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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier are free!

After 18 months held captive in Afghanistan, the two French journalists Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier their Afghan colleagues Mohammed Reza, Ghulam and Satar were released on Wednesday.

Radio stations in France interrupted normal service to report the news of the two mens' release and when it was announced in the French National Assembly, parliamentarians of all political persuasions delivered a standing ovation.

Interviewed on Europe 1's evening news and current affairs programme, Ghesquière's partner Béatrice Coulon said she had just been on the 'phone to him and he seemed in good form, all things considered.

"Hervé is amazing. He just seemed to have so much energy (over the 'phone)," said Coloun, laughing and somewhat breathless with excitement.

"I'm so happy that he's coming home," she continued.

"He said we hadn't spent much time together recently and at it was important that he return home before the holiday season started so that we could at least spend the summer together."

Couloun also said that Ghesquièr had told her he had spent the last eight months in solitary confinement with poor sanitary conditions and had lost some weight.

"All the time he was talking to me, he was laughing and joking," she said.

His attitude is incredible. It's as though he just left me yesterday. I cannot explain how happy I am."

Speaking from Afghanistan, a fellow France 3 journalist Pierre Babey told BFM TV that he had seen both Ghesquièr and Taponier at the French embassy in Kabul.

We were in the embassy courtyard when the car carrying them both arrived," he said.

"We had expected to see them much thinner than they turned out to be and they appeared to be in excellent health and humour" he continued.

"When we spoke to them, Stéphane asked for the latest news on FC Nantes, the football team he supports and Hervé asked the ambassador not to give them beans or rice as that's basically what they had been eating for the past 18 months."

Ghesquière and Taponier are expected to fly home to France tommorrow, arriving at eight o'clock in the morning local time.

Welcome home!

Matthew Raymond-Barker howls his way to win France's X Factor

Yes the winner of the France's version of the X Factor (and you have to pronounce that as "Ix Factor) is none other than a guy who was literally booted off the British version of the show without making it through to the live prime time snore-athons.

Matthew Raymond-Barker (screenshot M6 video)

Matthew Raymond-Barker outwarbled Marina D'Amico to become the country's latest super-talented "find" and in the process securing a record deal with Sony.

Oh what a night it was to be - a very long one.

Sandrine Corman was on hand to continue her sterling job of keeping the whole shebang flowing - just as she had done for the past three months.

The judges took their places with Olivier Schultheis (D'Amico's coach) and Canadian impressionist-singer Véronic DiCaire (for Raymond-Barker) keeping their fingers (and just about anything else) crossed for their protegés and it was time to let battle begin.

The show was to be - in the words of Christophe Willem, one of the judges and as a former talent show winner (Nouvelle Star) and ergo someone who should know, "A clash of the Titans".

Even the rather more surly Henry Padovani, a founder member of the Police (did you know that?) and the poor guy who had to pretend that he had actually enjoyed his role as coach of three groups that were never going to win, managed to drum up some enthusiasm for both D'Amico and Raymond-Barker admitting grumpily (and not with any real sincerity) that they, "deserved to be in the final."

Raymond-Barker's (doesn't that just trip off the tongue delightfully) parents had made the trip over from Britain. Poor things, they looked as though they didn't understand a word of what was being said throughout, which was probably the case.

D'Amico's parents too were in the audience - just as they had been all along to cheer their 17-year-old daughter along.

We learned that the 22-year-old Raymond-Barker had turned up at the auditions by - in his words - "pure chance" (yeah, yeah, we believe you), that D'Amico made endless (mindless) jokes and that the two of them couldn't wait to perform together for the first time in the competition.

The songs came and went: three from each of them including the one that would be the first single should they win the competition.

The judges gave their verdicts, which, let's face it, were never going to be along the lines of, "Well that was a load of old tripe. How the heck did we end up with these two in the final?"

Guests Bouncy - sorry Beyoncé - and Bruno Mars showed both Raymond-Barker and D'Amico how it really should be done.

But once again the presence of two international stars performing live didn't really do it in terms of ratings.

Only 2.3 million could be bothered to tune to X Factor while at the same time 8.2 million were glued to their boxes watching the US import "Dr House" over on TF1.

The finals songs sung, both competitors and their coaches joined Corman on stage as she gave a brief resumé of their capabilities (all that was needed really) and told everyone how close the competition had been with only 1,300 votes separating the two.

"The winner of X Factor 2011..." dramatic pause #1..."is"...dramatic pause #2..."MATTYOU RAYMOND-BARKEEEEEEEEER!"

Dicaire gave her "Mattyou" a huge hug. Schulties looked very purse-lipped about the result and D'Amico jutted out her substantial chin in brave defeat.

Raymond-Barker thanked everyone he could think of in French before uttering the inevitable "I don't believe it" in English and the rest of the "also-took-part" contestants rushed on stage to congratulate/comiserate a they saw fit.

Just time for the winner to prepare himself to murder Daniel Balavoine's 1982 hit "Vivre ou survivre" for one last time.

That's the song which will be released on Saturday as his first (and only?) single.

M6 has yet to decide whether it will continue the search for that someone with the X Factor next year or revert to Nouvelle Star (Pop Idol).

Here's a about "Neither of the above".

In the meantime, here's a chance for you to "enjoy" Matthew Raymond-Barker singing "Vivre ou survivre" with the original from Balavoine to serve as a comparison.

Paris hotel opens an anti-snoring room

The InterContinental-owned Crowne Plaza chain of hotels perhaps has the answer for travellers whose sleep is disturbed by their partners snorting and grunting their way through the night.

The chain is testing a "snore absorption room" in nine different hotels across Europe and the Middle East from June 27 to July 1.

Crowne Plaza Paris République (screenshot from YouTube video)

One of the hotels at which guests can book the snore absorption room - at the same price as any standard room - is the Crowne Plaza Paris République in the French capital.

And as Olivier Billard, the Rooms Division Manager of the hotel, told Europe 1, the idea is to allow both guests in the room to get a good night's sleep.

"The concept is being tested throughout the week at our hotel in just one room which has been specially converted to minimise the noise made by the person snoring," he told a rather perplexed and definitely ill-behaved team during Laurent Ruquier's afternoon round-table radio show on Monday.

"The walls and the headboard have been sound-proofed and there's also a special anti-snoring pillow which prevents the person from lying on his or her back," he continued.

"To help the person being kept awake by the snoring there's a white noise machine which emits a relaxing sound similar to the wind in the trees."

Sceptics might think that the idea nothing more than a publicity stunt especially as it's on a trial basis.

But as Business Traveller points out the Crowne Plaza chain has a reputation for "innovation".

In 2010 for example it came up with the idea of putting real grass in a number of its meeting rooms at two of its British and one of its Irish hotels to "unlock some long-forgotten childhood creativity."

And last year as part of an eco-friendly initiative the Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers in Denmark installed electricity-producing bicycles and offered guests a free meal if they produced 10 watt hours of power.

Sweet dreams

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Store manager rescues girl from car - father threatens to file a complaint

It has been hot in France over the past couple of days - very hot.

Temperatures have climbed as high as 40 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country.

(from Wikipedia , author: Lykaestria)

Not only is it inadvisable to leave child alone in a car, it's also dangerous and neglectful.

Everyone surely knows that it's not only inadvisable to leave a child unattended in a car, it's also dangerous as the temperature inside can be life-threatening, even with the windows open.

Some parents though appear to "know better" as in the case of a German couple over the weekend in the town of Villeneuve-lès-Béziers in the south of France.

They left their three-year-old daughter alone in their vehicle in the car park of a supermarket while they went about shopping.

Other customers noticed her by herself in the four-wheel drive and informed the store's management who made three announcements (two in French and one in German) asking the owners of the vehicle to come to the information desk immediately.

There was no response.

In the meantime the store's deputy director, Vincent Touya, had gone out to the car park to see for himself what state the girl was in, and even though the car windows were open slightly, as he told the regional daily, Midi Libre, he had to take immediate action.

"She seemed to be all right but the car was in full sun and the outside temperature was already 30 degrees," he told the newspaper.

"I put in a call to the emergency services and they told me I had to get her out of the car at once," he continued.

"So I took a hammer and broke the window. She was bright red, sweating heavily and when I took her in my arms her hair was soaked as though she had just taken a shower."

He carried the girl into the store and gave her some water and food.

A happy ending and Touya a hero!

Well that's what you would think.

Somehow the parents weren't of the same opinion.

Il secourt un enfant, ses parents portent...
par Europe1fr

They were eventually found and according to Touya didn't appear in the least concerned - quite the opposite.

"The mother just continued shopping and filling her trolley," he told Europe 1 radio.

"And the father looked at me as though I were guilty of something."

But it gets worse.

Far from admitting any negligence, the parents insisted that their daughter had been asleep in the car and they hadn't wanted to wake her.

"There wasn't a word of thanks from either of them and the father even said he would file a complaint against me because I had broken the window of his four-wheel drive," said Touya.

"Everyone else in the store was outraged."

French X Factor, the finale...yawn

Tuesday sees the final of France's X factor with the last two contestants doing battle to determine who'll pick up the contract for an album with a major record company.

But when Marina D'Amico and Matthew Raymond-Barker have finished singing their hearts out and await the viewers' votes, it's highly unlikely that millions will be glued to the box in anticipation.

Because quite simply viewing figures for the show have been consistently appalling.

Since it hit the screens in April with the recorded auditions, ratings for the show have had a hard time climbing above 10 per cent audience share or around two million viewers.

Even the first live show only clocked up a 12.4 per cent share or 2.5 million viewers, and it has been downhill ever since.

So how come a format that has worked so well - and continues to do so - in other countries, fails to capture the imagination of the French public?

After all the show, now in its second season, has had a prime time slot on one of the country's major broadcasters, M6, having switched from the smaller sister channel W9 which aired the first X Factor back in 2009 (yes there was a one year gap).

Oh yes, and let's not forget the guests that have appeared live on the show: The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga, Enrique Iglesias and Nicole Scherzinger to name just some of the international acts.

And it's not as though M6 hasn't promoted the programme - ad nauseam and over-ambitiously perhaps given that it was billed as "The musical event of the year" before it began.

The reasons for the show's "failure" are probably manifold, but two stand out; the calibre of the candidates and the overkill of the TV talent search format in France.

The so-called "X factor" is surely some inexplicable quality a singer or a group has once they appear on stage and open their mouths: that "je ne sais quoi" if you like, that you just can't put your finger on, but it's obvious it's there.

Marina D'Amico (screenshot from M6 video)

Those two finalists, Marina D'Amico and Matthew Raymond-Barker, are supposed to be the cream of the crop but quite frankly there's little "X" and more "Y" factor about them than anything else - as in "Why are they in the final?"

Sure the 17-year-old D'Amico can sing - very well. But that just ain't enough.

She's simply boring to listen to, worse to watch and lacking in personality.

Think block of wood on stage and you just about have her level of charisma.

That's not being "woodist", just stating the obvious.

Then there's Raymond-Barker.

Doesn't sound very French does it?

Not surprising really st the 22-year-old is from the suburbs of London and - get this - failed to make it through to the final stages of the UK equivalent.

Yes that's right, he a British X Factor reject!

Say no more.

Matthew Raymond-Barker (screenshot from M6 video)

Then there's the obvious viewer fatigue the French must surely have with the TV talent show format.

There have been eight seasons of Star Academy (2001-2008) on TF1 and the same number of Nouvelle Star - the French equivalent of Pop Idol - on M6 (2003-2010) and four of Popstars (2001-2003 and 2007) also on M6.

Enough you would think to throw up some real talent with proven staying power.

Sadly that just hasn't been the case.

If you take a look at the number of acts who've managed to establish themselves in the hearts of the French public and record labels in terms of sales - you would be hard-pushed to come up with that many.

Yes there have been exceptions - among the winners of the various shows perhaps Jenifer, Nolwenn Leroy, Matt Pakora, Julien Doré and Christophe Willem and a few "also appeared" that have managed to carve out careers such as Amel Bent and Chimène Badi.

But equally there have been an awful lot of "what on earth happened to them?" winners, such as Magalie Vaé, Cyril Cinélu, Mickels Réa, Steeve Estatof, Myriam Abel and Soan Faya, let alone those instantly forgettable "also appeared"

Don't worry if you haven't heard of, or can't remember, half of those "winners with a record deal". Chances are, neither can most French.

So D'Amico or Raymond-Barker on Tuesday evening?

Well to paraphrase Rhett Butler most French probably "don't give a damn."

Here are the two protagonists in full voice during the semi-final.

Matthew Raymond-Barker murders Coldplay's "Viva la vida"

Marina D'Amico proving she ain't no Bjork and don't you just wish she would stay "Oh so quiet"

Monday, 27 June 2011

Gazpacho - à la française

It's summer and a great time to enjoy a typical Spanish dish; gazpacho, a cold tomato-based vegetable soup.

Absolutely delicious even if sometimes the chef tends to be a little heavy-handed on the garlic.

Now you might think that the French, when they decide to "revisit" a recipe - albeit from another country - and add their own special touch to a classic, would come up with something rather special.

After all back in November last year the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) recognised French gastronomy as a world treasure when it added it to its list "aiming to protect intangible slices of a nation's heritage."

That was the somewhat formal and convoluted way of saying it had been given the official seal of approval and was the first time any country's gastronomy had been included.

That's all well and good, but take a look at the preparation suggestions on a box of dinky glasses for amuse-bouches available in a chain of hard discount (or "ard discoont" as pronounced in French) stores up and down the country.

Can't read what's written without having the print enlarged?

No sooner said than done. Here you go.

You see that?

The third tip on what to make, and how - "Espagne: gaspacho (mixer 1 boite de tomate pelées avec un bocal de poivrons égoutté et un concombre épluché."

For those of you whose French is a little on the rusty side, that reads - "Spain: gazpacho (mix 1 can of peeled tomatoes with a jar of drained peppers and a peeled cucumber."

Nothing like fresh ingredients...and that's nothing like etc...


Bon appetit.

Or should that be buen provecho?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Jeannie Longo - a 58th national title for the 52-year-old

What is there left to say about French cyclist Jeannie Longo?

Sporting legend is such an overused expression, but if anyone deserves to be described as such, it's her.

Jeannie Longo (screenshot from BFM TV report)

On Thursday the 52-year-old (let's put that in capitals for those of you who might not have been paying attention; FIFTY-TWO-YEAR-OLD) once again beat women more than half her age to win the French national time trial at Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.

And as the regional daily La Dépêche du Midi says we're all running out of superlatives to describe her remarkable career.

Thursday's win - her fourth consecutive time trial title - brought her total tally of national road and track crowns to a mind-boggling 58.

Indeed the stats for her career at national, world and Olympic level are staggering.

Alongside those 58 national titles she has also 13 world championships victories to her name and four Olympic medals including one Gold in the 1996 Road Race at the Atlanta Games.

Speaking after Thursday's race Longo told reporters that she hadn't been that confident about being able to hold on to her title.

"It went well, but I wasn’t entirely confident today. I didn’t feel great," the women French journalists affectionately refer to as "Super Jeannie" or, with a degree of reverence in alluding to her age "Super Grannie", told reporters.

"This 58th title gives me immense pleasure and I'll admit to feeling a little nostalgic on the podium because (19)58 was also the year I was born."

So with title number 58 under her belt the question on many people's lips is whether she'll have another bash at the Olympics in London next year.

In Beijing in 2008 she narrowly missed out on a medal after she finished fourth in the Road Time Trial.

And although she's not yet mentioning the word retirement, Longo is hesitant to make any promises about next year.

"I'm not really sure I want the stress of international competition," she told reporters.

"If I were to train for the Olympics it would mean another year of stress...and I have a house to finish building," she continued.

"At this rate, I'll be living in a trailer for goodness know how long."

While the Olympics might remain a question mark in her diary, one more title beckons.

Longo is due to ride in the French national road race on Saturday.

She certainly puts the rest of us to shame.

Friday's French music break - Florent Pagny and Pascal Obispo "Je laisse le temps faire"

It's two for the price of one this week as Friday's French music break is actually a duet with Florent Pagny joined by Pascal Obispo in "Je laisse le temps faire".

Pascal Obispo (left) and Florent Pagny (screenshot from official clip)

And even if there were no lyrics to the song you would probably be able to tell from the opening bars that it was French.

It's the accordion that gives it away; not an instrument that features regularly in French pop songs, although if you're a lover of Bal-musette you might beg to differ.

Pagny, now 49, released his first album back in 1990 and since then has tried just about every musical (and hair) style.

They (musically-speaking) have included (among others) the dreadful faux-opera "Baryton" album, one dedicated entirely to Jacques Brel songs - "Pagny chante Brel" (he should have known better) and most recently "Tout et son contraire".

But his biggest - and arguably best - songs have come from the pen of Obispo.

It's not the first time the two men have worked together - far from it.

They go back a fair number of years and Obispo, along with his longtime songwriting partner Lionel Florence, has provided a fair number of songs for Pagny including his biggest hit to date, "Savoir aimer" in 1997 and the cleverly catchy "Ma Liberté de penser" in 2003.

In fact Obispo has been a prolific singer-songwriter since the 1980s, recording songs himself such as "L'important c'est d'aimer" (1999), "Millésime" (2001) and "Fan" (2004), a tribute to Michel Polnareff, that have become firm favourites with not just the French but other artists too - given the number of times they've been covered.

The 46-year-old has also written for a host of other singers including Calogero, Johnny Hallyday, Patricia Kaas, and Canadians Natasha St Pier and Garou.

His 2000 hit musical" Les Dix Commandements" (music by Obispo and lyrics by Florence, and Patrice Guirao) spawned several hits including "L'envie d'aimer" sung by Daniel Levi and Yael Naïm's "L.I.B.R.E".

Prolific, as you can probably tell, is something of an understatement when it comes to Obispo, and what's the betting that his new musical, "Adam et Eve, la seconde chance" won't also spin off a hit or two when it opens in January 2012.

In fact the first track from the show "Rien ne se finit" by Thierry Amiel and Cylia is already getting plenty of airplay.

Anyway that has given you some background to the two men.

You can check out Pagny's official website and (an unofficial) one dedicated to Obispo for more info. They're both in French.

In English there are also the rather incomplete Wikipedia entries for the two men: Pagny and Obispo.

And finally there's an excellent biography on Pagny on the Radio France Internationale site, which also includes a little info on Obispo.

For now though, here they both are performing "Je laisse le temps faire" a jolly boozy breeze of a number. HEY!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The happy, smiling Parisian bus driver - not

The public transport system in Paris is pretty good and getting around the French capital by metro, bus or tram is relatively easy - when there aren't strikes.

All right, so the metro may be crowded most of the time, but it's extensive and certainly beats sitting in your car getting nowhere...very slowly.

Well that's if you don't mind going nose-to-nose with fellow travellers and getting uncomfortably intimate with strangers during rush hour.

Then there's the bus network of course with journey time made faster by Bertrand Delanoë - bless his little cotton socks - the current mayor, coming up with the bright idea of creating bus lanes.

Or seen from another perspective; taking a road previously capable of holding two (sometimes three - this is Paris after all) lanes of traffic, and handing part of it over to the exclusive use of buses (with taxis and cyclists also allowed in on the act).

Environmentally friendlier undoubtedly, but a motorist's nightmare during and after construction - and still in places very much a work in progress with cars just having one lane for their use and concrete barriers preventing them from crossing over into the one reserved for buses.


Both the metro and the buses, along with three lines of the tram, are operated by Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens or RATP.

Once you've bought a pass - as a visitor usually Paris Visite and for residents the Passe Navigo - for one day, week, month or whatever - for one or all of the capital's six zones, you can hop on and off the metro, bus and tram at will.

RATP helpfully lists and explains your options on its site.

While you're unlikely to meet (or even see) the driver of either the metro or the tram, the same cannot be said for the person steering the bus.

In fact you can't miss him...or's more usually a man at the wheel although you might come across the occasional woman driver (no unwise comments please).

Not that it seems to matter very much.

Now it might be a big city thing, but bus drivers in the French capital sure are a surly lot.

There's rarely a smile as a sign of recognition as passengers clamber aboard and often not even a Gallic grunt in return for a hearty "hello".

There again there isn't really much need as most passengers will be validating their passes automatically, waving them in front of the machines as they board.

The only contact drivers have with passengers is when someone needs to buy a ticket, and this is where they come into their own.

It's also your chance to discover the delightful bonhomie and charm of the average Parisian bus driver.

First up, make sure you have the right change available. Ask fellow travellers waiting in line, they'll have an idea because, although drivers have change THEY DON'T APPRECIATE HAVING TO HAND IT OVER.

When you board, say where you would like to go (try the "hello" or "bonjour" method, but don't expect a response).

After you've handed over THE CORRECT AMOUNT OF MONEY (remember) you'll be given a ticket in return and you'll then need to validate in a machine next to the driver.

Clearly he/she has his hands full holding the wheel and cannot provide you with an already-validated ticket (NB: it's not the same machine that fellow passengers have been merrily waving their passes at, but one which gobbles up and then spits out the proffered ticket).

Ticket in hand, grab hold of something quickly because the driver is more than likely to hurtle off into the Parisian traffic with that shuddering start-stop-start-brake-jerk style that might well see you end up in the lap of that little old lady minding her own business.

Welcome to Paris and bon voyage.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Claude Guéant's "dildo" voting rules slip-of-the-tongue

Oh don't you just love it when a politician commits a slip-of-the-tongue?

It's especially gratifying when it's a blunder that gives a completely different meaning to what was meant to be said and furthermore comes from someone who doesn't come across as particularly "sympa", as the French would say, or personable.

Claude Guéant (screenshot from Le Post video)

Such was the case this week with the interior minister Claude Guéant.

He has made something of a name for himself since taking office at the end of February primarily for his racist and xenophobic remarks such as the "French no longer felt at home in France" and "France doesn't need foreign bricklayers and waiters".

This time around it was nothing so obnoxious - just a simple blooper which proved that he is human after all.

Guéant was speaking to parliamentarians in the National Assembly and addressing the issue of the Socialist party's primary to choose its candidate in next year's presidential election.

The governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) if which Guéant is a member isn't too happy about the primary on a number of levels.

It'll be open to anyone as long as they register and if it's successful could potentially give the party a momentum heading into next year's election proper.

It also raises the question as to whether there shouldn't be a similar sort of primary for the UMP, especially as the current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, isn't the most popular of political figures and some from his party might be quite happy with an alternative candidate.

So the UMP has been questioning the legality of the Socialist party's primary (along with that of the Europe Écologie - Les Verts party, EELV) on the grounds that drawing up lists of potential participants in the voting process contravenes the law.

But that wasn't quite how it came out of Guéant's mouth as he substituted "code électoral" or the voting rules and process with "gode électoral" or the electoral dildo.

Guéant's gaffe was similar to the one made by the former justice minister and now member of the European parliament Rachida Dati, back in April when, during a television interview, she too managed to muddle "code" and "gode".

Dati has something of a reputation for unintentional sexual innuendo - remember her much-reported "inflation/fellatio" faux pas last year - and admits that she often talks too fast.

Guéant though is a much more dour character and as can be seen from the accompanying video from the French news website Le Post, he was speaking much more deliberately... and from notes.

lapsus: Claude Guéant évoque "le gode" électoral par LePostfr

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Gloria - Les Prêtres are back in the French charts

Just when you perhaps thought it was safe to turn on your radio - they're back.

France's singing priests, Les Prêtres, once again have a top-selling album with their second offering "Gloria".

Les Prêtres (screenshot from Glorificamus Te video clip)

It's the follow up to their 2010 chart topper "Spiritus Dei", which has sold 800,000 copies so far, spent 10 - very long - weeks at number one, and is ominously climbing the charts once again.

"Gloria" entered at number one when it was released at the end of April, stayed there for four weeks before slipping a notch and then topped the pile again a fortnight later.

With the tried and tested formula used on their first album, Les Prêtres once again treat record-buyers to a mix of popular French standards and classical music with holy-ish lyrics.

The groups consists of two real life priests Jean-Michel Bardet and Charles Troesch and a former seminarist, Joseph Dinh Nguyen Nguyen, who has since decided not to follow his calling or studies, but pursue his faith by starting a family.

The voices of the warbling men of the cloth might not have improved much since their first album, but studio production has once again made up for any vocal failings they might have.

And the public seems to love it.

There are 14 tracks on the latest album including the annoying "Glorificamus Te" from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

Perhaps we should be more thankful that they didn't don tutus and tights and pirouette their way through the accompanying video.

Other classical pieces given the religious "treatment" include Beethoven's "Ode to joy" or " Le Vent de l'Espoir" in French; a rendition which makes the version from Greek singer Nana Mouskouri sound almost sublime by comparison.

Oh all right let's not exaggerate. That was pretty awful too.

Ravel's "Bolero" becomes a whiny and thin "Au commencement" and poor old Beethoven (what did he do to deserve it?) has his piano sonata no. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 - more commonly known as Sonata Pathétique - magnificently cheesy-fied into "Mon enfant est parti".

If the classical tracks are awful, you might hope that the popular French standards would get off a little more lightly.

No such luck.

Jean-Jaques Goldman is a prolific singer-song writer and has scored hits for himself and others over the year (including a whole album for Céline Dion).

While his 1988 hit "Puisque tu pars" was hardly one to go down in the annals of music history, Les Prêtres manage a cover version that is truly hideous.

And when they turn their vocal cords to French singer Michel Sardou's emblematic "Les lacs du Connemara" it just sounds as though someone has been messing around with the turntable speeds.

And the rest of the album - all 14 tracks - are in the same vein; French standards crucified as only Les Prêtres (and their producers) know how and classical music served up as powerful religious mush with a beat.

Oh well, there's no accounting for taste and the French - well certain album-buying segments anyway - seem to love Les Prêtres.

Should you not yet have succumbed to this ecclesiastical makeover of hits ancient and modern and want to hear snippets of each track, just click here.

Or you can catch the trio in concert in towns and cities around France later this year, including one date at le Palais des Congrès in Paris in November.

Thankfully the number one slot is currently filled by the British singer Adele.


But how long before Les Prêtres knock her off the top?

Monday, 20 June 2011

La Ciotat - France's first non-smoking beach

If you're thinking of lighting up while sunbathing on the beach in the southern French town of La Ciotat, make sure that smoking is allowed.

Plage Lumière, La Ciotat (screenshot from BFM TV)

Because the local authority of the town, that is just half-an-hour's drive from the city of Marseille, has decided to follow the example set by New York earlier this year by banning smoking on one if its beaches.

It's a first in France and, as the deputy mayor Noël Collura says, is a way of allowing families with small children the chance to enjoy the beach without coming across cigarette ends in the sand or being disturbed by smoke.

What's more smokers seem to be respecting the ban.

"We thought we would be handing out lots of fines," he told BFM TV.

"But that just doesn't appear to have been the case," he continued.

"Instead if someone tries to light up on the beach it's usually one of the other holidaymakers who'll point out to them that it's a non-smoking area."

No-smoking sign on Plage Lumière, La Ciotat (screenshot from BFM TV)

Just to ensure that smokers respect the ban, police regularly patrol the beach, and they can hand out fines of up to €38.

On the whole though, their job at the moment has just been one of pointing out the new restrictions.

"We ask them either to put out the cigarette or to smoke outside of the zone," policeman Cédric Chartier told France 2 news

"Usually there's no problem and they do as we request."

Apparently the Town Hall has already been contacted by other seaside resorts in France thinking of introducing similar bans.

Meanwhile if you're in La Ciotat and are really desperate for a ciggie while you sunbathe then, as the French news website Le Post points out, you'll still be able to.

The ban only applies to the Plage Lumière - for the moment - which still leaves smokers free to

Flowers in a bucket

No, not a song by the British rock band the Police along the lines of their 1979 hit "Message in a bottle".

Peonies in a bucket

Instead it's where your bouquet could end up when visiting your nearest and dearest, held hostage by medical staff, in a Parisian hospital.

Yes, in their infinite wisdom the Powers that Be at the Clinique de la Montagne (let's name names) in the suburb of Courbevoie don't allow patients even the smallest posy in their rooms.

The reason? Well apparently the risk of infection and germs.

No matter that the windows of the place are flung open to allow the city breeze to waft its traffic-doused scent into the room.

Exhaust fumes seem to be welcome and pollution greeted with indifference.

But ask for a vase for a fragrant bloom and you'll get as a response that classic Gallic shrug.

"It's a shame monsieur, but we 'ave no vases because flowers aren't permitted. on the ward."

The staff might think the reasoning ridiculous - and some will admit as much.

And there's no denying that a sprig or two of something would liven up an otherwise bland decor and inject a little much-needed colour into hospital life.

But rules is rules, and this is France.

So it's home with the flowers and a bouquet in a bucket until the patient is released.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Friday's French music break - Collectif Métissé "Laisse tomber tes problemes"

Collectif Métissé (screenshot from video)

Friday's French music break this week might not be the greatest song ever written and performed, but's summer and Collectif Métissé's "Laisse tomber tes problemes" surely has to put you in the right mood for partying.

Formed two years ago, Collectif Métissé pretty much represents what France is (or should be) all about - a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds and musical influences - hence the name.

The seven piece group is made up of DJ Fou (real name Sébastien Santovito), Soma Riba, Nadia Lahcene, Willy William, Yannick Cotte, Amélie Wade and Saint Ange; a "cocktail of personalities," according to the official website, that is the "perfect blend to create (those dancefloor) hits."

Collectif Métissé (screenshot from video)

The latest one "Laisse tomber tes problemes" borrows heavily from the 1992 hit "Sing hallelujah" from the Swedish-based musician and producer Dr Alban with the refrain and beat making no pretence than being anything other than a straight cover (or copy).

Just in case you can't hear the resemblance, this remix should help you out.

Not surprisingly "Laisse tomber tes problemes" is getting plenty of airplay in France and even the group (oh all right then, the record label) is confident that it's set to be THE summer hit in France this year.

No arguments there.

Yes the video's a bit macho and not entirely original; streetwise guys and their scantily clad girls as sidekicks on a beach.

And the lyrics are pretty mindless.

There's plenty of "clapping hands", encouragement to women to "undulate your body to the music" and to everyone to "enjoy the exotic dance atmosphere."

Actually that sounds a lot more erudite in translation than it is in the original Franglais.

But this is all about feeling good.

So go on.

Rather than sitting back and enjoying, get up and move - wherever you are.

Laisse tomber tes problèmes par VANESSABEN2

Saturday, 11 June 2011

French pigs grunt and fart but are also great to eat

Well that's the message pig farmers in northwestern France are trying to get across about the animals they raise to make a living.

screenshot from Les éleveurs de porcs bretons website

Vegetarians move along, this won't appeal.

"Il grogne, il pète, et pourtant grâce à lui vous mangez sain, sûr, bon et breton !" is the slogan the association Les éleveurs de porcs bretons (Brittany pig farmers) has come up with to help update their image.

Or put another way, "It grunts, it farts, but thanks to it you eat healthily, safely, well and what's more it's from Brittany...yes it loses a little something in translation.

It features in an advertising campaign the association will be launching on June 13 with posters being put up in over 400 villages and towns throughout the region and it's an attempt to improve the image of the pig-farming sector among Bretons and at the same time encourage them to eat something so important to the economy of the region.

Appearing on the poster is "David" - a thirty-something, cleancut, boy-next-door type farmer - and alongside him, what TF1 news calls, "A cute piglet reminiscent of the star of the film 'Babe'."

It might be a more than quirky way of trying to counter the image the public has of pig farming, but as the association's press release says that's exactly its intention.

"There's a certain mistrust of pig farmers and that's exactly the kind of public perception we want to change by being deliberately provocative and offbeat," says the release.

"We also want to encourage Bretons to eat a meat that's farmed locally and remind them just how good it is."

And there's also a testimonial from that farmer "David" featured in the campaign.

He is in fact David Riou, a pig farmer from Finistère in the far west of Brittany.

He wants pig farming to break away from the polluting and unhealthy image it has had, but he's aware the sector faces an uphill battle to change peoples' opinions.

"Of course our farms have an impact on the envirnoment and over the years all those headlines about the spreading of manure, nitrates in the water the crisis of green algae have left their mark," he says.

"We've been working for the past 15 years to make sure our environmental impact is lower, but it takes time," he continues.

"For example over the past decade we've lowered by 20 per cent the level of nitrates in our local river, and we mustn't forget that the industry employs around 31,000 people locally."

Pass the apple sauce.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Friday's French music break - Axelle Red "La claque"

Friday's French music break this week isn't from France, but Belgium.

However, as you probably know, French is one of Belgium's three official languages and besides, over the years Axelle Red has built up a reputation at home and in the rest of the French-speaking world.

Axelle Red (screenshot from "La claque" video)

Hit singles such as "Sensualité" (1993), "La Cour des grands" (a duet with Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour, which was also the official World Cup song in 1998) or the excellent "Manhattan-Kaboul" (written by the French singer Renaud and with whom she recorded the duet) have established her as a firm favourite with both critics and the general public

So the latest single "La claque" more than has its place as this week's choice and once again we're treated to Red's (real name Fabienne Demal) distinctive and sensuous voice.

A committed humanist and an ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund since 1997, Red hasn't released and album since 2008.

But her new one entitled "Un coeur comme le mien" is a cracker.

As she writes on the blog of her official website, she "retreated into a church studio a few miles from Woodstock with a handful of renowned musicians to record the 13 tracks" and it was released at the beginning of April.

This acoustic performance of "La claque" broadcast on TV5 Monde is just as good as the official recorded version also available on YouTube.

It also has the added advantage that you don't have to endure the rather puzzling dance routine that accompanies that it and can simply sit back and enjoy.

If you really want a laugh, then take a look at that official video.

But should you prefer to listen to that voice with its unique colour then try this.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The new World Pizza Champion is French - and a woman - Dorothée Leombruni

Think pizza, think Italy - right?

Well think again.

Pizza Margherita (from Wikipedia, author ElfQrin (Valerio Capello)

Yes it might be a traditional Italian dish, but the new World Pizza Champion is....French.

As the regional daily La Provence proudly reports Dorothée Leombruni from the southern French town of Salon-de-Provence "blew the judges away" at the recent championships held in Rome, Italy.

What makes Leombruni's exploits even more extraordinary, says the paper - apart from the fact that the 31-year-old is a woman in what is predominantly man's world - is that she's only been in the pizza business for a couple of years.

In November 2009 she decided a change in direction was needed so she gave up the security of her nine-to-five job, took a course in Italy in how to make pizzas and then returned to Salon-de-Provence to set up shop and "perfect her technique."

Success came pretty quickly as her pizzaria "Stellina Pizza" quickly became a hit with the locals and in 2010 Leombruni was crowned France's pizza champion when she served up "Abruzzo", a pizza whose ingredients were cream of porcini mushrooms, fresh tomatoes and truffle cream.

For the judges in Rome she pulled out all the stops with the appropriately-named "Stella di Mare" consisting of - wait for it - langoustines, black truffles, courgette, cherry tomoto confit and crab bisque.

But if you're hoping to ring Salon-de-Provence in the hope of ordering one, you'll be disappointed as Leombruni explained to the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien.

"Everyone's asking me for it," she told the newspaper.

"But unfortunately it's just too complicated."

Still with over 22 currently on her menu including the Classics such as "Magherita", the Mythical in the form of "Bollywood" (chicken, curry sauce and mozzarella) or Gastronomic for example "Salannaise" (tapanade, tomotoes, mozzarella, mushrooms, aubergines and artichoke hearts) there's pretty much something for every palate.

And prices run from €8.50 to €16 - not bad for something served up by a world champion.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Citroën DS4 and the ad campaign's similarities to the DSK affair

It's a tricky one surely.

What do you do when just as you're about to launch a new product after time, money and thought have been spent in preparing an attention-grabbing advertising campaign, along comes an event with the potential to scupper everything?

You go ahead regardless, hoping that it'll not have an adverse effect on image and sales.

Citroën DS4 (screenshot from television spot)

The product is a new model from the French car manufacturer Citroën.

THAT event was the arrest of the former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn - or DSK as he's more commonly known in France - on charges of sexual assault.

Citroën launched the advertising campaign for its DS4 just a couple of weeks after DSK's arrest.

And it wasn't just the similarity in pronunciation (in French) of the car's name and the sobriquet of the former frontrunner for the Socialist party's primary for next year's French presidential race - DS4 DSK - that raised a few eyebrows.

The television commercial spot - complete with the slogan "Le pouvoir de dire non" ("The power to say no") had, what the weekly news magazine L'Express said were "echoes of the scandal which had made national and international headlines over the weeks preceding the official launch."

(screenshot from television spot)

From the start of the spot with that perhaps unfortunate and ill-timed tag line, the unintended allusions to the affair that everyone in France has been talking about come thick and fast.

"What do you want? Love, money, power?" runs one line of the voiceover.

"How many times have you said yes?" asks another.

"During your life you say 'Yes' all the time, but have you ever tried to say 'No'?"

The idea is of course - and one that's spelled out towards the end - is to convey that the DS4 is somehow "nonconformist" and doesn't "resemble any other vehicle".

But somehow while you're watching your mind is on something else entirely.

Citroën and its advertising agency H decided against pulling the commercial and even if, as the cultural (focussing on Rock music) weekly Les Inrockuptibles suggests, Internauts become tired of reading so much about DSK - the politician that is - at least nobody can blame Citroën for "not being talked about".

And if sales aren't that good?

Well at least Citroën can take comfort that in January the DS4 was named "The most beautiful car of the year 2010" (even though it was only launched in May 2011 - go figure) by the Festival automobile international.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Lesbian couple beat France's same-sex marriage ban

Same-sex marriage isn't allowed in France but a lesbian couple managed to tie the knot on Saturday all the same.

Newlyweds Stéphanie (left) and Elise (screenshot from BFM TV)

The two women were allowed to say "I do" in a civil ceremony at the Town Hall in the eastern city of Nancy because, legally, one of them is still a man.

As the free daily 20 minutes reports Stéphanie Nicot was actually born Stéphane and although the 59-year-old has undergone a sex change she has refused to provide the documentation to the French authorities to have her gender changed on the register of births, marriages and deaths.

That meant Nancy's deputy mayor, Olivier Husson, was able to perform a ceremony between Stéphanie and her 27-year-old partner Elise that was in his words "both respectful and legal".

"As required by law we checked the status of both partners," he told the all-news channel i>Télé.

"The records showed that the application to marry had been made by a man and a woman," he continued.

"The procureur de la Republique (district attorney's office or public prosecutor) - whose permission was needed - didn't object and so the marriage was allowed to go ahead."

The apparent contradiction of a law which doesn't recognise same-sex marriages but which allowed Saturday's marriage to take place wasn't lost on Nicot, as she told a press conference afterwards.

"Paradoxically in discriminating against us the system has also granted us the most beautiful of gifts," she said.

"The situation is a little crazy but it also serves as a symbol for all the millions of gays and lesbians in France who would like to have the same right (to marry)."

In January France's constitutional council upheld a ban on same-sex marriage ruling that it was "in keeping with the constitution" and that decision means that only parliament can change the law.

Later this week the opposition Socialist party will take advantage of parliamentary time reserved for private members' bills to debate same-sex marriage in the National Assembly.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Friday's French music break, Ben l'Oncle Soul's "Soul man"

Friday's French music break this week is a treat and a half for Soul lovers.

It comes from Benjamin Duterde, better known by his stage name of Ben l'Oncle Soul.

Ben l'Oncle Soul (screenshot from "Soul man" video)

Yes, France has a singer who can groove with very best that US R&B has to offer and as his name suggests has plenty of soul.

If you're familiar with this site you might well have heard of Ben l'Oncle Soul before as he was nominated for Les Victoires de la Musique, or the French equivalent of the Grammys, in four categories back in February.

They included Best Newcomer, which for some reason he didn't win, and Révélation Scène, which he did, and anyone who has been lucky enough to catch the 27-year-old will understand exactly why.

With his mighty voice, great stage presence and undeniable rhythm, Ben l'Oncle Soul has a sound influenced by the "old school of artists such as Otis Redding, Al Green and Aretha Franklin."

Little wonder then that he has signed to Motown France.

Ben l'Oncle Soul (screenshot from "Soul man" video)

He'll be performing at a number of festivals not just in France but also in Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States over the summer.

And from November he'll be on tour in France, appearing in a number of Zénith venues including two dates in Paris.

If you haven't bought a ticket yet - hurry. He's well worth it.

You can find the full schedule on his Myspace site here.

In the meantime, here's his monster hit from last year, the appropriately entitled "Soul Man".

And here's a challenge while you're watching and listening - try sitting still!

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