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Monday, 28 February 2011

The French Socialist party's "vague" programme - according to Martine Aubry

How refreshing to hear a politician apparently telling the truth, no matter how unintentional it might be.

Amid the political comings and goings in France over the weekend and the reactions there have been to Sunday's decision by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, to reshuffle his government, came a moment of light relief.

It was, in itself, telling of the still-confused state of the opposition Socialist party and came in the form of a slip of the tongue - for which the media is notoriously unforgiving - from its leader Martine Aubry.

It had absolutely nothing to do with the events that were to unfold later in the day - the resignation of France's "beleaguered" foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie and the announcement by the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, of a government reshuffle.

Martine Aubry's "vague-vast" moment (screenshot France 2)

But to those watching Aubry as a guest at the end of the lunchtime news on France 2 television, it can only have brought a smile to the face - and a knowing nod that her "lapsus linguae" probably wasn't too far off the mark.

Aubry was talking about some of the propositions being put forward to form the party's official programme during campaigning for the 2012 presidential elections.

She animatedly outlined the broad thrust of what that programme would be, but in her apparent enthusiasm, somehow only managed to confirm what many of the French must surely fear will be the case.

"We want to give all the French the chance to have a say what they think," she said.

"And at the same time they should respect the rules and respect each other," she continued.

'It's an extremely vague...vast...programme and that's the essential thing."

Yes Aubry managed to correct herself in full flow, but the "vague-vast" blooper had left its mark, with one wise wag commenting on the clip which quickly found its way onto the Net that, "The one time she (Aubry) actually tells the truth, she is criticised for doing so."

We wait with bated breath for more details on the Socialist party's vague and vast programme.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Animal cruelty - decision delayed on French teens who set fire to a cat

There are plenty of videos that go viral on the Net showing the horrors of what man can do to animals.

Thankfully a search for the one at the centre of this tale brings up nothing, even though the event was recorded on a mobile 'phone and then posted on the Net.

Sadly though, there are plenty of other examples of similar behaviour; each of them surely equally inexplicable to anyone with even a couple of neurones between their ears.

(source Wikipedia, Author - derivative work: howcheng)

In 2006 two adolescents from the south of France had reportedly spent the night drinking and were "looking for something to do".

The pair, according to a report which appeared at the time in the regional newspaper, Midi Libre, decided to relieve their boredom by locking a cat in a cage, dousing it with petrol before setting light to it and watching it die.

"A sordid story," says the animal charity Fondation 30 millions d'amis on it website after the first of the defendants, now 22 years old, appeared in a court in the southern French city of Nîmes earlier this month.

The Fondation was just one of several animal welfare organisations to file a civil suit against the pair. Others included Respectons, the Fondation Brigitte Bardot and the Société protectrice des animaux (SPA).

Speaking on behalf of Respectons, lawyer Frédérique Ortega outlined what made this case especially, in her terms, "barbaric".

"Beyond the acts themselves, the cruelty of these young people also lay in the fact that they made all the arrangements to disseminate these terrible images," she said.

The court has delayed making a ruling in the case against the 22-year -old until April.

A date has not yet been set to hear the case against the other defendant, who was a minor at the time, and will be appear before a juvenile court.

The maximum penalty for such acts of cruelty to animals, according to the 30 millions d'amis website, is a two-year prison sentence and a €30,000 fine.

In 2009 the case of "Mambo" the dog who survived after being set alight resulted in a 22-year-old woman being handed down a one-year prison sentence with six months suspended and a €6,000 fine.

Her 17-year-old companion received an 18-month probationary sentence

Thursday, 24 February 2011

French diplomacy - "amateur, impulsive and lacking coherence "

Those were the words used to describe France's foreign policy and in particular its diplomacy, under its president Nicolas Sarkozy.

They came in an open letter published on Wednesday in the national daily, Le Monde from the Marly group, a collection of French diplomats, retired and serving, of all political persuasions, who were anonymously but collectively airing their concerns.

French foreign affairs and its diplomacy, certainly seem to have come in for a fair bit of scrutiny recently - and this week's events have perhaps only highlighted how much.

Take for example the first visit of a French government minister to Tunisia since that country's Jasmine revolution.

French foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie

In fact there wasn't just one minister but two; Christine Lagarde, the finance minister, and Laurent Wauquiez, the minister for European affairs.

Notice anything odd...apart from the fact that France saw in necessary to send a minister responsible for Europe to a country in North Africa?

Yep, the absence of the foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie (MAM) who had been dispatched to Brazil out of harm's way.

She, MAM, justified her visit to South America as being more "pragmatic".

"The visit was planned over a month ago and Brazil is a country with which we have a very important relationship," she is reported to have said in an informal conversation in the capital Brasilia.

Of course foreign ministers cannot change plans at the last minute to react to changing situations, and her absence in Tunisia had nothing whatsoever to do with the ongoing controversy there has been over her holidays there earlier this year.

So it was left to Lagarde and Wauquiez to build bridges with the finance minister telling journalists that she was confident the relationship between the two countries had not been harmed and Wauquiez mooting the idea of economic aid in the form of a "Marshall plan for Tunisia"

"We've come, not to lecture but to listen to their needs," he said, clearly aware of the fact that there are over 1,200 subsidiaries of French companies in Tunisia and there are interests to be protected.

Strangely silent and hovering in the background was the recently appointed ambassador, Boris Boillon.

He seemed almost, as some commentators back home in France observed, to be paying penance for the insulting remarks he had made to a journalist last week and which resulted in protests calling for his resignation and a subsequent very public apology on national television.

"Sarko boy" was on his best behaviour. Perhaps he had wind of an old can of worms that had been reopened in the form of an appearance he had made on the early evening news magazine Le Grand Journal on Canal + television last November.

Boillon défend Kadhafi (C+)
envoyé par LePostfr. - L'info video en direct.

During the interview Boillon had defended Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, saying he had been a terrorist but wasn't any longer.

"We all make mistakes in life," he said. "And we all have the right to another chance," he said after admitting that Gaddafi had referred to him as "his son".

Boris Boillon (screenshot from Le Grand Journal)

Yes old news - well not so old - but certainly words that seem misplaced with hindsight.

To top it all off was the publication on Wednesday in Le Monde of that open letter from the Marly grop.

"Amateur, impulsive, obsessed with the media and a lack of coherence" were the main criticisms aimed at the current state of affairs.

"Our foreign policy is one of improvisation often undertaken with respect to domestic political considerations," they wrote.

A bold move as far as the weekly news magazine L'Express was concerned and one "which coming from a group of people known for their discretion, indicated how worrying the situation was."

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Albi's Pause Guitar festival line-up announced

If you're looking to attend an open-air concert in a spectacular location this summer then perhaps you need look no further than the southwestern French city of Albi.

Albi (from Wikipedia, author: Marion Schneider & Christoph Aistleitner)

The line-up for this year's Pause Guitar festival taking place July 7-10 has just been announced, and if you're a fan of the French music scene, then it's definitely the place to go.

All four of the acts nominated in this year's category of Best Newcomer at Les Victoires de la Musique, the French equivalent of the Grammys, are slated to appear; winners Lilly Wood & The Prick, Ben l'Oncle Soul, Camélia Jordana and Zaz.

Also performing at various venues throughout the city will be Joe Cocker, Philippe Katerine, Gaéten Roussel, Aaron, Cocoon and, and and...

Heck, if you want a full list of who'll be playing when and where, and you want to books tickets, head over to the festival's website and take a look around.

If (French) music ain't your thing then Albi has plenty more to offer.

It's the capital of the département of Tarn and just an hour's drive away from one of the country's largest cities, Toulouse.

Set on the river Tarn, it's architecturally stunning with a host of terra cotta brick buildings typical of the region, most notably the 13th century Sainte Cécile Cathedral.

Sainte Cécile Cathedral, Albi

Not to be missed either is the Palais de la Berbie which since 1922 has also housed a museum dedicated to the works of the city's most famous son, the painter Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa.

Last August the Episcopal City of Albi became a Unesco World Heritage site.

It includes the Cathedral, the Palais, the Pont Vieux - a stone bridge built in the 11th century and later clad in the characteristic red brickstone - as well as parts of the banks of the river Tarn.

Albi, river Tarn

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

France's ambassador to Tunisia, Boris "Sarko boy" Boillon, apologises for his insulting behaviour

It can't be easy starting a new job, upsetting your host country, and then having to go on national television to issue an apology.

But that's exactly what has happened over the past week to France's new ambassador to Tunisia, Boris Boillon.

Boris Boillon (screenshot from BFMTV report)

During his first press conference since taking up his post on February 16, "Sarko boy", as Boillon is dubbed by some of the French media, insulted a journalist.

His style during the conference was friendly and relaxed to begin with, but it changed when faced with questions about France's reaction when the Jasmine revolution began.

He was dismissive and aggressive in both French and Arabic towards one journalist and for many (both in France and Tunisia) it was behaviour reminiscent of his mentor, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Inevitably perhaps it didn't go down well with Tunisians.

A video of the meeting soon made it on to the Net and the people who had so effectively used social networking sites to topple the former leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali resorted to the same tactics to call for protests and his resignation outside the French embassy in Tunis on Friday.

A day later it was "damage control" from Boillon who went on national television to apologise.

"I say I am sorry, I regret my words, I was stupid," Boillon said.

"I ask for the forgiveness of all Tunisians."

After Sarkozy admitted that the French government had "misjudged" the strength of popular feeling which brought about the downfall of Ben Ali, he replaced the former ambassador, Pierre Menat, with Boillon.

His remit, as described by the weekly news magazine L'Express was to "reconnect with the Tunisian society, after decades of French complacency towards a hated regime."

And the French government spokesman, François Baroin, said of Boillon when the appointment was announced that, "He has all the natural sensitivity to match the new era now in Franco-Tunisian relations."

Last week's incident and the follow-up apology was not exactly the most auspicious of starts to the job of building bridges for the 41-year-old who has already completed a stint as France's Man in Baghdad and is the country's youngest serving ambassador.

Perhaps he'll now be discouraged from trying too hard to fashion himself in the mould of Sarkozy.

But somehow, for the moment, he looks like the most undiplomatic of diplomats - and has had a photo on his personal page of the French social networking site Copains d'avant to prove it: one which shows him wearing only in a pair of trunks...and a smile.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Five-star luxury for pampered pooches in Paris

You know the world has quite literally gone barking mad when special accommodation is on offer for Man's Best Friend, often more luxurious and sumptuous than living conditions for those of us with only two legs.

Such is the case of the recently-opened Actuel Dogs hôtel in the suburbs of Paris which, as its name suggests, is exclusively for guests of the four-legged kind.

With just six rooms it could perhaps be described as a "canine boutique hôtel" and has been inspired by similar set-ups in the United States and Japan.

Ulysse, one of the guests at Actuel Dogs (screenshot from Agence France Presse video report)

It's the brainchild of animal behaviourist Stan Burin and his wife Dévi, who wanted to offer dog owners a place to leave their pets while they went out to work.

"We started out from the principle that dog owners were looking for something other than kennels," Dévi, told RTL radio.

"What we're offering in a sense is a pet-sitting or foster service if you like, except we've pushed the concept a little further," she continued.

"Rather than introducing the animal into a setting intended essentially for humans we've created an environment specifically aimed at the well-being of the dog."

What exactly that implies is explained by taking a look at the hôtel's website to discover what owners - or should that be their furry friends - are getting for their euros.

There's a games room, a heated swimming pool, a massage room, bathroom, single rooms and suites and à la carte menus.

And that's not all. The hôtel is close to one of the city's major parks, the Bois de Vincennes, and takes full advantage of its location by offering individual or group "doggy walks", the more physically exerting "doggy jogg" as well as "doggy rando" or hiking and "doggy vélo" where your four-legged friend can enjoy running alongside a bicycle.

Although Dévi insists that the hôtel isn't exclusively for dogs whose owners have deeper-than-average pockets, such luxury of course has its price.

Half-day board starts at €26, while full-day during the week begins at €35 for a standard room and €45 for a suite and that includes two walks and "unlimited access to the games room."

Owners can also keep track of how their pets are faring in pooch paradise by webcam or email.

And whoever said it's a dog's life?


Sunday, 20 February 2011

France's "Grammys" - les victoires de la musique

Yes, yes, yes.

We all know that when it comes to music and film, only the United States and a handful of other English-speaking countries really count.

Sure there have been "foreign" Oscar winners across categories (usually the less well-publicised ones) over the years but by and large it's a collective slap on the back from Hollywood to itself.

The same can be surely said for the Grammys. Even though there are awards recognising reggae, Latin and World Music, the international headlines are made by the likes of Lady Gaga Justin Bieber and co.

Just take a look at those nominated in the category Best New Artist this year.

There were five them; Esperanza Spalding, the winner, Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence and The Machine and Mumford & Sons.

Notice anything?

Here's a hint: United States, Canada, Canada, United Kingdom, United Kingdom.

Yep. That's where this year's Best New Artists came from!

But of course there's a whole world beyond North America and other native English speaking countries - really.

And there's plenty of music around that never reaches the ears of those most attuned to the language of Shakespeare in all its many forms, simply because...well who knows? But it probably has something to do with it not being in English.

So to redress the balance - just a little - here's a selection of what was on offer this past week in France as the award for Best Newcomer was handed out at part one (it's complicated) of Les Victoires de la Musique, this country's equivalent, if you will, of the Grammys

First up, Ben l'Oncle Soul

Ready to groove? Then how about tuning your ears into Benjamin Duterde, better known under his stage name of Ben l'Oncle Soul.

Ben l'Oncle Soul (screenshot from YouTube video)

The 27-year-old from the city of Tours in central-western France first came to the attention of a wider audience in 2009 after the release of a six-track EP which included his remake of White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army"

Over the past year though his self-titled album has won critical acclaim with what is described as a sound influenced by the "old school of artists such as Otis Redding, Al Green and Aretha Franklin."

Yes, Ben l'Oncle Soul is French "SOUL" writ large very much in the style of all those US greats and, as if to drive home the point, he's signed to Motown France.

Camélia Jordana

The second nominee was 18-year-old Camélia Jordana Aliouane.

French television talent shows have thrown up a number of fresh faces over the years.

Some have gone on to become household names, others have disappeared whence they came.

Camélia Jordana (screenshot from YouTube video)

Camélia Jordana (she dropped her surname for professional purposes) falls into the former category.

Largely expected to win the now defunct Nouvelle Star (the French version of Pop Idol) in 2009, she was in fact knocked out in the semi-finals.

But "talent will out" and after signing with Sony music, she released her first (self-titled) album in March last year and has already had three hit singles.

No matter what you think of her voice, it's certainly one few can forget.


Now here's a coincidence - another artist hailing from Tours - Isabelle Geffroy or "Zaz" to use the name under which she performs.

Perhaps there's something in the water.

Zaz (screenshot from YouTube video)

Her music is a truly eclectic mix of blues, jazz, variety, rock, reggae, rap and the kitchen sink combining with her distinctive sound to produce a singer, who in the words of critics, "Beyond dispute has been blessed with a unique vocal ability as well as a power and vibrato."

Her debut album was a best seller in France last year, hitting the number one spot for six weeks has so far produced two enormous hits; "Je veux" and "Le long de la route".

Lilly Wood & The Prick

Last - and by no means least as the saying goes - Lilly Wood & The Prick.

Lilly Wood & The Prick (screenshot from YouTube video)

Formed and fronted by Nili Hadida et Benjamin Cotto[ back in 2006 - the group perhaps puts paid to the idea that Myspace no longer has any role on the Net, because that's where they were first "discovered".

They sing in English and their music is described as a pop, folk, electro.

There you go. Proof that music is alive and well in France with four artists whose styles are refreshing judge.

Now you're probably wondering who won.

Well, after all that lengthy introduction about the Grammys and the overall lack of recognition for acts other than North American or British ones because of the overwhelming linguistic bias...blah, blah, blah.

Yes you've guessed it. The French gave the award of Victoire de la Musique in the category "Best Newcomer" to the only act that sings exclusively in English.

Oh well.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Belgian goalie fluffs it - BIG time

Or as one of Belgium's national broadcasters RTL described him when it ran the story, "The world's worst goalkeeper III".

Yes it's a footballing story from Belgium, complete with video of a moment Damien Lahaye will surely never forget.

Damien Lahaye (screenshot from YouTube video)

Any story about Belgium is bound to be confusing because names of town and cities change according to the language.

Remember it's a country incorporating (roughly speaking) Dutch-speaking Flanders in the northern half and French-speaking Wallonia (which also includes a small German-speaking community) in the southern half.

This tale of the Beautiful Game involves two teams from Flanders, both playing in the country's top division, and has the added spice of being a derby of sorts as they're only 25 kilometres apart.

The home side last weekend was Koninklijke Voetbalclub Kortrijk (Dutch) or KV Courtrai (French) and the visitors Koninklijke Atletieke Associatie Gent (KAA Gent)/ La Gantoise.

Just to add to the confusion of course the English spelling of the Gent includes an "h" to become Ghent.

No there weren't five teams on the pitch, although perhaps Courtrai's goalie thought there were.

Anyway enough of the geography lesson. Grab an map of the country if you wish.

Back to Lahaye's blunder.

The game had entered the final 10 minutes and Ghent striker Ilombe M'Boyo made a cross which his team mates in the penalty area couldn't quite get their heads to.

Never mind - in came Lahaye to the rescue as he failed to scoop up the ball and instead allowed it through his legs for a GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAL - as the Brazilians might put it.

Jubliation from Courtrai's supporters.

The goal was accredited to M'Boyo as nobody else had touched the thing.

And Lahaye did only what any professional would do under the circumstances; he picked the ball up, booted it upfield and then put his head in his hands in shame.

Final score: Courtrai 0 - Ghent 1

Ah The Beautiful Game can throw up some memorable moments. And not always for the right reason.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

MAM voyage - a spoof on French foreign minister's "free" travels

Amid all the recent controversy surrounding the travel arrangements of the French foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, a spoof agency has gone online offering trips to dream destinations at truly unbelievable prices: in fact no price at all. apparently has some unreal bargains on its books.

Tabarka in Tunisia is knocked down from €1,299 to €0. And a similar great offer for Abou Simbel in Egypt sees prices slashed from €1,899 to €0.

Further bargains include Iran, Côte d'Ivoire and Burma - all at the ridiculously giveaway prices of...well you probably get the idea.

There's a testimonial from (among others) Michèle M. who says, "We had a fabulous time and thank you once again for the free upgrade during our stopover in Tunis."

And François F. (a nod to the French prime minister François Fillion who admitted having "accepted the hospitality" of former Eyptian president Hosni Mubarak while on holiday on the Nile at the New Year) writes, "Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, the magnificence of the Nile ... with MAM it's more than a trip. It's a state of mind"

The whole spoof is topped off with contact details which will put you in touch with the French foreign ministry.

The name MAM-voyage is, of course, a parody of the site of the French tour operator FRAM and at the same time a reference to Alliot-Marie, who is more commonly known in France as MAM.

And it perhaps comes as a welcome, light-hearted relief after the recent controversy surrounding one of France's most experienced and longest-serving government ministers.

MAM (the foreign minister that is) has faced opposition calls to resign ever since it was revealed that she used a private jet while on holiday with her partner Patrick Ollier, who is also a government minister, in Tunisia last December at the beginning of the country's uprising.

The 'plane the couple used was owned by a businessman, Aziz Miled who, it was alleged, had been close to the former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Although she has since admitted that she "regretted her decision to accept the free flight", MAM has also defended Miled saying he had been a longtime friend and a "victim rather than an ally of Ben Ali."

Calls for her resignation have been renewed this week ever since the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné revealed that MAM and Ollier weren't alone in Tunisia.

They were joined by Alliot-Marie's elderly parents who reportedly signed a property deal with Miled.

It was a deal which 92-year-old Bernard Marie, the foreign minister's father, told France 24 he had been advised to do because it "would be an investment in 2012."

Facing parliamentarians on Wednesday in the National Assembly, MAM hit back at those calling for her resignation and criticised the latest turn of events.

"You keep repeating lies in the hope that they'll turn into the truth," she said, stressing that the after trying to find something with which to tarnish her reputation, opponents had now decided to focus their attention on her parents.

"Have they done anything illegal? No. This campaign is shameful," she said.

"I just want to say quite simply how objectionable it is that you try to use my parents to attack me politically."

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Raymond Domenech breaks his silence and admits his "mea culpa"

It has been quite a while since the former coach of the French national football team, Raymond Domenech, has given an interview of any sort.

He has remained discreet and refused to go into any details over the disastrous performance of Les Bleus at last year's World Cup finals in South Africa, the players' infamous strike, the disappointing Euro 2008 showing or his post-managerial plans after being fired in September 2010.

But in this week's edition of the French news magazine L'Express, published on Wednesday, Domenech breaks his silence.

Responding to some of the questions that others have been answering in his place over the past couple of months is, says Domenech, "an attempt to restore the truth and show that I'm not the moron I've been described as being."

And the 59-year-old doesn't mince his words.

"With hindsight I see them as a bunch of irresponsible brats," he says of the players who, in that now "legendary" non-footballing moment, returned to their bus and refused to get off for the training session before the team's final match against the hosts South Africa.

He admits that he didn't want to read out the players' statement but had little choice in the matter.

"There were hundreds of kids waiting on the sidelines and all the cameras were trained on the bus," he says.

"We were the laughing stock of the world. Somebody had to take responsibility and stop the charade."

Legal reasons prevent Domenech from speaking of the incident that sparked of the players' strike - the alleged altercation with Nicolas Anelka during the half time interval in the match against Mexico and the subsequent sending home of the striker.

But the former coach says quite simply that he did his job as trainer.

He has harsh words for the then-sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot, who was also in South Africa during the debacle and said that she had given the players a pep talk and believed that some of them had "tears in their eyes."

"The players were close to tears? Maybe of laughter," he retorts.

"I never got involved in the vaccination campaign (against H1N1 flu, for which Bachelot was also responsible as health minister) and when I'm not competent (in a matter) I hold my tongue."

The interview is far from being one in which Domenech passes the buck and blames others.

Far from it. He admits he made mistakes; from choosing the wrong players and not explaining himself sufficiently well to failing to step down from the job after the Euro 2008 campaign when France went home with just one point and one goal after the group stage.

"I've asked myself why I didn't resign then," he reveals.

"More than that, I wonder why I wasn't asked to step down."

But for all the admission of mistakes made Domenech doesn't take criticism well, and it's a trait which perhaps gives him an air of arrogance.

"If others have the impression that I have no regrets, then perhaps that's because I'm a bad communicator," he says.

"Let's be clear; I made mistakes in not choosing the right players or finding the right words," he continues.

"I don't accept the criticism of politicians or former players who are now journalists but that doesn't stop me from drawing my own conclusion over my record as a manager."

You can read the full interview on the website of L'Express.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's musical homage to Charles Trenet - in Italian

Perhaps you remember France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, confirming last December that she would be going back into the recording studio this year to prepare her fourth album.

Well she's reportedly doing just that and everyone has been rather tight-lipped about which songs could be included on the album and who, among France's songwriters, might lend a hand or better still a song, for Bruni-Sarkozy to interpret.

Now though word has trickled out that one of the tracks that could figure on the album is a remake of Charles Trenet's 1943 song "Douce France" but sung in Italian to become of course "Dolce Francia".

Screenshot from LCI news report

It's no done deal though that it'll make the final cut.

"The album will feature songs in French and others in Italian but at this stage we don't know whether this particular one will be included," Bruni-Sarkozy's agent told Agence France Presse.

"I've heard an unreleased preliminary version and it's a good interpretation."

The regional daily Midi Libre has an extract on its site for everyone to judge for themselves how well (or not) they think France's first lady has covered the original.

And the timing of the sneak preview couldn't be better as February 19 marks the tenth anniversary of Trenet's death.

Trenet was a French singer-songwriter whose most famous hits date from the 1930s to the mid-1950s but who continued recording until he died in 2001 and, although he might be considered to be from another era, remains something of a national treasure as far as the French are concerned.

He was described shortly before his death by Radio France Internationale as "one of the last of the legendary French chanson stars" and one who would "inevitably go down in history as the man who wrote the unforgettable 'Le Mer'" a song whose lyrics he claimed to have written in a matter of minutes while on a train and one which was has apparently been covered by more than 400 artists in many languages to become "one of the most famous French songs of all time."

As if to underline Trenet's enduring popularity a poll conducted on behalf of the regional daily Midi Libre reveals that even a decade after his death 60 per cent of those questioned say they liked his songs with the most popular one being "Douce France".

A simple search will pull up any number of English translations of the lyrics, but maybe you should just sit back and enjoy the original in French from the man himself - crackles and hisses included.

Monday, 14 February 2011

French tennis open stays at Roland Garros

The Fédération Française de Tennis (French tennis federation, FFT) has decided that the French Open will continue to be played at Stade de Roland Garros (Roland Garros Stadium) in Paris.

At the weekend it voted to renovate and enlarge the existing venue on the outskirts of the capital's 16th arrondissement rather than move to a new site in the suburbs.

(Screenshot from TF1 news)

Roland Garros had been up against stiff competition from three other alternatives, all aiming to host the clay court event which is the second of the annual four Grand Slam tournaments.

It was a process that had begun almost two years ago when the FFT invited bids to stage the French Open from 2016 because the current site, which had been its home since 1928, was considered too small and difficult to extend.

The other candidates had been Gonesse in the northeastern suburbs of Paris almost 17 kilometres from the centre, Versailles - home of the famous palace - 17 kilometres to the west, and Marne-la-Vallée - a new town 32 kilometres to the east and best known perhaps for being the home of Disneyland, Paris.

But in the end the FFT plumped for tradition and in the process bucked the trend of, in the words of its president Jean Gachassin, "Having things on a grand scale."

"When we began looking at how we could modernise the stadium at Roland Garros our ambition was to be able to offer a real plan that would ensure the future and the high quality of the event," he says on the federation's website.

"By choosing Paris and deciding to modernise, expand and completely rethink the historical site of Roland Garros, the FFT has opted for a magnificent and unique project which allows us to distinguish ourselves from other tournaments and remain true to our values."

Among the renovations are the building of a retractable roof over the Philippe Chatrier centre court and a totally new 8,000-capacity court.

Costs of course also played an important part in the decision with renovation of Roland Garros put at €275 million rather than the €460 million plus price tag of the other three alternative sites, all of which would have required building from scratch.

While Vincent Eblé, who is president of the regional council of Seine-et-Marne, the département in which Marne-la-Vallée is located, congratulated Paris on its "win" he also had a word of warning.

"As is the tradition in sport we are 'fair play' and wish Paris and the federation all the luck in creating a stadium that France needs," he told Agence France Presse .

"But it is far from being faced with an easy job," he added ominously.

And reflecting a certain disquiet among some over the decision was Amélie Mauresmo, a former world number who retired in 2009.

"I hope the federation won’t get in trouble by taking this decision,” Mauresmo, who is now co-director of the Open Gaz de France, said.

“I don’t know if the tennis aspect prevailed in - I have my doubts."

The "trouble" could be the extension of the site to include part of the neighbouring botanical gardens, le Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil, which Yves Contassot, a councillor in Paris for the ecology party Les Verts, says represent just one of any number of judicial and administrative obstacles.

"There'll have to be changes made in planning regulations in Paris and that'll have to go to a local, departmental and national level as well," he told French television.

"Commissions will also have to determine what happens to a site classified as of 'historical interest' and at least two ministries will be involved," he continued.

"I don't believe that by 2015 there'll be an extra court on the site which is currently occupied by the gardens."

Game, set and match, it seems, is far from being called.

Maybe Mickey and friends can still hold out hope.

Friday, 11 February 2011

A wet welcome in Warsaw as Sarkozy gets left out in the cold

This week saw the revival of the Weimar Triangle summit, a get-together of the Polish, French and German leaders "intended to promote co-operation" between the three countries.

It's an informal arrangement which allows a meeting of minds and an exchange of ideas between the leaders of three of the European Union's largest countries (in terms of population).

The event first took place in 1991 and was held regularly until 2006, when the late Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, put an end to them because he was upset at the way in which he was covered in the German media.

Monday's meeting in Warsaw was a chance for the Polish president, Bronisław Komorowski, to resuscitate the event by playing host, and also preparing the ground for Poland which will take over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU in July.

But somehow Komorowski's interpretation of "informal" seemed to go just a little too far as he committed a series of gaffes which left the Polish media amused with his apparent lack of "savoir faire" when it comes to diplomatic protocol.

First up as the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, arrived at the Wilanów palace to be met by their host, nobody really seemed to know who should enter first or where they should go.

Television news reports showed Sarkozy almost being left behind and then having to be pointed in the right direction by an attending official.

As the leaders stood on a podium in front of the palace with the flags of the three countries fluttering in the background while their respective national anthems were played, it became clear that someone has made a protocol faux pas as the position of the flags didn't correspond with that of the leaders.

But that was nothing, as far as the Polish media was concerned, to the embarrassment of seeing just one umbrella held up to protect the three leaders from the rain.

Because it didn't - shelter them that is. Merkel and Komorowski were covered, but Sarkozy was quite literally left out in the rain.

Merkel and Komorowski sheltered by an umbrella. Sarkozy left standing in the rain (screenshot from Polish television news report)

Interviewed on Polish television, Janusz Sibor, a specialist in diplomatic protocol, said quite clearly that each guest should have been provided with an umbrella, and if anyone had to get wet then it should been the host.

And it brought short shrift from a former head of diplomatic protocol, Jan Piekarski.

“To me, this is quite simply a lack of manners,” he is quoted as saying.

Out of the rain and into the palace, Komorowski once again showed his lack of social graces when he quite happily plonked himself down in a chair not waiting for either of the others to be seated.

"This again seems to me a break with protocol," said Sibor. "The order should be exactly the same as it is when seating guests at home for dinner. The host should show the others where to sit and then take his or her place last."

Amusement and embarrassment might well characterise the Polish media's coverage of what happened, but Sarkozy clearly didn't seem to be too put out and he even went as far as to praise Komorowski for his idea of inviting Russian president Dmitri Medvedev to the next meeting.

Perhaps though a word or two should be whispered in Komorowski's ear before Poland takes over that rotating EU presidency...along the lines of, "Mind you manners Mr President."

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

"No sex until a government is formed", says Belgian politician

A Belgian politician has come up with a novel solution to end the governmental crisis in her country.

Marleen Temmerman, a senator from the Socialistische Partij Anders (Flemish social-democratic party, sp.a) has called on spouses of all negotiators attempting to break the political deadlock in Belgium to, quite literally "keep their legs crossed" until a new government has been formed.

Marleen Temmerman (screenshot from interview)

Belgium has been without an elected government since national elections last June and Temmerman insists the idea of a "sex strike" is not as potty as it might sound.

"The idea came to me following the example of what happened in Kenya when, after elections in 2009, there was political deadlock and politicians couldn't agree on a new government," she said.

"Women's movements launched a call for a 'sex strike', not just aimed at spouses or partners of negotiators but at all Kenyan women - no sexual relations until a new government had been formed. One month later the country had a new government."

Temmerman admits the call for Belgian women to copy the Kenyan example is meant to be taken with humour in the same way as actor Benoît Poelvoorde's call on his fellow countrymen in January to stop shaving until a new government had been formed.

At the same time though she maintains it also serves as an example of what ordinary citizens can do to show their frustration at the political stalemate.

"What we're talking about of course is what the Belgians in general can do, such as the March of Shame (when tens of thousands took to the streets to call for national unity and a new government)," she said

"The negotiators and those sitting around the table must take responsibility for hammering out an agreement. We need a new government so that our country can move forward."

Not everyone has welcomed Temmerman's suggestions with humour.

In the Dutch language daily Het Laatste Nieuws, journalist Luc Van Der Kelen took Temmerman and all the country's politicians to task.

"If the politicians themselves are no longer able to rise above a pubescent comedy more in keeping with what might be seen on children's television, the country is in great danger," he wrote.

And feminist groups have not exactly come down on Temmerman's side either according to France's daily Le Monde which quotes the head of one of them as saying, "It would have been better to have called a strike on washing up."

Bientôt la grève du sexe en Belgique?
envoyé par Zoomin_France. - L'info internationale vidéo.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Britain's "Super Granny" to the rescue as an elderly lady foils a robbery WITH UPDATE

It was real handbags-at-dawn-type stuff in the East Midlands town of Northampton on Monday morning as an elderly woman attacked a gang of men attempting to rob a jeweller's store.

Screenshot from YouTube video

There were, according to the BBC, six of them armed with sledgehammers.

There was just one of her, armed with...what else, but a handbag.

Video footage of what happened was broadcast on ITV's Anglia Tonight show and, in the way these things are, soon went viral on the Net.

Take a look at the video and you can see exactly what happened; one old lady, dressed in red, rushing across the street and laying into the men without any apparent concern for her own safety.

It was a case of, as the Guardian puts it, once the cavalry arrived "the thugs - twice her size - didn't stand a chance."

Passers-by eventually lost their British reserve and helped hold down one of the men as he fell from the getaway scooter.

Police later arrested three others and were searching for the other two who managed to get away.

Nobody - least of all Super Granny - was hurt, although she wishes to remain anonymous.

"Clearly we will recognise her for her bravery," Peter Chisholm, a local police inspector told the Guardian.

"We won't be releasing her name though," Inspector Peter Chisholm is quoted as saying.

"There might be more members of the gang out there and we wouldn't want to put her in any danger," he added.


The woman has now been named as Ann Timson, who is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying, "My mother’s instinct kicked in and I ran across the road shouting at the lads to stop it. Only then did I realise that they were smashing glass and that it was a raid."

Read more

French lorry driver wins lottery, saves company and employs his former boss

What would you do if you won the lottery? Buy a house? A new car? A boat?

Splash out on a dream holiday perhaps? Or squirrel the money away and continue life as usual?

Or would you have a good, long think about things and after you had finished "shopping", buy the company you worked for?

That's what one former lorry driver in his fifties from northwestern France did after he hit the jackpot.

"Alexandre", the man who prefers to "guard his anonymity" as the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien puts it, won €10 million in the French Loto last September.

When the road haulage company for which he worked was threatened with liquidation, he stepped in and bought it, becoming the new CEO and therefore the boss of his former boss.

Into the bargain he also saved the jobs of more than a dozen employees.

"I had the means to invest and save jobs, and it's a world I know well. In fact it has been my life," he said

"That's not something you can give up from one day to another."

His decision was not a rash one based on sentimentality.

He only took over the assets of the company as well as a portfolio of clients and a dozen lorries, and not the liabilities or debts.

"If I see we're losing too much money, then I'll quit," he warns.

But for now he wants to "develop business and create more jobs."

As well as an apparent "nose for business" he also threw in a little retail therapy for good measure, buying a couple of houses and a 4X4.

That was the extent of his spending spree though, as he has also taken on an investment advisor and continues to play the Loto "just in case".

La Française des Jeux, the operator of the Loto, told Agence France Presse that as far as it knew this was the first time a winner had bought the company for which he or she had previously worked.

Alexandre was one of two men from the same part of France who had separate wins in two different lotteries last September.

The other man, also in his fifties and a lorry driver, picked up €15 million in the pan-European lottery EuroMillions.

Once a lorry driver, always a lorry driver - albeit a wealthy one.

Monday, 7 February 2011

France chooses Amaury Vassili to sing at the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest

It might well be more than three months away, but France has already chosen who will be representing it at this year's Eurovision Song Contest; Amaury Vassili.

Amaury Vassili (screenshot from France 3 video)

None of the leaving-it-up-to-the-public to choose an act and/or song as far as France is concerned.

It goes about things in quite a different way to many other countries.

France Television decides who'll be singing what - and basta.

Of course there were plenty of rumours before the weekend's decision was announced.

Names of past winners and participants of one of the country's talent shows such as the now defunct Star Academy (although French television has a tendency to live by the principle of "what goes around, comes around" so perhaps it'll be back on the small screen at a later date - but that's quite another story) or Nouvelle Star (the French version of "Pop Idol" and equally no longer with us) were mooted, but in the end the powers-that-be plumped for Vassili.

"In choosing the 21-year-old Amaury Vassili, France 3 wants to honour for the first time a great lyric tenor," Pierre Sled, the director of programming for France 3 - the channel which will broadcast Eurovision live in France - told the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien.

"He will also best represent French excellence."

As an added bonus, and in keeping with a somewhat on-off tradition in the choice of language in which the song will be sung, the channel also announced that it'll be in the Corsican dialect, "To use one of the largest stages in Europe to promote one of the many regional dialects for which France is famous."

A novel twist which well certainly ensure that even a majority of the domestic audience won't know what the blazes he's singing about.

Since it first began participating in the contest, France has only twice entered a song sung in a regional dialect.

It last won the competition back in 1977 when Marie Myriam sang "L'Oiseau Et L'Enfant".

France, along with the other so-called Big Five financial contributors to the jamboree (Germany, Italy - which is back in the contest after a 13-year absence - Spain and the United Kingdom) automatically qualify for the final of the Eurovision Song Contest, which will this year be held in the German city of Düsseldorf on May 14.

The 38 other countries that have confirmed their participation will battle it out in two semi-finals to be held in the same city on May 10 and May 12 to determine which 20 will qualify alongside the Big Five for the final showdown, which goes on and on and on and on.

Place your bets now for "France nul points" as it chooses a pap (sic) classical singer for Eurovision.

The Good Old Days

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Escaped UK schizophrenic found teaching in French school

Lewis Alexander Mawhinney applied for a job as a German teacher in the southern French town of Digne-les-Bains in December last year.

The 26-year-old, originally from Northern Ireland, apparently came with excellent qualifications.

As the national daily France Soir reports, because the local education authority was particularly short on German teachers, it immediately offered him a job under contract at two of its schools; the Pierre-Gilles-de-Gennes lycée and the Maria-Borrely collège.

He began on January 3. But not all was as it at first appeared.

Cloth embroidered by a schizophrenia sufferer (from Wikpedia, author - cometstarmoon)

"We had no reason to complain about his behaviour and I never heard the slightest negative comment about him from his colleagues, pupils or parents," Pascale Garrec the director of the lycée is quoted as saying in the regional daily Midi Libre.

"It was during a conversation outside of the professional context that I became concerned over some of the 'peculiarities' about comments he made."

Among them were claims made by Mawhinney that he was a secret service agent working for Scotland Yard, and that led Garrec to alert the local police.

His behaviour in the classroom was also somewhat unusual according to pupils who spoke to another regional daily La Provence, and some of them found him "weird".

"He didn't seem to know the rules of German grammar," one pupil told the paper.

"When we asked him a question, he wouldn't reply immediately and instead would give us the answers the next day after having searched the Internet."

Another commented on the teachers apparent "normality" inside the classroom but odd habit of "putting on his gloves to open and close the door so as not to leave fingerprints."

Investigations revealed that the man described as "discreet" had in fact escaped from a clinic in the Northern Ireland capital Belfast in 2008, where he was being treated for schizophrenia after a knife attack on a man the previous year.

Mawhinney has been fired from his post and is being held in a psychiatric unit in the town awaiting his return to Belfast.

Chambéry's giant-killing French Cup run

The domestic football league in France might not be on the same par as its wealthier counterpart across the Channel in England: there's not nearly as much money in the game and few teams have anything approaching the international status of say a Manchester United or a Liverpool.

But right now a club from the Championnat de France amateur 2, or what amounts to the country's fifth division, is having a dream run in the French Cup.

On Wednesday Stade Olympique de Chambéry, an amateur side from the south-eastern département of Savoie made it through to the quarterfinals after beating first division Sochaux 2-1.

Not impressed? Well you should be.

Aissa Yahia Bey the scorer of Chambéry's 71st-minute match-winning goal (screenshot Eurosport video)

Because not only did Chambéry do it the hard way by coming back from a first-half goal by a team currently standing 10th in Ligue 1, they also made it "three-in-a-row".

After eliminating both last year's beaten finalists Monaco and seeing off Brest in previous rounds, Sochaux became Chambéry's third successive top-flight scalp.

And that's a first in French football from an amateur team.

It's a feat that as far as coach David Guion was concerned almost amounted to being "a miracle".

"To beat three top division teams in the space of a month would have been unthinkable," a visibly moved Guion said after the match.

"Of course we're all incredibly delighted especially to continue in the competition and at the same time create history."

Chambéry coach David Guion (screenshot from French Football Federation website video)

While Guion, who has only been coaching the team since July last year, insisted that hard work and hours of training had been the secret behind the club's Cup run so far, Chambéry midfielder said there had been an additional incentive which probably made all the difference on the field.

"They're professionals and of course physically and technically they're much better than us," he admitted.

"What made the difference for us was simple motivation."

Chambéry will have to wait until Sunday's draw to discover who they'll face in the quarterfinals.

The other teams that have qualified are Lorient, Nice, Lille and Paris Saint-Germain from Ligue 1 and Angers, Reims and Le Mans from Ligue 2.

But Guion is not thinking so far ahead.

There's a match league match to be played this coming Saturday and Guron wants his players to relish their exploits so far in the Cup.

"I've not yet thought about the quarterfinals," he said.

"You can imagine that I want everyone to savour what has happened so far and I just hope we can find the energy to perform well when we play again on Saturday."

In reaching the quarterfinals, Chambéry became only the fifth amateur club to make it so far in the competition.

The last time was in 2008 when Union Sportive de la Jeanne d’Arc de Carquefou knocked out Olympique de Marseille in the last 16 before being stopped by the eventual beaten finalists Paris Saint-Germain.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Marks and Spencer planning return to France

It's news to fair warm the cockles of any expat Brit's heart - no matter how misty their memories or tenuous their ties with Blighty might have become.

Oh yes, and the French surely won't be too disgruntled either.

British retailer Marks and Spencer (M&S) is reportedly on the brink of returning to France.

And what a comeback!

According to the French financial daily La Tribune, M&S boss Marc Bolland is close to a deal to take over the spot at 100 Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris currently occupied by the clothes retailer Esprit.

The paper reports that Esprit staff were told of the decision last week and that they'll be taken on when M&S opens its doors on "la plus belle avenue du monde".

Apparently not all of them were exactly thrilled at the prospect with one of them telling the paper, "We're very disappointed, we feel cheated."

Well there's no pleasing some people perhaps.

M&S is remaining tight-lipped about the whole thing at the moment and refusing to comment on what it calls "rumour and speculation regarding stores".

But as the Britain's Daily Telegraph points out, Bolland opened the door to a possible return across the Channel in releasing plans last November as to how the company intends to "grow business" as its website puts it, over the next five years.

"While we have 337 stores in 41 territories overseas, we are essentially a UK retailer that exports," he said.

"We have an opportunity to move on from this and become a more international retailer, reducing our dependency on the UK economic cycle."

M&S shut up shop at all of its 38 European stores, including 18 in France, in 2001 with the loss of 3,350 jobs across the continent.

In March of that year the then-chairman, Luc Van de Velde, sent the company's 1,700 employees in France an email, informing them of the decision.

He's Belgian - which maybe explains his lack of manners!
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