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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Miss France - Miss Ile de France, when third place finishes first

Not a lot seems to be going right for the organisers of this year's Miss France.

At least not as far as determining who's going to represent the region of Ile de France in the beauty pageant this weekend.

After the resignation of the region's first-placed Miss and the disqualification of her runner-up, the area surrounding the French capital will now be represented by its third choice beauty.

Bikini-clad contestants for Miss France 2011 - screenshot from TF1 video

Put aside for the moment the confusing peculiarity that there will be two contests organised this year.

There's the official one by the Dutch TV production company Endemol which holds the rights to the trademark and that's the one viewers will be able to watch on TF1 on Saturday December 4.

Meanwhile a rival pageant run by the lady with the hat, Geneviève de Fontenay who, after donkey's years of organising it had a mighty falling out with Endemol and set up her own "label" so-to-speak, and her "girls" will be "strutting their stuff" a day later away from the glare of national TV.

Forget how much ink column writers have gleefully spilt over the potential string-pulling that could go on around two of the candidates because they have "connections".

Miss Rhône-Alpes, 21-year-old Elise Charbonnier, is the niece of the former international footballer Lionel Charbonnier. Who? Oh yes, the third choice goalkeeper in the squad that won the World Cup in 1998.

And Miss Normandie, Juliette Polge, is the great-niece of the former French president, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who is reported to be "delighted" over the participation of the 22-year-old.

Take a deep breath and consider the trials and tribulations of who'll be representing the Ile de France region (that's the area around Paris).

A little bit of background before you plunge into the murky waters as to which girl the region will be sending to join the other 32 in Caen at the weekend.

In their infinite wisdom, the organisers decided that last year's Miss Paris, Kelly Bochenko, would be the last lass to represent the French capital after she posed for saucy pictures of a "pornographic nature" in the monthly magazine Entrevue.

Harsh perhaps as it was certainly not the first time (and doubtless not the last) that a contestant's past, present or future caught up with her.

Undeterred, Bochenko went on to make a name for herself by appearing in that cultural spectacle that was la Ferme Célébrités en Afrique (the French version of The Farm - produced guessed it...Endemol) and later revealing that she'd had a boob job and now "Felt closer to her ideal of what a woman should look like."

Are you still awake?

Right back to this year's Miss France and the problems surrounding Miss Ile de France.

Initially it was to have been Pauline Darles. The 22-year-old won her passage to the finals back in October.
But she decided to quit while the contestants were going through their paces in the Maldives because she reportedly didn't "appreciate the organisation and spirit" of the competition.

Up stepped her replacement Jessica Muzaton, who was quite literally flown in to fill her shoes.

But horror upon horrors, just as she was getting into her stride it was revealed that the 22-year-old had previously modelled sexy lingerie in a show which took place in a Paris night club last year, according to the national daily Le Parisien.

In case you haven't realised by now each candidate must declare when signing up for the regional competitions that she has never posed for erotic photos or taken part in racy video and the like.

Muzaton had fallen foul of the same regulation that had got Bochenko, Valérie Bègue (Miss France 2008) and Lætitia Bléger (Miss France 2004) among others into hot water.

So now it'll be Sabine Hossenbaccus, who finished third in the competition to find Miss Ile de France election who'll be representing the region in Caen at the weekend to find a successor to Malika Ménard.

Unless, of course, she has a skeleton or two in her cupboard.

Monday, 29 November 2010

France's 10-metre tall Christmas tree - made from chocolate

You have to hand it to France's chocolatiers. They really know how to grab the headlines with a feel-good story.

After the recent launch of a boat built entirely of chocolate, comes the seasonal tale of a 10-metre Christmas tree completely made from what else but chocolate.

A choco-holics delight!

Patrick Roger's 10-metre high chocolate Christmas tree (screenshot from YouTube video)

The difference this time around though is that it's not only an architectural masterpiece, it's also designed to be savoured as it'll be used in France's annual Téléthon on public television and radio next weekend which raises money for the muscular dystrophy charity, L’Association française contre les myopathies.

The creator of the tree is Patrick Roger who describes himself on his website as a "Chocolate artist, a sculptor of flavours" who treats chocolate like a raw material which he transforms into giant 80-kilogramme creations or wrapped sweets in metre-long boxes."

This time around though he has gone several tonnes better than his usual creations - four tonnes to be precise or around 800,000 bars of standard-sized chocolate as the national British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph helpfully puts it, for the 10-metre tree which took a month to build.

And unlike Georges Larnicol's boat which was made from "recycled decorative chocolate" past its sell-by date and consequently inedible, Roger's tree is definitely to be enjoyed...and devoured.

"In making the tree I also wanted it to serve a purpose," he said.

"People can make a donation - for example €50 - and they'll get an equivalent portion of chocolate," he explained.

"We'll gradually dismantle the tree according to the donations made and at the end of the 30 hours (of the Telethon) the goal is that nothing will be left over."

For those of you interested in getting their choppers around some of the delicious chocolate and contributing to a good cause to boot, you'll have to make your way along to Roger's factory in Sceaux in the southern suburbs of the French capital at some point during the Téléthon (from 6.00pm December 3 until midnight December 4).

Alternatively if you're looking for a mouthwatering Christmas present for your loved ones, you could always check out his website.

In the meantime here are a couple of videos the first from the Daily Telegraph reporting on the creation of the tree and the second, funkier version (in French) featuring a longer interview with Roger himself.

Patrick Roger crée un sapin de 10 mètres en chocolat pour le téléthon sur

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Frenchwoman survives three weeks stuck in the bathroom

Here's a perhaps daft question.

What would you do if you found yourself locked in a bathroom? Not just for a couple of minutes or even an hour, but for a few weeks?

You're probably thinking it couldn't happen. After all someone would be bound to notice that you had gone to spend a penny and ended up forking out several pounds, to keep the idiom going.

Joking aside though, that's exactly what occurred to a 69-year-old woman in an apartment block in the town of Épinay-sous-Sénart just south of the French capital.

She was reportedly trapped inside her bathroom for almost three weeks without food and survived only by drinking tap water.

Her ordeal began on November 1 when, according to the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien , the woman accidentally locked herself inside her bathroom.

She didn't have a mobile 'phone, there was no window and she was basically helpless.

The only way she could think of calling for help was to bang on the bathroom pipes during the night.

That brought no response - or at least not the one she had clearly hoped for.

And it wasn't until one of her neighbours contacted the police last week to say that he hadn't come across the "nice lady in the building" for some time that the emergency services were alerted, firefighters called in and the woman freed from her 20-days confinement.

She was alive, but as the the paper describes it, emaciated, shocked and needed to be hospitalised.

The most telling part of the tale maybe is what the woman's neighbours did - or perhaps didn't do - while she was trapped inside her bathroom.

Even though someone had come to read her meters and left a card on the mat outside her door, it took a week for anyone to think that there might be something wrong.

And then there's the reaction to her tapping on the bathroom pipes during the night.

The only response that brought was for a petition to be circulated complaining about the nocturnal noise; one for which they were suitably shame-faced when they discovered what had really happened.

"We put a note under her door saying how unbearable the constant banging during the night was," one neighbour told Europe 1 national radio.

"Now I'm definitely more than a little embarrassed," she continued.

"The woman could have died. I'll certainly pay more attention to my neighbours in the future."

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy becomes comic book heroine

France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, is the heroine of a new comic book.

Screenshot of Bluewater publisher's Female Force - Carla Bruni-Sarkozy

Published by Bluewater productions, the 40-page book is described as "an unauthorized political biography with a difference" and is part of the publisher's "Female Force" series aimed at "female empowerment".

It was perhaps only a matter of time before Bruni-Sarkozy, the missus of "Hollywood's senior representative in France" as the online news website p2pnet rather tongue-in-cheek describes her husband, Nicolas Sarkozy, trod another path in her rich and varied life.

The former model - sorry Supermodel - turned singer, some time actress and now first lady has long been considered one of the world’s most beautiful women – the kind who would make wearing a tea cosy not only fashionable but probably also sexy.

The daughter of a wealthy Italian industrialist and composer, Alberto Bruni Tedeschi, and the Italian concert pianist, Marisa Borini, Bruni-Sarkozy was born in Turin, moved to France with her family when she was just five and was “discovered” by the world of catwalks at 19.

Over the years she has acquired the reputation as something of a “man eater”, not an image she has been eager to play down, even apparently going as far as to say once that, “I am monogamous from time to time, but I prefer polygamy and polyandry.”

In her 20s she had a much publicised on-off affair with Rolling Stone, Mick Jagger – and in her time has also dated a long and eclectic list of A-listers including US billionaire Donald Trump, British rock star Eric Clapton, Hollywood actor Kevin Costner and even former French Socialist prime minister, Laurent Fabius.

And how’s this for a one-woman double act so to speak. Seven years ago, while living with the French journalist and critic, Jean-Paul Enthoven, she met and fell in love with his philosopher son, Raphael, with whom she had a child, Aurélien, in 2001.


No wonder the blurb for the new book describes her as being "driven by determination and by the music in her blood to become successful in many walks of life."

But a comic book? And one with only 40 pages?

"When girls read this they're going to see they can do anything, and be what they want to be," Bluewater's Darren Davis told Agence France Presse.

"It is unbiased, so we do talk about things in there... but the struggles that she had make her a stronger person."

Bruni-Sarkozy now joins the ranks of other women such as her counterpart from across the Pond Michelle Obama, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, former US vice presidential candidate Sarah Pain, Harry Potter author J K Rowling, Australian singer Olivia Newton John, and a host of others whose lives have been told in the pages of the Female Force comic book format.

Written by David McIntee and Heath Foley "Female Force, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy" is published by Bluewater productions and undoubtedly presents a role model any parent would wish for their daughter.

Sadly it has yet to find a publisher in France.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Pinup girls promote French cheese

Looking for an unusual Christmas present? Well the Association fromage de terroir might just have the answer.

It's a non-profit organisation set up in 2001 to support France's cheese makers and retailers and help them "educate the public and the industry in general".

And for the sixth year in a row it has produced a calendar giving cheese rather a different angle.

It is, as the Association describes on its website, both "cheeky and sexy" (there's no denying that) with the 12 pinup girls striking poses which apparently follow the course of French history throughout the centuries from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The intention, according to the Association is to "celebrate not only the role of women in the tradition of cheese-making but also to emphasise the importance of France's gastronomic heritage in which cheese has played an important part."

Of course in France wine and food are an integral to the country's history and culture and that was undoubtedly very much in the minds of Unesco experts last week when they decided to recognise French gastronomy as a world treasure.

And cheese is undeniably an essential part of that gastronomic heritage.

France is well known for the diversity and number of cheeses, and there are plenty of quotes to back up that up including most famously former president Charles de Gaulle's 1962 quote, "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?"

Proceeds from the sales of the 2011 calendar will help the Association (in its own words) "to continue the fight to maintain biodiversity, which guarantees the beauty of our land and the quality of our cheeses."

It puts forward a whole argument about independence, freedom of speech and the threat to France's small producers of high quality cheeses from multinationals flooding the domestic market with cheaper alternatives (you can read all about it on the website).

Screenshot from YouTube, "Making of the 2010 calendar"

But is the Association's claim that its calendar "promotes the art of the French life style" really anything more than jumping on the "sex sells" bandwaggon as a way of the ends justifying the means?

After all the link between Géraldine Gruyère, Estelle Livarot, Adeline Camembert and the nine other lasses is pretty flimsy (apart from the creative surnames) if not downright non-existent to say the least.

Still it isn't the first time, and certainly won't be the last, that an image of a pretty woman is used that has little or nothing to do with the product or service that is being promoted.

The calendar can be purchased from the modest price of €18.75 from the Association's website.

Monday, 22 November 2010

French farmer fined for feeding ducks cannabis

You might want to check your diaries because the following tale sure seems as though it's an April Fool.

But even though it's without doubt just a tad ridiculous and certainly offbeat, it is in fact true.

A court the southwestern town of Rochefort has fined a local farmer, Michel Rouyer, and given him a suspended sentence for feeding his ducks cannabis.

Yep, you read correctly. Rouyer, who keeps 150 of the birds and fattens them up in time for the seasonal rush in France on foie gras, had cultivated a dozen or so cannabis plants as well for purely "medical reasons" of course.

Mind you not his own.

According to Rouyer, who lives in the village of La Gripperie-Saint-Symphorien, he used the leaves of the plants to feed to his ducks in the final weeks before they were slaughtered because cannabis acted as an excellent dewormer.

It was a claim he made when he appeared before magistrates insisting that, "A specialist advised me to do it" and maintaining that the plants were grown exclusively for use by his ducks and he didn't trade in the drug at all.

And his lawyer, Jean Piot, in defending his client, told the court that, strange as the explanation might be, "None of the ducks had worms and were all in excellent health."

Perhaps not surprisingly that argument failed to cut much ice and Rouyer received a one-month suspended sentence and a €500 fine.

It seemed to cut little ice with the court though who handed down a €500 fine and delivered Rouyer a one-month suspended sentence.

It is, as the regional daily Sud Ouest remarks in reporting the story, certainly a most timely decision coming in the same week as Unesco recognised French gastronomy as a world treasure.

Quack - man!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Raymond Domenech's new job

He's back! The former manager of the national football team, Raymond Domenech, has returned to the Beautiful Game.

Ah how he has been missed since the Fédération française de football (French football federation, FFF) fired him in September for "gross misconduct".

Mind you his latest job is a world removed from the one he held for six years and no way as lucrative. Quite the opposite really as Domenech is lending his indubitable expertise on a voluntary basis to the L'Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt (ACBB) in the suburbs of Paris.

And what will the man who won nothing while coaching Les Bleus, managed just one title (Division 2 champions with Olympique lyonnais in 1989) during his eight years as a club manager and of course was such a shining example of leadership, humility and respectful behaviour (in refusing to shake the hand of South Africa's manager Carlos Alberto Parreira at the end of the France-South Africa match) at the fiasco that was France's World Cup campaign this Summer?

You might well ask.

The 58-year-old will be in charge of ACBB's under-11s.

"It's part of a long-term commitment he has made," Jacques Migaud, the president of ACBB's football section said.

"He'll be training the kids every Wednesday in an advisory role," he continued.

"And he's agreed to do it to get back to basics and simple enjoy being with children. It's entirely voluntary."


With the tidy sum of around €5,600 in unemployment benefit rolling in every month and a claim of €2.9 million in compensation from the FFF currently being reviewed by an industrial tribunal, Domenech can more than afford his mastery of football with others - for free.

His first match in charge of ACBB's under-11s will be on Saturday against neighbouring Suresnes.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Eva Longoria and Tony Parker to divorce

It looks as though the end is in sight for the marriage of Desperate Housewives' star Eva Longoria and the French basketball player Tony Parker.

After several weeks of speculation, the celebrity news website, revealed that the couple are to split.

Yes the collapse of surely the most romantic story in recent Franco-American relations is now official.

Happier days - 07/07/07 (snapshot from YouTube video)

Longoria has filed for divorce citing "irreconcilable differences" as the grounds for the break-up.

As appears to be so often the case nowadays, TMZ also has "proof" in the shape of a copy of the papers which the 35-year-old filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court.

In fact, so all-intrusive is the reporting about the end of the relationship that visitors to TMZ's site can even "drag" a copy of those papers to post on Facebook and Twitter, should the urge suddenly come upon them.

Ah the wonders of the Net and Social Networks.

And Longoria, in her obvious "devastation" as People magazine quotes a "pal" of the actress Mario Lopez as saying after she had found text messages from another woman on Parker's 'phone, is clearly playing the celebrity game in full.

In a manner which seems clearly to be par for the course for someone living their private life in the public eye, Longoria has used both Facebook and Twitter to announce that, "It is with great sadness that after 7 years together, Tony and I have decided to divorce. We love each other deeply and pray for each other’s happiness."

Ah seven years - nothing to do with that "itch" of course when people apparently "tend to re-evaluate their relationship".

And it's surely pure coincidence that the same number figured so prominently in their choice of date to tie the knot in the first place.

Remember they were married in a fairy tale wedding at the Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois church in Paris on July 7, 2007 (07/07/07) and followed that up with a star-studded reception at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte just outside of the French capital.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Angry Ryanair passengers stage a sit-in

Ryanair Boeing 737-800 (Wikipedia, photographer Adrian Pingstone)

Lowcost airline Ryanair might well be the cheapest way for many Europeans to fly from point A to point B, but it surely needs a lesson or two on how to treat its passengers.

During the night of Tuesday to Wednesday more than 100 of them refused to leave one of its 'planes after it arrived in the Belgian city of Liège after being diverted from its original destination Beauvais in northern France - 342 kilometres away.

Beauvais of course is the town Ryanair refers to as "Paris" on its list of destinations, even though it is in fact almost 80 kilometres from the French capital.

Most of those on board were reportedly French, returning from holidays in Morocco, and their night of misery began when the flight left - three hours late - from the Moroccan city of Fez.

Unable to land in Beauvais because it was too late and the airport was closed, the 'plane was diverted to Liège, not a destination to which the airline normally flies, and landed late in the evening at 11.30pm.

But the passengers hadn't been alerted ahead of time according to one of them, Mylene Netange.

"The plane didn't land in Beauvais but in Liege without warning us," she told Agence France Presse.

"Consequently, we refused to leave the plane."

The passengers reportedly refused to be budged for four hours, demanding that an alternative means of getting home be provided.

Remember they were over 300 kilometres away from where they should have been.

But their protests seem to have fallen on deaf ears as far as Ryanair was concerned.

Instead they were left sitting in the dark after the pilot and cabin crew had disembarked and it was airport officials who took over the task of trying to negotiate with them and arrange alternative transportation.

Great PR for Ryanair who, as the French daily Libération points out, only a few days ago announced a net half-year of €424 million.

There must be a moral somewhere in this tale.

Unesco recognises French gastronomy as a world treasure

French cuisine really IS the best in the world.

Mousseline de patates douces à l'orange , coquilles Saint Jacques poêlées

If anyone really needed confirmation of that, they need look no further than the decision on Tuesday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to add it to a list "aiming to protect intangible slices of a nation's heritage."

That's the somewhat formal and convoluted way of saying it has been given the official seal of approval and it's the first time a country's gastronomy has been included.

All right so "intangible heritage" might seem a slightly highfaluting term at first glance, but as Cécile Duvelle, Secretary of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (there's a mouthful-and-a-half of an official title) says on the organisations website, it's intended to protect and recognise traditions that are threatened by increasing globalisation (see video).

The perhaps extraordinary idea of applying to Unesco first took shape in 2006 when a group of leading French chefs, with not of course the merest hint of gastronomic prejudice, launched a campaign trumpeting that (French) "cuisine was their culture".

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, took up the cudgels so to speak when he gave his backing to the official application when it was slapped in last year.

And when experts met in the Kenyan capital Nairobi this week, it was thumbs up for French grub and the whole ritual of presenting, serving and eating it deciding (among other things) that it "plays an active social role within its community and is transmitted from generation to generation as part of its identity."

In short it tastes good and the French like to eat!

Catherine Colonna, France's ambassador to Unesco, was naturally delighted by the decision and said, perhaps a little unnecessarily, how much her fellow countrymen and women enjoyed a meal.

"The French love getting together to eat and drink well and enjoy good times in such a manner," she's quoted as saying.

"It's part of our tradition -- a quite active tradition," she added.

She's not kidding.

As anyone who has ever had the pleasure of being invited to a family meal in France and experienced the delight of tucking into deliciously and lovingly prepared dishes, food still plays an important part in everyday life.

The traditional weekend spread stretching on for hours might be something of a tired cliché, but it does exist, and there is of course a wealth of mouth watering regional gastronomic specialities.

And let's not forget the fascination or almost social obsession the French seem to have with food and chattering about other dishes virtually to the exclusion of the one they're currently "enjoying" as mealtime conversation revolves around - what else, but food.

Bon appétit.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Sarkozy's government reshuffle and the Neuilly-sur-Seine "quintuplets"

Much has been made over the past couple of days of the government reshuffle here in France.

For some perhaps it was a case of "out with the old and in with the older" as familiar faces such as Alain Juppé and Xavier Bertrand made a return to the political front line and a whole heap of potential electoral threats in the 2012 presidential race were summarily dispatched to pastures new.

But while the instinct is perhaps to get bogged down in the minutiae of what it all means - or doesn't - politically speaking, there are of course some slightly more irreverent angles on the current line-up of ministers.

There's the fact that Michèle Alliot-Marie, a stalwart of the ruling centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) now takes over at the foreign ministry; her fourth consecutive top notch job (following defence, interior and justice) since she re-entered the government back in 2002.

And there's the appointment of her partner Patrick Ollier as the minister responsible for parliamentary relations, making the pair perhaps the most politically powerful couple in France, and the subject of a smile or two maybe as they attend their first cabinet meeting together on Wednesday.

If that were not enough, there's also the "bizarre" (as the French website Le Post puts it) coincidence that no fewer than five of the now 31-strong government (cabinet and junior ministers combined) were born in the same place.


Neuilly-sur-Seine, the swanky, wealthy suburb to the west of the French capital, and very much the former stomping ground of the French president himself.

Rue Berteaux-Dumas, Neuilly-sur-Seine, (from Wikipedia, author - Metropolitan)

Sarkozy was mayor of the town from 1983 to 2002.

He spent much of his childhood in Neuilly and his mother, Andrée, still lives there.

Sarkozy's second son, Jean, is currently a regional councillor representing the town in which he, of course, was born.

As France 2 television points out, the French sociologist Michel Pinçon doesn't find it so surprising that Sarkozy has turned to those whose roots are in a town which "embodies social excellence" even if it is a place which in no way reflects the rest of the country.

"It's the town which has the highest number of people paying wealth tax in France," he writes in the book he co-authored with his wife, Monique, "Le président des riches".

"Even being born in Neuilly and not necessarily living there is of social significance."

All right, so it might be stretching a point somewhat to imply that Neuilly has somehow become Sarkozy's preferred recruiting territory.

But perhaps it's something to mull over during Tuesday evening's hour-plus television broadcast (on three channels) when Sarkozy will doubtless deny the suggestion (should he be asked) that his reshuffle is nothing more than strengthening his position within the UMP to run for re-election in 2012.

Just for the record the Neuilly "quintuplets", as Le Post calls them, are Brice Hortefeux, Frédéric Lefebvre, Bruno Le Maire, Valérie Pécresse and Georges Tron.

Monday, 15 November 2010

French département provides sixth graders with iPads

If you've been lusting after an iPad since its launch in April this year, then you might wish you were back at school.

Well at least if you live in the French département of Corrèze.

That's because its conseil général (or general council) has taken the decision to provide the département's 2,500 sixth grade schoolchildren (11 to 12-year-olds) and their 800 teachers with the very latest Apple technology - the iPad.

Snapshot from Apple iPad video

Now if you're having trouble locating the Corrèze, don't worry. It's described as being in "south central France" and it's one of the smaller départements, in terms of population.

The largest, and best-known city is Brive-la-Gaillarde, although the capital (if you will) is the smaller town of Tulle.

For the Brits amongst you, Corrèze is bordered to the southwest by the département of Dordogne.

Anyway, back to those 3,300 iPads. They'll be equipped with educational software and, said the spokesman for the council, Jacques Spindler, the total cost of the operation which will take until the end of December, will be €1.5 million.

"According to Apple, it's a first both in France and Europe," he told Agence France Presse.

Corrèze is no stranger to investing in technology for its schoolchildren.

In 2008 it issued fifth graders (12 to 13-year-olds) and their teachers with laptops with the aim that at the end of three-years they would become the owners.

"At the end of this academic year we'll assess whether to this experiment (with the iPad) has been successful and whether it'll be extended," said Spindler.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Raymond Domenech's monthly €5,600 unemployment benefit cheque

Time for another chapter in the financial life of the former coach of the national football team, Raymond Domenech.

And it comes from the regional daily newspaper, Sud Ouest, which says it has got its hands on documents outlining how much unemployment benefit he'll be getting every month.

Raymond Domenech (snapshot from commercial)

Domenech was fired by the Fédération Française de Football (French Football Federation, FFF) from his job in September for "gross misconduct" and a month later was spotted in Paris filing his application for unemployment benefit.

According to Sud Ouest, Domenech has already received the rather modest €1,736...and 32 centimes for his first nine days jobless.

But he'll actually be entitled to much more on a monthly basis once unemployment benefit kicks in properly - between €5,600 and €5,900.

That's the full amount to which he's eligible apparently, based on the contributions he made while employed and his previous salary.

And the 58-year-old could spend the next three years happily collecting his entitlement while he looks for another "senior technical sporting position".

There again, he's also waiting for the outcome of a €2.9 million compensation claim from the FFF, which his lawyer filed with an industrial tribunal last week.

And if your head is still spinning with figures, then there's more as even though he's officially unemployed and looking for work, Domenech has obviously been busy.

It can surely be no coincidence that the day on which the amount of unemployment benefit he receives is revealed by a paper is the very same day a publicity campaign featuring Domenech is released.

It's for the online poker site, Bwin - Domenech is an amateur fan of the game.

Raymond Domenech (snapshot from commercial)

Mind you how much or whether he was paid for in the commercial is being kept under wraps.

When questioned, the president of Bwin France, Carlo Constanzia, wouldn't go into details saying simply, "He (Domenech) will be invited to one of our tournaments next year."

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

France's World Cup footballers want their bonus...for a good cause

If you thought you had heard the last of the debacle that accompanied France's participation at the last World Cup in South Africa, take a deep breath and prepare yourself for the latest twist.

The players who took part in the shambles now appear to want the bonuses they had previously said they would waive.

Or more accurately, they're refusing to put pen to paper and sign the document giving up their claim to a share of sponsorship money to which they're entitled.

On Tuesday the sports daily L'Equipe revealed that the players seemed to be going back on a promise made by the former captain Patrice Evra just after the team ignominiously crashed out of the competition that, "They would be waiving all bonuses" and "wouldn't accept a centime of sponsorship money."

But that was four months ago, as the paper pointed out.

And although the Fédération Française de Football (French Football Federation, FFF) wouldn't be offering compensation, to which the players were ineligible after their first-round exit, there was still the matter of €2 million linked to sponsorship deals.

That's a figure, says the national daily Le Parisien, based on the number of international matches played in one season, and has nothing to do with the World Cup per se.

Just about now you might be thinking that those hard done by millionaires imagine they have a right to the dosh no matter how disgraceful their behaviour was on an off the pitch in South Africa.

Or perhaps you're wondering whether last week's decision by their coach during the fiasco, Raymond Domenech, to claim €2.9 million in compensation from the FFF played a part in appearing to renege on their earlier promise.

Alou Diarra, speaking during a press conference at the 2010 World Cup (snaphot from YouTube video)

But wait. There's apparently another perspective on the news, if the current captain Alou Diarra is to be believed.

He admitted later in the day during an interview with RMC radio that the players wanted to get their mitts on the dosh, in a manner of speaking because, "Contractually the FFF was obliged to hand it over. and we want to know what's going to happen to it."

But it's not for the indecent or insolent reasons implied in L'Equipe's report.

"It's a time of year when a lot of people find it hard to make ends meet," he said.

"We would like to see the money go to good causes, charities that really need it," he continued.

"It's not an action by the FFF or anyone else, but a decision taken at the initiative of the players."

Hoax drug scare hits French schools

Local authority offices in the southwestern French département of Haute Garonne have reportedly been inundated in recent weeks with 'phones calls, letters and emails from concerned parents.

They were all acting on information that had dropped into their inboxes or they had read on the Net that the drug, "Strawberry quick" or "Strawberry meth", a flavoured crystal meth, was circulating in the area's schools.

"Strawberry quick" (snapshot from YouTube video)

Appearing to have been sent by the local authority and stamped with the official logo of the French interior ministry, the email warned that a "new drug" was being passed around and used in schools in the area.

"Children eat the drugs thinking they're sweets," read the email.

"And shortly afterwards they're admitted to hospital suffering from a number of side effects" it warned, stating that the local health authority had put in place a special unit to deal with the problem.

But according to the local authority, the alarm was nothing but a hoax and there was no need to be concerned.

In a statement it urged parents against passing the information on to others and an official, Loïc Armand, said that, "No special child protection unit had been set up as suggested in the email."

France is not alone in having had a hoax scare surrounding Strawberry quick.

It made its first "appearance" in 2007 when an identical rumour made the headlines in the United States after emails began to circulate suggesting that unsuspecting children were being given the drug.

And in March 2008 police in the British county of Oxfordshire sent out a warning to at least 80 schools after acting on a similar email hoax.

Monday, 8 November 2010

French bank reveals Santa doesn't exist!

The French bank Crédit Mutuel is in hot water with parents after a commercial it aired revealed that Father Christmas doesn't exist.

The spot only lasts 20 seconds, but it has been the subject of controversy for the best part of a week.

It features a father offering up his adult son some "sound" financial advice, insisting that banks touch a commission whenever they carry out transactions on behalf of their clients.

"I have some bad news for you," the father says to his son right at the beginning of the commercial.

"Father Christmas doesn't really exist."

Crédit Mutuel; "Father Christmas doesn't really exist" (snapshot from commercial)

All right, all right. So nothing too controversial in that. After all he doesn't really exist that is in any tangible sense (apologies to those of you who've just had a myth destroyed).

He is of course a figure used by parents to...well an explanation isn't really necessary, surely.

The problem, apparently as far as many parents in France are concerned, comes not with the commercial or its message so much as with its placement; as it was broadcast immediately before the animated Walt Disney film "Ratatouille" aired on TF1 a week last Sunday.

It is of course a movie aimed primarily at children, and plenty of them were reportedly in front of the box eagerly awaiting the start when their illusions were shattered.

And even though some might think parents were overreacting, a psychologist insisted that finding out in such a way that Santa doesn't really exist could have a detrimental effect on young children.

"Being told so suddenly that Father Christmas is imaginary could be viewed (by children) as a punishment or a lie," children's psychologist Sonia Ouali told the French website Rue89.

"Denying this imaginary figure (in such a manner) is like taking away part of childhood."

Crédit Mutuel's initial reaction was to try to play down the growing storm of protest.

"It would be a mistake to withdraw the commercial," its communications director, Bernard Sadoun, told Rue89.

"The whole controversy has been taken totally out of context."

But in an effort to diffuse mounting criticism, including a Facebook group protesting the commercial, it subsequently contributed to the debate by posting its own message in threads in which it promised it would "only air the spot after 8;30pm to reduce its impact on young children."

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Raymond Domenech's 2.9 million euros counter attack

In spite of what you might think of the man's managerial skills, you have to admire Raymond Domenech's audacity - or do you?

The former coach of the national football team, Les Bleus, is claiming €2.9 million in compensation from the French Football Federation (FFF).

Domenech was fired for "gross misconduct" after France's disastrous (putting it mildy) World Cup campaign in South Africa this year.

As far as the FFF was concerned, the grounds for his dismissal in September were three-fold.

Domenech's failure to mention the insults striker Nicolas Anelka made to him during that infamous half time incident in the game between France and Mexico, his reading out of a letter when the players refused to train and "went on strike", and his refusal to shake the hand of South Africa's coach Carlos Alberto Parreira at the end of the final group match.

And it's that term "gross misconduct" which Domenech is contesting because it meant that the FFF was able to terminate his contract without severance pay.

"We're seeking compensation for the salary to which he would have been entitled during his notice period," Domenech's lawyer, Jean-Yves Connesson, told RTL national radio on Wednesday.

"As well as that, there's severance pay due and damages for the personal harm, all of which amounts to €2.9 million," he continued.

"His dismissal on grounds of 'gross misconduct' (and therefore without compensation) made one man the scapegoat in a collective sinking and although the split was as amicable as possible it was one based on political and legal grounds."

Responding to the news the acting president of the FFF Fernand Duchaussoy issued a statement saying the amount sought by Domenech was "outrageous and provocative".

The claim will first go to the Prud'hommes (industrial tribunal) for conciliation, but if no agreement is reached, Domenech could pursue his case through the courts.

Domenech may well be within his rights - legally speaking - but the 58-year-old is unlikely to make many friends within the footballing world or the general public.

Nothing new there!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

"Miracle" of Parisian toddler surviving seven-storey fall - where were the parents?

You might remember the tale of the 18-month-old "miracle baby" who fell from the seventh floor of a building in Paris on Monday afternoon, but survived the fall unharmed after he landed in the arms of a passerby.

It was a story that made the national headlines of television, press and radio.

Tabac le Vincennes - awning which broke the toddler's fall (screenshot BFM television)

The accumulation of events made it even more of a miracle than it at first appeared; the boy's fall being broken by the awning of a café closed for All Saints Day holiday, the fact that the awning should have been folded, but the device for closing it hadn't been working the day before, and of course the passerby, Philippe Bensignor, who happened to be on hand to catch the boy in his arms.

Dr. Philippe Bensignor who caught the 18-month-old toddler (screenshot France 2 television)

But but one vital question remains unanswered. Where were the child's parents?

The toddler had been playing with his three-year-old sister before the incident, but apparently they had been left alone in the apartment for at least a couple of hours.

"When we managed to get into the apartment we looked around to see whether the children's mother was home," Samia Benmoussa, a neighbour in the same building told Europe 1 national radio.

"There was nobody else apart from the little girl crying."

The parents had reportedly been out 'taking a walk" and only returned a couple of hours after the afternoon's drama.

Police took the couple in for questioning and they remained in custody until Wednesday morning before being released to appear before a court in two months to face charges of "neglect and unintentional injury".

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

"Miracle" baby survives seven storey fall in Paris

If you need one of those uplifting "miraculous" type of tales to brighten up your November day as you go about your business, then this is surely one to do it.

On Monday an 18-month-old boy fell from the seventh floor of a building in Paris.

But the toddler survived unharmed after the fall was broken by a restaurant awning before landing in the arms of a passerby.

It was an extraordinary turn of events that took just a matter of seconds to play out and was more than a double dose of luck for the toddler who had, according to reports, been left alone just for a few moments with a young sister playing on the apartment's small balcony.

But a few moments was all it took for events to unfold.

At one point, according to witnesses, the boy got a little too close to the edge and slipped, before falling.

It was at that precise moment that the "saviour" happened to be around, although he was more than humble in his explanation of what occurred, telling reporters that it had been his son who had alerted him to the danger.

"My son told me he could see a young child playing on the balustrade just outside of the apartment," Philippe Bensignor told reporters.

"And just as he said that, the child fell and bounced off the awning (of the café underneath) and I was able to catch it without any problem."

"It was like catching a rugby ball," he continued.

"It really was pure chance."

And the hero's profession? A doctor, who just happened to be in the area walking with his wife and son.

Emergency services arrive (screenshot from "Le Parisien" video)

After checking that the child was unscathed he handed him over to the emergency services who had arrived on the scene and it was taken to a nearby hospital for a full check-up.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Flight quarantined for two hours following false alarm

Passengers aboard a flight from the Portuguese capital Lisbon to the southwestern French city of Toulouse found themselves in quarantine when they arrived at their destination - the reason, a suspected case of cholera aboard the 'plane.

But in reality it turned out to be a false alarm caused by a misunderstanding between one of the passengers and a member of the cabin crew, and a system of "coping" with a potential crisis that took on a dynamic of its own.

A Portugalia Embraer 145 (image from Wikipedia, author - Bthebest)

It all began half an hour after take off when a passenger aboard the scheduled flight, operated by Portugal's national airline TAP, felt unwell and made his way to the loo.

Concerned for his state of health, a member of the cabin crew attempted to find out what wrong.

And that was when the problems really started.

The stewardess, who reportedly didn't speak a word of French, misunderstood what the passenger - himself a doctor - had said.

Somehow she confused his explanation of "having a simple stomach ache" as being a "suspected case of cholera" and she took the appropriate action by informing the captain.

It was, of course, a false alarm, but one which quickly took on a life of its own.

The passenger was confined to the back of the 'plane, the cabin crew donned the obligatory masks, no food was served for the duration of the flight and the authorities in Toulouse were alerted.

In the meantime another doctor aboard confirmed the passenger's self-diagnosis, but that could not prevent the 'plane being greeted on landing by the emergency services and a two-hour quarantine being place while investigations were conducted.

It was, as Françoise Souliman, the secretary general of the préfecture of the département of Haute Garonne, explained afterwards, a false alarm based on a simple misunderstanding, but one which had required appropriate action.

But that perhaps was little consolation for the passengers who were reportedly offered no explanation throughout the flight and must have been more than a little concerned when, on arrival, they saw the emergency services board the 'plane.
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