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Thursday, 31 May 2012

TF1 prime time news anchor Laurence Ferrari quits

TF1's prime time news anchor Laurence Ferrari will bid farewell to viewers on Thursday evening.

Laurence Ferrari (screenshot TF1 news)

She's off to pastures new(ish), returning to work for the Canal + group with a talk show on Direct 8 which will, in her words, "give her more freedom" and where she'll be able to "bring her experience and personality" - something Ferrari feels she has been unable to do at TF1.

It's hardly the end of an era for French television as the 46-year old has only been presenting TF1's prime time news since September 2008.

That pales somewhat into insignificance compared to the length of tenure of her predecessor, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor (PPDA), who had been doing the job for donkeys years - well 21 of them to be precise.

But her decision came as something of a surprise apparently and the channel now has to look for a replacement.

That of course means speculation is rife and the "usual suspects" are being put forward as potential successors.

Perhaps the most obvious choice would be Harry Roselmack.

He's popular (with viewers) has done the job before (as a stand-in for both PPDA and Ferrari) and currently presents a couple of other programmes on TF1.

But it's only a year since Roselmack announced that he was stepping down from presenting the news to "concentrate on his other projects" - maybe too soon for a return.

Anne-Sophie Lapix, who replaced Ferrari at TF1 when she initially left for Canal + and then again at Canal + when Ferrari returned to TF1 (yes this is very much a game of musical chairs) has already ruled herself out saying she's happy where she is.

And then there's the name of "the dashing" Laurent Delahousse, who has very much stamped his mark on the weekend news over at France 2.

Every time there's a vacancy somewhere (such as when M6 launched its revamped nightly news bulletin or was looking around for a new presenter for 'Capital') Delahousse's name crops up.

He's saying the moment.

Mélissa Theuriau? She seems happy at M6 with the fortnightly investigative magazine 'Zone Interdite'.

Julien Arnaud is another possibility. He's currently the replacement for TF1's weekend anchor Claire Chazal but there's a blemish on his record as the mid-morning programme he presented, 'Près de chez vous', was cancelled a year ago after just five months.

And let's not forget Ferrari's former husband Thomas Hugues (hold on to your hats, here comes more musical chairs).

He used to fill in for Chazal at the weekends and present TF1's Sunday evening magazine  'Sept à Huit' with Ferrari.

Both jobs were handed to Roselmack when Ferrari left for Canal + first time around and Hugues went to...well everywhere and nowhere really, most notably i>Télé.

On second thoughts perhaps Hugues is simply too lightweight to be considered.

In the short term it'll be TF1's former London and Washington correspondent Gilles Bouleau who'll take over.

He has been Ferrari's stand-in since Roselmack resigned (aaaaaaargh - this is impossible to follow isn't it) and is also being touted by some as a potential full-time replacement, especially as he comes with little "celebrity status" baggage.

The successful candidate will surely need to be someone the French feel they can - in a manner of speaking - welcome into their homes every evening and who has the stature and credibility of being both a presenter and a journalist.

Those aren't easy roles to combine in a country where the softly-softly deferential approach is often the preferred one especially when "interviewing" political leaders on TV.

Whoever TF1 chooses, the likelihood is that the decision will be made with one eye on audience figures.

Yes,  TV is news is ratings-driven and that has been a constant criticism levelled at Ferrari with the numbers tuning in to watch falling from a nightly average of 9.1 million when she took over to around 6.4 million.

It would be unfair to put that down solely to Ferrari.

She has been up against stiff competition, most notably from David Pujadas who presents the equivalent prime time news programme at exactly the same time as Ferrari over at the public channel France 2.

And there has probably also been a change in French viewing habits - not everyone wants to watch the news at eight o'clock in the evening - coupled with a wider choice of channels - in number if not content.

Throw in the fact that there are now competing all-news broadcasters such as BFM TV, i>Télé and TF1's sister channel LCI and it's surely little surprise that viewing figures have dropped.

Finally on a purely professional behind-the-scenes level he or she will have to work with TF1 news director Catherine Nayl with whom Ferrari has apparently had a less than easy relationship.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Virginie Razzano stuns Serena Williams in three-set thriller at Roland Garros

It might not seem like a big deal, but there's so much more to the story than the headline suggests.

And it's little wonder that the French sports pages are buzzing and the media is reporting the exploits of France's Virginie Razzano in the first round of this year's Roland Garros tournament.

Virginie Razzano (screenshot YouTube video)

Well first up of course there's the fact that Razzano - currently ranked 111 in the world - beat former number one and the 2002 winner Serena Williams.

No mean feat in itself as Williams was seeded fifth in this year's tournament and had never lost a first round match before in any of the four majors.

It was also the manner in which the 29-year-old Razzano beat her opponent, turning her game around from the brink of defeat.

At 1-5 down in the second set tie-break, after having lost the first set 4-6, the game pretty much seemed lost for Razzano.

But as often happens in tennis, Razzano rallied (sorry) taking the next six points to win the tie-break and the set.

More was to come in the final set though as Razzano clearly on a roll, raced to 5-0 lead, had three games taken off her by Williams and then needed eight match points to seal victory.

Remarkable stuff for both those lucky enough to be among the crowd at the Court Philippe Chatrier and those following the game on telly; three hours and three minutes of great sport.

But wait.

There's more.

Because Razzano's victory provided the starkest of contrasts to her first round match at last year's Roland Garros.

Just a week before the 2011 tournament, Razzano had lost her coach and fiancé Stéphane Vidal.

The pair had been together for nine years and shortly before he died, Vidal, who had a brain tumour, had made Razzano promise that she would play in Paris to "honour him".

Although she lost in her first round match, the press conference after the game was probably one of the most moving moments of the two weeks and led Europe 1 sports journalist Christophe Lamarre to describe how touched those present had been by the dignity and courage shown by Razzano.

Asked (a daft sports reporter's question) on Tuesday after beating Williams, whether the win was some sort of "sign of destiny" Razzano preferred a level-headed answer.

"Is it fate? I don't know," she said.

"What's certain is I wanted to win this match," she added.

"Honestly though, the past is the past. I've mourned and now I'm ready to move forward with my life. It took some time. But today I feel good."

Razzano's second round opponent will be 22-year-old Arantxa Rus from the Netherlands.

Even if you're not that keen on tennis, you'll surely feel the tension in the two accompanying videos of the last game of the match.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Friday's French "music" break - Anggun, "Echo (You and I)"

Friday's French music break this week couldn't be anything other than...the country's entry to the annual jamboree that is the Eurovision Song Contest, "Echo (You and I)"

It'll be sung by Indonesian-born Anggun.

(screenshot from the official Eurovision preview)
The 38-year-old, who apparently has had widespread international success - according to her website, so it must be true - was chosen by the Powers that Be at France Television back in November to fly the tricolore, so-to-speak, at this year's contest.

Although most of the lyrics of "Echo (You and I)" are in French, the song also has a smattering of English.

But not too much to create a hoo-ha and there has been none of the "political furore" (heavens, it's just a cheesy "Songfest") that accompanied France's 2008 entry from Sébastien Tellier who was forced to change some of the lyrics to "Divine".

Tellier has originally planned to sing only in English, but eventually rejigged a couple of lines as a "wink to the French".

Following what last year's French representative Amaury Vassili called a "shitty 15th placed finish" when the 21-year-old bookmakers' favourite tried his best with the Corsican dialect "Sognu", what chance does Anggun have?

Well the lyrics are inane (when has that ever mattered?) and the tune dire. So it's an entry entirely in keeping with the contest's usual standard and should have the potential to do reasonably well.

Plus Anggun can "perform" as opposed to just sing - apparently. And let's face it, Eurovision is as much about being able to put on a show as it is the quality of the song.

(screenshot from the official Eurovision preview)
Judge for yourself what chances she has of bringing the competition to Paris next year by becoming the first person to win the whole shebang for France since Marie Myriam triumphed with "L'oiseau et l'enfant" back in 1977.

Here for your delectation are two videos of the song.

The first is of Anggun apparently in the studio giving her lungs an airing.

The second, the official Eurovision preview, sees her wearing the obligatory scantiest of costumes along with sometimes partially clad beefcake who like to iron in uniforms and occasionally wear gas a cameo role for a pig.

Oh yes it's full of profound imagery.

Heaven help the organisers of the contest if all that lot show up on stage.

The final of this year's Eurovision Song Contest will be broadcast live from Azerbaijan capital Baku on Saturday evening.

Bring back Abba!

Rachida Dati hits out at François Fillon - surprise, surprise

The former justice minister Rachida Dati has never exactly been best buddies with the now ex-prime minister François Fillon.

In fact it probably wouldn't be too far off the mark to say they share a mutual dislike for each other - and they aren't afraid to show it.

So Dati's attack on her former boss over his statement that after the defeat (and apparent departure from political life) of Nicolas Sarkozy there was no natural leader in their centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party hardly comes as a surprise.

Rachida Dati (screenshot BFMTV-RMC radio)

Fillon's comment was without doubt a salvo fired in the direction of the party's secretary general Jean-François Copé and a means for him to set himself up as a potential successor.

But it was too much for Dati who, not mincing her words, was more than willing to give her take on what he had said when she interviewed by Jean-Jacques Bourdin.

"Unpleasant", "disloyal", "ungrateful" and "bad-mannered" were just a few of the choice terms she used to describe Fillon's statement.

"He (François Fillon) appears to be a little ungrateful vis-à-vis Nicolas Sarkozy who made him what he is today," she said.

"I don't think it's very chic (an attribute which is of course very important to Dati - in all senses of the word)," she continued.

"We tell our children to be well mannered and to get a good eduction. This is simply rude in relation to Nicolas Sarkozy. He's not dead is he?"

Of course this isn't the first time the two have locked political horns - so to speak.

Even though she has thrown in the towel after the UMP parachuted in Fillon to stand for a safe for Parisian seat (and one she coveted) in the upcoming National Assembly elections, Dati is clearly still smarting.

And this is a woman who, love her or loathe her, you just can't and probably shouldn't ignore.

There's denying that she knows how to make and impact - and not necessarily for the right reasons.

During her time as justice minister she came in from opposition criticism for her inability to handle her portfolio and the reports of her ministry haemorrhaging staff were seen as an indication of a woman who was difficult to work with.

Glossy magazines had a field day, regularly featuring photographs of an elegant and stylish Dati only too happy to pose for the camera and of course the weekly satirical magazine Le Canard enchaîné was unrelenting in lampooning her.

The polemic (good word that - the French love it) surrounding her return to work just days after giving birth to a baby whose paternity of course was the subject of endless speculation.

Even when she was fired - whoops sorry, left the government to take up her seat in the European parliament in 2009, she didn't quite disappear from the domestic political scene especially as she had been elected mayor of the seventh arrondissement of Paris in 2008,.

From apparent exile in Brussels and Strasbourg  Dati has continued to make to make a splash, appearing on an M6 "fly on the wall" documentary in which she was less than complimentary about her new job.

She has popped up regularly on television - be it to explain the economics behind "fellation"  or later throwing a  "dildo" into a discussion on French secularism.

Both were bloopers of course, which she was able to smile about after the videos went viral and put down to the speed at which she speaks.

Always an ardent supporter of Nicolas Sarkozy, Dati was a brought back from duty in Brussels to accompany him during part of his campaigning, adding her own personal fashion statement late in the day by appearing on the early morning news magazine La Matinale on Canal + sporting a sweater with a design emblazoned on the back which to all the world (except Dati) looked to be that of a giant cannabis plant leaf.

Ah yes.

In what is likely to become a struggle for control of the party (after the elections), Dati knows exactly how to position herself and make the most of her undoubted media-friendly talent - albeit sometimes to her cost.

Expect more fun and games to follow.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

François Hollande's irreproachable government and code of conduct - good stuff, isn't it?

Does anyone remember François Hollande saying in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche during the presidential election campaign that he would "undertake not to have anyone around him either at the Élysée or in government who had been accused and/or found guilty by a court"?

(screenshot BFMTV report)

His statement suggested he wanted a "clean" government; one beyond reproach and whose ministers would set a moral example to the rest of the country.

Hey, once the government had been named, Hollande even made them all sign a charter of ethics or code of conduct which, although it didn't explicity make reference to past "misdemeanours", stressed the importance of transparency and "good behaviour".

Among the pledges each minister made were that there would be no conflict of interests, no accepting private presents or invitations that could be called into question, the respect of collective responsibility for decisions taken by the government, to give up any other local or regional political offices they might hold.

And on the more "normal" level they were obliged to travel by train rather than 'plane whenever possible and ensure that they respected the rules of the road when driving or being driven.

Wonderful stuff, isn't it?

But back to that initial undertaking - the one to be surrounded by those with an unblemished past - legally speaking.

How's he doing?

Well for starters there's the prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault who, back in 1997 when he was mayor of Nantes was handed down "a suspended prison sentence for favouritism in the allocation of a city hall contract".

Then there's the foreign minister Laurent Fabius who was tried but acquitted of manslaughter in 1999 in the tainted blood scandal which took place when he was prime minister in the 1980s.

Let's not forget Christine Taubira, the newly-installed justice minister who back in 2004 was found guilty by an industrial tribunal in an unfair dismissal case brought against her by a former parliamentary assistant.

And bringing us bang up to date of course is the case of Arnaud Montebourg the minister of industrial renewal who has been found guilty this week of publicly insulting the management of the ferry company SeaFrance last year.

All right, they can all be "explained"  - they have - and justification made to show that in each case the minister has been "legally rehabilitated" (what?) or the case brought against them didn't have an impact on their "personal integrity".

But - phew.

Barely two weeks into a new government.

What the heck was that campaign pledge all about?

Hot air, it would seem.

And the charter of ethics? Well let's see just how many exceptions are made to that as the days, weeks, months, years roll by.

Gouvernement Hollande : polémique autour des... par BFMTV

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

French international Olivier Giroud poses for gay magazine - so what?

The times they are a-changin' - not much, but just a little - when it comes to homosexuality and homophobia in the so-called Beautiful Game in France.

This month's cover of the gay magazine Têtu features the country's leading goalscorer this season, French international Olivier Giroud.
Olivier Giroud (Têtu magazine)

And the 25-year-old didn't only agree to quite literally get his kit off (well some of it) to pose for the camera, he also gave an interview in which he said he  "would be delighted if his gesture could help change the mentality of some involved in the game."

"I don't see any difference between a gay person and a straight one," he told the magazine, whose readers had already voted him the game's sexiest player back in January.

And he saw no problem in posing for Têtu which he described as "a magazine just like any other".

All right so, the world of (French) football probably isn't going to change dramatically because Giroud strikes a few topless poses and appears comfortable saying something others involved in the game wouldn't, won't or can't.

But surely it sends out all sorts of positive signals.

After all not only is Giroud a French international (with three caps so far and recently named by coach Laurent Blanc as a member of the provisional squad to take part in Euro 2012), he's also part of this season's championship winning team Montpellier and was Ligue 1's leading goal scorer.

He found the back of the net 21 times - equal with Paris-Saint Germain's Brazilian-born winger Nenê.

But as fewer of his goals came from the penalty spot (just two compared to Nenê's nine) it was Giroud who was "crowned" the Ligue's top scorer.

Homosexuality is still very much a taboo subject in football in France and in spite of campaign to combat it, homophobia remain an integral part of the mindset.

On more than one occasion Montpellier's team owner, Louis Nicollin, has made blatantly homophobic statements.

In 2010 amateur football club FC Chooz refused to renew Yoann Lemaire's contract after he came out even though the mayor of the village in eastern France had signed the "Charter against homophobia".

And in the 2011 book "Sexe football club" a top-ranked player, on condition of anonymity, described to journalists Bruno Godard and Jérôme Jessel the difficulties involved for him in coming out publicly and how widespread homophobia was in the game.

Good for Giroud.

Good for football.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

François Hollande, a "normal" president - what's that?

"Normal" - it's a word that was heard a lot during the run-up to this year's presidential elections in France: François Hollande's proclaimed desire to be a "normal" president or at least introduce an air of "normalcy" into the role.

Fine perhaps as a campaign slogan, but now he's in office is it a realistic possibility?

Come to that, what the heck is "normal"? Is it even possible for the president of any country - let alone France - to be regarded as such? And is it really something to which a political leader should aspire?

Take a look at the non-exhaustive list of synonyms for "normal"; ordinary, average, typical, run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-road, conventional, mainstream, unremarkable, unexceptional...the list goes on.

Yep, that's exactly what the French and the rest of the world needs. Blandness personified.

Of course Hollande probably means being in touch with the folk, a man of the people, uniting the French and not alienating them, behaving decently, breaking with the excesses and extravagences often associated with the office of president - in fact anything and everything his predecessor wasn't in terms of actions and comportment.

That has to be a good thing. It's honorable and admirable.

But he's the president now, and there's nothing "normal" about the office. It's one the French have traditionally regarded with a certain reverence and his role is perhaps that of a democratically-elected monarch with real political power.

He meets other world leaders, takes decisions that will effect our lives, sets the political agenda for the country,...heck he's the flippin' leader.

Sure, it was endearing to see him getting drenched in the ceremonies immediately following his investiture as he brought a certain dignity to the proceedings, and that photo' on the cover of this week's edition of Le Point raises a smile.

He's human in the way the rest of us are.

But come on François, enough already with the "normal". Stop trying to pull the proverbial wool over our eyes and assume what it is you have become - M. le Président.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Montpellier are French football champions, "Money cannot buy happiness"


Montpellier have proven that the so-called Beautiful Game isn't all about money by winning the French Ligue title.

They came from behind to beat already-relegated Auxerre 2-1 in their last match of the season, clinching the title three points ahead of their nearest rivals Paris-Saint Germain, PSG.

Montpellier supporters celebrate (screenshot France 24 match report)
 In doing so, Montpellier not only rewrote club history by winning the championship for the first time, they also delivered an important reminder that seems to be forgotten in these days where cash speaks.

Football, soccer, call it what you will, doesn't just have to be all about money. It can still be about team spirit.

You see in a game which sees top players earning obscene amounts and often having little or no loyalty to a club, preferring instead to chase the big bucks, Montpellier are something of an anomaly or maybe even an anachronism.

Owned since 1974 by the somewhat larger-than-life French businessmen Laurent Nicollin, Montpellier Hérault Sport Club, to give them their full name, have a less than glowing history.

Sure they've produced some famous players - such as current national manager and former World Cup and Euro 2000 winner Laurent Blanc - and seen the likes of Eric Cantona or Cameroon's Roger Milla take to the field in their colours

But their sporting success to date has been somewhat modest.

On the domestic front they've been division two champions three times, twice French Cup winners (1929 and 1990) and once Coupe de la Ligue winners (1992). Internationally - well their only claim to fame was as one of three winners  now defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1999.

When it comes to money, Montpellier simply can't splash out as much as many other clubs in the French Ligue.

Of the 20 teams, They ranked only 13th in terms of spending in this year's transfer market.

Spend wisely, nurture talent nobody else seems to want such as striker Olivier Giroud and build a team spirit seem to have been the real keys to success which as manager René Girard says produce a club which, "invests in its players, is a squad of friends and proves that money cannot buy happiness."

And the irony of the whole thing is that PSG, runners-up this year, are everything that Montpellier aren't.

Last year Qatar Investment Authority became PSG's controlling shareholder in the club, and since then they sunk millions into the club.

They've hired big names such as former Brazil international Leonardo as director of football and Italian Carlo Ancelotti as manager to run the club and spent invested heavily in recruiting players.

In the process of trying to make PSG a world class side in terms of results, QIA managed to make the club the third biggest spender in the world.

The latter doesn't always ensure the former - not immediately at least - as PSG have learned this season.

And that's why Montpellier's title is so bloody refreshing.

It might not last and the team nicknamed La Paillade could well struggle in the the Champions League next season - but what the heck. They've got the title and PSG haven't;

So go ahead Montpellier - savour and enjoy.

You deserve it.

Friday, 18 May 2012

One French couple's recipe for to avoid paying traffic fines - and it's legal

It's one of those absurd but true stories which both defies belief and illustrates how a loophole in the law, even in a country such as France which seems to have so many of them, can be exploited to its full potential.

As reported in the regional daily Nice Matin, a couple in the French city of Cannes have managed to rack up fines for traffic offences amounting to the grand total of just over €23,000.

Driving documents (from Wikipedia)

The infractions date back to July 2010 and so far there have been 70 of them - for speeding, illegal parking, not paying at motorway toll booths...and the list goes on.

Oh yes, and as well as the fines there have also been points deducted for those speeding offences.

But the charges against the couple have been dropped - even though it's clear they must be the ones committing the offences.

And it's all because of that loophole in the law which has allowed them to register the car they use in the name of their son.

He is, according to the carte grise or the car registration papers, the legal owner of the car - a Fiat Punto - and as such considered by law to be the driver - unless proven otherwise.

So why not charge him, you might be asking.

Well he's only four years old and obviously is too young to be held accountable.

And as his parents refused to attend a court hearing, the judge had no option but to drop the charges.

"It's clearly absurd but that's the way the law operates," the judge said in dismissing the case.

"Because the parents didn't attend the hearing, the only thing I can do it drop the charges," he continued.

"It isn't sufficient to assume that they were trying to get away with not paying fines, it also has to be proven that they were the ones actually driving (when the offences took place).

The law allowing parents to register vehicles in the name of their children was apparently introduced in 1984 and was supposed to allow 16 and 17-year-old learner drivers to have a car.

Friday's French music break - Dalida, "Depuis Qu'Elle Est Partie"

Friday's French music break this week a whole album. Oh let's be really greedy then and make it a double!

It's "Depuis qu’elle est partie" which is a tribute to one of France's most famous singers - the late Yolanda Gigliotti.

You and many others might know her better under the name with which she achieved fame, not just in France but worldwide: Dalida, the Egyptian-born singer-actress whose extraordinary career included phenomenal success combined with a tragic personal life.

It's well chronicled elsewhere on the Net (try her biography on Radio France Internationale for starters) so there's no need to go into great detail here.

But the impact Dalida had over a 30-year period and the way she lived, loved and ended her life, led to the "iconic image of her as a tragic diva" which persists to this day.

If you've lived in France, for no matter how short a time, the chances are you'll have heard and perhaps recognise one her many, many hits.

And some of them have been collected on this double album produced by her brother Orlando and released on May 3 to mark the 25th anniversary of her death.

Disc one is pure Dalida - 20 tracks which include some of her best known songs such as "Bambino", "Il venait d'avoir 18 ans", "Laissez-moi danser" and of course (with Alain Delon) "Paroles paroles".

And then there's that second disc - proof, if it were really needed, of her legacy.

It also contains 21 tracks - sometimes of the same songs - performed by a whole host of (mostly French) artists such as Christophe Willem, Hélène Ségara, Patrick Fiori, Dany Brillant and Christophe.

Some of them aren't half bad, such as the interpretation the fabulous Amel Bent gives of "A ma manière" others are...well a bit iffy to say the least.

But the real class of course is from the diva herself - hard to improve on even though many have tried over the years in cover versions.

So here, for fans and the plain curious alike, a video clip available on YouTube of Dalida performing the completely over-the-top but nonetheless tremendous (well it's all a matter of personal taste, isn't it?) 1974 hit "Gigi l'amoroso".

Listen to those rrrrrrrrrrrolling "rs"

Monday, 14 May 2012

Political parachuting – a French electoral tradition

The French will get to go the polls yet again – some of them twice -  in little under a month in parliamentary elections which could determine how much of a mandate the newly-elected president François Hollande will realistically have in pursuing his declared policies.

After all let’s not forget just how close the May 6 presidential run-off with Nicolas Sarkozy was: just over 1.1 million votes separated the two men and there were of course over two million blank votes.

Still a win is a win and Sarkozy has had praise heaped upon him for the dignified manner in which he has handled defeat.

Time then for the political parties to “tourner la page” as the French seem so fond of saying, and lock horns for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

France needs a proper opposition able to counterbalance the power of the Socialist party at local, regional, Senate and now presidential levels, runs the thinking behind the strategy of the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party.

It wants to show that the choice of Hollande was the wrong one as his policies “threaten the sovereignty and independence of the country.”

Meanwhile the Socialists want the French to endorse their choice of Hollande with a strong showing for the party in the parliamentary elections.

All well and good – a campaign fought on issues and ideological differences.

Sounds great doesn’t it.

Except that ugly tradition of parachuting candidates into chosen constituencies threatens to make its usual mockery of the political process and take up more than its fair share of media time over the coming weeks.

First up of course there’s  Jean-Luc Mélenchon, fresh from his presidential first-round 11 per cent “triumph” and puffed up ego.

He seems to have conveniently forgotten that he’s an elected member of the European parliament for the southwest of France and has now turned his attention to a seat in the National Assembly.

And it’s not just any seat. It’s one at the other end of the country in Hénin-Beaumont  in the northern département of Pas-de-Calais: one also being contested by the Front National’s Marine Le Pen.

Far Left versus Far Right – a clash of the Titans.

“I’m standing here because there’s a battle of national and international significance,” he announced on Saturday, well aware how the decision will play with Le Pen and the French media.

He’s a wily politician.

But Mélenchon isn’t alone.

The UMP has (at least) two high-ranking members who are being given a helping hand by the party in their future aspirations.

Sarkozy’s prime minister throughout his five years in office, François Fillon reportedly has his eye on a future run for Mayor of Paris. For that of course he needs to have a base in the capital.

Little matter that he already has a parliamentary seat in the western département of Sarthe, one he has held since 1981. In June Fillon will be standing for a sure-thing in the seventh arrondissement in Paris.

And then there’s Henri  Guaino, Sarkozy’s right hand man and advisor at the Elysée for the past five years. He wants to continue his career in parliament and the UMP has decided to allow him to contest another safe seat  in the département of Yvelines just outside of the capital.

Hang about though, there’s a problem as the UMP already has a declared candidate in the form of Olivier Delaporte, a mayor in one of the towns covered by the constituency, and he’s more than miffed at being sidelined.

So much so that Delaporte is threatening to run against Guaino.
Ah yes. parliamentary elections and politics in France – most definitely an honorable affair in which the candidate out to make a political point (Mélenchon) or the one deemed most in need of an easy ride (Guaino) is allowed to do exactly that.

In the case of the latter, Just ask the Socialist party’s former culture minister and Keith Richard look-alike Jack Lang.

France has found its Voice

Well at least it has chosen the winner of the first edition in this country of  “The Voice” or perhaps that should be “Ze Voice” as that’s the way many involved with the show seems to have been pronouncing it.
It is of course the latest prime time fast food show masquerading as a search for singing talent and uses a formula that seems to be working well in every country in which it has been adapted.

In France apparently seven million plus tuned in regularly to watch a show which many remarked “exuded positive vibes” with the judges – sorry coaches – praising their chosen protégés and sad to see them eliminated over the course of the weeks.

Oh yes it was really different from the backstabbing criticisms of the now defunct Star Academy or Nouvelle Star both of which had been the launching pad for innumerable short-lived careers among the very few that managed to build up a real following.

“Se Voice” only had participants who could really sing and was based on the premise that, at the auditions, coaches didn’t get to see who was singing and “chose” based on voice alone.

That meant a frump or freak could win the whole shebang as long as they had stunning vocal cords – right?

Quality would win out over image.

Except that didn’t appear to be the case for the final as one slightly off key performance followed another and the two favourites (both teenagers) had a distinctive visual appeal apart from their youth; ie they looked like stars in the making.

Anyway Stéphan Rizon the man with the big voice was the unexpected winner on Saturday even though some sort of wailing woman with a silly name Al Hy had widely been expected to walk it Or squawk it. She finished third.

Each finalist got the chance to sing solo twice and a duet with an internationally acclaimed star – well world famous in France at least.

There was Johnny Hallyday who obviously needed the money, Véronique Sanson, Yannick Noah (yes he of tennis fame) and Lenny Kravitz – heavens,  someone known outside of France.

They provided some of those typically cheesy TV moments  with Hallyday “doing battle” with Rizon or Sanson warblingly accompanying another contestant to one of her songs

All the “stars” were either signed to Universal Music (of which TF1 is part) or just happened to have a new album to promote present  – or both.  Yep the channel really takes the proverbial biscuit for imagining viewers are that dumb.

Not content with the yawnathon nature of the show, the producers decided there had to be one last song from each of the four contestants before the votes were tallied.

And guess who was dragged up on stage to perform alongside  their acolytes. Whoops, that rather gives the game away doesn't it, as of course it was the turn of the judges, coaches, call them what you will.

Well at least it gave viewers a laugh and the chance to see just how far Jenifer hadn’t progressed since winning Star Academy a decade ago and how out of place ex-Téléphone member Louis Bertignac was in the whole set up.

Results time – surprise all round as Rizon was announced the winner and presenter Nikos Aliagas rounding everything off by saying the France had chosen its “best singer”.

What exactly does that mean – that the rest were pants?  Of course not, just that Rizon was the crème de la crème (snort) at least until The Voice 2 begins airing.

On that note doesn’t it all seem a bit rich and something of an insult to try calling the latest non-entity “The Voice “when that has been  a label deservedly earned used to describe the likes of real singers such as Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston.

Just a thought.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Friday's French music break, Shaka Ponk - "My name is Stain"

Friday's French music break this week is one that follows what seems to have become something of a trend for singers and groups in this country.

It's in English.

screenshot from official video on YouTube

Mind you, that doesn't mean it's any more comprehensible as the lyrics of "My name is Stain"  aren't particularly inspiring or complicated  at first glance and run along the lines of...

"The guy next door, is such a whore
the food I eat is poison or
I eat no food cause I can't find a store"

But heck, how often have you heard and liked a song that seems to say little or nothing?

Founded in Paris at the beginning of the last decade, SHK PNK  as they're apparently often referred to - take a look at the official website - by friends, family and fans are at heart a six-piece band (seven if you count the virtual monkey who appears with them on stage and in videos) comprising François Charon or Frah, CC, Mandris Steve and since 2010 the Anglo-Egyptian singer Samaha Sam.

Their music is a blend of electro-rock, funk, hip hop and punk (where was the kitchen sink?) and on their official Facebook page Shaka Ponk - sorry it's hard to stick with the vernacular - SHK PNK is - wait for this, "a mutant rock band that explores the virtual to have better roots in reality."


Work it out for yourself if you can - or must.

Several years and three albums down the line the group has found commercial success with a series of sold out dates in France and of course TV appearances such as the one recently on France 2's music show Taratata.

And they'll be back at Olympia in Paris in November.

Their latest album, "The Geeks And The Jerkin' Socks" released in June 2011 has so far spent 30 weeks in the charts and the single "My name is Stain" peaked at number seven for three weeks and is still receiving plenty of airplay.

That's enough with the statistics already.

Here's the song whose lyrics do apparently have a sense behind them  (listen to the beginning of the interview with Nagui on Taratata if you're keen to discover more) even if they are pretty obscure and contrived.

It actually doesn't matter one iota though as the melody is irresistible and that's usually what sticks in the head.

Have a great weekend

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Love your cat? Have it neutered or spayed

It's surely a lesson the French animal welfare organisation Société protectrice des animaux (SPA) could learn from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to All Animals (SPCA).
screenshot from SPCA video

It's not enough to neuter male cats and dogs or spay females once they land in a refuge for whatever particular reason.

Rather the message has to be drummed home in every way possible to pet owners who somehow still don't seem to be aware of just how important it is to have an animal neutered or spayed.

To that end, the SPCA's Montréal section has released a simple 30-second spot reminding, in this particular case, the need there is to neuter Tom cats.

It features Sultan with accompanying text demonstrating in feline terms at least, what a total sex machine he is - or at least has been allowed to become.

It's amusing, instructive and would surely work just as well in France.

So, time to spread the word - not only to the converted but also those who insist on...well doing absolutely nothing.

Pass it on.
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