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Friday, 30 April 2010

World War II "armistice" - French ignorance or error?

Is the decision by the press office of the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to use the word "armistice" in its description of the ceremony marking the end of World War II hostilities in Europe a question of ignorance of history or political correctness?

That's the question that has been posed by some sectors of the media here this week after the services of the Elysée palace, the French president's office, sent out what it called "a message" to journalists informing them of "The 65th Anniversary of the Armistice of 1945" to be held in the eastern French town of Colmar next weekend.

Elysée palace (from Wikipedia)

May 8 is Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) marking the date when the Allies formally accepted Germany's unconditional surrender at the end of World War II.

It's a national holiday in many parts of Europe and in France there'll be ceremonies up and down the country including the one at which Nicolas Sarkozy will be present.

But for the second year in a row the office of the Elysée palace has decided to use the term "armistice" rather than "capitulation" or "surrender" in describing the ceremony.

And that's a mistake, as far as the French weekly news magazine Le Point is concerned.

"The Armistice of May 8 1945 never existed," it says. "It was an unconditional surrender that occurred in two stages."

A point also taken up by the left-of-centre news weekly Marianne, which digs deeper into history, consults definitions of "capitulation", "surrender" and "armistice" and comes to the conclusion that either the whole affair illustrates a lack of knowledge of history on the part of the Elysée or it's an attempt to rewrite the history books.

"Such a confusion of the terms is understandable, if inaccurate, among Internet users, but not by those working closely with the French president," it says.

"Are the services of the Elysée totally ignorant?' it asks. "Or are they attempting to be 'politically correct' and trying to soften a painful part of the Europe's recent history?"

To get to the bottom of the matter the daily free newspaper 20 minutes contacted the Elysée directly to be told that the so-called "message" was "not an official press release nor an invitation, but simply a reminder of the upcoming event."

Perhaps not the most convincing explanation of the intent behind the use of the word "armistice", but the one with which it looks as though the the French media will have to be content.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Map of Belgium redrawn by French TV

Hands up those of you who can pinpoint Belgium on a map of Europe...without cheating.

All right there might be excuses for those far away who aren't too au fait with the geography of the "Old Continent".

And maybe Brits should be let off to as many there view the country as "small, boring and flat", with the only reference made to it a negative one as Brussels, the capital and "home" to the European Union often portrayed and perceived as attempting to take over all aspects of daily life.

But how about neighbours France? The French should be able to understand the place after all they share a common language with a certain number of folk living there.

But earlier this week one prime time news broadcast got things very wrong.

Belgium is in the news at the moment after the fall of yet another government. An election has been called for June.

It's a country of almost 11 million with a Dutch-speaking majority and a French-speaking minority separated into Flanders and Wallonia respectively.

There's also another, much smaller, German-speaking minority.

The differences between the Dutch-speaking and French-speaking communities have often been at the heart of the political divide in Belgium, and it was in attempting to shed some light on the ins and out during Monday's prime time news that France's main private TV station TF1, treated its viewers - and those able to watch across the border - to a rather distorted map of its smaller neighbour.

In what was surely a faux pas of monumentally embarrassing proportions, the channel showed a map of Belgium with the regions clearly marked.

Except where Flanders should have been there was the name of Wallonia and vice versa of course.


A solution to the problem of the bilingual capital Brussels perhaps as far as French-speakers would be concerned.

The city is actually surrounded by Dutch-speaking suburbs (you really do need to know your geography to understand completely) but TF1's map appeared to resolve that issue neatly by plonking it in Wallonia (are you following?).

It was of course all a mistake, and one anchor Harry Roselmack put right the following evening.

"Turning to Belgium, and first of all apologies to our viewers there who tune in every evening," he began.

"Last night we showed a map of Belgium in which Wallonia was where Flanders should have been and vice versa," he continued.

"It was a serious mistake, which we've corrected this evening," he motioned to his left, before once again launching into another report on the problems the country is facing with the split between the two communities, a general election planned in June and Belgium due to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union at the beginning of July.

So there you have it. A geography lesson, French style, if you will.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Poster ad' pokes fun at Sarkozy's height

There could be trouble ahead for the car rental company Sixt following its latest advertising campaign.

A German poster for the company carries a picture of the French hatchback the Citroën C3 with the slogan encouraging customers to "Do the same as Madame Bruni, choose a small French model" ("Machen Sie es wie Madame Bruni. Nehmen Sie sich einen kleinen Franzosen").


The reference of course is to the height difference between the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

Sarkozy reportedly measures 1m65 or 5' 5" (it differs according to which source you believe) while his wife is 1m78 or 5' 10".

"The advertisement is just meant to be amusing," says the president of Sixt in France, Jean-Philippe Doyen.

"It's typical of the kind of humour we use in our campaigns and it's not meant to be taken seriously."

As yet there has been no reaction to the Sixt poster from the couple. They're currently on a trip to China.

But given their past record, it's surely unlikely they'll be "amused".

Back in 2008 they successfully sued the low-cost carrier Ryanair for the damages after the airline used an unauthorised photo of them in an advertisement.

And during his presidency Sarkozy has resorted to legal action on more than one occasion, such as the infamous "Voodoo doll" case

The height difference between the French president and his wife has often been the subject of satire in this country and the opposition Socialist party has referred to him at times as suffering from "small man syndrome".

He's known to wear raised shoes in public, while his wife prefers to wear flats.

And then there's the so-called "Sarkozy stool" with which the French president travels and has been caught using on several occasions to give him the appearance of being taller than he actually is when making official speeches.

The media had a field day back June 2009 when a video caught the French president using the footstool during a speech at the D-Day commemorations in Normandy.

And in September last year there was a clip on "Le Petit Journal" on Canal + poking fun at Sarkozy's use of a similar "accessory" while making a speech to the United Nations.

Just for the record Sarkozy is apparently one of the shortest world leaders.

Although he's taller than the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev (1m60 or 5' 3") he's considerably shorter than his US counterpart Barack Obama (1m88 or 6' 2), the British prime minister, Gordon Brown (1m80 or 5' 11") and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel (1m72 or 5' 8").

Friday, 23 April 2010

"Top of the Pops" for France's singing priests

"Holy voices singing eternal hits" goes the commercial for the album that is currently taking France by storm.

Move over Lady Gaga. Sorry Black Eyed Peas. And tough for homegrown French talent such as Christophe Maé.

This week's best selling album here in France is none other than "Spiritus Dei" by a group called "Les Prêtres".

Given the name, there are no prizes perhaps for guessing that the group is made up of two real-life priests, Jean-Michel Bardet and Charles Troesch and a seminarist, Dinh Nguyen Nguyen.

A Boys Band with a difference, if you will, and the brainchild of the Bishop of Gap in the southeast of the country, Jean-Michel di Falco.

Now at this point you might be thinking that the album is an ecclesiastical blockbuster - so-to-speak - of hymns or, at the very least, religious music.

And while it's true that you'll find recognisably spiritual tracks such as "Ave Maria", "Ave verum corpus" or the French Christmas carol "Il est né le divin enfant", the trio also decided to tackle some modern standards, which perhaps accounts for the popularity of the album.

There's Jacques Brel's "Quand on a que l'amour" which has been covered by innumerable artists down the years including inevitably perhaps Céline Dion.

The album also includes a version of "Amazing Grace", Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is given an airing and there's "L'envie d'aimer" from the appropriately-named 2000 French musical "Dix Commandements".

All right so the idea might not have been entirely original and Bishop di Falco freely admits that the inspiration for the album was the success of the similarly-named Irish counterparts "The Priests".

It came during a brainstorming session he had with a close friend, the popular 1980's French singer Didier Barbelivien, as to how to raise funds for a school in Madagascar and the construction of a church in the diocese.

After suggesting making an album, Barbelivien then contacted TF1 Musique, who apparently "loved the idea", the Bishop went about recruiting in his diocese and....well the rest is history.

A platinum disc for sales of more than 100,000 copies in France, an appearance on a popular national television show and now a number one album.

Of course the whole success has been helped by the backing of TF1, this country's most-viewed private TV channel, which has regularly aired a clip of the very album it produced.

While surprised by the popularity of the album, the Bishop remains suitably modest about reaching top spot in the charts.

"Naturally we're very happy but at the same time we don't really understand what it all means," he said on national radio.

"But what I can say is that we've been receiving around 30 letters a day for the past couple of weeks from people expressing how much joy and hope the album has given them," he continued.

"And that in itself has to be a sign that the whole project fits in with our calling."

Riding on the wave of success, a series of concerts has also been scheduled in three cities around the country in May and churches of course.

envoyé par francebleu. - Regardez plus de clips, en HD !

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy to appear new Woody Allen film

It's official - well just as much as it can be until "properly" confirmed. France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, will be appearing in a new Woody Allen film.

Shooting is reportedly due to begin in Paris this summer.

Rumours of Allen wanting to cast Bruni-Sarkozy in his as-yet untitled film, began last June when the 74-year-old director was in the French capital to promote his movie "Whatever works".

During an appearance on the mid-evening television news magazine "Le Grand Journal" on Canal +, Allen was full of praise for France's first lady, and underlined how much he would love to work with her.

"She's an accomplished artist, very beautiful and I'm sure she has a gift for acting," he said.

"I would really like to offer her a role in my next film and what's more I promise that her participation wouldn't create any embarrassment for the president or the image of France."

A pearl of a statement for the French glossy magazines of course, who spent the next couple of months eagerly speculating whether the offer was a serious one and, if so, whether it would be accepted.

They (and the rest of us) didn't have to wait too long for the answer, as when Bruni-Sarkozy appeared on the very same TV programme in November, she was pretty clear when asked the inevitable question.

"I am not at all an actress and maybe I'll be hopeless," she said. "But I cannot miss an opportunity like this," she added.

"When I'm a grandmother I'll be able to say I've been in a Woody Allen film."

So there you have it. After modelling, singing (ongoing) and first-ladying, Bruni-Sarkozy is venturing into pastures new.

Well not so new if the truth be told. She has of course already made an appearance on the Big Screen, albeit limited to playing herself briefly in Robert Altman's 1994 fashion satire "Pret-a-Porter".

But lest you think Allen's faith in Bruni-Sarkozy's potential is misplaced, don't forget she has a family acting pedigree.

Her mother, Marisa Borini, has appeared in several films and of course her older sister, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, is an accomplished film, television and theatre actress and director.

Plus if the deal is as "done" as it appears - and all will be revealed at the end of this week apparently - the success of the film won't rest entirely on Bruni-Sarkozy's shoulders.

The movie is also reported to star Marion Cottilard, winner of the 2007 Academy Award for best actress, as well as Hollywood actors Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

French Court's ruling in cases of Marc Machin and Loïc Sécher

Marc Machin and Loïc Sécher have more in common than just being French.

They've both spent time in prison (seven and nine years respectively) for crimes they, and others, maintained they had never committed: Sécher for the rape of a 13-year-old girl in 2000 and Machin for the murder of a woman in 2001.

And this week, for only the sixth time since 1945 the French Court of revision annulled the original sentences.

It's only a partial victory for both men though as the Court also decided that they must face a retrial.

For Sécher it'll be his third, and although he was freed on Tuesday and is "presumed innocent" until his case is heard again, he remains on probation.

Machin, who was released in October 2008, is currently back behind bars awaiting trial on a different charge of sexual aggression.

There are parallels in the two cases, both of which perhaps highlight how reluctant the French justice system is to admit that mistakes could have been made.

Indeed the Court could have decided to acquit both men, but instead "took the path of prudence" in ordering a retrial in both cases.

Sécher was sentenced to 16 years back in 2003 for the rape of a 13-year-old girl in 2000 in the village of La Chapelle-Saint-Sauveur in Loire-Atlantique in western France.

His accuser, who has since been recognised as being "psychologically disturbed", came forward in April 2008 and in a letter to France's chief prosecutor, retracted her original statement.

"Sécher had not raped her," she wrote. "And her conscience no longer allowed her to live with the knowledge that an innocent man was sitting in prison."

In October 2008 a commission of judges (la commission de révision des condamnations pénales) decided that "a miscarriage of justice had not yet been proven", and that more evidence was required before Sécher could be released.

Machin was arrested in December 2001 for the murder of Marie-Agnès Bedot. Apparently all the evidence pointed towards him and while being questioned he admitted guilt - but later retracted his confession and claimed his innocence.

After being charged, he was put on trial and three years later found guilty and sentenced to 18 years.

In March 2008 however another man, 34-year-old David Sagno, admitted that he had murdered Bedot after turning himself in to the police and saying he needed "to ease his conscience".

Further investigation revealed that not only was Sagno's DNA found on the clothes of Bedot, but also on the clothing of another woman, Maria-Judith Araujo, who was murdered in May 2002 - in exactly the same spot.

Tuesday's historic decision - it was the first time the Court has ruled on two cases of "presumed innocence" on the same day - is perhaps proof, if it were needed, as to how slowly those proverbial wheels of French justice turn particularly in cases where the weight of evidence would appear to suggest that the original conviction was an incorrect one.

And it left the family, supporters and lawyers of both men disappointed and exasperated.

"We expected an outright quashing of the original sentence," Sécher's lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, said after the hearing.

"But I'm completely confident of the outcome of a future trial," he added.

"For me it's obvious that he should be cleared," said Machin's father (also called Marc) of his son.

"And it's inconceivable that another trial will find him guilty," he added.

"Holding another trial is a waste of taxpayers' and public money."

The overturning of a sentence through a retrial has only taken place six times in France since 1945.

The most recent case was that of Patrick Dils, who in 1989 was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of two children.

A retrial was ordered and in 2002 he was found not guilty.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

French humorist's dream of Sarkozy plane crash

An aeroplane crashes and all aboard are killed.

In total 41 people die in the accident, including the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and all but three of this country's government ministers.

It's a "dream" the French humorist Stéphane Guillon had earlier this week and one he related during his early morning slot on national public radio, France Inter.

Black humour, supposedly, based of course on the accident that took place last weekend in Smolensk in which the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, his wife and several of the country's high-ranking officials were killed.

Guillion begins his piece telling listeners how traumatised he had been by Kaczynski's death and how that was the starting point for him to relate a dream he had in which "Sarkozy had been the victim of a similar accident."

The 46-year-old then throws himself into a description of an imagined commentary on national television of those waiting for the arrival of the president's coffin.

He "treats" listeners to an account of the sight of the two former wives of the French president (Marie-Dominique Culioli and Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz) comforting the current first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy who is "Dressed in black in an outfit made the previous night by designer John Galliano; her face masked as a timely symbol of the country's efforts to pass a law to ban the burqa."

He recounts the arrival of the former prime minister and potential centre-right rival to Sarkozy in the (real) 2012 presidential race, Dominique de Villepin, already "In campaigning mode to succeed the recently deceased" as well as a clutch of possible opposition Socialist party contenders present and waiting for Sarkozy's coffin to be taken off the 'plane.

Among the others who had died in the crash, Guillon tells us, were the interior minister and Sarkozy's long-time friend, Brice Hortefeux (he makes the sign of the cross as he mentions his name), the justice minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, the industry minister Christian Estrosi and the environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo.

A special mention is made of the "sad loss" of one particular target of Guillon's attacks, the immigration minister Eric Besson (again the humorist makes the sign of the cross).

And then the sombre strains of the Garde républicaine strike up as Sarkozy's coffin - the size of a child's - is taken off the 'plane,

It's at his point that the humorist is awoken from his dream "Screaming and convinced that Sarkozy had a twin brother," he said. "Just as the Polish president had."

Guillon has a reputation for hard-hitting humour and he's definitely not frightened to take aim at prominent political figures no matter what their particular hue.

Certainly his spot drove home the enormity of what happened in Smolensk, and especially its impact on Poles, to listeners in France.

After all when the imaginary list of those aboard includes a number of household names (in this country) it's hard not to feel moved.

But was his commentary, all in the name of entertainment with a political edge, appropriate under the circumstances or did it make light of a real tragedy by creating an imagined one?

You can hear and see the full "performance" in the accompanying video - in French of course.

It brought a number of reactions (from those who left comments on the video) ranging from many who found Guillon's chronicle "amusing" or an "essential part of the freedom of expression" to those who felt that he had "overstepped the mark".

Judge for yourselves whether this was indeed "humour" or "bad taste".

Le crash de Nicolas Sarkozy
envoyé par franceinter. - Cliquez pour voir plus de vidéos marrantes.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

A "perfect" summer job

There were probably plenty of disappointed applicants last year when Briton Ben Southall beat out over 34,000 others to become caretaker of an Australian tropical island for six months in the so-called "Best job in the world".

But now a similar position of sorts is up for grabs in France, albeit for a limited period and with a distinctive - how to put it? - French touch perhaps.

It's the "Summer job of 2010" (le "job de l'été 2010") offered by the tourist office of the seaside town of Les Sables-d'Olonne and involves - among other things - spreading suntan lotion on holidaymakers: a six week stint which will earn the lucky recruits €5,000.

Photo, Payton Chung from Chicago, USA - from Wikipedia

Actually there isn't just one position as a "creamer" (yep that really is the name the organisers have dreamt up for the job) available but two, as François Boche the director of the town's tourist office explained on national radio.

And the successful candidates won't just be rubbing lotion into sunbathers who've perhaps forgotten to bring along some protection.

"We're looking for a young woman and a young man and applicants will be judged on their ability to get along with members of the public," he said.

"And they'll also need to have some knowledge of health issues and in particular the need to wear sun protection," he continued.

"As well as applying lotion to sunbathers, the successful candidates will be offering advice and information on sun protection," he added.

"And they'll be handing out free samples from the company sponsoring the whole operation."

Ah yes. The "Summer job of 2010" isn't just a public service aimed at increasing awareness of the need to protect against the sun's rays, but also a marketing strategy, and Boche admits that the relatively high pay - €5,000 for just six weeks work - is also a way for the town to promote itself.

So how do all those aspiring "creamers" who want to spend six weeks in July and August on the beaches of the western coast of France actually go about applying?

Well first up they'll have to submit a 45-second video (as well as communications skills and "some knowledge of health issues" they'll presumably also need to be attractive) and a brief curriculum vitæ outlining why they want the job, online.

A site has been set up specifically for applications.

They're then encouraged to mobilise support among their "network of friends online through Facebook, Twitter or email" because the initial voting process is open to anyone logging on to the site.

In June, the 10 candidates with the highest number of votes will then appear before a jury which will choose the two winners.

Just for the record, and for those of you who might be popping along to the beach at Les Sables-d'Olonne some time over the summer and aren't too thrilled at the thought of a complete stranger offering to apply suntan lotion, Boche has a few words of comfort.

"To avoid any problems, the two 'creamers' will only be proposing to apply protection to the upper back and the arms," he said.

"And as far as children are concerned, it'll only be done in the presence of the parents."

Friday, 9 April 2010

Véronic DiCaire triumphs in Paris

There aren't that many impressionists (of the sort that impersonate famous people rather than the painters, writers and composers) around in France who are household names.

And those that are, tend to be men. Indeed it wasn't until a couple of years ago that the general public would probably have been hard pushed to name even one woman.

That all changed when Liane Foly revealed that she was not only a consummate singer but also an excellent impersonator of prominent figures - French and international - both male and female.

Now Foly has competition, and it comes in the shape of Véronic DiCaire, who has just finished an extended run at the Théâtre de la Gaîté playing to packed houses and entertaining audiences with her own stunning array of voices.

DiCaire is already a star within the French-speaking community back in her native Canada used to playing at much larger venues.

But her run at the 400-seater Théâtre de la Gaîté fairly blew audiences away and has assured her a return to the French capital in the autumn.

Although DiCaire, just like Foly, has a big singing voice in her own right, she prefers to use it in her show to bring together a group of figures without the political and current affairs bite that is perhaps more of a French tradition where parody takes precedence.

Sure DiCaire picks up on the mannerisms of the women she's impersonating, but the real triumph lies in the spot-on vocal performances which are sometimes hard to distinguish from the original.

That's especially true when she takes on fellow Canadians such as Lynda Lemay, Isabelle Boulay and of course Céline Dion as well as French singers such as Vanessa Paradis, Mireille Mathieu and Edith Piaf or Belgians Maurane, Axelle Red and Lara Fabian.

But don't believe that her range is limited to French-speaking singers if you will.

Madonna, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Amy Winehouse, Christina Aguilera and Lady Gaga were also up there on stage in Paris, courtesy of DiCaire. And even Susan Boyle put in an appearance.

In 90 minutes DiCaire illustrated to the audience how "easy it is to take on someone else's voice" with the helpful explanation of the journey of the "hot potato" from the head of Vanessa Paradis to the mouth of Amy Winehouse and finally hitting the feet as she strutted around the stage Tina Turner style.

But it was probably as Dion that DiCaire really triumphed, a woman for whom she has on occasions been the opening act and whose husband, René Angélil, has even acted as her producer. So the 33-year-old has probably had plenty of time to perfect her impersonation.

In Paris DiCaire took the audience on a trip through Dion's career (and hairstyles) so far, from her first appearance on French television back in the 1980s to a rendition of "All by myself" in which she ducked out at the last moment when she was supposed to hit that high note, just to prolong the wait as she relaunched herself back into the song and out-Diva-ed Dion of course.

And if all that were not enough, she followed it up with a duet featuring two women with completely different voices. Dion's powerful but slightly nasal tones were joined by the much rounder and fuller and deeper ones of Maurane in a performance of Jacques Brel's "Quand on n’a que l’amour" which inevitably had the whole audience on its feet in appreciation at the end.

DiCaire - and her many voices - will now take a well-earned break before taking to the stage again in Canada in May.

But she'll be back in Paris in early November when she'll be performing at the 1,000-seater La Cigale for seven nights.
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