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Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday's French music break, Cocoon "American boy"

Friday's French music break this week is in English.

Yes go figure. A French group that prefers to sing in the language of Shakespeare to that of Molière.

It's the latest recording from Cocoon and is a remake of American boy, the 2009 Grammy-winning Song of the year by British R&B singer-songwriter Estelle.

Cocoon's Mark Daumail (screenshot from YouTube video of "Empire state of mind")

Sometimes cover versions work because they add something different and can transport a song from one music genre to another.

Othertimes you just have to wonder, "Why the heck did they bother?"

Thankfully Cocoon's version falls into the former category as they pop-up their usually folksy style to come up with a remake that gives quite a different slant to lyrics such as

"I like the way he's speaking his confidence is peaking.
Don't like his baggy jeans but I'm a like what's underneath it"

when sung by a man with Mark Daumail on lead vocals.

It's not the first time (now) six-piece group has tackled a monster international English-language hit and completely reworked it to fit in to their own style.

Search through YouTube and you'll come up with among others, their interpretation of Alicia Keys' "Empire state of mind", Carl Douglas' "Kung fu fighting" and a live version of - believe it or not - "Don't cha" by the Pussycat dolls.

For now though here's their very different take on "American boy".

Oh go on then. If you really want to hear the difference and don't know the original, here it is.

Completely different huh?

If that's given you the taste to see Cocoon live, you can find a listing of the upcoming concerts and festival appearances on their official website.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

No more French music on the Brussels metro

There'll be no more Jacques Brel on the metro in Brussels because French music has been banned.

Instead passengers will be fed a diet of English, Italian and Spanish songs.

Brussels metro train at station Rogier (from Wikipedia, author - Platte C)

There's that rather tedious and certainly chauvinistic game among some sectors of the English-speaking world to "name 10 famous Belgians" or even just a couple come to that.

Of course there are plenty - past and present - who have made their mark on the world in one way or another: Hergé, Audrey Hepburn, Eddy Merckx, Kim Clijsters, Rubens to name just a few.

And right now the president of the European Council is a Belgian, Herman Van Rompuy - although ask anyone on the street who the heck he is and the chances are most wouldn't have a clue.

There's even a website dedicated to the country's most famous sons and daughters, - proof that Belgium is more than just chocolate, beer, waffles, French fries and mussels (not all at the same time of course).

On the music side there are plenty of names, foremost among them probably in the French-speaking world (and also known to a fair number of English speakers) is the late Jacques Brel, arguably one of the outstanding songwriters in French of his generation.

Who doesn't know the haunting but beautiful "Ne me quitte pas" - perhaps not his original recording but others' interpretations?

Born in the suburbs of Brussels in 1929, Brel was, and probably remains, one of the city's most famous sons, even if much of his adult life was spent in Paris.

All of which surely makes the decision by the operator of the city's metro to stop playing French music at its stations something of a shame.

Granted Brel might not have appeared on the playlist of international hits piped into the metro system's 69 stops by the metro operator Société des transports intercommunaux de Bruxelles (STIB) or (for the sake of linguistic correctness) Maatschappij voor het Intercommunaal Vervoer te Brussel (MIVB), but he made the odd appearance along with other French language singers.

Unfortunately this apparently upset Dutch-speakers among the capital's travellers, as An Van Hamme, a spokesperson for STIB/MIVB spokesman explained.

"In February we decided to try playing songs from an international hit list and although that meant predominantly English-language artists there was the occasional song in French but virtually none in Dutch," said Van Hamme.

"We received dozens of complaints from Dutch-speakers asking why we weren't playing the same number of Dutch-language songs as those in French."

Ah yes, that linguistic divide in a city which is very officially bilingual.

Street sign in Brussels - in French and Dutch of course

Not a very difficult question to answer - honestly. But a tricky one to deal with.

So STIB/MIVB has done the only thing it could under the circumstances.

It has dropped French songs (and the occasional Dutch one) entirely from a playlist which will now consist of those in English (70 per cent) Spanish and Italian (both 15 per cent).

Perhaps it should have simply stuck to classical music as it does after nine o'clock in the evening.

That would have kept everyone happy - or at least not have upset anyone.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Virginie Razzano's tribute to Stéphane Vidal, her late fiancé

It might not have been the match of the tournament and it lasted just over an hour, but Tuesday's first round tie at Roland Garros between France's Virginie Razzano and Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova and and the subsequent press conference were both rich in emotion.

Virginie Razzano (screenshot from BFMTV report)

Gajdosova ran out the winner in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1, but the day really belonged to her 28-year-old opponent who was keeping a promise she had made to her fiancé and coach, Stéphane Vidal, who died on May 16 of a brain tumour.

It was at the press conference after the game that Razzano showed her strength and dignity as she prepared to answer the questions, that Europe 1's sports journalist Christophe Lamarre said on his blog, nobody dared to answer.

"I was very moved because I was playing for Stéphane," said Razzano, understandably battling to hold back the tears.

"It was so hard walking on to the Philip Chatrier court; there was a lot of emotion and pain," she continued.

"I tried to pay homage to Stéphane today and even though it was virtually impossible, I tried my best."

"I feel alone even if I have a lot of support from family and friends, But I've still got the strength in me to keep going, little by little.

"I'm in mourning and it's difficult when you lose someone who - excuse me - will always be the man of my life, who I love and will always love."

Razzano then went on to pay tribute to the man who had been both her coach and partner for the past nine years; the bravery Vidal had shown in fighting his illness, the strength and courage both of them had discovered in one another.

Lamarre described how moved those present at the press conference were.

"Her distress overwhelmed us," he wrote.

Some journalists had tears in their eyes, others bowed their heads in respect, he continued."

"I don't know Virginie Razzano personally but I'm not about to forget this lesson of life, courage and dignity."

You can hear a recording of Razzano's speech here (click on "audios").

French government's speed camera policy mess

The French government has got itself into a right pickle over its decision to remove road signs warning motorists they were entering an area monitored by speed cameras or radar.

The interior minister - the seemingly omnipresent Claude Guéant - announced earlier this month that the signs would be disappearing from French roads and motorways.

It was part of the government's reaction to the increase in the number of deaths in road accidents in April - a jump of almost 20 per cent over the same month last year.

There were grumblings within the governing Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) from parliamentarians that they hadn't been consulted, and from organisations representing motorists such as 40 millions d'automobilistes which insisted that the signs had "an instructive role as they informed drivers they were entering a dangerous area and would certainly be fined if they didn't watch their speed."

But Guéant persisted. The signs would disappear, "The decision was final and there would be no going back."

He was supported up by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who perhaps seeing a simple chance to appeal to the electorate (not that he's in campaigning mode of course and after all who can turn round and say they're in favour of road deaths increasing?) insisted that he would not "allow a rise in the number of deaths caused by road accidents" and the measure was one he would "absolutely not give up on."

Even the prime minister François Fillon, usually so savvy in assessing the strength of public opinion, threw his hat into the ring to support the decision.

That favourite of French pastimes, "polemic" then went into overdrive with some members of the governing UMP arguing that they fully supported the government's decision while others were less than happy as the first signs were removed last week.

So unhappy in fact that a group of 73 of them wrote to Fillon to express the anger and frustration felt by "millions of electors".

Oh yes - France is in a pre-election year, both presidential and parliamentarian, just in case you hadn't realised).

"We share your ambition to treat road safety issues seriously but we're disappointed by the complete lack of consultation there has been," they wrote.

"In addition we believe that there are other more urgent measures that could be taken to improve road safety that wouldn't be so unpopular."

Did you see that? "Wouldn't be so unpopular."

Pre-election year remember.

Speed camera (from Wikipedia)

On Tuesday the government announced that it was stopping the process of doing away with road signs indicating speed radar.

Or rather it sort of made that announcement.

Or rather it didn't make that announcement at all.

You can judge for yourself from the somewhat confusing explanation Guéant gave viewers during an interview on France 2's prime time evening news.

"There's no change in policy," he insisted.

"Road safety remains a priority."

All right so far. But then it gets complicated.

"I confirm that the signs indicating the presence of a radar will be removed," he continued.


"They'll be replaced by signs indicating the speed at which a motorist is driving."


"But these new signs won't necessarily be in exactly the same place as the previous signs telling drivers they were entering an area monitored by radar."


"There'll always be a new sign (indicating speed) at some distance near to where there's a fixed camera but there'll also be the same sign at points where there's no radar.

It'll be up to local authorities to decide where exactly they will be. "


Apparently the very existence of those new signs, which only "sometimes" indicate the presence of a radar isn't backtracking of any sort.

But somehow the government has managed to ties itself into knots and come up with an inspired policy that was already in place - well more or less.


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Claude Guéant's "France doesn't need foreign bricklayers and waiters" racist remarks

Proving once again that he is in no way a racist and only makes comments that are factually correct and amount to the truth because he says so, France's interior minister Claude Guéant was back on familiar territory at the weekend.

Claude Guéant (from Wikipedia)

This time it was to tell the French that the country didn't need immigrants to fill positions as waiters in restaurants or builders because France already had enough people to fill the vacancies.

In a marvellous train of logic that seems to have become a Guéant speciality, the interior minister pointed to the country's 2.6 million unemployed, some of whom could presumably take up those low-paid jobs in restaurants and learn to flex their muscles as builders.

What he said during a radio interview on Sunday showed a true understanding of the nature of unemployment and how to get people back to work.

"Those people who are looking for a job cannot refuse to take up positions indefinitely and should have their benefit cut if they don't at some point take what they're being offered," he said.

"It's true that we need immigrants with skills and talents," he said, seeming to backtrack on comments he made a couple of weeks ago on the need to reduce legal immigration; comments which were also criticised by some within his own party at the time.

But remember this is Claude Guéant and what might at first appear to be a softening in tone turns out to be anything other and that.

"There are about 2,000 people we really need every year who have those skills and talents," he continued.

"But we don't need bricklayers or waiters because France already has the resources to fill those posts."

Ah the sensitivity and insight of the man!

Of course Gueant would probably deny that his comments are aimed at currying favour with those inclined to vote for the far-right Front National during the next presidential and parliamentary elections in 2012.

But that's exactly what Dominique Sopo, the president of the anti-racist non-governmental organisation SOS Racisme, thinks are behind the interior minister's thinking.

"There's currently a trend to create among the French a mistrust of foreigners as part of an attempt to appeal to those who might be attracted to the Front National," he said.

"But the direct consequence of these remarks is the rise in popularity of Marine Le Pen (the leader of the Front National) to an unprecedented level, one year away from the presidential elections."

Guéant might not yet have taken up the tongue-in-cheek offer Le Pen made of "honorary membership" of her party in March.

That offer came after his comments that the French were becoming worried about feeling at home in their own country.

But he's going the right way about securing himself another governmental job - maybe even as prime minister - should the unthinkable happen next year and the French return a far-right president: be that Le Pen or Nicolas Sarkozy.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Hot air balloon causes train delays in western France

Now that's not the sort of headline you see every day - not even here in France.

Trains were delayed on the TGV line between Nantes in western France and Paris for the best part of Saturday morning.

Not so unusual, you might be thinking, given French national railways' (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français, SNCF) track (ouch) record.

But this disruption wasn't down to industrial action, the weather or even suspected sabotage.

(screenshot - France 3 television news report)

Instead it occurred after a hot air balloon hit an overhead power line.

The balloon was one of several, according to the regional daily Ouest-France, that had taken off early on Saturday morning from Oudon, 30 kilometres east of Nantes.

It belonged to Nantes Montgolfières, which describes its flights over the Loire valley as "unforgettable".

An apt description indeed - not so much for the journey the eight passengers and one pilot undertook - but the landing they experienced just as they were about to touch down in a field.

Apparently, caught off guard by a stronger-than-expected wind, the pilot wasn't able to prevent the balloon's fabric from becoming entangled with a nearby 25,000 volt overhead power line.

"There could have serious consequences," Captain Patrice Bongibault, a high-ranking police officer told regional France 3 television news.

"But only two of the passengers were slightly injured."

(source - Wikipedia)

And that was a point stressed by the director of Nantes Montgolfières, Géry Liagre.

"We take thousands of people into the air over the Loire Valley and such an incident is very rare," he said.

"Of course it shouldn't have happened, but nobody was seriously injured and in fact there was nothing dramatic: we just disrupted SNCF for a couple of hours."

Oh well that's all right then.

And anyway, train passengers are used to experiencing delays for one reason or another.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Friday's French music break - Eddy Mitchell "Avoir 16 ans aujourd’hui"

Friday's French music break this week is something of a surprise - and a welcome one at that given the failure, once again, of the country's entry at this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

It's proof that French music isn't so bad after all and comes from one of the country's ageing rockers in the proverbial twilight of his career.

Eddy Mitchell's "Avoir 16 ans aujourd’hui" is a delicious touch of nostalgia.

Eddy Mitchell (screenshot from YouTube video of duet "On veut des légendes" with Johnny Hallyday)

Eddy Mitchell (it isn't his real name of course but perhaps Claude Moine didn't have the same potential ring of fame to it) has been around the block - and then some for more decades than he probably cares to count.

Singer, songwriter and actor, his music - and there's been a lot of it since the 1960s with over 30 studio albums - is a combination of rock 'n' roll, country, country rock, variété française (French popular music) and ballads.

So something for everyone, although not always particularly appealing.

Indeed one track on 2009 album Grand Écran was a particular awful rendition of "Over the rainbow" with Melody Gardot (only click on the link with your hands clapped firmly over your lugholes).

But the 68-year-old more than makes up for that "earache" with "Avoir 16 ans aujourd’hui", a track from his confusingly-titled 2010 album "Come back".

Confusing, because as Radio France Internationale points out in its biography of Mitchell (long but well worth the read if you have a few moments) the "Brillcreamed Hair Rock'n'Roller" announced his tour, which began in October last year and wound up in April, would be his farewell one.

Hmm. How often have we heard that from someone in showbiz?

Anyway, treat yourself to a little nostalgia and take a listen to "Avoir 16 ans aujourd’hui".

This version is just an extract from the song.

Not bad - huh?

If that's left you wanting to hear more, then just click here.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Virginie Razzano to play Roland Garros in memory of her fiancé

It'll doubtless be a moving moment when French tennis player Virginie Razzano takes to the court for her opening match at Roland Garros which begins on May 22.

Virginie Razzano, US Open 2009 (from Wikipedia, author Robbie Mendelson)

And the thoughts of many a home fan will be with the 28-year-old during the French Open, not because of fierce national pride but instead in support of a woman who will still be in mourning following the death of her fiancé and trainer Stéphane Vidal on Monday.

"Four or five days ago I asked him whether he wanted me to play at Roland Garros," she writes in a touching letter published in Tuesday's edition of the sports daily L'Equipe.

"He replied that I had to because he wanted me to get on with my life and continue playing for both of us."

It's very much a pattern the couple had followed for the past nine years ever since Vidal was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

They met 11 years ago when Razzano started training at a club run by his parents.

"Over time we became friends," she writes.

"And little by little, as we got to know each other better, we fell in love."

But it was a relationship overshadowed by the Vidal's diagnosis and even though he accompanied Razzano as her coach on the Tour and was always by her side, the illness took its toll over the years.

Vidal's condition worsened at the beginning of this year and although Razzano continued travelling and playing in tournaments until last month - at the insistence of her fiancé - it became clear in April that the 32-year-old was dying.

"I've never met anyone as good or as strong as Stéphane," writes Razzano.

"It's hard, but with the strength he gave me, I'm still alive."

Currently ranked 93rd in the world and competing at Roland Garros for the 14th time, Razzano might not be among the favourites to lift the title, but there's always hope.

And wouldn't it be a fitting tribute?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn handcuffed - the image that shocked the French

The arrest and detention of the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, or DSK as he's more commonly known in France, on charges of alleged sexual assault have made the headlines around the world over the past few days.

But perhaps the one image that those in France have found most difficult to accept is that of the "man who would be president" being handcuffed.

The image that shocked many French (screenshot from BFM TV)

In France, what happened - or didn't happen - on Sunday in New York has of course been major news; DSK was the front-runner in the Socialist party's primary to choose its candidate for next year's presidential election.

Even though he hadn't officially declared his intention to run, everyone knew he would when he decided the time was right.

Since Sunday the Socialist party has been thrown into headless chicken mode wondering how to cope with the accusations.

Its leader, Martine Aubry, had reportedly agreed not to stand in the primary, leaving the way clear for DSK.

Now though she is having to rethink her position, keep the party focused on it policies and manage the upcoming presidential campaign while all the time insisting that everyone in the party is profoundly shocked by the allegations.

The governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) has on the whole been pretty reticent at drawing any conclusions or pointing the finger, declaring that the "presumption of innocence" must take precedence.

And even though the French president has called for "dignity" and requested government ministers from commenting publicly, there have been a few dissenting voices within his party.

UMP, parliamentarian Bernard Debré didn't mince his words when questioned by Europe 1 radio shortly after news broke of DSK's arrest.

"It's humiliating for France to have a man like that who wallows in sex and has done for some time as everyone knows," he said.

"Of course there's the presumption of innocence, but he is a disreputable man."

Not surprisingly Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National took up the theme that many surrounding DSK knew of his behaviour and reputation towards women.

"The truth is that both politicians and journalists have been talking for the past couple of months about Strauss-Kahn's almost 'pathological' relations over the years with women," she told RTL radio.

"He has been definitively discredited as a potential presidential candidate."

French politicians and French society simply hasn't known how to handle what has been reported and the media hasn't made life easier.

It's borrowing courtroom images from the United States - something that simply wouldn't happen in the French judicial system - and happily - if that's the appropriate word - running them in endless loops on the country's many all-news channels.

Legal experts, political colleagues and opponents, friends, associates, pyscho-analysts - you name it - they've all be dragged in front of the cameras and asked for their opinions.

But perhaps the most shocking thing - and there are more than enough elements in the whole affair to shock - to many in France has been the sight of DSK appearing in handcuffs.

Remember this is a man who until the weekend looked as though he could well be the next French president.

This time next year he could have been in office and forming his first government.

Seeing pictures and clips of him in handcuffs seems to have hurt profoundly many French already embarrassed by the unsavoury way in which the equally sordid affair has been reported.

What's more there's actually a law in France - the Guigou law from 2000 - to protect an individual's "presumption of innocence by forbidding the dissemination of any image of a person in handcuffs - before he or she has been found guilty.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy baby rumour and the fawning journalist

Is she or isn't she? Speculation that France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, is pregnant has been circulating for several weeks now.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (screenshot from TF1 news)

Of course she has given interviews and steadfastly refused to comment on what for her "is a private matter" but that hasn't prevented journalists from asking her - directly or indirectly depending on their style.

Except for one - "journalist" that is (and there's a reason for using the inverted commas).

Jean-Pierre Pernaut is, among other things, the anchor of the lunchtime news programme on TF1.

He is, to put it politely, not exactly the most hard-hitting of journalists, preferring a cosy, non-confrontational and almost ingratiating style when he has a guest in the studio.

So perhaps viewers knew what to expect when he interviewed Bruni-Sarkozy on Monday, primarily about her Good Deeds and in particular her campaign against illiteracy.

But Pernaut reached new lows in his already questionable journalistic standards while winding up the interview when he said, "I know you don't like talking about your private life, but I just want to congratulate you."

Bruni-Sarkozy looked somewhat taken aback, at a loss for an appropriate response, smiled and said, "Congratulations (to you) too."

No, it doesn't mean Pernaut is the father.

If you have the stomach for it, take a look at the accompanying clip - and try not to cringe.

Meanwhile Bruni-Sarkozy might not be talking about the likely patter of tiny feet, but her father-in-law is.

Pal Sarkozy told the German daily tabloid Bild that he was going to be a grandfather - again. And he's delighted.

"The couple don't want to know the sex of the baby," the 82-year-old indiscreetly told the paper.

"But I'm sure that if it's a girl, she'll be as beautiful as Carla."

Which raises the question perhaps, if it's a boy it'll be as "what" as his father?

Monday, 16 May 2011

"A shitty finish" - France flops again at Eurovision

Now there's a headline to knock the stuffing out of a country's national pride.

France had gone into Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest in the German city of Düsseldorf with high hopes that its singing "hairdon't" Amaury Vassili would seduce television viewers and professional judges across the continent in the annual musical jamboree that brings pleasure to millions.

Amaury Vassili (screenshot from France 3 television)

Indeed bookmakers had for some reason made the 21-year-old the favourite and somehow the French media wanted to believe it so much that it was carrying reports on how other contestants were telling Vassili, "See you in Paris next year."

"Amaury Vassili represents France's best shot at topping Eurovision since Marie Myriam won back in 1977," said the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien before the competition,

Instead as we all know by now the couple Ell and Nikki from Azerbaijan - and don't ask Azerbai-where - won, and Vassili finished a lowly 15 with a mighty 82 points.

Only two countries gave the Gallic warbler that much prized "douze points"; neighbours Belgium and (presumably equally tone deaf) Greece (well Cyprus hadn't made it through to the finals so they had to hunt around for another country to whom they could give their votes).

All the pre-competition hype had come to nothing and the less-than exquisite "Songu", sung in a Corsican dialect that not even the French could understand, finished with the same number of points as France's 2010 entry from Jessy Matador (who?) bopping along to "Allez Ola Olé", although three places lower.

Now there's a compliment.

Was it perhaps a case of the French believing in their own publicity? After all what were the chances of a pseudo-operatic voice having widespread appeal when up against the tra-la-la-ing expertise of Nordic, Baltic, Balkan and Eastern European blocs?

Vassili had urged caution in the run-up to the contest and was disappointed not to have done better.

"15th place is a shitty position but it doesn't matter," he said afterwards.

"I gave it everything I had but it wasn't convincing enough. It was a gamble choosing a song like this and in the end we just didn't pull it off."

And when it came to the winners, he had less than tender words.

"For me the Azerbaijan song was completely trite and syrupy and I didn't believe for one moment the performance the two gave as a couple or a duo," he said.

"Besides I think it shows a lack of balls to sing in English (as most of the 43 finalists did) rather than the language of your country or - as I did - a region."

So France won't be shelling out millions of euros to hold next year's contest.

Instead that honour will go to Azerbaijan when the world will discover just how European it is - or isn't - what the capital is called, and who knows, they might actually be able to locate it on a map.

Oh yes, and it'll probably be the only other time most of us will get to hear Eli and Nikki's "Running scared".


But for all those who want a reminder of what real Eurovision was - as far as the French are concerned - here's that 1977 triumph once again from Marie Myriam.

And as a special for all you Eurovision enthusiasts - Vassili and Myriam tackled her one hit on French television just weeks before the Düsseldorf disappointment.

Perhaps France should have tried entering that.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Do the French really need a 96-hour antiperspirant? Does anyone?

Apparently 96hour antiperspirant is better than soap and water - or at least a damn good alternative.

Invincible (screenshot from French commercial)

The weather has been unseasonably warm and worryingly dry throughout many parts of Europe over the past couple of months.

Already in France, 26 of the country's 95 mainland départements have water restrictions in place and the prognostication - what a lovely word - by weather forecasters is that the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon.

All of which is perhaps an explanation, albeit admittedly somewhat tenuous, for the decision by one the world's largest cosmetics and beauty companies to hit television screens with commercials for a product that promises 96 hour protection!

Yes unbelievably L'Oréal would appear to think that it's perfectly acceptable not to wash for four whole days and instead to rely on the wonders of its "Invincible" deodorant from the MenExpert range.

Indeed so proud does the Paris-based giant seem to be that it has not only lined up a couple of hunks to promote the product's properties, it has also released a video showing the "making of" the commercial.

Eric Cantona (screenshot from French commercial for Invincible)

In France former French international footballer Eric Cantona adds his virility to Invincible's obvious appeal for those whose jobs might require them to avoid soap and water for the best part of a week.

And elsewhere it's US actor and heartthrob Patrick Dempsey who's charged with extolling the virtues of 96-hour protection.

Clearly both men were paid enough to try to convince others that personal hygiene for men comes in the shape of a roll-on or spray deodorant effective under the most extreme conditions and for what just has to be an entirely inappropriate length of time.

What would their better halves (Rachida Brakni and Jillian Fink respectively) say of the two men if they regularly chose not to wash?

And how would partners of men being encouraged to use Invincible really react if they discovered they were sharing their lives with someone who preferred a quick underarm roll-on or spray to the more traditional cleansing properties of water?

Once again the question surely has to be asked - just as it was here a couple of weeks ago when looking at the pleasures offered by 72-hour protection - "What in heaven's name is going through the minds of manufacturers when they come up with the idea that anybody requires such a product in everyday life?"

Surely we're worth all worth better than that L'Oréal.

Coming soon - 120-hour protection?

Beurk - as the French might say.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Friday's French music break - Zaz, "La Fée"

Friday's French music break this week comes from a singer who over the past year has had phenomenal success in France.

Zaz (screenshot from Le Figaro video)

Zaz fair burst on to the country's music scene in 2010 with her self-titled debut album totting up sales of 500,000 +

It spent over two months in the top spot and generated two hit singles; "Je veux" and "Le long de la route".

The 31-year-old was nominated in the category "Best newcomer" at the French equivalent of the Grammys - les victoires de la musique - losing out to the group Lilly Wood & The Prick, but she picked up "Song of the year" for Je veux.

Clearly Zaz isn't an overnight sensation. She has worked long and hard to get where she is and has probably been helped by a voice that is markedly different from anyone else's and a style of music that is distinctive with its jazz, folk, pop and street influences.

Her latest single, La Fée (the fairy) is also taken from her debut album and is one of three tracks written for her by singer-songwriter Raphaël.

La Fée (screenshot from

It is - quite appropriately - enchanting, and once again displays the unique quality of her voice and her ability to use it almost as an instrument.

So without further ado here's La Fée

For those of you who understand French enjoy the magic of the video.

If you need a translation of the lyrics, you'll find a rather good one here.

And just to compare and contrast, here's the version as sung by the person who penned the song, Raphaël.

Bon weekend.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier - 500 days of captivity

Friday May 13 will be the 500th day since French journalists Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier were kidnapped.

500 days of captivity (screenshot from RSF video)

Once again events are being organised throughout France on Friday in support of the two men and their Afghan colleagues Mohammed Reza, Ghulam and Satar, who were taken captive as they were travelling in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province around 120 kilometres northeast of the capital Kabul.

And in spite of reassurances from the French government that everything possible has been done to ensure the liberation of the men, the Comité de soutien (support committee) is worried.

"It's the longest period of time journalists have been held since the kidnappings in Lebanon during the 1980s," says the committee's Richard Coffin.

"From the moment they were kidnapped the government assured us that all avenues to end their capture were being explored," he said.

"We wanted to believe that but the reality is that they're still not free and we're very concerned."

Although the plight of the men might not make the headlines they haven't been forgotten in France.

Far from it.

At the end of every news bulletin on national television, viewers are reminded of just how long Ghesquière and Taponier have spent in captivity.

Among the events planned for Friday is a rally in Paris organised by the journalists' employers, France Télévisions, along with the Comité de soutien and Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF).

The president of France Télévisions, Rémy Pflimlin, will make a speech as well family members of the two men.

Similar rallies are scheduled throughout the country and public television will be carrying reports and profiles on the two men on its national and regional channels.

In a video aimed at encouraging Internauts to help build a virtual portrait of the two men, RSF reminds us as to just how long 500 days is:

16 months
71 weeks
12,000 hours
720,00 minutes

500 days!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

France's X Factor - magnificent Maryvette Lair

The television audiences might not be the highest (just 2.2 million tuned in to M6 for the latest edition) and the whole concept is perhaps missing its mark.

But the French version of X Factor (now in its second season) still manages to throw up some delights.

And none more so than the performance during Tuesday's show by Maryvette Lair in the "Over 25s" category.

Maryvette Lair (screenshot from M6 video)

The 27-year-old actress-singer-trapeze artist (what a combination) took a monster hit from one of France's biggest stars and transformed it.

"Que je t'aime" is universally known in France as a Johnny Hallyday anthem; certainly among fans of the ageing rocker and probably for those who aren't too keen on the 67-year-old's music.

So it was always going to be a gamble to tackle the 1969 hit taken from the album of the same name.

Lair though is obviously one for taking risks and, quite simply, has shown the knack of being able to take a song and...well...make it her own.

She might not win the competition. In fact she probably won't.

That'll most likely be fought out between one of the "boys" such as Raphaël Herrerias in the "Under 25s" - if he can match his voice, talent, and good looks with the right songs - and one of the "girls" in the "Under 25s", probably Marina D'amico who can belt out a song (in tune) but has as much stage presence as a plank of wood (well she is just 16 years old).

But Lair's performances mark her out as something other than just another voice - and even one of the judges coaching an opposing category (girls), the lyricist, composer and conductor Olivier Schultheis, had to admit as much.

"You're talented and that's for sure," he said.

"Congratulations, that was magnificent."

It was.

So here's a treat - Lair's version (just click on the image below from M6 replay and wait for the commercial to pass) followed by the original from Hallyday.




Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Le Toutou bar in Brussels - a restaurant for dogs

Belgium might not have had a fully elected government for over a year now, but it can boast a first - and something that has nothing whatsoever to do with politics;

A restaurant with a menu for dogs.

screenshot from Le Toutou bar website

Le Toutou bar (the doggie bar) in Brussels is serving up dishes destined to delight the palate of even the most discerning dog.

The idea is the brainchild of Bernard Schol and his wife Houria Agalam, who have the licence to run the Pavillon Louis XV, a splendid building dating from 1745, owned by the local authority and which can be found in the Wolvendael park in the Belgian capital.

And its setting is what gave the couple the idea not only to cater for their regular clientele but to open it up to man's best friend.

"We noticed that a number of people who had been in the park walking their dogs were dropping in for a drink," he said.

"But there was absolutely no provision made for their dogs."

And it was with that thought in mind that they drew up a menu comprising not just specially concocted drinks but also food for hungry hounds.

Just take a look at what's on offer.

There's a choice of dishes from pasta or rice to vegetables, beef or chicken. All of them are high in fibre and low in salt.

Just the ticket for panting pooches and their owners who've returned from a brisk walk or run around the park's 18 hectares.

If that's left you feeling hungry you can also tuck in because according to the website, "All dishes are also suitable for human consumption."

Mind you, perhaps it would be wise to give the beer a miss.

"Red Dog" energy beer as it names implies, has been specifically brewed for pooches of all sizes with what is described as the "subtle taste of bone marrow".


screenshot from local television report

Le Toutou bar will remain open throughout the summer serving drinks and snacks to panting pooches and their equally owners.

Bone appetit.


Monday, 9 May 2011

"We like the world" round-the-world Facebook journey

If you're one of those people who casts doubts on whether Facebook "friends" can ever exist outside of the virtual world, then a French family is surely set to make you think again.

In July Frédéric and Estelle Colas, along with their eight-year-old daughter Héloïse, will leave Paris to set off on a round-the-world trip with a difference.

They'll be staying with Facebook friends in every country they visit.

The Colas family (screenshot from YouTube video)

Yes that's right; people they don't necessarily know and perhaps have never met but who have become "friends' in that Social Network definition of the word.

But this isn't just a gimmick or a publicity stunt and it's not a trip dedicated purely to pleasure - although there is obviously some of that involved too - as Frédéric Colas explained to journalist David Abiker on Europe 1 radio on Sunday.

There's also a purpose behind it.

"Every time one of our Facebook friends puts us up for the night, we'll donate the money we would otherwise have spent on a hotel to a fund aimed at building a girls' school in Burkina Faso together with the association La voix de l'enfant," he said.

The couple, both in their early forties and professionals in communications and advertising see the project as being a combination of making a dream come true, taking a break and allowing their daughter to discover the world.

And at the some time, they'll be doing something much more important, as Fréderic writes on We like the world's website.

"It is the time to ask myself important questions about what I want to do about my life while keeping my feet on the ground," he writes.

"It is a year when I want to 'be' but also to 'achieve' something. As in any project, I anticipate having constraints and some form of pressure, because I want to see the school built thanks to all the people who are interested in our project."

If you would like to become a friend of the project, offer the family accommodation overnight at some point during their trip o simply follow their progress, then check out the Facebook page for We like the world.

The Colas family (screenshot from YouTube video)

"The question is often asked what do Facebook 'friends' really mean in terms of proper friendship," says Colas.

"Our aim is to show that with the help of a Social Network we can do some good, something enjoyable and something that exists in the 'real life'."

Friday, 6 May 2011

Friday's French music break - Catherine Lara's "Avec le temps"

A new feature and an excuse to share with readers some popular French music - a mixture of proven standards that just about everyone in France knows, covers that add that little extra to what has gone before, and brand spanking new songs from "upcoming artists" as they're usually described.

After all, what better way is there to start the weekend?

Catherine Lara (screenshot from video on official website and OFF TV)

And it's proof, as if anyone really needed it, that the world of popular music has more - much more - to offer than songs sung in English.

Yes of course we all know that, but it's easy to forget when the airwaves are choc-a-bloc of songs influenced by, or sung primarily in, English.

There's nowt wrong with them - far from it. But it's almost as though for many nothing exists outside.

This won't redress the imbalance: it's not really meant to.

But it'll highlight some of what France has had, and continues, to offer.

To get things rolling - a remake. And a rather surprising one at that.

It comes from Catherine Lara, a singer-songwriter whose main success came from hits in the 1980s.

That doesn't mean she has slipped into musical oblivion since - far from it.

Lara has released over 20 studio albums, continued arranging and composing for both television and theatre and appears regularly along with a host of other French singers and performers on the annual charity show Les Restos du coeur.

With her trademark tinted glasses and shock of silver white hair, the 65-year-old has never made any secret of her sexuality and was one of the first artists in France to declare openly that she was a lesbian.

Never far from Lara's side is her violin, an instrument she took up as a child and continued studying right through to her twenties at the conservatoire national de Paris.

Her most recent album, released in March 2011, pays tribute to one of France's most respected singer-songerwriters Léo Ferré, whose songs are among the best known and most often covered in this country.

"Avec le temps" is one such song and even though countless artists have tried to recapture the magic of the original, often with mixed results, Lara adds something...different.

Lara will next be heard by millions in France when she sits alongside TV and radio presenter Laurent Boyer next weekend as a co-commentator for French viewers of that annual "musical" (use the term very lightly) fest the Eurovision Song Contest.

It should be interesting to hear what the 1986 winner of the French equivalent of a Grammy, Le Victoire de la musique, makes of Amaury Vassili - this country's entry - and the other 24 finalists.

For the moment though, sit back and listen to Lara's interpretation of Ferré's "Avec le temps" and enjoy.

Catherine Lara sings "Avec le temps"

Just for a comparison - here's the original

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn's Bling Bling Porsche photo

Oh yes that saying that a "picture is worth a thousand words."

How unfortunate for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund and (still undeclared) frontrunner for the Socialist party's primary to choose its candidate for next year's presidential election.

DSK, as he's more commonly known to the French, has been snapped climbing into a modest little Porsche with his wife Anne Sinclair.

That photograph (screenshot from BFM TV report)

It was shot by a photographer from Agence France Presse while the couple were in Paris on April 28 making one of their oh-so-regular flying visits that seem to be part of preparing the ground for DSK's eventual declaration that he's going to run in the Socialist party's primary later this year.

Since it appeared in the national daily Le Parisien on Tuesday and had a radio commentary dedicated to it a day later from Hervé Gattegno, the editor of the weekly news and current affairs magazine, Le Point, the photograph and its implications seem to have taken on a life of their own.

Gattegno said it had been DSK's first "big mistake" and there were plenty who seemed to agree.

The Net has been abuzz with comments as the French website Le Post points out.

Bloggers and Twitterers have been ironically welcoming a new ear of potential Bling Bling - this time from the Socialist party.

And political opponents - ever eager - have also been getting in on the act.

"The Socialist Party is evolving in a curious way, the former interior minister Brice Hortefeux said when asked about the photograph on BFM TV.

"In 1981, the symbol was the fist and rose. Today it's driving a Porsche."

And it wasn't just any old Porsche - it was one worth $100,000 according to Le Figaro.

What does indeed seem to have been a monumental image faux pas for DSK is also being seen as giving French president Nicolas Sarkozy's governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) a potential angle of attack for the 2012 campaign in the form of the DSK-Sinclair lifestyle.

It doesn't matter that the car wasn't actually his but belonged to an IMF colleague who was with the couple in Paris, as DSK supporters have been quick to point out.

He should have known better and realise that his every word and gesture is being scrutinised.

DSK and his wife may well be privileged and far removed from the traditional base of support for the Socialist party - the so-called working class.

But there really is no need to appear to be flaunting the differences between his lifestyle and that of the ordinary French citizen.

Already some are using that neologism "Prolophobia" to describe the behaviour of the Socialist party.

The apparent rejection of the values of those people to whom it has traditionally appealed - the country's working class - has been offered up as an explanation to the rise in support of the far-right Front National and its leader Marine Le Pen.

And now after years of la gauche caviar, it now seems as though DSK is prepared to take things one step further by redefining it as la gauche Porsche.

Woe betide the Socialist party if it falls into that trap - and heaven help the French.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Mélanie Laurent - France's latest singing actress

Mélanie Laurent has released her debut album, En t'attendant.

So what? You might be thinking. Well the fact of the matter is that she's not really a singer - well at least not until now.

And some are not sure that Laurent really is, even after the release of her debut album on May 2.

Mélanie Laurent (screenshot from clip En t'attendant)

The 28-year-old is an accomplished actress and already has one César (the French equivalent of an Oscar) under her belt as most promising actress in the excellent 2006 film Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas.

Since then Hollywood has sat up and taken notice and she secured the role of Shosanna Dreyfus in Quentin Tarantino's 2009 film Inglourious Basterds.

Laurent has also written and directed films; one of them, De moins en moins, was nominated for Best short film at the 2008 Cannes film festival, which brings us full circle as she'll be maîtresse de cérémonie at both the opening and closing of this year's cinematographic extravaganza on the French Riviera.

Somehow, somewhere along the way, Laurent has also managed to pack in recording her debut album En t'attendant.

The two-year project with the Irish musician Damien Rice resulted in what Laurent calls, "The fulfilment of a childhood dream."

"I didn't wake up one morning and think 'Hey I think I could be a singer'," she says.

And that's probably just as well because the impression you could have of some French actresses throughout the years is that they have had exactly that thought.

The list of those who've had a stab at treating the rest of us to their vocal cords includes (among many, many others) Catherine Deneuve, Brigitte Bardot, Isabelle Adjani, Jeanne Moreau, Sandrine Kiberlain, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Vanessa Paradis.

Some, such as Gainsbourg and Paradis, have made the transition back and forth without any problem.

Others - well perhaps it would have been better had they stuck to their day job.

So which camp does Laurent belong to?

Well reviews for her album have been mixed.

There has been praise for Rice's arrangements and the strength of his voice (on two duets) but doubts cast on the quality of Laurent's and her ability to deliver.

"The album is beautifully made...and often seductive," says Radio France Internationale.

"But Laurent needs to impose her personality more in her voice."

And that's a point of view picked up by Frederic Le Rouzo writing for the French website Le Post.

He applauds Laurent's approach describing it as "simple and modest" but at the same time the impression the listener has, "is of a flat voice, which does not transmit emotion or make us dream."

"One can only wish her a continued acting career in which she will easily find success," he concludes.


Laurent hasn't taken such criticism well and reacted angrily in an interview with the regional daily Le Berry républicain during Le Printemps de Bourges.

She was appearing at the music festival shortly before the release of her album..

Laurent lashed out at journalists saying that they seemed only too willing to criticise and that it didn't seem to matter someone in the public eye said or did, there were those only too willing to find something disparaging to say.

You can judge for yourselves by listening to the title track of the album.

And cast an eye over the comments from those who really count - potential fans.

Some are enthusiastic but other are far from being gentle with the suggestion that the last thing France needs is "another Carla Bruni-Sarkozy" soundalike.

Ooh. That's a little below the belt.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

SNCF's new service - trains that don't run on time

It's the sort of story which, if you had heard it a month earlier, you would have probably put down to being an April Fool.

But it isn't.

French railways has come up with a somewhat novel approach to marketing and customer satisfaction - flexible or variable departure times on some of its routes.

In other words, trains that don't leave when scheduled.

Perhaps it's called thinking outside of the box - or some might consider it "not thinking at all" - because SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français or the French National Railway Corporation) is offering travellers what it calls a new "service" - tickets on trains that might - or might not - run on time.

So what does this miracle approach to customer service offer exactly?

Well, it'll allow passengers to buy tickets on 30 intercity Téoz and highspeed TGV routes for trains that will leave 15 minutes before or after their scheduled departure time.

Customers who've bought such tickets will be informed seven days beforehand via email or text message about the exact departure time.

It's all part of SNCF's attempt to reduce the number of cancellations and unscheduled delays - by building planned ones into its timetable - and is a way of coping with necessary track maintenance work, according to Barbara Dalibard, the director of SNCF Voyages.

"Track renovation will take some time - several years," she told France 2 television.

"We cannot exclude the possibility that the service will be extended," she added - somewhat ominously.

The scheme has already been tested on some lines and will be extended in a couple of weeks time to include routes such as Paris-Toulouse, Strasbourg-Bordeaux, Lille-Toulouse and Paris-Dijon.

And the incentive for passengers in terms of price?

Well there isn't one.

Tickets will cost exactly the same as trains scheduled to leave on time.

The only benefit perhaps is to be able to book a ticket earlier but not necessarily knowing what time you'll be leaving.

Brilliant isn't it!
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