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Monday, 31 December 2012

"Call me maybe" - the Nicolas Sarkozy version

The past few months hasn't been the most inspiring - politically-speaking - in France.


(screenshot from Les Guignols video)

Sure there was the Trierweiler Twittergate affair early in to François Hollande's "normal" presidency.


And there have been a couple of policy decisions since that will surely have left those who voted for Hollande in May and the Socialist party in June somewhat...er...perplexed.

Same-sex marriage and adoption by couples of the same sex is still very much a live topic but it's probably taking longer to implement than many supporters had imagined and, let's face it, Hollande has hardly "led" the debate.

More recently of course there has been the balls-up over one of Hollande's principal (and for many, most controversial) election promises, to raise to 75 per cent the tax rate for those earning over €1 million per year.

Somehow those responsible for drafting the legislation and writing the budget failed to notice that a household in which both partners earned just under one million (say €900,000 each) per year would not be subject to the new tax but one in which just a single person earned over €1 million (and the other didn't work, for example) would.

Duh!

Someone overlooked the fact that taxing by person rather than household was unfair. The constitutional council didn't though, so it's back to prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's government to get it right.

The super rich can breath again...for the moment.

Apart from that - nowt much, other than the Dallas-type leadership contest for the opposition Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) which gradually became more than a little tedious.

No. French politics hasn't really been that enthralling of late. Well, not in the way it used to be.

(screenshot from Les Guignols video)


Still, there's always hope that things might perk up a bit for 2013, especially with rumours that Ségolène Royal (yes, hasn't she been quiet recently?) could well be making a (welcome) return to the frontline with a post in government (word has it that "justice" is has been Seggers-marked)

Anyway, just to leave you with a grin on your face and a reminder of how things used to be (without necessarily implying they were any better) here's a video from those marvels of parody, Les Guignols de l'info on Canal +.

It's their spin back in October on one of the year's biggest international hits, "Call me maybe" by Carly-Rae Jepsen,  only Les Guignols wanted to make clear how dull things had become for news editors, journalists and anchors alike in France ever since you-know who took early retirement.

Smile as you sing along karaoke-style and spot a host of TV news personalities  from Claire Chazal to David Pujadas, Michel Denisot to Harry Roselmack, Nicolas Sarkozy himself relaxing in the jacuzzi with a cameo guitar-strumming appearance from Carla, and Nadine Morano looking as manic as ever.

Enjoy and...Happy New Year

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday's French music break - Calogero, "La fin de la fin du monde"

Friday's French music break this week is far from being a recent song, but over the past couple of weeks it has been receiving a fair bit of air play - and not just because it's a spirited little number with a catchy riff.

It's the 2009 single "La fin de la fin du monde" by Calogero, taken from his album of the same year "L'embellie"

Mayan predictions aside, the sound is quite typical of Calogero's "pop rock" musical style as a solo artist.

Calogero (screenshot YouTube video)


He has had a string of hits over the years such as the 2001 "En apesanteur" "covered recently by Shy'm), his 2003 homage to Soeur Emmanuelle "Yalla", "Face à la mer" in 2004 with hip hop artist and rapper Passi and another duet in 2007 with fellow composer and singer, Stanislas, "La débâcle des sentiments".

Calogero's bio on his official site doesn't exactly tell you much about the man (although there is quite a revealing video interview which focuses mainly on his new project "Circus") apart from promoting his most recent album and tour in which he re-interpreted some of his own songs with a symphony orchestra.

But pop over to the ever faithful and admittedly not always entirely accurate Wikipedia and you'll discover a rather sketchy profile of a man whose, "Moving lyrics and tender voice (in other words he can sing but it's nothing extraordinary) have made him one of France's top pop/rock singers."

For a more complete profile you can check out Radio France International's biography of Calogero (in English) or the TV5 Monde's archives (in French)

It's perhaps not so much the "tender voice" that has guaranteed Calogero a faithful fan base, but rather the instantly appealing and memorable melodies he composes as well as lyrics that are far from being banal.

Both have contributed to his success and helped him pick up the best male singer award at the 2004 Victoires de la Musique - the French equivalent of the Grammys.

Next up for the 41-year-old is the "Circus" project: a band of sorts made up of fellow established artists, Stanislas, Philippe Uminski, Elsa Fourlon and Karen Brunon.

If you want to see them in concert watch out for them next year when they'll be performing songs from their debut album written by the likes of Jean-Jacques Goldman (don't barf - even if you don't like him, you have to admit he's talented and successful), Dominique A and Marc Lavoine.

There again we might not all live that long...which brings us back nicely to this week's Friday's French Music break, "La fin de la fin du monde".

See ya around again soon...or maybe not.






Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Star Academy's Manika Auxire - the voice that could sink a thousand ships

A couple of familiar formats have returned to French TV screens recently and both of them are searching, or supposedly acting as launching pads, for musical "talent".

Star Academy, the show that "discovered" Jenifer, Nolwenn Leroy and Magalie Vaé (who?) during its nine seasons on TF1, and the Pop Idol-inspired Nouvelle Star which over eight years on M6 gave France the likes of Christophe Willem, Julien Doré, Amel Bent and Jonatan Cerrada (another "who"?) are back after an unregrettable absence.

Manika Auxire (screenshot profile on Star Academy)

You might have a little difficulty finding either of them as there was a reason why TF1 and M6 cancelled the shows.

But that hasn't stopped two of the country's digital terrestrial television (TNT) channels, repackaging clapped-out concepts in an effort to attract viewers.

While Nouvelle Star is still in the audition phase on the newly-relaunched D8, owned by the Canal + Group, Star Academy is well underway on NRJ 12.

There have already been two live prime time shows: the first to introduce the contestants to the viewing public, and the second to begin the process of weekly elimination.

And on the evidence so far, the least that can be said is there's far from being a bottomless pit of musical talent in France.

Well, that can surely be the only conclusion to be drawn by the inclusion among the 14 Star Academy competitors of a certain Manika Auxire.

The 22-year-old put in a show-stopping performance of the Carly-Rae Jepsen smash hit "Call me maybe" (Jepsen was herself the product of a TV talent show in Canada) during the opening programme.

Obviously not content with brutalising Jepsen's song, the former Miss Poitou-Charentes (aha...the real reason for her inclusion - to add "une touche de glamour" to the proceedings?) found herself among the three nominees threatened with elimination the following week and promptly massacred another tune...Zaz's 2010 hit, "Je veux".

Now for those of you with strong constitutions, you can hear just how talentless Auxire really is - well at least when it comes to singing.

Here's her version of "Call me maybe" followed by Jepsen's just for comparison.





And if you're a real glutton for punishment, speed through the whole of the second programme to discover her - thankfully - last TV warbling performance (for now) at one hour 21 minutes and 47 seconds - almost two minutes of aural torture.

Or you could always listen to Zaz.



A word of warning. Dowloading the full replay programme will take a while, so you've more than enough time to peel the spuds, wash the kitchen floor or wrap some Christmas presents.

But if you have both the patience and the masochistic tendency to hear how awful she is, you might want to dull the pain with a very stiff something-or-other beforehand.

The woman can't sing - in tune at least - and perhaps it's not surprising the French have the expression "chante comme une casserole", although that's being a little unkind to saucepans.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

What colour is Rodez cathedral? It can be hard to get a straight answer to a simple question

What colour is the cathedral in the southern town of Rodez?

That's what radio show host Laurent Ruquier wanted to find out on Wednesday.

His "quest" proved to be almost a "mission impossible".

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rodez (from Wikipedia, photographer Jean-Paul Cronimus)

For those of you not familiar with Ruquier, he's a well-known journalist, satirical comedian (whether you find him funny is another matter), columnist, author, playwright, impresario - in fact an all-round talent basically.

He also hosts both television and radio shows and among them is the daily chat show (of sorts) on Europe 1 radio  "On va s'gêner" .

Ruquier takes an often irreverent look at some news headlines by having his faithful band of fellow commentators guess "what the story is" after giving them the briefest of clues in the form of a question which doesn't give away too much of the answer and then...well let's things develop from there.

On Tuesday apparently one of the regulars, veteran journalist Pierre Bénichou, had mentioned that the cathedral in the southern town of Rodez in the département of Aveyron was red.

Not so, said Ruquier the following day, relying on information he had been provided by a listener who insisted that Bénichou had confused the cathedral in Rodez with the arguably more famous one in Albi in the neighbouring département of Tarn (which is well-known for its red brick buildings).

When Bénichou stuck to his guns, Ruquier decided he would ring the Town Hall in Rodez to check who was right.

After all, who better to ask than the people responsible for running the place?

This wasn't a prank call or Ruquier trying to mess around. He genuinely wanted an answer to the question as to whether the cathedral in Rodez was red.

But from the very start it was clear he wasn't going to get a quick answer.

What happened over the next 13 minutes (you can hear the exchanges here) almost defies belief...except it doesn't.

At the beginning it was amusing. Several minutes of radio which perfectly reflect how difficult it can sometimes be to get even the simplest of answers to the most innocent of questions.

Gradually though it became both frustrating and embarrassing.

First of all Ruquier was answered by a receptionist who, clearly not wanting (or able) to answer the question herself, put him on hold while she put him through to the "right department".

Once connected Ruquier repeated his question and once again was put on hold until the person in charge could be found at which point...he landed an answerphone.

Another attempt to call the Town Hall had Ruquier once again transferred from person to person, each one unable or unwilling to answer his question until finally he was put through to one woman who replied rather abruptly, "Who are you?" before giggling and putting the the 'phone down.

Ruquier tried another tack and rang the Bishopric where a woman was unable to answer because she had "a window in her office which didn't faced the cathedral!". Appearing to have been cut off, Ruquier called back only to be told by the same woman, "I'm too busy. to answer. Goodbye."

Next Ruquier turned to what he thought was a local café where a woman replied quite convincingly that the cathedral was neither red nor pink. "It's grey," she asserted. "We're in Aveyron here, not in Tarn."

Hallelujah!

Ruquier had his answer. Someone in Rodez, a town with almost 25,000 inhabitants and which boasts the rather splendid Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rodez (built from 1277 to 1542 - thank you Wikipedia) had been able to answer his question...INCORRECTLY.

Because later in the show Ruquier had the mayor of Rodez Christian Teyssèdre who, while insisting that the staff at the Town Hall were a "cheerful crowd" confirmed (at 68 minutes) that the cathedral was, "Red or rather pink as we say here."

Phew. At least one Ruthénois who knows what colour the building is.

Perhaps Ruquier should have rung the Tourist Office instead. Someone there would have been able to tell him that the cathedral was made from red sandstone - er...you would hope.





Gérard Depardieu puts his Paris house on the market at around €50 million

If you have a little (lot) spare cash lying around at the moment then you could help out one of France's BIGGEST (in all senses of the word) actors.

Because that's the rumoured asking price of an hôtel particulier owned by the soon-to-be "shabby" tax exile Gérard Depardieu, in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quartier of Paris.

Gérard Depardieu (from Wikipedia, photographer - Georges Biard)

The modest little pad - all 1,800 square metres of it has been listed with estate agents Daniel Feau, "a key player in luxury (no kidding) real estate in Paris for over 65 years."

Although Daniel Feau hasn't confirmed the official asking price - the agency is far too discreet to do such a vulgar thing presumably and, let's face it, if you have to ask then you probably can't afford, the French media has reported that it's around the €50 million mark.

Depardieu perhaps needs the money to finance the purchase of a place he has his eye on in the Belgian village of Néchin where he'll be able to escape inheritance and wealth taxes.

The reported price of that house is €800,000 which means the 63-year-old will have plenty of lovely lolly to spend if and when he sells his house in Paris.

So what will the potential buyer get for their money at 95, rue du Cherche-Midi in the VI arrondissement?

Well according to the agency's blurb, the property comprises "the Hotel de Chambon built in the 19th century, listed as a Historical Monument and complemented by a garden and terraces".

And - because we're talking about more than just your run-of-the-mill property here - "On the other side of the garden is a second loft-like building, light up (sic) by beams of light."

There are 20 rooms, 10 bedrooms (almost one for every month - if you get bored) a lift (if you don't feel up to climbing the stairs after a night out on the town), a balcony, terraces, a heated indoor swimming pool and a kitchen (how unusual) and...well presumably the odd bathroom here and there although they're not mentioned in the listing.

You can see photos of the tastefully restored and renovated house on the agency's website (here) and contact them directly if you're interested in a viewing.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Rainbathing at the Edward Hopper exhibition in Paris

If you're planning on making it along to the Edward Hopper retrospective at Le Grand Palais in Paris, here are a few things worth bearing in mind.

First up of course, buy your ticket in advance.

If you don't, the chances are you'll spend several hours queueing, or standing in line if you will, watching those who've had the foresight to book online pass in front of you.

That said, even if you have a ticket, there's no guarantee that you'll actually make it through the doors at the time stated.

The numbers allowed in are clearly limited by the space available, and that's perfectly reasonable, if only for security purposes.




Ah waiting!

This being Le Grand Palais, so completely unused to organising major exhibitions that have popular appeal (let the irony carry you away) there's a very French approach to "service".

Because the exhibition is running from October until January - the months when Paris offers the very best of weather - absolutely no thought seems to have been made by the wonderfully-named Strategic orientation council or those involved in running the whole shebang as to how visitors might comfortably spend their time outside, rainbathing.

Temporary shelter to protect those waiting from the "inclement" (don't you just love that word - very TV presenterish n'est-ce pas?)  weather?

Hah!

Not at all.

Instead, just as the masses who went to see the Monet exhibition a couple of years ago, you can take full advantage of whatever Mother Nature showers upon you.
 

Edward Hopper retrospective, Le Grand Palais, Paris - brolly parade
What about staff on duty to explain waiting times, deal with complaints from very patient (given the circumstances) often damp and probably cold visitors?

Oh yes...one solitary and decidedly miserable-looking attendant who sympathises with the predicament of those waiting, clearly doing his best, but cannot really deal with the situation.

Nor should he have to.

Ergo - take a brolly, wrap up warm and...hey, perhaps have a flask of something hot (or warming) to hand.

When that moment comes and you're allowed inside, be prepared to go shoulder-to-shoulder with other visitors desperate to get a glimpse of the works on display.

The atmosphere is decidedly one in which there's an intimate sharing of space as everyone politely pigeon-steps their way from room-to-room, painting to painting.


Edward Hopper retrospective, Le Grand Palais, Paris - through the doors and then what?

Oh and keep an eye out for the "professional" who has brought their own stool with them and will happily hog a prime location slap bang in front of the work THEY want to see.

As for the exhibition itself, well it's a delight as Hopper's work is accessible and his Realism - because that's what it is - is something your mother would probably approve of as "proper painting".

Plus it provides a great insight into the man often described as an iconic American artist.

If you hire the audio handset to guide you through the exhibition, be sure to return it to the unmarked little plastic basket, almost hidden,  as you leave.

Otherwise you could end up taking it home because the woman responsible for collecting headsets for groups will refuse to take it with a jobsworth, "No you cannot leave it here."

Alternatively of course you might decide to go it alone and instead simply enjoy what you see, including the influence Paris had on his style (here's a pretty good piece on that) with the occasional and inevitable pontificator happily sharing their "knowledge" and "understanding" of Hopper with anyone who doesn't really want to listen.

There's always (at least) one - isn't there?

Finally, for those of you who take the...er...more shall we call it the "French and Saunders" approach to any sort of exhibition...well the coffee's all right.



The Edward Hopper retrospective runs at Le Grand Palais until January 28, 2013


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Almost incomplete faction: Miss France 2013 versus Téléthon

Every year it's the same story here in France.

The annual beauty pageant to elect the country's  newest Miss falls on the same weekend as the national Téléthon.


A kiss from the president of the jury Alain Delon, as Marine Lorphelin is crowned Miss France 2013 - Ah! (screenshot from TF1)
TF1 - ever the sharp private channel that it is - broadcasts the annual "Boobs and butts fest"...oh, terribly sorry... the search for the young lady who best fits the bill as France's most beautiful woman and meets a set of criteria which would make her fitting role model in the 21st century and an ambassador for the country...or something equally blah, blah, blah.

Meanwhile the public-owned France télévisions, and most notably France 2, treats viewers to the money-raising event meant to encourage the French to tune in and dig deep into their pockets for the muscular dystrophy charity l'Association française contre les myopathies (AFM).

No prizes for guessing which "wins" in terms of viewing figures or ratings. More than eight million watched Miss France being crowned while not even one-and-a-half million managed to stick with the Téléthon.

But hang about.

Wouldn't it be more rather more noble if the organisation which owns the rights to the pageant, the Dutch television production company Endemol, actually chose another date.

After all it surely wouldn't require too much organisational effort and it would avoid the clash of conscience so many French must have: cheesy glamour or worthy (albeit it somewhat soporific in its length) charity event.

Just for the record this year's Miss France and the young woman who will spend a year upholding the values of the country...you know, the three teas: frivolity, maternity and...um...qwerty (or should that be azerty?) is Marine Lorphelin, a 19-year-old medical student from the town of Mâcon.

Miss Burgundy - as was - "charmed the judges and television viewers" to be crowned the new Miss France ahead of Misses from Tahiti and Nord-Pas de Calais.

Also taking part in what must be the only truly global national beauty pageant around were Misses from other far flung regions of France (and not just the bit at the heart of Europe that everyone knows and loves) such as Guadaloupe, Guyane, Martinique, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Saint Martin and er...South Kensington!

Well why not?

After all, the French president François Hollande has just appointed TV environmentalist, journalist and miffed  Europe Écologie-The Greens presidential primary candidate Nicolas Hulot to the post of "Special envoy to protect the planet".

So why shouldn't France have women from around the world battling it out to be crowned the country's latest Miss?




Friday, 7 December 2012

Chimène Badi - Gospel and Soul at Olympia - or champagne served in a beer glass

French singer Chimène Badi returned to Olympia, that mythical musical venue on Boulevard Capucines in Paris, this week to "treat" her fans to a collection of songs mainly taken from her most recent album - "Gospel and Soul".



It could and should have been a chance for the 30-year-old to prove that the rather mediocre rendition of many of the songs on the album had been down to over-produced studio arrangements and that "live" she would belt out what was a great selection of songs, with passion.

After all, Badi arguably has one of the best voices of her generation. It's powerful and distinctive and you would think ideally suited to both Gospel and Soul.

It wasn't to be the case.

Things didn't get off to the best of starts with fans sitting through a 20 minute warm-up act and then having to wait almost another 40 minutes before Badi made an appearance.

The Paris audience - and let's face it, they're never among the most patient - began the inevitable slow hand clap interspersed with calls for their "star" before...finally the curtain raised and the first chords were struck.

Musically-speaking the choice of "Proud Mary" as an opening number was far from being inspired as it displayed just how lacking in stage presence and charisma Badi really is.

Yes, she has a voice that makes her instantly recognisable, but choosing only half-heartedly to emulate Tina Turner's performance of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, proved to be her undoing.

Breathless, as she seemed to forget all the lessons she might have learned from her recent appearance in Danse avec les stars, Badi also missed - or failed to make (there's a slight distinction) some of her notes.

It rather set the tone, as far as the English-language songs were concerned, for the rest of the evening.

There was Stevie Wonder's "For once in my life" - best described perhaps as simply karaoke-inspired.

An a cappella version of "Amazing Grace" was...well simply neither "amazing" nor "graceful" - but perhaps it was never meant to be.

Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz" was lost amid the "battle" that seemed to ensue between Badi and a band of undoubtedly individually-talented musicans whose volume seemed to have been cranked-up to the max.

Thankfully the late Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell are no longer around to hear what Badi did with "Ain't no mountain high enough" and hopefully nobody will tell Diana Ross.

And as far as Otis Redding's "Try a little tenderness" was concerned...well Badi shouldn't even have gone there. It was cringingly embarrassing.

She fared better - it wasn't difficult - with some of the French-language songs.

Georges Moustaki's "Ma liberté", Native's "Tu planes sur moi" and Nicole Croisille's "Parlez-moi de lui"  - all worked pretty well - given how dreadful the English-language songs had been.


Getting it right - "Tu planes sur moi" excerpt


The inclusion of a couple of "favourites" from previous albums such as "Le Miroir" and "Entre Nous" - both given the Gospel and Soul  treatment - will have kept the most loyal fans happy.

Or will they? After all this was far from being the Badi that most of them had grown to appreciate since she was said to have a "Rolls Royce of a voice" by one of the judges when she first came to the public's attention on the now-defunct TV talent show "Popstars"

Really,  Badi - and her management - needs to learn that there's more to Gospel and Soul than dismal cover versions of stand alone originals.

And it's not enough to have six and sometimes a dozen other singers with less-than extraordinary voices, dressed in the appropriate garb and swaying and clapping in accompaniment, for the performance to qualify as Gospel.

Badi will be back at Olympia for three dates in January 2013 when again she'll be subjecting audiences to what can only be described as a rather lame or tame attempt at either Gospel or Soul.

If they - or you - want to hear the real thing - French style - and yes it does exist - then they would be better off trying Nicoletta. Perhaps that's a piece of advice Badi should also bear in mind.

And here's some more.

Chiméne - Yes, you can sing. There's no doubt about that. But no you cannot sing Gospel and Soul - at least not in English because you don't have the voice, the passion or the feel for either.

Stick with French ballads or even uptempo numbers

But please, for the sake of those who really love music and for whom the genres matter - leave well alone.

Quote of the night overheard in the bar just before the show - perhaps an omen of what was to come.

Bar lady: "What would you like sir?"

Customer: "I don't know...I"m torn between a glass of champagne or a beer."

He finally plumped for champagne served, in what appeared to be, a beer glass.

And that's pretty much what Badi did too.

Here's how "Try a little tenderness" should sound.

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