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Thursday, 29 December 2011

Which (French) celebs do the French find annoying?

The results of poll published in France this week reveal just which French celebrities are found to be the most annoying.

Oh yes, how the French seem to love their polls.

Er perhaps scrub that - the media seems to love reporting on the latest survey carried out among the French on its (the media's) behalf.

Well it fills airtime, helps keep a slow-moving news day rolling along and plays nicely into the game of speculation - especially when it comes to politics.

Of course not all polls are political, although with both presidential and parliamentary elections slated for 2012 they'll probably be trotted out at an alarmingly frequent rate with BVA, CSA, Ipsos, Opinionway, TNS Sofres and the like going into overdrive.

But just to round off the year that's coming to a close, the weekly magazine VSD commissioned Harris to canvass a representative sample (well that's what they always say, isn't it?) to come up with a list of the "Most annoying French celebrities or personalities " in several categories.

Poor old Ségolène Royal topped the list as far as the most annoying politicians were concerned.

Obviously the tears and emotion she showed after finishing a distant fourth in the first round of the Socialist party primaries didn't touch the hearts of many (apart from mine).

Dominique Strauss-Kahn (enough said) and the Greens' presidential candidate Eva Joly, rounded out the top three.

Among TV personalities, Benjamin Castaldi was far and away the "winner" as far as the poll was concerned. Proof maybe that years of presenting trashy TV reality shows has more than overshadowed any appeal he might have had among the French for being the grandson of the late, great actress Simone Signoret.

In Arts, it was the philosopher Bernard-Henry Lévy who, proving perhaps that he had made one too many declarations about how he had helped bring democracy to Libya, finished just ahead (or should that be behind) singer/actor Joey Starr.

If nothing else though BHL has, in the course of 2011, given the excellent satirical Les Guignols de l'info on Canal+ more than enough material.

And the sporting pain in the derrière according to VSD, was Bayern München's French international, Franck Ribéry.

Well that's what those polled apparently thought.

What about you though?

If you had been asked to choose someone in each of the four categories - politics, TV, arts and sport - who would you have plumped for, and why?

How about the following?

Politics: Jean-François Copé, the leader of the ruling centre-right party Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

Copé is of course very media savvy, but he just seems to be on the box a little too often and appears to enjoy making life hard for the admittedly less charismatic but somehow more dependable prime minister François Fillon.

Maybe Copé should concentrate more on the here and now and less on his ambitions for 2017.

Sport: Well ordinarily there would be one man who stands out head and shoulders as truly annoying - Raymond Domenech.

Thankfully though he seems to have slipped off the radar in recent months so the choice would have to be between sports journalist Nelson Monfort and the country's fastest sprinter, Christophe Lemaitre.

Monfort undoubtedly has linguistic skills but his habit of resorting to almost-simultaneous translation when interviewing breathless sportsmen and women immediately after an event is, to say the least, irritating.

There must surely be many a French TV viewer willing him to keep quiet.

And that's perhaps advice Lemaitre should heed as he proves the point that few sportsmen and women from whatever field, have anything truly original or inspiring to say.

Great athlete - definitely. Great orator - definitely...NOT.

As far as TV presenters go, Laurent Ruquier finds himself and his own humour just too hilarious. On the radio he's great - most of the time. But on telly...well, he sniggers and that's just plain unattractive.

Finally Arts - and proving that the term can be used in its very loosest term, it's time to "keep it in the family" so to speak, with the nod going to BHL's other half "actress/singer/director/model/muse (her description)" and generally all round famous for being famous celebrity, Arielle Dombasle.

Her latest album "Diva Latina" was proof yet again that as a singer she simply doesn't cut the mustard - far from it.

Dombasle's rendition of Jeanette's original "Porque te vas" testament to the fact that some people shouldn't be allowed within 500 kilometres of a recording studio.

Over to you.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Anne Sinclair named France's Woman of the Year - really?

A poll carried out for Terrafemina, an online women's magazine, has named Anne Sinclair as France's Woman of the Year.

Sinclair was a "symbol of courage and tenacity in face of the legal difficulties of her husband," the magazine said in announcing the results of the poll carried out on its behalf by CSA (Conseils-Sondages-Analyses).

No kidding.

It would be hard for anyone tuned in to the news in the weeks following the arrest of her husband, former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn of course, not to have been impressed by her stoicism (and money) as she "stood by her man".

But French Woman of the Year?

Certainly not as far as the Green's presidential candidate Eva Joly is concerned.

"I find it sad," Joly said in an interview on news channel i>Télé.

"It reflects a view of life and gender relations that's very, very old-fashioned," she continued.

"I find it quite shocking, unbelievable even, that her popularity can be greater than that of a prominent politician such as Christine Lagarde," she added.

Lagarde, France's former finance minister and DSK's successor at the IMF came second in the poll.

Deserved or just too much Tammy Wynette about the outcome? What do you think?

The poll was conducted by telephone on December 6/7.

A representative sample of 1,005 people aged 18 and over were asked to choose from a list of 10 names, two women they considered had made the biggest impact in 2011.

Here, in a screenshot from the survey, are the overall results.

screenshot from PDF file from CSA survey

You can download the full report in PDF format from the CSA website.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

David Beckham for PSG?

It's a done deal as far as the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien and the sports daily L'Equipe are concerned.

David Beckham (from Wikipedia)

British footballer David Beckham is set to sign for one of France's top sides, Paris Saint-Germain.

The cost to lure the 36-year-old to the French capital? €800,000 a month according to Le Parisien which will, not surprisingly, make him the country's best-paid player.

Since it bought a controlling interest in PSG earlier this year, the Qatar Investment Authority has been pouring money into the club, appointing former Brazilian international Leonardo as director of football and recruiting players including Argentine Javier Pastore for a reported €39.8 million.

Yes the club has money - lots of it. And the owners seem determined to make it a European footballing powerhouse - in least in terms of spending.

Beckham of course would appear to be the perfect marketing match; he has global recognition and even though he might be "getting on a bit" in terms of the lifespan of a Beautiful Game player, the wisdom and technique to share with the rest of the team.

And there's no forgetting that he comes as part of a package in the form of the glamourous jet-set couple lifestyle he and his wife Victoria lead.

That should keep media interest just as high as it already has been over the past couple of months with reports that they have been consulting estate agents for a suitable pad and private schools for their children.

What price sport - when you can pay for it?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

SHOUT for Christmas - well this little girl sure did

We all have them don't we? Those embarrassing films or photos stashed away somewhere, kept hidden out of sight.

They were made or taken by our parents, proud of us and wanting to share their pleasure with the world.

Nativity angel (screenshot from YouTube video)

Well here's one moment captured on film from several years ago but definitely timeless, and thanks to YouTube, available for everyone and anyone to see.

It's a nativity scene, the sort played out year after year throughout Britain.

But this one, although it starts off innocently enough with the children filing in dressed as Mary, Joseph, shepherds and angels, is one that surely none who were present could ever forget.

All the children break into song...except from 51 seconds and until the end, there's one particular little angel who...well how to put this politely? Well, she rather steals the show.

Enjoy - and try not to break into a massive grin.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Sing-a-long a sailor - HMS Ocean crew get into the festive spirit

Go on, put yourself in the holiday season mood

You know how some Brits have something of a reputation for and not afraid to have a laugh at their own expense?

Well here's something that surely backs up the that often-held view.

(screenshot for HMS Ocean video)

It's lip dubbing - you know the combination of lip syncing and audio dubbing to make a music video - British style.

More specifically it's the crew of HMS Ocean who put together a video to celebrate their anticipated return to the UK on December 9 - just in time for Christmas.

The men and women aboard the ship were only due to be away for seven weeks when they went on a deployment exercise with other nations but that turned into seven months away from loved ones as they "were diverted to Libya and further operations."

Anyway here they all are in a lip-dubbed video of US singer Mariah Carey's version of "All I want for Christmas is you"; four minutes of fun and feel-good sing-a-long.

It has apparently already been featured on US breakfast time TV and a thrilled Carey tweeted the video and thanked the Royal Navy

And Carey's reaction? Well she's thrilled and said as much in a Tweet she sent to the Royal Navy.

"This is the best thing I've ever seen," she wrote. "You guys just made my day! Happy Happy Christmas!!! x0x0 to the troops."

Now here's a challenge. Can any of you - even the most curmudgeonly - not to at least raise a smile at some point during this video.


Go on. you know you want to...join in.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Contrex mineral water - stripper commercial

Sometimes a commercial just makes you sit up and pay attention, brings a smile to your face and stops you from popping off to do something else when the advertising break kicks in.

And occasionally it might just be a good deal more entertaining than the actual programme you were watching in the first place.

Such is surely the case of one spot currently running on French TV for the Contrex brand of mineral water.

It's a perfect fit between product and message with humour, entertainment and a great soundtrack - the music from "Comment te dire adieu", a song made famous in the 1960s by French singer Françoise Hardy.

It features women (and some men) "discovering" the joys of sport with them pedalling exercise bikes frantically and in the process lighting up a giant neon light male stripper.

The more they pedal the more he reveals until finally he's in the all together with just a board to cover his unmentionables, a board congratulating everyone for just having used 2,000 calories.

Some commercials are just inspired!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Anggun to represent France at 2012 Eurovision Song Contest.

There has been no messing around by France in deciding who'll represent the country at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, that annual jamboree that brings together the very cheesiest of what Europe has to offer "musically" speaking.

France 3 television, which chooses the act every year - none of that ineffectual allowing the public to decide - has plumped for Indonesian-born singer Anggun.

Anggun (screenshot from television interview with LCI

The 37-year-old will carry the hopes of her adopted homeland when she takes to the stage in the final to be held on May 26 in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, that country well-known to be at the heart of Europe.

Get hold of a map to see just how far east of most of the rest of the continent it really is.

Azerbaijan won the right to stage next year's contest when it beat all the other entries at Eurovision 2011 with the never-to-be-remembered "Running Scared" by duo Eldar & Nigar (Eldar Gasimov and Nigar Jamal).

Anyway, back to Anggun, who's clearly as pleased as punch that she has been chosen.

"It's a wonderful present for someone like me who only became a naturalised French citizen in 2000," she told the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien.

"Without doubt I symbolise a modern-day France; a country that is a mix of races and cultures," she continued.

"When I was growing up the contest was always considered a bit tacky and rather old fashioned, but it's a great show and very important for many countries," she added.

"Secretly we all want to win. I'm going to shine for France."

Ho hum. Famous last words.

Choosing Anggun might well be considered strategically clever as she has had sizeable international success apparently.

You might not have heard of her, but plenty have according to her official website.

But the same sort of reasoning was behind the choice of Patricia Kaas when she sang the French entry in Moscow in 2009. Kaas only managed eighth place.

And then there was the fiasco that was such a "shitty finish" for last year's representative Amaury Vassili who for some inexplicable reason went into the competition as the bookmakers' favourite.

His dire "Sognu" could only manage a lowly 15th spot with a mighty 82 points.

Anggun told LCI television that she knew the responsibility that lay on her shoulders was a "heavy one" especially as the last time France won the contest was back in 1977 when Marie Myriam sang "L'Oiseau Et L'Enfant".

And of the song she'll be singing?

"It hasn't been chosen yet," she told LCI television.

"It'll be one that has never released."

Monday, 28 November 2011

A purrfectly ridiculous Christmas present for your cat

All right so it's obviously a marketing strategy; encourage pet owners - in this case those who have cats - to cough up hard-earned centimes for something that's packaged especially for Christmas.

But isn't an Advent Calendar for your furry four-legged friend taking things just a little too far?

An Advent Calendar for your cat

This one's currently available in a major chain of supermarkets throughout France, but of course they're not just in the shops.

Try a simple search on the Net and you'll come across any number of sites reminding us for example that, "Christmas is also for our family pets and this excellent Advent Calendar is a great way to share the excitement of the countdown to the festive season with your feline friends."


Goodwill to all creatures great and small all year round and not just during the festive season.

Nothing wrong in that.

But really.

An Advent Calendar to, "provide a little delicacy for your feline every day until Christmas."

Bah humbug!

Que pensez-vous?

Welcome back to Paris, Marks and Spencer

It has been a decade since British retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) quit France, shutting all of its 18 stores and firing 1,700 people.

In fact in 2001 M&S, under the then-chairmanship of Luc Van de Velde, closed all 38 of its European stores with the loss of 3,350 jobs across the continent.

Marks and Spencer reopening in Paris (screenshot from France 24 report)

Since last Friday though, they're back - in France at least - with the opening of a flagship store in the capital Paris at an address that has not gone unnoticed in the press; 100 Avenue des Champs-Élysées, "la plus belle avenue du monde" (the most beautiful avenue in the world" as the celebrated street is often called.

It opened its doors on November 24 choosing the location because it "wanted to find a prestigious address and return with a new image," as Michelle Lamberti, the company's marketing director is quoted as saying in the monthly women's magazine Marie Claire.

Although all those expat Brits - no matter how misty their memories or tenuous their ties with Blighty might have become - may have had high hopes of being able to get their hands on traditional British fare (yes there really is such a thing) they'll likely be disappointed by the reopening.

Because as the British daily The Guardian reports, the emphasis of the flagship store (there are another three scheduled to be opened in the Paris region) is most definitely not on food.

The grub is there but it's apparently squeezed into just 100 square metres of the store's 1,400 square metres of retail space.

The emphasis will be on clothing, a decision chief executive Marc Bolland defended as being a practical one.

"Let's be honest, nobody comes to the Champs Elysées to do their weekly shop," he told The Guardian.

Can't argue with that.

The company has also launched a French language website for anyone not able to make it to Paris.

Time to stock up on warm underwear and pullovers as France prepares for winter and a chance for a spot of stay-at-home Christmas shopping perhaps.

In any case, rebonjour Marks and Spencer.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Toutou rista - the Doggie Doo poop-scooping game in France

Not sure how to keep the children entertained at Christmas?

Well family games manufacturer Goliath thinks it has the answer with the release in France of Toutou rista.

Toutou rista (screenshot from promotional video)

It's the French version of the same game launched on an unsuspecting German, Spanish and Dutch market last year.

In Germany, under the name of Kackel Dackel it was a huge hit with the promotional video going viral.

None the wiser?

Well perhaps the English name will give the game (sorry) away as it's also being released in the United Kingdom and The United States under the name of Doggie Doo.

It's a game which "aims to teach children how to take care of dogs with poop-scooping gameplay" and French toy industry magazine La revue du jouet named it best infant toy game in France for 2011.

"Feed and walk your little pup, when he makes a mess you clean it up," says the game's manufacturer, Goliath.

"The first player who has 3 pieces of dog mess on his shovel wins the game."

The rules are simple although they include the extra remark, "You can only pick up the dog’s mess when it has fallen on the table. When it is hanging outside the end of the dog, just tap him on the back until it drops."


Enough said.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

In memory of Silvio Berlusconi

BNP Paribas - a bank without money

So, this is the (true) story of a man (just for argument's sake let's call him Jean-Pierre) who tried to make a withdrawal from his bank but couldn't because, in the words of the clerk, "We don't actually have any money here."

The (in)action took place at one of the Courbevoie branches of BNP Paribas.

BNP Paribas (screenshot from commercial)

"The bank for a changing world" as it proudly boasts on its website, is "a European leader in global banking and financial services and one of the best rated banks in the world."

With over 2,000 branches in France it is the country's largest.

Courbevoie, in the northwestern suburbs of Paris and one of "the best places to live" (apparently) in the Île-de-France region which comprises the capital and the surrounding metropolitan area, isn't actually Jean-Pierre's home.

It's where he spends his weekdays as he works in Paris, returning to his home in the southwest of France for the weekends.

And it's in the southwest that, just over a year ago, he opened an account with BNP because, well to be quite frank, it offered the best terms.

He needed a loan for renovation work and the local branch manager was only too willing to offer him one at a good rate and without requiring him to move his main account from a competitor bank, Crédit agricole.

Jean-Pierre's salary continued to be paid on to his Crédit agricole account in Courbevoie for which he had an ATM card but he made sure he had more than enough on both his current and savings account at the BNP to cover any emergencies that might crop up.

It was, in a sense, an account purely meant to meet expenses to his main home: although he had a cheque book, he didn't have an ATM card.

"You don't really need one if you're not going to make withdrawals," the manager had told him when he had opened it.

"And besides if you do need money at any time, you can just drop into any of our branches throughout the country and get some."

Excellent, thought Jean-Pierre at the time. "It's not an account I'm going to be using that much. My main one is with Crédit agricole and I don't have to meet the costs of having a card I'm not going to need."

Oh yes he was - and still is - a frugal man.

Except, as you've already grasped, that's not exactly how it all worked out.

Because when Jean-Pierre went along to a Courbevoie branch of BNP this week to take out some money he needed to make a cash payment (with receipt - it has to be added) he was informed politely that, "Sorry we cannot give you anything. We don't actually have any money here."

A bank without money? Now that was something novel.

Well maybe not in these cash-strapped times.

There then followed one of those almost surreal conversations during which the clerk said that if Jean-Pierre had been a client of that particular branch then he could have requested an ATM card allowing him to make an on-the-spot withdrawal.

That would have taken time, money and paperwork, and anyway wasn't really a solution to his immediate needs.

"What about the other branches in Courbevoie?" Jean-Pierre asked, knowing there were at least two more close by.

"Do they have"

He tried hard not to snort with incredulity at the preposterous nature of his question.

"No, they don't," was the response."

"Your best bet, if you need some cash immediately, is to try to find a BNP branch in Paris that has some. I'm sure there is one. I just don't know where it is."

Now that's the kind of sound financial advice anyone wants to hear from their bank.

So dumbfounded, Jean-Pierre left and headed straight to the nearest branch of Credit Agricole - where - what do you know - they actually did have cash on the premises.

The end.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Did Sarkozy really spend €37,000 a night on his G20 hotel room? No!

"As world teeters on the brink, can leaders enjoy €1m of hospitality? Yes they Cannes" screamed the headline to a story in that bastion of journalistic accuracy The Sun last week.

Majestic hotel, Cannes (screenshot from YouTube video)

The paper was beside itself and in apoplectic full flow over the amount of money some world leaders had spent on accommodation, "gourmet meals and fine wine" during the G20 summit held in the southern French city of Cannes.

And according to the paper the biggest culprit, in terms of the amount he had spent on a place to rest his head for two nights, was none other than the host to the whole shebang, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the piece readers learned that the former master of Bling Bling had forked out an "eyewatering" £32,000 or around €37,000 a night for "the Presidential Suite at the five-star Majestic Hotel".

What a scandal, especially in these times of belt-tightening austerity, and the comments from Sun readers were suitably outraged.

Except it's not true, according to both Franck Louvrier, a spokesman for the French president's office, and the hotel itself.

You see, the French national daily Le Monde actually took the time to check on the veracity of the claim and provided evidence to back up what it had found.

It's a clever technique that surely still has its place in reporting called "backing a story up" with evidence or "attributing" it.

"The information is false," Louvrier told Le Monde.

"The actual cost was ten times less even though there are suites at that price."

There are indeed, as the hotel confirmed; one at €30,000 a night and another at €38,000.

But Sarkozy wasn't in either of them and instead had been in a room which typically cost between €1,500 and €3,000 a night.

The Majestic was too discreet to mention which room in particular Sarkozy had stayed but it did confirm that the bill for his two-night stay had been between €6,000 and €7,000.

So there you have it. Perhaps The Sun article slapped on an extra "zero" - by mistake.

And what does it say for the rest of the claimed expenses and accompanying graphics?

Monday, 7 November 2011

French presidential election 2012 - who has the most sex appeal?

Monday morning madness - from France. Stories that should bring a smile to your face and help you get the week off to a great start.

Anybody in this country who follows politics - or doesn't for that matter - will know just how much the French love their opinion polls.

Barely a week seems to go by without TNS Sofres, OpinionWay, Ipsos and the like telling us that, for example, Sarkozy's popularity is at an all-time low/stagnant/on the up. Or the Socialist party's presidential candidate François Hollande would win an election if it were held next Sunday (useful that). Maybe it's one showing the frightening level of support there is for the Front National's Marine LaPen.

And so on and so forth.

It's not entirely unexpected perhaps given that both presidential and legislative elections are due in France next year.

But a recent opinion poll conducted by Harris takes rather a...well...different slant on all things political.

Not surprising really as it was commissioned by the (A, B, C and D-list) celebrity weekly magazine Closer - not exactly known for its grasp of political affairs.

The questions?

Well they were along the lines of "Which of the male pretenders - both declared and, in some cases, no longer in the running - would you most like to spend the night with?" Or "With whom would you like to spend your life?" And "Which one makes you fantasise the most?"

Yes they really were that banal.

Just for the record the "winner" in each category was the Socialist party parliamentarian and former candidate in the party's primary, Arnaud Montebourg.

Arnaud Montebourg (from Wikipedia)

Runner up was fellow Socialist party politician who as also a candidate in the primary; Manuel Valls.

Both men are 49 - so perhaps youth played a factor!

The incumbent limped in third - still ahead of MoDem's François Bayrou and Hollande.

When the question was turned around to discover which female candidate (again both declared and no longer in the running) was the one most men would fantasise over...well guess who came out top!

Here's a clue. She was an also-ran in the very same Socialist party primary as Hollande, Montebourg and Valls, has four children by one of them, is NOT the mayor of Lille AND was the party's candidate in the 2007 presidential elections.

For the complete poll - and remember it's definitely not to be taken seriously - scoot over to Closer and discover, among other things, the presidential candidate seen as the most "show biz" (no prizes for guessing), the women who would make the best first lady and how much the the arrival of Giulia "moved" potential voters.

Now, who would perhaps it's a question better left unasked.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday's French music break - Sankofa Unit, "Let's dance"

Friday's French music break this week is not from a group in perhaps the recognised sense of the word, but a choir comprising people who can sing. Heck can they sing!

It's the Sankofa Unit, an "urban choir" which has evolved from past participants of the Sankofa Soul Contest a kind of springboard for soul, blues, jazz and gospel talent in France.

Directed by Joby Smith, they've just made an appearance on "La France a un incroyable talent" this country's version of the "Got talent" franchise and, to say the very least, their performance was electrifying.

The show's three judges, Gilbert Rozon, Sophie Edelstein and Dave, were completely blown away as were most of the audience and Sankofa Unit look like a dead cert to be chosen to appear in the semi-finals later in November.

Whether they'll actually win the whole kaboodle is, perhaps, irrelevant, although it would certainly be a financial boost to the 40-strong company.

What's more important though is the national exposure they've already had courtesy of appearing on M6 and the likely impact that'll have on their individual and collective careers.

Here's a live performance you can find on YouTube of the very same song that rocked television sets on Wednesday evening.

The sheer enthusiasm and obvious pleasure they all seem to get from singing is totally infectious and the sound...well it's just uplifting.

Check out their Facebook page for more info.

In the meantime - enjoy.

CNN reports from G20 in Cannes - Spain!

All right a question to all Americans reading this.

How good is your knowledge of European geography?

Hopefully a little (or should that be a lot) better than someone over at CNN, the US cable news channel with of course its well-known international counterpart.

The channel has deployed, what the French weekly news magazine Le Point calls, "its usual army of journalists and technicians" to cover the G20 summit.

You know, the talkathon currently taking place in Cannes - hosted by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy with guest of honour his US counterpart Barack Obama.

The two men are to appear in a 15-minute pre-recorded interview on prime time news in France on Friday evening - apparently more than enough time to cover all the world's issues and any questions on re-election they might both face next year. But that's an aside.

Er - so where were we? Oh yes - G20 summit, Cannes on the French Riviera and ergo in France...well not quite it appears.

Because someone back home at CNN HQ responsible for putting together world maps managed to place the city, world famous for its annual film festival, not just several hundred kilometres away but in a completely different country - Spain to be precise.

Now we all know that Americans can have a rather - how to put this politely? - tainted view of the world, geographically speaking but really!

The blunder didn't go unnoticed on the Net of course with comments ranging from "CNN exclusive - northern Spain has been ceded to France" to the suggestion that "when the US invades Iran, best make sure that CNN are not embedded with the military."

Click here to see one of many images of CNN's latest take on European geography.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Paris apartment rip-off - 3m2 for €29,000!

Thinking about buying an apartment in Paris? Here's one that's definitely worth avoiding.

A three square metre Paris apartment for €29,000 (screenshot from De Particulier à Particulier advertisement)

Property prices in Paris and its immediate suburbs have stood up well to the general economic downturn.

Although there has been a slowdown in the increase in recent months, it's still hard to find a bargain of any sort with two-room apartments being especially sought after.

Studios for the capital's large student population are also at a premium, a factor which has not gone unnoticed by what can only be described as one money-grabbing vendor.

In what the French men's magazine website Gentside describes as being "surely nothing more than a scam" an apartment measuring just three square metres is on sale in the French capital for the princely sum of €29,000!

Maybe a few extra exclamation marks should be added - here goes.


Now let's get this straight - three square metres in estate agency speak in France doesn't even usually count as being big enough for a room (the minimum norm is nine square metres).

So what do you get for your money - apart from not even enough space for a bed let alone to swing the proverbial?

Well according to the ad' which appears in the weekly French magazine De Particulier à Particulier for those wishing to buy and sell privately without going through an estate agent, there's an electric radiator and a meter - presumably to tot up just how much heating and lighting the future purchaser will have to shell out.

There's also the possibility to install a skyligh,t although permission will have to be gained first from the syndic or the organisation comprising other apartment owners in the building.

Shared loo and washing facilities are also a feature of the "space" described as being "ideal for residential purposes or archive material" but at least it's in perfect condition and in a totally quiet location.

More exclamation marks please.


Extra costs include property taxes (around €36 a year) and monthly maintenance costs of €2.

And before you rush out to make an offer, don't forget to factor in the initial and obligatory costs of going through a notaire (around €240 for a property on sale at the advertised price).

Outrageous and a rip off most certainly - and let's just hope nobody is foolish enough to buy it.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Ukraine's stray dogs - a victim of Euro 2012

Football fans will know that next year sees the finals of Euro 2012.

It's a footballing feast held every four years and a showcase for the Beautiful Game in Europe.

This time around it's being hosted jointly, by Poland and Ukraine, who together with 14 other countries will take part in the tournament.

Millions of television viewers will doubtless be glued to their screens from the kick off in the Polish capital Warsaw on June 8 to the final in the Ukraine capital Kiev on July 1.

Concerns have been voiced over the past couple of years by Uefa (Union of European Football Associations) - the game's governing body in Europe - especially about the infrastructure and progress of the scheduled venues in both countries.

But the marketing and promotion machine is now in full swing and everything looks set to kick off as scheduled.

Except in all the hullabaloo and spin in the run up to the tournament, there's one subject that hasn't been getting so much media coverage: how Ukraine is going about the job of getting rid of its stray dog problem.

Stray dog in Ukraine (screenshot from RT report)

And it is a huge issue as Russian-based RT television news recently reported.

With "tens of thousands of animals roaming the streets of the country's cities" Ukraine's stray dog population presents a health risk. People are apparently being bitten regularly and there's the risk of infection.

The solution as far as the authorities are concerned has been to "remove, kill and burn stray dogs in a mobile crematorium".

But the methods used have apparently outraged animal rights activists in Ukraine who deem the practice cruel and claim that some of the animals are still alive when they're being burnt.

They've been gathering signatures in an online petition for some time now in an effort to bring wider attention to the way in which authorities have been going about the clean-up campaign and to urge former French international and current Uefa president Michel Platini to use his influence.

And last week they were joined by the French animal charity Fondation 30 millions d'amis.

"Is the killing of thousands of animals in the most squalid conditions in keeping with the image of a world class sporting event?" asks the Fondation on it website.

The answer, as far as the charity is concerned, is clearly "no" and it has launched its own petition in an open letter to both Platini and the Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovych.

It's demanding that a stop be put to the "massacre" and a suitable sterilisation, transportation and rehoming programme be set up.

Watch the RT clip (the presenter warns that the images might be disturbing) and see what you think.

While there's little or no likelihood that Ukraine will be stripped from hosting Euro 2012 - as some animal rights activist have called for - perhaps it can be discouraged from destroying stray dogs in the way it has been doing recently.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Europe...according to bigots

Now this should make you smile.

The maps reproduced here are a timely reminder, given the state of the Eurozone and the protracted attempts to deal with the debt crisis, of just how much we all generalise about the characteristics of other countries.

Europe according to France (creative commons: alphadesigner)

They're the work of Bulgarian-born graphic designer Yanko Tsvetkov who uses the pseudonym alphadesigner because, as he says, "that usually makes people think what I do is really important. That's why I chose it."

Europe according to France, Germany, Britain, the United States and others are part of the appropriately entitled project which has produced Mapping Sterotypes, the ultimate bigot's calendar of Europe.

Of course they're purely satirical and rely on clichés and stereotypes.

But isn't there also a revealing element of truth in showing us how ignorant and intolerant we often are of one another?

It helps if you know your European geography a the other hand, perhaps it doesn't matter a jot.

The 2012 calendar is available online now, although sadly it doesn't include Berlusconi's "vision" but there again you could alway order that as a tee-shirt, mug or poster.

Take a look at alphadesigner's site. Who knows, you might even find the ideal (dare it be said) Christmas present for your (least) favourite bigot.

Europe according to Britain

Europe according to Britain (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Europe according to the USA

Europe according to the United States (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Europe according to Spain

Europe according to Spain (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Europe according to Germany

Europe according to Germany (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Europe according to Greece

Europe according to Greece (creative commons: alphadesigner)

And finally, Europe according to Berlusconi

Europe according to Berlusconi (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Marion Cotillard's public breastfeeding "incident"

It's apparently a story that "shocked" diners at the restaurant of the Chateau Marmont Hotel in West Hollywood recently and was clearly enough of a "scandal" (inverted commas required) to make the pages of the weekly US tabloid The National Enquirer.

Marion Cotillard (from Wikipedia)

French Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard was spotted breastfeeding her five-month-old son Marcel in public!

Yes, sit down for a moment. Gather your wits about you and take a deep breath. It's as bad as that.

The "incident" is hard to confirm from this side of the Pond because access to The National Enquirer's site sadly (ahem) isn't available in France.

But according to the weekly French celebrity gossip magazine Closer, its US equivalent is running with the story that once again has "Americans shocked".

And it's almost as much almost of a faux pas (although that might just be Closer taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to The National Enquirer piece) as the 36-year-old's questioning in an interview of the official explanation of the September 11 terrorist attacks; an interview that had taken place before but was republished shortly after she received her Oscar for Best Actress in the film "La Môme" (La vie en rose) in 2007.

A witness, shocked by Cotillard's recent "revelation" apparently described to The National Enquirer how the French actress took Marcel in her arms when he began crying and thinking nobody was watching, "Opened her blouse to expose her right breast to allow him to feed."

Yes, terrible isn't it?

"When she noticed that everyone was apparently looking she asked the nanny for a blanket to cover Marcel and her breast," the witness added.

Just as well perhaps that US socialite and reality TV star Kim Kardashian wasn't around at the time.

In 2010 the 31-year-old reportedly got all of a Twitter about a woman she had seen breastfeeding in public.

Seriously though, shouldn't the headline to Closer's story and that of The National Enquirer have read something along the lines of "French actress Marion Cotillard seen breastfeeding in public. So what! (Or Hooray!)

Next (story) please.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Sex on legs - "Tanguera" is back in Paris

Once again Parisian audiences are being treated to the exhaustingly energetic but sublimely sensual "Tanguera" playing at the Théâtre du Châtelet.

It's a musical but told in dance - the Tango of course.

Tanguera (screenshot from trailer)

And what makes it especially compelling is how it manages to tell the history of its own roots by going back to its beginnings (of course) and at the same time combining it with a love story typical for any era, but that was very much part of the milieu in which the Tango was born.

Set in the poor quarter of Boca in Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century, Tanguera tracks the tale of Giselle, a young woman from France, who has recently arrived as part of the wave of immigration from Europe to South America at the time.

She cannot find legitimate work and gets drawn into prostitution under the "comforting arm" of Gaudencio, a gangster, pimp and drug trafficker.

From prostitution she moves into the seedy world of cabaret, controlled by Gaudencio, and discovers the Tango. It becomes her drug almost, and she in return becomes a star of the scene, quickly attracting the attention of the virtuous Lorenzo, a docker.

He of course at the end finally takes his courage in his hands and challenges Gaudencio to a fight, where the two men slug it out in mortal combat - all for the love of a woman.

Directed by Omar Pacheco, the choreography of Mora Godoy is phenomenal.

The dancers who keep the action flowing are seductive and sensual without being vulgar. There's a vibrancy, energy and speed that leaves the audience feeling just as exhausted as surely the dancers must be by the end.

Eat your heart out "Danse avec les stars".

"Tanguera" is just under two hours of electrifying moves and wonderful music combined with a choreography that'll leave even the most heavy-footed member of the public panting for more and almost ready to throw all caution to the wind and run on to the stage to be part of the performance.

All right, perhaps not. After all it would be hard (and probably painful) to even attempt to replicate what the ensemble sf capable of.

"Tanguera" draws you in, keeps you transfixed and, simply put, it's sex on legs. Not to be missed if you're planning a visit to the French capital.

So if you didn't catch "Tanguera" when it was last performed back in Paris in 2008, then now's your chance.

It runs at the Théâtre du Châtelet from October 15 - November 2 and there are still seat available!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Georges Brassens remembered

October 29 marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Georges Brassens.

Georges Brassens (from Wikipedia)

He was, and remains, arguably one of France's most admired post World War II poets and songwriters and is described by Radio France Internationale (RFI) as, "One of the most important figures in French musical history."

Brassens' lyricism isn't easy to translate - successfully.

It has been done, but there's a wordplay, rhythm and rhyme that renders the task difficult.

But he's unquestionably well worth a listen to (in the original) for the sheer nuance of language and his obvious mastery of French.

Plus understanding Brassens and his place within the hearts of many French might go some way to appreciating what makes this country and its people tick.

"If you [want to] love my country, you should use Brassens as a travel guide,” comic book creator and film director Joann Sfar told RFI in an interview during the exhibition "Brassens ou la liberté" at Cité de la Musique in Paris over the summer, at which he was co-curator .

"Brassens is the guy that can have you love that country despite what that country is."

For anyone interested in discovering why he's considered by many French to be such an icon, there's a Festival Georges Bressans taking place in Charente November 10-13.

And on October 19, France 2 will be broadcasting the made-for-television film "La Mauvaise réputation" on Bressans' early years.

Michel Hazanavicius' "The Artist" - a film to see

If there's one film - just one single film - you should absolutely go to see this year it has to be "The Artist".

(screenshot "The Artist" trailer)

French critics have been heaping praise on it ever since it premiered at the Cannes film festival in May when Jean Dujardin took home the award for Best Actor.

Director Michel Hazanavicius' idea might seem completely potty.

At a time when 3D is all the rage, special FX, music, BIG Hollywood names, colour, the kitchen sink - you name it - are all part of what supposedly tickles the fancy of film-goers, what does the 44-year-old director, screenwriter and producer come up with?

A film in black and white of course - and a silent one to boot!

Hazanavicius apparently had the idea of making a black and white silent movie as far back as the early 90s but couldn't get the funding together.

It wasn't until after the success in France of his two spy spoof movies "OSS 117: Le Caire nid d'espions" ("OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies") in 2006 and "OSS 117: Rio Ne Répond Plus" ("OSS 117: Lost in Rio") in 2009, both of which starred Dujardin, that Hazanavicius sent the script of "The Artist" to the producer Thomas Langmann, who managed to get together a €10 million budget.

The film was shot at Warner Studios in Los Angeles in just 35 days, a feat which Hazanavicius admits, didn't really give him a chance to appreciate fully exactly how "mythical" the setting was.

"It was very short and I didn't have the time to be clear about where I was," he said.

"I had to keep to a very tight schedule and convince those working on the film to adapt to the French method of movie making."

The result? A romantic comedy described as "A pastiche…but lovingly made and extremely watchable," by Screen International.

Jean Dujardin (screenshot "The Artist" trailer)

Its storyline perhaps isn't entirely original: George Valentin (Dujardin) a star of silent movies in the late 1920s at a time when talkies are the future meets young actress Peppy Miller (played by Hazanavicius' wife, Bérénice Bejo) looking for her big break. As Valentin's star wanes, so Miller's rises.

(screenshot "The Artist" trailer)

But - and it's a big but - there's emotion, passion, music, dance, wonderful cinematography (yes it's possible in black and white) more than a few nods to classic Hollywood films that should keep any cinephile happy and, and and...oh yes a dog in the shape of Jack (played by Jack Russell Uggy who also won an award at Cannes - the Palm Dog).

"The Artist" opened in France October 12 and there are rumblings that it won't just be entered into that also-ran Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars next year - but will be in the main competition for the proper gongs.

So here's a word of advice - go see it.

Enjoy - and hey....even if you don't speak a word of French, it'll likely be the first film from this country that you'll sit through and be able to understand in its entirety.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

French motorist fined 143 times - for the same offence

In France motorists are required to carry a warning triangle in their car - just in case they break down of course.

It has been the law since July 1, 2008

So woe betide any driver stopped by the police and discovered not to have one somewhere in the vehicle.

A €90 fine can, and in all probability will, be issued, with the letter arriving in the post a couple of days.

And that's what one motorist from the town of Capbreton in the southwest of France expected after he returned from holiday, knowing that he had been stopped and found to be driving at the end of September without the required warning triangle shortly before leaving.

A letterbox stuffed full of fines (screenshot TF1 news report)

Except Gilles Rocher got more than he bargained for when he opened his letter box because he had been sent not just one, but 143 fines for the very same infraction - amounting to the princely sum of €12,870.

"I had fully expected a fine as I had been told I would be sent one," he told TF1 news.

"But surprise! Instead of just the one, I received 143 each with a different number meaning that I had apparently broken the law not just once but 143 times."

Worse still, he somehow had to find the money to pay the fine - or should that be fines - within 15 days or risk a penalty charge being levied.

When he rang the hotline of Le Centre Automatisé de Constatation des Infractions (CACIR) to find out what he should do, his story was met with a certain incredulity and the best advice he was offered was to contest each of the fines individually in writing - and by recorded delivery.

143 fines for one infraction (screenshot TF1 news report)

Fat lot of help that was.

But thankfully the camera crews were around and journalists were on to the story.

A call to the interior ministry brought a response from one of its spokesmen, Pierre-Henry Brandet.

"If it becomes apparent that there has been a bug in the system, as seems to be the case, then the tickets will be immediately cancelled and there'll be no need to pay," he said.

"It's a regrettable incident but one which remains anecdotal."

Not for poor Gilles perhaps, who must have had the shock of his life

But the following day, as the regional daily, Sud Ouest reported, everything had been resolved.

All 143 fines had been annulled - including the original one.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Friday's French music break - Magic System, "La danse des magiciens"

Friday's French music break this week is by a group from Côte d'Ivoire that have made quite an impression in recent years on this country's charts and, just as importantly, its dance floors.

Magic System (screenshot from "La danse des magiciens")

Magic System's "La danse des magiciens" will likely have you pumpin' and a groovin' no matter what your age.

It's the third track to be released from their latest album "Toutè kalé (to date they've released six) and proof once again that the quartet can churn out tunes that make you wish you were still young enough to "shake your stiff" (sic) (some of you might still be).

They formed back in 1994 when they were an eight-piece set up (having come from an even larger group of apparently more than 50 members)

But even with (just) eight members, according to their website, the group was just too large for any producer to be interested in signing them and three years later they split in half.

While A’salfo (Salif Traoré) , Manadja (Adama Fanny), Tino (Étienne Boué Bi) et Goudé (Narcisse Sadoua) kept the name Magic system, the four others (now down to three) formed the group Les Marabouts.

They've never had the same crossover success as Magic System, but they're still worth listening to.

Anyway, back to Magic System. They've become synonymous with Zouglou, dance music from Côte d'Ivoire which has apparently proven to be a form of expression for the country's youth to describe the problems they have and the "ills of society": the Ivorian equivalent of rap perhaps.

That might well have been how the group started and was received back home, but once they made it big in France with the 2002 single "Premier gaou" commercial appeal seemed to be the key to success and the hits...well, they just kept-a-comin'.

Among them were "Bouger bouger" in 2005, "Ki Dit Mié" in 2007, "Zouglou dance" in 2008.

The latest in a long line of dancefloor hits, "La danse des magiciens" is nothing outrageously innovative and very produced - perhaps overly so.

The lyrics? Well they're an exhortation to dance - Zouglou style: quite rightly not exactly Pulitzer prize-winning material. but enjoyable, fun...and man, it makes you wanna move!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

UK couple scoop EuroMillions jackpot but where's September's French winner?

A British couple were the winners of last Friday's Euromillions draw picking up a cool £101 million or €115 million.

(screenshot from EuroMillions commercial)

But in France there's still a mystery surrounding an even bigger jackpot "won" almost a month ago.

That's because nobody has stepped forward to make a claim for the €162 million for five correct numbers plus the two lucky stars in the September 13 draw.

The operator of the lottery in France, La Française des Jeux (FDJ), apparently has still had no news from the claimant and will only issue a statement once the winner has stepped forward and then "only in accordance with his or her wishes."

The winning ticket was apparently bought in the northwestern département of Calvados.

Yes the very same area known for its apple brandy, which might give a clue as to why nobody has yet made a claim.

And let's face it, the amount is hardly inconsiderable.

Should the winner eventually be identified he/she or they would have the 250th largest fortune in France.

But hey, who's counting centimes here?

It's not the first time someone has been in less than a hurry to pick up an enormous lottery cheque in France.

As Le Parisien reports, right now FDJ is waiting for the winner of €8 million in the national lottery draw from August 13 to make his or her claim.

Time is running out though as FDJ has rules about how long a jackpot can remain unclaimed and the deadline is October 12 at one minute to midnight.

As for the Euromillions winner from Calvados - well the deadline for making a claim is November 12.

EuroMillions ticket - sadly not a winner

Just for the record, those numbers for the September 13 draw in case you haven't already checked were - and still are - 9, 28, 30, 32, 49 and the two lucky stars 9 and 10 (you can check them out here)

EuroMillions is a transnational lottery incorporating national operators in nine European countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Friday's French music break - Claire Denamur, "Bang bang bang"

Friday's French music break this week has more than a hint of the US to it

Claire Denamur's "Bang bang bang" features an hypnotic twanging guitar, a country music-influenced rhythm and a simple, catchy chorus, which should all go a fair way to making it a hit.

Claire Denamur (screenshot from official clip)

Even before its release it had been receiving a fair amount of airplay, and should get something of a boost when the recording Denamur made for the television music show Taratata is broadcast in October.

The 27-year-old apparently spent a chunk of her childhood in the States and that has heavily influenced her music and style described as, "characterised by very text-based gender relations and intimate country folk acoustic music sung with a slightly rough and ready - or 'broken' - voice."

Of the quality of her voice, she's quoted as saying in a recent article about her music in the national daily Libération, "It's that of a heavy smoker who knows the joys of bourbon!"

And that's not too far off the mark.

Distinctive? Yes.

Unpleasant? Most definitely not.

And very Blues.

Plus she write her own material which has to be the mark of a true "artiste" doesn't it?

"Bang, Bang, Bang" is the first track to be released from her second album "Vagabonde" - also well worth a listen.

Check out a review of that album on the French radio station France Inter and zap over to her official website for concert dates.

In the meantime, here's "Bang, bang, bang".

Cool video.

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