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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Nadine Morano's multicultural culinary recipe for not being branded a racist

She's at it again.

Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your radio or telly, up pops former minister Nadine Morano with the latest "proof" that she's anything but a racist.

Last week, you might remember, she managed to put both feet decidedly in her mouth at the same time by claiming that she couldn't possibly be accused of being racist because, "Some of her closest friends were Arabs."

And if anyone needed proof of just how open and accepting she was they only had to look at the fact that her best friend, "Was originally from Chad and so even blacker than an Arab."

Never one to know quite when its time to stop, Morano this week has gone all culinary to prove her multicultural credentials.

Nadine Morano (screenshot from Jean-Marc Morandini show on Europe 1)

She was the guest on Jean-Marc Morandini's show on Europe 1 radio on Wednesday morning and of course one of the questions she was asked was about the brouhaha caused by her comments the previous week.

Morano defended herself (to the best of her ability) giving the context in which"clumsy" references had been made and then, just for good measure throwing in suitable ingredients (of the edible sort) just to drive home how badly her comments had been misinterpreted.

"Actually I don't need to justify myself because I'm not a racist although I'm more of a fan of the classic pizza rather than the 'oriental' one mentioned in a supposedly humorous sketch which had preceded my comments," she explained before happily clodhopping her way on.

"On the other hand, I absolutely adore couscous and the traditional (North African) egg brik."


Nobody in the studio seemed to find what was later reported as Morano's attempt to raise a laugh, in the least bit amusing.

The big question perhaps is not when this woman will stop.

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that although she no longer a parliamentarian, let alone a member of the government, she cannot keep out of the limelight and is similarly incapable of not dropping a clanger.

No, the real issue must be that of when will journalists and radio or television hosts stop inviting her on to their programmes and giving her a platform from which to lumber from one idiotic statement to the next?

The answer -  it seems - is not any time soon.

So with that thought it mind, dear reader, here's a solemn promise.

This is the very last time you'll read a piece on Nadine Morano here...until the next time that is.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Nadine Morano a racist? Of course not - some of her best friends are Arabs

You kind of know that when someone comes out with that sort of statement (or variations on the same theme to deny they're a homophobe or sexist for example) they're leaving the door wide open to accusations of indeed being what they're claiming not to be.

The claim that because some of her friends are Arabs she cannot be described as a racist is just the latest in a very long list of statements Nadine Morano has made over the years which have put her fairly and squarely in the firing line for ridicule.

Nadine Morano (screenshot "C à vous")

Morano,  you might remember, was the woman for whom there was no difference between "Renault" the French car manufacturer, and "Renaud" the singer.

Oh yes, Morano was well known for her blunders during her time as a junior minister and later a full ministerial post under her former boss Nicolas Sarkozy.

She was one of his most fervent - rabidly so, some might say - supporters, not afraid to disengage her tongue from her brain and whenever television, radio or press needed a rent-a-mouth quote, Morano was on hand to oblige.

Her views already appeared at times somewhat extreme in a centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party some of whose members often flirted with the ideas of the far-right Front National (FN).
She once described gay pride parades as an "excuse for exhibitionism" and on another occasion she earned the wrath of the French anti-racist non-governmental organisation SOS Racisme when she turned around and said France's young Moslems should, "dress properly, find a job and stop speaking slang".

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that Morano's real colours shone through during the recent parliamentary elections.

First of all Morano gave an interview with the weekly far-right magazine Minute in which she openly called on those who had voted Front National in the first round to help her defeat her Socialist party rival Dominique Potier in the second-round run-off for the Meurthe et Moselle constituency seat she was trying to hold on to.

"We share common values," she said of herself and those FN voters.

And shortly after that interview appeared, Morano found herself "tricked" by radio presenter and comedian Gérald Dahan, who rang her pretending to be Louis Aliot, FN's vice and the partner of the party's leader Marine Le Pen.

Morano told "Aliot" (Dahan) that Le Pen was a woman with "a lot of talent" and the Front National a party which had "a lot of social policies with which I agree."

Fear not though, because Morano is clearly neither a racist nor a xenophobe - in the same way as the FN is simply a party which has built up its support based in its belief in the importance of French values and the threat they are under from immigration.

How do we know?

Because Morano said as much on the early evening magazine "C à vous" on France 5 last week, when she was talking about how difficult the parliamentary campaign had been and how hurtful she had found all those inaccurate accusations of racism.

"Some of my closest friends are Arabs," she said, saving the best to follow.

"And then there's my best friend who is originally from Chad - so she's even blacker than an Arab."

Oh dear.

Out of government and out of parliament (she lost in that run-off against Potier) let's just hope it's a long, long time before we hear from Morano again - if ever.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Friday's French music break - Dave Dario, “Aujourd’hui”

Friday's French music break this week is from another of those contestants who took part, but didn't win the now-defunct television talent show Nouvelle Star: proving once again that the jury and the public don't always get it right.

Dave Dario (screenshot from “Aujourd’hui” official clip)
It's Dave Dario with his second single, “Aujourd’hui” - the kind of song that could well be surprise summer hit in France.

It's charming, easy on the ear and rides the wave of folk-influenced pop music which seems so fashionable at the moment.

There's also the obligatory mouth harmonica solo thrown in for good measure and of course, not forgetting that Dario actually has quite a pleasant voice.

Dario left his native Mauritius when he was just 17, first for South Africa and then London where he tried out unsuccessfully for X Factor.

In an interview recently he said the years spent in the UK were tough, but also helped him.

"I didn't have much money and I found myself busking quite a lot," he said.

"I managed to get by and slept on friends' sofas, waiting for the next audition."

One of those auditions was in Paris in 2010 for the eighth and, what would be, final season of Nouvelle Star.

The then 27-year-old made it through to the last 15, appearing each week on the show until being knocked out. He finished sixth behind the eventual winner Luce (Lucie Brunet) after weeks of not-exactly fulsome praise from the four-member jury who had chosen him in the first place.

Since then he has been quietly but consistently tailoring his craft, was recently the warm-up act at one of Canadian singer Isabelle Boulay's Paris concerts and has secured a recording contract with Polydor France.

His debut album, from which “Aujourd’hui” is taken, is due out later this year and is as Dario describes one which, "mixes pop, folk and groove," just in the image of the man himself with "warmth and sincerity."

Oh yes, and once again, he has a very pleasing voice to listen to.

So enjoy and let it groove you into a weekend feeling.

Valérie Trierweiler's behind-the-scenes look at François Hollande's presidential campaign

It can't be easy being a first lady, trying to carve out a role for yourself and at the same time wanting to remain an independent working woman.

And one thing's for sure, Valérie Trierweiler isn't making life simple for herself.

First there was an apparent behind-the-scenes apology for that infamous Tweet she sent last week in which she lent her support to Olivier Falorni in his battle against Ségolène Royal.

Seggers was the Socialist party's "official" candidate for a parliamentary seat in Charente-Maritime which Falorni thought he deserved to be contesting and...oh you probably know the story by now but just in case you can read about it here.

All right, "apology' might be exaggerating a little, especially as Trierweiler's humble "I made a mistake" is reported as second hand information.

You know the sort of thing; an unnamed source and a friend of Trierweiler's to boot, telling the national daily Aujourd'hui en France - Le Parisien that she (Trierweiler), " Had miscalculated the effect her Tweet would have upon the president's authority, the Socialist party, her children and those of François Hollande."

Anyway that was last week's news and is behind us - for the moment.

But clearly, even when saying nothing, the ever-retiring Trierweiler, resolute in her decision to be a working first lady, is destined to make the headlines.

And this week it's the publication of her new book.

Actually that's a bit of a stretch too because all she has done is provide the words to go along with a photo reportage documenting something (or someone) close to her heart: François Hollande's presidential campaign.

Hollande has written the preface to pictures taken by photographer Stéphane Ruet but it's Trierweiler who steps in to provide a running commentary (in the first person) and quite frankly she reveals herself to be a lady of letters - the Mills and Boon variety with a healthy dose of venom thrown in.

Ruet's photographs capture Hollande in some very "normal" moments at different stages throughout the campaign - by himself or surrounded by members of his team.

But because they clearly can't speak for themselves, Trierweiler puts them into context in a manner befitting that of someone clearly at ease with the power of the pen.

"A private diary" (of sorts) is how Reuters describes it with the emphasis seeming to be on how Trierweiler feels at certain moments and her interpretation of Hollande's reaction to events such as Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest in New York.

Perhaps her best line though is left for the rally in Rennes; the one where Hollande, as the party's official candidate, appeared on stage for the first time with Seggers.

"There has been a lot of speculation about this over the past week and plenty of photographers have turned up," she writes.

"The question fellow journalists are asking is 'Will they kiss or shake hands'. Yes the man I love had another woman in his life before me. And it just so happens that she was also a presidential candidate," she continues.

"Je fais avec," she concludes, proving to everyone perhaps exactly the contrary.

"François Hollande président, 400 jours dans les coulisses d'une victoire" is surely a must for any coffee table.

Perhaps, given the number of photos in which Trierweiler also appears, three extra words should have been included in the title - "et Valérie Trierweiler".

Whatever - hurry out to your nearest bookstore now or order it from Amazon while stocks last!

Could Trierweiler be to literature what Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was to music and film?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Just how guilty is Gabriel Armandou of killing his wife?

The trial has opened in the Parisian suburb of Creteil of Gabriel Armandou, a man accused of killing his wife.

It's certainly no cut and dried case, leaving you perhaps wondering who exactly was the victim and at the same time maybe how you would have reacted in the same circumstances.

Gabriel Armandou (screenshot from TF1 news report)

For beginners Armandou is 79 years old and the crime for which he stands accused is that of the murder of his wife Paulette back in September 2008.

She was reportedly discovered by their son one evening, dead and almost naked, lying on the  family's sitting room floor, with multiple injuries and bruises.

An autopsy revealed that Paulette had suffered blows to the neck, chest and back.

When questioned by the police, Armandou said he didn't know why he had done it and that he had simply lost control and "cracked" under the pressure.

But of course, that's not the whole story.

The couple had been married for 48 years and in 2000 Paulette was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Armandou apparently didn't want any outside help and had refused to have his wife committed to a specialised care home, preferring to look after her himself.

In the three months preceding her death, Paulette's condition had deteriorated significantly, putting Armandou under increasing pressure.

But he continued to care for his wife because, in the words of his lawyer Arnaud Richard, "He had promised to help and support his wife to the very end. The couple belonged to a generation where outside help wasn't sought."

Armandou is neither denying he killed his wife, nor does he have an explanation as to why he committed an act which he, in his own words, "doesn't understand."

"If I'm found guilty, I will be found guilty," he told the court during the first day of his trial.

"It won't change anything. My wife is dead and I loved her."

The trial is due to finish on Wednesday and a decision expected shortly afterwards.

Armandou could face a maximum 20-year sentence.

Where to find a cheap cup of coffee in Paris

Rightly or wrongly, it's perhaps one of those things which is, for many tourists, synonymous with Paris: sitting in one of the French capital's cafés, drinking a coffee while watching the world and its mother pass by.

It might be something of a cliché, but plenty do it, although perhaps a warning should be attached as it comes at a price.

Because the cost of what is, after all, not a particularly spectacular "expresso" can reach astronomical proportions in some places.

For example, if you fancy parking your backside at the mythical Café de Flore in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter where some of the country's greatest intellectuals such Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir have in the past, be prepared to dig deep into your wallet or purse.

A simple coffee will set you back €4.40.

Head on over to Café de la Paix in the ninth arrondissement, another favourite haunt of past literary greats such as Émile Zola and Guy de Maupassant, and the price rises to - gulp - €6.

And if your tastes run more to the more Bling Bling variety of the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, then Fouquet's, in the heart of "the most beautiful avenue in the world", the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, is the place for you.

Be warned though. Don't expect any change from a - wait for it - €10 note.

Those are the prices quoted recently in a piece in Le Figaro, and are what you can expect to pay if you want to sit down at a table rather than knock back a coffee at the counter where prices are cheaper (well they could hardly be more expensive, could they?)

Thankfully though, help is at hand for those who still want a coffee without risking financial ruin.

The official website of the Mairie de Paris has listed all the places in the city where the cost of a coffee isn't more than €1.

Yes, it's possible the website insists and although it admits that in most cases the price quoted is for downing a coffee at the bar, there are also what it calls "rare gems" where you can sit down and be served.

The map showing where cafés are located has been compiled using contributions from social networks such as Twtter and online questionnaires.

In other words it's totally interactive and depends on the input of "those in the know" to remain up-to-date.

So if you're wandering around the City of Light, feel like a coffee and would prefer to "do" the Parisian thing rather than track down the nearest Starbucks (always an alternative of course) try looking on the Mairie's site.

Simply click on the coffee cup symbol and up pops the address with additional info as to whether you can sit down and enjoy (very few it reality) or drink at the bar (the majority of cases).

Or, if you're feeling particularly penny (er...perhaps centime) pinching but still want a shot of caffeine, you could take a flask along for the day.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Resounding victory for France's Socialist party in parliamentary elections? Well yes - and no

The headlines in France on Monday said it all, didn't they?

The Socialist party had won a healthy majority in the parliamentary elections and are now in a position to go it alone without the "help" of Europe Écologie - Les Verts (EELV) - let's just call them the Greens (not the cabbage variety) for simplicity - or the Front de Gauche coalition of far-left parties.


Source TF1

Some of those long-awaited and potentially far-reaching social policies can now be introduced although the jury is most definitely out on the capacity of this (or any) government to be able to deal with the Eurozone problems, France's debt and commitment to balancing the books.

Don't be surprised to discover the government forced to introduce spending cuts and tax increases along the lines of those centrist François Bayrou outlined in his presidential campaign but nobody else really wanted to discuss because apparently the French didn't want to hear about them.

The weekend's results were a resounding "yes" to what the Socialist party has to offer and a "strong vote of confidence in the new president," as far as finance minister Pierre Moscovici was concerned.


A "strong vote of confidence" and a resounding "yes" when only 55.41 per cent of those registered to vote in the second round actually bothered to do so.

Yep, once again the abstention rate - logically, if you do the maths - 44.59 per cent was surely a major player in the outcome.

The only "resounding" feature of the result was that a majority government was elected by a minority of the French.

(If you want to do the number crunching, take a look at the interior ministry's official figures for both rounds of voting.)

And therein lies part of the problem; the two-round run-off voting system in France which has meant that most voters have been asked to make their way to the polling stations four times in the past couple of months.

They turned out in force for the two rounds of the presidential elections in April/May (79.48 and 80.35 respectively) so there's surely not argument about the French not being interested in politics or the future of their country.

But the number of times they've been called to the ballot boxes recently must have led to a certain feeling voter fatigue.

That combined with the perception maybe that the parliamentary elections were a "done deal" with the Socialist party virtually guaranteed to have some sort of majority, probably put many off voting even if they had felt so inclined.

And not forgetting that the two-round system of voting will have meant for many that they were left with an option for plumping for one of two (sometimes three) candidates who were - well quite frankly - not of their choosing.

But help is at hand in a manner of speaking.

The government (although undoubtedly happy with a healthy majority) realises there's a problem and is apparently ready to consider revamping the electoral calendar (and there's even talk - heaven forbid - of re-introducing proportional representation).

The prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has said that shortening the time between the presidential and parliamentary elections could be one solution and there's even the possibility of holding them both on the same day.

"We'll give ourselves the time necessary to think about it," he said on national radio at the weekend. "The next (presidential and parliamentary) elections aren't until 2017.

In the meantime of course the French will still be asked to trot down to the polling stations in the country's seemingly never-ending cycle of elections, although they'll be given some respite for at least a couple of years.

And then it'll be all systems go.

The regional and cantonal elections have been combined to become l'élection des conseillers territoriaux and are scheduled for the same year as the municipal elections - 2014.

And later  the same year there'll be elections to the European parliament.

Enjoy the calm while it lasts.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Friday's French music break - Brice Conrad, "Fleur du mal"

Friday's French music break this week is the debut single from a young singer-songwriter with an obvious passion for words, an ear for a melody and a distinctive voice that certainly won't leave you indifferent.

Brice Conrad (screenshot official video)

Brice Conrad is perhaps not a name with which you're familiar, but given the quality of "Fleur du mal" and the critical reception it has had, he could well be someone to watch.

"Fleur du mal" is not an in-your-face type of song with an upbeat tempo, overproduced studio sound and mindless lyrics guaranteed to make it a commercial hit  - far from it.

And that perhaps marks it out from a lot of other popular music you can hear on the radio.

Conrad belongs to the new generation of French pop-folk singers, relying on intelligent lyrics (perhaps a little too clever) a distinctive voice and a melody that might at first be irritating, but grows on you.

In fact, amongst all that "boom boom, yeah, yeah" stuff you can hear on the radio it comes across as refreshing and a proper listen to the lyrics reveals a talent for writing and an elegant use of French.

So what's it all about? Is it a reference to Charles Baudelaire's volume of poetry published in 1857 dealing with decadence and eroticism? Probably not.

The story of a relationship gone wrong? Maybe.

Or the anguish and torment of an artist typically expressing himself in being able to "feel good when everything goes wrong"?


Brice Conrad (screenshot official video)

The official video might provide a few clues.

Make what you will of the lyrics, there's no denying their poetic nature and that's perhaps the  key to the song's real appeal.

Conrad, who cites Ben Harper, Radiohead, Yodelice, and Raphaël (the French singer, not the painter) as among his musical influences, is currently working on his debut album and a second single is due for release in autumn.

For the moment though, here's "Fleur du mal".

Take a listen and decide what you think.

And as always, have a great weekend.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Politicians' private lives - are there limits to the questions journalists should ask?

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (often referred to in the French media as NKM), the former minister of ecology and spokesperson for Nicolas Sarkozy during his presidential election campaign, was the guest on Jean-Jacques Bourdin's programme on RMC radio BFM-TV on Wednesday morning.

It's a daily programme in which Bourdin poses questions to his guests (usually, but not always politicians) on their views of some of the stories making the headlines.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet and Jean-Jacques Bourdin
(BFM TV screenshot)

No prizes for guessing how he began the interview with NKM: that infamous Valérie Trieweiler Tweet which seems to have overshadowed any real news stories that might have been around over the past couple of days.

NKM began her reply by saying that mixing private and political matters was never a good idea.

She expanded on her reasoning for a couple of minutes adding that, although a very public figure, she had kept her husband and children out of the usual media glare, refusing requests from glossy magazines (Paris Match) for photo shoots and keeping her private life exactly that.

While admitting that some politicians thrived on the sort of exposure they received and journalists often chased those sorts of stories, NKM said it was a mistake..

She cited an opponent in the constituency she's contesting in Sunday's parliamentary elections, mentioning that he had talked about her family.

And that's where the interview became tricky and decidedly uncomfortable- for Bourdin, NKM and anyone watching.

"You mean your brother's suicide?" Bourdin asked, forcing NKM to respond to something she has not spoken about publicly; the death of her younger brother, Etienne, in May after he took an overdose.

Clearly shocked, NKM hesitated a moment before replying, criticising Bourdin for having asked the question in such an abrupt manner.

"I am a public figure and I have another brother (Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet, one of the founders of the online electronic commerce website who is a public figure," she said.

"But that's not the case for everyone in the family and most definitely not my brother who died," she continued.

"I was shocked when I saw that one of my opponents had posted the information of my brother's suicide on his blog. I found it outrageous for my brother and for my mother."

The real issue though surely has to be whether Bourdin was right to ask such a personal question not just in the manner in which he did, but also in a way which required NKM to reply.

Aren't there or shouldn't there be limits?

NKM could hardly have sat there and said nothing, could she?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Valérie Trierweiler's Tweet of support for Ségolène Royal's opponent

It was probably too good to last; the self-declared "normal" presidency of François Hollande.

He, his party and France have now been treated to the sort of celebrity-cum-politics behaviour reminiscent of the days of his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.

And it's largely thanks to Hollande's partner, Valérie Trierweiler.

Valérie Trierweiler (screenshot YouTube video)

While the leader of the Socialist party, Martine Aubry, was on a "Save Ségolène Royal" mission to help the party's chosen candidate in her battle to win a seat in the second round of parliamentary elections, Trierweiler was putting her best stiletto heel foot forward and in the process carving out a new role for herself.

That of, in the words of L'Express magazine, the "minister of jealousy".

Trierweiler Tweeted (or should that be Twat) a message of support - for Olivier Falorni, the man running against Royal.

He has been a long-time Hollande supporter, even apparently at a time when it wasn't particularly fashionable, and as a loyal and experienced "man on the ground" had expected to be the party's candidate in the safe constituency of La Rochelle in the département of Charente-Maritime.

But the party decided differently, parachuting in Royal to contest the seat which would be the first step towards her eventually playing an important role and one she covets, as the president of the national assembly.

Farlorni, who's no fan of Royal, refused to withdraw his candidature, was suspended by the party and was only narrowly beaten in last Sunday's first round.

He's staying in the race for next weekend's second round and  presents a real threat to Royal's ambitions.

Enter stage left, the non-elected "minister of jealousy", Valerie Trierweiler, with a Tweet in which she wished Forloni "bon courage" and recognised his "years of selfless commitment (to the party)."

Just 146 not-so-innocent characters guaranteed to have an impact as the Socialist party was left jaw-to-floor, the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) enjoyed the distraction from its own problems and the media - well, went wild with a story in an otherwise rather - er - dull election campaign.

So why did she do it?

Why did Trierweiler send that message of support using a social network knowing full well that it would be out there for everyone and anyone to read?

After all she's an experienced journalist, knows what she's doing, and is far - very far - from being daft.

Maybe, after all, there's something in that headline in L'Express and Trierweiler, even though she's now first lady, still resents Royal, the woman who was Hollande's partner for 30 years and with whom he had four children.

Jealousy - really?

Why not?

Trierweiler is on record as saying she didn't vote for Royal in the first round of the 2007 presidential elections and abstained in the second.

After reading in Paris Match - the magazine for which she writes - a piece on Thomas Hollande in which he was described as the oldest child of the "couple Royal-Hollande", Trierweiler sent her colleague a terse text message saying "The ex-couple Royal-Hollande. What are you playing at?"

And that moment at the victory celebrations at Place de la Bastille in Paris after Hollande had beaten Sarkozy in last month's presidential elections was surely a sign of what was to come.

Did you notice it? Trierweiler - and many others - certainly did: Hollande giving Royal a peck on the cheek.

How did she react? With an "order" so easy to read from her lips that Hollande kiss her on the mouth - now - in front of everyone.

The "Nicolas and Carla" show might no longer be centre stage as far as the celebrity gossip magazines and certain sectors of the mainstream media are concerned, but it looks as though a worthy replacement has been found, albeit so far, just a one-woman show.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Reasons not to stifle a yawn after the first round of the French parliamentary elections

Well that was an interesting weekend politically-speaking after the French went to the polls in the first round of the parliamentary elections, wasn't it?


Oh all right then - predictable and tedious perhaps although it threw up a few fascinating results here and there.

And let's face it, TV and radio did their best to make a show of it, clearing their schedules and inviting all the usual suspects to comment and analyse.

Perhaps it wasn't quite the "triumph" for the Socialist party as suggested by an early headline on the BBC (thankfully it was changed to reflect better the actual outcome with a more measured "Socialists and allies win first round") but it was at least a promise of a reasonable working majority - either with or without Leftist partners after the second round of voting next Sunday.

In reality the biggest winner on the day was, as pointed out by many political pundits, the abstention rate.

Only 57.23 per cent of the country's 46 million voters turned out to cast their ballots. Or put another way, 42.77 per cent couldn't be bothered - a record for the fifth republic.

And although it might not seem so important, with France's complicated process of calculating which candidates can make it through to the second round, a number of them didn't make the required cut - even though at first sight they scored pretty high on the day.

Most of the government ministers who took the risk of standing - remember they didn't have to, but if they did and lost then they would be out on their ears - did pretty well.

Six of the 25 who stood were elected in the first round, among them big hitters prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and foreign minister Laurent Fabius.

A clutch of others should have no problem in the second-round run off including those considered to have taken the biggest risk: the minister of agriculture Stéphane Le Foll, and the culture minister, Aurélie Filippetti.

There could be one casualty after the second round though, in the shape of the minister for the disabled, Marie-Arlette Carlotti.

Some "personalities" from across the political spectrum came a cropper, most notably perhaps the former junior minister for human rights and later when that post was scrapped,  junior minister for sport, Rama Yade.

She didn't make it through to the second round in the constituency in which she was standing in the suburbs of Paris.

Yade, who was one of the three high-profile ethnic minority figures in Nicolas Sarkozy's first government now finds herself in a political wilderness of sorts, but at 36 is young and certainly talented enough to bounce back quickly.

The same cannot be said for François Bayrou. The leader of the Centrist party Mouvement démocrate (MoDem) has been a member of parliament for "his" Pyrénées-Atlantiques constituency (described as his "fiefdom" - so very typical of French politics) for donkeys years (well since 1988, when it was created).

But the multi-presidential candidate (three times so far) is in serious danger of losing out to the Socialist party's Nathalie Chabanne in the second round. Clearly Bayrou's gesture of openly declaring he would vote for François Hollande in the presidential run-off against Sarkozy is having its impact - and not in the way Bayrou would want.

And then there's Seggers - or Ségolène Royal if you wish - parachuted into a safe seat only to find herself up against another (more local) Socialist, Olivier Falorni.

He ignored party instructions not to stand and was summarily suspended. But he finished just behind Seggers in the first round, is continuing his prolonged fit of pique (in protest at the practice of candidates being parachuted) and could well cost Royal a seat.

The Socialist party's "Big Guns" including - figure this - Martine Aubrey - are rallying behind Seggers, proving there's nowt so peculiar or erratic as a politician.

It's a similar story for former interior minister Claude Guéant.

He too has been parachuted into a safe seat - this time in the Paris suburbs - for the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP).

Just like Seggers, Guéant finds himself up against someone (Thierry Solère) from his own party who is locally-based and who's refusing to follow orders.

Finally in this briefest of brief looks (which is decidedly longer than intended) there was the much-publicised but ultimately flat duel between the two extremes in a constituency in the north of France: far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon taking on far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The two had of course traded verbal punches - or not, as one refused to debate directly with the other - in this year's presidential campaign for which they were both candidates.

On Sunday, Mélenchon failed to make it through to the second round, blaming everyone but himself in the process while Le Pen finished first and is still in with a shout (as far as she's concerned) of winning the seat.

Should she pull it off, she might not be the only member of the Front National - or the only Le Pen come to that - in the new parliament.

Gilbert Collard in one of the constituencies in the département of Gard in southern France, is well-placed to win his seat, especially if his UMP opponent, Etienne Mourrut pulls out of the three-way race (with the Socialist party's Katy Guyot).

Mourrut is apparently "hesitating".

Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (screenshot France 2 news)
No hesitation though for the Socialist party in one of the constituencies in the neighbouring département of Vaucluse.

It has withdrawn its candidate from the second round to allow the UMP contender to go head-to-head with a certain Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, yes the 22-year-old niece of Marine and granddaughter of Jean-Marie.

Maybe the most interesting outcome of the first round though is the possibility that the Front National stands a real chance of winning seats.

There might not be nearly as many as there were in 1986 when the party won 35 seats under the (thankfully) short-lived system of proportional representation introduced (for very political reasons of course) for the parliamentary elections by the then-president François Mitterrand.

But winning a handful of seats under the French system of first past the post would give the Front National the political credibility it craves and demands.

Little wonder then that Le Pen (Marine that is) is targeting some high profile UMP candidates by urging FN voters to "go Socialist" in a manner of speaking.

Perhaps though an event in that very constituency where  Mélenchon and Le Pen did battle last weekend best reflects the first round results or at least how many French might feel about them.

It was the fate of one of the other candidates - there were 14 of them - standing in that constituency, Daniel Cucchiaro.

An independent ecologist (always a bad sign),  Cucchiaro finished last; no shame in that as someone has to.

It was the style in which he did it though - winning zero per cent of ballots cast because...well...nobody had voted for him.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Dog food manufacturer's irresistible offer - not

Surely it's not meant to bamboozle - that would of course be reprehensible and probably illegal.

But the offer Royal Canin, the French manufacturer and supplier of dog food, is currently making, is hardly one either owners or their pets will drool over.

Added to that, there are also the hoops you have to jump through ("virtually" speaking) to take up the company's not-so generous promotional offer.

At first sight it all seems innocent enough. And that of course should be the clear sign that there's more to it than meets the proverbial eye.

That bright yellow sticker on the four-kilogramme bag of puppy biscuits offering three vouchers worth €24 seems to suggest there's a great saving to be made.

In fact, if you do the sums, Royal Canin would appear to be giving away the next four-kilogramme bag you buy (retail price €22, give or take the odd centime) and some money off the purchase after that.



Because, of course, all is not what it seems.

There's the very small print to read on the package - whose terms only become apparent when you log on to the company's site to register, as required.

First up you're asked to complete an application form with your name, address and email.

Whoa - that online method of sending you unwanted (is there any other sort) junk mail.

Give Royal Canin its due though. It allows you to choose not to accept emails with other promotional offers.

Read the rules and regulations (does anyone - ever, really?), complete the promotional code (which you can find on the package) and move on to the next step.

Once there you're asked how many animals - dogs and cats - you have.



Wasn't this supposed to be about getting money off a bag of puppy biscuits?

After all the name of the site suggest as much. Doesn't it?

Enter the age, sex, date of birth, breed and whether neutered.

You can have up to three dogs and/or cats (for their records and to market better their products probably) and if you don't have another animal apart from the one you've registered, you have to say as much. It's a required field.

Confirm your info.

The next page is one from which you can print your collector's card - and that's the point at which you realise that the conditions you didn't read properly on the package - mainly because they're written in the smallest of typeface - are all there repeated in glaring black and white.

All you have to do is:

Print the collector's card and attach in the appropriate place the following;

1). The receipt from the shop for the original purchase.

2). That yellow sticker from the package - into a space roughly 10 times smaller than the size of the sticker. Oh well. What the heck.

3). The barcode from the package. Scissors please!

Once you've assembled your Blue Peter project, you send the whole thing off to the address given and within three weeks you'll be sent your vouchers.

But "ta da". Here's the catch.

The three vouchers are worth €8 each (hey, Royal Canin can do maths) and may only be used - ONE AT A TIME - on an individual bag of...get this...15 kilogrammes. Recommended retail price €62.99.

So in other words to take full advantage of that fabulous €24 saving, you first have to fork out €188.97.

And that folks, is a "promotional offer", the likes of which you simply cannot fail to resist - n'est-ce pas?

Friday, 8 June 2012

An impossible match? Female broadcast journalists and politicians, Audrey Pulvar

Being the wife or partner of a leading (male) politician in France is a minefield at the best of times.

But when the woman in question also happens to be a journalist working for either TV or radio, and she specialises is politics...well, it seems she's virtually guaranteed a hard time.

Audrey Pulvar has become the latest victim of the "oh you're the partner of a high-ranking politician so you can't possibly do your job properly" club.

Audrey Pulvar (screenshot "On n'est pas couché")

Pulvar is the partner of the newly-appointed industrial renewal minister Arnaud Montebourg and has had a permanent slot on the Saturday night talk show "On n'est pas couché" on France 2.

It's essentially an entertainment  programme in which Pulvar is one of two panellists  - along with Le Figaro journalist Natacha Polony - giving invited guests - often politicians, but not always - a grilling.

Pulvar and Polony act as a sort of Left-Right double team.

But there's a problem as far as the president of France Télévisions, Rémy Pflimlin, is concerned - certainly when it comes to Pulvar.

It's one that involves a potential conflict of interest and ethics: Pflimlin would prefer Pulvar to refrain from interviewing politicians, in effect rendering her role useless.

So Pulvar is leaving the show and not without a certain irony and bitterness as expressed in a Tweet.

"Thank you to everyone," she wrote. "I've no doubt now that the profession of journalism has been rehabilitated and the media has once again become objective."

In a real sense Pulvar surely has every right to carry a grudge because she seems to be paying the price for Montebourg's political career.

She has already had to give up her weekday morning programme on France Inter radio.

And last year, when Montebourg declared himself a candidate in the Socialist party primary, the all-news channel I>Télé cancelled Pulvar's political show.

Of course down the years, Pulvar is far from being the only female broadcast journalist in France forced to put her career on hold because of a perceived conflict of interest.

Back in 1997 Anne Sinclair stepped down from presenting the weekly news and political magazine "7 sur 7" on TF1 when her husband, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (as if you needed telling that) became finance minister.

In 2007 it was the turn of France 2's weekend anchor Béatrice Schönberg to call it a day. The presidential elections hadn't yet taken place but her husband, Jean-Louis Borloo, was one of the names being touted as a possible future prime minister under a Nicolas Sarkozy-presidency.

In fact the year wasn't a good one for female broadcast journalists because another one, Marie Drucker, was put on extended leave from her job as an anchor on France 3.

The reason? Well at the time she was the partner of François Baroin, the man who was appointed interior minister after Sarkozy launched his presidential campaign and was required to resign.

Drucker and Baroin didn't last and she was re-instated and eventually moved over to France 2.

Christine Ockrent was perhaps the "exception that proved the rule" in retaining her job at France 3 and being allowed to present a political magazine even when her other half, Bernard Kouchner accepted the post of foreign minister.

But often women journalists working for TV and radio and who are married to, or living with, prominent politicians seem to have their professional objectivity questioned.

That doesn't necessarily seem to be the case over in print journalism - at least not as long as they steer clear of politics.

François Hollande's partner, Valérie Trierweiler has managed to keep her post at Paris Match where she's a political journalist, although her first piece since becoming France's first lady narrowly avoids controversy by focussing on a woman - Eleanor Roosevelt - with whom any possible resemblance is "purely coincidental" according to L'Express.

A portent of things to come perhaps from Trierweiler.

And over at the financial daily Les Échos, Valérie de Senneville, the wife of the newly-appointed employment minister Michel Sapin, is hoping to be able to hold on to her job.

Friday's French music break, Camille - "Que je t'aime"

Friday's French music break this week is a song you might well recognise.

"QUE JE T'AIME" - block caps obligatory in the original recording by Johnny Hallyday in 1969 - is one of the French rocker's many signature tunes.

But a new version released on YouTube last month and available now on download transports the song to a"universe" (in the sense that the music industry seems to use when describing an artist's "style").

It's by singer-songwriter Camille and while the obvious sultriness of the lyrics remains, her interpretation comes across as far more poetic, tender and altogether much more sensual than Hallyday's earhole- blasting rendition.
Camille (screenshot from Taratata interview, October 2011)
Camille's voice is one which she has used almost as an additional instrument on each of her four studio albums - including the latest, "Ilo Veyou", released in October 2011 - and in live performances (see this one of her singing "Ta douleur" on France 2's music programme Taratata for example).

The remake might be a somewhat unpredictable choice for the 34-year-old but at the same time it's entirely in keeping with her ability to deliver something unexpected.

Her music and style has always defied categorisation, making her probably one of France's most gifted - and dare it be said - musically intelligent popular artists.

"Que je t'aime"  is more than delightful, it's an acoustic jewel - revisited.

If you like what she has done to it, then you'll be able to catch her at one of the many summer festivals or in concert during her national tour which runs until March next year including two dates at Olympia in Paris in October (details can be found on her official website).

For now though, here's the teaser available of her interpretation of "Que je t'aime". Sadly there's no official video yet and the visuals are non-existant.

It doesn't really matter too much though.

If you want to compare and contrast to the original by Johnny Hallyday, click on this link.

Happy listening - and have a great weekend.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Full speed ahead M. le Président - François Hollande filmed speeding

So François Hollande is normal! Well, in presidential terms anyway.

He was filmed speeding on his way from Paris to Normandy on Wednesday, and the French media is having a light-hearted field day with the story.

François Hollande's route (screenshot BFM TV report)
All right, Hollande wasn't actually at the wheel. But the car in which he was being driven (très normal, n'est-ce pas?) was clocked going at almost 140 kms per hour in a zone where the speed limit was set at 70 kms per hour.

And that apparently wasn't the only "misdemeanour".

His car reached speeds of almost 180 kms per hour on the motorway (the limit in France is 130) and failed to stop at the toll booth to pay.

François Hollande at D-Day landing ceremony (screenshot BFM TV)
Hollande, who's not exactly known for his perfect timekeeping, was on his way to attend a ceremony to mark the D-Day landings in 1944 and, in true paparrazi-style befitting the coverage of a president's movements, several reporters went along for the ride.

Not in the same vehicle mind you, but on motorbikes and cars trying to keep pace with Hollande.

Hence they knew exactly what speed his car was going.

Among them was a team from the rolling news channel BFM TV, happy to be one of the first to report the "scoop" that Hollande had been setting an example to the rest of us which was far from being "exemplary".

At this point it's probably worth remembering a particular clause in that "code of conduct" Hollande had all the newly-appointed government ministers sign when they took office: "to respect the rules of the road when they were driving or being driven."

BFM helpfully calculated what sort of punishments we more "ordinary" citizens would face if caught

They include a €3,750 fine, the immediate suspension of a driving licence for three years, six points lost and expropriation of the vehicle.

Thank goodness Hollande isn't quite as "normal" as the rest of us.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Laurence Ferrari's farewell, before during and after - professional and emotional

Laurence Ferrari's departure as anchor from TF1's daily prime time news and the list of potential successors has been well covered.

But even though it happened last Thursday and is fast in danger of becoming old news, it's worth a last look at a video which shows some behind-the-scenes shots of Ferrari during and after her final broadcast.

Laurence Ferrari (screenshot from last broadcast)
Of course it illustrates the differences between what happened onscreen and Ferrari's reactions when the cameras weren't focussed on her.

Although she kept it together throughout most of the broadcast  there were a few moments when she clearly had trouble hiding her feelings (there was a slight hiccough as she prepared to wrap up).

True professional that she is though, she kept going. And that has to be admired.

After she had finished though, the true emotions set in - although once again Ferrari showed her class and skill, holding back her tears and thanking colleagues.

It's in French, but you'll get the drift.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Les Guignols "candidates" to replace Laurence Ferrari as TF1 news anchor

So TF1 prime time news anchor bid farwell to viewers on Thursday evening.

It was, as expected, a dignified and moving end.

And now the real speculation about her permanent replacement can begin in earnest.

Cue those wickedly satirical Les Guignols de l'info over on Canal +

They provided a few of their own suggestions as to who could take over by showing some of the "candidates in action" during an audition.

First up for Les Guignols was Claire Chazal, TF1's weekend news anchor, followed by Nikos Aliagas the presenter, of among other thing, the French version of The Voice.

Nikos Aliagas (screenshot Les Guignols)
Next to give it a bash was Benjamin Castaldi, whose grandmother, the wonderful actress the late Simone Signoret would surely be horrified that her grandson has signed up for yet another season of hosting trashy TV reality.

But the funniest was surely left until the end as Nicolas Sarkozy gave his best with an off-camera voice interrupting to say how peculiar it was to have the former president auditioning.

"How come?" replies Sarkozy.

"I was editor in chief of TF1's news for five years. If I appearing in front of the camera I'll just be saying the same things won't I?"

Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot Les Guignols)

More candidates appear later in the show including TF1's weekday lunchtime presenter Jean-Pierre Pernaut, controversial political journalist and writer Éric Zemmour and Anne Sinclair - along with (inevitably) her husband, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Have a great weekend.

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Xavier Bertrand's slip of the tongue "in defence" of Fat Cat salaries

Ah what would the world be without the occasional political gaffe?

The previous centre-right led Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) government was full of ministers capable of delivering a howler or two.

Former justice minister Rachida Dati proved herself to be adept at unintentional sexual references when speaking of "oral sex" ("fellation") rather than "inflation" during an interview on foreign investment funds.

Her slip up made the subject so much

And on another occasion she managed to introduce "dildo" ("gode") rather than "code" (of conduct) into an interview about  laicity and Islam.

Dati wasn't alone of course. There was also Frédéric Lefebvre the (wait for it) junior minister for trade, small and medium enterprises, tourism, services, liberal professions and consumption (where was the kitchen sink?) who showed his literary prowess when asked which classic French work had made the biggest impact on him.

Sadly Lefebvre came up with the ready-to-wear clothes company "Zadig ET Voltaire" rather than "Zadig BY Voltaire.

And let's not forget Nadine Morano (who could?) when...well, she said just about anything that came into her mind or struck her fancy but perhaps the most memorable was  confusing "Renaud" the singer and "Renault" the car manufacturer.

Mary Hopkins time:

                        "Those were the days my friend,
                        We thought they'd never end."

The new government hasn't quite got into its stride yet, but that doesn't matter.

The new opposition - or the former government if you like - is proving itself to be well up to the job of maintaining a strangehold on the art of delivering a lapsus linguae.

More on than in a moment.

First some background.

The recently-elected French president, François Hollande, is on something of an exemplary cost-cutting exercise.

One of his first decisions was to reduce ministers' pay by around a third.

It was a campaign promise and one he "made good on" as soon as the new 34-strong government was named.

Next up is the pledge to cap the salaries given to the big cheeses of companies which are state-controlled or, in the case of nuclear power plant builder Areva or utility giant EDF, it still has a majority stake.

The government is apparently still working out the fine print but is expected to announce in mid-June that top company executives' pay will be limited to 20 times that of the lowest paid worker.

An end, in part, to the so-called fat cat syndrome in companies such as EDF (84 state-owned) where CEO Henri Proglio reportedly earned a miserly €1.6 million in 2011.

Of course some might try to argue that setting a "maximum salary" will make it difficult for state-owned companies to attract top talent and it'll be nigh on impossible to impose on the private sector.

But few could argue against the injustice that exists between some top earners and those at the opposite end of the scale.

Well that's unless you happen to be a Xavier Bertrand, the former minister for labour, social affairs and solidarity in the last government under prime minister François Fillon.

Xavier Bertrand (screenshot Europe 1 interview)

Bertrand was the invited guest on Europe 1 radio on Thursday morning and perhaps revealed a little more than he intended - albeit by means of a slip-of-the-tongue - about the thinking behind the previous government's attitude.

"I've always been in favour of excessive salaries (for top executives) " he told journalist Jean-Pierre Elkabbach.

"I said as much when I was a member of the previous government and I'm not going to change my mind now."

Elkabbach, seasoned journalist that he is, interrupted just to make sure he had heard correctly and in so doing allowed Bertrand to correct his mistake.

"Always in favour of excessive salaries?" questioned Elkabbach.

"Ah certainly not," replied Bertrand calmly, realising his error.

"I've always been in favour of limiting excesses (of payment)," he said.

"Whether it's in a period of crisis or not, it's always necessary to set a good example."

Ah, it's so good to hear and see that some things about the UMP haven't changed.

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