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Thursday, 30 May 2013

When Vincent and Bruno got married, the world didn't end

But maybe it changed a little for the better

France has celebrated its first same-sex marriage.

The eyes of the world - or at least the cameras - were on Montpellier on Wednesday as Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau exchanged vows and rings in front of the city's mayor, Hélène Mandroux.

Montpellier's mayor Hélène Mandroux with Vincent Autin (right) and Bruno Boileau (screenshot AFPTV)

It was a moving moment to watch and - if you believe in the institution of marriage - seemed such a natural ending to the most normal of love stories (you can read about how they met in this piece from The Guardian).

Yes, those words are chosen deliberately.

It didn't mark the breakdown of French society as we know it, although those opposed to the idea that same-sex couples should have the right to marry will probably continue their reactionary and discriminatory bleating from the sidelines.

Rather it's a sign that French law has caught up with what opinion polls have been saying for the past decade.

And that's progress.

There'll be more evidence of that when two characters from one of the country's most popular daily soap operas "Plus belle la vie" - Thomas Marci (played by actor, Laurent Kérusoré)  Gabriel Riva (Joakim Latzko) tie the knot in an episode due to be screened in a month or so.

And as part of a poster campaign it has just launched in Paris to appeal to a younger public who might be living and working in different European cities, the high-speed train operator Thalys has  included a gay couple.

No, being gay or lesbian is not a trend, a fashion statement or a lifestyle choice as some of those protesting against the right of same-sex couples to marry might have claimed.

And while this week's events might have grabbed the headlines both in France and abroad, it surely also gives rise to the hope that some time very soon people will look back at Vincent and Bruno's marriage and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

French opposition UMP party as united as ever in perfect disharmony

Exciting news from France's opposition centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

Jean-François Copé and François Fillon have agreed to let members decide on whether to hold another vote for the post of party leader.

Breathe deeply before you read on. Some of what follows will be more than confusing.

The UMP is in a bit of a mess at the moment. Actually it has been for quite a while now.

For example, take its reaction (sorry to have to mention this again) to the anti same-sex marriage "Manif pour tous" march in Paris last weekend.

Among those taking part in the demonstration were the party's president, Jean-François Copé, Henri Guaino - a former speechwriter to Nicolas Sarkozy when he was in office and now a member of parliament in his own right - and Laurent Wauquiez, a former minister and a supporter of Copé's "defeated" challenger for the leadership of the party - François Fillon.

Notable by their absence though were Fillon himself, Alain Juppé - a former minister of just about anything you can think of and the current mayor of Bordeaux, and the party's likely candidate for next year's race to be mayor of Paris, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet (NKM).

Copé - ever the slick opportunist - was plainly using the demonstration as a means by which to protest against the current government and drum up support for the party in next year's local elections.

While for Guaino, it was clearly a matter of sticking to his principals - even if he had mistakenly voted in favour of the bill to allow same-sex marriage when it passed its final reading in parliament - and he was "proud" to have taken part.

Juppé, who unlike Guiano had managed to hit the right button and say "non" in the final vote - had previously stated he would be a no-show as the law had been passed and it had to be respected.

And NKM, who had abstained in the parliamentary vote, obviously had other more important issues on her mind namely that of the far-right Front National's call  to vote against her when polls open in the UMP's primary to choose its candidate for mayor of Paris.


On the subject of "voting" that brings us back neatly to an issue that remains unresolved and illustrates the state of health of the party...the struggle for the leadership.

You thought it was over?


Jean-François Cope and François Fillon (screenshot from i>Télé report)

Remember Copé's glorious "victory" over Fillon in last year's battle when both men declared themselves to have won and how the party split in two for a while after claims of vote-rigging and fraud?

The debacle dragged on for weeks until the two men and their supporters managed to bury the proverbial hatchet (somewhere) and reach some sort of working agreement.

They created an internal structure stuffed to bursting point with vice presidents to represent the two very different directions the party was trying to take at the same time.

Even though Copé perhaps has had the upper hand - after all he's the one who holds the post of party leader - his legitimacy has been questioned, and the issue of whether to hold another vote has never really gone away...until now.

Because on Monday the two men announced a solution which will put an end to divisions within the party and steer it on a true red, white and blue course for the future.

They've agreed to let party members decide whether there should be another vote to choose the party president.

Yes in other words (and sorry, there's no way to make this clear without constant repetition) their recommendation is that party members vote in June on whether they should vote again in December.

Now doesn't that make complete and utter political (non)sense?

Pass the gin.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Christine Boutin's "invasion of gays"

As France "recovers" from the million person march (organisers) or 150,000-strong (official figures) anti same-sex marriage "Manif pour tous" last weekend in Paris, a couple are preparing to wed in Montpellier.

On Wednesday Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau will become the first "gay grooms to tie the knot" since parliament voted in favour, the Constitutional Council gave its approval and the French president François Hollande signed same-sex marriage into law.

Vincent Autin (right) and Bruno Boileau (screenshot AFPTV report)

Add to that the fact that on the same day as the march, Franco-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche picked up top honours at the Cannes film festival for his "story of a young woman's awakening" in the film "La vie d'Adèle" ("Blue is the warmest colour") and you'll surely understand (?) how it has all become just a little too much for the country's most gay-friendly politician to handle.

We're talking about Christine Boutin of course, the former housing minister and leader of the centre-right Parti chrétien-démocrate (Christian democratic party, PCD) who defends family values and is most definitely not a homophobe.

That must be true because she has repeatedly said so.

Christine Boutin "I'm not a homophobe" (screenshot from TV5Monde, RFI, Le Monde interview)

But somehow it's increasingly hard to believe, especially in light of her outburst on French radio on Monday.

Following on from her recent tasteless tweet about US actress Angelina Jolie's decision to have a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer, and perhaps still feeling the after-effects (well there has to be some sort of explanation)  of being sprayed with tear gas during a Manif pour tous demonstration in Paris back in March, Boutin revealed that contrary to what she might insist, her views surely more than smack of homophobia.

Invited into the studios of RMC radio and asked to give her reaction to Kechiche's win, Boutin's  gay tolerance fuse blew.

"You can't watch a movie on television or a series without there being gays included and expressing themselves," she said.

"And now it's the Palme d'Or.... We're being invaded. We can no longer have a story without a gay theme occurring. It's too much," she continued.

"Today it seems to be a fashion to be gay. We're being invaded by gays."

Au secours!

Monday, 27 May 2013

"1789 : Les Amants de la Bastille" a revolutionary love story set to music

I'm not a great fan of musicals at the best of times, and even less so of French ones.

But occasionally I allow myself to be dragged along to one.

"You'll enjoy it, you'll see," friends who had seen the production of "1789 : Les Amants de la Bastille" during its first run in Paris, assured me.

"There's some great music, fine voices and the set is sumptuous. Plus you'll brush up your knowledge of French history," they insisted.

"Besides, you shouldn't be so snooty about these sort of things."

Moi? Snooty (and pretentious)? I hardly think so.

After all, I was the person who had recently seen the French version of "Mamma Mia"... and liked it.

Plus in recent years I've enjoyed the "Sound of Music", "West Side Story" and "Carousel" at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

All right, already so they were all transfers of original productions from Broadway or the West End.

And they weren't exactly in the mould of that 1998 gem "Notre Dame de Paris" described by The Independent when it opened in London as "a load of old bells" and which must surely have set the trend for the glut of French musicals that were to follow over the next decade or so.

Anyway, 1789-bound I was, even if somewhat sceptical.

Having heard some of the sound track on the radio and knowing that Louis Delort, a finalist in the first season of The Voice, had been cast in one of the lead roles, I didn't hold out much faith in my friends' first two assertions.

Louis Delort and Camille Lou (screenshot from "Tomber dans ses yeux " official video, 1789 Les Amants de la Bastille)

As for helping me make sense of a period in French history. I had my doubts.

On that count at least, I wasn't disappointed.

It was a French Disneyfying of events made palatable for everyone and accompanied by some frenzied dancing and uptempo but nonetheless uninspiring songs.

The run-up to the French revolution serves as a backdrop to a love story (what else?).

Robespierre, Danton, Marie Antoinette Louis XVI et al are all present and correct as are two fictional characters from both sides of the divide: Ronan Mazurier (Delort) for the "revolting peasants" and Olympe du Puget (Camille Lou) an under-governess at the royal court.

Delort is good, as is Lou. And... oh and look, there's another TV talent show contestant in the form of Sébastien Agius (Robespierre) who apparently won the inaugural season of the French X Factor in 2009.

They and the others belt out the tunes, helped by microphones cranked up to the max to overcome the pre-recorded intrumentals.

The music is...well, it seems as though Dove Attilla and Albert Cohen (the duo responsible for bringing us "Les 10 Commandements", "Le Roi Soleil" and most recently "Mozart l’opéra rock") have cobbled together the tracks that didn't quite make it into "Mozart".

Still, the audience seemed enthralled. Well at least those who weren't "watching" the whole thing through their smart 'phones while filming.

"Please don't use flash photography," the announcer had requested before the performance began.

"It's dangerous for the performers (huh?) and besides the stage lighting is sufficiently bright," he added, thereby making a nonsense of the sign at the entry to the venue which said "no cameras allowed".

Curtain up. Flash, flash, flash went the smartphones in a pattern which was to repeat itself every time there was a scene change.

Every song was roundly applauded. Children and adults alike texted furiously as they scoffed their popcorn and guzzled their soft drinks and I sighed, looking at my watch and wondering whether I could leave before the end.

It was...well a real treat for those who enjoy their French (musical) history served up Camembert-style.

Me? I think I'm musical-ed-out for the moment.

But if you're really keen to see what has, after all, been a huge success in France, "Les Amants" continues its nationwide tour with stopovers in Montpellier, Nice and Marseille before returning to Paris in November.

And then at the beginning of 2014 it'll be on the road again.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Universal Music's boss pays unsuitable "tribute" to Georges Moustaki

French singer-songwriter Georges Moustaki died on Thursday at the age of 79.

As you would probably expect from an artist of his stature, there were many moving tributes.

The national daily Le Figaro called Moustaki "un artiste extraordinaire"

On her official page, the minister of culture, Aurélie Filippetti, paid homage to "the man who had composed for some of France's musical giants before revealing himself as a great interpreter of his own songs."

Given Moustaki's roots (both his parents came from Corfu) TF1 took perhaps the more "popular", but nonetheless fitting approach.

Alongside running a segment on Moustaki's career, the channel's prime time news sought the reactions of a couple other famous Greeks (in France).

A tearful Nana Mouskouri sang him a short "message of love" and TV presenter Nikos Aliagas remembered the "sincerity in his eyes".

Outside of France, international news organisations such as the BBC and Deutsche Welle ran pieces on their sites.

And the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova sent her condolences to Moustaki's family and friends in a statement on her official page.

Inevitably their were also tributes from the famous and the less well known on Twitter, expressing their sense of loss and admiration for the man, or simply linking to videos and performances of their favourite songs.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to their pay respects to the man and his life - and quite rightly.

Except for one particular person. Pascal Nègre, the head of Universal Music, France - the label for which Moustaki recorded.
 Alongside calling Moustaki one of "the last legends, an artist and a poet" Nègre couldn't, it seems, resist reminding his 35,000 or so followers that Moustaki's works were available on Universal - ending his tasteful Tweet with RIP.

While many might view Nègre's Tweet as inappropriate (and indeed were soon poking fun at it in reply), he couldn't see anything wrong with what he had done.

"Why should I regret it?" he said.  "I paid tribute to an artist we were fortunate enough to produce and I simply gave information that we hold a lot of his musical catalogue."

Well, as you obviously need telling M. Nègre, it's called opportunism. And it's in pretty poor taste.

Georges Moustaki - Le facteur par kyssiane

Friday's French music break - Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers, "Get Lucky"

Friday's French music break this week comes from perhaps one of this country's most successful and, within their particular genre, influential groups - Daft Punk.

It's "Get Lucky", a song that in the words of a review in The New Yorker "lopes along in a soft disco thump, seductive but not ecstatic."

Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers (on guitar) screenshot from YouTube Saturday Night Live video

Co-written by the duo that make up Daft Punk - Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo - "Get Lucky" also features Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers (remember Chic?).

Yes, it really did take four people to collaborate on a song with minimal lyrics.

But who cares? This is dance music after all. Plus it includes the unmistakable touch of Rodgers on guitar.

"Get Lucky" is the first track to be released (in perhaps the cleverest and most titillating of marketing campaigns) from Daft Punk's fourth studio album "Random Access Memories" which, although most reviewers recognise it as an attempt by the group to "ditch the electronic beats, house and techno that first elevated them to fame" still delivers - big time.

For Elisa Bray writing in The Independent, the album is one that takes the listener on a journey which "for all its musical twists and turns has its feet firmly on the dancefloor" (???).

While Will Hermes in Rolling Stone describes it as an "awesome ride" even if - after five years of waiting, it's nothing like the Electronic Dance Music set that everyone had been expecting.

Yes, a lot has been written about both the single and the album - and that was before either had been released.

Anyway they're both available now and for any lovers of dance music "Get Lucky" is definitely something to get your head bobbing, shoulders swinging and - maybe in the privacy of your own home - hips a-groovin'.

Given the song's release date, maybe those who choose France's entry for the Eurovision Song Contest should have thought about getting in touch with Bangalter and de Homem-Christo ahead of time.

After all, just look at the countries in which it has already charted at number one - Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland and UK.

Oh well.

Enough words.


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Sylvie Andrieux - the French politician who remains innocent of embezzlement after being found guilty

Politicians - don't you just love 'em.

Somehow they just don't seem to be bound by the same rules as the rest of us.

At least it seems that way some of the time.

Take the case of two Socialist party members - Sylvie Andrieux and Harlem Désir

She has been a member of parliament for a Marseille (you can stick an "s" on the end of that if you wish, if you're reading this out loud in English) constituency for the past 16 years.

He has been a member of the European parliament since 1999 and also first secretary (to all intents and purposes, leader) of the party since October 2012.

So they're both seasoned politicians - right?

Sylvie Andrieux (screenshot from LCM report on opening of trial, March 2013)

On Wednesday, a court found Andrieux guilty of misappropriating public money - otherwise known as embezzlement to the rest of us - and was given a three year prison sentence with two of them suspended, as well as being fined €100,000 and being banned from holding public office for five years.

Not bad going for a politician who was elected to serve a fourth term in last year's parliamentary elections even though she was under investigation at the time.

The conviction means she's supposed to spend a year behind bars.

Except of course Andrieux is to appeal the ruling and, as such, is apparently still considered under French law to be innocent.


Anyway, the news was enough to have Désir come out guns a-blazin' as he took refuge in the party's rules and regulations to deliver what can only be described as the weakest of responses.

Harlem Désir (screenshot from BFM TV interview March 2013)

"Following her conviction, Sylvie Andrieux will have to leave the party until the appeal process has run its course," he said.

"If she doesn't, I'll suggest to the National Office of the party (er...wouldn't that include your good self M Désir?) that, as required by the code of ethics adopted at our party congress last year in Toulouse, she be suspended until the outcome of the appeal.

Strong words indeed and a perfect example of leadership qualities.

Anyone fancy Désir to be the country's next president?


Come on M. Desir.

Show some cojones.

Just sack the woman!

Even though Andrieux has said she won't be standing in next year's local elections, she still has her seat in parliament.

And before you start thinking that a conviction of any sort marks the end of her of political career, consider this.

Back in 1998 a former head of the anti-racist group SOS-Racisme was given an 18-month suspended sentence and fined 30,000 after being found guilty of having misused corporate assets to receive a "fictional" salary.

And that man've guessed it.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

French parliament debates allowing some university subjects to be taught in English.

...and of course some academics get their proverbials in a twist

"Teaching in English - Let's do it" was the front page headline in Tuesday's edition of Libération, making it clear where the national daily stands on government plans to relax the law which prevents English from being used as a language to teach subjects (other than English of course) at French universities.

In fact the paper went further - its entire front cover was in English.
Libération front cover

The parliamentary debate opens today - and although the government is in favour, it's up against the usual head-in-the sand opposition from some academics.

Speaking on Tuesday's edition of La Matinale on Canal + the minister for higher education and research, Geneviève Fioraso, said a change in the 1994 law which currently prevents English being used to teach subjects at universities would attract foreign students and be of benefit to French students.

"It's a move which makes sense and in no way threatens the values or culture of the French language," she said.

"And it seems ridiculous to me that a blind eye is turned when it comes to les grandes écoles, which have ignored the law and taught subjects in English, while the rest of the country's universities have been prevented from doing so," she continued.

"It's a matter of making certain the law meets the needs of the country."

Geneviève Fioraso (screenshot from Canal + La Matinale)

Fioraso has the backing of some of France's leading academics - including a couple of Nobel prize winners - who wrote and signed an open letter in Le Monde supporting the idea.

But of course there are also those horrified at the thought that the proposal will "marginalise the French language" or worse! 

One of France's most distinguished (French) linguists, Claude Hagège, writing in Le Monde called the proposal "suicide" and "an act of sabotage" of the French language.

While Bernard Pivot, a leading literary figure in France, told Le Croix in an interview of the dangers of French becoming "banal, or worse, a dead language."

Er. M Pivot et al.

In the words of that modern French-speaking cultural icon, Nabilla, "Non mais 'allô quoi!"

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Jean-Pierre who?

Veteran journalist Jean-Pierre Elkabbach is pretty well known to the French.

He has been around for seemingly donkey's years and has held several high profile posts in the French media including president of France Télévisions (December 1993 - June 1996), president of the parliamentary TV channel Public Sénat (December 1999 - April 2009) and directeur général (April 2005) and later president (until June 2008) of Europe 1 radio.

At 75 years of age, Elkabbach is still going strong and shows no signs of losing his tenacity and combativity as a journalist.

He currently has two programmes on Europe 1.

Firstly there's the Sunday morning "Le Grand Rendez-vous" in which he heads a team of four journalists who grill (in the nicest possible manner of course because this, after all, is France) an invited guest (usually, but not always, a politician) on the most pressing matters of the day or the past week.

And then there's his daily 10-minute slot starting at around 8.20 am on the station's morning show when he gets to go head-to-head with a "mover and a shaker" - again most often a politician.

The list of his most recent guests reads like a who's who of the French political stage: Ségolène Royal (no introductions necessary), Laurence Parisot (the still-head, but not for much longer, of the French employers' union MEDEF), the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso (all right so he's not exactly French) and the interior minister Manuel Valls are just a few of those who've faced Elkabbach so far this month.

On Tuesday it was the turn of Delphine Batho, France's (deep breath please) minister of ecology, sustainable development, and energy.

Jean-Pierre Elkabbach and Delphine Batho (screenshot Europe 1 radio)

Now Batho doesn't have a huge amount of experience of politics at a national level. Well she wouldn't really, as she's still only 40.

And although she has been an elected member of parliament since 2007 (taking over incidentally the seat previously held by Royal) her current job is her first big one in government.

That's unless you count the couple of weeks she spent as a junior minister in the justice ministry before the prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had a mini reshuffle shortly after June 2012 parliamentary elections.

Perhaps then, it was that lack of experience that had Batho flummoxed on Tuesday morning.

There again, maybe she had been out partying the previous working-non-working public holiday mess that is  lundi de Pentecôte.

Or it could just have been one of those moments that happens to all of us from time to time, because Batho didn't seem to be able to figure out who exactly was facing her in the studio.

As you can hear from the exchange in the accompanying video, she seemed convinced at times, that interviewing her was another Jean-Pierre - the Socialist party politician, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, a former minister under both François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac and one year younger (as if it had anything to do with it) than his, on this occasion, apparently first-named mix-up, Elkabbach.

"Global warming is no longer speculation Jean-Pierre Chevènement, it's now a fact to be witnessed in several countries," said Batho.

"Who is Jean-Pierre Chevènement," asked Elkabbach, eliciting an immediate apology and correction from Batho.

Only for exactly the same thing to happen to her moments later.

Elkabbach gave as good as he got, deliberately borrowing names of ministers present (that of health, Marisol Touraine) and past (budget and higher education, Valérie Pécresse) to come up with two new "Delphines" during the course of the interview.

The pair seemed to enjoy the joshing around, but the initial confusion was most probably down to that irritating habit journalists and those being interviewed (in France) have of repeating the name of the person they're talking to several times throughout a conversation.

It's either a confrontational technique or one meant to play for time or avoid the pitfall of forgetting the other person's name (in which case, it doesn't always work), but how much easier and more entertaining it might be, if they just all called each other "darling" instead - well just for one day at least.

Delphine Batho confond Jean-Pierre Elkabbach et... par LeLab_E1

Friday, 17 May 2013

An alliance between the UMP and Front National - a sign of things to come?

Next year the French - and many foreign residents registered in France, mainly EU citizens - will have the chance to go to the polls here in the country's municipal elections.

They'll be choosing the composition of local councils and, as a consequence, who'll be their mayor for the next six years.

Even though turnout might not be as high as it traditionally is for presidential and parliamentary elections, the chances are that (going on past results) a fair number of people will be exercising their democratic right at the ballot boxes.

And that inevitably means the results will be perceived by many as a sort of mid-term test for the French president, François Hollande, the government and the Socialist party.

That's not all of course. The performance of the other parties will also be scrutinised.

Will the opposition centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) finally be able to smooth over its internal differences and actually "win" an election?

How will the far-right Front National (FN) fare under its leader Marine Le Pen?

Will Jean-Luc Mélanchon's 180,000-strong (his figures - 30,000 according to the police) May 5 demonstration gather momentum to become a ballot box protest vote?

Questions, questions, questions.

Doubtless many will be asked and answered in different ways before, during and after the elections depending on the political spin.

One thing's for sure, with over 36,000 mayors to be elected up and down the country, party machines will have a tough job ensuring local activists toe the line.

That's already happening, with the UMP being forced to suspend one of its members for contravening party policy.

Arnaud Cléré
(screenshot France 3 television)

Arnaud Cléré is, or rather was until Monday, a member of the party in the town of Gamaches in the northern département of Somme.

He doesn't actually hold elected office, but wants to. And last week he announced he would be standing in next year's local elections on a list which also contained members of the FN.

It seems that for the 34-year-old, the proverbial "end justifies the means" - winning at any cost.

"It's all about strategy," he said.

"Gamaches has been in the hands of the communists or socialists for the past 30 years," he continued.

"There's no shame in an alliance with the FN...especially if it helps bring the right to power."

Not surprisingly perhaps Cléré's membership of the UMP has been suspended in line with party policy which the UMP leader Jean-François Copé reiterated in a recent speech in Nice insisting that the Front National was "an extremist party" and there would be "no alliance with that party".

But given the current political, economic and social climate in France, does anyone out there have the sense that Cléré's "political and tactical error" as it was decribed by UMP party officials, might be perceived as something else and instead mark a sign of things to come?

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Your Tweet on Angelina Jolie was not funny Madame Boutin

Some people shouldn't be allowed anywhere near Twitter.

Or there again perhaps they should be encouraged as it shows just how insensitive and out of touch they can be.

Take the case of Christine Boutin for example.

Boutin was housing minister (for a while, until being unceremoniously fired) under Nicolas Sarkozy.

But she's perhaps better known for being the leader of centre-right Parti chrétien-démocrate (Christian democratic party, PCD) and a fervent opponent of same-sex marriage just as she was of the bill to allow civil union, the Pacte civil de solidarité or PACS, between two adults regardless of their sex when it was making its way through parliament in 1999).

Remember her "malaise" and indignation after she was one of the protesters sprayed with tear gas at a "Manif our tous" demonstration in Paris back in March?

Well as usual Boutin has been tweeting this week but one in particular has surely revealed her for what she truly is... Choose whatever word you wish to describe her.

Boutin's tweet came in a response to an article in Le Nouvel Observateur's Le Plus.
about Angelina Jolie's Op-Ed "My Medical Choice" in the New York Times in which the actress wrote about her double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer.

Le Plus tweeted its piece saying Jolie was sending out "a message of hope for women."

Unfortunately Boutin didn't quite seem to think along the same lines - or at least hadn't bothered to read either Le Plus or Jolie's original Op-Ed because she responded, clearly without engaging her brain.

And in a manner which displayed her real compassion and sensitivity Boutin wrote, "Pour ressembler aux hommes ? Rire ! Si ce n'était triste à pleurer".

screenshot Twitter

Bravo Madame Boutin. Congratulations on your "sense of humour".

Boutin deleted the tweet, but not before a fair number of Internet users had responded both on Twitter and her Facebook page, the latter becoming the target of a "poop" attack with appropriately-shaped smileys being left after every new post.

screenshot Facebook

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

French politicians shine at passing the buck over Paris football riots

If you've been following the news this week, then you've probably seen the "celebrations that turned sour" when violence broke out on the streets of Paris as the city's football team Paris-Saint-Germain and its fans marked the club's first league title in 19 years.

The contrast couldn't have been greater to similar parades organised in England and Spain for their championship-winning teams Manchester United and Barcelona.

And although not all was apparently as calm in Manchester as perhaps the French media portrayed it, the scenes were nothing to match those that occurred in Paris.

It was well documented because so many French media outlets had teams "on the ground" reporting "en direct" almost as though they were willing, or at least expecting, something to happen.

And as we all know, it did.

But while the French media was pretty thorough in covering the whole debacle as it happened, it hasn't had as much success persuading the country's politicians to take their part of the blame for what happened.

Manuel Valls (screenshot from TF1 news)

The interior minister, Manuel Valls, appeared on radio and television, "condemning the violence" (well, he's hardly going to praise it now, is he?) and saying it showed that football, and in particular in the capital, was "ill".

And when asked by the mild-mannered and inoffensive anchor Gilles Bouleau on Tuesday's edition of TF1's evening news whether he, as minister in charge of the "forces of law and order" was willing to take his share of the responsibility for what had happened just as Frédéric Thiriez, the president of the French league Frédéric Thiriez had done, Valls delivered a sermon befitting of a politician eager to pass the buck.

"There were enough police present," he insisted, refusing to accept any blame even though viewers had just seen footage of riot police abandoning their positions when some of the worst scenes of violence broke out and deciding not to intervene when a coach carrying tourists was attacked.

"It was a minority of vandals intent on causing trouble who set others off," he maintained.

"There's violence in our society and there were those present who didn't just want to spoil the celebrations. They were there to fight, to steal and to vandalise."

Faced with a politician "singing" from such a well-prepared hymn sheet, Bouleau clearly had no chance of gaining even the slightest admission of accountability.

Mind you, the team on "La Matinale" on Canal + fared no better the following morning with the sports minister Valérie Fourneyron, even though collectively they were certainly more pugnacious in their questioning - or at least they tried to be.

Fourneyron refused point blank to respond directly to sports journalist Sylvère-Henry Cissé when he said it was hard to believe that "nobody could have anticipated trouble" (and thereby implying politicians had some part to play in what happened) given the number of pre-celebration preparations that had taken place.

"Those responsible for what happened were the vandals themselves who transformed the celebrations into a riot," she said, trotting out exactly the same "explanation" as Valls had done the previous evening and talking over Cissé's attempts to get her admit at least partial responsibility.

Instead Fourneyron preferred to repeat (from nine minutes and 24 seconds in the video below) that the "celebrations had been spoilt" and the penalties for those who had been arrested would have to be harsh.

Yes, it really was just like watching and hearing Valls II.

As the show's host Ariane Massenet summed it up, for Fourneyron (and by extension Valls and the government) what had happened was solely the fault of those vandals who had caused the violence. End of story.

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Monday, 13 May 2013

The Golden girls

Many years ago, not quite in a previous life, I kept chickens.

Actually I'm planning to again. The "Hen palace" has been built (not by my own not-so-fair hand, I hasten to add). It was finished months ago. All that's required now are the occupants to take up residence.

But I digress.

The brood of chickens - if it can be called that - was not exactly enormous. Just four, bought from a local farmer at around seven weeks and named after the characters in that long-running US comedy show the Golden Girls: Dorothy, Sophia, Blanche and Rose.

Theirs was meant to be a long and happy free-range life but sadly for three of them it was cut short by the unwanted attentions of a couple of my cockers.

Now they might not be the brainiest dogs around (add as many exclamations marks as you wish and don't hold back on the observation that dogs apparently often resemble their owners - or vice versa) but they are on the whole loving and tender creatures.

Unfortunately as I was to discover at the cost of three of the hens, their natural hunting instincts remained intact.

It was probably my fault for not having closed the gate to the pen properly, but one day I heard an almighty excited yelping from the dastardly duo and on rounding the corner, I discovered the scene of fowl play.

Dorothy, Sophia and Blanche lay bloodied and dead on the ground. Only Rose had escaped, unharmed.

Not the most propitious start, but I couldn't leave Rose alone now, could I? So another trip to the farmer and three more hens to replace those that were no longer with us.

Meanwhile I had learnt my lesson. The new arrivals remained unnamed (just to avoid soppy attachment) and the dogs were introduced slowly to them with an ever watchful eye and a barking command should they approach too close.

Fast forward a month or so and the eggs started coming.

But something didn't seem quite right - at least not with Rose.

Was she somehow still mourning the loss of her previous three companions?

Could that be the explanation for her more guarded and slightly less friendly comportment?

Whereas the other three would happily come when called (it was the period in my life when "cluck" became a regular part of my early morning vocabulary) she held back, seemingly eyeing me up with a look of disdain.

Was it it possible, I asked myself, for chickens to show contempt? Or was I just simply anthropomorphising.

But there was something else bothering me about Rose.

She was bigger, broader and altogether more masculine looking than the others, with a comb and a wattle to match that made her appear...well, different from the others.

And then it happened.

One morning I heard the distinctive dawn crowing and it seemed to be coming from MY hen house.

I charged downstairs to let the birds out and sure enough - Rose continued her call.

"She" of course was a "he" and had been all along.

It was just my inexperienced eye that had failed to acknowledge earlier what would probably have been patently obvious to anyone else; that Rose had been missexed.

Somehow I never quite got used to the idea of Rose being a "he" although that's most definitely what she was.

She proved it all the time, defending her girls and chasing the (now fully deferential) dogs around the garden. Oh yes how the proverbial tables had turned.

Gradually though, both Rose's aggression towards anything or anyone who came near her and the demands of her sexual appetite on the other three made her something of a handful, and not one I could manage.

So with a heavy heart I decided she had to go.

Not to the pot mind you. I'm sufficiently squeamish not to be able eat something I've named and raised.

Instead Rose took early retirement with the same local farmer from whom I had bought her on condition that she be allowed to live out her days ruling the roost - just elsewhere.

So Rose, this one's in memory of you. Perhaps not entirely appropriate as there was most definitely nothing "3e sexe" about you.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Is it time to scrap May 8 as a public holiday in France?

It's a question that is asked by some every year, especially in May when the number of public holidays can come thick and fast.

All right 2013 is perhaps exceptional.

May 1 (Fête du travail) and 8 (Victory in Europe Day) both fell on a Wednesday.

And the two "floating" holidays Ascension Day and lundi de Pentecôte (40 and 51 days respectively after Easter) both take place in May - 9 and 20.

Sure it's nice to "faire le pont" as many (but not all) French are doing right now by taking an extra day off and having in effect a five-day weekend.

But can a country really have so many holidays in one supposedly working month and support a total of 11 public holidays a year especially when it's going through an economic crisis.

Does it make sense?

Poland's president, Bronislaw Komorowski, and France's president, François Hollande, in Paris to mark the 68th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (screenshot Euronews)

Hervé Lambel, president of  Créateurs d'Emplois et de Richesses de France (Cerf) certainly doesn't think so.

"Companies still have the same wage costs even in a month during which there are four public holidays,' he said.

"In total we're talking about 0.1 percentage point of GDP each year, spread across the 11 public holidays. That amounts to around €2 billion that's not being generated by the economy. It threatens business and doesn't make sense."

Lambel's argument cuts no ice with employment minister Michel Sapin.

"What are we supposed to do? Get rid of May 1, May 8 or May 9? he said on Europe 1 radio.

"Let's be reasonable, public holidays are there for people to rest, so they can work even harder afterwards."

And he's backed up by Insee studies which suggest that the economic impact is negligible and counterbalanced to a certain extent by the boost given to the tourist industry.

That's the economic side of things. But what about the historic significance?

After all May 8 is Victory in Europe Day to mark the date "when the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich" which ended the war in Europe.

For Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right Front National all of France's public holidays - including May 8 - are of historic or religious importance.

"French workers are among the most productive in the world," she told France 2.

"We have a history and our roots are in a Christianity which built France," she continued.

"Getting rid of any public holiday is most definitely not the right path to take."

But wait. May 8 has something of a checkered history as a public holiday.

Although it had earlier been recognised as a "day of celebration", it first officially became a public holiday, actually taking place on May 8, in 1953.

In 1958 Charles de Gaulle reduced its status to that of a "commemorative day" by making it the second Sunday in May.

It was restored to May 8 in 1968 without being reinstated as a public holiday.

And in 1975 another former president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, abolished its status altogether in the name of Franco-German reconciliation.

It wasn't until 1981, under his successor François Mitterrand, the man who had been minister of veterans affairs when May 8 had first been recognised as a "day of celebration" that it once again became a public holiday - and on the right day.

So what do you think?

Should May 8 be kept as a public holiday in France?

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Mind your political language - French style

Choice words from two leading lights of France's opposition centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) over the past couple of days.

One a former president of the party - and the country come to that.

The other currently holding the top job within the party after winning that infamous battle last year, and perhaps just a little too keen on following his predecessor's political more senses than one apparently.

No prizes for guessing who the true blue pair are: Nicolas Sarkozy and Jean-François Copé.

Jean-François Cope in Nimes (screenshot from TF1 report)

Sarkozy is off to Las Vegas this week.

No he's not going to play the slots.

Rather he has been invited to address the SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference, a high level gab fest organised by the New York based investment fund and "committed to facilitating balanced discussions and debates on macro-economic trends, geo-political events and alternative investment opportunities within the context of a dynamic global economy" and allowing its international attendees to "to connect with global leaders and network with industry peers."

Sounds like fun.

At least he'll be moving and shaking it with the very "best".

But before Sarkozy left, he had a few things to say to those closest to him, if a piece which the national daily Aujuourd'hui en France-Le Parisien has entitled "The warm up for Sarkozy in Las Vegas" is to believed, about the state of the country and the performance of some French politicians.

Not without surprise Sarkozy describes the current French president, François Hollande, as "crap".

"The socialist government is collapsing in on itself and I am extremely worried," Sarkozy reportedly told his confidants who seemed only to happy to "share" them with the paper.

And he was also amazed that the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, admitted a couple of months ago that one of his (junior) ministers, Arnaud Montebourg, had insulted him over the 'phone with his...pardon the French..."Tu fais chier la terre entière avec ton aéroport de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, tu gères la France comme le conseil municipal de Nantes."

More evidence for Sarkozy that Hollande was simply "lacking authority".

Speaking of prime ministers, Sarkozy had less than tender words for François Fillon, the man he views as having been his "employee" during his five years in office.

"C'est un Loser," he said.

How charmingly refreshing from the man who made the expression "Casse-toi, pauv' con !" internationally famous back in 2008 and apparently still thinks perhaps he'll be "obliged to return".

He clearly hasn't lost his touch.

So what's Copé up to?

Well it looks as though he has been reaching for the same thesaurus to find suitably evocative expressions with which to get his point across.

Speaking to the party faithful in the French city of Nimes on Monday to mark the occasion of what he liked to refer to as "the anniversary of Hollande's failure" since taking office, Copé offered a word of advice in between a generous sprinkling of "cons" including the newly-coined prediction of a "printemps des cons".

"Il faut arrêter d'emmerder les français," he said.

Ah politics. Such a rich and varied language all of its own.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The political numbers game - don't always believe what you see

As well as being a public holiday, May Day is the time for marching in France, and last Wednesday was no different.

Er...perhaps that needs to be reworded as any time seems good for the French to take to the streets.

If you need proof of that, just look at this past weekend.

First up, 35,000 (if you believe the organisers) or 15,000 (according to the police) took to the streets of Paris in "Le Manif Pour Tous" - yet another demonstration by those opposed to the law allowing same-sex marriage and adoption which was passed by parliament last month and is currently awaiting the approval of the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Council).

And then there was Jean-Luc Mélanchon and his 180,000 supporters (his figures) or 30,000 (according to the police) gathered in the capital, campaigning against austerity and calling for "a clean up of French politics and the creation of a new and improved France in the form of a 6th Republic."

Yes, the police were busy - but quite how busy, is open to question.

Anyway, back to May Day when, as tradition has it, trade unions take the lead in celebrating workers' rights (and protesting against government policy - this time around, austerity) in demonstrations throughout the country - 160,000 (organisers) or 97,300 police.

Once again, it's hard to get an exact picture.

But thankfully we've got the media to inform and provide those images that help give an accurate impression, haven't we?

Er...haven't we?

Well, that depends.

Take the case, for example, of another traditional rally in Paris on May 1, that of the far right (or economically protectionist, socially conservative nationalist party as Wikipedia now describes it) Front National, when Joan of Arc was inevitably evoked as a symbol of pride and patriotism, and the party's leader, Marine Le Pen delivered an address to the assembled throng.

Front National May Day rally, Paris
(screenshot BFM TV)

Once again there was a notable difference between the figures quoted by the organisers (15,000) and the police (6,000) who assembled to hear the woman who would, according to a (nonsensical) poll released at the end of April make it through to a second-round run-off (against Nicolas Sarkozy) if "the presidential elections were held tomorrow".

If you had been watching the three generations of Le Pen - Jean-Marie, Marine and Marion - leading the flag-waving supporters, you might well have had the impression that the far right march to power is inevitable and unstoppable because the camera doesn't lie - does it?

But wait.

Guess who was providing the footage used by many of the all-news channels in France covering the march?

Political journalist Nicolas Domenach revealed all on last Friday's lunchtime news magazine "Nouvelle Edition" on Canal + with a warning to be wary of what you believe you're seeing - it was the Front National itself, with only i>Télé "remembering" to inform viewers of that fact.

Have all those figures done your head in?

Time then perhaps for some musical respite.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

A "unifying" moment of radio silence for Jean-François Copé

If you turn on your radio on a Sunday morning in France and tune in to Europe 1 at 10 o'clock, then you'll be able to hear arguably one of the country's most experienced and perhaps political journalists, Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, grilling his guests on "Le Grand Rendez-vous".

Elkabbach is no stranger to many French, having held several high profile posts for television and radio, including president of France Télévisions (December 1993 - June 1996), president of the parliamentary TV channel Public Sénat (December 1999 - April 2009) and directeur général (April 2005) and later president (until June 2008) of the radio station for which he still works, Europe 1.

"Le Grand Rendez-vous" is a sort of "joint venture" if you like, between Europe 1, the popular national daily Aujourd'hui en France, the all-news channel i>Télé and TV5 Monde.

A fellow journalist from each of the three partners sits alongside Elkabbach, but there's no doubting who's in charge.

The programme lasts just one hour, during which the guest - usually a politician (but not always) - goes head-to-head (or should that be the other wary round?) with Elkabbach on the most pressing matters of the day or the past week.

The list of recent guests includes, politicians Michel Sapin, François Fillon and Pierre Moscovici, trade unionist leader Laurent Berger, former CEO of EADS Louis Gallois and Cardinal André Vingt-Trois.

As the whole thing is filmed and available live on the Net, most guests - especially the politicians, keen to preen and aware of the importance of image - have taken to inviting along people of their choice to sit in the audience.

Space is limited by the size of the studio of course, but some politicians cannot resist a show of strength.

Such was the case recently with Jean-François Copé, the president of the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP).

Jean-François Copé (screenshot from Europe 1's "Le Grand Rendez-vous")

You might remember, he was "elected" to that position after the party's internal voting shenanigans last year and the ensuing stalemate with former prime minister François Fillon.

Events have moved on since then. The two men have buried the proverbial hatchet - although it's not sure where - the party split has been "healed" and there are vice-presidents galore from both camps.

And that "bonhomie" among party members was something the ever media-savvy Copé was eager to stress during his one hour with Elkabbach.

Except the seasoned journalist wasn't letting Copé off the hook so easily and at one point, after listening to "unity...yadda, yadda, yadda", "cooperation...yadda, yadda, yadda" and "agreement...yadda, yadda, yadda" for more than long enough, Elkabbach challenged his guest.

He pointed out that all 22 of the party members Copé had invited to sit in the audience while being interviewed, were from his "clan": they had all supported him before, during and after the leadership voting debacle.

Rattling of a list of names of those present, Elkabbach asked, "But where are the (so-called) Fillonists? There's not a single one here," he said, finger raised.

"There's no sign of (Valérie) Pécresse, (Éric) Ciotti not even - excuse me for saying this - François come?" continued Elkabbach.

"What a silence," he exclaimed as Copé took more than a moment to summon his response.

It was a classic...a moment when a usually smug Copé floundered, discovering that he had been well and truly outmanoeuvred

Take a look - at the accompanying video from five minutes and 12 seconds as Copé quite rightly gets his come-uppance.

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Friday, 3 May 2013

Friday's French music break - Indochine, "College boy"

This week's Friday's French music break has been chosen not so much for the quality of the song - you can be the judge of what you think about that - but more for the controversy surrounding the accompanying video.

It's "College boy" the latest release from one of France's most successful rock bands, "Indochine".

In essence, the song is about the bullying experienced by a schoolboy realising that to be accepted by his peer group will be an uphill struggle, to say the least.

But the video, filmed in black and white and shot by young Canadian director, Xavier Nolan, deliberately uses violence and relies on certain clichés to get its message across.

And therein lies the heart of the controversy.

(screenshot from "College boy" video)

Writing in Nouvel Observateur, François Jost describes what happens in the video.

"The victim of bullying is a boy coming to terms with his sexuality," he writes.

"He becomes the scapegoat, is tortured by some of his classmates, spat and urinated on while others 'watch with their eyes bound'," continues Jost.

"Finally he's crucified: two bullets through the body."

While Jost insists the video is no worse (and no better) than some US films which portray violence for its own sake and that it in fact depicts to an extent a reality which exists (he gives the example of the behaviour by some in France during the recent demonstrations against same-sex marriage), others have been more critical.

"The video is simple 'trash'," says editor-in-chief for culture at Le Figaro, François Aubel.

"From the paper balls thrown at the boy by his classmates through a whole series of images until his death...even though Indochine insist they're not looking to create a scandal, the whole thing smacks of being a marketing ploy," he added, pointing out that the group will embark on a sell-out tour in the Autumn and will also play Stade de France (one of the few French acts capable of filling it) next year.

Former education minister, Luc Chatel, is none too impressed either.

"Imagine a crucifixion, imagine a murder filmed at the heart of a school. That's not acceptable," he said on national radio when asked about his reaction to the video.

"I'm not certain that the extreme violence of some of the images is the appropriate response to the issue of bullying and harassment," he added.

The Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (CSA), the regulatory body for the media in France, is still determining whether the video is suitable for broadcast on either television or on the Net in this country, so for the moment the full version is unavailable, unless you happen to live in Canada, where it was shot.

On Le Figaro's site though you can see so-called "soft" edited portions of the video - if you really feel so inclined.

Even those images don't make easy viewing.

Maybe though, the last word on the video should be left to the group's front man, Nicola Sirkis.

"We're not looking to be censored or to create a scandal," he says.

"We just wanted to address a problem that exists.  When it's possible for a person to buy weapons on the Internet and then turn them against innocent people, it's time for some urgent and serious political thinking."

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Wikipédia "Non, mais allô quoi"

Recognise the catchphrase?

The chances are, even if you're not a fan of reality TV, you'll have heard those words in one form or another over recent weeks.

They formed the now infamous moment of "glorious" telly after being uttered by a certain Nabilla Benatillia during an episode of "Les Anges de la télé-réalité" on NRJ12.
Lost already?

Nabilla (screenshot from "Les Anges de la télé-réalité")

Here's the quickest of recaps.

"Les Anges de la télé-réalité" is a reality TV show (surprise, surprise) first launched back in 2011 to "celebrate" a decade of the genre in France.


It groups together "stars" (a lot of inverted commas going on here) of previous TV reality shows and allows them to pursue their dreams Stateside.

There have been four seasons so far and in the most recent Benatillia, who has found "fame" with just the use of her first name, uttered a phrase that quickly became something of a cult.

Nabilla, who first hit French TV screens in TF1's "L'amour est aveugle" (don't ask, but if you really want to find out more about that programme, click here, it's truly "fascinating") wanted to further her career as a "model".

And while taking giant steps "to become this country's answer to Kim Kardashian" (don't worry if you're not following any of this or aren't familiar with the names. A quick Internet search will reveal all you need to know) Nabilla spoke the words which were soon to create a buzz in France.

Talking about fellow contestants who had apparently forgotten to bring their shampoo with them (!!!), Nabilla said to camera, "Euh, allô! non, mais allô, quoi. T'es une fille et t'as pas de shampooing? Allô. Allô! Je ne sais pas, vous me recevez? T'es une fille et t'as pas de shampooing? C'est comme si je dis: t'es une fille et t'as pas de cheveux!"




If you've been following the links in the piece so far, you'll have noticed that most of them are to pieces provided by those fine folk at Wikipedia - the English version that is.

And with good reason.

Because the French equivalent has decided Nabilla isn't newsworthy enough and has dropped her page.


After all, this is the very same Nabilla who put in such a stunning performance on "Le Grand Journal" on Canal + in mid-April.

Nabilla (screenshot "Le Grand Journal" Canal + April 11, 2013)

Her "catchphrase" was repeated and parodied by media "luminaries" such as journalist Audrey Pulvar and presenter Alessandra Sublet.

Heck even IKEA and Carrefour jumped on the bandwagon to use it in commercials.

But all that is apparently not enough for Wikipédia (French spelling) France as its president, Rémi Mathis, explained to (the culture section of) Le Figaro.

Mathis told the newspaper that to determine whether a person's entry was worth maintaining on Wikipédia, a vote was put to the site's most regular contributors and the outcome had been a 66:44 vote in favour of pulling Nabilla's page.

"It avoids the situation whereby Wikipédia simply seems to be 'peddling the buzz of the week'," he explained.

"Like all rules of Wikipédia, the eligibility criteria have been established by the community," he continued.

"Deleting a page is nothing extraordinary and happens several times a day and it can also transpire that an entry that has been removed, returns at a later date once the person has achieved a certain level of notoriety."

So there's hope yet for Nabilla and her legion of fans...because given a little more exposure (she'll be appearing in the fifth season of "Les Anges de la télé-réalité") and a few more choice expressions under her belt, she could make a return to Wikipédia France.

Just as a certain young Canadian singer did back in 2009, when his page was reinstated after being removed for a couple of months.

Ah. The price of fame!
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