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Friday, 19 December 2014

Friday's French music break - Julien Doré, "Chou Wasabi"

Friday's French music break puts paid to the myth that contestants, let alone winners, of TV  talent shows have a limited appeal after their 15-minutes of small screen fame, lack originality and are simply a product of prime time television.

That might well be the case of the vast majority of wannabe warblers, but there are exceptions to the rule.

When Julien Doré won the fifth edition of the once-defunct but since-revived "Nouvelle Star" (the French version of Pop Idol) in 2007 he had spent a season interpreting other people's songs and doing so with a refreshing touch of creativity.

Julien Doré (screenshot TV5 Monde "Acoustic" - September 2014)

Few, who followed his progress through the competition, will forget his rocked-up rendition of Alizée's "Moi...Lolita", the debut single in 2000 from the then Mylène Farmer managed 15-year-old. .

Doré went further later in the competition with another unlikely rocked-up (but this time acoustic) version of a pop giant when he transformed Britney Spear's quintessential international Disney break-out teen hit "Baby One More Time" into...well, something else.

OK OK so most definitely not his genre, but it got Doré noticed and it was clear that he had a talent, was prepared to take risks  and didn't appear to take the whole talent show experience too seriously.

Plus he had stage presence, charm, charisma and his very distinctive style and musicality.

And that has served him well ever since, with each of his three albums - "Ersatz" in 2008, "Bichon" in 2011 and most recently the critically acclaimed "Love" (guess the theme) in 2013 - reflecting his musical eclecticism

Just as important, in interviews, Doré doesn't appear to come across as having been bitten by the star bug, his concerts (see a list here for upcoming dates) are a treat for fans as the "master of the ukele" (the instrument with which he auditioned for "Nouvelle Star") draws in a crowd of all ages.

If the excellent "Paris-Seychelles" - the first track to be lifted from "Love" as a single - whetted your appetite, then ""Chou Wasabi" si probably its natural successor - lyrically and melodically - as well as the video which features the same "young Doré double".

Australian-born Micky Green joins Doré for the duet which "evokes a relationship reaching its end"

And its quite simply hauntingly beautiful.


Thursday, 18 December 2014

French finance minister says government policies "bearing fruit" as Fitch lowers France's rating to AA - say what?

You don't need to be an expert in economics to know there's something not quite right about two pieces of news that broke towards the end of last week.

First up ratings agency Fitch reduced France's credit grade from AA+ to AA saying that the country's "efforts to trim its fiscal deficit have fallen short to avoid a downgrade."

Or in ratings speak, "The weak outlook for the French economy impairs the prospects for fiscal consolidation and stabilising the public debt ratio."

Not exactly a resounding endorsement of France's efforts to its tackle its public debt or the measures put in place to boost the economy.

But hey ho. This is France, the country in which successive governments seem to believe faithfully in the power of La méthode Coué or autosuggestion and positive thinking.

In other words, if you say something often enough, you'll come to believe it - even if all the evidence points to the contrary.

So up popped the French finance minister, Michel Sapin, to share his response in a statement which...well almost defies belief.

Michel Sapin screenshot from RTL radio interview, October 2014

"Government policies are beginning to bear fruit as companies benefit from cuts in levies and that'll continue in the coming years," he said.

"In Europe's difficult economic environment in Europe , we're going to maintain the course we've already set with the implementation of planned economies , and the continuation of reforms needed to boost growth and make companies more competitive."

In other words, an ostrich head in sand style, "We're not taking any notice of what any ratings agency says as we know best how to (mis)handle our own economy". the way M Sapin, Father Christmas isn't real.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Closer magazine "outs" Front National's Florian Philippot

So a prominent member of the far-right Front National (FN), Florian Philippot, is apparently  gay.

Florian Philippot (screenshot i>Télé interview November 2014)

It's not exactly a secret, although not a story with which the media the rest of the French media has been prepared to run.

Until, that is, the weekly celebrity news and gossip magazine, Closer, decided "to break the silence" by publishing photographs in its latest edition of Philippot and his partner, on a break in Vienna.

Yes, Closer - that bastion of first-rate journalism whose credo seems to be that "scandal and sauciness" are newsworthy and has made its mark by publishing unauthorised long lens photographs, is proving true to its reputation.

Remember back in 2006 those photos of Ségolène Royal clad only in a bikini on a beach?

Or in 2012  the shots of the Duchess of Cambridge, topless while on a private holiday in the south of France?

And more recently the French president, François Hollande, snapped on a scooter as he made his way to a late night liaison with actress Julie Gayet?

Those were all "stories", complete with photographs published by Closer.

The magazine's latest "target", in what it presumably once again hopes will help boost sales, has been the subject of "rumour" for quite a while.

In fact a "gay lobby" within the FN was was suggested by the far-right weekly newspaper Minute in January 2013 when it claimed on its front cover that "le lobby gay s'introduit partout" - the media, all political parties and even the FN.

At the time, Philippot accused the newspaper of "stigmatising homosexuals and spreading rumours".

Such tittle tattle certainly seemed to put the party's leadership at odds with its declared position at the time of being against gay marriage as the bill to make same-sex marriage legal made its way through parliament with accompanying demonstrations of those opposed to the government's proposals.

The party's  leader, Marine Le Pen, said she was against the reform, but left it open to individual members to decide whether they would join the demonstrations.

So it's perhaps not a surprise that Le Pen "defended" Philippot when the news that Closer had outed him.

"This is a very serious violation of individual freedoms.," she told Europe 1 radio.

"This type of behaviour is unacceptable for Florian Philippot just as much as it was for François Hollande.  Private life is sacred."

Le Pen's reaction has been mirrored by other politicians  across the political spectrum and Tweets (what else) of outrage that what was essentially a private matter should, as far as Closer is concerned, be of public interest.

Proof that the real "scandal" is not that Philippot is gay - that's neither relevant to his political ideas nor particularly interesting.

Rather that a magazine such as Closer should be allowed to continue to "sell" based on publication of unauthorised photos.

Monday, 8 December 2014

François Hollande's Kazakh fur hat and coat photo does wonders for his "plonker" image - yet again

The French president, François Hollande, might have a reputation for being an academic egghead  - an alumnus of the prestigious École nationale d'administration (ENA) and all that.

And he's equally well-known for cracking jokes (not always successfully) and (unfortunately) being chronically late for meetings.

But sadly, France's head of state also has a reputation for unintentionally (well, you would hope so) appearing to make a complete and utter pillock of himself - and that's putting it politely - not only with what he says (he masters the slip-of-the-tongue) but how he looks.

The rain fell on Hollande's parade (quite literally) from the very beginning (and has continued to do so with alarming frequency) in terms of his image when he got a real soaking just after being sworn in as president.

In fact, "Rain man" as Hollande has sometimes been unkindly termed, has become something of a standing joke within the media as bad weather just seems to have followed the French president from one official function to another (with the occasional exception of course).

Then there was the time, just a couple of months after being elected, during a state visit to London in July 2012 when Hollande appeared "dwarfed" by a Coldstream Guard (complete with the traditional bearskin of course) while inspecting the Guard of Honour.

A photo which amused many.

And few will forget the unfortunate snap taken by Agence France Presse during Hollande's visit to a school in Denain in northern France in September 2013 which had all the hallmarks of a "gormless grin" with Hollande seeming to "gurn".

You can see all those (and more) by searching through Twitter posts as every one of them quickly became the object of ridicule on the social network.

Just as Hollande's latest "plonker" PR (disaster) picture has.

This time it had him swaddled in a traditional Kazakh fur hat and coat as he posed with the country's president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, during a meeting in Astana last week.

Aie, aie, aie!

What was Hollande thinking of?

François Hollande and Nursultan Nazarbayev (screenshot - i>Télé report)

Where was his communications team? Apparently absent or at least unable to intervene.

But even without them, did he have to make himself look like a complete buffoon?

Yes, it would seem. Hollande had little or no choice and was just doing as previous leaders (such as Barak Obama) had done before him.

Plus, the photograph was taken by Nazarbayev's official photographer and posted on the Kazakh press service's Instagram account before being withdrawn.

Too late. The anger and embarrassment at the Elysée palace was accompanied by another round of online jokes as once again, Hollande became an international laughing stock.

Great PR for the French president and for the country.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé - the battle of the opinion polls

Another day, another poll - and one involving the former president, Nicolas Sarkozy...of course.

Well it is France after all.

Yes, there are other things happening in France - and not just in the world of political surveys.

Sarkozy, for example, is busy "pleasing all" (or trying to)  and attempting to unite the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) as he puts together a team resembling a shadow cabinet (divisions included) since winning, in less convincing fashion than he had probably anticipated, the battle for the leadership of his party last weekend.

But the poll looks to the future (er...don't they always, in so far as they're asking speculative questions?) and in particular the expected (political) handbags at dawn "combat" to become the UMP's candidate for the 2017 presidential campaign.

Anyway the latest poll, carried out - just before the UMP leadership election - by YouGov on behalf of the all-news channels i>Télé and Le Huffington Post.

It's essentially to show in order of popularity, how French politicians (or at least their images) rate with the public - "about which of these - answer as many times as you wish - do have a positive opinion?"

And the outcome is that the big winners in the past month (the so-called "Tops"), in terms of how they're perceived by the French electorate at large are Bruno Le Maire and the man who could well push Sarkozy all the way in the expected primary to be the UMP's next presidential candidate, Alain Juppé.

Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé at a meeting in Bordeaux, November 2014 (screenshot AFP report)

The tables aren't exactly easy to read (when are these things ever - go to this link and open the pdf file) but the Huff Post neatly sums up the survery's findings with Juppé and Le Maire both on the upswing (their "Tops" and Sarkozy losing a few points 'and appearing among the "Flops").

Oh yes...and look at who's at number two on the "positive" list - Marine Le Pen.

Just for a bit of fun, take a look also at the second table which shows those politicians who most engender a negative image (the Flops).

Right up there towards the top (just after Jean-Marie Le Pen and ahead of Jean-François Copé and Marine Le Pen) is Sarkozy - surely adding to the general feeling that he is able to unite and divide opinion (a little like Marine Le Pen) at the same time but one thing's for certain...he doesn't leave anyone indifferent.

Oh yes...and there's a slight increase in the popularity of the current president, François Hollande, and the prime minister, Manuel Valls. But not enough to be of any real significance.

They really need a better PR team - or perhaps policies that actually work...whoops.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

And if the French were to vote in parliamentary elections today...?

Warning - this piece contains so many numbers, it could serious "do your head in"

A polls has been published in France today which, in and of itself, means very little because it's based on a false premise.

But (and you knew there would be one) it's enough to give the current government, the Socialist party (PS) and in fact the whole of the political Left, the heebie-jeebies.

If (conditional) there were a parliamentary election in France today (and the next one isn't due until June 2017) the Left, and in particular the PS, would suffer a humiliating (to say the least) defeat.

All right, so the poll appears in Le Figaro, a national daily not exactly known for it's love of the PS and whose chairman happens to be Serge Dassault, a member of the opposition centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) and a member of the Senate since 2004.

And was it was carried out by l'Institut CSA (conseil, sondage et analyse) part of the Bolloré group whose president and Chief executive officer, Vincent Bolloré, just happens to be a friend of the newly-elected leader the UMP - Nicolas Sarkozy.

But don't start reading too much into those "facts". They're just an aside as, after all, a poll is just a poll - isn't it?

It has to be both objective and representative.

So what does the Le Figaro's poll "indicate" - bearing in mind that the imaginary election is not going to happen today.


Using the current two-round majority system, the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) and the centrist Union des démocrates et indépendants (Union of democrats and independents, UDI) would win between 485 and 505 of the 577 seats in the national assembly.

"A level never obtained by the centre-right" points out Le Figaro which published the poll. "Better even than the 1993 parliamentary election results (when the two centre-right/centrist parties of the time, the Rassemblement pour la République and the Union pour la démocratie française, won 257 and 215 seats respectively)."

The far-right Front National, FN (currently with just two members of parliament) would see it numbers increase to anything from 14 to 24 seats.

And the Left - including the Socialist party, the Greens and the Front de Gauche?

Well they would have to be satisfied with between 56 and 66 seats.

The make up of the national assembly if an election were held today (screenshot "La Nouvelle Édition" - Canal +)

And the "debacle" for the PS would hardly be avoided (although it would be less humiliating) if a system of proportional representation were used.

UMP and UDI - between 208 and 248 seats.
The Left - (PS, Greens and Front de Gauche) - between 180 and 220 (hardly respectable...but)
FN - between 138 and 159 seats.

Draw your own conclusions as to how to interpret the figures and even the value of the (yet another) poll.

But a clearer picture will emerge next year as...guess what.

There will be elections...departmental on March 22 and 29 and some later date once the territorial reform (the proposal to reduce of the number of regions from 22 to 13 in metropolitan France) has finally been signed, sealed and delivered.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Black Friday shopping arrives in France as Restos du Cœur charity begins its winter campaign - three cheers!

Something of an obscene paradox occurred here in France at the end of last week.

A good ol' US export in the shape of "Black Friday" crossed the Pond and arrived in France.


Black Friday shopping arrives in France (screenshot France 3 news)

Nope, there's nothing wrong with that, even if the concept seems a little out of place in a country in which sales (or soldes) - the time when retailers slash prices and shoppers can pick up a bargain or two - are carefully regulated, although there's an extension as of 2015 in the length of time of the traditional winter and summer sales from five to six weeks.

Even if the French don't celebrate Thanksgiving (yet - but who knows) the arrival of Black Friday shopping to these shores is perhaps another reminder of the influence the US has on popular culture and the importance given to consumerism especially in the run-up to Christmas - whatever the cost.

That's neither a bad thing nor a good one - depending on your perspective. And it wasn't the obscene paradox in and of itself.

Because that lay elsewhere - and it hardly raised a Gallic eyebrow and certainly little comment within the media.

Just as chains such as Darty, Auchan, Fnac and Casino decided to join in the "festive fun" of encouraging the public to spend whatever money they might or might not have on Christmas shopping, a more established event was underway.

Outside supermarkets up and down the country, volunteers from the charity Restos du Cœur were busy collecting non-perishable goods from shoppers as part of the 30th annual winter campaign (that had begun on Monday of the same week) to provide food packages and hot meals to the ever-increasing number of French needy in need of such help.

Ah well.

That was last week. And France (just as life - how philosophical) is full of contradictions.

This coming weekend the French will be in for yet another paradox which seems to have become common practice.

Some television celebrities such as game show host Nagui back in 2010 have questioned why it is allowed to happen, but those calls fell on deaf TV executive ears and even deafer event organisers, it appears.

Public television - and in particular France 2 - will be in full charitable mode raising money, just as it has done every year since 1987, for the L'Association française contre les myopathies, (the muscular dystrophy charity) with the Téléthon.

Meanwhile TF1 will broadcast - just as it has for several years - the election of Miss France as  33 candidates compete in Orléans to succeed last year's winner Flora Coquerel.

Black Friday shopping and Restos du Cœur are as much a match made in heaven as Miss France and the Téléthon.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Marly-Gomont's footballing team spirit after 20-0 loss

Until recently the village of Marly-Gomont (population, just over 400) in the département of Aisne in northern France was probably best known for being featured in the 2006 hit of the same name by French rapper Kamini Zantoko.

It's where "Kamini", as he's professionally known, grew up, and the song was a humourous recounting of everyday life and being the only black family living in such a small community.

Well, Marly-Gomont is back in the news for the performance of its local football team, ASMG.

It wasn't just the 20-0 defeat it suffered at the hands...or perhaps that should be feet...of opponents Tupigny, but the manner in which the team lost.

And to be honest, it's refreshing proof (if it were really needed) that the so-called beautiful game is at its most authentic at the amateur level rather than that of the multi-million euro exploits of the overpaid professionals.

Proof that even (or probably) at its most amateur level, the so-called Beautiful Game.

(screenshot from Kamini's video "Marly-Gomont")

 ASMG were already 5-0 down when, after 25 minutes into the match, their goalkeeper had to leave the pitch...because he had been called away to tend to one of his cows who was about to give birth.

On the bench, there wasn't really anyone suitable to replace him, as the club's president, Alain Braghéri,  explained to the local newspaper L'Aisne nouvelle.

"Fourteen of our players were absent through injury or for other reasons," he said.

"Only 12 of us had made the (20km) trip to Tupigny and of those, four weren't even 17 and didn't have senior team experience."

So with nobody around to keep goal, you've probably guessed what happened next.

It was 61-year-old Braghéri who "stepped into the breach"

And he didn't seem to be making too bad a job of things under the circumstances, letting in "just" another five goals by the end of the first half.

But when play resumed, things quickly went pear-shaped.

"Tupigny continued playing their game: short, precise passes and the 'red wave' always seemed to be surging towards me," Braghéri said.

"We suffered, that's for sure. But we tried to limit the damage and we continued playing right up until the end of the match. Tupigny even congratulated us afterwards. We could have abandoned. But what's better? To 'swallow the bitter pill' and get on with it and learn? Or to give up?"

Monday, 24 November 2014

The French male chauvinist's ideal Christmas present for his "other half"?

With Christmas (it's no good groaning, it's that time of year again) just over one month away, it's time perhaps to begin thinking about what you're going to buy your nearest and dearest.

And for the male chauvinists among you who might be looking for ideas as to what to offer your better/other half, her indoors, swmbo or whatever suitably clichéd term you might wish to use, Rowenta has come up with what could well be the "perfect" gift.

After all, it's clearly something only women use.

A vacuum cleaner.

Yes - it's THE thing made for HER!

At least if you're reading through the diagrammatic instructions that accompany the "made in France" Rowenta x-trem power aspirateur (that's your French word for the day. Try dropping it into a conversation. You'll definitely impress).

Now, neither the country of production (France) nor of the manufacturer (Germany) might seem particularly relevant until you cast an eye over (and this is admittedly a somewhat shaky and definitely laboured link to give this piece a semblance of up-to-date newsworthiness) the recent annual report from the World Economic Forum on the global gender gap.

It looks at gender quality worldwide in terms of education, work and health and ranks countries accordingly. As you might expect Germany at 12th position and France 16th rate reasonably well.

After all both are countries in which women's rights and gender equality are promoted - albeit with varying degrees of success.

Somehow though housekeeping and cleaning in this case (as far as Rowenta is concerned), are still apparently very much the domain of women.

How can you tell?

Well, it's back to those diagrammatic instructions - so handy as the written ones only come in nine different languages.

Because although the hand in the illustrations might well be considered to be androgynous enough to give the appearance that the instructions were for both men and women, those featuring the foot (figures 10 and 14) clearly give the game away.

Yep - that's definitely a woman's foot - or at least one clad in a woman's shoe.

So there you have it. A product aimed at, and to be used by, women.

Surely the ideal Christmas present "just for her".

So Messieurs, try stuffing that in the stocking or placing it wrapped at the foot of the Christmas tree and wait for the "squeals of joy and delight".

It'll be a Christmas you'll never forget.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday's French music break - Brigitte, "À bouche que veux-tu"

Friday's French music break this week is sheer delight and a real treat.

It's the title track "À bouche que veux-tu" of the the new album released this week from the duo Brigitte.

Brigitte (screenshot from official video of "À bouche que veux-tu")

The group are the "indie folk musical duo" of Aurelie Saada and Sylvie Hoarau and, it quickly becomes clear that "indie" label is highly appropriate in the sense that their music is hard to categorise.

Their Myspace bio - yes some artists still seem to be using it - describes them as "A throwback to the flower power era, '60s revivalists...combining lounge-pop, retro folk, and French cabaret to produce an authentic hippie-chic sound."

And that, if anything, seems a pretty accurate description.

Their music (and their videos) is (are) highly stylised, melodic and yes, retro without a doubt.

But the duo are also very "modern"...if that makes any sense (and when did you last read a musical review that did?)...offering a distinctive sound that won't leave you indifferent (in a very positive way).

Take a listen for example to two of their best-known past singles, "Battez vous" and "Oh la la" and you'll quickly become hooked.

Brigitte already have one Victoire de la musique award under their belts for Group or Artist Stage Révélation of the Year in 2012 - and this album, and the accompanying tour should ensure they'll be in the running once again next year - perhaps for one of the major gongs..

You can catch the pair on tour throughout France, including two dates at Olympia in Paris in May 2015.

So without further ado, here's a taste of what you can expect...Brigitte with "À bouche que veux-tu".

And as a bonus, the official version followed by an acoustic one.


You most definitely will!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

French government minister hesitantly re-opens the spanking debate

And so the debate has begun again - just as it does periodically in France with, nothing... changing along the way.

The French government has announced it wants to "re-open the debate about spanking" with the minister for families, Laurence Rossignol, saying in an interview this week on Europe 1 radio that she wanted there to be "a violence-free education in French society."

Laurence Rossignol (screenshot Europe 1 interview)

Now before those of you who are morally opposed to any form of physical punishment of children begin rejoicing and welcome Rossgnol's good intentions, don't think that "re-opening the debate" is going to mean a change in the law any time soon.

In May 2014, parliamentarians rejected the addition of an anti-smacking amendment to family law

And back in 2010, a bill presented to the National Assembly by the former parliamentarian and paediatrician  Edwige Antier in 2010 went absolutely nowhere.

Just as it always seems to, in a country in which (according to a 2010 poll) a majority of healthcare professionals (88 per cent) were against the introduction of legislation prohibiting corporal punishment (in all its forms) and in which public opinion runs along the lines of "smacking is all right, so long as it's done 'properly'".

Just take a look at this report from "your typical French town and the views of its inhabitants" which appeared on TF1's lunchtime news broadcast earlier this week.

And Rossignol's desire to "re-open the debate" is far from being a signal that she, or the government, intends to go any further than simply discussing the issue and perhaps making people more aware of alternatives.

Well, not for the time being at least.

"We can be parents and be obeyed (the French seem to be big on the word "obey") without resorting to violence, especially when it comes to small children," she said.

"The civil code already stipulates that interpersonal violence is prohibited, although there is an exemption within an educational context,' she continued,

"We just simply have to get rid of this exemption that seems to be part of the habits and certitude of parenting," she added, saying that relaunching the debate would allow a "period of reflection" with legislation "to follow a long time afterwards."

Oh well, it look as as though France is still a long way off joining the other European countries which have already passed legislation making corporal punishment, of which smacking is a part, a punishable offence.

Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine,

"Status of corporal punishment: total abolition has been achieved – corporal punishment is prohibited in the home, schools, penal systems and alternative care settings"

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Has Nicolas Sarkozy shot himself in foot with calls to repeal France's same-sex marriage law?

Well it sure looks that way - at least partially.

The former French president finally came off the fence, so-to-speak, when he announced at the weekend that the same-sex marriage law in France should be repealed.

Nicolas Sarkozy at Sens Commun meeting (screenshot i>Télé report)

His comments came during a meeting held by Sens Commun (Common sense), a fringe movement founded within the opposition centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) and one which had, and continues to have, close ties to the "Manif pour tous".

If that sounds familiar, it'll be because "Manif pour tous" was the organisation which most vociferously opposed same-sex marriage legislation (and joint adoption) and organised several large scale demonstrations in the run-up to the April 2013 parliamentary debates and votes.

In fact "Manif pour tous" is still going strong, campaigning under its current president, Ludovine de La Rochère, for family values and against assisted reproductive technology, surrogate mothers, same-sex couples having the right to marry and/or adopt children.

Yes, it's an organisation with its sights set on the past and not on the here-and-now and certainly not the future (unless it resembles the past).

Anyway, Sens Commun pulled off something of a coup by having all three candidates for the UMP leadership (to be decided by UMP members' votes in a fortnight's time) turn up to a weekend meeting.

First up (and the three men didn't appear on stage together but rather one after the other) was Bruno Le Maire, jeered when he announced he would not seek to scrap the law that had been passed allowing same-sex marriage.

Next up Hervé Mariton, a firm opponent to same-sex marriage and roundly applauded for his stance.

Finally it was Sarkozy's turn in front of an audience far from being impartial and eager (too eager perhaps) to hear him tell them what they wanted to hear.

And Sarkozy was happy to oblige - at first in words that seemed somewhat coded.

"Let's be clear about this, the Taubira law (for same-sex marriage, named after the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, who steered the legislation through parliament) needs to be completely rewritten from the top to the bottom," he said, happy to oblige in a language he thought would mollify those present.

But then as the chant of "Repeal, repeal, repeal," from the audience became stronger, Sarkozy  hardened his tone.

"All right, if you would rather that the law be repealed and another French, that's saying the same thing. The result is the same. But hey, if it make you happy, then frankly it doesn't cost much."

Rapturous applause from those listening. Sarkozy had said exactly what they wanted him to.

He might not be against extending the civil partnership rights (PACS) that exist for same-sex couples, but he wants to rewrite the law on marriage.

Hey ho. That'll be an easy one to get past the Conseil Constitutionnel - withdrawing a right of equality that exists to replace it with...something less.

So how far has Sarkozy shot himself in the foot?

Well only moderately.

Firstly, Sarkozy has made a mockery of the claim that he represents the unifying saviour of the party because some high ranking members and supporters of his push to become UMP leader, immediately responded that they were not in favour of repealing the legislation allowing same-sex marriage.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Sarkozy's spokeperson during the 2012 presidential campaign said repeal was "neither desirable, nor possible".

The mayor of Nice and a minister during Sarkozy's "reign" as president, Christian Estrosi, said there should be no going back on the law and that it had been a "step forward".

And much the same sentiments from other former ministers, Frédéric Lefebvre, Valérie Pécresse and most notably Alain Juppé, a declared candidate for the UMP's primary to choose its candidate for the 2017 presidential election and the biggest threat to Sarkozy should he decide to throw his hat into that particular battle.

Even - and this will surely have come as a shock to many - one of Sarkozy's most fervent supporters, Nadine Morano, seemed unhappy with his statement, tweeting (as is her preferred method of communication) "The French had expected other priorities than the rewriting of the Taubira law."

Secondly Sarkozy was seriously misreading public opinion at large.

Same-sex marriage - yes or no - might have been a subject of debate over 18 months ago.

But the vote has passed and recent surveys show a majority of French (68 per cent) are in favour of same-sex marriage and 53 per cent believe couples of the same sex should be allowed to adopt - together.

That said, Sarkozy's stance is unlikely to have done him any harm with UMP members. He'll still more than likely romp home to win the leadership contest.

But it has displayed once again his predisposition for telling people (in this case an audience composed largely of those opposing same-sex marriage) what they wanted to hear without really having the (constitutional) tools to deliver.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The finger on the (Opel) Mokka button

Opel is currently featuring former (or is that still) German super model Claudia Schiffer in its television commercials, with the 44-year-old "captivating (in Opel's own words) TV audiences around Europe with her chic ‘It’s a German’ ad' campaigns for the Opel Astra, Meriva, Mokka and Zafira Tourer."

Claudia Schiffer (screenshot Opel Mokka clip)

A pretty wise choice as Schiffer has more than a touch of class, elegance and intelligence to her, and Opel - the German subsidiary of the US car manufacturer General Motors - has its own very definite (German) identity and reputation for reliability and style.

And that's a point driven (ouch) home in the "It's a German" campaign.

The commercial for the Mokka is one that has been appearing frequently on French tellies.

Perhaps that's not a surprise as the market for subcompact crossover SUVs is a tough one and includes two "homemade" French models: the Peugeot 2008 and the Renault Captur.

Anyway, if you're not concentrating particularly during the 30-second spot, you could be forgiven for thinking that Opel is being intentionally "equivocal" while also relying on (and simultaneously breaking) gender stereotypes.

Because there's the matter of whose finger is really pressing the car's hill descent control button.

Finger on the button (screenshot Opel Mokka clip)

It's obvious really, but the lack of dialogue-action continuity could have you thinking otherwise.

The "plot" for the commercial runs along the following lines.

Schiffer pulls into the entrance of an underground car park.

A (smooth) male attendant chauvinistically asks (the of course blonde and by implication incapable) Schiffer whether she'll manage it down the ramp in her Opel Mokka.

"It's pretty steep," he tells her. "Maybe you need some help".

"OK," replies Schiffer. "Would you mind pressing that button."

It's at this point that a perfectly manicured and nail-lacquered index finger is seen pressing the hill descent control button with the attendant looking surprised as he steps away from the car and Schiffer accelerates down the ramp.

And this is where you might do a double take.

As Schiffer asked the attendant to press the hill descent control button as a way of "helping her" does that mean that he obliged and the finger belonged to him?

Of course not. But there's enough ambiguity of continuity and dialogue in the French clip to make you think (especially if you hadn't been paying attention) that...well, anything might be possible.

So a quick check on both the English and German  versions reveals exactly the same dialogue and that finger pressing...which, although of course it must be Schiffer's could just be (for those who wish car manufacturers would surprise viewers a little more often by breaking with the clichés) the attendant's...oder?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Friday's French music break - Carmen Maria Vega, "Oser les larmes"

Friday's French music break this week is from a musical.

It's "Oser les larmes", sung by Carmen Maria Vega who plays the lead role in the show billed as "the musical spectacle of the new season" in the shape of "Mistinguett, Reine des années folles"

Carmen Maria Vega (screenshot performing "Oser les larmes" RTL le Grand Studio, September, 2014)

Now, don't groan, be misled or become all snooty at the idea of a musical - and a French one at that (yes they exist) because "Mistinguett" distinguishes itself by Vega's performance and voice for starters and the inspiration for the show, Jeanne Bourgeois.

She was a French actress and singer who began her career at cabaret venues in Paris before taking her show to across the Pond to become a Music Hall star in the States.

"Mistinguett" is produced by Albert Cohen, a man who has had a hand in some of the most popular musicals in France in recent years including "Les Dix Commandements", "Le Roi Soleil", "Mozart, l'opéra rock" and most recently "1789: Les Amants de la Bastille" - all of which were huge domestic successes.

So the man knows how to put "bums on seats".

The musical cleverly portrays part of Mistinguett's life - and that of the history of the Casino de Paris - in the "Golden Twenties", complete with singers, musicians, actors and dancers who, "tell the story of the creation of the first vaudeville show and one that Broadway."

The show hasn't left the critics indifferent. Benoît Tourné writing for Musical questioned who would be the "core target audience" (the elderly who might still remember Mistinguett or the young unfamiliar with her) but admitted the show was "excellently crafted...seductive and not to be missed."

And Sophie Delassein in "l'Obs" said the show was "unlike any other musical" and one whose success lay "in combining new songs with those from the era in which the production is set."

The real star (and "find" if you like - at least to a wider public) though is 30-year-old Guatemalan-born Vega, whose performance is stunning: she really is Mistinguett, and reason enough for seeing the show as well as discovering some of the other work she has already done (visit her official site and check out her tribute album to Boris Vian for example).

"Mistinguett, Reine des années folles" opened at the Casino de Paris in September and will run until January before going on a nationwide tour.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

November 11 commemorations - and the lonesome boar

There's a certain ambivalence among the French as to how they honour those who died in World War One.

On Tuesday, there were the very official ceremonies, with the French president, François Hollande, leading the commemorations by unveiling a new WW1 memorial, "l’Anneau de la Mémoire" ("Ring of Remembrance") next to the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette military cemetery in northern France.

François Hollande at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette (screenshot BFM TV report)

Up and down the country, there were similar services to remember those who had fought and died in WW1.

But that didn't mean the whole of the country came to a standstill.

Far from it.

For many, it was simply yet another public holiday - and a pretty long one at that.

With November 11 falling on a Tuesday, plenty took the opportunity to extend the usual  weekend into a four-day break.

Others, of course, had to work.

The usual services - transport, emergency and local supermarkets (yep, the country's - somewhat erratic - shop opening hours might be at the centre of a debate at the moment, but clearly there were still those who needed to pop out for groceries) for example.

And for international bankers (oh, what a shame) it was business as usual because the markets were open in many other countries.

Meanwhile, if you happened to be in rural France, you could well have been in for a very special treat.

The weather was mild - at least in the southwest of the country - and ideal for a pleasant stroll in, for example, the forest of Sivens (in the news recently for the death of 21-year-old Rémi Fraisse, a protester at the controversial dam project) in the département of Tarn.

Accompanying you on your walk, would have been the blood-curdling howls of hounds as they ripped through the woods and spilled out on to the roads, chasing their prey a dozen or so kilometres across the countryside and into the fields surrounding the picturesque village of Castelnau de Montmiral.

Yes, the hunt was on with some locals seemingly intent on paying tribute in their own special way...letting out the dogs, allowing them to rampage, and saluting the memory of those who had died by opening fire on their quarry - a lonesome boar.

How very appropriate for November 11.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Friday's French music break - Calogero, "Le portrait"

Friday's French music break this week comes from an artist who needs little or no introduction to the French.

It's Calogero (Calogero Maurici) with his latest single "Le portrait".

Calogero (screenshot live performance of "Un jour au mauvais endroit" le Grand Studio RTL)

The song is another melodic masterpiece from a man who has well and truly made his mark on the French music scene.

Once again, Calogero delivers an instantly recognisable tune which is more than pleasing to the ear with a voice that matches perfectly.

It's in the tradition of what he describes as pop-rock: another memorable and moving melody along the lines of  "En apesanteur", released in 2002, "Si seulement je pouvais lui manquer" (2004) "Pomme C" (2007) a couple of duos,  "Face à la mer" (2004 with rapper Passi) and "La débâcle des sentiments" (2008 with co Circus band member Stanislas), and, and, and.

Hit on the links to take a listen.

Now, there's a lot of material out there about Calogero and his career including inevitably Wikpedia in French and English (it's worth comparing the two, if you can).

From his beginnings as Charlie, lead singer of the 1980s band Les Charts, his re-emergence at in 2000 as a solo singer and the path which has seen him become an established member of mainstream French music scene.

So there's no need to repeat it all here.

You can simply search the Net, and you'll come up with something.

But it's worth perhaps pointing out just how respected and prominent Calogero has become over the years.

He has written for a number of artists including, Jenifer, Patrick Fiori, Françoise Hardy, Pascal Obispo, Florent Pagny and...of course (because just about every French composer has)...Johnny Hallyday.

And a fair number showed up for a recent edition of the France 2 Saturday evening entertainment programme "Le Grand Show", dedicated to to the 43-year-old and to celebrate 15 years (as a solo artist) as well as the release of his most recent album, "Les Feux d'artifice".

Which brings us back nicely to this week's Friday's French music break - "Le portrait" - the fourth track from the album to be released as a single.

Enough words.

Just listen - and enjoy.

Oh yes...and if you get the chance, try to see him live. He's on tour until April 2015.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Bordeaux manager, Willy Sagnol, apologises for "non-racist" racist comments

Willy Sagnol, the manager of Ligue 1 side FC Girondins de Bordeaux, has apologised for the way in which remarks he made recently appeared to some to be racist when he suggested  that African players are "powerful" but "lack technique, intelligence and discipline".

Willy Sagnol (screenshot BFM TV report)

"I apologise if my comments were misinterpreted and if I offended some people," he said at a press conference on Thursday.

"I was referring on a purely sporting level and not on either a political or social one."

The 37-year-old former French international was referring to comments he made while being interviewed by the regional daily Sud Ouest earlier this week - comments that angered some.

“The advantage of the typical African player is that he isn't expensive to recruit," he said.

"He’s generally ready to fight and is powerful on the pitch.," continued Sagnol.

"But football is not just about that. It's also about technical skills, intelligence and discipline.”

The proverbial "you know what" soon hit the fan.

Lilian Thuram, a former international team mate of Sagnol's from 2000-2008, and arguably one of the most articulate men in the game, said he was both "surprised" and "disappointed" by the Bordeaux manager's comments.

Lilian Thuram (screenshot Bourdin Direct, July 2014)

"There has always been a certain prejudice about players originating from Africa, and that has  always focused on strength over intelligence," said Thuram who, since he retired, has been active in the fight against both racism and discrimination.

"When you read or listen what Willy Sagnol said, you can see that it simply reinforces those preconceptions," he continued.

"That surprises me as he has never made such comments in the past. It is true, unfortunately, that we live in a country in which prejudice remain. And such comments simply strengthen that."

Thuram : "Sagnol renforce les préjugés" sur les... by Europe1fr

 It strengthens them. I am extremely surprised that he can keep that kind of talk . Because , whether the national team or club , he ( Willy Sagnol ) had to play with players of African or African origin and had found that there was intelligent players , disciplined and tactically very good .

Others were less gentle in their criticism with the French anti-racist French NGO SOS Racisme calling on the Fédération française de football (the French football federation, FFF) and the minister of sports to take action and labelling Sagnols comments as, "Laid-back racism".

And Pape Diouf, the former president of  Olympique de Marseille, called on all African players in Ligue 1 to boycott one day's play in the championship.

Not everyone was so incensed by Sagnol's comments - least of all the president of Bordeaux, Jean-Louis Triaud.

"We don't want to widen the scope of what was happened especially as we find it totally unjustifiable," said Triaud.

"I'm angry because anyone who knows Willy Sagnol knows he is anything but racist. The interpretation of his statement was totally wrong."

Meanwhile sports journalist Jean-Michel Larqué went a step further.

Jean-Michel Larqué (screenshot BFM TV report)

"I'm sure that Willy Sagnol was referring to the 'intelligence of the game'," he said.

"A couple of decades ago young African players were referred to as 'rough diamonds' because they had learned the game on the streets and had little knowledge on the tactical level: they didn't know 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 meant. Was that racism?"

"Let's just stop with all this polemic."

So there you have it. Sagnol's comments were clearly "laid back" or "non-racist" - depending on whose arguments you follow.

Or better still, they were accurate - as some of these Bordeaux supporters seemed to think, when questioned.

"Much ado about nothing," says the first man interviewed.

"What he says is simply the truth," says the second.

"There's a little bit of everything - African and European - in the side and there's no need to get into an argument about anything," says the third.

The bottom line?

Already expressing racist (and maybe now would be a good time for those naysayers to reach for their dictionaries to discover the definition of racism) thoughts in private is indefensible and against so much of what the so-called beautiful game has tried to combat over the past decades.

But to express them publicly  is both inexcusable, ignorant and downright stupid.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

François Hollande in Canada - making his political mark - really?

All right, so we've established that, in spite of being briefed (presumably) the French president, François Hollande, doesn't exactly come top of the class when it comes to putting faces to names...well at least not in the case of Canada's national hero Kevin Vickers.

But what do you know?

It kind of works both ways.

Few, it appears, in Canada, seem to know who Hollande is.

The French president has just completed an official three-day trip to the country - the first by a French leader since François Mitterrand back in 1987.

François Hollande and Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper in western Canada (screenshot Euronews)

He was, of course trying to drum up business, pointing out that France was only Canada's "eighth-largest trading partner" and that "it could do better".

And he was paving the way for next year's United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) to be held in Paris, saying he was, "counting on Canada to be fully committed to the fight against global warming, and do its part."

That wasn't and won't be an easy task as Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol (committing countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions) in 2011 and reportedly has no plans for reducing emissions from the Alberta oil sands, the country's fastest growing source of carbon emissions.

All well and good on the political front, with a timely "message of support" in the global fight against terrorism, just a week after Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier, Nathan Cirillo, guarding the national war memorial in Ottawa before going on a shooting spree in the nearby parliamentary buildings.

And you would at least expect politicians to know who Hollande was and what he stood for.

But not so, apparently for the rest of the country where he was apparently "relatively unknown".

"If you were to ask anyone on the street who François Hollande was, I bet they wouldn't know,"  Canadian journalist Vincent Brousseau-Poulliot for La Presse said on Europe 1 the day Hollande arrived in the country.

"Hollande's not exactly flamboyant,  and although he may well be likeable, he's not perceived to be as tough or as well known as for example Nicolas Sarkozy."

Bet that went down well at the Élysée Palace.

And there's more (or worse, if you like).

For the man, who during the final televised debate during the 2012 French presidential campaign delivered that now famous 15-point "Moi président de la République" speech insisting that he would ensure his behavior was exemplary at every moment ("Moi président de la République, je ferai en sorte que mon comportement soit en chaque instant exemplaire) guess what he is probably best known for in Canada.

François Hollande, "Moi président de la République" (screenshot Le Monde TV 2012)

His private life, according to Sébastien Tanguay, a journalist for the Canadian francophone newspaper Métro.

"We've all heard and read about his affair with Julie Gayet and the break up of his relationship with Valérie Trierweiler," he said.

"But very little his known about his politics and policies."

Join the queue Monsieur Tanguay.

So there you have it.

Hollande might not know what Canada's national hero Kevin Vickers (the the sergeant-at-arms at the House of Commons of Canada in Ottawa who put an end to gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeauman's shooting spree in the parliamentary building on October 22).

But in return, Canadians apparently know little or nothing about the French president.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

François Hollande's lesson on how to offend a country's national hero

Canadian's amongst you will be familiar with the name Kevin Vickers and will probably be able to put a face to the name.

And there's a fair bet that those of you from other countries will at least know what the 58-year-old is famous for, even if you don't know what he looks like and the name doesn't immediately ring the proverbial bell.

Vickers is the sergeant-at-arms at the House of Commons of Canada in Ottawa.

Kevin Vickers (screenshot CBC news)

And on October 22, he was the man who killed gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau who had earlier fatally shot a soldier, Nathan Cirillo, guarding the national war memorial in the capital before going on a shooting rampage in the nearby parliamentary building.

Vickers has since been hailed as a hero, both at home and abroad, proving that the largely ceremonial role he normally plays also has an accompanying serious element in being "responsible for safety and security" within the grounds of the parliamentary building.

Indeed, as if to emphasise just how far Vickers' fame had spread, Hollande, paid tribute to him during a speech to parliamentarians from both chambers of the Canadian parliament on Monday, "saluting his courage" and saying that Vickers was now "a hero across the world".

François Hollande addressing parliamentarians in Canada (screenshot BFM TV)

Hollande, sometimes not always up to speed on who to praise or to whom his condolences should be made (see the last sentence in this post) while on an official trip, seemed to have been well briefed by his accompanying advisors during his state visit to Canada- the first by a French president since 1987.

Or had he?

Because just moments before, Hollande had, according to a report on Europe 1, appeared to all but ignore Vickers - or at the very least not recognise the man he would later describe as "a hero across the world."

It happened as Hollande entered the parliamentary building with apparently both the presidents of the senate and the house of commons there to greet him.

They were accompanied by...well, none other than Vickers who would, in his role as sergeant-at-arms, shortly afterwards show Hollande and the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, to their seats.

And all Hollande could offer Vickers - in terms of a personal face-to-face tribute - was a simple handshake...of a man who seemingly hadn't a clue who the other person was.

And that, dear reader, is a classic Hollande lesson on how to offend your hosts while on an official visit and yet another example of his seemingly muddled understanding of protocol or grasp on international events.

Remember his recent renaming of the Syrian town of Kobane as "Konabe?

Or, while on a trip to Japan in 2013 the tribute he paid to the Japanese nationals who had died in the Algerian hostage crisis earlier in the year by referring to them as "Chinese"?

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Fleur Pellerin - the French minister of culture who hasn't read a book for two years

Here's a question for you.

What was the last book you read?

Don't worry if you can't remember.

Or if your answer is that you haven't picked up on for a few months or even years.

Because you're not alone.

Fleur Pellerin (screenshot - clip from Le Supplément, Canal +)

Astonishingly enough (perhaps - although nothing should come as a surprise with what some might - unkindly - describe as the motley crew currently governing France)the country's minister of culture, Fleur Pellerin revealed at the weekend that she hasn't read a book for the past couple of years.

The admission came during Sunday's edition of Le Supplément on Canal + as Pellerin was being interviewed by the programme's host, Maïtena Biraben.

While waxing lyrical about a lunch she had shared with this year's winner of the Nobel prize for literature - French author Patrick Modiano - Pellerin was asked which of his books was her favourite.

The minister probably wished the ground would open up before her, as she let out the longest, "Er", smiling (or was that grimacing) with embarrassment before coming clean.

"I have to admit - without any difficulty - that I've not really had the time to read for the past two years," she said.

"I read a lot of notes, a lot of legislative texts, news, AFP stories, but I read very little otherwise."

A visibily gobsmacked Biraben gently pointed out that perhaps it was time to read something by Modiano who was, after all, "The Nobel prize winner this year."

All right, all right, culture isn't just about reading books. There's painting, music, sculpture, dance, theatre...heck a whole panoply of arts.

But from a country which has such a proud and rich literary tradition, and from the minister of culture to boot, such a disclosure comes as something of a shock...and of course opened the door for a deluge of criticism on social media.

That said, there was also support from some quarters for the 41-year-old's honesty.

Writing in L'Obs (Le Nouvel Observateur's new name) Dom Bochel Guégan defended Pellerin, saying that she had been "principled enough to recognise her ignorance and to admit it quite simply" and that maybe (as junior minister for Small and Medium-sized enterprises, innovation and the digital economy and then, since August, switching to the culture minister portfolio)  "she had perhaps been a little too busy over the past two years to find time to read."

True - after all politics is a full time job in itself.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Perth opera company drops Bizet's "Carmen" for "smoking reasons"

Name an opera - a French one.

The chances are it'll be Georges Bizet's "Carmen" - famous among opera aficianados and those not so "in the know" if you like.

It's staged regularly worldwide and in fact - get this - is, according to Operabase, a company to which over 700 opera houses report their performances, only second (for the 2014-15 season) behind  Giuseppe Verdi's "La traviata".

It'll be performed at some of the most prestigious venues during the current season, including New York's Metropolitan opera, Dresden's Semperoper, La Scala in Milan,  and Prague, Hamburg, Madrid, Budapest, Saint Peterburg, London, Berlin...and so the list goes on.

Anna Caterina Antonacci (screenshot from "Carmen" at the Royal Opera House in London, 2013)

But, although it was also scheduled to be performed in Perth, Western Australia, the powers that be have decided to "cancel" it for the next two years.

And for, what on the face of it...and even when delving a little deeper...seems to be the most extraordinary - and not to say, ridiculous - of reasons.


The opera, which debuted in 1875 is partially set in and around a tobacco factory in the Spanish city of Seville with portrayals of smoking in the setting, action, libretto and least during the first act.

And that's apparently reason enough for the West Australia Opera Company to drop it from its schedules.

You see, from March 2015, the (state-owned) company has a two-year A$400,000 (around €270,000) partnership deal with the Western Australian government health agency  - Healthway.

West Australian Opera general manager Carolyn Chard said the company had voluntarily made the change to its schedule to accommodate Healthway's policies, describing it as "not difficult".

"We care about the health and wellbeing of our staff, stage performers and all the opera lovers throughout Western Australia," said Chard, adding that the decision had been a "voluntary" one to fit in with Heathway's policies.

Healthway chairwoman, Rosanna Capolingua, praised the decision, although she stressed that no pressure had been put on the opera company to drop "Carmen".

“The portrayal of smoking on stage, in film and on TV normalises smoking and presents it as being attractive, which could dissuade smokers from quitting and encourage young people to take it up.” she said.

What a lot of tosh - at least when it comes to an opera that has been so consistently performed down the decades.


Here's a clip of the most famous aria, "Habanera" from "Carmen", performed in 2013 at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and featuring Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role.

Yes, she was blonde.

No, she didn't light up.

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