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Friday, 30 November 2012

Happy Birthday (former) M. Le President - Jacques Chirac turns 80

The former French president Jacques Chirac celebrated his 80th birthday on Thursday - a chance for the media in this country to pay tribute to the man who held the top job for 12 years.

Chirac might not figure in opinions polls any longer - and with good reason as he hasn't been politically active since leaving office in May 2007 - but the so-called "received wisdom" is that he's still pretty popular with many French.

Bernadette and Jacques Chirac (screenshot Les Guignols)

While Chirac's memory isn't apparently all it once was - with those close to him admitting that his deterioration was worrying, it would also seem that the collective powers of recall from many sectors of the French media as well as the population at large aren't any least as far as the satirical show on Canal +, "Les Guignols de l'Info" was concerned, as it, in its own special way "celebrated" Chirac's 80th birthday.

Here's the clip of the show's very special trip down Chirac memory lane (from one minute 38 seconds until two minutes 45 seconds).

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Friday's French music break - Cauet, "La fin du Monde"

Friday's French music break this week is from someone who isn't exactly known for his singing prowess.

"Ah," you might be saying. "When did that ever stop anyone?"


It comes from French radio and TV presenter and entertainer Sébastien Cauet who ingeniously goes under the name "Cauet".

Cauet (screenshot from official clip)

Taking what was undoubtedly all of five minutes out of his busy daily schedule, Cauet has come up with a timely number that's supposed to raise a smile or two but is actually hard to sit through.

"La fin du monde" ("The end of the world" just in case you really needed the translation) sees the 40-year-old jumping on the Mayan prediction for the "cataclysmic or transformative events" which are supposed to occur on 21 December 2012 - aka the end of the world as we know it.

Cauet struts, raps, croons and hip hops his way through a mess of verbal images and moves which bear a remarkable resemblence to another - more internationally successful clip relying heavily on ridicule, Psy's "Gangnam style".

And it would appear that the over-produced studio "style" is working almost as well for Cauet as it has done for the South Korean singer and entertainer Park Jae-sang (or Psy).

Almost 1,5 million (and counting) have viewed Cauet's "La fin du monde" since it was published on YouTube on November 19 - although there are no stats available to say whether everyone who logged on actually made it to the end...of the clip, that is.

It's truly awful, very "unfunny" and far from having any musical merit.

Or, as many of the comments seem to suggest it's hilarious and worth a mighty LOL!

Oh well. "Enjoy".

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Gay marriage and adoption - a hotbed for terrorism?

Even if you're in favour of same-sex marriage and two men or two women being allowed to adopt, you probably agree there's room for debate.

It's healthy after all isn't it?

Opinions can be shared, explanations attempted as to why neither should be feared, how society isn't going to collapse, the world isn't going to end (well it might on December 21, but that has nothing at all to do with the matter at hand) and the proposed legislation is just French lawmakers catching with what a majority of the population already believes to be right and just.

And hey, who knows, in the process of a constructive discussion, some people might set aside their intolerance and realise that same-sex marriage is not a threat to religious institutions.

But - aha - you knew it was coming didn't you - some arguments against same-sex marriage and adoption are surely more than absurd.

Such as the one put forward earlier this week by Nicolas Dhuicq, a parliamentarian for the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

Nicolas Dhuicq (screenshot YouTube video)
 Dhuicq was speaking during a debate in the national assembly on Tuesday on the government's anti-terrorism bill when he made the link between - here we go - same-sex marriage, adoption by parents of the same sex and...terrorism.

Firstly he helpfully explained how or why some people became terrorists.

"One characteristic of terrorists is that in most cases they've never had paternal authority while growing up," he said

"They've never had the opportunity to learn what's feasible and what isn't, what's good and what's bad," he continued.

And then addressing Manuel Valls, the interior minister who was present during the debate, Dhuicq made that link between same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and terrorism.

"Isn't there a certain contradiction in the government's anti-terrorism proposals and those which at the same time seek to strike the word 'father' from the civil code," he said.

"What you're doing is setting the basis for gender confusion in the future, the denial of sexual differences and psychosis," he added.

So there you go. As far as Dhuicq is concerned the government is helping set the conditions for future generations of potential terrorists by blurring the boundaries of sexual identity.

Just for the record, Dhuicq is a qualified psychiatrist, a member of the rightwing grouping Droite populaire within the UMP and a supporter of Jean-François Copé.

Maybe we should be more thankful that the media has been focusing less on what he has had to say over the past week and more on the turmoil within his own party.

Le député UMP Dhuicq lie homoparentalité et... par LeNouvelObservateur

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Dominique Strauss-Kahn to return to French politics?

 Oh no!

It's just what French politics needs.

The return of another disgraced dinosaur.

Let's hope it's just idle gossip dreamt up by some bored journalist at Le Figaro desperate to deflect attention from the potential implosion of the opposition centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

A piece in Tuesday's edition of Le Figaro suggests that Dominique Strauss-Kahn is preparing to make his return to politics in 2014.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn (screenshot from i>Télé interview September 2012)

DSK isn't thinking about taking to the national political stage, says Le Figaro, rather he's interested in securing the Socialist party's nomination to run for the post of mayor in the town of Sarcelles in the northern suburbs of Paris in the 2014 municipal elections.


Well it might be a bit of a stretch with the judicial problems still hanging over him, but as the weekly magazine L'Express points out, DSK has been mayor of the town before (from 1995 to 1997) and we all know a criminal record doesn't necessarily mean the end of a political career in France.

But hang about. Isn't there someone already in the job?

Of course there is - another member of the Socialist party and a close friend of DSK, François Pupponi.

He was contacted by the free daily Metro on Tuesday and and didn't mince his words when asked what he thought about a possible DSK return.

"What's this crap?" he's reported as saying in response to the piece in Le Figaro.

"I don't comment on rumours or bull***t that some journalists make up just to say something."

Oh well. That's telling it like it is...hopefully.

The problem of course with politicians in France (as well as many other countries come to that) is that you can really be certain how sincere they're being - can you?

Monday, 26 November 2012

Never mind Alain Juppé - you never stood a chance

Plenty of people thought he was the man for the job; Alain Juppé, one of the founders and the first president of the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) when it saw the light of day back in 2002 as the Union pour la majorité présidentielle (Union for the presidential majority) was the person could break the deadlock between Jean-François Copé and Francois Fillon.

(screenshot BFM TV)
Alas, "Super Juppé", the man who, so many political pundits, fellow party members and even opponents have praised and/or described as a real "Homme d'État" has failed to bind the union that, over the past week, has redefined the term French farce.

Maybe it's not surprising though, because Juppé's career hasn't really been so "Super" after all has it?

Yes, he has held high office; prime minister, defence minister, foreign minister - twice and ecology minister, and he has been mayor of Bordeaux for 15 of the past 17 years so - on the face of it - he definitely has the political credentials.

But he also has all the usual baggage which goes with political office in France.

He was prime minister under Jacques Chirac from 1995 to 1997, drafting into government a number of so-called "Juppettes" - the somewhat sexist and condescending term used to describe his appointing 12 women into ministerial positions - and overseeing a jolly old period when strikes became almost a national pastime in France.

Juppé also "did" the typical political French thing of being convicted in 2004 - for mishandling public funds and finding himself "suspended" from holding political office of any sort for 10 years.

As this is France though, Juppé bounced back (a little faster than expected) and after a "period of rehabilitative convalescence" in Canada, he was re-elected as mayor of Bordeaux in 2006.

Proving his full political credentials had been re-instated, Juppé was back in government - briefly - when Nicolas Sarkozy won the presidential election in 2007.

He was named number two behind the prime minister François Fillon, as minister of ecology, but had to stand down (again) after failing to be elected in the parliamentary elections which followed (Sarkozy had made it a requirement that any minister standing but losing would have to resign).

Towards the end of Sarkozy's reign, Juppé was back in government - this time replacing the disgraced Michèle Alliot-Marie as foreign minister and using all his statesmenship to play second fiddle to the French president as Sarkozy took over affairs in Libya and later in the year bringing about a speedy diplomatic resolution to affairs in Syria - not.

Yes there was no doubt that with such a political pedigree and success rate, Juppé was the obvious choice to mediate between Copé and Fillon.

Now that he has thrown in the towel the party's only hope is probably the very person whose counsel should have been sought in the first place...

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy says she supports same-sex marriage

All might be quiet on the political front at the moment as far as the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy is concerned, but that hasn't stopped his missus from dabbling in affairs - well not quite "of state" but almost.

Yes the natural beauty and simplicity that is Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is talking to the press again.

Recently, you might remember, she chose an interview with Elle France magazine to break her silence six months after leaving the Elysée palace and to offer - among other things - a piece of advice to her successor as the country's first lady, Valérie Trierweiler,

It was of course to tie the knot with the current president François Hollande because, "I think it is simpler to be the legitimate wife of the head of state rather than being his partner," she told the magazine.

Now the former model-turned singer has chosen the special Christmas edition of Vogue Paris - complete with another front cover naturally - in which to share her beliefs and thoughts on a number of all-important matters.

(screenshot Vogue Paris)

And among them is a point of view that doesn't exactly reflect that of her husband.

Bruni-Sarkozy is in favour of both same-sex marriage and couples of the same sex being allowed to adopt.

"I have lots of friends - both women and men - who are in same-sex relationships and who have children," she tells the magazine.

"I don't see anything unstable of perverse about it," she adds.

"In fact it might be the case that same-sex parents try harder because they are more aware of the way in which society perceives them."

So how does the 44-year-old marry (forgive perhaps the inappropriate choice of words) her opinion on the subject with that of her husband who decided not to include it in his unsuccessful presidential election campaign and instead spoke out against same-sex marriage.


She sees things differently.

"My husband is rather against (same-sex marriage) for reasons related to his vocation as a politician, because he sees people in groups of thousands (er...does she mean voters?) rather than in terms of the people we actually know."

Ah wise words from the former first lady whose full interview and photo spreads as the magazine's "guest of honour" can be found in Vogur Paris available from December 3.

Rush out now to order your copy.

A little music from Bruni-Sarkozy while we await the release of her fourth album?

Oh, all right.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Incomplete animal faction - French cows want "Mariage pour tous"

It might seem that the French president, François Hollande, is blowing hot and cold in his support for same-sex marriage, but the country's cows are clear where they stand.

The official organisation representing both France's dairy and beef herds has issued a statement demanding that the draft legislation dubbed "Mariage pour tous" or "Marriage for everyone" be taken literally and be extended to allow cows to tie the knot.

La Normande (from Wikipedia)

Speaking from her pasture in northwestern France, the president of "Oh la vache!", Marguerite la Normande, told reporters that the current proposals were clearly discriminatory.

"At the last count there were more than 3.5 million dairy cows in France alone and everyone knows that we constitute a vital part of the rural economy," she said.

"It's just not fair that the debate so far has centred on marriage between two men or two women. What about us? We also have feelings," she continued.

"And we have the means to protest and get our point across," she added.

"Just imagine the effect it would have, for example, on cheese production, if we up-uddered tomorrow and refused to be milked."

La Normande's "Oh la vache!" has already had what she describes as "moo-ving support" from several government ministers, but there has not yet been any official response from the Elysée palace.

That might be down to the fact that Hollande is still busy trying to work out what he meant when he told the national mayors’ conference earlier this week that the country's locally-elected mayors would have "freedom of conscience" to decide whether to perform marriage ceremonies and then appeared to do a U-turn the following day,

But if the French president has been slow to react, the same cannot be said for groups opposed to "Mariage pour tous".

"It's this sort of threat that the Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, warned against last month," said a spokesman for the movement Civitas, well-known for its objective and humanistic opinions on all social matters.

"The very basis upon which French society is built is in danger if the proposals for same-sex marriage become law," he continued.

"Cardinal Barbarin said it was one step on the road to legalising incest and polygamy - in fact the very destruction of all our principles and morals. And here's the proof now, with cows also wanting to marry. Never!"

La Normande, who has personal reasons for feeling so strongly about the issue, hopes that her organisation will be able to persuade the French president to introduce a new clause into the draft proposals, although she admits she doesn't have a great deal of faith in Hollande sticking to his initial election promise, let alone meeting her demands.

"He's a man who seems to enjoy chewing the cud almost as much as I do, and never actually making up his mind," she said.

"Still I remain hopeful he'll take on board how important this issue is to the French bovine population and take into account our own person feelings," she continued.

"I've been engaged to a bull at a neighbouring farm for over a year. He already has the ring in his nose and I'm just waiting for him to be able to put it on my hoof."


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Can France find its Pudsey?

M6 is currently broadcasting the seventh season of "La France a un incroyable talent", the French equivalent of "Britain's got talent".

Canadian impresario - Gilbert Rozon, the artistic director of Cirque Pinder - Sophie Edelstein and Wouter Levenbach - the Dutch-born singer better-known in this country under his stage name Dave - are back again sitting through the usual motley bunch of acts from which they and later the viewers - can find that "incredible talent".

Precocious children all "autodidact" of course convinced they can sing, dance or play an instrument.

Acrobats from around the world (that's right, the programme is not confined to purely French "talent") who've clearly trained professionally but want an extra bit of exposure by being on telly.

Dance troupes in all shapes and sizes.

"Comedians"- well they think they're funny even if nobody else does.

Those with a message, political, social or just downright dumb such as bursting out of a bin liner or slapping food all over the table.

Motorbikers, magicians, drag acts, choirs - young and old - bands, singers...the list goes on an on.

Still it makes for - ahem - suitably mindless television with presenters Sandrine Corman and her sidekick Alex Goude entertaining themselves as much as the viewers and all the while keeping the show going.

Somehow though anyone watching must be left with the feeling that the real "talent" is to be found elsewhere, especially as immediately following the programme there is the additional and imaginatively- named "La France a un incroyable talent, ça continue".

It recaps what has just been broadcast - very handy if you missed the show in the first place - takes a look at what has happened to past contestants since they first appeared and, most importantly perhaps, allows viewers a glimpse of what's going on in other countries.

And given the original concept is one that has pretty much been picked up around the world, there's obviously enough material out there.

Somehow though you get the feeling that the copies aren't really a patch on the original which gave the world Susan Boyle (although she didn't win) back in 2009 and earlier this year brought us a 16-year-old girl and her dog.

Pudsey (screenshot from "Britain's got talent")
That's right. Ashleigh Butler and her six-year-old performing Border Collie, Bichon Frise and Chinese Crested cross Pudsey walked - or should that be danced? - off with the title of "Britain's got talent" in May this year.

And it's only thanks to "La France a un incroyable talent, ça continue" that viewers here have finally discovered the dog's truly amazing talent.

So here's the video.



Monday, 19 November 2012

UMP party president...and the winner is.....

Could we have drum roll please.

It's Jean-François Copé!


François Fillon!

Hang about - nobody!

Even though both men declared themselves victorious in the opposition centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement,UMP) party's election to choose a new president over the weekend, the post is still vacant.

That's right folks, the UMP organised itself a piss-up in a brewery, asking its 300,000 or so members to choose between the two men and then suspending the count overnight because it was too close to call.

Oh yes, and as this French politics, there were the usual claims of vote-rigging or fraud.

Jean-François Copé "I'm the winner" (screenshot BFM TV)

"There's no question that the results from polling stations, where there have been suggestions of vote rigging, should be taken into account," Copé told BFM TV on Monday morning, confirming that he was the winner.

"But even if they were, then I would still be the winner," he said.

Right. Very clever M. Copé - basically win-win.

"I'm waiting for the vote to be validated by the party commission charged with overseeing the election. And I'm confident I'll be confirmed as the winner."

Copé : "Oui, j'ai gagné cette élection" par BFMTV

Yes. Well. Copé didn't wait for confirmation on Sunday, appearing before supporters to declare that he had won by a couple of thousand votes.

Only to have Fillon announce a few minutes later that he had in fact won - by an even smaller margin.

François Fillon says he has won (screenshot BFM TV)

"Our party is still unable to declare the result officially," Fillon said in the small hours of Monday morning, after having earlier countered Copé's claims of victory with his own.

"It's a major malfunction and I'm completely shocked."

Oh come, come M. Fillon.


This is French politics after all.

And look what happened to the Socialist party in November 2008 as Martine Aubry and Ségolène Royal slugged it out amid claims of stuffed ballot boxes and "missing" votes.

It's par for the course.

Plus ça change - and all that.

So the party - no the country...oh well go on then, the media - waits on tenterhooks for a final decision and...

Wait, who's that in the (far-right) wings gleefully rubbing their hands in anticipation of the UMP imploding.

Oh look. It's Florian Philipott,  the vice-president of the Front National.

"We're experiencing live the demise of the UMP," he said.

"What's clear is that whoever is elected president of the party will not have a real mandate because in effect what you will exist, is a party split into two."


Saturday, 17 November 2012

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet launches la France Droite

Does France need yet another political party?

Well the former environment and ecology minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM) seems to think so.

On Wednesday she launched "La France Droite" - not a party as such but a "movement" as it will exist withing the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) party.

Yes this is French politics - never straightforward at the best of times.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet explaining the reasons behind the creation of La France Droite (screenshot from radio interview in July 2012)

Of course it's not just NKM's reaction to the "cock-fight" going on at the moment to become president of the opposition UMP (remember she was forced to withdraw from the race because she couldn't get enough signatures to stand) which will be decided this weekend.

Instead it is in her words - or rather those of the official site, which are surely one and the same thing - an attempt to "lay claim to Gaullist values and those of independence, resistance and national identity."

Say what?

Well in short it's obviously a platform for NKM to stamp her mark and make a potential run for either mayor of Paris in 2014 (although she hotly denies it) or for the French presidency.

But it's also NKM very clearly reasserting her belief that under no circumstances should the UMP enter into an alliance with the far-right Front National.

There is of course the usual political fudge in the new party's stated raison d'être.

NKM clearly has a lot of praise for her former boss Nicolas Sarkozy and says as much on La France Droite's site in that the party, "draws inspiration from the way in which Nicolas Sarkozy managed to unite French tradition and modernity with the reforms required in Europe and the world, to the 21st century."

But Sarkozy was also the man who fought (and lost) the last presidential election on a platform which clearly went after the far-right voters.

And NKM was his campaign spokesperson, surely biting her tongue on occasions but also paying the price for her outspokenness against the Front National in calling it "poisonous" and "anti-republican" by finding herself challenged by one of its candidates during the parliamentary elections.

Then there is NKM's refusal to state openly who she supports in this weekend's election by UMP members for a leader.

Politically, she's far closer to François Fillon and she openly criticises the shift to the right that many think might occur under Jean-François Copé.

But she doesn't want to get involved in the spat, instead preferring to present herself we go again...a "unifying force" for supporters of Copé, Fillon and even Jean-Louis Borloo, who quit the UMP in protest over Sarkozy's rightward swing and took his Parti Radical (Radical party) into yet another newly-created party (with himself at the helm) L'Union des démocrates et indépendants, (Union for Democrats and Independents, UDI).

Anyway, here's wishing NKM well.

Even if you're not a fan of either her or her politics, it's surely good to see another woman (unless it happens to be Marine Le Pen) trying to make it, in what is primarily a world of stuffed shirts and ties.

Jean-Marc Ayrault's "productively awful" German gaffe

It can happen to the best (and the worst) of us can't it?

A slip-of-the-tongue while speaking another language - or even our own come to that.

Usually it's both amusing and perhaps a little embarrassing; a quick smile and a laugh will make light of it though.

But sometimes there's maybe something about the though subcosnciously we're really thinking what has inadvertently just come out of our mouths.

Take the case of the French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, during his two-day trip to Germany this week.

He came out with a gaffe that could be...well revealing?

Jean-Marc Ayrault (screenshot TF1 clip)
Now as we all know relations between France and Germany are not the easiest at the moment.

The so-called two powers of the European Union - well at least the Euro - seem to have been dancing the unprettiest of jigs around one another, at least since François Hollande became president of this country.

To the rescue comes Ayrault, a former German teacher, ergo fluent in the language and well capable of reading out a prepared statement (yawn) in German in front of the invited entrepreneurs.


Because he clearly either couldn't read his own handwriting or actually wanted to say what he did when he substituted the word "fructbar" (literally "fruitful" or "productive") with  "furchtbar" ("terrible" or "awful") in describing how he wanted the discussion and exchange of ideas with the German chancellor Angela Merkel to proceed.

He didn't even bother correcting himself!

Er M. Ayrault, a word of advice perhaps.

Stick to French the next time and let the interpreters do their work.

Schönes Wochenende

Friday, 16 November 2012

Is France a "time-bomb at the heart of Europe"?

The weekly international affairs and news magazine The Economist certainly thinks the country has the potential to be.

(screenshot of The Economist front cover from the official site)

It devotes a 14 page special report on France in this week's issue and runs with a front cover that is far from being the truth - at least as far as the French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is concerned.

"It's just a magazine going over the top in an effort to sell more copies," he said, reacting to the report.

"I'm not impressed."

A synopsis of the report can be found online here.

It's worth a read - and not just for all Francophiles.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Paris finally gets to hear and see Martina Serafin as Tosca

It has been a long time coming, but Austrian soprano Martina Serafin has finally made her Paris debut - singing the part of Tosca in Puccini's opera of the same name.

"Tosca" is arguably one of the most popular operas around - well that's if you take a look at how often it's performed during festivals and the frequency with which the main Houses around the world slip it into their schedules.

And that's in spite of - or perhaps because of - its surely preposterous plot.

As this is the 21st century and the age of social networking sites, what better way to outline what takes place on stage than Twitter style (the other option was a Daily Mail-type headline, but dear reader, you have been spared).

"Tosca - passion, sex and jealousy in 1800 Rome. 4 main characters belt out Puccini's great score before, one by one, popping their clogs."

How many characters is that?

If you would like more info then scoot over to those nice folk at Wikipedia or try this site for starters.

Anyway "Tosca" is back at Opéra Bastille - a sure fire hit with the public as it's...well, such an accessible piece.

Besides this is opera - darlings - and with tickets at premium prices, it must be good.


Well almost.

Perhaps it's something of a shame that the current version has had nothing spared on it in terms of set design...apart from money and imagination.

Very early 19th century Rome it is not. Still at least audiences  aren't distracted from the singing, the voices and the wonderful music.

And what of those performances?

Under the direction of Paolo Carignani, the Orchestre National de Paris gets the whole thing started of course, although there's the odd occasion when you have to strain to hear some of the voices above the music.

Sergey Murzaev as the police chief Scarpia, will give you the spooks.

Calin Bratescu does a fine job as the artist/lover Mario Cavaradossi and dies exceedlingly well in front of the firing squad.

And there's no faulting Nicolas Testé as Cesare Angelotti the political prisoner on-the-run, probably because he's dead (suicide) by the middle of the second act having been last heard singing at the end of the first act.

Martina Serafin (screenshot from Verona performance of Tosca)

The star - in all senses of the word though - apart from Puccini's magnificent score - has to be (Floria) Tosca herself, performed by Martina Serafin.

It's a role the Austrian-born Soprano has very much made her trademark, if you will, in recent years, having sung it in London, Rome, Vienna, Berlin, Verona and Milan.

But this is her first time in Paris - hurrah and a definite operatic "bravo" - as she brings a stage presence that combines acting...yes opera singers do that now...with a great voice.

And then there's THAT aria...

Well take a listen to this clip of her performing "Vissi d'arte" in Verona this summer.

Tosca runs until November 20 and will be replaced by another couple of crackers - Rossini's "La Cenerentola" and another pack 'em in without trying kind of opera, Bizet's "Carmen".

And Serafin? Well she'll be back in Paris in February singing the part of Sieglinde in Wagner's "Die Walküre" ("The Valkyrie") , the second part of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" ("The Ring of the Nibelung").

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Incomplete faction - Paris mayor announces new Marchelib' shoe sharing scheme

Do you live in or around Paris? Or are you thinking of a trip to the French capital?

Well here's some news for all those trying to make their way around the City of Light.

The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, has plans to make it easier for you.

A bit wobbly on two wheels and still unsure as to whether you can defend yourself in the precarious bicycle lanes that have been squeezed out of the existing roads?

Fed up of going bumper-to-bumper and getting nowhere slowly on the Boulevard Périphérique, the ring road separating Paris from its suburbs?

Not keen on suffering unwanted, almost sexual, encounters while sardined into the Métro?

Delanoë,  has the answer.

First he gave us Vélib', the bicycle sharing system launched in the summer of 2007.

Then Delanoë introduced the electric car sharing Autolib' programme guaranteed to annoy any driver stuck behind one of those flippin' dinky toys and render even the most mild-mannered motorist (not easy in Paris) barmy.

And now he's planning to go one step further with the world's first ever shoe sharing scheme - Marchelib'.

The idea is a simple one: using the same pick up and drop off stations already available for Velib', Parisians, out-of-towners, visitors - in fact just about everyone - will be able to grab a pair of walking shoes or boots and strut their stuff happily through the City of Light.

The announcement came on Monday as part of a package of measures aimed at trying to reduce pollution levels in Paris - still too high at certain times of the year and which contravene EU regulations - and simultaneously piss off the maximum number of motorists.

Among the proposals are a reduction of the speed limit on the ever-flowing (as if) Boulevard Périphérique from 80km/h to 70km/h (as if), a ban all cars older than 17 years from the city centre (and drivers with less than 17 years of experience), the introduction of a péage, or toll, on the motorways immediately surrounding the capital to limit the number of trucks and the launch of Marchelib'.

"These propositions represent a new step in our battle against pollution," Delanoë said on RTL radio.

"Parisians have changed their habits in the past decade because we've dared (to introduce progressive policies) but pollution still remains a scourge," he continued.

Delanoë added that Marchelib' would not only help cut drastically the levels of pollution, it would also make Parisians fitter, healthier and give a boost to the economy by insisting that the shoes supplied would only be "Made in France".

The mayor, a prominent member of the Socialist party, said he would be talking to the government minister in charge of industrial renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, to help draw up a list of French cobblers who could meet the new schemes requirements.

Time to strut your stuff.

Take it away Nancy!

Friday, 9 November 2012

François Hollande - the "friendly" French president

You cannot fail to have noticed that Barack Obama won a second term in office  as US president this week. 

And his victory of course set in motion the usual round of congrats from leaders around the world - including François Hollande.

It was an opportunity for the current French president to break with tradition, grab a pen and a sheet of official paper and zap off a letter in flowing and eloquent English.

After all, when he was just 20 years old Hollande apparently spent the summer studying Stateside, so he must have picked up at least a smidgeon of the lingo.

Sadly though a smudge was all he could manage as he addressed his enthusiastic felicitations in polite French and ended with a one word informal English "friendly" flourish.


And just to add the personal touch, Hollande signed it himself and had it posted to the Elysėe Palace's Facebook page.

Very 21st century, and a great opportunity for everyone, including the French, media to pick up on the mistake.

Perhaps an easy error to make when you're translating literally from French to English, but surely one that could (should) have been noticed - if not by Hollande
himself, then at least by one of his staff, n'est-ce pas?

Oh well. Maybe Hollande was using his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, as an example on "how not to get it right" when writing to the US president.

Remember when Obama was first elected in 2008, Sarkozy too sent his congratulations...but with a mispelling right at the beginning when he addressed him as "Barak" without the "c".

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

TF1's passion for Trash TV as "Qui veut épouser mon fils ?" returns for season 2

After a first series back in 2010 of "Qui veut épouser mon fils ?" ("Who wants to marry my son?") in which overbearing mothers, totally unaware of the camera's presence of course, did their level best to help their stay-at-home sons find the perfect partner, you would think TF1 might allow viewers some respite from such obvious Trash TV.

But no - it's not to be.

Sadly the programme has returned for a second season, albeit in a late Friday evening slot which should deter too many French from watching (although its debut got off to what TV critics consider a reasonable start with an audience of almost two-and-a-half million).

Contestant Frédéric doesn't have "any particular preference why it comes to what a woman looks like (screenshot TF1 "Qui veut épouser mon fils ?")

Yes, France's most-watched television station, is treating its viewers to yet another pile of televisual dung masquerading as "entertainment".

Of course TF1 doesn't have a stranglehold on Trash TV.

Another private and generalist channel, M6, has offered up its fair share of McDonald's type fast food TV over the years including its infamous ground-breaking (please help us) "Loft Story".

But TF1, which is after all France's most-watched channel, seems to have made a speciality of providing viewers with the largest assortment of...well you fill in the blanks, but "merde" while a somewhat vulgar description might perhaps be the most appropriate.

Some are "concepts" unique to France. Others are reinterpretations of similar fodder to be found abroad.

There have been a fair number of flops, usually those "starring" (apologies for the need to revert so often to inverted commas) "celebrities"  such "Je suis une célébrité, sortez-moi de là ! (do you really need a translation?) and Carré Viiip, which was cancelled midway through its run.

And there have been those that continue to draw big enough audiences for TF1's execs to take the decision to order yet another batch: "Secret Story" ("Big Brother" - sort of - season seven is in the pipeline for 2013), "Koh Lanta" ("Survivor" which has been broadcast at least once every year since 2001 and has just begun yet another run on Friday prime time TV) and of course "MasterChef".

The list also includes; "Quatre mariages pour une lune de miel" (based apparently on the UK show "Four weddings") in which brides judge and mark each other's big day with the winner being whisked away to a dream destination with her groom; "Bienvenue chez nous" (based yet again on a UK show, "Three in a bed") which proves itself to be the snarkiest possible of programmes as chambre d'hôtes owners do battle to determine who offers the best value for money, and allowing its participants to betray just how mean and inhospitable some of them can be; and "Mon incroyable fiancé", the French version of the US reality TV programme "My big fat obnoxious fiance" but whose title allowed for a variation in the second season where the unpleasant and overweight actor masquerading as a potential beau was replaced with one pretending to be gay.

Are you still following? Or have you, like TF1 bosses it seems, completely lost the plot?
Anyway back - as briefly as possible to "Qui veut épouser mon fils ?"

The novelty of the first series was - wait for this, especially as the debate about same-sex marriage looks set to heat up in France - one of the five mothers looking for a husband for her son.

Just to spice things up a bit for the second season, not all those looking for potential brides for their sons are overbearing mothers: there's also a father.

Serge is looking for the ideal woman...for his son Julien (screenshot TF1 "Qui veut épouser mon fils ?")

Cool. Who do you think came up with that innovation (rhetorical question)?

Anyway, the show is on late enough for it to be effortlessly avoided.

But in case you're curious and haven't had quite enough of the...ahem..."cultural" garbage TF1 churns out with alarming regularity, here's a clip from the first programme, with some of the "best" and worst moments.


Thank goodness for the remote control and the on/off button.

Friday, 2 November 2012

An end to living by numbers?

There's help at hand for those of you who might be little forgetful when it comes to remembering your Personal Identification Number or PIN for you bank or credit card.

A scheme that's on trial in two French towns recognising customers' fingerprints and allowing them to make purchases "biometrically".

I lost my wallet recently.

Well that's not entirely true. I left it on the roof of my car and drove off: not an uncommon practice as far as I'm concerned with my mind invariably floating somewhere out there, seemingly unattached to events happening in everyday life.

Luckily it was found by a couple, although in the meantime I had cancelled my cards.

Another not so unusual occurrence sadly - cancelling my cards or asking for a replacement.

Lost, stolen, pirated - I've been there all too frequently, every time calling the bank or the card provider immediately and then waiting patiently for a new one to be issued.

And every new card of course has meant memorising yet another PIN number - one of the proverbial banes of my life.

I mean, even when the four-digit code is well and truly stamped in the recesses of that lump of grey matter that passes for a brain,  there are still all-too-frequent moments when blankness descends.

Those moments of far-from-blissful solitude at the supermarket checkout for example,  ready to punch in the required number when... nothing.

It's hard to fathom exactly why.

I'm usually great at remembering numbers; rattling off 'phone numbers (apart from my own of course) or birthdays without a problem but PIN - forget it.

With my last, now sadly-departed, card I thought I would be clever.

You know how each of the 101 French départements is numbered more-or-less alphabetically: 01 for Ain, 02 for Aisne, 03 for Allier...all the way up to 976 for Mayotte (don't ask - otherwise the digression will invade the post completely).

Well I thought I would try some sort of mnemonic to remember my PIN by breaking the four digits up into two pairs and linking them to two of the départements.

The lucky couple (?) were Saône-et-Loire - 71,  and Morbihan - 56 ( actually they weren't , but I'm just using them to illustrate how I went about memorising the real numbers).

Except of course I invariably kept muddling them up - and had on more than one occasion to take a look at my mobile 'phone where they were cleverly saved...although I could never remember where.

While I wait for my replacement carte bleue and PIN - 10 working days and counting apparently - Amex has been far faster.

It plopped through the letter box just days after the last one was reported lost, but...Aaaaaarrrrrrrggggggghhh! It too now comes with a PIN.

Another number to forget.

So it was with more than a little interest that the following story caught my eye recently; a new method of paying by card which recognises customers' fingerprints and allows them to make purchases "biometrically".

It's already being piloted in the northern town of Villeneuve d'Ascq and later this month will also be tested in the southwestern town of Angoulême.

All right so it might all be a bit Big Brother for some people out there who don't like the idea  that banks could also potentially have our digital fingerprints on record as well as any other information they already hold.

But, if successful, it'll do away with the need for a PIN and thereby be one heck of an aid for those of us who have problems in a world in which it's becoming increasingly necessary to be "Living by numbers"

Cue for a Eurotrash song from the 80s with a great intro from British DJ Steve Wright when the group, New Musik, appeared on Top of the Pops.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

You're never too old to learn

Just ask Louise del Busto Gomez from the southwestern French town of Castres.

Louise del Busto Gomez swearing in ceremony (screenshot France 3)
 On Wednesday the 84-year-old - yes for the purposes of this story you might want to double check her age - officially became a lawyer at a swearing-in ceremony in the city of Toulouse.

And if that weren't enough, the octogenarian is not only qualified to practise in France but also in the Spanish city of Barcelona.

Not bad going for a woman who only began hitting the books after she had retired and had never even passed her baccalaureate or high school diploma.

Her story is one that must surely draw admiration from anyone and make us all sit up and take notice; a salutary lesson to us all.

Born in Barcelona in 1928, Gomez fled Spain during the country's civil war when she was just 11 years old, arriving in this country as a refugee.

"The day on which Franco entered Barcelona, I left the city on foot and made my way to the border with others who were escaping," she told reporters shortly after her swearing-in ceremony.

Gomez made a life for herself in France, meeting her husband Victor, bringing up two children, settling in Castres and over the years holding a variety of jobs and doing, "a bit of this and a bit of that" from helping out during harvest time, typing for a firm of solicitors, cleaning and a decade spent as a sales assistant at the local Monoprix supermarket.

When Gomez retired, she became involved in a local consumer rights association and that's when her late husband began encouraging her to pursue her studies.

 Maître Louise del Busto Gomez (screenshot France3 report)
She didn't choose the easiest of paths though; not only enrolling at the law faculty in Toulouse but also one in Barcelona at the same time.

"As far as I was concerned, Franco's Spain had deprived me of my childhood," she said.

"That's why I wanted to return to study in the city I was born."

"I had to retake all the exams necessary - in Spanish, and that wasn't easy for me because I had a French accent."

And now Gomez has qualified to practise here in France as well, attending the swearing-in ceremony in Toulouse on Wednesday.

'I'm especially moved because this ceremony made me think about my husband," Gomez said after the ceremony.

"He always encouraged me and told me I could do it," she continued

"And it's thanks to him that I can turn round today and say I'm a lawyer."

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