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Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The joys of SPAM

Who needs Facebook to make new friends? Or followers on Twitter?

Hey who even needs any sort of social networking sites when there's still ol' fashioned (did I really just write that?) email around.

Simply open an account and sit back because you're guaranteed to be flooded with messages from people you don't know, all of whom want to be your new best friend.

What's more they all seem to want to make you rich. And not just tiddly save-a-centime here or there wealthy, but tantalising rolling-in-lolly and pass-me-the-bucket-for the champagne type dosh.

Well surely that's the only conclusion to be drawn by speed reading some of those "Oh just too good to be true" offers I've been receiving recently.

You must have had them.

I sure have.

A virtual deluge pouring into my Inbox and getting me worked up into a frenzy of anticipation every time I log on.

What's more, even though they're all messages from (to me) complete strangers, there's no beating about that proverbial bush as they get straight into those life-changing offers.

Take Karim A* for example. He has written to me on more than one occasion, dangling one tempting apple after another, in front of me.

He's an "auditing and account maneger" (please Karim - I may call you Karim surely - proof read your emails before you hit the send button) at the "Bank of Africa" in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Work must be tedious for Karim as I later discovered that he had sent me not one, but three "urgent messages" telling me that he needed my "urgent assistance (so much urgency) in transferring the sum of €9.5 million (he even spellt it out for me in words just in case I hadn't understood) to my account within 10 to 17 banking days."

And all that was required from me were a few personal details such as my "nameinfull", "address", "nationality", "age", "sex", "occupation", "marital status", "phone" and "fax".

Really Karim, you should know me well enough not to have to ask. After all you're offering me so much spondoolicks "just like that" you must have done your research ahead of time.

And what is it with the "10 to 17 banking days"? Why such a curious number?

Next up was a "Proposition confidentielle" (I won't bother translating) from Mamadou R. also at the Bank of Africa, but another branch.

It exists. The Bank of Africa, I mean. I checked it out. It's a multinational group founded in Mali in the early 80s and has subsidiaries in several African countries.

Nonetheless I'm not sure the said Monsieur R is actually an employee, even though he insisted his records showed "I was the sole (yes sole) beneficiery of $1,500,000" and it would be a "mere doddle" (I'm paraphrasing) "for me to make my claim".

The only problem is that Monsieur R left it at that and forget to mention how I could retrieve my fortune. Guess I'll have to wait until he contacts me again.

Waiting though can sometimes result in a somewhat impolite email, such as the one from "Lemberger" - no Mrs, Mr, Ms or otherwise - who wrote to remind me that £4,600,000 (odd amount that) was still on their account, but that the exact details were "being withheld" because I hadn't responded to an earlier "letter".

Huh. See if I care, because the very next message was from a woman who seems to have something of a thing for me, judging by the way she starts he email.

"My Dearest," begins "Joy K". "I am writing this mail to you with due respect trust and humanity, i (she seems to like using the lower case and I won't mention punctuation) appeal to you to exercise a little patience and read through my letter i feel quite safe dealing with you in this important business having gone through your remarkable profile, honestly i am writing this email to you with pains, tears and sorrow from my heart, i will really like to have a good relationship with you and i have a special reason why i decided to contact you..."

Now this is someone who really knows how to capture my attention.

How could I resist continuing?

So many compliments in such a short space of time.

And I don't even know the woman.

Her story was of course excruciatingly complicated and convoluted and involved a 'plane crash a couple of years ago in which her incredibly wealthy father had lost his life, some Italians who had managed to get their hands on all his property, and a mystery bank account in which her father had apparently deposited huge amounts of lovely lolly.

The only problem was Joy couldn't actually withdraw it unless she were married or managed to present someone to the bank who would act as a trustee and help her invest it overseas.

We're not talking peanuts here, far from it. $US 8.5 million in total with Joy offering me a 40 per cent cut because..."I'm so honest."

So 40 per cent of 8.5 million....well you do the maths.

Tempting, and sorely so, but Im not sure my Superior Other would be too pleased if I upped sticks and tied the knot with a complete stranger.

Besides with so many other emails still stuffed in my Inbox, going on current form, I felt another even better offer was just one click away.

And that intuition was indeed rewarded, as one cursor-hovering second later I read a message from Mr S. who was The Manager/Audit Section at African Development Bank (do you think perhaps the definite article went walkabouts there) .

He sent me a hearty "greetings" and asked how I was ("touched", I think would be the appropriate response) before telling me that he had decided to contact me for a "fund transfer transaction worth the sum of $9.3 million." Actually rather than spelling it out as Karim had done, he let the figures speak for themselves.

I was hearing them loud and clear.

Apparently I was the sole (here we go again) NEXT-OF-KIN (unlike Joy above, Mr S patently liked his CAPS LOCK) to one of the bank's deceased customers, an "International Billionaire French Businessman" who had been killed with his entire family (except me obviously) by "PLANE-CRASH in Central England atmost (?) 5 years ago."

Although I have to admit I admired Mr S for his ingenuity in combining my nationality (British in case you were wondering) with my country of residence (France) in his tale, it just seemed, well a tad too familiar, and when he went on to explain how I could get my mitts on the money I was...well confused wouldn't go halfway to describing it.

"Since his death occured, no body have show up as his next of kin for the claim because the account is untraceable," he wrote.

"Upon the investigation I carried out from his records, I found out that his foreign business consultant who would have trace the account died earlier before the deceased," he continued.

"Therefore, this is a confidential and sealed deal."

Oops - didn't read that final bit too well. Guess I've gone and blown the confidentiality clause now. Never mind I hadn't really been able to get to grips with Mr Sayed's explanation.

Moving swiftly along.

MAYOD S (need I tell you that here was another CAPS LOCK lover) had discovered that I could be entitled to $9.5 million to establish a "MEDIUM SIZED INDUSTRY" in my country.

Which one would that be, I wondered. The one from which I originally hail, or the place I've decided to make my home?

A rhetorical question I hasten to add. There's no need for you all to reach for your collective keyboards.

Once again the money, it appeared, had been left in his bank by a client who had died in a 'plane crash in 2000.

This time there was even a link to a CNN story. So it HAD TO BE TRUE (whoops, now I've picked up the habit). But that nagging doubt and uncanny familiarity with other messages just wouldn't leave me.

"Claire P" or rather "Mrs Claire P" wrote to me telling me to contact her lawyer.

Edward C was a lawyer or a "solicitor at law" as he put it. Both had huge cash deals to offer me following the deaths of their family members/clients respectively who had all perished in car crashes.

Talking autmobiles, Mrs Steven M told me I had won a new BMW and I would only have to contact her with a few personal details to secure delivery.

There was a message from Yahoo - sorry, "Yahoo customer services" - informing me that it "would shut down al (sic) unused accounts" and that "in order to (don't you just hate the use of three words when just the last one will do?) avoid the deactivation of my account" all I had to do was to send an email confirming....gosh exactly the same information Karim wanted. Now there's a suprise.

Apparently it's all down to "congestion". My advice - take a Rennies and it'll soon pass.

Finally just for something completely different, I was offered a job.

It was rather a curious proposal and perhaps not entirely appropriate to say the least.

I had apparently been recommended to "a lovely couple from sunny California" who in typical American style started off their email with a "Hi Johnny" before offering me "the opportunity of a lifetime to come and join them to look after their three wonderful kids."

Not bad going for a bloke in his forties. A midlife crisis career change could be just what I need.

Except I've now made so many new friends and am potentially richer than Croesus that I really don't have to even have to lift the tiniest of little fingers in daily toil.

I could go on and on and on ad nauseam. But, dear readers, I think you get the picture.

There were still plenty of unread messages in my Inbox happily waiting to be read and "ACTED UPON".

I never have done and I never will.

Instead with the help of my magic forefinger and the "enter" button, I happily consign them where they undoubtedly belong; to Internet oblivion.

La fin.

* Full names have been avoided to protect the privacy of my new 'friends".

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Jean-Pierre Escalettes to resign

The president of the French Football Federation (FFF) Jean-Pierre Escalettes, has announced he's standing down. In a statement on the Federation's website Escalettes said he would officially present his resignation at an FFF council meeting on Friday.

His decision comes follows mounting criticism of his presidency after France's World Cup campaign which saw Les Bleus eliminated after the group stage with just one goal and one point from three matches.

The team also hit the headlines after striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home for allegedly insulting coach Raymond Domenech and the players "went on strike" by refusing to attend a training session.

In a short statement released on the Federation's website on Monday, Escalettes said he had spent the past couple of days thinking about his future and took his share of the responsibility for what had happened.

"After a weekend of reflection during which I consulted my colleagues, staff and my family, I consider it my duty to resign," he wrote.

"I accept my share of responsibility," he continued. "It's a decision taken mainly by my wish to preserve and help the evolution of the institution I've served with passion for several decades."

Escalettes has been president of the FFF since 2005 and was seen as instrumental in solving its financial problems and leading France's successful bid to host Euro 2016.

But he also faced criticism for leaving Domenech in charge after France failed to make it past the group stage of the Euro 2008 finals and later struggled to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa.

The 75-year-old's tenure as FFF president had been due to run until 2012.

Last week after what she called the "disaster" of France's World campaign, the French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot said in an interview on national radio that although she didn't want Escalettes to resign she considered in an "unavoidable consequence."

Last week after what she called the "disaster" of France's World campaign, the French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot said in an interview on national radio that although she didn't want Escalettes to resign she considered it "unavoidable."

Monday, 28 June 2010

"Air Sarko One" due for delivery in Autumn

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is due to take delivery of a newly refitted Airbus later this year.

Nicknamed "Air Sarko One" by critics, the aircraft will be bigger, more expensive and will consume more fuel than the current presidential 'plane.

But it will also be able to fly further without refuelling and carry more passengers.

According to the national daily Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France the aeroplane is currently undergoing the finishing touches to its refitting before test flights scheduled for next month.

Although there has as yet been no confirmation from the ministry of defence, the future owners of the aircraft, the paper says its sources maintain that the test flight has been pushed back a couple of weeks to iron out "minor technical problems" discovered during recent ground trials.

Airbus A330-200 (from Wikipedia, photographer Adrian Pingstone)

The aircraft, an Airbus A330-200 is capable of making long haul flights without refuelling and will replace the existing A319.

The 11-year-old Airbus was formerly owned first by the now defunct Swissair and later by Air Caraïbes.

Refitting of the aircraft has been no mean feat according to the paper.

It reports that to meet the requirements of the French president, the 'plane has been entirely converted, a conference room designed and around 60 "VIP seats" installed, replacing the previous 324 when it was used as a commercial airline.

The French president will also have his own bedroom and shower, and both he and those travelling with him will be able to surf the Net at 10,000 metres. The cabin there will be a telephone.

The cabin has been reinforced fitted with a missile decoy system an encrypted communications system has been installed to allow the president to remain in private contact with his advisors.

When the announcement was made in June 2008 that a new 'plane would be ordered for the French president it received a lot of criticism in France, especially from the opposition Socialist party who maintained that the €176 million earmarked for buying and refitting the 'plane could be better used elsewhere and dubbed the project "Air Sarko One".

As the British daily The Times reported the news coincided with the plans to reduce public spending.

The decision was, in the words of the newspaper, seen as a "contradiction of recent efforts by Sarkozy to get away from his image as 'President Bling Bling'."

Although Sarkozy was rumoured to have wanted a brand new aircraft, the decision was made to buy a second hand one and upgrade it.

Le Parisien says a solution still has to be found to the problem of where the 'plane can take off and land in Paris.

The A330-200 is twice as long and four times as heavy as the A319 and will no longer be able to use the military base at Villacoublay, south-west of the French capital as the runway is too short.

The most likely answer, says the newspaper, will be to use the nearby international airport of Orly.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Orangina ad "too gay" for French TV

For the second time in less than a month a television commercial with a gay theme has been released in France.

The latest one, from the Orangina soda company, hasn't yet made it on to the small screen as it's deemed to be too "controversial".

A couple of weeks ago the fast food chain McDonald's began airing an advertisement in France which took as its subject a gay son and his father, eating in one of their restaurants.

Now it's the turn of Orangina which last week released a commercial featuring a puma shaving and then using the soft drink as an eau de Cologne before his shirtless male friend joins him and caresses his face.

Orangina is well known in France for releasing advertisements which create waves and are often mocking and ironic in tone.

The most recent one is part of a campaign which "features different human-like animals using Orangina for unusual satiric purposes, such as mopping the floor, fighting bad breath or hair conditioning."

Unlike the McDonald's commercial though, the one from Orangina hasn't yet aired on French television.

And as the NoSite Agency responsible for creating an online buzz for the campaign told the French gay blog Yagg, it's unlikely to in the near future because it has been deemed too "daring".

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Thierry Henry talks - and says nothing

Thierry Henry gives his first interview since France's lacklustre performance both on and off the pitch during the country's short-lived campaign at the World Cup in South Africa.

In a pre-recorded interview broadcast on the early evening news programme Le Grand Journal on Canal +, Henry answered questions about the exclusion of striker Nicolas Anelka, the refusal of the team to train, the feeling within the squad, claims of bullying and his meeting on Thursday with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

If the viewing public and the French as a whole had been hoping for an explanation of what exactly went on within the team, then they were in for a disappointment as Henry remained circumspect throughout the interview.

"The first reason for the 'fiasco' was that the team didn't play well," he said.

"When a side wins anything can happen but when there are setbacks, doubts occur, stories are invented and the rest is history."

Even though pressed on the whether coach Raymond Domenech had really been up to the job, Henry remained loyal saying that Domenech "had been there taking decisions and he had to be respected."

But he also admitted to having felt somewhat "isolated" from the rest of the group, although he refused outright to lay the blame with anyone or name names.

"I don't want to go into detail," he said. "I could have been like a big brother to the rest of the team, but it was difficult as I didn't really have any credibility."

Let's not forget that Henry, a member of France's 1998 World Cup winning team and the side that went on to lift the European Football championship in 2000, is probably the most respected player in France.

Domenech included Henry in the squad but kept him sidelined for much of the competition, bringing him in the second half of the final match against South Africa.

Of the now infamous insult allegedly hurled by Nicolas Anelka at Domenech and which led to the striker's exclusion, Henry remained guarded.

"I didn't hear exactly what was said but when you make that the headline of an article which appears in a newspaper, you have to be completely certain that you've got the correct wording."

Henry said he hadn't witnessed any of the reported fighting between players, nor had he seen pressure put on anyone.

But he also admitted that he didn't know what had gone on among the other players when he returned to his room.

He also insisted that the players' decision not to train as a protest against the French Football Federation's handling of Anelka had been a "unanimous one."

"We decided against training when we were in the bus and nobody was forced into the action," he said.

"With hindsight and in view of the consequences some might have regretted it, but at the time we were united."

Finally of his meeting with Sarkozy on Thursday, Henry said nothing more than it had "gone very well" even when pressed to reveal what the two men had discussed.

Henry's interview, along with those of his club team mate at Barcelona Eric Abidal and the Manchester United player Patrick Evra both of whom also gave interviews on Friday, have left many commentators in France wondering whether the players had agreed on a strategy for dealing with questions following their return home.

Say as little as possible in the short term and wait until later before going into detail as to what really happened.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Thierry Henry and Nicolas Sarkozy meet - but why?

Mystery surrounds the meeting between the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and international striker Thierry Henry on Thursday with nobody certain as to who requested the talks let alone what the two men discussed.

Sarkozy's office insists it was the French striker who asked to speak to the president, and a report in the national daily le Monde even quotes a spokesman for Sarkozy as saying that indeed "Thierry Henry had rung from South Africa requesting a meeting when he returned to France."

But national radio RTL reports the story the other way round insisting that it was Sarkozy who rang Henry to set up the meeting.

One thing's for certain though, when France's most capped player (122 appearances) and leading international scorer (51 goals) arrived back from South Africa on Thursday with the rest of the team, a car was waiting to whisk him away to president's official residence, the Elysée palace.

Thierry Henry (source Wikipedia, photo Shay)

Although journalists were waiting at the main entrance to pose their questions before and after the meeting, Henry discreetly entered and left through a side gate and without saying a thing, and there have been no leaks as to what the two men discussed.

They certainly had plenty to talk about after the French team's disastrous performance in South Africa, and Henry, a former captain of Les Bleus and a member of the 1998 World Cup winning team and the side that went on to lift the European Football championship in 2000 is a man with a glittering football pedigree.

But the meeting between the two men received short shrift from Jean-Louis Vielajus, the president of Coordination Sud.

He and other environmental non-governmental organisations had been scheduled to see Sarkozy ahead of the G20 summit in Toronto, but as he said on the federation's website, as far as the French president was concerned, football took priority.

"For Nicolas Sarkozy, holding a meeting with a footballer is more important than the situation of three billion poor people in developing countries," Vielajus said.

"It sends out a bad signal as far as the political co-operation of France is concerned."

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Sarkozy set to cut lavish Bastille Day garden party.

If reports in the French media are confirmed, then the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, looks likely to cancel the annual garden party held at his official residence, the Elysée palace, to celebrate Bastille Day on July 14.

It's a move which is being interpreted by many here as the government wanting to be seen to be setting an example by tightening its own belt at a time when it's also likely to ask the French to face tax rises and spending cuts.

The news that the garden party is to be cancelled first appeared in the national daily Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France.

It hasn't yet been officially confirmed by Sarkozy's office, that's expected next week, but after the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the government spokesman, Luc Chatel, gave every sign that newspaper reports weren't that far off the mark.

Chatel stressed the need for government ministers and their departments to be "exemplary" in times of fiscal austerity, according to the left-of-centre daily Libération.

"A lot has already been done and changes made in the way departments operate under this current administration," said Chatel

"It was Nicolas Sarkozy who called for the Elysée palace to have a fixed budget just like all the other state institutions, and to have its spending audited," he added.

While many English languages sources, including Britain's Daily Telegraph have been reporting that the decision marks "the first time the annual garden party has been cancelled since the French revolution" the event is in fact a relatively recent tradition.

The first garden party held in the grounds of the Elysée palace, took place in 1978 under the then-president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

Since then it has grown and last year's rather lavish affair saw Sarkozy and his wife play host to 7,500 invitees among them government ministers, ambassadors from other countries, foreign dignitaries and prominent French celebrities.

The total cost for staging the event was revealed to have been €732,826 or around €100 per person.

Bastille Day is a national holiday in France marking the storming of the Parisian prison of the same name in 1789 which sparked the French revolution.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Domenech refuses to shake hands with Parreira

It was surely the final humiliation in France's catastrophic World Cup campaign.

The sight of the manager, Raymond Domenech, not only refusing to shake hands with Carlos Alberto Parreira at the end of the match which had seen South Africa beat France 2-1, but also his arrogant behaviour in front of journalists from around the world at the press conference afterwards.

Raymond Domenech refuses to shake hands with Carlos Alberto Parreira (screenshot Canal +)

When one journalist asked him why he hadn't shaken hands with Parreira and whether he had been ashamed at the behaviour of his players during the tournament, Domenech said he had understood but had already answered the question.

"I don't have the intention of replying," he replied. "Is there another question?"

There was that audible silence in the room (apart from the sound of those omnipresent vuvuzelas in the background), the sort you would probably expect from those clearly nonplussed by the response.

But it didn't stop another journalist trying a slightly different approach.

"Sorry, it os the same question," he said.

"Why is it you don't want to answer why you didn't shake the hand of Mr Parreira?" he asked.

To which Domenech in all his glorious arrogance replied, "Is there another question?"

You can see the exchange here at 39:32 in the second segment of the morning news magazine La Matinale on Canal +.

Over the past week there has of course been much talk in the domestic and international media about the lack of respect shown by the French players towards fans, especially in light of their refusal to train last weekend, and the failure of the French Football Federation to put its house in order and sending home striker Nicolas Anelka for allegedly verbally insulting Domenech at halftime during a 2-0 defeat to Mexico last Thursday.

But should any of us really be surprised when the man at the helm proves himself to be equally lacking in humility and manners

By the way, the likely explanation for Domenech's refusal to shake hands was his displeasure over Parreira's remark after the World Cup draw last year when he said that France owed their qualification to that infamous play-off goal created by Thierry Henry’s handball.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

French Politicians call for ban on bullfighting

Two French politicians from opposing parties are to present a bill to parliament outlawing bullfighting in France and they already have the support of a dozen other parliamentarians from across the political spectrum.

A bull and a raseteur at the 75th Cocarde d'Or, Arles, France 2006, from Wikipedia, author JialiangGao

On Wednesday Muriel Marland-Militello from the ruling centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP), and Geneviève Gaillard, from the opposition Socialist party, held a joint press conference in what the left-of-centre daily Libération said was "a rare show of cross-party solidarity."

"It's a battle supported by a large majority of the French," maintained Marland-Militello.

"We both want to show that there are times when it's possible to overcome political divisions for noble causes."

Marland-Militello and Gaillard have joined forces to stop what they call "barbaric spectacles" and they want a law to be passed which would ban corridas and cock fighting, making both practices punishable with a maximum two-year prison sentence and €30,000 fine.

Marland-Militello has tried once before in 2004 to have a bill introduced into parliament to ban bullfighting, but it failed and some of her fellow UMP colleagues, supporters of the practice, wanted her expelled from the party, according to the weekly news magazine, Le Point.

The new bill has been co-signed by 12 other parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, including UMP member Jean-Marc Roubaud from the département of Gard which has a long history of bullfighting.

"Bullfighting is an anachronism," Roubaud is quoted as saying.

"In an already extremely violent world, simply adding to the brutality is shameful."

Bullfighting in France is confined to the south of the country with, according to Le Point, around 75 towns and villages organising corridas every year.

The best known are in the towns of Nîmes, Arles, Béziers, Bayonne and Dax, says the magazine, with supporters insisting that both history and economics play an important part in maintaining the tradition.

Although cockfighting is a crime in most of the country, there is an loophole in the law which allows it in areas where it has remained an "uninterrupted tradition" such as in the Nord-Pas de Calais region of northern France.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

A post office with a difference - 75 metres underground

Tourists to the Padirac chasm in the south west of France will be able to do more than just visit the cave next week. They'll also be able to send mail, 75 metres underground.

For just two days - on June 12 and 13 - after taking either the lift or descending the 455 steps, that take them into the Gouffre at Padirac, they'll find a pillar box and a fully-functioning post office.

It'll be open for business to coincide with the launch by La Poste, the French postal service, of a limited edition set of 10 stamps promoting the whole region of the Midi-Pyrénées including one with an image of the chasm.

As well as being able to send mail, customers and philatelists will be able to have their collection franked with a special "Padirac Day" or "First Day" seal.

"We've done our research and as far as we know this will be a world first: a post office 75 metres underground," Erik Burté, the director of the post office in the nearby village of Gramat and the man who'll be in charge of the Padirac branch over the two days, told national radio.

"I'm in no way an expert at potholing, nor are my colleagues," he continued.

"So it'll be a first for us too, to remain underground."

Burté and his colleagues might not have experience in potholing, but with temperatures at a steady 13 degrees, they'll be kitted out in the requisite gear for working underground, including a helmet, suitably warm overalls and boots.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Dominique de Villepin's Rolling Stone is a Beatle

Former French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, confuses The Beatles with The Rolling Stones during a prime time television show.

Dominique de Villepin (photo from Wikipedia, copyright David Mendiboure - Service photo de Matignon)

Dominique de Villepin is due to launch his own political movement on June 19.

It's the next stage of his possible bid to become the next French president when elections take place in 2012.

As France 24 reported earlier this year, the new "independent political movement" is viewed by many as a challenge to his "bitter rival" the current French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

With the launch fast approaching, Villepin has been multiplying his public appearances and of course has been making full use of the country's media to get his message across.

Last weekend for example, he appeared on Dimanche +, the Sunday afternoon political magazine on Canal +, during which he criticised Sarkozy's foreign policy, saying France's voice wasn't being heard loud enough in the Middle East or Afghanistan,

But just a few days prior to that while on "La boïte à questions" portion of the daily evening news and talk show, Le Grand Journal, on the same channel, Villepin made an error which has more than amused some commentators.

"La boïte à questions" is a short segment of the show during which guests are invited into a room in which they face a screen displaying questions sent in by viewers.

It's a light-hearted affair, obviously meant to be entertaining, but it can at times be quite revealing.

Such was the case with Villepin.

His question and answer session started off well enough.

"Can you say in English, 'I might be a candidate (for the presidency) in 2012'," he was asked.

The former diplomat, one-time foreign minister, and prime minister from 2005-2007 responded with aplomb, albeit it heavily accented.

The next question was one designed to test Villepin's street credibility when he was asked "to show that you're more 'with it' than Benoît Hamon (the 42-year-old spokesman for the Socialist party) can you tell us who Lady Gaga is?

"She's a charming singer, a little eccentric," he replied without flinching.

But it was when the 56-year-old was asked a question about a musical group with which his age would presumably make him more familiar that he came somewhat unstuck.

"If you had been a member of the Rolling Stones, which one would you like to have been?" flashed up on the screen.

"It would have been difficult to have been Mick Jagger," began Villepin in response.

"So probably Ringo Star."

It was a blunder which, as far as the well-known French radio and television presenter Laurent Ruquier was concerned, didn't bode well for the former prime minister.

"It's not by confusing the two (groups) that Dominique de Villepin will appear more intelligent," commented Ruquier during his daily radio programme on Monday.

"Of course it's a mistake that anyone could make as not everyone is familiar with the Beatles" he continued.

"But to try to give the impression that you know something, when you don't, that's not particularly admirable."

Monday, 7 June 2010

Is the French team's World Cup hotel too Bling Bling?

Rama Yade (photo from Wikipedia, Marie-Lan Nguyen)

With less than a week to go before the World Cup finals kick off in South Africa, the French junior minister for sport, Rama Yade, has caused a controversy by lashing out at the amount of money being spent on the accommodation for the French football team.

In a radio interview on Sunday morning Yade suggested that the French Football Federation's choice of the luxury five-star Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa in Knysna, Western Cape Province as the base camp for Les Bleus hadn't been appropriate at a time when everyone else was being encouraged to tighten their belts.

"I wouldn't have chosen this particular hotel," she said, noting that Spain, one of the favourites for the tournament, had opted for a university campus.

"Should France do well in the World Cup, then the choice of a site offering the best training conditions might well turn out to be a wise one," she continued.

"But if the team underperforms then there'll be some explaining to be done (on the choice of the hotel and its cost) by those in charge," she added.

"I hope that the French team will dazzle us more with their results rather than flashy hotels and I had called on the FFF to show some decency in these times of (economic) crisis."

Later in the day, Yade's immediate boss, Roselyne Bachelot, the minister for health and sport, while not openly criticising her junior minister's comments, didn't exactly back her up either.

And she refused to be drawn into what she called an "unnecessary controversy" over the national team's accommodation in South Africa.

"As far as I'm concerned, now is not the time to create a polemic over our team," she said when being interviewed on RTL national radio's Le Grand Jury, with Yade looking on in the audience.

"The team needs our support, and both Rama and I will be present during the World Cup," she continued.

"The French Football Federation has made its choice, and they're the ones responsible," she added.

"It won't cost the taxpayer anything and now it's time to say 'stop' and get behind the team."

When interviewed by the news agency Agence France-Presse over his reactions to Yade's comments, Jean-Pierre Escalettes, the president of the FFF refused to be drawn into the debate. was interviewed by the news agency

"What do you want me to say?" he's quoted as responding.

"If the junior minister speaks, she speaks. I'm not going to make any comments about a hotel I don't yet know myself. It's not my role," he added.

Nicoletta in Bordeaux, a concert review

Recognised by the late, great Ray Charles as being a "soul sister" when he first met her, the French performer Nicoletta was back on stage last week celebrating 40 years in show business.

Perhaps Nicoletta is not a name with which many of you will be familiar even if you're fans of French music.

But hers is a repertoire that includes some of the (now) standards of "la chanson française" such as "Il est mort le soleil", "Les volets clos" and "Flo Maravilla".

"Il est mort le soleil"



The 66-year-old is more than just a blast from the past or an almost forgotten memory of a bygone era as her show at the Casino Théâtre Barrière in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux illustrated on Friday.

Certainly she may not be riding high in the charts nor scheduling umpteen concert dates at home and abroad, but there again, she doesn't really need to either.

She has been there and done that so to speak, and built up a loyal fan base that has followed her across the decades.

As Nicoletta recounts the highs and lows of her career throughout the night's performance, she seems to have the 700-strong audience hanging on her every word, even to the extent of their joining in at times to remind her of names she has worked with, nodding in agreement and definitely wallowing in a degree of nostalgia.

She talks about her beginnings (as Nicole Grisoni) in the clubs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris in the 1960s, and of her first encounter with the US singer-songwriter Mort Shuman.

The audience is reminded of her concert in China where she sang the since much-copied "Mamy Blue" in front of thousands.

There's a mention of music she brought back with her from Brazil and how, at one point, she lost several of her best musicians to another stalwart of the French music scene.

These aren't just mere stories though. They're part of a musical career, all wrapped around those hits of course which serve as more than a trip down memory lane.

With 40 years in the business and having worked with so many of the giants of French music, there's also a lot that she cannot pack in to one evening.

Nicoletta has always had a powerful and resonant voice that lends itself to an eclectic blend of jazz, soul, French standards and most importantly perhaps Gospel, which she has helped popularise in France.

Four decades later and she can still belt out all those tunes.

Her energetic performance towards the end of the show of "Mamy Blue", "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Oh Happy Day" with the backing of a local gospel choir are more than testament to that.

And had even those who might otherwise have been reticent about getting to their feet and joining in, do just that.

What Nicoletta represents, apart from being perhaps that overused term a "living legend", is a reminder to the new generation of "crooners" springing up on both sides of the Atlantic, that they still have a long, long way to go before they can match her talent and staying power.

Just as importantly, as Nicoletta touches on during the evening, those winners of television reality shows (one of her biggest hits "La Musique" was used as the theme music for the first season of just such a programme, Star Academy, in France) have an even further road to travel.

"La Musique" - the original

"La Musique" - a pale copy

You get the sense that everybody in the audience is nodding in wise agreement.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Loose horses bring motorway to a standstill

Drivers on a motorway in eastern France had more than just the usual rush hour traffic to contend with on Wednesday morning after 23 horses broke loose from an equestrian centre and galloped their way to freedom.

Horse rescue on A36 motorway, screen shot FR3 Television

Somehow the 23 horses from equestrian centre in the village of Brognard managed to escape from a field in which they had been grazing and headed off towards the A36.

As the regional daily L'Est républicain reports, once the cavalcade hit the motorway between the towns of Montbéliard and Belfort, the horses panicked, breaking up into smaller groups and galloping off in different directions.

Police, firefighters and workers on a nearby high-speed railway line joined forces to take matters in hand, reports the paper, but it still took a couple of hours for all the horses to be rounded up before the traffic could return to normal.

(You can see some more photos of the rescue on the newspaper's site)

The only wounds the horses sustained apparently were to a couple of cuts that needed stitches and one horse which required a sedative after finding itself trapped between the motorway's security barriers.

The whole incident could have had a far unhappier ending as a spokesman for the equestrian centre said when contacted by the French website Le Post.

There had been 38 horses in total in the field but 15 of them had stayed put.

"The other 23 are now back in their boxes and are under observation," the spokesperson told the website.

"Fortunately no person was injured during the breakout and there wasn't a pile up on the motorway."

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Eurovision Song Contest voting shenanigans

France is unhappy with the way voting is conducted at the Eurovision Song Contest.

And the head of entertainment at France television, Nicolas Pernikoff, is calling for a change in the system.

The singing might be over and the votes counted but once again it's the way the latter are tallied that is making the headlines.

According to a report in the weekly news magazine, Le Point, Nicolas Pernikoff, the head of entertainment at France Television, is unhappy with the current 50-50 split between national juries and the viewing public.

Apparently, says Le Point, there were negotiations going on in the corridors of the hotel at which various delegations were staying during last weekend's contest in the Norwegian capital Oslo.

Alliances were created to exchange points and Twitter used to influence the vote of juries in countries who would be allocating points at the end of the competition.

"It's a scandal and we'll bring it up at the next committee meeting of Eurovision," said Pernikoff.

"I'll also put forward a motion that only the vote of the viewing public be taken into consideration," he added.

"Why should there be juries involved?"

Voting at Eurovision has long been a subject of controversy with accusations of political bias, skulduggery and geographical and cultural blocs playing their part in influencing the outcome.

It's a complicated process, perhaps most clearly explained by this year's official website.

Put briefly, the vote last Saturday began as the first contestant took to the stage and finished after the last of the 25 entries had been sung.

The tallies were then announced from around Europe; each of the 39 participating countries (including those who had been knocked out in the semi-finals) awarding points (from one to twelve) based on a 50:50 based on a 50-50 combination of televoting and national juries.

The system was one introduced by the European Broadcasting Union, under whose auspices Eurovision is produced, for the 2009 final with Svante Stockselius, executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest saying at the time that it would make the outcome of the competition "more interesting".

"Nothing is more democratic than the vote of the public," the official Eurovision website quotes Stockselius as saying when the decision to establish the mixed voting was announced.

"But a jury takes the opportunity to listen to the songs several times, before they make up their minds."

Just for the record, France finished 12th with Jesse Matador's "Allez Ola Olé"

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Trial opens of nurse accused of killing Alzheimer's patient

The trial has opened in France of Véronique Metelo, a nurse accused of fatally poisoning and robbing an elderly patient suffering from Alzheimer's.

On Tuesday the trial opened in Viry-Châtillon, a town in the southern suburbs of the French capital, of Véronique Metelo.

The 54-year-old nurse is accused of having administered a lethal dose of morphine and robbing Simone Bordenave, a patient she was looking after in 2007.

The 76-year-old was found dead in Metelo's home in August of that year just days after the nurse had convinced the elderly woman's son that his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, needed around-the-clock care and she would look after her personally.

Bordenave apparently died of cardio-respiratory failure but an autopsy revealed high doses of morphine, "twice the lethal level" according to the prosecution.

As well as administering the overdose of morphine, the prosecution says that Metelo also helped herself to €12,000 of her elderly patient's money, having her sign cheques and hand over her bank card which she then used to buy herself perfume, jewellery and household electrical goods;

As a report on TF1's prime time news on the opening of the trial highlighted, as far as the prosecution was concerned a number of questions remain unanswered.

Why, at the time, had Metelo been so insistent that the only way to look after Bordenave properly was to have the elderly woman live with her?

And why over the past couple of years the only answer she had given to explain the high levels of morphine revealed in the autopsy had been that she "didn't know"?

Speaking to reporters Metelo's lawyer, Patrick Arapian, insisted that the high levels of morphine had been the result of an error, and while cash withdrawals had been made they were far from being anywhere near €12,000.

"There's no denying that my client used some money to make personal purchases," he said.

"But the amounts are far less than has been claimed," he added.

The trial is expected to last until Thursday.

If found guilty, Metelo could face a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.

Germany in Lena fever after Eurovision win

Germany is still celebrating its win last weekend in the Eurovision Song Contest, when Lena sang her way to victory with "Satellite" and there's even talk of her representing the country again next year when it hosts the competition.

Anyone who followed the Eurovision Song Contest held in the Norwegian capital Oslo last weekend surely knows by now that the winner was the German entry "Satellite" sung by Lena.

As she gets used to the "Lena epidemic" as the early evening magazine Explosiv on RTL television describes the reaction within Germany, her mentor, television presenter Stefan Raab, is already suggesting that she should be the country's representative at next year's musical jamboree.

"There's only one possibility, morally, musically and ethically," said Raab, himself a former Eurovision contestant, at a press conference in Lena's home city of Hanover earlier this week.

"And that of course is that this year's winner defends her title in her own country next year, "he added before turning to the winner and asking what she thought of the idea.

"Absolutely," she responded.

Whatever plans Lena and Raab might have for next year, right now the 19-year-old "Arbiturientin" (or high school graduate) as she's frequently referred to in the domestic media, and daughter of a former West German ambassador to the Soviet Union daughter, Andreas Meyer-Landrut, seems to be "enjoying the moment".

If Explosiv is to be believed the "Lena epidemic" is soon likely to spread to the rest of Europe.

With the title under her belt and her single already hitting number one in several countries, there has been praise for her performance from around the continent with some saying her win brought Eurovision into the 21st century.

The national French daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien described her as "the pretty brunette with long wavy hair in a little black dress, a tattoo on the inside of her left arm and a small black cross around her neck" who "enchanted audiences and professionals around the continent."

The Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung said of the Lena "she neither performed the best song nor had the best song or perfect English, but the mix of charm, beauty and joy of singing convinced audiences and juries across Europe."

The Irish Times also commented on Lena's simple and refreshing performance.

"The presentation of her song was pared-back: she performed on a bare stage with four backing singers," wrote the paper's Karen Fricker.

"Her onstage manner was informal, at times gangly and awkward, and the lyrics of her song express a young person’s real-life experience of love rather than expected platitudes about beauty and world peace."

Even the BBC, far from sulking or smarting from the UK's plum last finish, had words of praise for the winning entry, saying that "Satellite" had "reclaimed the contest's musical credibility" and was "the first contemporary pop hit Eurovision has produced in decades."

"Lena had no complicated choreography, no inexplicable backing dancers and she wore a simple black dress - the sort of thing you could pick up tomorrow in any high street store," wrote Mark Savage, the BBC News entertainment reporter.

"Her refreshingly direct performance reflected a vivacious, playful personality."

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

A "holy game" of football

The club football season might be over in Europe and supporters of the so-called "beautiful game" preparing to follow the World Cup which kicks off in a couple of weeks time, but one important match remained to be played last weekend - the Clericus Cup final

As Agence France Presse (AFP) news agency reports, the match was in a sense the Catholic Church's very own version of the event to be hosted next month in South Africa and one in which "both teams could claim to have God on their side."

Players in prayer at the end of the match, Agence France Presse TV screen shot

The Clericus Cup is a tournament which has been contested annually since 2007 and is made up of teams whose players are all priests or seminarists from around the world attending the Vatican City's Papal colleges.

Saturday's final (there are no tournament games on a Sunday) was a repeat of last year's with holders Redemptoris Mater taking on rivals Pontifical North American College; the Italians once again running out the winners with the only goal of the game.

While the president of the Cup, Monsignor Claudio Paganini admitted that there had been several on-the pitch incidents and that perhaps not all the players had always "behaved entirely correctly" the competition had shown another side of the Catholic Church - away from the scandals that have dominated recent news stories.

"At a time when the Church is being attacked over issues of paedophilia we're showing here how games and the body are values and not limitations," he told AFPTV.

"The human body should be used to give glory to God, not for acts of deviance."

Redemptoris Mater have appeared in each of the four finals that have taken place since the Cup began in 2007.

The only time they have failed to lift the trophy was in 2008 when they lost out to Mater Ecclesiae.

Remembering the victims of Air France flight 447

A memorial service will be held in Paris on Tuesday for families of those who died in the Air France flight 447 crash last year.

It'll take place at the Parc Floral in the French capital and will be followed by the inauguration of a monument at the Père Lachaise cemetery

The commemorations will be private and reserved for the families of the 216 passengers and 12 crew members who died exactly a year ago when the Rio de Janeiro-Paris flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.

But on the first anniversary of what was the worst accident in the airline's history, those whose loved ones perished are frustrated that so little progress has been made in determining the cause of the accident.

As the weekly news magazine Le Point says, the families looking for explanations are "caught in game of ping pong between different hypotheses; from Air France for example whose objective is to show that there was a fault in the design or construction of the aircraft (an Airbus A330-200 ) to Airbus which has suggested that the pilots were poorly trained or the 'plane poorly maintained."

"The assumptions," says Le Point "outnumber the certainties."

For Alain Jakubowicz, one of the lawyers representing the families, there has been a general unwillingness on the part of the investigating authorities to want to shed light on what really happened.

"In two of the reports released by the Bureau d'enquêtes et d'analyses (BEA, the French government agency responsible for investigating aviation accidents) there's no analysis of the autopsies carried out on the bodies that have been recovered," he's quoted as saying in another weekly news magazine L'Express.

"Investigators also downplay the role of the 'planes (speed) sensors," he added.

"Is there really any evidence that there's a desire by the investigators to provide information about the drama?"

It's that apparent lack of transparency which is most frustrating for many of the families according to Françoise Fouquet who lost her daughter and son-in-law in the accident.

"Everybody wants to know the truth and nobody can afford the luxury of not knowing," she told reporters on the eve of Tuesday's commemorations.

"The memory remains a nightmare and I have the impression that the suffering (of those who lost loved ones) has increased since the accident."
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