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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Mercedes Benz disco groovin' chicken commercial

Nothing whatsoever to do with France except that the commercial featured below can be seen here if you have access to German television channels.


What do you get if you mix German car manufacturer Mercedes Benz with a couple of chickens and the 1980 "Upside down" hit from Motown legend Diana Ross?


Well, if you're a smart creative executive in an advertising agency working on the Mercedes Benz account, it's a 45-second commercial promoting "Magic body control", the system in the S-class which is apparently "capable of detecting road surface undulations in advance" and thereby providing you with a smoother drive.

(screenshot from Mercedes Benz commercial)

The commercial is currently airing on German telly (no comment on whether it's better than the scheduled programmes) and a reason not to pop off to the loo during the break.

And the chickens - in so far as they are able to - don't look too fazed by the experience.


Saturday, 28 December 2013

TF1's phallic weather warning

Tempête Dirk came, lingered like the most unwelcome of guests over parts of France, and caused Christmas misery for many.

Brittany was perhaps initially the hardest hit part of France with, for example, residents in the town of Marlaix "celebrating" the festive season quite literally under water.

They weren't alone.

Far from it, as back-to-back news reports showed, giving journalists something "real" to report other than the usual last-minute shoppers, preparations for Santa's arrival, ideas for the perfect meal and the like.

Granted, those items still provided more than their fair share of the bulletins, but Dirk was understandably, the lead item.

And once it had left, along came Erich to cause added misery.

In the midst of all the bad news though, there was a lighter - if somewhat unintentionally lewd moment.

And it was provided by, of all people, one of the country's most recognised television weather forecasters (or as some presenters on BFM TV seems to have decided to call them "climate specialists") TF1's Evelyne Dheliat.

The prime time evening news in France on both TF1 is preceded by and followed by a comprehensive national weather forecast.

But when there's a predicted extreme of one sort or another, the weather forecaster is invited into the studio to beef up the report.

Such was the case on the eve of Christmas Eve with Dheliat joining anchor Julien Arnaud in front of the cameras complete with a state-of-the-art (ahem) diagram to show the likely progression of Dirk.

Except Dheliat seemed not to have checked her graphics before the show because, in the tradition of the very best (or worst) of Benny Hill-type smuttiness, the storm appeared to take on phallic proportions as it move eastwards and southwards.

Evelyne Dheliat on TF1 (screenshot from Gentside's zapping)

As the image hit Twitter (of course) some bright sparks came up with comments such as "Evelyne Dheliat seems to have confused  'Dirk' with tempête...well work it out yourselves.

TF1 : La carte météo du 23 décembre a bien fait rire les internautes par Gentside

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas shopping - look at the labels carefully

A few last minute offers at the local supermarket and the labels on the packaging , quite frankly, must leave you wondering, "why?" and whether anyone actually buys them.

There's nothing like fresh slab of game for Christmas dinner - and this is nothing like fresh!

Clearly there aren't enough boar in France

And finally, if you're too lazy to make it yourself, you can always by it in a packet...but why would you?

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

François Hollande' cheese coup

He came, he saw and he...well achieved very little.

The French president, François Hollande, completed a two-day trip to Brazil last week, during which he "touted" France's technology, and came away with what could hardly be called the coup of the century.

Hollande had hoped to return home with a multi-million euro signed contract for 36 Rafale fighter jets made by a consortium led by the French giant Dessault - after all it has been a painfully ongoing matter of negotiation for the past four years.

Instead he secured an agreement that, as of immediate effect, Brazil would lift its three-year ban on Roquefort cheese!

Yes talks with his Brazilian counterpart, Dilma Rousseff, saw Hollande achieve what has been described as "striking a blow" for the French cheese industry.

Somehow though "Cheese ban lifted" doesn't quite have the same ring to it as "Multi-million euro fighter jet contract signed".

Yes, yes, "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow" and all that.

But the news, while it'll undoubtedly please the ewes in Aveyron, is hardly one that'll provide a real boost to the French economy in general and kick start the long-promised recovery.

At least the news should please the ewes in Aveyron

All right already, so Hollande also sealed a pledge to "double trade" between France and Brazil.

But that's all rather wishful-washy targets (with the exception perhaps of the purchase of a French "supercomputer" and an undertaking from France to help fund a new metro in São Paulo) which, as the whole Rafale experience has shown, can in the end, come to nowt.

Back in 2009 under Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, it was announced that Brazil would buy 36 Rafale fighter jets.

Four years later the deal still hasn't been done with reports now circulating that the contract is dead in the's doesn't quite sound right does it? - "will be shot down for cost reasons" - that's so much better.

Still, when the history of Hollande's presidency is written, he can at least be remembered as the French statesman who brought Roquefort cheese back to Brazil.

Baaaaa, hurrah.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

"Confessions" of a former French minister Laurent Wauquiez - well hardly

It's all well and good trying to project an image of "normality" (whatever that might be) but do we really want or need to know the sexual appetites and/or preferences of our elected representatives?

Well former minister and (perhaps) a potentially wannabe - along with many other members of his party, the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) - presidential candidate Laurent Wauquiez, would seem to think so.

Laurent Wauquiez (screenshot "On n'est pas couché" France 2, November 16, 2013)

The 38-year-old member of the National Assembly and (clearly he's not a politician who has a problem with the French habit of holding more than one elected office at a time) mayor of Le Puy-en-Velay has revealed...wait for it...that SHOCK he "likes sex" and HORROR "just like everybody else" has watched YouPorn from time to time.

The "disclosure" - if that's what it can be called - came during his appearance on Thierry Ardisson's "Salut Les Terriens" on Canal + on Saturday evening.

It has to be admitted that Ardisson's question was rather a leading one and came during the far-from-serious segment "Psy" following Wauquiez's party political broadcast on behalf of himself and others belonging to his centre-right "club" La Droite Sociale" whose goal is to "defend the interests of the middle classes."

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

It was without doubt meant to be a moment of television light entertainment, and we all know how some politicians, especially those with populist ambitions, strive to appear just like Monsieur et Madame Tout le Monde.

Reactions (on Twitter of course) to Wauquiez's "admission" (apologies for all these inverted commas) were mixed with some praising him for his openness while others pompously accused him of "seeking to push the limits of demagogy so far as to ridicule politics" - as if those who practise the métier needed any help.

Still at least Wauquiez answered a question without trying to beat about the proverbial.

Florian Philippot (screenshot FranceTV info)

Look how slithery and almost begrudging another party vice president (Wauquiez is one of several at the UMP) over at the far-right Front National, the very, very bright Florian Philippot was, when asked to comment on  Flora Coquerel's - the newly-crowned Miss France, comments that with a mother who was from Benin, she was "proud to represent a cosmopolitan France".

Saturday, 7 December 2013

French politicians and their moments of mendacity - it's all the media's fault

Don't you just love (French) politicians. They're all so honest and sincere, fiercely upstanding in their efforts to represent and serve those who've elected them.

Furthermore, they refuse outright to deceive the public, especially when they're in front of a camera.

What you see or hear when they pop up on your TV screens (and boy, do they pop up) is the Coca Cola "Real Thing", the genuine article.

Cue corny commercial...

Er "Non, mais allô quoi" to quote one of the great French thinkers of our time.

If only.

But it's not their fault at all.

When politicians are caught out apparently trying to use the very same media of which they're often so critical to swing public opinion in their direction they're not to blame.

Rather, it's all the responsibility of the dreaded and dreadful media.

This past week there have been two examples in France which illustrate perfectly just how (some) politicians think the media really is out to "get" them.

First up there was Paul-Marie Coûteaux, founder and president of the Souveraineté, indépendance et libertés (SIEL) movement which has close ties to the far-right Front National (FN).

Paul-Marie Coûteaux (screenshot France 3 debate, May 2013

Indeed Coûteaux, a former member of the European parliament, campaigned for the FN's, Marine Le Pen, in the 2012 French presidential elections and he has joined forces with the her to help recruit new members especially those who might be disillusioned with the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

He was also the subject of a report on last weekend's edition of the weekly news magazine  "Le Supplément" on Canal +.

Accompanied by a reporter and a camera team, Coûteaux went off at one point for a working breakfast in Brest where he claimed afterwards he had secured the promise of membership from a prominent local political figure who had been active in the 90s and his wife - both of whom had previously backed the UMP.

Getting back into his car to return to Paris, Coûteaux seemed to forget that he was still hooked up to the microphone  and smugly told his fellow passengers that he had "fooled the journalist by pretending that he had managed to recruit two new high profile members".

There had, as the programme pointed out, been no meeting with former UMP members interested in joining the FN, and Coûteaux had made the whole thing up.

An unrepentant Coûteaux spoke out in defence of his of er...stretching of the truth saying that Canal + had been "out to trap him, that's what the channel was good at and it was all part of (the media) transforming politics into a circus."

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Of course.

The media was and is to blame for politicians not sticking with the truth and that's the line Le Pen took when she was asked for her reaction.

"I know Paul-Marie and he always tries to do his best," she said.

"He believes he can never do enough and he wanted to prove how much he could do because there were cameras around," she continued.

"And you know, the presence of a camera sometimes makes you say the craziest thing."

Politicians and sincerity 1 - the media 0

Ah yes those cameras. Not only do they apparently make politicians say something that isn't necessarily accurate, they can also make them do what they don't want to.

Just ask - and here for the sake of balance is the second example of how the media is responsible for the lies politicians don't tell -  Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Now Mélenchon probably needs as much of an introduction as (Marine) Le Pen.

During his years in politics the former Socialist party member has been a government minister, a senator, a member of the European parliament and a French presidential candidate.

Right now he's co-president of the Parti de Gauche, (Left party, PG) and all round pain in the backside of (among others) the French president François Hollande.

When there's a demonstration to be led against government policy especially in the fields of social and economic reform, you can bet your bottom centime that somewhere in the crowd (and usually at the head of it) you'll find Mélenchon.

He also has a love-to-hate relationship with the media.

Last weekend Mélenchon was living up to he reputation as a pain in the gluteus maximus with a rally in Paris against "the injustices of tax increases" (well nobody likes having to pay more taxes now, do they?) and, ahead of the official demo, was interviewed "live" by Claire Chazal on TF1's lunchtime news.

And there he stood in front of what appeared to be hundreds of flag-waving supporters, a "fact" that Chazal pointed out when introducing him.

"I just want to correct you Claire," he said. "This is a movement against the tax increases not just supported by my party but by a number of parties from the left of the political spectrum as well as the unions ," he added, seeming to forget momentarily the other mistake Chazal had made and the impression viewers might have had from the camera angle - namely that there was indeed a mass of people behind him.


Because you see, Stefan de Vries, a correspondent in France for the Dutch channel RTL and a contributor to both France 24 and La Croix, just happened to live across from where the interview was taking place and took a photo of the scene - something TF1 viewers didn't see.

He posted it on the Net and it quickly entered the Twittersphere accompanied by claims that TF1 and Mélenchon had been in cahoots to fool viewers.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon interview TF1 - street scene from Twitter

Mélenchon saw red (naturally), choosing his often preferred method of defence by going on the attack and writing on his blog that he had been asked to take part in what he considered to be a ridiculous interview before the rally began.

"It was just more interesting to have some supporters around rather than appearing in an empty street," he wrote, adding that a member of his party and not the so-called "journalist" had actually taken a photo and posted it on Twitter.

And he didn't stop there, laying into Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (CSA) - rant rant rant, Europe 1 - rant rant rant, journalists in general - rant rant rant, the media - rant rant rant, the government - rant rant rant and rant rant rant...

Why choose a dozen or so words when several hundred will do?

In short, Mélenchon considered that he wasn't to blame for anything and it was all the fault of (paraphrasing) the media conspiring with the government to discredit him.

It must be exhausting being so angry with everyone all the time.

Politicians and sincerity 2 - the media 0

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Monkey slurs aimed at French justice minister Christiane Taubira - not once, but twice

She might well be a seasoned politician, well-used to sparring with the best and worst of them, but the French minister of justice, Christiane Taubira, has had to face some pretty (perhaps not the best choice of words) odious comments over the past couple of weeks.

And, although opponents might claim otherwise, those comments have had nothing to do with her competence in fulfilling her ministerial portfolio and everything to do with her skin colour and origins.

Add captioChristiane Taubira (screenshot FranceTVinfo)

First up there was the infamous photo montage posted on the Facebook page of Anne-Sophie Leclere.

She's a candidate (or at least, she was) for the far-right Front National in next year's municipal elections and decided a touch of racism (although heavily in denial over such a definitiion when asked about it during a report on France 2's "Envoyé Spéciale") wouldn't go amiss.

Leclere posted a photograph on Facebook of a baby monkey alongside one of Taubira with the accompanying titles "18 months" and "Now".

"It's not racist," insisted the 33-year-old. 'The monkey in the photo remains an animal, the black [woman] is a human being," she said.

"I have friends who are black and that's not a reason to tell them that they are monkeys,' she continued in true FN fudge fashion, reiterating that she was not a racist but would "rather see Taubira on a tree among the branches than in the government."

The photo was eventually taken down. The FN suspended Leclere and dropped her as a candidate.

In the meantime Taubira, not exactly known for being one to mince her words, had reacted.

"We know what the FN thinks: the blacks in the branches of trees, Arabs in the sea, homosexuals in the Seine, Jews in the ovens and so on," Taubira said, describing the party's policies as "deadly and murderous".

It was a response which immediately drew the wrath of the FN with a call for Taubira to resign and the threat of legal action because, "Nothing justifies such an expression of hate against an entire party and its millions of voters?"

Really? Not even being compared to a monkey?

Sound the bell for the end of round one in the category racial slurs.

Where the FN left off, those other mild-mannered democrats - the ones still opposed to same-sex marriage - continued.

Last Friday Taubira was on a visit to the western French town of Angers as part of her Tour de France, if you will, to explain how the reforms she wants to introduce next year will make the country's judicial system more accessible for everyone.

It was an opportunity also for a hundred or so members of "La manif pour tous", the movement which had opposed same-sex marriage to express their unhappiness with the minister who had steered the legislation through parliament.

Yes, even though it's the law, they remain quite within their rights to demonstrate their disaccord.

But the manner in which they did so was what the local online news site Angers Mag Info  suitably summed up as "pitiful".

They were there to greet her when she arrived at the town's Palais du Justice, and they brought their children along because, let's face it, they defend family values.

And they did that by chanting original and charming slogans such as "Taubira, casse-toi" (you may translate) or "Taubira, resign!"

Unruffled - well, over the months she must have become well used to such a reception - Taubira reportedly blew the demonstrators a kiss at the door of the building before she went inside.

But they were far from satisfied, changing position and upping the decibels somewhat as they continued shouting their "objections" and allowing the children to join in.

And that's really where any dignity their demonstration might have had, disappeared as the protest took a distinctly racist slant.

Because alongside "casse-toi" and "resign" the well-meaning parents taking part also allowed their children to fire off phrases through the megaphone such as "Taubira, you smell. Your days are numbered" with one 12-year-old brandishing a banana skin while shouting, "A banana for the monkey."

Apparently even some of those hardened chaps from the riot police were taken aback by the vitriolic nature of the language with one of them heard to comment that it "could be grounds for arrest as it constituted insulting a government minister.

The episode didn't go unnoticed by French parliamentarians though with both a former agriculture minister, Jean Glavany, and the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault paying tribute to Taubira and denouncing all forms of racism.

"When we, the country's elected representatives, hear racist comments being made, we must not remain silent," said Glavany.

"We must express both our shame and disgust."

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Normandy is somewhere near Germany and I don't know what the Holocaust was - US college students and World War II history

Hitler was leader of Amsterdam, Normandy is near Germany and the Holocaust was 300 years ago - just some of the answers Rhonda Fink-Whitman received from Pennsylvania students when she asked them about World War II and matters relating to it, in her video.

Rhonda Fink-Whitman (screenshot from "94 maidens - the mandate video)

Fink-Whitman's goal was to show how big a gap there was in students' knowledge of modern history, and in particular those who had gone through the public school system - not matter how bright and articulate" they might appear.

She didn't set out with the intention to "embarrass, humiliate or shame anyone" but rather to show how public schools in the United States are failing to teach pupils about the Holocaust.

On the evidence of the answers given in the video, Fink-Whitman seems to have a point.

She doesn't say whether there were students around who could answer the questions.

But there were more than enough who gave what can only be viewed as jaw-dropping responses or simply claimed ignorance with an "I don't know".

Admittedly the video is a bit long and becomes somewhat predictable, but still...these are today's young American adults who've clearly not been taught the rudiments of modern history.

And it's not their fault - it's all down to the education system...or lack thereof.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Friday's French music break - John Mamann featuring Kika, "Love Life"

Friday's French music break this week is one of those songs you're more than likely to have heard on the radio in France at some point over over the past few months

It's "Love life" by John Mamann, featuring Portuguese singer Kika, and is the first track to be released from his latest album of the same name.

John Mamann (screenshot from official video)

The song is  heavy on the feel-good factor; a catchy tune (of course) with simple lyrics (what else) sung alternately in French (Mamann) and English (Kika).

Kika (screenshot from official video)

All in all, it an instantly hummable, whistleable (there's plenty of that at both the beginning and end), singalongable (are any of those words?), la-la-la-able song with a pleasant enough mélodie...whoops, melody - and, let's face it, the simplest of refrains that even the most forgetful will not have trouble remembering.

Love life ( la la la la la... ),
Love life ( la la la la la... ),
It's you and I ( la la la la la... ),
Love life ( la la la la la... ).

Now some of you out there who've read previous Friday's French music break posts (here) might have noticed similarities between "Love life" and another duet from French television actress Élisa Tovati and a former Eurovision Song Contest entrant for Belgium (and runner-up in that country's X Factor), Tom Dice.

Back in 2011 the pair teamed up for the equally melodious and gentle-on-the ear summer hit "Il nous faut" sung in both French and English, and written by...Mamann.

In fact, although the 43-year-old is about to release his third album he's probably better known for his songwriting credentials, having composed and produced for the likes of Johnny Hallyday, Canadian singer Natasha St-Pier and Louisy Joseph after she left the all-girl band (French) Popstars winners L5 to pursue a solo career.

Plus...yes there's more...Mamann is one of the composers of the musical Robin des Bois which has recently opened in Paris and stars (yet) another former Popstars winner, Matt Pokora.

Anyway, that's probably more than enough background info.

If you would like more, you can take a look at a more comprehensive bio (in French) online at Universal Music, log on to his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.

Mamann has just appeared as the warm-up act for Zaz in Amiens and has a few performance dates scheduled over the next couple of months, including one at Bus Palladium in Paris on December 3.

For now though, listen to the official video and be prepared perhaps get ready to break out into a few la, la, las.

Enjoy, and have a great weekend.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Friday's French music break - HollySiz, "Come back to me"

Friday's French music break this week follows a trend that's quite common in France of actresses attempting to sing (who can forget those that shouldn't have but continue to do so such as Claire Keim or Mélanie Laurent) when perhaps their talents would be best served elsewhere or at least doing what they supposedly do best.

It's "Come back to me" from HollySiz.

(screenshot from official video)

That's the name Cécile Cassel (already a stage name as she was born Cécile Crochon) has plumped for, to launch her music career.

Cassel has a pretty good acting pedigree. She's the daughter of the late Jean-Pierre Cassel and half sister to Vincent, and has herself appeared in films (20 of them so far) television and theatre.

Just to add to, what cynics might say is, the rather nepotistic element that seems to epitomise the French entertainment industry, Cassel is also the partner of Raphaël Hamburger, the son of France Gall and the late Michel Berger.

Cassel has reinvented herself for the music industry to produce the album "My Name Is" from which "Come back to me" is the first track to be released as a single.

First up is the name HollySiz (a combination of "Holly", the name of the heroine played by SissySpacek in the 1973 US film "Badlands" and Cassel's nickname "Siz"). And then she has dyed her hair platinum blonde because, "in my head when I was younger, female singers had hair that colour" (artists sometimes say the silliest things while doing the promotional rounds, don't they?)

Cécile Cassel or HollySiz (screenshot from "On n'est pas couché", France 2 television October 5, 2013)

The song is in English - as in the entire album - a language Cassel felt was more appropriate rhythmically to the kind of music she wanted to produce and one which she says "allowed her to say things that she would never have been able to express in French."

The 31-year-old wrote 70 per cent of the album tracks herself and collaborated with the likes of Yodelice (Maxim Nucci), the excellent female duo Brigitte (check them out here) and M on some of the songs.

"Dark and sensual" is how Aymeric Caron described "My name is" on "On n'est pas couché"; a description which might be pushing the limits of interpreting pop music a bit.

And although "Come back to me" is a catchy enough song, it's also a bit of a throwback to the 80s - a sound that has been revisited umpteen times and is hardly original.

If you like an arm-flailing, hair shaking and poorly choreographed disco dance floor video, then the official clip is for you. Plus there's a bit of tap dance thrown in - something of a tribute to one of the talents of her father.

"Come back to me" is not extraordinary. But of it's kind, it's...well, definitely easy enough to listen to and inoffensive enough.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Le prang

I've admitted before that I'm not exactly the world's best driver.

Probably fair to middling would be the best description with parking remaining my weakest point.

Well that and negotiating ramps leading to and from underground car parks.

But that is ground well trodden - or not so well driven  - as the case may be.

As far as accidents go? Well, I've been pretty fortunate over the years.

I've only had one major incident. It happened almost two decades ago on a long drive back from Florence in Italy to Frankfurt in Germany.

I was in Switzerland late at night, clearly driving too quickly given the pouring rain conditions, with dogs in the back and my late mother in the passenger seat.

It was nothing too dramatic, just a one vehicle (mine) accident ending up in the middle of the motorway, the car written off and my dear old ma (unhurt) asking, "So can we continue now?"

Apart from that, nothing. Not even a bump or a dent (I don't consider that Paris underground ramp affair to have been an accident, rather a moment or two of close contact involving a borrowed clunker - well it resembled one by the time I had finished - and the walls of a car park).

Give the man a prize.

Until last week, that is.

Because that's when I had the "prang".

Of course it wasn't my fault - these sorts of things never are, are they?

But in the eyes of the law and for insurance purposes, it was.

After a dash around the supermarket and the less-than-15-items till, because these places are not the temples of delight for me that they seem to be for many others, I made my way back to my car.

Leaving the car park, I found myself behind a woman driving at less than five kilometres an hour with a couple of stalled engines thrown in for good measure.

I kept my distance, ready - I thought - for the next unexpectedly sudden stop.

But as we both approached the roundabout, I failed to anticipate that she would decide to come to a complete halt for no reason at all.

Even though there was nothing coming (although she later claimed otherwise) Clarice - for that turned out to be her name - slammed her foot on the brake.

I didn't.

It was the gentlest of bumps but enough to have us both jump out of our repective cars to inspect the damage.

Mine was unscathed - apart from a slightly buckled registration plate, while hers...well it seemed to have "suffered" the smallest of dents beneath the rear bumper, but one which looked suspiciously "older" to me.

I said as much, along with a few well chosen but polite (honestly) words on the level of her driving skills.

Clarice though, remained convinced that the blame lay fairly and squarely with me. She had stopped because of oncoming traffic and I was clearly in the wrong because I had driven into her.

"Isn't that right Gladys?" she said to her friend who had been sitting in the passenger seat.

Gladys didn't look entirely convinced, but nodded in circumspect agreement.

And then the official fun began.

Neither of us had a copy of the wonderfully named (in French) constat amiable d'accident automobile (accident report) in the car (I had recently had the annual clear-out and must have chucked it) required for insurance purposes if the accident is minor and the two parties involved decide to come to an amicable agreement.

Clarice didn't have one either because...well the reason will become clearer in a moment.

So what to do?

Well first of all, I took a couple of photos of the position of both cars when the two joined in unholy "bumplock".

Friendly enough after the initial "shock", Clarice didn't think much of my idea of driving together to the nearest insurance agent to request a form to fill out together.

Instead she wanted to call her husband for advice on what to do.

He, however, was unavailable.

So in true "Qui veut gagner des millions" ("Who wants to be a millionaire") style, Clarice opted to ring a close friend who convinced her that we should all make our way to the police municipale where we could sort it out.

The "amicable agreement" looked set to turn in to a major (road) incident: the main protagonists - that slightly bent registration plate and the dubious dent.

So off to the police municipale we headed. I led the way, as something told me that I would be better off in front of Clarice rather than behind her.

As luck would have it, and this being France, the police municipale had, of course, shut up shop for the day, although there was a contact number for emergencies.

I kept quiet, fearing the worst.

But the now emboldened Clarice had a "better" solution - and that without 'phoning a friend.

"The gendarmerie!" she exclaimed.

"We can go there and report the incident. Plus they'll have all the necessary forms available."

Gladys and I exchanged looks as though we sensed that this would prove to be yet another over-the-top reaction, but Clarice was not a woman to be stopped. She was in full quest mode...justice.

Besides, I wasn't in the mood for an argument and so, off we set.

A few moments later we all walked in to the gendarmerie compound to be greeted by a young man dragging on the remnants of a cigarette.

Explanations quickly made, he told us that the constat was all we really needed, whereby we could agree what had happened, countersign and then complete details of our own version of events for our respective insurance companies.

As for the constat - he didn't have one. We didn't have one. Did we really want to fill out an official report for something so minor?

"No," I thought, as providence once again stepped in, this time in the form of a call from Clarice's husband.

Her saviour. My saviour. He had a spare constat and would make his way into town so that we could finally reach that agreement which had Clarice had been so unwilling to accept in the first place.

We all bid farewell to the gendarme who wished us a pleasant evening and waited.

The 15 minutes Monsieur Husband of Clarice said he would need to arrive eventually turned into half an hour but, once he appeared, I quickly discovered I had an ally.

"Honey - again?" he  said, looking at his wife as he introduced himself to me.

I looked at him.

I looked at Clarice

"Again? I asked

"Yes, this is the third time in as many months," he replied.

I returned my gaze to Clarice, who preferred to look away sheepishly.

As Monsieur Husband of Clarice and I completed the tedious task of detaling what had happened and answering what seemed like a multitude of questions, his wife remained understandably quiet.

She no longer contested my version of events which, I knew, would not exonerate me in terms of the insurance claim.

And that suspicious dent?

Well that'll be for the insurance company to decide. They have the photos and the completed constat.

Sure, I'll have to drive extra carefully for the next five years apparently if I want to recover my no claims bonus.

On past form, that shouldn't be too much of a problem...unless I happen to "bump" into the likes of Clarice on the road.

But at least now, even though it's not a legal obligation in France, I've got a copy of the constat in the car...just in case.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Friday's French music break - Patricia Petibon and Natalie Dessay, " La chanson des jumelles"

Friday's French Music break this week is perhaps an example of what happens when two worlds collide - musically speaking.

It's a remake of " La chanson des jumelles" from Jacques Demy's 1967 musical "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort" which starred real life sisters (although not twins) Catherine Deneuve as Delphine and the late Françoise Dorléac as Solange.

Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac (screenshot from clip of "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort")

In this new version Patricia Petibon (Delphine) and Natalie Dessay (Solange) team up with Michel Legrand, who composed the music for the film (Demy wrote the lyrics) to deliver what is...well a rather disappointing rendition.

Now opera buffs will be familiar with both women as they're well known coloratura sopranos, and there's no doubting the talent of either.

Petibon is highly rated for her performance of French Baroque music and Dessay can and has turned her vocal cords to just about anything and everything operatic. Plus she can act.

Somehow though, the obvious polish and perfection of their voices is ill-suited to what is, after all, a rather light and completely charming song.

Sure, the remake swings seriously as it benefits from Legrand on piano alongside Pierre Boussaguet on bass and François Laizeau on drums (they're excellent).

But the voices just...well...lack the magic of the original version.

Although neither Deneuve nor Dorléac actually sang in the film - they both performed playback to the to recordings of professional singers Anne Germain (Deneuve) and Claude Parent (Dorléac) - the routine was an unforgettable one from the moment when, "out of nowhere", a trumpet sounded the theme of the song.

Judges for yourselves with a compare and contrast.

First up the version from Petibon and Dessay; well sung (it would be unfair to say otherwise) with a superb musical arrangement but lacking pep.

It's a track from the album "Entre elle et lui", due to be released on October 21 and on which Dessay and Legrand revisit some popular classics.

The pair (Dessay and Legrand that is) are also set to play several dates over the next few months, kicking off with Olympia in Paris a week after the album's release.

And then that clip from the film starring Deneuve and Dorléac.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Friday's French music break - Grégoire, "Si tu me voyais"

You know how sometimes you hear a song that you initially start out disliking but gradually discover has grown on you?

Well sadly that's not the case with this week's Friday's French music break.

It's "Si tu me voyais" from Grégoire (Boissenot, to give him his full name) and frankly, it makes the task of convincing sceptics that the French music scene actually has something worth listening to harder than it is at the best of times.

Grégoire (screenshot from the official video for "Si tu me voyais"

The single is the first to be released from Grégoire's latest album  "Les roses de mon silence" and is a strange choice because it's far from being pleasant on the ear.

Ah fans - and there are plenty of them around as Grégoire was the first act to achieve his breakthrough thanks to My Major Company, the label which gives subscribers the possibility to become music producers by investing in up-and-coming artists - will be up in arms no doubt.

But take a listen to some of the other songs on the album, and you'll perhaps wonder why "Si tu me voyais" was chosen as the first single... or even a single at all.

There's the title track for example -  much more in the tradition of a French ballad, complete with piano, voice and accordion.

Or "L'enfance", which is full of emotion and musicality (and a violin)

Still, someone at the record label must know what they're up to and "Si tu me voyais" it is.

All of the comments on Grégoire"s Facebook page are suitable adoring - as you would expect. But there's the odd voice of dissent over at YouTube .

Without doubt the song will please those same fans who first discovered Grégoire with his debut hit  "Toi + Moi" in 2008, but it might leave those who float in an out of his music wondering what the heck and why?

Talent, the 34-year-old has - in abundance - and a voice that distinguishes him (in a positive way) from many other French singers around at the moment.

But this song is simply not his best - far from it.

It begins inoffensively enough; gently upbeat, leading you to believe that it's going to be just another one of those French songs that's pleasant enough to listen to and nothing more.

And then halfway through Grégoire squawks into action, his voice belting out the lyrics in what becomes an assault on the ears (it can't be good for his vocal cords either).

Still, take a listen for yourself - and maybe turn the volume down at a touch at 1 minute and 52 seconds.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Your week in French politics - from a wannabe gun-toting UMP senator to Roma-bashing Manuel Valls

This week's look back at what has been happening in the marvellous world of French politics begins with a little light sorts.

It was supposedly a "slip of the tongue" (or was it?) provided by the  youngest member of the French parliament, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

The 23-year-old far-right Front National députée who in true "Dynasty"  - click on the link if you're already in need of a musical interlude - fashion (she's the granddaughter of Jean-Marie and niece of Marine) looks set for a long political career, was one of the guests invited to debate on France 2's "Mots croisés".

In wanting to respond to the claims by a fellow guest, a Socialist party (PS) member of the Senate André Vallini that (don't laugh) the idea of a "naïve Left reliant on a culture of excuses was over", Maréchal-Le Pen showed her youth - and perhaps her past television viewing habits.

Rather than suggesting Vallini was using the much-employed and beloved "Méthode Coué" (autosuggestion), Maréchal-Le Pen gaffed and referred to a former television "comedy/entertainment" programme "La Méthode Cauet".

Ah well. Youth.

Maybe Maréchal-Le Pen needs to take a lesson or two in the art of communication from Eric Doligé, a senator for the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

Never heard of him? Never mind. Outside of the département of Loiret, for which he is senator, not many have probably.

Doligé clearly belongs to the traditional school of French politics which believes holding several elected offices at the same time is...well, perfectly acceptable.

He's a Conseiller général to the Canton de Meung-sur-Loire (where he just happened to be mayor from 1983 until 2011). It's a position he has held since 1985. He's also president of the Conseil général du Loiret (since 1994) and a senator of course. Somewhere along the way, he also manages to be a Chef d'entreprise. Talented man.

Anyway, the 70-year-old professional collector of political positions has had enough of the current lot in government. And he said as much in the most eloquent fashion as UMP parliamentarians from both houses got together for a pow-wow on Tuesday.

"I have to say that I have a killer instinct right now. I'm like most people, I cannot stand Hollande and his band," he said as he outlined how he thought government ministers were destroying the areas for which they had responsibility.

"Rather than shooting at each other, we should be taking aim at those running the country and I have a list of 40 I would like to shoot...they're all in the government."

Just to add to the "fun" a fellow UMP senator and another collector of political positions, Jean-Claude Gaudin (the current mayor of Marseille and seeking a fourth term in next year's municipal elections) chipped in with, "I can provide the Kalashnikovs!"

Such a sense of humour these gentlemen from the UMP.

Moving swiftly along and there was no getting away from (when is there ever?) the interior minister Manuel Valls this week.

First up he was laying in to Maréchal-Le Pen's aunt and leader of the FN, Marine Le Pen, saying that her "level of geopolitical analysis was zero".

That was his direct (and probably not unfounded) response to her comments that Bashar al-Assad was the "least worst option" for Syria and that France had become nothing more than "a harlot" with a government "supporting Islamic fundamentalism".

More tough talk from Valls a couple of days later when he appeared to go into FN mode as he followed in the footsteps of his two immediate predecessors at the interior ministry, Claude Guéant and Brice Hortefeux, by displaying less-than brotherly love for (certain) foreigners in France.

Yes, he was on his favourite Roma-bashing bandwagon, saying that "very few of them would ever be able to integrate into French society" and that he would continue with the policy of dismantling their camps and expelling them.

With the European Commission (Romania and Bulgaria - the countries to which Valls wants to "send back" the Roma are both due to enter the European Union's Schengen area of borderless travel next year, although the decision could be delayed yet again) human rights groups and some within the PS and the Greens looking on in horror, it was left to the government's spokesperson, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, to come up with an official reaction to Valls' comments.

And she did herself proud, saying Valls had the government's backing because its policy on the matter was to act with "firmness and humanity."

OK. That's all right then. Looks as though the Socialist party is determined to redefine "humanity".

As for the country's president, François Hollande. Well he began the week in New York.

François Hollande with Hassan Rohani (screenshot M6 news) and on CNN (screenshot from CNN video)

While he didn't really say anything he hadn't already said before, during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Hollande did find time to meet and greet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.

Hey there was even that significant "smile for the camera" moment as the two men posed and shook hands.

While in New York, Hollande couldn't pass up the opportunity of an interview with CNN's redoubtable Christiane Amanpour.

Yes it was pre-arranged and yes, it gave Hollande the rare opportunity to say nothing new once again.  But it also allowed to show his command of English by answering questions in French.

And here's the thing. Hollande's replies were dubbed into English by...a woman.

What a strange editorial decision.

And finally "music" - although strictly speaking you could question that - from France's former first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

She was among a host of French singers invited to perform during a concert on Wednesday to raise funds for research into Alzheimer's.

But just moments after Bruni struck the first chords of her 2003 hit "Quelqu'un m'a dit" she had a momentary power failure as she forgot the words.

Maybe it was down to the bum notes in the opening sequence or, as she said, "that she was moved".

Still, she gave it a second bash and was soon strumming away, her husky voice no doubt delighting those present.

Enjoy the clip of the moment and your weekend.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A prime ministerial week in French politics - present, past

Bienvenue! to another look back at a week in French politics and as you can see from the title, the focus this time around is on prime ministers.

Before plunging head first into the "news" though, a few words on the position itself.

It's an odd sort of role in France because it's the president who gets to appoint (and sack) the person he thinks is the best man (or on one occasion, woman) for the job.

He (or she) has to come from the majority party in parliament . That's why there have been three periods of so-called "cohabitation" since the beginning of the Fifth Republic in 1958 when the prime minister and president have come from different parties.

But the position doesn't have to go to the leader of the majority party.

Had that been the case after the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections, François Hollande would have chosen Martine Aubry to be prime minister.

Perish the thought!

In fact, rare though it might be, the job doesn't even have to be given to an elected representative.

During his second term as president, for example, Jacques Chirac appointed career diplomat Dominique de Villepin as prime minister for two years.

Sometimes viewed as playing second fiddle to the president, the holder of the office of prime minister is (quoting from the constitution here) charged with "directing the actions of the government, being responsible for national defence and ensuring the implementation of legislation."

And oh yes, if you happen to be Jean-Marc Ayrault, practising the art of the Coué method.

Which brings us nicely to the end of the potted (with cavernous gaps admittedly) overview and allows us to get cracking with the news.

Where better to start (although you could probably think of one) than with Ayrault himself.

In an interview with the regional daily Presse-Océan - which just happens to cover the city of Nantes, where he was mayor for 23 years (ah, can't you just hear the echoes of Arnaud Montebourg's cutting comment that Ayrault "ran the country as though it were a local council"?) the prime minister was in...well...almost "Spice Boy" mode.

Yes, he seemed to have taken a little too literally the lyrics of Baby, Ginger, Posh, Scary and Sporty's 1997 hit "Spice up your life" with an "all you need is positivity" approach.

"There are positive signs that the economy is recovering," he told the paper.

"And we must do everything we can to encourage it because our priority has to be employment."

Oh change the record M. Ayrault.

Speaking of which, do you fancy some music?



Ah. That's better. Don't you all feel full of "positivity" now?

Well you'll need to if you're going to understand what's happening with the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

It managed to spend the first part of the week tying itself into knots over which political direction it would or wouldn't take rather than fulfilling its role as a credible opposition.

François Fillon (screenshot BFM TV report)

And it was all down to François Fillon, Ayrault's predecessor at the Matignon.

He dropped a bit of a bombshell at the weekend saying that in next year's municipal elections, UMP supporters should vote for the "least sectarian" candidate in the second round if the party's candidate didn't make it through and it came to a straight run-off between the far-right Front National and the Socialist party.


What the heck was he saying?

Break with the party's policy of urging supporters to vote for neither or was he actually shifting his position?

Nobody really seemed to know and the party went into headless chicken mode as its leaders assembled to clarify policy - all agreeing that the "neither nor" strategy was the one to be followed.

Fillon even appeared in front of the cameras afterwards to repeat that he had "always been against an alliance of any sort with the FN and it had been something he had fought against all his political life" and "he had no intention of changing his position."

Fillon: "j'ai toujours combattu les alliances... par BFMTV

So. What was he up to?

Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the grass roots support there is among UMP party  members for some of the FN's policies.

As revealed in a poll at the beginning of the week, over 70 per cent "agreed" with what Fillon had apparently said and were in favour of the FN being considered as a "normal" party.

Also, let's not forget that Fillon is campaigning to be his party's candidate in the 2017 presidential election.

By creating a "buzz", he had not only proven himself a little less colourless than some might have thought, but had made life a little more difficult for the party's leader, Jean-François Copé.

Yes, Fillon looks set to continue with his operation "Stir everything up" for the next...three years.


So that's present and past dealt with. What about the future?

Well, there was bad news of sorts for the man tipped by many (including himself) to be a future prime minister (president and master of the universe), Manuel Valls.

The interior minister is no longer the country's favourite politician.

In the monthly (yes, these things really are produced that frequently) poll Ipsos conducts for Le Point on political popularity (rather like a hit parade but without the moo-sick) Alain Juppé (a past, past prime minister among many other things) ranked Number One with a song taken from his most recent album "I'm really the man who should be president but I prefer sitting on the sidelines and appearing all statesman-like".

Valls meanwhile, who had been Top of the Pops since October 2012, slipped a place without blowing so much as a gasket.

Now, if, for some peculiar reason, you would like to follow the progression (or otherwise) of your (least) favourite French politician from month to month, you can check out the baromètre de l'action politique Ipsos / Le Point here.

And finally - because it's just too difficult to resist - François Hollande's interview on TF1 with Claire interpreted by those folk over at Les Guignols de l'Info over at Canal +.

screenshot from Les Guignols video

Take the recent chart-topping hit single (yes music has been rather a laboured leitmotif during this piece) "Papaoutai" (Friday's French music break a couple of weeks ago) from Belgian singer-songwriter Stromae, fiddle with the lyrics and put them in the mouth of Hollande's puppet et...voilà "Emploioutai"

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

And that seems a suitable point at which to wish you a great weekend.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Friday's French music break - Cats on trees, "Sirens call"

Following previous Friday's French music breaks which featured songs from the likes of Yucca Velux and As Animals, this week's choice comes from another group with an improbable name singing in English.

It's Cats on trees with the song "Sirens call"

The duo of Nina Goern (piano and vocals) and Yohan Hennequin (percussion) are far from being an overnight sensation.

The pair, who both come from Toulouse, have been together since 2007, building up a loyal following over the years, releasing an EP and working on songs for their debut self-titled album - "Cats on trees" - due for release on October 21.

(screenshot from album cover)

"Sirens call" has been described as a gentle but distinctive "pop ballad with a haunting melody", including shades of Snow Patrol's "Chasing cars" perhaps in the opening bars before Goern's almost "ethereal" voice takes over.

In fact there's something about her voice. It's not the strongest around but it certainly has that delicate and fragile feel to it that suits the group's repertoire (check out their cover Tears for Fears 1982 hit "Mad World")

Maybe their website is a little exaggerated in suggesting that in their "virtuosity and energy" the group has "found the perfect osmosis, the mixture of sounds and rhythms that speak to the body and the soul."

But hey, that's what you would expect from the blurb.

Perhaps an indication of the direction they wish to take can be found in the acts the duo says have been their musical influence: among them are Tori Amos, Bjork and Radiohead.

And then there are the "performance" artists they also like (ones you know will never be mainstream) with sometimes even more preposterous names including Akira and the airbones particles, My own private alaska and Psykup

And that album? Well it isn't bad either.

It's full of alternative pop music, if you like, with 11 original tracks - all sung in English - some more upbeat pop than others but on the whole a pretty mellow sound.

Well worth a listen. You can check out excerpts here.

If you feel like seeing them live, they have a number of dates lined up including one at le Café de la Danse in November. For a full listing, take a look at their website.

For the moment though, here's that single "Sirens calling".

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Your week in French politics including the Sarkothon and the governmental diesel cock-up

Time, for those who are interested, for a look back at some of the political stories in France from the past week.

And what a start to the week for the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

Happy days again, as it's not longer "Pauvre" (Le Point's pun from earlier this year).

Remember how in July the Conseil Constitutionnel refused to validate the party's spending during Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 presidential campaign?

The decision sent the UMP into a deep financial depression and forced the former president and party bigwigs to launch a campaign for funds - aka the Sarkothon (what else?).

Well the target has been reached. A cool €11 million has been raised in just a couple of months and the party's president, Jean-François Copé couldn't contain his delight at a conference in Le Touquet.

"I'm happy to tell you that today we've achieved our target," a radiant Copé said.

"We're raised the €11 million necessary."

And just in case anyone had missed the news, he turned to Twitter to tweet...uh...exactly the same thing.

Mind you, Copé wasn't the only relieved UMP member to take to Twitter.

Nadine Morano (yes her) was at her tweeting best too.

Phew. We can all sleep soundly now, knowing that there's a real opposition party capable of offering alternative and credible policies to those proposed by the current government.

Er...can't we?

And just to top it all off, came the news that all those who coughed up dosh "for the cause" are going to get a personal thank you...from the overspending man who got the party into the mess in the first place.

Not surprisingly Sarkozy was equally unable to supress his emotions and turned to...where else but Twitter.


Thank goodness for social networking.

Moving swiftly along, and you probably know there'll be local elections here in France next year.

Well, there's apparently something of shift in the political landscape going on in France's second largest city, Marseille.

It might have been in the news for quite different reasons over the past year, but a recent poll (and you have every right to be suspicious of these sorts of things) came up with some chilling political predictions.

The incumbent Jean-Claude Gaudin (UMP), who has been mayor for donkeys years (well since 1998 to be exact), looks set to secure a fourth mandate next year.

But it's what's happening behind him that's of interest

Latest figures show that the far-right Front National (FN) candidate, Stéphane Ravier, could well beat the Socialist party into second place - forcing a three-way second round battle.

Back in 2008 Ravier secured just nine per cent of the vote. Currently he's at around 25 per cent.

There are of course a number of (local) factors to take into account - not least of which is that the Socialist party hasn't yet named its candidate.

It's still dilly-dallying around with a primary for which there are six candidates including government minister Marie-Arlette Carlotti and the outspoken senator Samia "bring the army into Marseille to help out" Ghali.

Maybe future polls will show a reverse trend for the FN once the Socialist party has got its house in order...maybe they won't.

The mouthwatering possibility of a three-way second round fight will, of course, delight the FN's leader, Marine Le Pen.

From a party which builds its foundations on the cult of personality (and some pretty abject beliefs) back to one which is seriously lacking character and backbone.

The Socialist party of course.

Mind you, the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is both senses of the word.

screenshot from Les Guignols de l'info

After his rousing speech to close the party's summer conference a couple of weeks ago (remember his nonsensical gesticulation which looked as though he was trying so hard to put into practice something he had learned in a video training exercise) Ayrault now wants to project the image of a tough guy.


He has seemingly discovered a way to prevent those nasty Americans and Britons from spying on what the government here is up to.

Ayrault has apparently sent a three-page letter to ministers telling them to be careful with what sort of information they share via their smartphones and tablets.

And how do we know this? Well from that very letter, a copy of which the weekly news magazine L'Express managed and  publish.

Hey. France's "allies" don't need high tech programmes to discover what the country's movers and shakers are up to. They can just wait for the French media to publish a story.

Finally, two words for you. "Philippe Martin".


You know, the minister of the environment and the man who was given the job after his predecessor, Delphine Batho, was unceremoniously fired in July.

Poor M. Martin seems to have got himself into a bit of a pickle this week and it's all to do with diesel: not the Italian design company, rather the stuff that many motorists in France still pour into their cars.

In 2012, 72.9% of cars sold in France were diesel.

The Greens (the Socialist party's "partner" in government, although nobody really seems to understand why) have been pointing out for some time the health and environmental risks attached to diesel fuel and had (they thought) secured a firm commitment that there would be an increase in the price at the pump.

Since the mid-sixties successive governments have kept the price of diesel down by levying a far lower tax.

The tradition apparently began as a way "to foster economic activity, knowing that at the time diesel was the only fuel used by farmers, road haulage companies and business in general."

A diesel dilemma of sorts - and one you can trust this government to tackle with its usual clarity.
Enter M. Martin.

First up he informed a press conference that in the 2014 budget, ""there would be no provision relating specifically to what might be called the fiscal convergence of diesel and regular unleaded petrol."

A government colleague, Alain Vidalies - the junior minister in charge of relations with the parliament - interpreted that as meaning what everyone else had understood, namely that the idea had been shelved. And he said as much in an interview.

With the Greens frothing and furious at the apparent "betrayal", the environment minister was then forced to back pedal with an explanation which...well...shed little light on what had been or hadn't been decided.

"I'm not saying that the door has been closed on whether there will be an increase in the price of diesel," he said.

"I do not know and I can not say."

Bravo M Martin. That just about sums it up doesn't it?

Bon week-end.

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