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Thursday, 31 March 2011

How hard is it to be called Johnny?

Apparently it's incredibly difficult for Johnny Layre from the French city of Pau which sits on the northern edge of the Pyrénées.

So much so that he says it's ruining his life and he wants to change it.

Now before you scoff in incomprehension at what appears to be a completely reasonable first name, consider the plight of the poor man.

He was named after that "singing icon" of the French-speaking world, the ageing rocker Johnny Hallyday.

French rocker Johnny Hallyday (screenshot from YouTube video)

Maybe not everyone's cup of tea, but Layre's mother was reportedly a huge fan and "lumbered" her son with the apparently unfortunate name: one which the 23-year-old carpenter says has made him the object of teasing and mockery since his early childhood.

"I'm fed up with the constant fun being poked at me because of my name or being asked 'Johnny as in Hallyday'," he told the regional daily Sud Ouest.

Layre wants to drop his first name altogether and remove it from all official documents, replacing it with his second name "Karim".

He has already tried once but was turned down by a court in Pau last May because he had, "not sufficient grounds or documentation to support his application."

The problem is that in France, as is the case in many countries, the law makes it especially difficult for a person to change their first name.

"It's not enough for someone to say that they are the object of ridicule, it has to be proven and the change of name justified," Christine Lamothe, a judge at the family division of the high court in Pau, told paper.

"There's a law in place to prevent someone from acting on a whim or a mood change," she said.

"If someone wants to change their name then they have to come up with grounds for wanting to do so and back it up with testimony from relatives."

Layre has appealed the court's first ruling, provided sworn declarations that he has always been known among family and friends as "Karim" and is waiting for a decision, expected on April 11.

Just as well that Carson, Cash, Depp, Mathis, Wilkinson and others didn't have the same problem.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" - the trailer

US film director Woody Allen's latest movie "Midnight in Paris" will open the Cannes film festival on May 11.

And from the trailer it looks as though it'll be a classic Allen.

It's apparently a romantic comedy which follows a young American couple, engaged to be married, on holiday in Paris with their families.

A Paris which, as the trailer says, "in the morning is beautiful, in the afternoon charming, in the evening enchanting but after midnight is magic."

Without giving too much away the plot reportedly sees the young man (played by Owen Wilson) walk the streets of Paris by night alone, during which he falls under the spell of the city and the couple is "forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better".

Ah! Very Allen with blissfully sumptuous shots of the city of lights in all its glory; clichéd perhaps but inevitable - a delight for any fan of the director's previous 40 films.

Yes it might be very much in the mould of the 75-year-old's other romantic comedies and slightly hackneyed in the way it presents the French capital, but what the heck.

It's Allen and fans probably won't be disappointed and there's that cast of course.

It combines Hollywood A-listers with a splash of European: a mix of Allen favourites, Oscar winners and a couple of bright young(ish) things

Apart from Owen - and in alphabetic order - there's (among others) Kathy Bates, Adrian Brody, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen...and oh yes...a certain Carla Bruni (the "Sarkozy" part of her surname seems to have been dropped for some reason).

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" (screenshot from trailer)

Woo hoo. It has finally happened.

After modelling, singing (ongoing), and first-ladying, Bruni-Sarkozy now hits the big screen, just as Allen promised she would back in June 2009

Well if the truth be told it'll actually be Bruni-Sarkozy's second film appearance .

Her debut came back in Robert Altman's 1994 fashion satire "Pret-a-Porter". But perhaps that doesn't count as she played herself and that, only briefly.

This time though she speaks. And that, in spite of rumours (hotly denied by Allen) that it required rather a lot of takes (30 or more) for the Finely Chiselled One to get her lines right.

Bruni-Sarkozy has also survived the cutting room floor and although her performance might be overshadowed by the real stars, who cares?

There she is, larger than life and many times more beautiful, adding yet another string to her multi-talented bow of talents.

All right, so it might be a little exaggerated to judge her performance from the virtual nano-second trailer appearance (blink and you might miss it) but the French and others will get the chance to see for themselves on May 11.

That's when it'll be shown as the opening film at this year's annual bash in Cannes whose director, Thierry Frémaux, has described Allen's latest work as, "A wonderful love letter to Paris."

One thing's for sure, if the whole cast pitches up for the showing, the red carpet promises to come in for some serious tread.

The French won't have to wait too long to flood to the cinema to see their first lady as the film will open in cinemas across the country on the same day.

For those though that cannot wait, here's the trailer.


Monday, 28 March 2011

Road in France closed for amorous toads

Spring isn't just "in the air" it's here. The signs are everywhere; from the blossom on the trees to the daffodils in full bloom.

The clocks have gone forward, the days are getting longer and... toads are feeling randy.

A young common toad (from Wikipedia, author TJ Blackwell)

And that spells danger for Bufo bufo - aka the common or European toad - as it quite literally risks life and limb to meet its sexual urges.

Because as the critter looks for a suitable water point to do "what comes naturally" and lay the spawn which will ensure future generations, it often has to cross roads that lie directly in its migratory path.

Toad meets car with the inevitable result.

Such is the case of the D190 in the village of Bogève in the Alpine département of Haute Savoie.

According to the La Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux, LPO (which although it is "the league for the protection of birds" also serves to defend the interests of other creatures - great and small) it's a road which is particularly hazardous (to put it mildly) for amorous toads.

"Between 30 and 50 per cent of them attempting to cross the road are crushed," said Xavier Birot-Colomb who carried out a study on behalf of the LPO.

"The mortality rate is so high that it threatens the long-term survival of the local toad population," he added.

To the rescue though has come the general council of the département of Haute-Savoie.

It has decided that, until further notice, the road will be closed every night from six o'clock in the evening until seven o'clock the following morning.

Although the decision has been welcomed by Pierre Athanaze, the president of the wildlife protection association Association de sauvegarde et de protection des animaux sauvages, ASPAS, he also points out that it relies heavily on the weather playing its part.

"Those are certainly the hours when the toads are usually at their most active" he said.

"And that's also true for other amphibians such as frogs and newts, he continued.

"But if there's a lot of rain it could encourage many of the toads to try crossing during the day and they'll inevitably end up being crushed."

Not everyone though is entirely happy with the general council's decision.

"Personally I think closing the road is a bit of an exaggeration," the mayor of Bogève, Bernard Bouvier, told Europe 1 radio.

"I had hoped that another alternative could be found."

One possible future solution suggested by the animal charity Fondation 30 millions d'amis on its website is to follow the example set in other parts of France by local authorities who have built tunnels or "crapauducs" (yes that really is the word; a combination of the French for toad - "crapaud" and viaduct - "viaduc").

And that, as far as Joël Baud-Grasset, a councillor who supported the road closure, is concerned, is one of the reasons the decision was taken.

"It might seem a little crazy but it'll also help inform local people about the habits of the amphibian population" he said.

"At the same time it'll give the chance to study more closely the exact migratory routes so that we can come up with a more permanent solution."

So Mr and Mrs Toad can cross the road in safety - provided they stick to nighttime liaisons...and wear watches presumably.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Claude Guéant - "a minister whispering into the ear of France's far-right Front National"

Not a day seems to go by without the recently-appointed interior minister Claude Guéant making a remark which many are interpreting as an attempt to reach out to potential voters of the far-right Front National (FN).

"He's a minister whispering into the ear of the Front National," is how one prominent Socialist party politician, Jean-Marc Ayrault, described Guéant's latest comments about the need to prevent anyone using the country's services from wearing religious symbols.

Yes Guéant is at it again.

Claude Guéant (screenshot from i>Télé interview)

In the space of a week he has made remarks that have angered the opposition Socialist party - and many others - worried some within his own party, confused and surprised those who've worked close to him over the years and provided a platform for the FN to expound its policies.

After "the French not feeling at home in France" and praising Sarkozy for "leading the crusade in Libya" comes the latest in what some see as a direct appeal to those tempted to vote for the FN.

This time it was the suggestion that religious symbols should be banned in all public services - not only for those working in them, but also those using them.

"Obviously anyone working in a public service shouldn't wear a religious symbols or show any religious preference," he said in an interview on the news and current affairs channel i>Télé on Thursday.

"Nor should those using them," he added.

Guéant tried to cover himself somewhat by saying later that he had mainly been talking about hospitals and in particular cases in which women didn't want to be seen by male doctors.

But as had happened on the previous day with his "crusade" comment, the reactions came thick and fast and once again Guéant was flavour of the day in terms of news reporting.

Most telling of all the reactions though is from someone who knows Guéant well, and indeed worked alongside him for eight years.

Interviewed on Friday morning's news magazine La Matinale on Canal +, Abderahmane Dahmane, president of the democrates musulmans de france and until recently a special advisor to the French president Nicolas Sarkozy in charge of diversity, said he was as confused as anyone by Guéant's remarks.

"I have the impression that the sky is falling in on them," he said in reference to Guéant and Sarkozy, both of whom he said he still considered friends.

"In eight years of working together I never heard a word uttered by Claude Guéant that could annoy anyone. He was always the go-between, the moderator," he continued.

"But now, I don't understand why he's saying what he is. What purpose does it serve?"


And where is Sarkozy in all of this?

All right so he's currently playing "King of the World" as leader of the G20, G8 and the "crusade" against Libya.

But he's also a man used to meddling in all aspects of domestic affairs as he sees fit and reining in ministers whenever they're deemed to be overstepping the mark.

Sarkozy has been strangely quiet.

Perhaps part of the answer for Guéant's apparent change in behaviour and Sarkozy's silence comes in those cantonal elections on Sunday.

Oh yes and there's that debate on laicity set by the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) for April 5, which the leader of the party Jean-François Copé is organising to "discuss religious practice in France - including Islam - and its compatibility with the country's secular laws."

But there is of course also Sarkozy's poor showing in the opinion polls, the rise of in popularity of the FN leader Marine Le Pen and the fear that some UMP supporters will be attracted to her and her party's policies when it comes to next year's presidential elections.

Recent polls suggest that Sarkozy might not even make it past the first round of those elections.

Has he "unleashed" Guéant on France in an attempt to win over that far-right vote?

Sure looks that way - whatever anyone else is saying - or not saying.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Sarkozy is "Leading the crusade" in Libya says French interior minister

Whatever was France's interior minister Claude Guéant thinking about when he said during an interview on Monday of the French president Nicolas Sarkozy's role in Libya that, "Fortunately, the president has been leading the crusade to mobilise the UN security council, the Arab League and the African Union."

France's interior minister Claude Guéant (screenshot from interview)

Yes "crusade". That's the term he used. Not exactly one lacking historical connotations as many in France have been quick to point out.

Even though he has since admitted that, "With hindsight I should have expressed myself differently and said perhaps that the president had 'mobilised public opinion to present persuading arguments to the security council'," the damage had been done and the word was out there for all to read and hear.

"Scary," is how the leader of the opposition Socialist party Martine Aubry described Guéant's choice of word.

"He would have done better to have kept quiet," said Aubry's predecessor and likely candidate for the party's presidential primaries, François Hollande.

"It was more than unfortunate, it was a word he shouldn't have uttered."

Even some within his party, the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement,UMP) were hard-pressed to defend Guéant's choice of word with the foreign minister Alain Juppé describing it quite clearly as a "blunder" and "one that had nothing to do with what was happening (in Libya)."

But was it really just an "unfortunate" term and an example of a man not used to the political limelight. Or is there something more sinister going on?

At face value Guéant certainly appears to be "like a bull in a china shop," as Le Point journalist Anna Cabana described the interior minister during her piece on national public radio France Inter on Wednesday morning.

Less than a month into the job and he has already managed to tell the country not only that Sarkozy has "led the crusade" but also that the "French don't feel at home in France".

Guéant though is no political beginner as Cabana makes clear. He has served for the past nine years as one of Sarkozy's closest political advisors and his views and thoughts must be well known to the French president.

Sure he has now stepped out of the shadows and is busy proving himself to be every bit as crass in his statements as his predecessor in the job and another Sarkozy crony, Brice Hortefeux (whose 2009 racial slur against Amine Benalia-Brouch, a young party activist of Algerian origin, still sticks in the craw).

But is this really just inexperience at play or a deliberate strategy by Sarkozy in the run-up to next year's presidential elections.

Has Guéant in fact been placed intentionally in the hot seat to try to appeal to voters who might otherwise drift towards the far-right Front National.

Remember its leader, Marine Le Pen, is currently buoyed by opinion polls that show her as a serious threat to Sarkozy's chances of making it through to the second round of voting in those elections.

Can Guéant really be the fool his statements appear to suggest. Is he just naïve when it comes to being in the public eye?

Watch this space for answers.

At this rate Guéant is not going to leave it blank for very long.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Cantonal elections leave Sarkozy's centre-right UMP at sixes and sevens

Those ruddy cantonal elections at the weekend.

That's surely what the ruling centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) must be thinking right now.

Actually, given the mixed messages they've been sending out over the past couple of days, you would be hard-pushed to believe they were "thinking" at all.

Have they well and truly lost the plot? And what the heck is the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, playing at?

French electoral card (from Wikipedia)

On paper, the first round of the cantonal elections were hardly the most exciting; their purpose was to replace half the representatives to the general councils of France's 100 départements.

In other words they were supposed to be local elections.

Somehow though they were highjacked by the far-right Front National and its leader Marine Le Pen who campaigned on national issues and managed to score well, leaving and Sarkozy's governing centre-right party with something of a political headache.

Apart from the high abstention rate (more than 55 per cent) the most notable outcome was the FN's strong showing nationwide.

The party scored 15.18, behind UMP (17.07) and the Socialist party (25.04)

But the election isn't over.

As is always the case in France if there's no candidate achieving 50 per cent of the vote or more in the first round, there's a run-off between the top two (and sometimes three if it's a close thing) in the second round.

And that's what's creating problems for the UMP because, in a number of cantons, the party's candidates have been pushed out of the frame leaving the second round a straight head-to-head between the Socialist party and the FN.

What to do?

If it were to follow the example set in the 2002 presidential elections when Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie, faced Jacques Chirac (UMP) in the second round after finishing ahead of the Socialist party's Lionel Jospin in the first, there wouldn't be a problem and the party's supporters would know what to do.

UMP would tell them to throw their support behind the Socialist party just as Jospin had done the other way round in 2002.

But no. Sarkozy and the current leader of the UMP Jean-François Copé have decided on different tactics and the additional problem is that not everyone in the party - and especially some high ranking ministers - seems to agree.

First up Copé, who said after Sunday's results that UMP voters should decide for themselves what they thought would be best: the "ni-ni (neither Front National nor Socialist party" option.

"There's absolutely no question of any sort of alliance with the Front national, that's a trap that has been laid by the Socialist party in its accusations," he said.

"But we're also saying no systematic alliance with the Socialist party either because if we do that we fall into another trap set by the FN which says the two major parties are indistinguishable from one another.

"That's what Marine La Pen has been saying by using the slogan 'UMPS'."

Copé's strategy was one backed up by Sarzkoy when he called for a "Ni-ni (neither nor) vote". In other words for UMP supporters to vote for neither the FN nor the Socialist party.

But then the prime minister, François Fillon seemed to contradict them both by calling quite clearly for a vote against the FN.

"Where there is a duel between the Socialist Party and the National Front, we must first remember our values," he said.

And our values ​​are not those of the National Front. We must call our voters to make the choice of accountability in the management of local affairs."

In short, he was calling for UMP supporters to vote Socialist when necessary.

But after reportedly being rapped on the knuckles by Sarkozy and criticised by UMP parliamentarians, Fillon "revised" his position to fall in line with his boss - giving that "ni-ni" recommendation.

The problem is though that even if Fillon now appears to be "singing from the same hymn sheet" as his boss and the party leader, not all government ministers agree.

Valérie Pécresse (higher education), Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (environment) and Alain Juppé (foreign affairs) have all called recommended the "republican candidate" in FN-Socialist party duels; in other words to vote for the Socialist party candidate.

What a UMP mess!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Carré Viiip marks a decade of reality TV in France

It's 10 years since television viewers in France were first "treated" to the delights of reality TV.

And to mark the occasion, TF1 has launched what can only be described as a right load of rubbish - wannabe-celebrity style.

Carré Viiip - yes there really are that many "i"s in what presenter Elsa Fayer told the almost four million in front of their screens for Friday's launch - stands for "Verrry eemporrrrtant perrrrrson".

It unites eight supposéd celebrities with the same number of anonymous wannabes eager to take their place.

Celebrities Benoît Dubois and Thomas Vitello (screenshot from Carré Viiip trailer)

From now until the end of May the viewers will get the chance to determine which particular non-entity will walk off with the €150,000 first prize, and the show promises to be as idiotic as the concept.

A concept which is simple - isn't it always? - with no need for Einstein revelations.

Eight supposéd "stars" (the term has to be used loosely) - each a product of previous TV reality shows of similarly dubious taste - are challenged for their VIP status by eight "wannabes" (or Wanna Viiips).

They live together in the tackiest (it's all a matter of taste perhaps, but...) of luxury lofts and are expected over the coming weeks to "create a buzz" within the media and drum up something that resembles more than 15 minutes of fame.

At their disposal they have the support of several weekly glossy gossip rags, personalised websites, a whole machinery of self-promotion provided by the production team and daily appearances (of course) on French TV screens.

Each week the public will vote and one not-so-important-after-all person will be eliminated.

As usual the means to stay in the game are likely to be as vulgar as those that have become the trademark of reality TV: screaming, shouting, insults, lewdness, nudity and general idiocy - which shouldn't be too much of a stretch.

If anyone who flips on the television remote is under the impression that it couldn't get worse after Loft 1 and 2, Secret Story 1, 2, 4 and 4, Dilemma, Ile de la tentation, La Ferme Célébrités, Qui veut épouser mon fils ? and a whole host of other trash TV, then TF1 looks set to try to prove otherwise.

Perhaps it's all meant to be "ironic" - well apparently at least as far as the production team might be concerned.

But the line-up of celebs and wannabes somehow casts doubt on that, as most would probably be incapable of spelling "irony" let alone recognising its existence.

Yes they might be "playing a role" - or "overplaying" it might be more appropriate - in a completely fake concept destined to amuse and entertain, but somehow it's hard to imagine that the likes of Benoît, Cindy or François-Xavier (some of the so-called celebs) or their pretenders, Xénia, Aurélie or Noam will have anything other a fleeting impact on those watching.

Let's hope so.

In the meantime it's "Vive la France, vive la télé-réalité!"

Monday, 21 March 2011

Marine Le Pen offers interior minister "honorary membership" of the far-right Front National

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National (FN) in France has jokingly offered the recently-appointed French interior minister, Claude Guéant, honorary membership of her party.

She was reacting to a comment he made on national radio last Thursday morning in which he suggested that the French were becoming worried about not feeling at home in their own country.

French interior minister Claude Guéant (screenshot from Europe 1 interview)

He has only been in the job since the end of February, but already the French interior minister Claude Guéant has well and truly made his mark on where he stands in terms of statements guaranteed to raise the heckles of the opposition Socialist party and promote claims that the political agenda in France is increasingly being dictated the FN.

Interviewed on Europe 1 radio on Thursday, Claude Guéant uttered a sentence which annoyed many in the opposition Socialist party, worried some in his own centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party and amused the leader of the far-right Front National, Marine Le Pen.

The phrase came as he was being asked about an interview he had given the national daily Le Monde published in Thursday's edition in which he had said, "The French want France to remain France."

"What exactly did you mean by that?" he was asked by Europe 1's seasoned political journalist Jean-Pierre Elkabbach.

"It means quite simply that the French - because of uncontrolled immigration - sometimes have the feeling that they're no longer at home," he said.

And then continued, "They see practices and customs imposed on them and which do not necessarily match the rules of our way of life."

It was a comment that brought a swift reaction from the leader of the Socialist party, Martine Aubry, who accused the interior minister of "mocking the values ​​of the republic " by "speaking about the risks of 'uncontrolled immigration'."

The prime minister, François Fillion, meanwhile avoided being drawn on Guéant's comments.

"I don't attach too much importance to a turn of phrase, " he said in an interview on France 2's prime time evening news later in the day, insisting that illegal immigration was an issue the government was addressing because it "prevented integration and infuriated citizens,"

If Fillon preferred not to respond there were others within his party more than willing to air their opinions and demonstrating at the same time, divisions that exist.

"It's intolerable and illustrates that there's a 'Le Pen-isation'among some in power," said UMP parliamentarian Jean-Pierre Grand from the southern French city of Montpellier.

While for his colleague Eric Ciotti from the southeastern city of Nice, what Guéant had said had "a certain ring of truth and represented what many people are saying in our town, cities and villages."

And Le Pen in all of this? Well she told LCI television - not without some irony - that Guéant could be, "An honorary member of the Front National" before going into attack mode and challenging the interior minister to say what exactly the government was going to do about the "threat of increased illegal immigration."

"Depuis le temps qu'ils le disent, qu'ils le... par Europe1fr

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Marine Le Pen's "blue wave" national touch to local elections

It's election time in France (yet) once again and some French will be eligible to wander down to the polling station to cast their votes on Sunday in the first round of cantonal elections.

Just "some" French as the election is only to replace half the representatives to the general councils of France's 100 départements.

No, they're not exactly the most exciting or stunning of elections (as emphasised by the low turn-out) , and these will be the last of their type as the whole system is changing in 2014.

While they have, for the most part, been contested principally on local issues rather than national ones (candidates are often "pillars of the local community" who already hold elected office of one sort or another at different levels ) they're also the final ones before next year's presidential elections.

And that means they are the last electoral "test" of any sort before campaigning for 2012 begins in earnest.

"Local" though, is obviously not the way the far-right Front National is approaching them.

At least not if you take a look at their promotional material.

Sure there are local candidates, but the really important vote as far as the party is concerned, seems to be next year's presidential one.

And the party's recently-elected leader, Marine Le Pen, is making the most of her surge in popularity (according to those seemingly endless opinion polls) and appeal to the general public at large by clearly attempting to stamp her mark.

Prior to the election; voters will have received flyers representing every party putting forward candidates.

Just take a look at the one the Front National sent out.

Le Pen's smiling face; the sort of woman (if you didn't know her political beliefs) you probably wouldn't mind having a chat with if you met her on the street.

And then there's that rather natty title "La Vague bleu marine" (marine blue wave), playing on her name and the her recent strong showing in the opinion polls.

Forget who the local candidate might be.

That's clearly not nearly as important, as far the party is concerned, as Marine Le Pen.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Cécile Duflot's cartographical fluff

Cécile Duflot is without doubt an educated, articulate and ambitious woman.

Cécile Duflot (screenshot BFM TV)

Her political career has been what the national daily Le Monde has described as "meteoric".

She joined Les Verts (the Greens) in 2001 and became the party's national secretary in 2006.

When it merged with Europe Écologie last year, she took over where she had left off by becoming the first national secretary of Europe Écologie - Les Verts.

The 35-year-old has become a regular guest on current affairs programmes, and right now of course, her media savvy approach and ability to express her thinking and ideas in a well-informed yet intelligible manner are more than welcomed and appreciated by many journalists.

You might not agree with what she says, but there's no denying she has something to say and as if to drive home that point she figured at position 32 in the list of the American magazine Foreign Policy's global thinkers in 2010.

But even the best and brightest are prone to mistakes.

And such was the case when Duflot, who holds a masters in geography (remember that) appeared as a guest on BFM TV's Wednesday edition of its early evening news and current affairs programme hosted by Ruth Elkrief.

Asked about the risks of radioactive materials from the damaged nuclear reactors in Japan reaching French shores, Duflot said that nobody could say for certain at the moment.

"In theory the chances of it reaching mainland France are low," she said.

"The incident has happened in the southern hemisphere and in theory meteorological conditions should mean that the radioactivity will remain in the southern hemisphere. But we can never be certain."

Notice the slip-up?

Remember Duflot has a masters in geography.

Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier (screenshot BFM TV)

Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier, the spokesman for the French energy giant Areva, certainly did when he was asked a couple of minutes later whether it was true that France's nuclear power facilities were as safe as the country's politicians maintained.

"Before answering that, and without being a geographical expert, I would just like to invite Cécile Duflot to take a look at a globe of the world," he began.

"Because as far as I know Japan is actually in the northern hemisphere."



Wednesday, 16 March 2011

DSK and the "Yes we Kahn" tee shirt - a hint for 2012?

Will Dominique Strauss-Kahn throw his hat into the ring for the Socialist party primary to become its official candidate in France's 2012 presidential election?

He says he has made his decision but is keeping it to himself for the moment - just as he has done during months of relentless media speculation both at home and abroad.

(screenshot from Canal + documentary)

At the weekend Canal +, France's premium pay television channel aired a documentary dedicated entirely to DSK as he's more popularly known.

"Un an avec DSK - au coeur du FMI" wasn't just a straightforward interview but, as its name suggests an almost hour-long portrait of the man following him around in his role as head of the International Monetary Fund.

It wasn't encrypted as most of the channel's programmes are, so anyone who wanted to could watch.

It was an intriguing documentary which illustrated just how much interest there is from journalists around the world about DSK's intentions for 2012, while at the same time underlining his inability to be able to give any sort of straight answer as it would contravene IMF regulations forbidding political comment.

DSK also came across as a man busy cultivating an image that certainly doesn't do his stature as a heavyweight on the international political scene any harm whatsoever.

There were also a couple of moments that were surely quite telling about DSK's continual cat-and-mouse game with the media as the inevitable questions about his intentions for 2012 were asked - time and time again.

The first came in July 2010 during a summit in South Korea when the boss of one of the country's largest newspapers quite simply asked him, "So you're going to run to be president?"

"Yes," came the immediate response and a pause for effect.

"I'm going to see your president (Lee Myung-bak) tomorrow morning - I hope."

And the second tease came in September 2010 when DSK and his wife Anne Sinclair, attended the IMF's annual football tournament in the suburbs of Washington.

They, and others, were wearing tee shirts with his image and the slogan "Yes we Kahn" printed on the back.

When the journalist pointed out the obvious similarity to the one used by Barack Obama in 2008 and suggested that it could be construed like a declaration of sorts, DSK laughed it off.

"The tee shirts had been made without my knowledge and are in support of the team representing my office, he said.

And when asked by the journalist what he thought of the (tee shirt's) slogan DSK replied, "It has been used once. It can't be used again."

Whatever your thoughts on the chances of any Socialist candidate winning in 2012, DSK, has until mid July to announce whether he's going to run in the party's primary.

That's when nominations close.

In the meantime, as the weekly news magazine L'Express writes, DSK appears to be the master at playing the political game to its full.

"He says just enough to remain within the constraints placed upon him by the IMF while at the same time not too little that the French would forget him."

A standing ovation for Bran' nu vibe in French X Factor

It might be early days still. No scrub that - it certainly is, as the televised auditions to find the French act with that "X Factor" only began on Tuesday.

But already viewers have been treated to something rather special: a group with soul, groove, harmony and rhythm that leave you wanting more.

Oh yes - and they can sing.

Bran' nu vibe.

Bran' nu vibe (screenshot from M6 video)

It was a case of "saving the best until last" as viewers had to sit through a pretty mixed bunch of acts.

There were those who clearly had talent and will go far, such as Valentin Pasquier (check out his version of Ray Charles' "Georgia on my mind" - dangerous territory, but he pulled it off).

Some who could sing, but you know they're really just "making up the numbers" and obviously don't stand a chance of winning.

And those with absolutely no talent beyond their ability to "sing in the shower" but just can't be told.

And then there was Bran' nu vibe.

The quartet of Elhadi Elhassar, Lisa Mba, Lionelle Nouk Nouk and Stéphane Zangara gave a rendition (and you're recommended to watch and listen) of Curtis Mayfield's "People get ready" that just grooved from start to finish.

Zangara opened the number simply enough and after the first couple of lines was joined by the others, stunning harmonies and great grooves.

But when, "Pow" Elhassar took over lead vocals, it clearly gave one of the jury members, Véronic Dicaire, goose bumps and probably a fair number of viewers at home too.

All four could, and did, sing lead. Their voices blended magnificently and you knew, you just knew that the judges had been dazzled.

Heck they all stood up to applaud after the performance and were unanimous in their praise.

Who wouldn't have been?

The competition had found its group. And therein lies the rub perhaps.

M6 had promised viewers that the programme would be the "musical event of the year" - although that might be more than a little of an exaggeration.

Yes the format is different - judges choosing and coaching the finalists.

And yes the inclusion of groups and categories other than "pretty young things' in their late teens and early twenties means that it's probably more representative of the real range of talent that's out there.

But it's still hard for a group to win (a quick search and look at Wikipedia's listings of international variations on the same theme will confirm that).

Can Bran' nu vibe win the whole thing? Who knows.

But if there's more of where this came from then they should go far and they'll certainly pick up a fan or two (to say the least) along the way.

Can't wait.

More please.

People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield - Cover - X Factor France

Bran 'nu vibes | Myspace Music Videos

Monday, 14 March 2011

X Factor à la française "The musical event of the year" - apparently

Just when the French must have thought they were safe from television talent shows, up pops the latest offering - X Factor.

X Factor judges left to right Henry Padovani, Véronic DiCaire, Christophe Willem and Olivier Schultheis (screenshot from YouTube trailer)

On Tuesday the commercial broadcaster M6 will launch the revamped, prime-time search for France'sébastien Agius.

Don't worry if you've never heard of him. The chances are, neither have a majority of the French.

Agius was the winner of the first French X Factor in 2009 broadcast on M6's sister channel W9 and although he has released both a single and an album since picking up the title, and played concerts, the 28-year-old has hardly set the French musical scene alight.


The Powers That Be at M6 have obviously decided there's life in the format and, after shelving Nouvelle Star (France's version of Pop Idol) last year at the end of its eighth season, are ready to (re)launch what they proudly and presumably without hyperbolic intent, announce on the show's website will be, "The musical event of the year".

The programme hits the screens on Tuesday evening with an "all-star" line-up of judges that includes - hold your breath - Henry Padovani.

He, M6 proudly informs us, was a "founding member of the British rock group 'The Police'" and is "one of the few French musicians to have had a successful career in Britain."

Apparently he's still "very close" to Sting et al, even though he left barely a year after the group was formed and before it hit the Big Time.

Rest assured though, he has apparently had plenty of success since and brings "with his 360 degrees experience from the world of music as a musician and manager, vision and wisdom to the X Factor candidates."

Ah. There's nothing like laying it on thick.

Joining Padovani is another "heavyweight" from the (French) music scene, Christophe Willem.

Now his is a name with which many French should be familiar and he's very much on tried and tested territory.

The 27-year-old will doubtless be able to give invaluable inside as he's been there, done that and bought the tee-shirt so-to-speak after winning Nouvelle Star back in 2006.

A couple of best-selling albums, several singles, concerts tours and regular television appearances under his belt, Willem says of X Factor that it's a "competition that can clearly change someone's life. I know: I lived it myself."

There's no messing with the musical pedigree of the show's third judge Olivier Schultheis.

He's a musician, lyricist, composer and conductor, son of singer-songwriter Jean and a former student at the prestigious Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris.

Schultheis apparently has "perfect pitch" and has worked with a host of French stars as well as helping launch the careers of several - including Willem.

Completing the line-up of judges, and presumably proving that France's X Factor knows no international boundaries, is Canadian singer and impersonator Véronic Dicaire.

It's not a bad move on the part of the talented 34-year-old who is already a star within the French-speaking community in Canada and fairly blew audiences away in Paris early last year during an extended run at the capital's Théâtre de la Gaîté and returned to play extra dates in November.

Dicaire has a European tour scheduled from this month taking in cities in France, Switzerland and Belgium and an appearance on national telly will surely only boost her appeal to a wider audience.

"By nature sincere and energetic, Dicaire will bring the jury freshness and authenticity," according to M6.

That and, "Anglo-Saxon artistic standards," apparently - whatever that entails.

The whole shebang, including all the stages that have been completed to "discover" the 12 finalists, will begin airing Tuesday March 15 on M6 at 8.45pm local time.

Can you wait?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?'s a boar - loose in a shopping centre

Imagine you mosey on down to the local shopping centre for a spot of retail therapy, and while you're there, casually minding your own business, all hell breaks loose as an unexpected and certainly uninvited visitor puts in an appearance - a boar.

The boar in the hairdressers (screenshot from France 2 television report)

For shoppers at a mall in the eastern French town of Frouard near the city of Nancy last week, that was exactly what happened.

Mid-afternoon last Tuesday the animal - reportedly weighing in at around 60 kilogrammes - caused panic among shoppers as it made its way along the aisles of a supermarket for several minutes.

"We were about to evacuate the store but the animal thankfully left without harming anyone," Grégory Gobin, the head of security, told TF1 news.

It then made its way to a nearby hairdressers whose clientele quickly fled allowing security guards to close the doors and lock the animal inside.

"It ripped apart the salon, climbed into the basins and was clearly distressed," Gobin said.

And an amateur video shows how the boar panicked in a scene that was surely as pathetic - in the true sense of the word - as much as it was comical of a wild animal trapped and terrified.

A vet was able to tranquilise the animal before it caused any more damage and it was removed and later destroyed.

France's boar population has risen rapidly in recent years. Statistics released in 2008 put their number at more than one million, compared with 250,000 in 1998.

A nationwide scheme was launched in 2009 to try to keep their numbers in check by increasing the number of hunting licences issued.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Adriana and Christian Karembeu separate

It's official. What the French daily France Soir calls, "One of the most glamorous couples of French showbiz" are to separate.

Adriana Karembeu (screenshot from interview with Belgian daily La Dernière Heure/Les Sports in Feb 2011)

After almost 13 years of marriage the model Adriana Karembeu and her husband, the former French international football player Christian, are to split, according to an interview Adriana gave in Thursday's edition of the weekly magazine Paris Match.

The news doesn't exactly come as a surprise says France Soir, "Especially not to readers of celebrity magazines," as rumours had been circulating for some time that the Slovakian-born model was not happy with their lifestyle, her husband's hectic schedule and "the fact that they didn't appear to have a life together."

"I wanted to makes things clear," she told Paris Match.

"We have always been a very high-profile couple and in recent weeks I've been upset to see photographs of me with other men appearing in the press and speculation that I had a lover," she continued.

"The truth is I've never cheated on my husband but we haven't been together for a couple of months now."

While Adriana maintains in the interview that she had informed her husband about her decision to "go public" his version of how he found out is quite different.

Christian, a member of France's 1998 World Cup winning side has recently published a book (together with journalists Anne Pitoiset et Claudine Wéry) "Kanak" in which he recounts his childhood in New Caledonia and the story of his family.

He has been giving a series of interviews to promote the book but, "Had not alluded to the separation," Adriana told Paris Match, "Because he didn't know what to say. When I 'phoned him to tell him that I had granted you an interview, he seemed relieved."

But that wasn't quite the story Christian told on RTL radio on Wednesday.

"I think she's quite simply going to announce our separation," he said when asked for his reaction to details that had been leaked of the interview that was to appear in Paris Match the following day.

"I'm not in the habit of talking about my private life in public," he continued.

"But I didn't know about this interview when it happened, I was told about it afterwards."

Whatever the case their separation is official and marks the end of a relationship which began, as the French daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien says, "In the most romantic of manners aboard a Paris-Milan flight in 1996".

They were married in 1998.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Jackpot win for a 50-centimes bet should bring a smile to the face - shouldn't it?

It's the kind of story you read from time to time in the press, see on the telly or hear on the radio: a dead cert to make you feel good and perhaps start wondering what you would do if you won a pile of money.

Image from Wikipedia - author: Jeff Kubina from the milky way galaxy

"A woman places 50 centimes and wins €238,830 at a casino in Toulouse," runs the headline on the site of the regional French daily La Dépêche du Midi.

Surely the stuff that dreams are made of.

But take a scroll down the page and you'll see that not everybody is of the same opinion.

Because among the "congratulations" are some comments that are - to put it politely - simply mean-spirited.

There are those that accuse the paper of "running an infomercial-type story" or others expressing disgust at the amount of money the casino must have "raked in" before someone hit the jackpot.

Wouldn't you expect readers to be happy for the Maryse, the fiftysomething named in the piece who's also seen smiling in an accompanying photo receiving a "symbolic cheque" for the amount?

After all, as the hospital worker tells the paper, she only plays the slot machines once a month and never risks a great deal of money as proven by her having only bought €10-worth of 50-centimes tokens.

And her win should bring an even bigger smile to the face of those reading as she was obviously more than overjoyed when she thought she had won the smaller amount of €25,000.

That was the figure the machine had registered when Maryse hit the jackpot.

"I was already happy but when the director of the slot machines told me exactly how much I had won, I cried like a child," she told the paper.

"I thought such large sums of money were only reserved for 'serious' players."

But no, some of La Dépêche readers aren't at all happy for her, the paper or the casino it seems.

This is the age of the Net of course, in which the habit of making perhaps snide and resentful comments has become easy and almost commonplace - especially when they can be left anonymously.

Maybe they have a point when they write that the casino is getting some free publicity in a story that tells us, "The win is the biggest since it opened its doors four years ago."

And maybe they're right that by publishing the first name, a photo and giving the job of the winner, the paper has, "Provided enough information to allow other 'less fortunate souls' to come begging at her door or begin bombarding her with telephone calls."

But heck. Where does all this cynicism and apparent churlishness come from? And why do they feel the need to express their thoughts?

Why can't they just be happy for her?

Oh well you can't win them all.

But at least Maryse did.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Hassan Ayaf - a man with two valid French driving licences

Whenever some sort of bureaucratic balls-up occurs you can be certain that somewhere along the line it's going to have repercussions for Joe Public - or in the following case, Hassan Ayaf.

The 36-year-old father-of-three lives the town of Belaruc-les-Bains, a half-hour's drive from the southern French city of Montpellier.

And that's important to the tale because Ayaf operates bulldozers for a living and as a consequence has to be able to travel from building site to building site without any difficult.

In other words he needs his driving licence.

French driving licence (permis de conduire), car registration document (carte grise) and car insurance (carte verte) - from Wikipedia

But in January last year he received a letter in the post telling him that he had lost his licence.

As he told the regional daily Midi Libre, Ayaf felt that, "His world had fallen apart" as no driving licence equalled no job.

What made the whole thing more incomprehensible, as far as he was concerned, was that he thought he still had enough points left on his licence.

In France a person possessing a full driving licence (or permis de conduire) has 12 points.

Whenever an infraction occurs a certain number of points are lost until at zero (obviously) the licence is withdrawn.

"I didn't understand," he told the paper. "All I did was drive without a seat belt."

But that didn't help his cause in the slightest as his licence had gone and in spite of writing to the local administration insisting that some sort of mistake had been made, he was obliged to wait the required six months by law before he was able to apply to retake his driving test.

"It was a difficult time," he said. "I had to rely on family and friends to drive me to different building sites and often I remained there over the weekend."

In June he received the green light to begin the process of retaking his test - the theory and the practical parts - which lasted until January this year when he passed.

And that meant that Ayaf was now considered a "novice" with, as is the case with all recently-qualified drivers, just six of those precious points to his name and the possibility to gain the remaining six points over a two or three year period.

But wait - this is where Monsieur or Madame French Bureaucracy stepped in to admit its "mea culpa".

Because in February Ayaf received another official letter informing him that the cancellation of his original driving licence had now been quashed.

That's right, he is now the certified holder of two valid driving licences; one as a novice (with six points) and the other as a now re-instated longtime driver (with three points).

Vive la France. Vive la bureaucratie!

Monday, 7 March 2011

France sways to Iz's "Over the Rainbow"

If you've been in France for the past couple of months and turned on the radio at any point, then you cannot have failed to have heard a song first recorded in 1939 and since covered many, many, many times over the decades.

In its latest reincarnation though, it has taken France by storm, held the number one position in terms of physical singles sales since the last week of December and topped the digital singles sales throughout January and into the first week of February.

(screenshot from YouTube video)

The song of course is "Over the Rainbow" originally performed by Judy Garland in the film "The Wizard of Oz" and now a hit - this time around - for the late Hawaiian musician, Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole.

It's a simple vocal and ukulele version which certainly as Renee Montagne writes on NPR music "redefines a beloved classic" and was originally released in 1993 and which has been a hit in the US but which didn't really take off in Europe until last year.

Such a shame really that Europeans have waited so long to wake up to what is a delightful rendition, but there again "better late than never" as the saying goes although it's surely a pity that Iz didn't live see his success this side of the Pond.

If you want a full explanation about figures and more details on Iz's background, a good starting point would have to be that NPR music tribute to him although you might prefer to Google and/or head straight to Wikipedia first.

But before you do anything, take a moment...simply sit back...hit play...and enjoy.


Paris "cake burglar" caught

It's the end of the line for the so-called "cake burglar".

(From Wikipedia, author - Algont)

Paris police have arrested and charged a 64-year-old man who had, for over a year, been preying on elderly people in the northern suburbs of the capital.

No he didn't get his nickname because he had been stealing their cakes - just in case that was what you were thinking.

Instead he was robbing them of their bank cards after having offered them cakes and pastries laced with sedatives.

According to RTL radio the methods he employed to steal from his victims, aged from 75 to 88, had always been the same.

He befriended them in local shops or on the street, engaged them in conversation and gained their confidence enough to get himself invited to their homes.

When he turned up it was never empty handed but, as RTL reports, "Always with a French pastry or a cake."

But the 64-year-old was no social do-gooder, because the cakes were spiked with Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and after getting his victims to reveal their personal identification numbers and ensuring they had fallen asleep, he would steal their bank cards and use them to withdraw cash.

And that, according to Le Parisien, was how he managed to commit almost 20 robberies dating back to 2009.

The police, the paper reports, hadn't wanted to alarm elderly people living in the area but had "warned them to be vigilant".

Their inquiries investigations had been made more difficult apparently by the "sometimes unreliable descriptions" provided by the victims.

In the end though they were able to identify the man after they had managed to discover where he had been buying the cakes.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Fairy-tale French Cup run over for Chambéry

It was too good to last.

French side Stade Olympique de Chambéry had knocked out top-flight opposition in each of the previous three rounds of the French Cup.

But on Wednesday they waved goodbye to dreams of making it through to the semi-finals after they were resoundingly beaten by second-division side Angers Sporting Club de l'Ouest 0-3.

Kick off Chambéry v Angers (screenshot from Eurosport video)

Chambéry from the equivalent of the country's fifth division had already seen off first division Monaco, Brest and Sochaux in previous rounds and came to Wednesday's game in the hope of creating more club history.

Although it was a home tie Chambéry had decided to switch venues and the match was played in the nearby city of Grenoble at le Stade des Alpes.

With 15,000 in the stadium and more watching on television (the game was broadcast live on France 2) Chambéry held their own until the dying minutes of the first half when Henri Saivet put it Angers ahead.

Sebastien Renouard consolidated their lead in the 63rd minute, and Diego Sebastian Gomez put the result beyond any doubt in the 84th as Angers booked their place in the final four.

"Serious, practical and realistic," is how the sports daily l'Equipe described Angers' performance

And that was also how Chambéry coach David Guion described the opposition.

"I'm really very proud of my players," he said in an interview with Eurosport immediately following the team's defeat.

"Of course we're a little disappointed because when you take to the pitch it's to win," he continued.

"But I have to hand it to the opposition. They were very effective and I wish them all the best in the rest of the competition."

For Angers then it's a semi-final berth where they'll face a club from the first division in the shape of holders Paris Saint-Germain, league leaders Lille or Nice.

The draw will be made on Sunday.

And Chambéry?

Well their next match involves a trip to Burgundy to take on Imphy Decize in the hope, as striker Aissa Yahia-Bey told RMC radio, that the experience gained in the Cup run will also serve the side during the remainder of the season.

"It's etched forever in my mind," he said, speaking of the Cup run.

"Now we have to bounce back quickly from this defeat and win some matches in the league so that we can push for promotion. That has to be the club's goal."

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The story of 52 Hertz - the lonely whale

So you think you've got it tough?

Perhaps you want to reach for the Kleenex or at least sit down quietly for a few moments as you read this.

A humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) - a species of baleen whale
(from Wikipedia, author - Whit Welles Wwelles14)

It's the story of the lonely whale - a baleen whale apparently - who has spent the past couple of decades swimming around in the ocean all by herself - or himself according to some reports on the Net - nobody really seems sure.

What is certain is that the whale is alone, singing at a different frequency which means, writes Jesus Diaz on the technology weblog Gizmodo that, "No other whales can hear her. Every one of her desperate calls to communicate remains unanswered. Each cry ignored."

Yes there might be a fair bit anthropomorphising going on in the way Diaz tells the tale but that certainly doesn't lessen its impact.

In 2004 the New York Times took a look at the plight of the whale, revealing that the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution had been tracking it since 1992 with "a classified array of hydrophones used by the (US) Navy to monitor enemy submarines.

Scientists had no single explanation as to why the whale made a different sound but rather, "A host of them," wrote Andrew Revkin in the paper.

"Among them that the animal is malformed or, most likely, is a hybrid of a blue whale and another species."

Eight years down the line and still nobody seems to know why the whale is out of synch with those around it.

All that's certain is that it's out there all by itself, "Seeing other creatures around her but unable to communicate with any of them," writes Diaz.

The whale doesn't just sing differently, it also follows a completely different migration route according to the sustainability website TreeHugger.

"It fails to travel along any known migration route of any baleen whale species - so other whales can't hear it, and they don't run into it along migration paths," writes Jaymi Heimbuch.

It can't be seen and it can't be heard - apart, that is by researchers. And that's the way it looks set to spend the rest of its life.

You can hear the 52 Hertz whale’s song for yourself, here.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Yael Naïm wins Best Female Artist at France's Victoires de la musique awards

Tuesday evening saw part two of Les Victoires de la musique awards, the French equivalent of the Grammys, broadcast live from Paris on France 2.

"Part two" because, in their infinite wisdom, organisers decided viewers probably weren't up for several hours of tra-la-la-ing and thank you speeches to all and sundry and split the ceremony in two.

Yael Naïm (screenshot from YouTube video)

February 9 was dedicated solely to newcomers and "revelations" with the public getting to vote in each category and the whole shebang being broadcast live from the northern city of Lille on France 2's (much) smaller sister station France 4.

Meanwhile Tuesday saw awards handed out to the "more established" artists with industry professionals getting to determine who got what.

Of course the voting procedure is more complex than that; but by and large the heavyweight awards were decided by those "in the know" who had already whittled the nominees in each category down to four and, apart from the Song of the Year which was left to a public vote, determined who got the gongs.

Perhaps the most interesting category of the evening was that of Best Female Artist because it had, in a real sense, a truly international flavour to it.

Added to that, there were some stunning performances although only three of the nominees were present.

Canadian Cœur de pirate (otherwise known as Béatrice Martin when she's not performing) who won the award in 2010 for Best Song gave a simple voice and piano rendition of "Francis" from her self-titled 2009 album.

Nigerian-French singer-songwriter Aṣa (pronounced Asha), trademark big specs and velvet timbre of a voice, treated the audience and viewers to a groovy "Be my man" taken from her 2010 album "Beautiful imperfection".

And French-Israeli singer-songwriter Yael Naïm added a touch of soul and jazz as well as a heap of gospel to her pop-folk rock "Come home" from her "She was a boy" album.



Only Vanessa Paradis - French model-actress-singer and partner of Johnny Depp (or should that be the other way round?) was missing.

Perhaps she had guessed she wouldn't be picking up an award this time around but she already has a heap of them to her name.

And the winner is...Yael Naïm.

In the night's other categories awards were picked up by Gaëtan Roussel for both Best Male Artist and Best Album, M (full name Matthieu Chedid) and veteran Eddy Mitchell jointly for best concert/show/tour and Philippe Katerine (love him or hate him) for his splendidly as-usual off-the-wall "La banane" as Best Video.

The last award for Best Song - and the only one on the night left to the public vote - went to "Je veux" by Zaz.

As Paris Match said, "A lively evening and a long way from the seemingly interminable hours of poorly paced entertainment" viewers were subjected to last year.
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