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Thursday, 25 February 2010

Rapper's Eurovision performance leaves Spanish TV red-faced

Mario Baquero has had his 15 minutes of fame - one which undoubtedly left Spain's public broadcaster Corporación Radiotelevisión Española (RTVE) rather red-faced and television viewers more than a little open-mouthed.

Appearing under the alias of "John Cobra", the rapper appeared on RTVE television on Monday evening in a live broadcast of the country's search for a song to send to this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Not content with putting in a less-than-impressive vocal rendition of his entry "Carol", the 31-year-old then when on to cause a commotion (to put it politely) by hurling insults at the studio audience and making obscene gestures.

And the whole "performance" was broadcast live on Spain's public television channel with more than two-and-a-half million viewers having the pleasure of the rapper's behaviour.

Yes another Eurovision Song Contest story (groan) as the "excitement" hots up around Europe with each country in the process of choosing its contestant to send to Norway in May.

The actual contest might indeed still be more than three months away, but that doesn't stop it from making the headlines.

When Spanish viewers tuned in on Monday to watch the prime time programme that would decide which act would represent the country in Oslo in May, they probably weren't expecting the eyeful and earful to which they were "treated" when Baquero stepped up to the microphone.

After being booed by the audience, the 31-year-old then went on to give as good as he had been given, much to the embarrassment of the programme's presenter, Anne Igartiburu.

She made a valiant attempt at trying to prevent Baquero from continuing his antics but even after he had finished "singing" the rapper seemed determined to revel in his newly found "glory" and subjected the viewing public to ever more lewd displays.

This being the age of the Net of course, it didn't take long for the clip to make its way to an even wider audience.

So if you're really keen to see what Spanish television viewers had the "pleasure" of experiencing, you only need to watch the accompanying video.

You don't need to understand a word of Spanish to get the gist of what he was saying.

Spain (along with many other countries) drags out the whole process of choosing its candidate for the annual musical jamboree that is the Eurovision Song Contest by making a television extravaganza out of it and allowing the public to decide which act should be sent to the finals.

A decision Spain's RTVE might well be ruing after Monday night's broadcast - at least in the matter of taste if not ratings.

Perhaps they would be well advised in future to follow the example of France, where it's left to the public broadcaster to decide who will sing what, and nobody else gets a say.

Just for the record (ouch) the winning contestant - chosen by a combination of a professional jury and the viewing public - was Daniel Diges singing "Algo Pequeñito".

And Spain, one of the so-called Big Four financial contributors on which the contest depends, will be hoping he'll manage better than the 23rd place (out of 25) in Moscow last year.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Ordeal over for French tourists in Brazil

On Tuesday a Brazilian court handed down fines to two French citizens, and acquitted a third, accused of inciting a "passenger rebellion" aboard a Paris-bound flight from São Paulo on December 6.

Unless there's an appeal in the case, the ruling should bring an end to what was described by one family member back in France as a "nightmare" for all involved.

The three had been aboard a TAM-operated flight which had already spent more than three hours on the tarmac before take-off because of a malfunction in the aircraft's computer system.

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

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

So who were these three "rabble rousers" accused of endangering the lives of other passengers and delaying the departure of the TAM flight?

They weren't, as you might be thinking, drunken and uncontrollable yobs, but two retired French men, Michel Ilinskas aged 61 and Antonio Nascimento aged 64, along with Emilie Camus, a 54-year-old hospital worker, all part of a small group of tourists returning home after a two-week cruise.

Ilinskas and Nascimento were held on suspicion of being the main "troublemakers" and Camus, the only Portuguese-speaker among them, was also arrested accused of having "incited violence" through her translations.

As can be seen from the accompanying amateur video taken by another passenger aboard the same flight, they weren't exactly treated with kid gloves when they were taken off the 'plane.

Why the three (and others) reacted in the way they did, perhaps needs to be seen in the light of the Air France flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris which crashed into the Atlantic in June last year killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew members.

Indeed the fate of that flight was mentioned at the trial and Nascimento, who was fined $US 1,400, explained why he had panicked.

"It's just not normal that a 'plane which has an 11 hour journey ahead of it should be subject to three successive equipment failures," he said.

"All I did was to speak rather loudly and express my fear of dying."

As far as Ilinskas, who received a $US 2,800 fine, was concerned, the verdict might not have been fair but he was happy the ordeal was over.

"The trial didn't reflect what truly happened on the 'plane," he said.

"But what's important for me now is to be able to return to France."

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Najlae Lhimer, a family violence victim falls foul of French immigration laws

Najlae Lhimer is back in Morocco.

She has been there since last weekend after French authorities deported her because she was in this country illegally.

But the story of the 19-year-old isn't a just case of illegal immigration.

Instead it's surely an example of a law being zealously enforced without any respect to the rights of the individual and one which, as far as women's rights groups are concerned, makes a mockery of the government's policy to raise awareness of the issue of domestic and family violence.

Najlae first came to France at the age of 14, leaving Morocco to escape being forced into an arranged marriage.

She moved in with her brother in the town of Château-Renard in the centre of the country.

But as it turned out, life with him was far from easy to say the least.

He was reportedly a man with a reputation for being authoritarian, and one who didn't like to see his sister emancipated.

So much so that when he "found a cigarette butt" in her room last week, he hit her, to such an extent that she was unable to go to work for eight days.

Najlae decided to file a complaint against her brother.

But as Stéphanie Revillard, a friend who encouraged Najlae to go to the local police explained, rather than being seen as the victim, the 19-year-old found herself being questioned about her status here in France as she didn't have the required identity papers.

"In spite of the fact that she was injured, in spite of the fact that she was there to file a complaint against her brother and she was in fact the victim, she was detained," said Revillard.

And that detention quickly led to her deportation as the police contacted the local préfecture, an "expulsion order" was signed and Najlae put on a 'plane bound for Morocco.

Once there, she was taken into custody once again, this time for having "illegally fled her country" five years ago.

She has since been released and is currently being looked after by the local branch of le Réseau éducation sans frontières, RESF.

Women's rights groups in France have been quick to react to Najlae's plight and criticised the speed with which she found herself sent back to Morocco.

"The deportation of Najlae, a young woman who was in distress, is abominable," said Dominique Tripet from the Orléans branch of Droits des Femmes.

"It's an example of the increasing rapidity with which the (French) government violates human rights and republican values."

Speaking to the national daily Libération by 'phone on Monday, Najlae described what life had been like since she returned to a country she hasn't seen since she was 14 and where she apparently doesn't know anyone.

"After remaining 24 hours in jail, some members of RESF came to collect me," she said.

"I don't understand how or why I'm here," she added.

"I am lost ... "

A demonstration in support of Najlae is planned in the streets of Château-Renard for March 6.

According to France 3 television, Najlae's brother still hasn't been questioned by police.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Jessy Matador is Oslo-bound for France

It's official.

This year's French entry at the annual musical jamboree, the Eurovision Song Contest, will be sung by Jessy Matador.


You might well ask!

Probably unknown to many in this country, the choice was immediately seen by those "in the know" as a sure-fire way of France not winning the annual music shindig.

Instead it's apparently a clever marketing ploy to create a buzz for Matador and France Television ahead of the World Cup finals in South Africa.

Confused? Then read on.

First up though, for those of you out there who haven't got a clue what the Eurovision Song Contest is, here's the very briefest of summaries.

It's an annual competition which many music aficionados dread but the viewing public seems to love (to hate perhaps).

It began back in 1956 when just seven countries entered and has under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) grown and become something of an institution with millions tuning in to watch the very best and worst of what Europe has to offer - musically speaking.

This year it'll be coming from Oslo as Norway won the competition last time around and with it the honours to play host.

If you're really intent on finding out more about it, here's a more exhaustive (exhausting?) explanation.

So back to France and the decision to send a relative unknown - even within this country - to Oslo.

There is apparently more at stake than winning Eurovision, at least as far as France Television is concerned according to Gaëlle Placek, a journalist for the weekly television and entertainment magazine, Télé Loisirs.

She insists that the decision is a mainly commercial one, with any tune Matador might sing standing little chance of winning and instead France Television banking on promoting the song to become its summer hit.

Such thinking doesn't require the leap of imagination as might at first appear.

Matador, who originally comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has a style of music that combines African and Caribbean influences and has already had a summer hit ("Décalé Gwada") in this country.

Just as importantly the Eurovision Song Contest takes place just a couple of weeks before the guaranteed money-spinning (for television stations among others) World Cup kicks off In South Africa.

And of course France Television will be one of the channels broadcasting matches throughout the competition.

Indeed the whole theory of a marketing ploy seemed to be more or less confirmed by Nicolas Pernikoff, the head of entertainment for France Television, in revealing the choice of Matador to represent the country in Oslo.

He said that the singer would be going into the studio shortly to record the French entry and that it would also serve as the summer hit for France 2 television.

Some French fans of Eurovision - yes apparently they do exist - might be upset that a more popular artist hasn't been chosen to represent France, and that the move goes against the spirit of the contest.

After all along with Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain, France is one of the so-called Big Four, financial contributors without which the contest would have difficulty being staged.

But since last winning Eurovision back in 1977 with Marie Myriam's "L'oiseau Et L'enfant", France has had a pretty dismal record.

Not even the presence in Moscow last year of a big gun in the form of Patricia Kaas could guarantee the country victory. She managed a disappointing eighth place.

So perhaps the choice of Matador makes sound business sense, spares (French) viewers the seemingly interminable process of choosing a representative favoured by many other countries such as Germany, which is currently holding a weekly televised knock-out show of Eurovision wannabees warbling their hearts out in "Unser Star für Oslo".

And it cuts down on the suspense at the end of May when the whole Eurovision delight hits French TV screens for several hours as nobody here will really expect France to win anyway.

Friday, 19 February 2010

French justice fails in the murder of Tanja Pozgaj

Tanja Pozgaj should be alive today enjoying life with her 18-month-old son Ibrahima.

Instead she's dead, murdered by her former partner, Mahamadou Doucoure, a man she had reported to the police and local authorities on several occasions as being violent and threatening.

Her family wants to understand why nobody seemed to listen to her pleas.

The justice minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, has launched an inquiry into want went wrong and how a system so tragically failed to protect a woman who had sought help.

Because given the facts that have emerged since Pozgaj's body was found, there's surely no doubt that there was a failure within the system.

The fate of the 26-year-old first made the headlines here in France on Tuesday, when she was found stabbed to death at the apartment she shared with Ibrahima, her 18-month-old son, in the town of Fontenay-sous-Bois in the eastern suburbs of Paris.

Ibrahima was missing, and for only the ninth time since it was introduced in 2006, an alerte enlèvement (the equivalent of an Amber alert) was launched nationwide to find him.

Police suspected that he had been taken by his father and Pozgaj's former partner, Doucoure.

The public was warned not to intervene but to report any sightings or pass on any information they had as to the whereabouts of the 28-year-old Doucoure, as he was considered dangerous and possibly armed.

Ibrahima was found safe and sound late on Tuesday evening, Doucoure taken into custody where he later admitted to having killed Pozgaj, and the alert lifted.

So a successful conclusion to the alerte enlèvement, but of course not really as far as Pozgaj's family was concerned, who insisted that her death could have been prevented - if only the authorities had listened and acted.

"My sister filed numerous complaints, and it was only after the 20th or 30th time that they took her seriously," her brother, Sacha said on Thursday.

"With everything they knew, why didn't they protect her?"

Last October Pozgaj went to see Jean-François Voguet, the mayor of Fontenay-sous-Bois.

The 26-year-old was armed with documents and testimonies of complaints she had already made to the police "proving" that she had been repeatedly threatened by her former partner.

What she wanted was to be "rehoused in another town" within the same (administrative) département of Val-de Marne in which Fontenay-sous-Bois is located

Voguet reportedly took her case seriously and a month later wrote a letter a month later to the Prefecture of the département urging that Pozgaj's request be dealt with immediately for both her sake and that of her son, and attaching all the legal documents.

He never received a reply.

It's surely hard to argue against members of Pozgaj's family or their lawyers when they accuse the judicial system of having failed in its duty to protect the 26-year-old.

Just last week Pozgaj returned to see Voguet to repeat her request to be rehoused.

Even though Doucoure had recently received a four-month suspended sentence and a court order preventing him from seeing or approaching Pozgaj, and in fact wasn't even supposed to enter the same département, he was still sending her threatening text messages.

"For six months Tania systematically went to the police to report the threats she was receiving," Yasmina Mechoucha Robin, a lawyer for the family said.

"The most recent one quite simply said 'I am going to kill you'.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

French pétanque player caught stealing balls

Anyone even slightly familiar with France and things French is likely to have heard of pétanque.

It's a game played by thousands in this country and as with many a sport it can inflame the passions of both participants and spectators.

Unfortunately for one particular young man he took his enthusiasm for it a step too far by stealing a couple of treasured "boules" or balls and getting caught in the act, not once, but twice.

Maybe a word or two on pétanque at this point as even though it's an international sport, it's not exactly one of the best known around the world.

There are plenty of better well-informed sources out there describing what it is and where it originates, but succinctly (and therefore probably not entirely accurately) put it's a sort of French bowls.

Just to emphasise the popularity of pétanque here in France, it ranks as the eighth most played sport in terms of active club membership with apparently more than 362,000 registered players.

There's a federation governing the sport in this country, championships broken down by sex and age, and of course a French cup.

In fact to find out everything and anything you might ever have wanted to know (or not, as the case might be) there's the bible of the game available annually in the form of Le Guide Boulisme.

Anyway back to the man who was caught stealing those boules.

The 33-year-old was arrested in the southwestern French town of Dax earlier this week as he attempted to lift a couple of them worth €199 ($US 269) from a store.

No mean feat really as they usually weigh anything between 650 and 800 grammes each and so aren't exactly the easiest things to sneak out of a shop without being noticed.

Apparently it wasn't the first time he was "caught in the act" according to the regional daily, Sud Ouest.

He was stopped just last month committing a similar theft, albeit for the smaller amount of €163 ($US220).

All of which means, says the paper, that when his case comes to court he'll be treated as a repeat offender and runs the risk of not just facing a fine but also a sentence.

And his defence? Well he claims to be quite good at the game but not to "have the means to finance his passion."

So quite literally a French sporting crime of passion - of sorts?

He'll have the chance to explain himself fully when his case comes to court, but for that he'll have to wait until April.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Marseille's overzealous radars have motorists seeing red

Careful how you drive if you happen to be paying a visit to the southeastern French city of Marseille.

Recently-installed radars are doing their work - and then some - and not always to the benefit of the law-abiding motorist it would appear.

In a manner of speaking they're going into overdrive to such an extent that they're even flashing stationary motorists...or nothing at all.

The "culprits" - for let's call them that - are radars installed at traffic lights at notoriously busy junctions in the city.

There are five of them so far and their arrival was greeted with something of a fanfare when they were first made an appearance in France's second largest city last October.

The intention was and remains not to measure whether drivers were keeping to the speed limit, but simply to ensure they respected the traffic lights.

There were a few (inevitable) teething problems in the first couple of weeks, when some of the radars were taking their job a little too seriously and flashing any and every passing vehicle, no matter what colour the light.

But as it was a test phase during which no fines were being handed out for motorists "caught on camera", their installation was greeted with what could perhaps be called a certain degree of "favourable sceptism".

According to a poll conducted at the time by the regional newspaper, La Provence, 58 per cent of those questioned said they welcomed the new radars.

Admittedly there were of course some who thought that the whole scheme was just another way of the local authority to increase its coffers with each infraction carrying not only a loss of points but also a €135 fine.

Those initial problems don't seem to have been solved though, and the radars are still flashing in cases where there has been no infraction and that opens up the way for anyone to make a challenge as far as a local lawyer, Arnaud Attal is concerned.

"The system just isn't reliable," he says.

"I dread to how often people who cross these junctions several times a day such as local traders are being 'flashed' (for no reason at all)," he continues.

"Sometimes the radars go off when there isn't even a car around."

Whatever the problems drivers in Marseille might currently be facing, the problem could get worse.

The scheme is due to be widened to include 150 similar radars being installed in the whole of the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA) in south-eastern France.

Happy driving?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

French baker fined for sounding his horn

Paulo Païs appeared in court in France on Monday to appeal a 1,000 euros fine imposed on him for breaking the highway code and "misusing his van horn" while making his early morning rounds.

Païs runs a bakery in Nesles-la-Vallée, a village 40 kilometres north of the French capital.

He used to make an early morning round of neighbouring towns and villages in his van to deliver locals those freshly baked baguettes, croissants and pains chocolate that are so much a part of many a French breakfast table.

It's the kind tradition that still exists in hundreds of villages around the country, especially those in which there is no longer a bakery.

And to let people know he had arrived, in that time honoured convention he tooted his horn.

That was where his problems started.

Last September he had to stop his round after a couple living in a housing estate in the nearby town of Méry-sur-Oise filed a complaint because of the noise he was making when he turned up at 8.30 every morning.

The wife was a nurse who worked nights and although she "had nothing personally against the baker," the sound of his horn "prevented her from getting to sleep just as she was about to drop off."

When the case came to court in December, Païs was fined 1,000 euros for breaking Article 416-1 of the highway code in France, which stipulates that a car horn may only be used "to warn of danger".

The case caused a commotion in the town, with a petition being launched and signatures gathered to allow Païs to resume his round - horn and all.

The story was picked up by the national media after the fine was handed down, and a lawyer in the eastern French city of Strasbourg (over 500 kilometres away from the "scene of the crime") agreed to offer his services for free, which enabled Païs to appeal the original ruling.

Monday might have seen Païs have his day in court as his appeal was heard, but the consequences so far on his business have been dramatic.

"Since I stopped the round turnover has dropped and I've had to let an employee go," he said before Monday's hearing.

"What I was doing was providing a service especially to elderly people in villages without a bakery, and simply signalling my arrival just as hundreds of other bakers, greengrocers and butchers who make deliveries in such a manner do around the country," he continued.

"But apparently not everyone liked what I was doing."

While Païs will have to wait until May to discover the outcome of his appeal, the couple who filed the original complaint are considering moving as none of their neighbours is speaking to them anymore according to the wife.

Monday, 15 February 2010

French scientist refuses 15,000 euros award

François Bonhomme is a man of principle it would appear.

He doesn't agree with the French government's policy of honouring scientific excellence with financial rewards and has turned down a payment of €15,000 made to him last December.

The 55-year-old is a director and researcher at the Institut des sciences de l'évolution (Institute of evolutionary sciences) in the southern French city of Montpellier, part of this country's Centre national de la recherche scientifique (National centre for scientific research, CNRS).

As its name implies the CNRS is a government-funded research organisation which comes under the administrative authority of the ministry of research.

In September last year the government introduced a scheme which would award extra payments of up to €25,000 for those in charge of research teams at publicly-funded laboratories as a recognition of "scientific excellence".

But some within the scientific community in France opposed the idea, suggesting it was out of step with the way in which research had always functioned in this country and that it would in fact encourage competition which might not necessarily be in the best interests of pure research.

And that was very much the reasoning behind Bonhomme's decision to turn down the award, which he says would "enable those in charge of research to negotiate with those who would be paying them while at the same time contracting work out to others."

"It's not a question of being in competition with each other where every group of researchers is concerned primarily about whether it receives extra payment for its work," he explained on national radio at the weekend.

"Maybe such a system works well within private industry, but when it comes to research at universities the same cannot be said," he continued.

"If we've chosen to work in this sort of environment it's exactly because we don't want to be put under the sort of pressure which can in fact be counterproductive and there's already a system of evaluation and promotion in place that the best and most competent to rise to the top and be better paid."

Bonhomme has requested that the payment he was due to receive be made instead to the Fondation de France, an agency set up in 1969 to "encourage the growth of all forms of private

He's also not the only scientist to take such a stand. In October last year a French physicist, Didier Chatenay, also turned down a similar payment made under the new scheme.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A residence tax riddle for a homeless Frenchman

Spare a thought for Emile Busson, a Frenchman who has had problems with the tax authorities here.

He recently received a demand for taxe d'habitation, or local residence tax, for 2008 to the tune of €692.89 to be precise (or just over $US 940).

The only problem is that Busson is homeless and hasn't had a permanent address since 2000.

Actually the most recent bill was a reminder of a previous one amounting to €612 sent last summer to his mother's address in Chelles, a town in the eastern suburbs of the French capital.

Because Busson had "chosen to ignore the first one", the tax office decided to slap on some interest second time around, and add €20 in administrative costs.

Somehow though the records also showed that he had in fact paid 11 centimes of the bill.

A word of explanation perhaps about taxe d'habitation in France without going into too much detail.

It is, as the name suggests, an annual tax based on the combined income of a household and one occupants have to pay collectively regardless as to whether they rent or own a property, unless that is, they fall below a certain threshold.

Lucky home owners also foot an additional bill in the form of a taxe foncière (or property tax). But that's another story.

Anyway back to Busson, who's in his 60s and has for most of the past decade been of "no fixed abode" as he explained to Le Parisien, the capital's edition of the national daily Aujourd'hui en France.

"My last permanent address was back in 2000," he said.

"I couldn't get along with my wife and that's when I decided to leave and move to Chelles," he continued.

"I was put up by a friend, who also gave me a job, and that's where I remained for two years until I moved into a small room at a cheap hotel."

That wasn't permanent though and a year later in 2005 he took to the streets, which is where he has been ever since.

Busson admits that he spends the odd night sleeping on the premises of a shop where he works from time to time in a nearby town; a story backed up by the shopkeeper.

And he occasionally lodges with friends or acquaintances.

But to all intents and purposes he has no permanent roof over his head and is therefore sans domicile fixe (SDF) or of "no fixed abode".

So how come he has been charged a local residence tax? And why do records show that he has already paid the princely sum of 11 centimes while he insists that he ignored both the initial bill and the reminder?

Well the local tax office admits there might well have been a mistake made somewhere along the line.

But it's couched in the sort of bureaucratic legalese surely guaranteed to confuse.

"We've done our research and found nothing that allows us to establish with certainty that Mr Busson is taxable," a spokesman said.

Which in plain English (or French as the case may be) means that he has nothing to pay and the demand has been shelved.

And on that mysterious 11 centimes payment "already made"?

"We advise him to get in touch with us so that he can apply for a rebate."


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Christophe Willem at Eurovision Song Contest 2010?

It's one of those rumours that has been doing the rounds on the Net over the past week, and just like any speculation, once it's out there it seems that it won't go away - even though it has been denied.

Christophe Willem, the winner of the fourth edition of Nouvelle Star (the French version of Pop Idol) back in 2006, will represent France at this year's Eurovision Song Contest in May.

"Not so," said those responsible at France Television which will broadcast the show here live when contacted shortly after the "news" broke.

"Several websites have been saying this for several hours to create a buzz but the problem is it's completely untrue."

Right, that's clear then. One of those categorical denials that cannot be disputed.

Except some might remember what happened last year when similar rumours circulated that Patricia Kaas would be singing her heart out for this country in Moscow, the host of the 2009 contest.

Both Kaas and her management started out by trying to scotch them, only to end up announcing officially that she would indeed be singing France's entry.

And there she was in Russia

For those of you out there who have no idea what the Eurovision Song Contest is, it's an annual "musical" jamboree (very heavy on the inverted commas) which many music aficionados dread but the viewing public seems to love.

From humble beginnings in 1956 when just seven countries entered, it has under the auspices of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) become something of an institution with millions tuning in to watch the very best and worst of what Europe has to offer - musically speaking.

In fact it has become so big that semi-finals take place to determine which countries will be allowed to take part.

Only the so-called Big Four - France, United Kingdom, Spain and Germany - qualify automatically for the final as they're the biggest financial contributors to the EBU and without them the production costs would be prohibitive.

This year it'll be coming from Oslo as Norway won the competition last time around and with it the honours to play host.

Since last winning the contest way back in 1977 when Marie Myriam sung the unforgettable "L'oiseau Et L'enfant", France has had a pretty dismal record, and not even the presence of a "big gun" such as Kaas in Moscow last year could woo enough support. She eventually finished eighth.

Anyway, back to the "yes he will, no he won't" rumour that Willem has been chosen to represent France.

The 26-year-old is arguably one of the most successful winners of a television talent show here in France, has had a clutch of hit singles and has released two albums.

There's a Facebook group (isn't there always in such cases?) that has been set up to gather support for him to represent France in Oslo, and when interviewed on whether the rumours were true or false he said the idea had been run past him and he had been in touch with some writers who could perhaps make the idea a reality.

"They're working on other projects at the moment," he said.

"So apparently it won't be me even though I too have read everywhere that it has been confirmed, but that's not the case," he added.

As to what he thought about the idea of singing at the Eurovision Song Contest, Willem admitted that it did have an appeal and he was in no way opposed to it.

"It's certainly a bit old fashioned in its concept" he said.

"But at the same time I find it quite interesting as we are constantly talking about Europe, and this is a concrete way of seeing what Europe is all about," he continued.

"It's a way of sharing music with each other and it could be a cool idea."

So there you have it. The Net helping add life to a rumour that has been denied but by the same token appears to have taken on a life of its own.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A Valentine's Day Kiss-in against homophobia

The title pretty much says it all as once again the group Kiss-in contre l'homophobie readies itself for action - this time on Valentine's Day.

February 14 is the date set for the next Kiss-in, an event which since it was first held in Paris less than a year ago, has gone nationwide and even international.

The French capital isn't the only place where couples, gay or straight, will be able pucker up or, if they're feeling a slightly more reserved, hug each other or hold hands.

As with the last time the event was held back in December, there are similar Kiss-ins planned in towns and cities around the country - 14 in total, and counting according to the group Kiss-in contre l'homophobie on its Facebook page. - as well abroad in Belgium, Peru and Australia.

All are scheduled to take place on Valentine's Day.

And as if to strengthen the international flavour of the event there'll once again be similar Kiss-ins abroad in Switzerland (February 13) Belgium, Peru, Australia (February 14) and for the first time Mexico (February 28).

The idea seems to be gaining support from the somewhat humble beginnings back in June 2009 when just a dozen or so couples decided to kiss in public at an agreed time at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

The concept is not to shock or provoke, nor is it meant to be a demonstration of gay pride, as Arthur Vauthier, one of those behind the idea, has always been at pains to stress.

"The starting point for the whole idea was the simple observation that there's often hesitancy among same-sex couples to show their fondness for one another in public," he said in an interview with the monthly French gay magazine, Têtu.

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

Social media sites have of course more than helped "spread the word", and as well as the main Facebook group with more than 4,000 members there are also a number of regional ones which tell those that are interested what's happening, when and where.

And, as if to prove that in these days in which the Net is all so important in getting the message across, there's the all-essential blog with info available in several languages: French, English, German and Spanish.

So, make a note in your diaries and if you're interested, drop along to the nearest Kiss-in or organise your own, and as they say here in France, "Bises" for Valentine's Day

Monday, 8 February 2010

Disney disenchantment for Paris film-goers

It was supposed to have been a family treat as a group that included six adults and nine children made their way to a cinema in Paris to see a matinée performance of the latest Disney film "The Princess and the Frog".

But it ended up with the police being called in and all of them being escorted from their seats and eventually out of the cinema.

It all happened the weekend before last at the UGC Ciné Cité des Halles - let's not beat about the bush with this as it has been all over the media here - right in the heart of the French capital.

After having bought their tickets, the group happily made their way to the auditorium, not knowing what was in store, because before being allowed to take their places they were asked the age of the youngest child.

Now, little Gabrielle was just two years and 10 months, which according to the rules of UGC was below the age at which any child could be allowed into a cinema, no matter what the film.

There's a law that says as much...after all this is France, a country in which to many, there seems to be a regulation governing everything.

All right, so it dates back to 1927, but it's there in black and white; article 198 of the ordinance of the prefecture of Paris, "prohibits children under three years from entering all cinemas."

And that's the law the UGC followed - to the letter - shortly afterwards.

The group of course was told that they couldn't take Gabrielle in as she was too young, but they said there had been no problems buying the tickets (totalling more than €100) from the cashier and they hadn't been told about the age limit.

So they ignored the employee and took their places.

Moments later though, after the commercials had finished and before the film had begun, the employee returned with three police officers who then escorted the whole group from their seats and into the foyer.

Once there apparently as Eric Bordron, one of the parents explained on national radio, they were joined by several other officers, and while the children started crying the adults were reminded of the regulation and were threatened with being taken down to the police station.

The group had their papers checked and eventually left quietly.

UGC stuck to its guns in terms of having been right to enforce the regulations about the age limit in the first place.

"The noise level can be harmful for the ears of very young children," said Jean-Marie Dura, the CEO of the UGC group.

'The regulation is in place to ensure that comfort of the whole audience audience," he continued.

"And it can be very difficult for young children to concentrate for the duration of the film," he added.

While admitting that the regulations perhaps weren't clearly enough spelled out to cinema-goers ahead of a film, Dura said that signs would be put in place in all of the group's movie theatres so that a similar incident wouldn't occur again.

As to claims that the situation had been handled less than delicately, especially in the light of so many police being called in, the management of the UGC Ciné Cité des Halles, insisted that "usually such conflicts are resolved through dialogue, but here, unfortunately, that didn't seem to work."

And the lesson to be learnt from this tale - apart from the fact of course that in France "rules are rules"?

Wait for the DVD perhaps.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Strauss-Kahn for president 2012 - continued

An update on the French media's fascination with a potential presidential bid by Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2012.

The next presidential election here in France might be a little more than over two years away, but that doesn't stop pollsters churning out surveys with seemingly clockwork regularity to "test the tide" of public opinion.

Ah such is the way of politics and punditry it would appear.

The latest one, conducted by CSA for the weekly news magazine Marianne, gives the current head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the edge in a second round head-to-head with the incumbent of the Elysée palace, Nicolas Sarkozy; 52 to 49 per cent.

In contrast the current leader of the Socialist party, Martine Aubry, would lose to Sarkozy in that all-important second round 48-52 percent if she were to be the party's candidate.

So another boost for DSK, as he's more commonly known here, a former finance minister and a man who has already made a run for the top job when he threw his hat into the ring for the Socialist party's nomination to be its candidate in 2007 but lost out in the end to Ségolène Royal.

This latest poll comes hot on the heels of (yet) another one in January which ranked him as the country's most popular political figure.

None of which seems to impress the man very much, even though it might well bring a smile to his face.

The subject of "whether he will" or "whether he won't" is still one he's unwilling to answer directly - even if interviewers try to tease out a response to the inevitable question.

The tone is changing though - and subtly so, as you might perhaps expect as time goes by, those opinion polls keep reflecting positive news (as far as DSK is concerned) and the same questions keep on cropping up.

Back in December he avoided mentioning any presidential ambitions while appearing on a prime time television news magazine.

But this week, speaking on national radio on Thursday (the day before the latest poll), while DSK responded in his usual evasive manner, insisting that he had a job to do, was resolved to see it through to the end of his term in office (Autumn 2012) he also admitted that he might reconsider "under certain circumstances."

"At the moment I fully intend to see out my term until the end of my mandate," he said.

"But if you ask me if under certain circumstances I would reconsider my options, then yes I could imagine doing that."

So there you have it; the latest in what promises to be a very, very long road to 2012.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Frenchifying French or ridding the language of Anglicisms

The French are at it again - or so it would seem.

Someone appears to "have the hump" with the number of English words creeping into everyday use in France and wants to try to put a stop to it.

This time around it's the junior minister for Cooperation and Francophony (snappy title that) or Coopération et de la Francophonie (as it's called in French), Alain Joyandet.

He has launched a competition aimed at finding French alternatives for five pesky English words that have obviously got on someone's nerves somewhere along the lines.

The culprits? "Talk", "chat", "newsletter", "buzz", and "tuning" all of which are apparently used too often in French as far as the minister is concerned in the field of "nouvelles technologies" - that'll be IT to English-speakers out there.

The competition - catchily called "Francomot" - was launched a couple of weeks ago but there are still a few days left until the February 7 deadline for entries.

Now you might think that this is a case of French officialdom getting more than little uppity about the language of Moliére or perhaps it's bit of fun - albeit pointless - to try to put a stop to the number of Anglicisms that have crept into everyday use here.

But as the minister reminds us on the official website, French, along with English, is the only language spoken on all five continents.

That apparently is reason enough for wanting to protect it from the invasion of those horrid Anglicisms as "This universality is a sign of dynamism and liveliness" visitors to the site are told.

"It's therefore essential that the hundreds of thousands of French speakers can help contribute to keeping the French language alive and innovative" (an interpretation of what's written rather than a word-for-word translation).

Although Francomot is aimed primarily at school children and students, the minister will surely be grateful for any French improvements that others might feel able to suggest.

If you want to enter, you can check out the official website to find out more and then send your proposals for each of the five words by "voie électronique"... an even more cumbersome French way of saying "courriel" or "email".

A jury, headed by France's ambassador to Senegal, Jean-Christophe Rufin, will choose the best entries and the winners will be announced at a special ceremony on February 17.

Just don't question whether any of the words will eventually make their way into everyday usage.

Good luck.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

San Remo sans Carla

It's the news that's rocking (forgive the weak musical pun) Italy at the moment.

France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy has pulled out of the country's San Remo music festival due to take place in a couple of weeks time.

And the order - for that's what it is if sectors of both the Italian and French media are to be believed - is a presidential one, courtesy of her husband the head of state of this country, Nicolas (Sarkozy for those who might have been on another planet for the past couple of years).

The Elysée palace (the French president's official residence and office) and ergo Bruni-Sarkozy were reportedly upset over the lyrics of a song to be performed by another artist and previous winner of the festival in 2007, Simone Cristicchi.

Her "Meno male," pokes fun at France's first couple by suggesting that the former model is a beguiling and "glamourous distraction" from any political problems her husband might be facing.

The announcement that Bruni-Sarkozy would be a no-show at Italy's best known singing jamboree came at the weekend and was made by the TV presenter Massimo Giletti on Italy's main public television channel, Rai Uno.

He divulged to viewers that he had been told by "friends" of France's first lady that she wouldn't be appearing because "the Elysée palace didn't want her exposed to public ridicule by being on the same stage" (although obviously not at the same time) "as Simone Cristicci, who had "mocked the French president in her song."

What's more he later told journalists that he had seen an email from Bruni-Sarkozy's staff that backed up his claim.

The formal explanation, offered up in the pages of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, is of course quite different in that "obligations", both official as France's first lady and personal commitments, always made her presence unlikely.

But there are few around, so it would seem, who believe that to be the real reason for the late cancellation.

Bruni-Sarkozy was due to have sung a duet with Italian singer Gino Paoli during the festival. Instead he'll be singing alone and as some wits in France have enjoyed saying on more than one occasion (and this only really works in French) "San Remo will be 'sans' Carla this year."

The San Remo music festival has been a national treasure in Italy for decades and is seen by many as the inspiration for that other European musical shindig, the Eurovision Song Contest.
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