrong with the opposition Socialist party.

It started off gently enough with some comments on the process of "opening up the government", which has characterised Sarkozy's time in office ever since he came to power in May 2007.

"I didn't need to reach out (to other political parties)," he said.

"I've done it because I think France is a country that needs to be reminded of the need for tolerance and not bigotry or division. It's a country that has to be more tolerant."



And then Sarkozy decided to turn his attention to what he thought was wrong with the opposition Socialist party by joking about its leadership in a way he has done before.

"You know what the Socialist party really lacks is a director of human resources," he said.

"They've got the talent but they simply don't know how to use it, so I've decided to do the job for them and to become their HR director," he continued.

And then just to drive the point home, he added, "(Dominique) Strauss-Kahn? He's in Washington. (Bernard) Kouchner? With us. Jack Lang? With me.

"A party like that with such talent...and then it chooses Martine Aubry or Ségolène Royal."

While there was apparently "polite" laughter among those gathered, one person seemed not be be so enthusiastic, and used a mobile 'phone to record the "highlights" and that in spite of instructions that no filming be allowed.

Even though the clip has made its way on to the Net, what he said was certainly not a faux pas on the part of the French president, but a shared (not-so) private joke with those that would most appreciate it and one with which many others might well agree.

Plus given the fact that Sarkozy has in the past referred to himself as the Socialist party's director of human resources in front of television cameras, it's unlikely that he regrets the story getting out to a wider audience.

France's lip-synching government ministers

It's the latest video to create a buzz on the Internet here in France; members of the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement UMP) party lip-synching.

Most of the video was shot at the party's summer conference in Seignosse best remembered perhaps for THAT clip of the interior minister, Brice Hortefeux apparently making a remark which many interpreted as racist.

And it features - if that's the right word - several government ministers - past and present - letting their hair down and singing and dancing in perfect harmony, albeit it in playback.

The teaser came out last week with the official release of the full-length version set for release Friday 11 December.

But of course the French media has got hold its hands on it - so to speak - and the pirated version, complete with a Nicolas Sarkozy impersonator voice-over, is already doing the rounds.

The video is the brainchild of the UMP's youth wing. An attempt surely to appeal to the electorate ahead next year's regional elections in which several of the political "artistes" will be standing such as the minister for higher education and research, Valérie Pécresse, in Ile de France and the minister of employment, Xavier Darcos, in Aquitaine.

Also shaking their stuff and joining in the fun in a splendid show of solidarity in "Tous ceux qui veulent changer le monde" ("Everyone who wants to change the world") are several other frontline government ministers including Christine Lagarde, (finance), Eric Besson (immigration) and Eric Woerth (budget) as well as the junior minister for sports, Rama Yade, and the junior minister for family, Nadine Morano.

Not forgetting of course the former prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, or Rachida Dati, who until June this year was the justice minister and is now a member of the European parliament.

And so the list goes on.

Anyway without further ado, here it is. Sit back, enjoy and...er...sing along?



Have you recovered or are you still singing?

Earlier this year a similar lip-synched video from Daniel Cohn-Bendit's Europe Écologie party ahead of June's European parliamentary elections received more than 90,000 hits.



While it would without doubt be stretching a point to say that it contributed to the party's success in the election in which it won over 16 per cent of the national vote and gained 14 seats in the European parliament, it certainly didn't do it any harm.

Something perhaps the youth wing of the UMP party is hoping it can repeat in next year's regional elections.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The French do-it-yourself online swine flu test

So you've got a cough or maybe are running a temperature and you think you might be coming down with "swine flu" (H1N1 or influenza A as it's more commonly called in France).

Well now (for those living here) there's a simple online test to determine whether the symptoms you have are cause for concern.

Quizz-grippe.fr has been developed by a team of four medical and web experts, who insist that the site is completely independent of financial, political and commercial interests and allows users to determine for themselves whether the symptoms (if any) they, or other members of their family, have are in any way those that might indicate H1N1.


The test is a simple one in which "every symptom is given a weighting" says Christophe Gareyte, one of those behind the site.

"And that's based on how often it occurs among those who've already had influenza A."

In other words it's still possible that someone has the flu even if they don't have a fever of 38 degrees celsius which occurs in around 75 per cent of influenza A cases, especially if they have enough of the other symptoms.

Before filling in the quick questionnaire users are warned that the "results" cannot be taken as a substitute for a proper examination by a doctor.

And then it's time to take the test.

Based initially on a number of criteria such as age, sex, where you live (only available to French postal codes of course) the "quiz" then asks what initial symptoms there have been - from coughing and a sore throat to fever and fatigue, before moving on to a second list of symptoms such as sensitivity to light or sudden panic attacks.

Click on any (or none) before passing on to the next step to determine what sort of cough you have and a final set of questions asking when symptoms first started occurring and whether you've had a vaccination for seasonal flu and/or against H1N1 itself.

A last click gives users the result with a reminder to consult a doctor if symptoms persist (in the case of influenza not being detected) or to dial an emergency number when "according to the information you provided you show signs that suggest you have the flu".

An innovative use of the Internet and a useful tool to reassure users without of course replacing the need when appropriate for a visit to the doctor?

Or an example of the general public being encouraged to self-diagnose symptoms and perhaps working themselves into an unnecessary frenzy?

You be the judge.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The longest chip in the world is...(of course) a French fried potato

There's something strange going on in the north of France.

Just a couple of months after the folk of Sainghin-en-Weppes created a new record for the world's longest chip, French fry, frite or whatever you choose to call it, those from Violaines have gone one better.

Actually they've gone several centimetres better if the truth be told by serving up a chip measuring a whopping 34 centimetres - 9.5 cms longer than the previous record holder.

All right, so perhaps it's not the sort of thing that'll set the country talking or help in its application to have French grub recognised by Unesco as part of the world's cultural heritage.

But it is enough to make it into the Guinness book of records (if as expected it is validated) and a feat (or should that be a "frite") for the locals to be proud of.

Perhaps there's something in the air or more likely the soils as the two towns are just 11 kilometres apart and as everyone (surely) knows a giant chip requires one heck of a spud.

The idea for an attempt came when a friend of Sébastien Billet, the man behind the big chip, dug up a huge 1.2 kilogramme potato - enough for a record or two in its own right.

But the 40-year-old had bigger plans for the brute of a vegetable and inspired by what had taken place in September in Sainghin-en-Weppes, he the 40-year-old thought he would make try his own luck.

He chose the venue - the brasserie Chez Chantal in Violaines - for his monster fry-up, and under the watchful eye of an official adjudicator, the potato was fried.

"We a bit potty," admitted a delighted and proud Billet.

"I've already had calls and orders for two-and-a-half tonnes of chips, and I don't even sell them," he added.

A tale then which might perhaps make the Belgians, often the butt of French jokes about "strange" accents and love of chips, smile a little.

And perhaps it counts as pay back time for the somewhat snooty fashion in the which the French often view the cuisine of their smaller neighbour and that less than politically correct joke that asks, "Where is the biggest chip shop in Europe?"

Answer: "On the border between France and the Netherlands."*

No word on how much ketchup, mayonnaise or vinegar was needed as an accompaniment.





*Hint - a quick glance at a map will show you that those two countries don't share a frontier - because Belgium is in the way.

Raymond Domenech's World Cup pay off

In spite of his denials, Raymond Domenech, rakes in a tidy sum for getting Les Bleus to the World Cup finals

It should be interesting to see how the manager of the French national football team, Raymond Domenech, reacts to the news of how much he has earned for helping the side reach the finals of the World Cup in South Africa next year.

After the French controversially qualified last month thanks to that now infamous "hand of Henry" in their match against the Republic of Ireland, speculation in the French media was widespread over just how much Domenech and his players had made.



More than €820,000 in total for Domenech alone, was the figure bandied about, and one which the 57-year-old was quick to dismiss.

"If I had earned that much I would be extremely happy," said an astonished Domenech when questioned about the amount on national radio.

"But it's far from being the case and I'm not even going to try to contradict something that appears to follow the usual editorial line," he continued, referring to the constant criticism over his management style that he has received from many quarters of the media during his five years in charge.

"It's a complete lie."

Except it wasn't if figures the national daily, Le Monde, has managed to get hold of from the French Football Federation (FFF, a pretty good source) are to believed.

They reveal that in fact Domenech earned €826,222.

Now of course we're all used to hearing about the elevated salaries of the world's top players.

And there's unquestionably room for debate over whether they're merited, the true "value" of those at the top of the beautiful game and the morality behind splashing out such vast sums.

Similarly it has to be admitted that Domenech's earnings pale somewhat in comparison with some of his international counterparts such as the England manager, Fabio Capello, whose annual salary is £6.5 million (€7.2 million).

But the confirmation coming just a couple of weeks after that denial from the French manager doesn't exactly put him in a good light, which is perhaps the reason Jean-Louis Valentin, the deputy director of the FFF has so readily leapt to his defence.

"He didn't lie," insisted Valentin, explaining that the total was broken down into several elements over a number of years.

"When you look at the salaries earned by politicians or film stars, you would never think about calculating them on a period covering two or three years," he continued.

"And Raymond Domenech could never have imagined (when asked the question) that the media would do exactly that in working out his salary."

So that's all cleared up then, and we can be rest assured that Domenech didn't in fact fall into the same trap of telling a lie - the very accusation he made of those French media reports.

Instead we can now happily hope that he breaks his habit of managing to produce less than the best from a squad of some of the world's most talented players and concentrate on him might actually win something in South Africa.

That would be a first in his managerial career.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The story of the French couple who spent a year living in a public toilet

The Côte d'Azur, or French riveria as it's often known in English, is internationally renowned as being one of those places that is a playground of the rich and famous.

It's home to a host of cities and resorts that, on paper at least, conjure up images of sun, sea and the good life: Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Saint Raphaël, Saint Tropez...and so the list goes on.

But of course life in spite of the climate - sunny, hot and dry in summer and relatively mild in winter - is not so wonderful for all that live there.

Such as in the case of 62-year-old Marie Rolin and her 69-year-old husband, Jeannot, who have spent the best part of the past year living in a public toilet in the town of Menton.

The story of how they came to find themselves living in less-than-desirable conditions began after Jeannot fell ill; his diabetes worsening to such an extent that he was hospitalised and had to have one of his legs amputated.

The couple's landlord reportedly took advantage of the situation to repossess their apartment and - to cut a long story short - Marie and Jeannot found themselves homeless.

And without anywhere else to go, they turned to the public conveniences, the place Marie had been cleaning and looking after for around 12 years.

"Some days I spent the whole time scrubbing and trying to get rid of the smells," she told the regional newspaper, Nice Matin, which first broke the story last week.

"And we built a room where we stored household products and somewhere for Jeannot to sleep," she continued.

"For my part, I managed with a camping bed, and to cook, we set up a small kitchen area," she added.

It wasn't as though the couple were resigned to their fate though, and they certainly didn't want to spend the rest of their days living in a public toilet.

"We made housing applications but it was complicated," she told the newspaper.

And in spite of the couple earning about €1,000 a month and being able to pay a modest rent, local authorities didn't appear in any sort of a rush to rehouse them.

Until last week that is.

Their story made it into the national media, being picked up by a radio station, and was heard by Pierre Charon, an advisor to the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I heard their daughter interviewed on the radio and found it disgusting that they were living in a public toilet and nobody was doing anything," he said.

"I asked myself what I, as just an advisor the the president, could do to try to get things moving, so I rang Francis Lamy, the prefect (or state representative) in the département of Alpes-Maritimes, who told me he was unaware of their situation," he continued.

"Just three hours later I had a call telling me that a room had been found for the couple in a hotel where they would stay until the authorities had found permanent accommodation for them."

So a happy - if only temporary solution - to the couple's plight has been found with the promise of a more permanent result to come.

But what does it say about our society that their predicament went unnoticed for so long by so many, and that nobody seemed to be in a position to be able to - or to want to - help them out until their story made the headlines?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Strauss-Kahn's loo chinwag with Sarkozy

All right, so let's end the week with the news to end all news, as reported "exclusively" (and then picked up by other French media outlets) in the weekly magazine, Le Point.

It involves the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK): the two men who could just go head-to-head in the race for this country's presidency in 2012.

The story dates back to September this year during the G20 summit in Pittsburgh when Strauss-Kahn reportedly took Sarkozy to task while the two men were taking a loo break.

Yes, even the powerful need to make a trip to the restroom now and again.

And DSK was nothing if not candid, telling the French president that he was fed up with the repeated gossip about his private life.

"I'm sick and tired of it," he said. "And especially the supposed files and photos that could be used against me," he continued.

"I know the source is the Elysée (the president's official office), so tell your guys to stop it otherwise I'll get the courts involved."

So what brought upon the apparent outburst?

Well a few days earlier a book had been released in France, "Hold-uPS, arnaques et trahisons" in which two political journalists, Karim Rissouli and Antonin Andréa, took a critical and controversial look at the French Socialist party in recent years, its leading figures and its divisions; a sort of "tell all" if you will.

The book included a remark made in 2006 by Frédéric Lefebvre, then a member of Sarkozy's campaign team and now spokesman for the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party, about the possibility of DSK being the Socialist party's candidate and therefore Sarkozy's opponent in the 2007 presidential election.

Lefebvre is alleged to have told Rissouli and Andréa that the UMP had information that would seriously damage DSK's reputation should he become his party's candidate.

"It wouldn't take a week," he was quoted as saying." We have the photographs. They exist. And if we release them, the French won' like it."

An explosive (putting it mildly) assertion, which Lefebvre insisted he had never made, but one which obviously remained with DSK, whose lawyer in Paris, Jean Veil, confirmed to Le Point that he had been instructed to file a complaint should there be "any more defamatory assertions."

Somehow the race for the 2012 French presidency - although still a long way off - is already promising to be an interesting one.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A slice of life in France - snapshots of Albi, Tarn

Albi is the capital of the département of Tarn in the southwest of France and just an hours drive away from one of the country's largest cities, Toulouse.

Set on the river Tarn, it's architecturally stunning with a host of staggering buildings that will boggle any visitor with its centuries of history.

Among them are the Sainte Cécile Cathedral and the Palais de la Berbie, but there's also the Pont Vieux, originally built in stone back in the 11th century and later clad in the town characteristic red brick.

Oh yes, and it's also home to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, which contains over one thousand works of its most famous son, the painter Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa.































A slice of life in France - snapshots of Castres, Tarn

Once the largest town in the département of Tarn in the southwest of France, Castres and its surrounding metropolitan area now has a population of around 44,000.

Once famous for its light industry - and especially textiles - the town is nowadays probably best known for its top flight rugby union team, and the Goya museum, which houses the largest collection of Spanish paintings in France.

With its distinctively colourful buildings, and the river Agout running through the centre, it's would be difficult for even the most hapless photographer to make a hash of the odd snapshot or two.


Statues of the town's most famous son - Jean Jaurès




Place Jean Jaurès




A square in the old town




Agout river




Town centre




A shopping street




A hairdressing salon with surely some of the most confusing opening times


French give the thumbs up for Carla Bruni-Sarkozy as their first lady

As previously promised "another week, another poll" here in France.

But at least this one will probably put a smile on someone's face at the French president's official residence, the Elysée palace.

Actually both the head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife might well be pleased because, as you've probably already guessed from the headline, according to a survey the French give the seal of approval to the country's first lady.

In a poll carried out on behalf of Sélection Reader's Digest, 55 per cent of those questioned said they thought that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was more than up to the job.

And 65 per cent believed she was an asset to the president - food for thought perhaps for the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party and the president himself, who has seen his popularity and approval ratings slip recently.

Not bad going then for the former model-turned singer and soon-to-be actress, who appears to have settled into the role as first lady with consummate ease since her marriage last year.

But what of that so-called "Carla effect", much mentioned in the media and indeed supported to an extent by those close to Sarkozy, such as one of his special advisors, Henri Guaino, who previously admitted that the first lady probably has some sort of influence over her husband?

While many French think she has undoubtedly has had a "softening" effect on the image and behaviour of their seemingly hyperactive and omnipresent president, they don't necessarily believe she has had an impact on his political decisions.

While 48 per cent think that Sarkozy might well listen to what his wife has to say on issues, 31 per cent think that she has no political influence whatsoever.

"Independent, diplomatic, sensual and sincere" were the adjectives that most often sprang to mind for many of those questioned when it came to describing Bruni-Sarkozy's "qualities".

But when it came to the traditional role of many a first lady - that of "charitable commitments" - a sizeable chunk (46 per cent) still had little idea of what she did.

And that in spite of her role as a global ambassador for the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the much-publicised red ribbons hung for the first time from two columns of the Elysée palace to mark World AIDS Day on December 1.

The debate on French national identity and the election of Miss France

Er yes there is a connection between the two and it's a little less tenuous than might at first appear.

And that's especially true in the light of comments made last week by the doyenne of the Miss France competition, Geneviève de Fontenay, who seemed to give the nod to the sort of candidate she would like to see carry off the crown on Saturday.

While France is in the midst of a debate launched by the immigration minister, Eric Besson, at the beginning of November over "national values and identity", de Fontenay has in a way added her two centimes-worth by declaring how much she would like to see a woman of North African origin lift the Miss France title.

"I really hope that before I die I'll get to see a Miss France of North African origin," the 77-year-old said.

"And I really believe it could happen," she added.

"It would also be great for the organising committee and would prove to everyone that we're not so old fashioned."

Hold on to your hats, just as de Fontenay - never seen in public without her trademark headwear - might well be doing this coming weekend, as millions are expected to be in front of their small screens to watch the annual jamboree that is the Miss France competition.

To be held in the southern French city of Nice, this year's hunt for a successor to the 2009 winner, Chloé Mortaud, will see 37 pretenders strut their stuff and pout appropriately.

Without pushing a point too far the Miss France comeptition is a little like a mini version of Miss World that takes place in a week's time in Johannesburg.

Indeed Mortaud, who won last year as Miss Albigeois-Midi-Pyrénées , and will be carrying this country's hopes in South Africa next week, holds dual French-American nationality.

And among this year's contestants for Miss France, there will of course be competitors from its overseas departments and territories; Misses from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique; from Guyana in South America and Saint Pierre and Miquelon in North America, the Indian ocean islands of Mayotte and Réunion, and Pacific ocean representatives from New Caledonia and Tahiti.

Anyway back to de Fontenay's remarks.

Could she have had anyone in mind when uttering them?

Perhaps. Because lo and behold there is one woman who would fit the bill as the 19-year-old Miss Picardie, Juliette Boubaaya, (you can see her photos here) is of North African origin and according to de Fontenay is "a ravishing young woman."

Slightly kinder words than she had recently for Mortaud, who, although she admitted was "very pretty" remained for her "a girl who wasn't particularly charming."

Could there yet again be a whiff of handbags at dawn in the air?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Soan Faya's debut album - more than a pleasant surprise

Just five months after winning the 2009 edition of Nouvelle Star (the French version of Pop Idol), Soan Faya has released his debut album, "Tant pis".



Even though he was undoubtedly the "enfant terrible" of the TV talent contest and the target of plenty of criticism throughout and after its run for his perceived arrogance, the album and first single will surely have many rethinking their initial impressions.

And perhaps even finding themselves liking his music.

Because it ain't half bad, and what's more is a somewhat refreshing departure from the kind of album some winners of similar talent shows in France have served up.



It's no syrupy, candy-coated sure-fire commercial hit, but instead autobiographical and one for which most of the tracks were written before his "adventure" and he was "full of ideas."

"If I had told my life as it is, it could have given the impression of wanting to evoke pity," he says

"I opted for a more ironic angle."

Oh yes, you might have noticed, contrary to his behaviour immediately following his win, when he refused to give interviews or cancelled them at the last moment, Soan is in full promotional mode for his album and he has been talking to the media, answering in particular criticisms that he was (and remains) big headed.

"They can say what they want," he says, adding that as far as he can tell it's mainly some within the media who haven't liked him.

"In the streets, most of the people I've met since the programme finished have always been friendly," he continues

"There are of course those who want to make me appear like an idiot, but now I try to have confidence in myself and I'm concentrating on the upcoming tour."

Apropos tour dates. After cancelled concerts immediately following his win because he "preferred not to give them just for their own sake and perhaps performing badly," the 28-year-old will be following up he release of his album and the first single, "Next Time" with a number of appearances, including Le Bataclan in Paris on February 17 next year.

Soan- Next Time HD from Mon Pauvre Ami on Vimeo.

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