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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.

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