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Friday, 29 January 2010

French bride requests annulment moments after marriage

"I do" and then "I don't" barely 10 minutes later was very much the pattern of events for a newly-wed bride in France last weekend.

The wedding and almost immediate request for an annulment happened in the city of Tours in central France.

The evidently not-so-happy couple, both aged 25, were married in a civil ceremony at the city hall in front of the deputy mayor, François Lafourcade.

Nothing untoward seemed to mark the short ceremony, according to a report carried in the regional newspaper, La Nouvelle République, and Lafourcade said that everything appeared to proceed as expected.

Perhaps he should have known better.

"I had the feeling that something wasn't quite right, but everything seemed normal with nothing really missing; there were flowers, the rings, and the witnesses," he told the newspaper.

"I just posed the required questions and the bride answered 'yes' in a somewhat irritated," he continued.

"Afterwards the couple and their families left the room and I stayed behind with a couple of officials and just as I was getting ready to leave the bride returned and asked me to annul the whole thing on the spot."

So what had happened in such a short space of time to make the one half of the barely-wed couple change her mind?

Well according to some people present interviewed by the newspaper, once the families had made their way outside the building, the two mothers-in-law started arguing (no jokes please) and the tone escalated to such an extent that the police were called.

It was then that the young woman returned to deputy mayor to make her request, but was informed that she would have to make an official application to the public prosecutor if she really wanted the marriage to be annulled.

But there is perhaps more to the story than has appeared so far, as the journalist, Paul Wermus explained after digging a little deeper into what had happened for Laurent Ruquier, the host of an afternoon programme on national radio.

"The woman comes from the suburbs of Paris and the man is originally from Tunisia," said Wermus.

"All the signs are that it might have been an arranged marriage and the wife wasn't necessarily getting married of her own free will," he continued.

"The case is now with the public prosecutors office to determine whether there is in fact a case for annulment."

One of the grounds given in the French civil code for allowing a marriage to be declared invalid is if it can be proven that the "contract was entered into without the free consent of both spouses."

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The problems of Modane - a French town and a laxative

It's winter here in Europe, just to state the obvious.

And of course that means snow and enough of it hopefully for French ski resorts and surrounding towns to do a booming business in tourism.

But one small town in the département of Savoie in the French Alps has other thoughts on its mind at the moment as its elected officials decide whether to take a drugs manufacturer to court because of an advertising campaign that potentially damages the image of the townsfolk.

Intrigued? Then read on.

The town is Modane with a population of almost 4,000 and perhaps best known for its international TGV station as it's close to the border with Italy.

The company is Cooper, "a laboratory dedicated to the needs of pharmacists," as its website explains, and which counts amongst its products a certain laxative called...yes you've guessed..."Modane".

The problems began for the mayor of the former - the town that is - when he had his attention drawn to the advertising campaign of the latter - the manufacturer of the drug offering relief for constipation - which started a couple of weeks ago.

It apparently contains a visual which is a little too suggestive in which the drug is heralded as promised relief for bowel difficulties to someone seated just a tad too long on the "throne".

Now before you start cracking all the same sort of jokes that have been entertaining some corners of the French media, this is a serious business as far as the town's mayor Jean-Claude Raffin is concerned and he's currently considering whether to resort to the courts to avoid any "confusion" and "embarrassment" that might ensue.

And he could well have the weight of French justice on his side as the names of villages, towns municipalities and départements are protected by law in France to ensure that there's no "infringement on the earlier rights of a local authority including its name, image or reputation."

According to the regional newspaper Le Dauphiné libéré, an appeals court in Paris interpreted that two years ago in a ruling to mean that "intellectual property cannon be adopted as a trade mark for a product that might contravene those rights."

If you're up to it you can read an explanation of the law here in French.

But as far as Cooper is concerned, the product in no way breaches that ruling, as its president, Pierre-André Martel, explains.

"The drug first came on to the market back in 1962," he says.

"But it was no longer covered by medical insurance for reimbursement from 2006 and so since then we have been advertising it."

One to follow?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The debate on French national identity and the case of Anne Sinclair

France is in the throes of a debate on national identity.

At least some sectors of society and in particular politicians from the right are, with the agenda being led by the minister of immigration, Eric Besson, who opened the whole discussion at the beginning of November last year to find out how best "to reaffirm the values of identity and the pride of being French."

Others - and not just those from the left of the political spectrum - are refusing to get involved, going no further than questioning the need to debate the issue in the first place.

Whatever the case, here's a tale that reveals how difficult it can be at times for even those in supposedly high places to prove their "Frenchness" in the face of a bureaucracy that is - to say the least - unhelpful.

It comes from Anne Sinclair - a woman who could....just a future first lady of this country.

She's a pretty well-known figure in France having created and presented the weekly news and political programme 7/7 in the 1980s.

A woman with a proven track record in television, radio and print journalism, Sinclair was, as she says on her blog, even asked by some to embody the national symbol of Marianne.

You can't get much more "French" than that.

Oh yes, and she's also married to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the current head of the International Monetary Fund and potential Socialist party frontrunner for the 2012 French presidential elections.

So what exactly has the 61-year-old fuming and adding her two cents worth to the debate on national identity?

Well it all has to do with the renewal of her national identity card (couldn't get more pertinent to the debate really than that) a laminated plastic card valid for 10 years and used in France to confirm a person's identity when paying by cheque for example or opening a bank account.

It can also be used as a passport when travelling within the European Union and certain other countries.

So it is really a sign of being French if you will, as to hold one you have to have proven your eligibility in the first place.

And this is where it can get difficult - or at least it did for Sinclair.

On her blog Sinclair recounts how her existing card was actually valid until 2017 (remember that) but she wanted it amended so that it would show her Parisian change of address.

So she made her way to the local Préfecture de Police armed with (what she thought were) the necessary papers and, while she waited a couple of hours, could hear the often less-than-friendly grilling others were being given in having to prove their eligibility.

When it came to her turn, as she had been born abroad (in New York) she was asked not only if both her parents were French but also whether her grandparents were as well.

Even though Sinclair pointed out that on her birth certificate it clearly stated that both her mother and father were born in Paris (the capital of France that is) and she already held a valid identity card, the clerk dealing with her request proved "intractable in demanding that since 2009, I needed an additional document, a birth certificate of my father or my mother, which would prove my Frenchness."

Sinclair left and returned last week with the required documents, including this time a copy of her mother's birth certificate.

The welcome she had this time around was much warmer - more to do with the person behind the counter than the administrative regulations it would appear.

But it didn't change the response she received when questioning the need to "prove" that at least one set of her grandparents had been French.

It's a story the clerk had apparently heard dozens of times before from people Sinclair said had been "Less well off than me, with less time, a life more eventful or in cases where it was harder to obtain birth certificates of their parents! But that's the new law - the requirement for a 'double proof'", she was told.

"But why not a third, or a fourth," asked Sinclair. "How many generations back should I have to go to provide proof of citizenship which has never before been questioned."

Rhetorical questions to which the poor clerk was unable to respond other than by saying that it was the law.

All of which leads Sinclair to conclude in her blog that even if it could be perceived as administration simply doing its work given the change in the law, "It's not an issue of bureaucratic red tape but a mindset that is harmful to the identity of France."

Monday, 25 January 2010

Henri Proglio's two-salary U-turn

The recently-confirmed new boss of the French utility giant, Electricité de France (EDF), has agreed to relinquish his rights to claim a second salary with his old company, the multinational Veolia, where he remains chairman of the board.

While his decision has effectively put an end to the debate over the salary controversy, there's now a new confab over a conflict of interests and whether he should be doing two jobs: one at the mainly (almost 85 per cent) state-owned company EDF and the other at the privatised Veolia.

And to many, the French government would appear to be sending out mixed messages as to where exactly it stands on the issue.

You might remember the story out of France last week about this country's government saying that Proglio, who was confirmed as the boss of EDF on Wednesday, would in fact be entitled to two salaries rather than one.

In short he would get €1.6 a year for his new job and retain a paid position of €450,000 a year at Veolia, the company where he was to remain chairman of the board.

The government appeared to be backtracking on its previous promise not to support a double-salary with among others both the finance minister, Christine Lagarde, and the minister of the budget, Eric Woerth, "explaining" why the decision was now justified.

Hardly the most credible of positions for Lagarde, who had promised back in November when Proglio was nominated for the job that there was "no question of overlapping of remuneration and therefore he would receive a single salary."

Pragmatic politics at its best perhaps from the finance minister.

A day after his confirmation, Proglio made things much easier for Lagarde (and the rest of the government) by "choosing" to give up on the smaller of the two salaries, although there was plenty of conjecture that Nicolas Sarkozy, had put pressure on the man who had supported him in his successful bid to become president in 2007.

So the end of the story - not.

Because of course it's one that won't go away and which over the weekend took on another dimension with calls from opposition party leaders for Proglio to cut completely all ties with Veolia.

Among them was François Bayrou, the leader of the centre party Mouvement démocrate (Democratic Movement, MoDem).

"When you're the boss of a public company, you should keep in mind the interests of the public," he said on national radio.

"And when you head up a very large private company you have to defend the interests of the shareholders," he continued.

"This creates a dual allegiance that is unbearable, and which is a complete contradiction to everything we have done in France for decades."

And what do you know, the French government also seemed to be preparing the ground to make it easier for Proglio to give up all links with Veolia with both Lagarde and Woerth returning to their original positions - sort of.

"It's not a situation that should last forever," said Lagarde on Sunday.

"He (Proglio) recognised that when he appeared before (parliamentary) commissions," she added.

A sentiment echoed by Woerth who also maintained that holding two jobs couldn't be a long-term solution.

"When you're in a business which has international contracts, it requires keeping in constant contacts with clients, and not having to time to do other things," he said.

"For me it's a temporary situation," he added.

All of which could make it easier as far as Marie-George Buffet; the leader of the Parti communiste français (French Communist Party, PCF), is concerned for Sarkozy to appear to "save the day" so-to-speak and make the announcement, should he so wish, that the boss of EDF will no longer have a role in Veolia.

The French president is due to appear on prime time television on Monday evening for an extensive interview and to answer questions from selected viewers - an ideal chance for him to express his thoughts on the matter, according to Buffet.

"It's entirely possible that he will make such an announcement because we've already seen how many times both Christine Lagarde and now Eric Woerth have changed their minds," she said on the Canal + news magazine La Matinale on Monday morning.

"And who's to say that Sarkozy won't suddenly 'discover' that it's completely scandalous that Proglio had a double salary and a double responsibility," she added.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Panicking ponies join busy Paris traffic

Now here's a sight you don't see every day in Paris - thank goodness.

And one motorists on the boulevard périphérique, the busy ring road around the French capital, probably had a hard time believing: riderless ponies galloping through the traffic.

It happened on Saturday afternoon as some children were out riding ponies belonging to the Cartoucherie equestrian centre located next to the Bois de Vincennes in the east of Paris.

They - the ponies that is - were suddenly startled and hurtled off to join the traffic as this amateur video, featured on the website of the national daily edition of Le Parisien - Aujourd'hui en France, shows.

"Some cars arrived that were driving too fast and sounded their horns," Raphaël Mollion, the director of the centre said.

"One of the ponies took fright and started the stampede with the others following."

In total eight ponies threw their riders and headed off into the distance towards the busy boulevard périphérique, some making it as far as to a stretch of one of the motorways leading into Paris - the A4.

While several of the panicking ponies were rounded up quite quickly, others eluded police and firefighters for nearly two hours before they too ended their dalliance with delights of Paris traffic - and French drivers - and were caught.

"It could all have ended very differently," admitted Mollion.

"None of the children who fell off the ponies was hurt, and neither were any of the ponies."

Friday, 22 January 2010

Motorway madness in France - changing drivers at 130km/h

While most motorists might get from A to B with only the slightest of hitches and the minimum of mistakes there are also of course plenty of daft driving stories, plain stupid ones, those involving reckless fools and others simply defying belief.

What follows surely is a tale that falls into each of the idiotic categories - and then some.

And it just goes to show that mad motorway stories aren't confined to summer speeding when the media is hunting around for the unusual to fill the airwaves or column inches.

On Tuesday highway police patrolling a stretch of the A10 motorway in the département of Vienne in central-western France stopped a car because they had spotted the driver and passenger exchanging seats.

Maybe that should be capitalised to add emphasis.

No, obviously the car wasn't stationary as the driver and passenger swapped places otherwise the police wouldn't have had to stop it.

Instead it was cruising along at the official speed limit on French motorways of 130 km/h or just over 80 mph!

The less-than judicious manouevre came to the attention of the police because as the two attempted to change places their vehicle (not surprisingly perhaps) suddenly dropped speed to a more modest 60 km/h or 37 mph.

When the car was pulled over at the next rest area and the police had checked the papers of both the driver and the passenger, it transpired that son who had been trying to hand over control of the vehicle to his 70-year-old father had in fact had his licence suspended:

"Something that probably explains why the two were willing to take such a risk", according to police.

Among the offences with which both men have been jointly or individually charged are driving with a suspended licence, not wearing seat belts and - as if it needed to be spellt out - "driving under conditions that didn't allow for easy manouevring."

Legalese presumably for "dangerous driving".

Their fate will be determined by a judge.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Cathy Sarraï - the death of the French Super Nanny

Tributes have been rolling in thick and fast after the death was announced on Wednesday of Cathy Sarraï.

Don't worry if you've never heard of her. The name - until this week - probably wasn't familiar to most French.

But her face was known to millions as she was the woman who shot to fame as the country's Super Nanny in the television programme of the same name.

Just hours after the announcement of her death, tributes sprung up all over the Net from those she had helped and others who had simply been moved by the programme in which she had appeared.

A rap group posted a hommage on YouTube and M6, the channel which broadcast the show in which Sarraï appeared, said it would be airing a special programme this coming weekend dedicated to her.

A reality TV programme based on the British equivalent and successfully exported around the world, the French version of Super Nanny began in 2005 and featured "Cathy" as she was better knwn helping parents cope with children who were "out of control".

With her trademark heavy-rimmed rectangular glasses, tailored black uniform and hair severely tied back in a bun, Sarraï could have seemed almost a caricature of the role she filled in first observing and then helping parents put in place a set or rules that would help them handle otherwise seemingly unmanageable children.

But read through many of the comments left on sites after the announcement of her death was made public, and it becomes clear that a lot of viewers, families she had helped and headline writers saw much more in the role she personified than a simple disciplinarian.

"A national icon" is how the weekly news magazine, L'Express, led its story. "Sadness on Twitter," reported the weekly celebrity magazine, Voici and radio broadcaster Jean-Marc Morandini devoted a portion of his morning show taking calls from listeners who wanted to pay tribute to her.

Born Kalthoum Sarraï in Tunis on September 25, 1962, Sarraï was one of seven children.

She was engaged at the age of 14, married at 16 and after arriving in France in 1979 gave birth to three children.

Sarraï did a number of odd jobs before qualifying as a professional child carer and obtaining a diploma and a nursery nurse assistant, which allowed her to become a nanny.

"Mine was something of an unusual path," she wrote in her autobiography, published in 2006.

"While in Tunis I lived in the heart of the family sheltered from everything and then I came to Paris and leapt into the unknown," she continued.

"In France I had to learn everything: the language, customs, my job."

Her big break came in 2005 when she was introduced to millions of television viewers as "Cathy" the nation's Super Nanny, a role she made her own over the next four years.

Cathy Sarraï died on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday aged 47 after a long battle against lung cancer.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

EDF's Henri Proglio - the man with a Fat Cat salary

....and two jobs

It might only have been worth a one-liner in the middle of the broadcast on TF1's prime time news on Tuesday, but confirmation that Henri Proglio, the recently-appointed big cheese at the French utility giant, Electricité de France (EDF) would in fact be receiving a double salary, has nonetheless created the expected polemic here in France.

Nominated as president of the company last November, Proglio was officially named CEO on Wednesday and with the job comes a modest annual salary of €1.6.

But that isn't the only monthly income the 60-year-old will be able to enjoy because he'll be retaining a position in his previous company, the French multinational Veolia as chairman of the board for which he'll rake in another €450,000 annually.

Yes that's right. The man will be earning a cool €2 million a year because "He has two responsibilities and, therefore two salaries," as the minister of the budget Eric Woerth explains.

"And in reality, the sum of salaries is equal to what he earned before, so he (Proglio) hasn't actually had an increase in income," Woerth maintains.

The argument put forward by both Woerth and his government colleague, the finance minister Christine Lagarde, to justify why the government supports the double salary, and that Proglio is worth every cent he's going to be paid runs along the lines of stressing that it's not really that much money when you make a direct comparison with other countries.

"The salary is well behind that being paid to those in German, Italian or British-owned rivals," says Lagarde.

"And when you look at the earnings of those heading companies quoted on the CAC 40 it only puts him in 18th or 19th place."

But wait, what did Lagarde say back in November when Proglio was nominated for the job?

Ah yes something very much along the lines of there being "no question of overlapping of remuneration and therefore he would receive a single salary."

While government ministers have defended the double salary, perhaps the last word on the subject (for the moment) should be left to Aurélie Filippetti, the national secretary of the opposition Socialist party, who probably sums up best what many of those who don't agree with the move have been expressing.

"The combination of mandates, whether in politics or business, is definitely a very bad tradition in France," she says.

"Mr. Proglio presides over the destinies of two groups with a total of nearly 500,000 employees and combined sales of more than €100 billion," she continues.

And when it comes to the claim that the "best" need to be rewarded for the jobs they're doing, Filippetti doesn't mince her words.

"We can no longer bear to hear this completely fallacious reasoning," she says.

"What exists is actually a very exclusive club of privileged people who designate each other to positions of power as though they were playing musical chairs just like the Ancien régime."

DSK with "the wind in his sails"

This Thursday's issue of the weekly French news magazine, Le Point, should make interesting reading for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he's most commonly known here, the head of the International Monetary Fund.

Because even though his job means he's currently based in Washington away from the cut and thrust of the domestic political scene, and his tenure there doesn't officially end until 2012, DSK has now become this country's most popular politician.

In the latest poll - yes you might remember how keen the French are on them - conducted by Ispsos on behalf of the magazine, DSK ranks first "dethroning" the former favourite the junior sports ministers Rama Yade who drops to third, and ahead of the ever-popular foreign minister Bernard Kouchner who takes second spot.

It was perhaps only a matter of time that Yade, who has held the top spot for the past five months, should slip in the ratings, after all she hasn't really been making the headlines recently for reasons controversial or otherwise.

But DSK's rise which led Le Point to describe him as having the "wind in his sails" surely keeps alive both interest about a potential presidential run in the 2012 elections, and speculation that he will at least throw his hat into the ring to be the Socialist party's candidate in the race for office.

Remember DSK's every appearance in France, be it in his official capacity or on a private visit, is closely followed - by the media at least.

Even though he made every effort to avoid the subject for example in a televised appearance on the evening news magazine "Le Grand Journal" on Canal + back in November, it just wouldn't go away.

And the latest figures will undoubtedly keep his (and probably many other people's) hopes well and truly alive.

What they indicate, apart from the fact that it's the first time DSK tops the rankings, is that he's popular across the political spectrum. Among those from his own Socialist party he has an approval rating of 63 per cent - no surprise there perhaps.

But should he decide to take a look at what supporters of the ruling centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP), think of him, he'll undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised as among them he has a 68 per cent approval rating.

All right so "agreed" opinion polls are of course never to be fully believed and can be interpreted in any way you might wish. And they don't in any way give the full picture.

But this latest one will surely keep the story of "DSK and the 2012 presidential election" well and truly alive - at least among pollsters and the media.

Just for the record, the current incumbent of the job in which DSK refuses to express a personal or professional interest (ahem), Nicolas Sarkozy, fares just as he did last month with a 38 per cent approval rating - an occupational hazard of High Office perhaps.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

DON'T mention the word bomb on a 'plane

Yet another story of a French citizen falling foul of local authorities while abroad.

After the case of those detained in Brazil in December for causing a disturbance on a 'plane, comes the story of Jean-Louis Lioret, who finds himself behind bars in Abu Dhabi for "making a pleasantry about a bomb".

These are perhaps more than ever times during which witticisms or quips don't exactly go down a storm at airports or aboard 'planes, no matter how clever or smart you might think they are.

Actually maybe they never did as customs and passport officials are hardly renowned for their sense of humour.

And in the light of what happened on Christmas Day last year when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, it's hardly surprising that questions have been raised about air safety and security and that cabin crew and passengers alike are more alert and sensitive.

That's something maybe Jean-Louis Lioret should have borne in mind as he made what he obviously thought was a harmless comment but for which he now finds himself behind bars in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Lioret was on his way from Paris to Bangkok last week on board the UAE's national carrier Etihad, when the 'plane made a scheduled stopover in the country's capital Abu Dhabi.

Another passenger reportedly asked the 66-year-old retired engineer if he could place a package next to him in a vacant seat and, according to Lioret's brother, Michel, who has managed to talk to him in prison, he agreed.

"Of course," responded Lioret. And then those ill-judged words, "As long as it's not a bomb,"

"It was just a pleasantry" says his brother. "And even though Jean-Louis tried to tell the cabin crew as much, they alerted security and he was taken off the 'plane."

Lioret and his brother (and perhaps others) might have thought the remark to be inoffensive, but airline staff and local officials obviously didn't think so as the Frenchman was "arrested in accordance with international standards currently in use, that any passenger suspected or even joking about terrorism can be stopped."

In the UAE an individual can apparently be held for seven days without being charged.

The French deputy consul in the UAE, Carole Loisel, who has reportedly also spoken to Lioret, says the conditions in which he is being held are good.

"He has not yet appeared before a judge," she said. "So we don't know exactly what he is alleged to have said."

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Sarkozy the next generation - it's a boy

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy has become a grand-father for the first time.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning Jessica, the wife of Sarkozy's second son, Jean, gave birth to a baby boy, according to the Internet site, Purepeople, which was the first to break the news.

Although there hasn't yet been an official statement from the Elysée palace, the president's office, the news has been confirmed by Patrick Balkany, a close friend of the family and the mayor of the Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret, who told reporters (in that time-honoured tradition) that "both mother and baby were doing well."

The latest arrival to the Sarkozy family has might have some large footprints in which to tread but his will surely be a future cushioned by the fact that it'll be financially secure and potentially glowing.

His grandfather (who turns 55 at the end of this month) is of course president, and at 23 years of age his father is already an up-and-coming (already-arrived) member of the country's governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party as a regional councillor in Hauts-de-Seine.

And that's not forgetting his mother, who just happens to be an heiress to the big electronics company Darty.

All factors undoubtedly which have meant that, in this era in which politicians have achieved near celebrity status here in France, the Net has awash with surfers speculating none-too-seriously (perhaps) over what'll be in store for the baby.

"Nicolas Sarkozy's grandson has been appointed general manager of his future nursery," runs one tweet for example, a reference to his father's recent controversial candidature (later withdrawn) for the top job at l'Etablissement public d'aménagement du quartier d'affaires de la Défense (Epad), the development agency for business district of La Defense on the outskirts of Paris.

As for what the baby will be called - well there's no word on that yet. But a source close the president (yes it's that sort of story) has reportedly said that it'll be a "very unusual" name.

"Epad" suggested one wit in Twitter.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

French man saves pregnant woman from drowning

Give it up for Eddy Devauchelle, a true modern-day hero in the real sense of the word, if ever there were one.

Last Wednesday evening, the 42-year-old electrician jumped into a freezing cold river to rescue a pregnant woman who was trapped inside a car.

And all he had to say after his act of bravery was "I was just doing my duty as a citizen."

It happened in the northern French city of Amiens after the car in which the woman and her husband had been driving was hit by another vehicle and was sent into the river, overturning in the process.

When Devauchelle arrived on the scene he reportedly saw two people kneeling at the water's edge and a man in the river with water up to his neck crying out for help.

"I got out of my car, took off my jacket and wet the back of my neck - the water was freezing," he told the local newspaper, 'Le Courrier Picard'".

He wasn't kidding. The outside air temperature was minus four degrees Celsius.

"And then I got into the river and made my way to the car," he continued.

When Devauchelle reached the car he saw that the eight month pregnant woman was trapped inside, unconscious, and after several attempts managed to force open the door and release her from her seat belt.

After he had made his way back to the river bank with the still unconscious woman, Devauchelle asked others to give him a hand pulling her out of the water.

"They were just standing there doing nothing and I have to admit I wasn't exactly polite," he said, adding that after he had put the woman in the recovery position and she started to come round he asked two girls present to continue rubbing her back.

"I returned to my car to grab a couple of fleeces to keep her warm," he said, while everyone waited for the emergency services to arrive.

Both the expectant mother and her husband were taken to a nearby hospital, where she was kept in for observations, but the hero of the hour was quite clearly Devauchelle,

And the following day the Prefect of the Picardie region, Michel Delpuech, awarded Devauchelle a silver grade medal for courage and dedication "to acknowledge this act of rescue which deserves admiration."

And so say all of us.

Isn't Eddy Devauchelle just the kind of man you would want to have around when it matters?

Supreme Court rules pornographic images at work aren't illegal

La Cour de Cassation in France, or the country's Supreme court, has overturned a decision made by an industrial tribunal and an appeals courts which had both upheld the dismissal of an employee who downloaded pornographic images at work.

The case dates back to 2002, when a worker at the carmaker Peugeot Citroën in the western city of Rennes was fired after pornographic images he had downloaded were discovered on computer at work.

He took his case to an industrial tribunal and to the Court of Appeal in Rennes, but in both instances the ruling went in favour of the employer.

His last chance was la Cour de Cassation which, it has been revealed, last month ruled in his favour.

It accepted his arguments that the employer had no right to access what were private and personal files and that saving images on his computer had in no way had an impact on his ability to do his job.

"The saving of three files containing pornographic pictures, which were not criminal in nature, did not constitute grounds that would justify dismissal," the Court ruled, adding that the outcome of the case would have been different had the images been "unlawful" such as ones of a paedophile nature.

In effect the ruling found that the employee had been unfairly fired and the case has been referred the matter back to the appeals court to determine how much compensation he is now entitled to.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Thief steals thousands of euros from sleeping passengers on Air France flight

Anyone knows that when you're in a busy place it's always sound advice to look after your personal possessions.

As in many a city worldwide, public transport operators in Paris make regular announcements warning passengers that pickpockets are about.

It's part and parcel of the "joys" of living and working in a large metropolitan area.

When it comes to flying though, the most travellers can normally expect is to be told to keep their own luggage in view at all times, and any left unattended will be "dealt with".

That's of course before you've checked in and made it on to the 'plane.

But once there, cocooned in your own little space, the chances are for the most part that your defences will be down and you'll feel more secure. Well apart from those who are terrified of flying, but that's quite another story.

And so it must have felt for passengers aboard the overnight Air France Tokyo-Paris flight on Tuesday.

Except for five of them travelling in business class, there was something of a rude awakening.

Because while they slept, a thief was busy at work, relieving them of around €4,000 worth of cash in various currencies.

The alarm was only raised shortly before landing, when one of the victims alerted staff that money had been stolen from her purse.

In other words the thief had been going about his or her business right under the noses of dozing passengers and the cabin crew. And nobody had noticed a thing.

The captain informed airport authorities of what had happened ahead of landing and police were on hand to greet the passengers when the 'plane arrived.

But after half an hour, they decided to allow all the passengers to disembark and it was only the five who had been robbed who were detained to make formal complaints.

So what does Air France, the airline, which in its advertising campaign encourages customers to feel almost as though they're flying in pure comfort without a care in the world, have to say about the incident?

Well of course, it's not really taking responsibility for what happened and management preferred not to comment, leaving it instead to a spokesperson to point out that such incidents are "rare" and that "generally it's the passenger who is responsible for goods and personal effects stowed in the cabin, while the airline is only liable for checked-in luggage."

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Flatulent turtles send alarm bells ringing

Christmas and New Year might have come and gone, but here's a tale that (among other things) involves the mightily underrated brussels sprout - a seasonal favourite to dedicated fans.

Thanks must go in advance to the weekly French news magazine, Marianne, which on page 27 of the most recent issue brings its readers this story from across the Channel: one that might otherwise have gone unnoticed in the media here.

It concerns that humble aforementioned vegetable, its undesirable side-effects (on animals, human and otherwise), an aquarium in the British town of Great Yarmouth and some of its inhabitants - turtles.

Apparently staff at the town's Sea Life Centre took the unusual step just before the Christmas period of lowering the amount of water in the tank containing a certain "George", an eight-year-old green turtle.

It was a preventative measure just in case George - and the other turtles - reacted as they had done a year earlier to the seasonal treat of brussels sprouts they had been given - namely with flatulence.

Apparently the vegetable not only supplies a healthy dollop of vitamins, fibres and minerals for George and friends but also a pretty fair blast of wind.

So much so that the previous Christmas had been something of a nightmare for staff, with the accompanying "symphony of air bubbles" causing water to overflow on to the floor, and setting off the sensitive alarm system in the middle of the night.

This time around there were no such worries though.

George still got his brussels, but the precautionary measure taken by staff of lowering the water levels also meant that they were able to enjoy the holiday period without being woken by an alarm.

Food - the proof of the pudding really is in the eating

In September 2009, Traction Man, a UK blogger who had spent much of the year in hospital, made the headlines when his "hospital food bingo" game.

It was, as the BBC reported at the time, a challenge he set for his friends to try to identify the meals he had been served up over a period of time, which he described as being invariably "mushy, minced and overcooked".

Not surprisingly perhaps it wasn't always easy for them to guess what was on the "menu" just from the photographs alone.

Commenting at the time on the story, Laurent Ruquier, a well-known radio and television presenter in France, suggested on his daily round-table radio show here that it perhaps went a long way to illustrating the British (and US) obsession for the way in which food is presented and how it looks.

Although The French, he mused (not necessarily seriously) were often equally guilty of paying as much attention to the appearance of what was on their plate, on the whole they were more concerned with taste, edibility and flavours.

Well at a time when many of us are probably recovering from seasonal excesses, two rather different dishes left food for thought (sorry) for one particular gourmet - or should that be gourmand? - on this side of the Channel.

One was sautéed scallops served on a bed of puréed sweet potatoes bought from a local delicatessen and in theory a truly mouth-watering treat for the eyes (if such a thing is possible.

The other was a more homely looking (all right then it resembled something of a dog's dinner when served up) venison in a red wine sauce accompanied by a couple of mashes involving potatoes, celeriac, carrots and various spices.

Certainly from the photos you can see that one definitely looked more tempting, but as if to substantiate that old adage that "the proof of the pudding really is in the eating" it shouldn't be too difficult to guess which one really tickled the taste buds while the other disappointed.

Bon appetit.

François Pinault - The loss of Paris is the gain of Venice

When French billionaire François Pinault gave up his attempts to build a museum on L'île Seguin, an island on the river Seine in the suburbs of the French capital which was once the site of a Renault factory, he chose the Palazzo Grassi in the Italian city of Venice as the best place to share with the rest of the world his vast collection of modern art.

The decision in 2004 not to go ahead with Paris option was down to Pinault's frustration at the administrative red tape involved in getting the necessary planning permission, and even though Palazzo Grassi isn't big enough to hold all his works in one go, a visit has to be a "must" on any visitor's list of "things to do and places to see" no matter how short a stay might be planned in "the Queen of the Adriatic".

That has been especially true since June 2009 when after months of renovation work at the Punta della Dogana, a new art centre for Pinault's foundation (yes the French capital really did lose out BIG time) the exhibition "Mapping the studio", opened at both venues.

It is in the words of the official website an exhibition aimed at "conveying the sense of vitality and discovery that has been an integral part of the François Pinault Collection over the years."

It might be difficult to appreciate fully the intent behind many of the artists' work and they can surely appear obscure and often nonsensical.

But that's where the audio guide kicks in, offering explanations which visitors can accept or ignore as they wish.

Such as why Piotr Uklański's "Dancing Nazis", which combines his work of 166 film stills and poster images of US and European actors who've played the parts of Nazis in films, with a dance floor intermittently illuminated in fluorescent colours, has a meaning which "lies not within itself but within the mind of the spectator."

When you wander into a darkened room to see Bruce Nauman's film "Test Tape Fat Chance John Cage", a film he made by leaving the camera running in his studio overnight recording...well not a lot really...the audio guide once again helpfully sheds some light.

It spells out how the film is the inspiration for the whole theme of the exhibition "Mapping the studio" and has been described in reviews as "pushing the limits" and "showing everything and nothing."

It's perhaps statements like that which might alienate many from sitting down and pondering the whole thing in the first place.

But it's also worth bearing in mind that works which might often puzzle and leave the visitor floundering don't always appear to be what they initially seem.

Thank goodness for that thought as the guide assures you that Cady Noland's installation piece "Bloody Mess" is far from quite literally being, as the name suggests, a work of junk thrown together in no apparent form on the exhibition floor.

Or Cy Twombly's "Ilium" is in no way just lot of indiscriminate scribbling (is there any other sort) but is brought into context when you're told just how important an influence his overall work has been on other artists.

There is of course more, much more to Pinault's collection than the briefest of resumés allows. There are works from established artists such as Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger, to name just a few.

And then there are pieces from emerging talents such as Adel Abdessemed, Nate Lowman and of course Rob Pruitt, whose "101 art ideas you can do yourself" starting off with "Putting googly eyes on things" through (should you feel the need to pop along to the men's room) "Sit on the toilet backwards", and the other 99 suggestions that accompany you during your visit, are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

Even if at times it's hard to fathom out what some of the artists' intentions actually were or are, there's not denying that what's on display is thought-provoking and it's never dull.

And maybe the best advice is to bear in mind as you wander through the exhibition is not necessarily to try looking for meaning and simply enjoy.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Venice - a photoreportage

It's easy - oh so easy perhaps - to take glorious photos of Venice, even for the most talentless among us.

Simply point the camera in any direction, press, whirr and voilà.

And with digital technology you've got not just one but several (hundred?) snapshots of those canals, water, bridges, piazzas, more water, palaces, boats, gondoliers, even more water and so on and so forth.

Souvenirs of a city that is without question one of the most romantic in the world.

Well just for a change, here, mixed in with those typical tourist photos (well what did you expect?) is a selection of a few other images and clips taken by one galoshes-wearing happy snapper traipsing - or should that be sploshing - around the "Queen of the Adriatic" as the sun put in a brief appearance during acqua alta or "high water".

Braving the raised walkways at the Rialto bridge

equipped with wellies that have clearly never seen the countryside

After the rain, the sun

It might be chilly but some are determined to make the most out of the sun

Just to state the obvious, Venice of course means boats

...and canals, starting with the Grand Canal

...and continuing with the side canals

...gondoliers at work, waiting and taking a break

and gondolas - take one or make one

It's a city with the narrowest of streets

and where.daily exercise Venetian style entails lugging pushchairs over bridges

As it's Italy it's time to shop. Tat for sale - masks, tee shirts and "original" Murano

And then there are some extravagant loo brushes

Signs (galore) - where exactly are we? - posters, instructions and graffiti

Hung out to dry

Bells and doors

All right then, a couple of typical tourist shots to finish with.

St Mark's - in the rain and at dusk

Friday, 1 January 2010

"A propos de Sara" - the return of Sara Baras and flamenco to Paris

If your idea of what flamenco dancing is all about is a woman in a frilly polka-dot dress stomping her way across the floor to the clatter of castanets, the accompaniment of twanging guitars and the loudest of gypsy songs - think again.

Sure it's some of that, especially for tourists perhaps making their way to one of the Spanish costas and eager for an "authentic taste" of the local culture.

But as Sara Baras and her company have been proving to audiences in Paris, the dance form offers much more, and if you're passing through the French capital any time until January 11, then it is probably the show for which you should try to get tickets.

A quick read through the programme before the performance tells you that Baras - still only 37 - has in just the matter of a few years become one of the "emblematic figures of new flamenco".

"She is," we are told "a model for others, a veritable star of flamenco who is always looking to reinvent new forms of choreography."

Yes well it would say that wouldn't it? And when the curtain goes up, the highly stylised first scene, for the uninitiated at least doesn't necessarily bode well.

Admittedly there are no castanets, but there's certainly a lots of scarf waving.

"Oh, oh. Was this really such a good idea as an end-of-year treat?" some in the audience might well have been asking themselves unaware perhaps that this is just a quick look back at past numbers and there is more - much more - to come.

Because very quickly the whole thing rachets up a notch - or two - or three.

The music really kicks in. The guitars and the voices "up" the rhythm and the show is ready for lift off into a new dimension.

Actually the fact that virtually every seat at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées has been taken - and that for a Sunday matinée performance - and there are a fair number of native Spanish speakers present, should be something of a giveaway that the audience is in for something special.

"A propos de Sara" is perhaps most easily described as a "best of" the performances Baras has made and choreographed over the past 12 years, and while it might start off deceptively slowly it soon explodes into something intensely hypnotic to watch.

Solo performances from Baras herself are often frenetic, shin shuddering ones as she keeps up with the pace and rapidly increasing rhythm of the music.

Hers is a powerful, energetic and at the same time graceful display of the real nuances of flamenco, building to a roaring crescendo and then suddenly punctuating it with the softness and lightest of touches as the pace drops in a second to one in which there's almost complete silence in the auditorium.

It's just like one of those great opera voices that are able to turn on a note from full volume power to delicacy - and all seemingly without effort.

The pas de deux with guest star Jose Serrano are just as thrilling, as is the finely tuned ensemble choreography from company.

And then there's the stage setting and lighting - elements that don't usually leap out during a performance. Or if they do, it's usually because they get it so obviously wrong.

In the case of "A propos de Sara" quite the opposite is true. It's so obviously right, giving each scene a texture and finish that is a pure visual delight.

Maybe that's because it's the seventh time over the years that Baras has performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and so it's perhaps not surprising that she knows what she wants and how to get it.

Poetry on legs for one hour and 40 minutes.
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