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Friday, 31 December 2010

Disabled man denied entry to Singles club New Year's Eve dance

Ah 'Tis the season of Goodwill - except it seems in the eastern French city of Dijon, where the apparent decision by a Singles club not to allow a handicapped man to join in the New Year festivities has upset both the man and his mother and put a definite dampener on their end-of-year fun.

Sébastien Mertel is 30 years old. Although he is physically disabled and his face is partially paralysed, he can get about quite easily, isn't confined to a wheelchair and is fairly independent.

Sébastien Mertel (screenshot From France 3 television report)

His only problem, according to his mother Danièle, is that he doesn't find it easy meeting new people.

"So we decided that we would both spend the New Year at the Singles club dance," the divorced mother of three told the regional daily Le Bien public.

"It would be a good way we thought of spending a pleasant evening."

She contacted Sylvie Frelet, the director of the Association Effervescence - the club organising the evening's event - to try to register and that's where the problems began and the version of what happened differs.

Sylvie Frelet "I never said he couldn't come to the dance" (screenshot from France 3 television report)

According to Sébastien's mother she was told her son wouldn't be welcome because his presence would make other participants feel uncomfortable; something Frelet hotly denies ever having said.

"I never said he couldn't come to the dance," she insisted in an interview with France 3 television, saying that she had advised his mother that it perhaps wouldn't be the best way for Sébastien to meet new people.

"I suggested that he might like to participate in some of our other events such as those where we have workshops and are in much smaller groups," she said.

"That way it would be easier for him talk to people and to express himself rather than at a dance where it's more of a festive occasion."

Aha so Frelet is indeed a kind soul and her decision had been in the interests of all concerned and not in the slightest bit discriminatory.

Except according to Sébastien's mother, he had already been refused membership of the club a couple of months ago when he made inquiries to join the very same "smaller groups and workshops" that Frelet was now recommending.

The reason given at the time? "Because his disability could inconvenience other members of the group," said his mother.

She and Sébastien have decided to lodge a complaint with La Haute Autorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l'égalité (The French Equal Opportunities and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Halde).

Happy New Year Madame Frelet!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Court allows couple to wed in spite of parents "Napoleonic law" bid to stop marriage

Here's a warning wealth word reading if you're a foreigner wanting to marry a French national.

Make sure you have the approval of your future in-laws because if they're not happy with the upcoming nuptials they might seek recourse in an archaic law preventing the marriage from going ahead.

"Not possible," you might be thinking, especially if both the prospective bride and groom are beyond the age of consent.


Image from Wikipedia, author - Musaromana

It can, and indeed did happen in November when the parents of the groom-to-be, Stéphane Sage, stepped in to prevent him from tying the knot with his future intended Man Sin Ma (known as Mandy) from Hong Kong.

The couple are both in their mid-20s but Page's parents objected to his choice of bride and resorted to a law dating from 1803 to stop the marriage from going ahead.

They succeeded and the ceremony was postponed while the couple went to court to have the legal objection overruled.

The problems for the couple came to a head in November just hours before they were due to be married in the town of Meylan in the southeastern French département of Isère.

The banns required by law had been removed from the town hall as Sage's parents, disapproving of the marriage as they reportedly thought Mandy was "only interested in gaining French nationality to be able to stay in the country" had successfully sought to have them withdrawn just as was their right under article 173 of the civil code.

It states that "The father and the mother, or by default the grandparents, may oppose the marriage of their children or descendants even if they've reached the age of majority."

Archaic and anachronistic perhaps, belonging as it does to Napoleonic times, but the parents were fully within their legal rights as it has never been repealed.

This week though the couple succeeded in having the decision overturned and a court ruled that they were free to marry as "There was no objective reason to justify the (parents') decision."

Sage's mother and father now have one month in which to appeal the ruling and, if what the 25-year-old told Agence France Presse is true, then both he and his fiancée are surely on tenterhooks waiting for their next move.

"At first they said Mandy only wanted to marry me to get papers," he told AFP.

"Now they're accusing her of being a spy for the Chinese government."

That's what happens when your prospective "in-laws from Hell" come from a country which has far too many laws on its books.

You have been warned.

Seasonal cock-ups from French TV news

It's the time of year when TV executives seem to have been more than a little unimaginative about how to fill programming schedules.

At least here in France it seems to be turkey-stuffed to bursting point with shows featuring the very best and worst of the year's bloopers, "humorous" outtakes, video gags et cetera - you get the picture surely.

All terribly original of course, and cheap to put together.

Sometimes though live telly provides its own unintentional moments of mirth and merriment - even the more serious side of news reporting.

And such has been the case recently with both of the country's major national channels treating viewers to a split second "did that I really see that?" double take during their prime time news broadcasts.

Oh yes a word on those perhaps as both privately-owned TF1 and public-run France 2 broadcast their two daily news programmes at the same times every day; one o'clock in the afternoon and eight o'clock in the evening.

It's practical really as the running order often differs and if you've only caught the tail end of one particular report, you can simply flick the remote to catch it hopefully on the other channel.

Then there's the editorial line of course. TF1 for example, is often accused of being more pro-government (or perhaps that should read more sympathetic to the president Nicolas Sarkozy) as its major shareholder is the French industrial group Bouygues, whose chairman of the board and CEO is Martin Bouygues.

He's a long-time friend of the French president, was a witness at his second marriage (to Cécilia) and is Godfather to Sarkozy's youngest son Louis. Draw your own conclusions

France 2 is supposedly more objective, but Sarkozy changed the law to allow himself to choose the CEO of the media group to which France 2 belongs, France Télévisions, and in August this year appointed Rémy Pflimlin to take over the job from Patrick de Carolis.

He (Sarkozy) obviously had his reasons.

Anyway back to those bloopers.

First up was TF1, running one of many reports on queues and delays at airports after snow brought yet another dollop of pre-Christmas blues to many.

During one presumable hastily cut segment for the December 18 weekend edition a couple were interviewed as they waited along with their children for their niece to arrive from the southwestern city of Bordeaux.

As the husband explained that her 'plane was due to land one-and-a-half hours late, a woman in the background can clearly be seen effortlessly pulling her red suitcase behind her.

The woman with the red suitcase (screenshot from TF1 news)

Except she's walking backwards!


Not to be outdone it seems, France 2 decided to do a bit of its own travelling - in terms of time - at the beginning of its broadcast on Tuesday evening (December 28) this week.

It opened with the graphics telling viewers that what they were watching was not the daily edition of the programme but the weekend one.

Gremlins in the works of course.

Or maybe someone had imbibed a little too much holiday spirit.

Happy New Year - and thanks French TV news.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier - a year in captivity

It's a year since French journalists Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier were kidnapped in Afghanistan and events are being organised throughout France to mark the anniversary.

Screenshot from YouTube video paying hommage to the two journalists and their colleagues

On Tuesday the families of the two men were invited to the Élysée palace to watch a video sent by the captors to the French authorities and reportedly filmed in November.

It apparently showed the two men alive and "calm but emaciated".

Ghesquière and Taponier, staff journalists for the French public television station France 3, were taken captive, along with three Afghan colleagues - Mohammed Reza, Ghulam and Satar - as they were travelling in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province around 120 kilometres northeast of the capital Kabul.

While the French government has at various times issued statements insisting that negotiations for the release of the two men are progressing, they remain captive and their families have spoken to the media for the first time about their frustrations.

"When the foreign minister) Michele Alliot-Marie speaks of a 'short time', we say to ourselves it's imminent," Taponier's father Gérard told Agence France Presse,

"And then Christmas is already gone... We are still hoping for good news, but it gets you down."

It was a sentiment echoed by Taponier's brother, Thierry, who told Europe 1 radio that they had constantly been promised that things were moving but little seemed to happen.

"We're in a kind of limbo," he said.

"In spite of what government ministers and politicians have said, we have absolutely no idea what's happening there (in Afghanistan) and why things aren't advancing."

Thierry Taponier : "on est dans le flou"
envoyé par Europe1fr. - L'actualité du moment en vidéo.

To mark the anniversary of the two men being taken hostage, a rally will be held outside the Hôtel de Ville (Town hall) in Paris with a portrait of Ghesquière and Taponier being hung from the facade of the building and a candlelight vigil later in the day.

Similar rallies will take place in towns and cities across the country and in Montpellier, the home city of Taponier, a charity concert is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Over the past year the campaign to secure their release has been supported by colleagues, with a constant reminder of their captivity at the end of news bulletins, sports stars who appeared in a video clip appealing for their release, and some of the top names from the French music industry who participated in a free concert in Paris at the end of October.

There's a Comité de soutien (support committee) with a website keeping daily track of activities and reminding us all as to how long the two men have been held.

And you can sign an online petition (it's in French) should you wish to show your support.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

SNCF 4295 - a French train journey (almost) "without end"

Snow and freezing temperatures throughout much of Europe have been taking their toll on those trying to travel and especially those choosing to take to the skies.

Cancelled flights, long delays, unscheduled overnight stays at airport concourses and the inevitable tales of luggage gone astray have been the stuff of headlines.

Rail travel has also been disrupted but, with some exceptions such as Eurostar, not quite to the same extent.

Until this past weekend that is, when passengers on the 4295 night train from Strasbourg to Portbou and Nice took a trip they're unlikely to forget in a hurry.

SNCF 4295 night train (screenshot TF1 news)

It was, as the national radio station RTL called it, a "journey without end". And even if that was perhaps a little bit of journalistic hyperbole at its best, it certainly must have seemed that way to those on board.

The train was supposed to leave the eastern French city of Strasbourg on Sunday for its 12-hour trip to Portbou, a town on (the Spanish side of) the French-Spanish border, and the city of Nice on the Côte d'Azur (obviously it was scheduled to split at some point).

Instead the 600 passengers arrived at their destinations with a slight delay of just 12 hours following what French national railways SNCF admitted had been "a succession of exceptional incidents".

In other words a series "cock-ups" with the weather playing a handsomely helping hand.

From the start the outlook wasn't particularly propitious as the train was late in setting off, but quickly what was to become something of a leitmotif for the whole trip clicked into motion (or rather lack thereof) as after just 150 kilometres the train stopped in Belfort to change drivers as the one who had been been aboard the train as it left Strasbourg had been working for three consecutive days (poor thing) and security regulations stipulated that he had to be replaced.

Except his stand-in was in Lyon - 342 kilometres away - and he only arrived at six o'clock in the morning.

When the 4295 eventually continued its journey, it wasn't long before it stopped for a second time as a regional train had broken down ahead of it just a few kilometres along the line at Montbéliard.

Another two hours were added to the trip in Tournus in Burgundy where the train was forced to come to a halt because of a problem with its own engine.

"We've done 300 kilometres in 17 hours," Ralph Lydi, one of those on board, told journalists by 'phone (the whole journey was followed by reporters from the comfort of the studio and of course covered in real time on Twitter).

"Some food was handed out but the drinks machines are no longer working and we have the impression that SNCF is just making fun of us," he added, saying that there had been little or no information provided as to what was happening.

Of course all good things - and bad - must come to an end, and the train eventually chugged in to Lyon at five o'clock on Monday evening, where those bound for Nice switched trains while those going south-west remained aboard.

SNCF apologised for what has been called the "hell on wheels journey" (BBC hyperbole this time) and (hurrah) as Didier Cazelles, a director of the company told TF1 news, offered all passengers a full refund and a free return ticket, which is probably exactly what they want!

While SNCF has put the whole sorry tale down to a combination of technical problems and weather conditions, the unions have a rather different interpretation of what happened.

"What the passengers have gone through is symptomatic of the cutbacks that SNCF has been making both in terms of rolling stock and personnel," Julien Trocaz of the Sud-Rail union told RTL radio, seeming to imply that the weather had not played any sort of role.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Cockers rescued from the "kennel of shame"

Sadly the following is not a fluffy kitten tale or a cute puppy one. Nor is it one likely to go viral on the Net. Instead it's an all too common occurrence especially in the weird and not-so-wonderful world that is dog breeding.

Just one of the 152 cockers (screenshot from video of the rescue)

They call it "the kennel of shame" in their report detailing what animal inspectors discovered when they arrived at the home of a dog breeder in the village of Peyrat-le-Château in the west-central département of Haute-Vienne shortly before Christmas.

And surely the charity Fondation 30 millions d'amis used exactly the right term in describing the deplorable conditions in which they found 152 English cockers spaniels living.

Cockers living in a car (screenshot from video of the rescue)

Rather than the active, good-natured and merry bundles of fun that characterise the breed, inspectors encountered undernourished and often sick dogs locked in cars and caravans or crammed into a 12 square metre chalet.

Many of the dogs were starving and had no access to fresh water.

"One bitch had a severed leg" reported the Fondation. "Some of the dogs even had their eyes gouged out".

After the rescue the dogs were taken to nearby animal shelters where, according to one volunteer Martine Attali, it could take many of them at least a month to be brought back to a condition in which they can be found new homes.

"They are weak and dehydrated and require emergency care," she said.

Although undoubtedly a "success" for the Fondation in its efforts to campaign against "all forms of animal suffering", the rescue of the cockers will hardly leave it rejoicing as a brief look at its site reveals that, even though the numbers of dogs involved was perhaps unusually high, this is far from being an isolated case.

And the maximum penalty it can expect as a result of the breeder being prosecuted?

"A fine of €30,000 and two years imprisonment (under article 521-1 of the penal code)," reports the Fondation.

"And maybe a lifelong ban from keeping animals."

A pitiful story made all the more unpalatable by the comparatively paltry maximum sentence that can be handed down in such a case.

The Fondation is a charity created in 1995 and is a spin-off from a hugely successful television programme of the same name.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Yet another Miss France

Ah the wonderful world of beauty pageants.

Just when you think everything has been said that could be on the subject, along comes another twist to the tale.

Perhaps you remember that France currently has two elected national beauty Misses; the official one known as Miss France (how original) Laury Thilleman and her rival Miss Nationale Barbara Morel.

For a detailed explanation as to how that came about you can click here.

But for the Twitterers among you who prefer bite-sized chunks;

"Organiser of Miss France contest since way back when gets uppity with company who bought rights for official competition and does her own thing."

How many characters is that?

Never mind.

Back to the breaking - er perhaps broken - news of the past couple of days.

There's yet another Miss France - the third in less than a month.

Screenshot of interview with Mathilde Florin, November 2010 - Dailymotion video

She's 21-year-old Mathilde Florin from the north of France and was a runner-up in the Miss Flandres 2009 competition, when the world of beauty pageants and tiaras seemed a much simpler affair here in France.

Florin was another elected in Paris on December 19 by le Comité Miss France historique, a committee established in 1954 and the sole body, it claims, with the right to choose a Miss who can be called Miss France.

While Florin will not be joining Thilleman in the Miss World and Universe jamborees, or Morel at...well to be honest nobody really seems to be very sure where Morel will be headed after becoming Miss Nationale...she does have a couple of international dates lined up as the new Miss France er, let's say "mark II" for the sake of clarification.

There's the heady heights of representing her country at Miss World University, which is held in the South Korean capital, Seoul, every year.

And she'll be hotfooting it along to the Philippines to take part in yet another contest, this time Miss Earth.

Reactions to the third Miss (France) to be crowned in just one month include, from the celebrity gossip site News de Stars, "Perhaps as in boxing there'll be a reunification bout so that just one woman holds all three titles."

And the comment from Cosmopolitan France that "At this rate, there'll soon be more Misses than cheeses here in France."

miss mathilde florin
envoyé par IndicateurdesFlandres. - L'info internationale vidéo.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Dakar rally, the former beauty queen and French TV

What happens when two French institutions "meet"?

Easy. You get one - a former Miss France - commentating on another - the Paris-Dakar.

And all hell has been let loose among sports journalists miffed, thinking that they've been passed over for the job.

Screenshot from official promo video, Dakar 2011

That annual real life version of the television cartoon Wacky Races - aka The Dakar (formerly Paris-Dakar) - hasn't yet got underway, but already it's providing plenty of what the French seem to love so much, "polemic".

At the heart of the furore is a former beauty queen, Élodie Gossuin, Miss France 2001 and Miss Europe in the same year.

No the 30-year-old is not going to don a helmet rather than a coronet.

Instead the powers that be at France Television have decided that she should join the commentary team during the Rally which begins on January 1; an appointment that certainly hasn't been to everyone's liking.

So much so that it quickly became apparent that all was not well among sports journalists at France Television and initial reports after the announcement was made suggested that five of them belonging to la société des journalistes du service des sports, or the sports desk if you will, along with their president, Nicolas Vinoy, and spokesman Gérard Holtz, had resigned in protest.

"The position of consultant during the Paris-Dakar was a coveted one," it was reported.

It wasn't apparently Gossuin per se to whom they objected but the way her appointment had been made.

As it turned out, only Vinoy had handed in his notice and that was "nothing to do with the arrival of Gossuin," according to Daniel Bilalian, the director of sports at France Television, suggesting that there were other problems among the team that had been "brought to a head" by the appointment.

"Élodie Gossuin has already participated in Andros Trophy (the French national ice racing championships) and she's familiar with motorsports," he said.

"She's welcome to the team covering the Dakar, and I wanted her to be a part of it."

With Gossuin the subject of both the sports and celebrity pages of newspapers, it wasn't long of course before journalists turned their attention to how she felt about the "polemic" (yes there's that word again).

"It has been very unpleasant and I wish it had happened differently," she told Europe 1 national radio.

"These are internal problems that don't concern me," she added.

"I have no pretensions of wanting to call myself a journalist, I'm just going to be a consultant."

And that means, according to Holtz, who is also one of the race commentators, "adding colour" to the event by "spending time with doctors and cooks" rather than reporting directly on the rally itself; for which even she admits she isn't qualified.

This year's Dakar begins on January 1 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and if it is nearly half as lively as the pre-rally build-up has been so far, it should be more than entertaining.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Hunters turn rescuers as they save a man's life

Hunters often get what some might consider something of a bad rap here in France where the activity is, in many rural parts of the country, undeniably something of an institution.

If they're not "accidentally" killing the wrong animal such as Cannelle the bear then hunters might well be inadvertently shooting each other.

Not surprising perhaps as with over 1,350,000 registered hunters, France has by far the largest number of any European country with only Spain (almost one million), the United Kingdom (800,000) and Italy (750,000) coming close.

So it's good to come across a hunting story that entails saving a life rather than taking one - be it intentionally or by mistake.

On Saturday a party of hunters in the southwestern French département of Tarn became "saviours" rather than "destroyers" when they rescued a man.

Arifat cascade (screenshot from YouTube video)

The group from the village of Arifat had gathered in the forest to hunt deer but instead, according to the regional daily newspaper La Dépêche du Midi, heard cries of pain.

They were coming from a 39-year-old man

"He was groaning and lying on his back when I found him," the president of the club, Christian Valéry, told the newspaper.

"He told me he had fallen eight metres from a nearby cliff as he had been taking photographs of animals and hadn't been able to move for two days."

The hunters immediately switched mode and became rescuers as some of them went off to contact the emergency services - there was no mobile 'phone reception in the forest - while the others remained with the injured man.

He had broken his leg and pelvis and was suffering from hypothermia and dehydration after at spending two nights out in the open with temperatures dropping to minus 10.

It was, as one of the hunters said, a miracle that the man was discovered as the accident occurred in a remote part of the forest pretty much in the "middle of nowhere".

Lady Gaga "hates the snow" but still "loves the French"

It must surely have been enough to send Stefani Germanotta as her stage name might suggest, completely Lady Gaga.

For the second time the 24-year-old had to postpone one her Paris concerts, and the Lady certainly wasn't amused.

Lady Gaga (source Wikipedia, author John Robert Charlton aka Bobby Charlton of Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, England)

In fact she was steamingly irate as she let all those following her on Twitter know.

"I'm furious and devastated," she wrote after the trucks carrying her set had been been prevented from arriving at Paris Bercy, the venue where she was due to play two concerts.

"It's unfair to my fans and me."

The reason of course was the bad weather that hit many parts of France over the weekend and the decision by the authorities to stop all heavy goods vehicles from entering Paris or even circulating in the surrounding Ile de France region.

It was a measure taken to allow snowploughs and gritters easier access to major routes in and out of the French capital and to avoid the kind of mess that occurred a couple of weeks ago when snow brought the city to a near standstill - or not as the interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, insisted at the time.

That was little consolation to Lady Gaga though who had been forced to postpone the Paris leg of her Monster Ball tour back in October and reschedule for Sunday and Monday.

Then it was nationwide strikes (that French pastime) and protests against government plans to raise the retirement age which caused fuel and transportation problems throughout France and had stopped her set making it to Bercy.

Now it was the weather - or more precisely, the snow.

Still the thaw arrived, the embargo on lorries was lifted and all 28 of those carrying the set and props managed the final few kilometres in time for Monday night's bash.

And it'll be third time lucky for fans who had tickets to the previous evening's concert as the "show will most definitely go on" with an extra date scheduled for Tuesday evening.

No wonder the pop princess "hates the snow".

Monday, 20 December 2010

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy prepares a new album

It's time for music fans to pin back their lugholes once again.

France's multi-gifted first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, has confirmed that she's working on a new album - her fourth - and if reports are to be believed is ready to return to the recording studio early next year.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (source Wikipedia, author - Remi Jouan)

The news came last week as she and her husband, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, hosted the annual Christmas tree ceremony at the official presidential residence, the Elysée palace.

According to the French media, Bruni-Sarkozy has written and composed most, if not all, the songs herself - reports vary.

Although no fixed date has been given either for her return to the studio or the subsequent release of an album, one or other could coincide with a timely announcement from her husband that he's seeking a second mandate.

Rumours have been rife for some time now that Bruni-Sarkozy was preparing to treat her fans to another delightful and delicious dose of her gasping, rasping and breathlessly sensuous ("Get down Shep") voice.

And there were suggestions that advisors to the French president had asked delay her planned musical comeback (Bruni-Sarkozy's last album, "Comme si de rien n'était" was released in July 2008).

That didn't stop her from making a return to the studio earlier this year, albeit as a composer, when she penned "Je chante le blues" on the latest album from one of this country's first "girls of rock 'n roll" and now a long-established star of the French musical scene, Sylvie Vartan.

Bruni-Sarkozy's most recent venture into the studio though was to record a cover version of David Bowie's 1986 hit "Absolute beginners".

She was one of many artists to record Bowie tracks for a double album paying tribute to one of rock and pop's undisputed greats.

Unfortunately for France's first lady her rendition was panned by many (including that arbiter of great taste, Britain's Daily Mail) as "Absolutely awful".

Here's wishing the soon-to-be 43-year-old (whose birthday is on December 23) more favourable (musical) reviews in the New Year.

Carla Bruni - Absolute Beginners
envoyé par sue_ellen123. - Regardez plus de clips, en HD !

Friday, 17 December 2010

Lilian Thuram quits French Football Federation

A sad day for French football after one of its most eloquent and frank spokesmen quits the sport's governing body here, la Fédération Française de Football (the French Football Federation, FFF).

Lilian Thuram (screenshot from TF1 after France's World Cup debacle)

The FFF's interim president Fernand Duchaussoy confirmed on Wednesday that Lilian Thuram had handed in his resignation after just two years as a council member saying that the former international hadn't felt particularly happy in a purely administrative role.

"He has wanted to leave the council for a couple of months now," Duchaussoy told RTL national radio

"He told me he still wanted to work with the FFF but in an area in which he excels and enjoys, namely in a 'social role'."

Although he hasn't yet spoken publicly about the reasons for his departure, the writing has been on the proverbial wall since France's World Cup fiasco in South Africa.

Of that now infamous strike he said that it had "awakened the underlying racism in society" and said the then-captain, Patrice Evra, should never play for France again.

He warned at the time that, "If there are no sanctions, I shall resign."

And he hasn't shied away from criticising some of the decisions made by the recently-appointed coach of the national side, Laurent Blanc.

Thuram is France's most-capped international player and was of course a member, along with Blanc, of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 winning sides.

The 38-year-old played at the highest club level in France, Italy and Spain, before being forced to "hang up his boots" two years ago after a health scare.

He has long been politically and socially active particularly in campaigning against racism in football and became a member of France's Haut Conseil à l'intégration (High Council for Integration) while still a top defender.

Among his many activities he currently serves on the board of the L'Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques. and in October was appointed as a Unicef ambassador to Haïti

Most famously perhaps back in November 2005 in response to the then-interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy's description of youngsters after they burned cars and attacked police and public buildings in two weeks of rioting in various parts of France Thuram said, "If they are scum, then so am I."

Thursday, 16 December 2010

French TV journalist puts colleague in place over death penalty comment

It was a TV moment to treasure, but one many will surely have missed, as a journalist on the all-news French digital channel i>Télé put a colleague firmly in place about his opinions on the death penalty.

i>Télé presenter Julian Bugier (screenshot from Le Post video on Dailymotion)

The two men in question were the co-presenter of the early evening show, Julian Bugier, and Robert Ménard, a columnist on the channel.

And the clear difference in opinion came just after a report on the trial of Thierry Devé-Oglou.

He was the man accused of the brutal murder and attempted rape in 2007 of 23-year-old Anne-Lorraine Schmitt.

On Wednesday a court found Devé-Oglou guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment of which he has to serve at least 22 years, the maximum penalty for a crime of such a nature here in France.

Ménard, the founder of the French-based international non-governmental organisation Reporters sans frontières (Reporters without borders) took a moment at the end of the report to repeat the sort of comment he has made over the years on different occasions; namely his support for the death penalty.

"Julian, we have to regret sometimes that we no longer have the death penalty," Ménard said, bringing about an immediate response from Bugier that he didn't agree.

"Yes, but all the same..." began Ménard, who was quickly interrupted by the presenter who told him, "Nothing justifies the taking of life as far as I'm concerned. Thank you Robert."

Short, sweet and to the point. Exactly how it should be.

Bravo Julian Bugier.

And once again shame on you Robert Ménard, whose organisation (RSF) that fights for press freedom, currently carries an advertisement at the top of its site for Poster for tomorrow that reads "Death is not justice".

Capital punishment was abolished in France in 1981.

Quand Ménard regrette l'abolition de la peine de mort...
envoyé par LePostfr. - L'info video en direct.

Brrr and baa - the tale of Moïse the sheep's rescue

It has been cold here in France recently, just as it has throughout much of Europe.

Many parts of the country are bracing themselves for more snow on Thursday with daytime temperatures hovering around zero degrees Celsius or barely creeping above.

So what's needed perhaps is a cheerful animal tale guaranteed to warm the cockles of the heart is nothing else.

And here's one concerning a sheep named "Moïse" (or Moses in English) - a not entirely inappropriate name she was given (as will become clearer as you continue reading) following her "little adventure".

Image from Wikipedia, author Andreas Cappell from Erlangen, Germany

Moïse usually does her "ruminating" in the fields just outside the town of Bar-sur-Aube in eastern France.

Now sheep, you'll probably agree, are not blessed with the reputation of being the smartest of creatures when it comes to thinking for themselves.

In fact it could be fair to say that they're pretty low down on the IQ scale of things, with a strong instinct to "follow the leader" and go where the food is.

And if there's no fellow flock member around to follow then what is a sheep to do but stay put?

That's exactly what happened to Moïse who proved herself to be the quintessential ewe when she became separated from the rest of the flock by a couple of dogs at the weekend.

According to the regional newspaper, Libération Champagne, Moïse took refuge on a little island surrounded by shallow water in the middle of a field.

The only problem was that while she was there the mercury dipped well below zero, the water froze and Moïse was to all intents and purposes bleatingly-well stranded.

"Firefighters to the rescue" as a local unit from a nearby station was called in on Tuesday morning to help.

The ice was apparently only thin (perhaps Moïse hadn't realised) which meant the rescuers could approach in a small boat (see the picture accompanying the original report).

But as they inched forwards, getting ever closer, Moïse did what any self-respecting sheep would do and panicked, jumping into the icy water and managing to get herself stuck in the silt.

The lifeboat did a round of the island and by the time it had returned to the spot where Moïse had "taken the plunge" there she was, back where she had started.

Their second rescue attempt met with success and together - two men and a sheep in a boat - they headed across the ice to the safety of terra firma, where Moïse was given the once over to check that she was healthy, before "gambolling" off to join the rest of the flock.

Brrr and baa!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hallelujah - an early Christmas surprise for shoppers in a Canadian mall

It happened just over a month ago as unsuspecting shoppers at The Welland Seaway Mall in southern Ontario were "flash mobbed".

No that's not some sort of perverse sexual behaviour but an occasion when "a large group of people assemble (apparently) suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual act for a brief time and then disperse."

The woman who got the "show on the road" (screenshot from YouTube video)

It's a trend that has more than taken off in recent years in towns and cities around the world, and quite often videos find their way on to YouTube where they frequently "go viral".

A recent such example was on November 13 as "unsuspecting shoppers in the food court of Welland's Seaway Mall got a big surprise while enjoying their lunch".

And it was a seasonal one at that as over 100 participants performed the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's "Messiah".

As the organisers said on the video (proving they're Canadian?) "Awesome".

Scientists confirm head belongs to French King, Henri IV

What a headline huh?

After nine months of running tests, a team of researchers in France has confirmed that a head that went missing a couple of centuries ago and only resurfaced recently is indeed that of one of the country's most respected Kings, Henri IV.

Henri IV, (from Wikipedia)

The tale of how the head went missing in the first place is of course bound up with French history.

The potted version for the non-history buffs (although those who wish to dig a little deeper could start off with Wikipedia).

Henri IV reigned from August 2, 1589 until May 14, 1610 and (among other things) is perhaps best remembered for enacting the Edict of Nantes which "guaranteed religious liberties to French Protestants (Huguenots)" which had been under threat from the country's Catholics during the Wars of Religion from 1562 until 1598.

As was the fate of many a French monarch, Henri IV was assassinated, and buried in the Basilique Saint-Denis, a Cathedral in what is now a northern suburb of Paris and one that became the final resting place of French Kings and Queens throughout the centuries.

And that was where his body (head included) lay until 1793 when French revolutionaries, not satisfied with having executed the then-monarch Louis XVI, ran amok at the Basilique, opening tombs and reburying royal bodies in mass graves nearby.

It was then, of course, that the head of Henri IV did its disappearing act only apparently to resurface in the hands of a private collector (yikes, there really are such people) recently (remember this is the potted version) and be put up for rigorous testing by a team led by Philippe Charlier, a forensic medical examiner and osteo-archaeologist at the University hospital Raymond-Poincaré in the Parisian suburb of Garches.

Those tests included "radiocarbon dating with 2-sigma calibration" (are you paying attention?) which, according to a paper published by Charlier's team in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) "yielded a date of between 1450 and 1650 nicely bracketing the year of Henri IV’s death" (oh the joys of scientists writing papers for other scientists).

In fact for the full explanation of how they used a combination of "anthropological, paleopathological, radiological, forensic, and genetic techniques" to confirm that the embalmed head was indeed that of Henri IV, take a wander over to the BMJ.

The long and the short of it is that the "irregular mole they identified on the right nostril and an earring hole in the right earlobe" both matched features seen in portraits and statues of Henry IV and the said head is that of Henri le Grand (one of his nicknames).

The timing of the confirmation couldn't have been better because, if you've been paying attention to your dates, this year marked the 400th anniversary of his death.

And plans are afoot (or should that read "can now go ahead"?) next year for a national Mass and funeral to be held for Henry IV, during which his head will once again be laid to rest alongside this country's former monarchs in the Basilique Saint-Denis.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Annecy Winter Olympics bid suffers a setback

Not all is well with the town of Annecy, that picturesque "Venice of the Alps" in the Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France.

Or at least not when it comes to its hopes for hosting the Winter Olympics in 2018.

Because on Sunday, Edgar Grospiron, the head of the bid committee, resigned.

Happier days when Edgar Grospiron was still "proud and enthusiastic" at being the head of the bid committee (screenshot from TV8 Mont-Blanc, February 2010)

His decision of course was all about money.

The former Olympic champion quit his post because as far as he was concerned, the €20 million budget simply wasn't enough.

“I cannot win the Games with the budget we have and in the time remaining,” he said.

"We have a lot of important things to do, but we just don't have the means to be competitive."

Ah yes.

Proof once again that when it comes to the Olympics - whether they're the Summer or Winter games - cash (along with lobbying) is arguably one of the most important factors.

Of course the French Olympic Committee (Le Comité national olympique et sportif français, CNOSF) attempted to play down what was undoubtedly a blow.

Its president, Denis Masseglia, said that a successor would be appointed within the next couple of days and Grospiron would still be helping out in an advisory role.

"We continue (our bid) with humility and authenticity," he said in what is surely just another way of admitting that he didn't really hold much hope of Annecy being chosen.

Mind you Masseglia's rather noble sentiment was one echoed by the newly appointed minister of sports, Chantal Jouanno, in an interview with the national daily Le Parisien.

She, of course, was disappointed in the wake of Grospiron's resignation, but also called for "commitment and dignity."

"The French are often their own worst enemies," she admitted.

"Now is the time to look forward rather than back and to roll up our sleeves," she continued, sounding more like a typical sports journalist with every word.

"Withdrawal isn't an option. We have to defend the image of France and follow through the bid to its end with dignity especially as its (Annecy's) bid isn't a bad one."

Her solution? Lobbying and communication.

Ah, that's the spirit. Time to stand up and sing La Marseillaise.

Somehow though the smart money (yep it's hard to get away from the "filthy lucre") is on the other two cities bidding to host the 2018 Games; fellow European rival Munich and South Korea's Pyeongchang, which is making its third consecutive attempt to host the Games.

The International Olympic Committee will select the host city at a meeting in Durban, South Africa, on July 6, 2011.

The last time France staged the Winter Games was in Albertville in 1992.

The CNOSF awarded Annecy the right to bid on behalf of France back in March last year and (to any reasonable thinking person) the town has been considered an outsider from the outset.

Hallelujah for the Olympic ideal!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Marion Bogaert is Miss Ronde France, 2011

Measuring just 1.70 metres and weighing 95 kilogrammes, Marion Bogaert might not be everyone's idea of a beauty queen.

But at the weekend the 19-year-old became just that, as she beat 21 other candidates to lift the title of Miss Ronde France 2011.

Proving big can be beautiful, as Marion Bogaert becomes Miss Ronde France, 2011 (screenshot from BFM TV)

"I'm very proud to be representing larger girls today," she said after scooping first place in the finals held in the northern French city of Calais.

"It's a great honour for me and I really hope to live up to the expectations that go with winning this title."

Coming just a week after the election of that more traditional beauty pageant, Miss France, and its rival Miss Nationale (a long story about which you can find out more here if you're really interested) the contest to find Miss Ronde France 2011 is more than just a title to raise a smile.

As the name suggests contestants are far from being skinny.

The competition in France started life as an online contest back in 2005 when its founder, Thierry Frézard, decided to organise a pageant slightly different from what was the accepted norm.

Frézard is a psychotherapist who has over the years seen a number of women who didn't feel at ease with the fact that they were overweight.

Marion Bogaert (screenshot from BFM TV)

Last Friday's final was the first time it had been held in front of an audience and several television channels, including BFM TV and TF1, sent along teams to report on the outcome .

Proof, as far as Frézard, was concerned, that the initial reasons for its existence - namely to give women who aren't thin a chance to show they're comfortable with their weight and don't have to conform to the dictates of fashion - were bearing fruit and public perceptions of what is acceptable might just be changing.

"The media is more and more interested in this competition," he said.

"And it's probably because as a whole there are more overweight French and people are gradually realising that there's nothing wrong or 'sick' about carrying a few extra pounds."

As the French website Rue89 says in its report of the final perhaps attitudes about what constitutes beauty are changing and the media has a role to play in that.

"Maybe one day, by dint of being publicized, the title of Miss Ronde will no longer raise a smile," it says.

"And that's certainly what we would wish future participants."

Also see

Miss Plump Univesenet 2011 and Miss Ronde blog (French)

Friday, 10 December 2010

Chimène Badi proves there's life after Popstars

French singer Chimène Badi is currently in the middle of a national tour.

And this week sees her returning to her roots so-to-speak with two dates lined up in the southwest of France - Toulouse and Bordeaux - not far from the town of Villeneuve-sur-Lot where the 28-year-old spent much of her childhood.

Chimène Badi (screenshot from Tellement Beau video)

Badi first rose to fame in the second edition of the French version of Popstars back in 2003.

The jury was looking to "create" a new band in what was then a popular format for "discovering" talent in many European countries.

Badi's "Rolls Royce of a voice" made an immediate impression with all three of the show's judges and although she made it through to the later stages of the competition there was, in the words of the chairman Valéry Zeitoun,"An enormous difference between the potential of her voice and her ability to dance (a requirement to be part of the band)."

Thankfully perhaps, because the quartet that went on to make up WhatFor (or perhaps more appropriately they should have been called Whatever for) managed just two minor hit singles and one album before disbanding and disappearing whence they came.

WhatFor - the group Badi was too good for

Not so Badi.

If Badi didn't correspond to what the jury was looking for to be part of the eventual group, she certainly caught the attention of Zeitoun, who just happened to be a producer and director at Universal Music.

"If you really want to sing, I'll help you," he told the then 20-year-old, and that's precisely what he did and later and later the same year Badi released her first album"Entre nous" and a single of the same name.

Since then Badi has become a regular on the French music scene able to tackle modern French standards and gain fans with her own brand of soulful singing.

Now, seven years later and with four studio albums and a clutch of hit singles under her belt, she's back on tour pulling them in and proving that she has one heck of a voice.

Even though she perhaps doesn't exactly set the audience alight with the same sort of onstage charisma as one of her contemporaries Amel Bent (who incidentally is also a product of reality TV - Nouvelle Star, and a singer who has also built her success on not winning the title) her voice is something to relish and there's a fragility in her onstage persona which belies the power of that voice.

A voice whose timbre is exquisite and one that allows her to caress a melody and boom a refrain with what appears to be consummate ease.

Badi's story is proof, if needed, that appearing in a reality show is no guarantee of success if the talent is lacking and, just importantly, losing isn't always a bad thing.

Her current tour continues until June 2011.

And her latest album, "Laisse-les dire" was released in May this year.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hortefeux says heavy snowfall in Paris made travel "complicated"

Perhaps France's interior minister Brice Hortefeux was living on a different planet on Wednesday.

Or maybe he just hadn't seen a news report or stuck his nose out of the window.

Because at four o'clock in the afternoon, after snow had been falling in the French capital and its suburbs for a couple of hours, Hortefeux held a press conference.

Or should that be a "I haven't got a clue what I'm talking about but I'm going to say something because it's my job" session?

Using what can surely only be termed as political pussyfooting, and thereby denying any responsibility for the authorities having been ill-prepared, Hortefeux told the assembled hacks that getting in and around Paris and the surrounding region of Ile de France was "complicated" but not a "mess".

Brice Hortefeux "There isn't a mess" during press conference (screenshot TF1 news)

Just a slight error in the minister's description of the situation though as anyone in the French capital at the time could have told him.

It was indeed already a "mess", had been for many for several hours and would continue to be so for the rest of the afternoon, evening and through the night.

Just half an hour before Hortefeux made his statement, flights at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport had been suspended (they resumed a couple of hours later), heavy goods vehicles had been banned from the motorways in Ile de France, and only a handful of buses were running.

The snow was falling thick and fast (11 centimetres in total according to Météo France) and tailbacks were already beginning on each of the major axes in and out of Paris.

As television news reports in the evening showed, many motorists were well and truly stuck and would remain in their cars for most of the night.

Tailbacks measuring in total (a record) 394 kilometres were reported at one point, special reception areas were opened for those who were stranded, and even those who tried getting around on foot were having problems.

Extra police were deployed to help out but still the situation in Paris and its suburbs wasn't a "mess" because the interior minister had said so.

Interviewed later on Europe 1 radio, Hortefeux insisted that he hadn't been trying to deny that there had been problems but simply that the situation had worsened very quickly.

And he was backed up by the environment minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet who said (and here there's a bit of paraphrasing going on) that even though the region had been put on alert beforehand, the real problem had been the amount of snow that had fallen.

Ergo even though all the evidence at the time pointed to the contrary and Paris was indeed paralysed for several hours, as far as officialdom was concerned the situation was not a "mess".

Reflecting maybe on the reality of the situation, Hortefeux released a press statement on Thursday morning calling on motorists to avoid Paris and its suburbs.

Of course this isn't the first time recently that a government minister has managed to put a rather rose-tinted spin on what is actually happening.

When oil refinery workers went on strike in October, the then environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo urged French motorists to remain calm and reassured them that there was no risk of a fuel shortage.

A statement which unhappily proved to be far removed from what happened.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Green the orang-utan

Green the orang-utan (screenshot from film)

"Her name is Green, she is alone in a world that doesn't belong to her. She is a female orang-utan, victim of deforestation and resource exploitation."

No words are necessary. And there are none in this video (full version here).

Take just 48 minutes out of your busy schedule. That's surely not to much to ask.

And follow the story of Green's final days.

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