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Monday, 31 October 2011

Ukraine's stray dogs - a victim of Euro 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stray dog in Ukraine (screenshot from RT report)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 28 October 2011

Europe...according to bigots

Now this should make you smile.

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

Europe according to France (creative commons: alphadesigner)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Europe according to Britain

Europe according to Britain (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Europe according to the USA

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

Europe according to Spain

Europe according to Spain (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Europe according to Germany

Europe according to Germany (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Europe according to Greece

Europe according to Greece (creative commons: alphadesigner)

And finally, Europe according to Berlusconi

Europe according to Berlusconi (creative commons: alphadesigner)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Marion Cotillard's public breastfeeding "incident"

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

Marion Cotillard (from Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, terrible isn't it?

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

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

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

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

Next (story) please.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Sex on legs - "Tanguera" is back in Paris

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

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

Tanguera (screenshot from trailer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat your heart out "Danse avec les stars".

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 17 October 2011

Georges Brassens remembered

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

Georges Brassens (from Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(screenshot "The Artist" trailer)

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

Director Michel Hazanavicius' idea might seem completely potty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jean Dujardin (screenshot "The Artist" trailer)

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

(screenshot "The Artist" trailer)

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 15 October 2011

French motorist fined 143 times - for the same offence

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

It has been the law since July 1, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

143 fines for one infraction (screenshot TF1 news report)

Fat lot of help that was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 October 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

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

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

(screenshot from EuroMillions commercial)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But hey, who's counting centimes here?

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

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

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

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

EuroMillions ticket - sadly not a winner

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

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

Friday, 7 October 2011

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

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

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

Claire Denamur (screenshot from official clip)

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

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

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

And that's not too far off the mark.

Distinctive? Yes.

Unpleasant? Most definitely not.

And very Blues.

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

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

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

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

Cool video.

Socialist party primaries - first round on Sunday

So the talking's over and the first round of voting is scheduled for this Sunday.

Yep, it's the Socialist party primaries, open to anyone - as long as they're a French citizen of course - who's on the electoral register, willing to cough up €1 and sign a pledge "recognising the values of the Left".

Socialist party primaries - televised debate (screenshot BFM TV)

Anyone interested in French politics will surely have found the three separate televised debates between the six candidates an interesting and possibly stimulating exercise; getting to know them, where they stand, what differentiates them from one another and so on.

What's more, they all managed to behave in a reasonable manner (for politicians) foregoing the backstabbing that was so prevalent in 2007 and appearing, on the surface at least, to be cordial.

Heck even the country's prime minister, François Fillon, seemed to have been impressed, maybe wishing that the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, had someone else to offer (namely himself) other than the incumbent.

Fillon certainly seems to think it's the way forward in future elections.

Anyway, here's a very short and totally unbiased (ha ha) rundown of the six contenders.

Who knows.

One of them might well be a name you'll have to learn to get to know after May 2012.

François Hollande - widely admired among journalists (oh well, that's all right then) and apparently bright with a great sense of humour. Did nothing for a decade as leader of the party - except help Lionel Jospin and (his then-partner) Ségolène Royal lose in their respective presidential campaigns. One factor in his favour - Fadela Amara is (or at least was) a fan.

Martine Aubry - along with Hollande is the other favourite to make it through to the second round run-off. Seen by some (many) as a stand-in for Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Popular among party activists (apparently) although her election as leader was rather contested. Perhaps it's her destiny to fulfil what her father (Jacques Delors) ducked out of doing.

Manuel Valls - too young (48) born in Barcelona (Ahem, the French seem to have no problem with a foreign-born candidate) too Blairish probably but clearly gunning for the interior ministry should the Socialist party win next year's presidential elections.

Arnaud Montebourg - similarly too young (48) and too radical. Big on anti-globalisation, very principled but probably too far to the Left to have a mass appeal.

Jean-Michel Baylet - very pro-Europe, level-headed and seems to speak a lot of sense, but an outsider - so much so that the Beeb doesn't even have a profile of him on its short description of the six-strong field.

Which leaves Ségolène Royal. Gotta love her. She's a political animal through and through and in touch with "the people" (well so she keeps insisting). Appears bonkers at times, but always, at entertaining. Maybe that's the best the French can wish or hope for from her.

The expected run-off on Sunday week will be between those finishing first and second this weekend.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Babu - just an ordinary hero

When it was first reported, the story of a man dying on the Paris métro system didn't make much of an impact on headline writers in France.

Photo of Rajinder Singh - "Babu" (snapshot from TF1 news report)

He had apparently been pushed on to the track and been electrocuted.

It's the kind of story you hear about from time to time - one of those news items that probably tends to wash over you as "oh just another story".

Except behind the headline of course was much more, as the daily Le Parisien revealed in a tribute it paid to Rajinder Singh, the man known by his nearest and dearest (and the rest of us now) as "Babu".

The 33-year-old Indian immigrant was reportedly travelling on the métro when he saw a pickpocket try to steal a mobile 'phone from a fellow passenger.

Babu intervened, coming to the woman's assistance , apparently asking the man to "leave her alone."

But a struggle then followed and continued as the train pulled into the next stop.

The two men got off and the pickpocket began punching Babu, finally pushing him off the platform and running away.

Babu was electrocuted.

And there the story might have ended, except for the reaction to a profile of Babu which Le Parisien ran the day after the incident.

It was a simple tribute to a man born in the Punjab region of India who had come to France seven years ago to "be able to work to send money home to his family and give them a better life," as one of his cousins told the newspaper.

Apparently a gentle man, opposed to violence of any sort, Babu was described by one of his friends as "goodness personified".

Babu's family wanted his body returned to India, but couldn't afford it.

Internet messages of support (snapshot from TF1 news report)

Babu's death - one which Le Parisien said left no one indifferent - provoked what TF1 news called "an astounding show of solidarity," with messages on the Internet and his brother-in-law Jean-Louis Lecomte, receiving 'phone calls of support and letters of donation.

On Wednesday a minute's silence was held at the station where Babu had died with the minister of transport, Thierry Mariani, and the minister of culture, Frédéric Mitterrand among those paying homage.

RATP, the public transport operator for the Paris region, has agreed to meet the costs of repatriating Babu's body.

Police have arrested a man they suspect of being the pickpocket who pushed Babu to his death.

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