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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Valérie Trierweiler's travails - and the price of fame

She might have written a best-selling warts and all score-settling book, "Merci pour ce moment", published at the beginning of September 2014 and politely described as a "political memoir" but that doesn't seem to have endeared France's former first lady, Valérie Trierweiler, to the nation as a whole.

Valérie Trierweiler  (screenshot BFM TV report on release of "Merci pour ce moment")

Indeed, given a recent poll, she's giving her former partner, the French president, François Hollande, a run for his money in the unpopularity ratings

Yes another poll.

Clearly someone at le Parisien/Aujourd'hui en France thought it would be interesting to discover what the French felt about their former first lady...and then tell them what they probably already knew.

Namely that 69 per cent of those questioned (a representative sample of the population as a whole of course) had a "bad opinion" of Trierweiler and 59 per cent thought she had been wrong to write her book.

(screenshot "Merci pour ce moment" front cover)

On the other hand, while some might not agree with what she wrote and others might not like her (if the survey is to believed) Trierweiler still elicits a great deal of interest.

Or is it simple curiosity?

Because on Saturday (the day before the poll was published) the Paris Match journalist (yes she still works for the magazine) had to beat a hasty retreat while out and about.

Trierweiler was in the Barbès area of northern Paris - shopping (for cassava and plantain, as she would later reveal) with a friend -  and being the celebrity that she has become was quickly recognised by people eager to have their photo' taken with her.

But it all threatened to escalate out of control and a plainclothes policeman (who just happened to be around) apparently directed her into one of the shops while he waited for reinforcements to allow her to drive away from the adoring throng.

Making light of the "incident" Trierweiler later took to her preferred method of communicating with fans and followers - on Twitter, of course.

"Thank you for the welcome very very warm welcome in Barbès . Neither panic nor the need to go to the police station. But cassava and plantains. And a lot of selfies."

Ah. The price of fame.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Sarcelles - two months after anti-Semitic violence at pro-Palestinian rally

"Is there a ‘rising tide’ of anti-Semitism in the West?" asked the BBC on its site back in August 2014.

While the figures the Beeb presented in its piece seemed to question newspaper headlines suggesting a significant increase, it admitted that anti-Semitism clearly remained a problem.

And this clip from a recent edition of France 2's investigative news magazine "Complément d'enquête" will surely only fuel the debate here in France.

(screenshot from "Complément d'enquête")

The TV crew revisited Sarcelles, "a multi-religious suburb north of Paris with a vibrant Jewish community", the scene of attacks on Jewish-owned businesses and a synagogue during a banned demonstration in July again the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

It was to "take the temperature" among those living in the town, two months after the events, and one young man they interviewed had no qualms expressing sentiments which, to say the least, were shocking.

So much so that the mayor of Sarcelles, François Pupponi, condemned the "calls of hatred and murder" expressed during the interview and said on his Facebook page that he would ask the justice minister, Christine Taubira, to "begin proceedings" against the individuals interviewed.

The clip is in French, of course, and you can judge for yourselves whether the interviewee was fully aware of what he was saying or whether it was a more a case of a puffed-up few minutes of (hateful) television "fame".

Friday, 26 September 2014

Friday's French music break - Cats on trees, "Love you like a love song"

It's not often an artist or group features more than once on Friday's French music break.

But hey - there exceptions to the rule.

And the recent cover version of Selena Gomez's quintessential 2011 pop song "Love you like a love song" by the French group Cats on Trees, was just too good not to share.

Cats on trees - Nina Goern and Yohan Hennequin (screenshot from YouTube channel)

No over-produced studio tricks for the duo of Nina Goern (piano and vocals) and Yohan Hennequin (percussion) whose hit "Sirens call" - "a pop ballad with a haunting and irresistible melody" and a former Friday's French music break - brought them national exposure last year and whose self-titled debut album "Cats on trees" was nominated in the category Album Révélation of the Year at the 2014 Victoires de la musique.

Instead simple piano, drums and vocal arrangement (with strings towards the end) turning it into...well a credible love song and taking it into quite another musical universe - gentler, more fragile and almost ethereal.

Compare and contrast - and see what you think.

First up the sugar-coated original from Gomez...not bad for what it is...followed by (saving the best until last) the version from Cats on Trees.

Cats on trees are currently on tour throughout France, including two dates at Le Trianon in Paris, November 6 and 7

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Handbags at dawn - Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé

Ah. Politics is such a fickle profession.

"Friends" come and "friends" go - as befits the occasion.

And the odd feud along the way, seemingly forgetten when the two (or more) protagonists are reconciled is...well, frankly, par for the course.

Right now though, there's trouble apparently brewing (yet again) for the opposition centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP) as certain figures jostle for position ahead of the party's planned primary (some time in 2016) to choose the candidate for the 2017 presidential election.

Yes, it might seem a fair distance away - and the battle for the leadership (quite a separate matter) hasn't yet taken place - but territory is already being marked in the very finest of...well, manners in which territory is traditionally marked in the animal kingdom.

Remember (yet again) that the former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, threw his proverbial hat into the ring for the lUMP eadership campaign last week - pitting him against two other declared contenders, Bruno Le Maire and Hervé Mariton.

And although he hasn't actually said he'll seek the party's nomination for 2017, all the talk is that is really his ultimate goal.

Should he decide to enter that particular fray, he'll find himself up against at least two other declared candidates - both of whom served under him during his time as president: François Fillon, his prime minister during five years, and Alain Juppé, who served as foreign minister for the final 15 months of Sarkozy's "reign".

While both represent a challenge to Sarkozy, it's Juppé, with his wealth of political experience (including as the former leader of the UMP 2002-2004, prime minister under Jacques Chirac 1995-1997 and twice foreign minister as well as spells at defence and environment) and popularity who probably presents the biggest danger.

Alain Juppé (screenshot from "Le Grand rendez-vous" Europe 1, September 21, 2014)

Seemingly eager to bury the hatchet (but where), or perhaps better said, dissuade him from standing...or both...during his 45-minute televised interview last weekend, Sarkozy said of Juppé, "I met him when I was 20 years old. He has become a partner, a friend and a companion. He's someone I admire greatly."

Ah. That's nice, isn't it. Quite the proverbial olive branch.

Except in private, Sarkozy has apparently been saying something quite different according to the weekly satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné.

It  reminds its readers that at the beginning of September (a couple of weeks after Juppé had said he would be standing in the 2016 primary - a selection process not at all to Sarkozy's liking), Sarkozy is rumoured to have said (in private of course) that he would "kill him" (politically speaking...Juppé's response on hearing the rumour was that Sarkozy "knew where to find him").

And according to the newspaper, Sarkozy has once again been firing salvoes in private, especially over Juppé's age and "moral" lecturing.

"Juppé will be 72 years old in 2017 and has an 18 month suspended prison sentence (for abuse of public funds), behind him," he's reported to have said.

"Do you think he scares me or that he's the right person to give me a lesson in morals?"

Juppé isn't exactly a political shrinking violet though. On the contrary, he's a seasoned scrapper, albeit it with rather more humour, perhaps more cutting and incisive and certainly more refined.

While Sarkozy was explaining his reasons on France 2 on Sunday evening for his political comeback, Juppé was unveiling on his blog the sort of programme he would be putting to party members during the primary.

And on Tuesday he told BFM TV that it was clear the battle had begun.

"I know that today the match has started," he said, poking fun at the idea that Sarkozy would try to change the name of the UMP to rid it of the less than positive image it has had over the past couple of years.

"You know, everything can be changed," he said.

"Rather than call it the UMP we can rename it PMU (also the name of the state-controlled betting system, Pari mutuel urbain). If that's the change, it won't exactly be fundamental."

The war of words has begun - and the campaign (should Sarkozy eventually declare) could well prove to be a rough one.

To be continued...

Juppé sort les armes contre Sarkozy by 20Minutes

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The "compulsive comeback syndrome" or French politicians who refuse to bow out gracefully

La Nouvelle Édition on Canal + had an interesting segment during Monday's programme, the day following Nicolas Sarkozy's 45-minute interview on France 2 television explaining why he was making a return to frontline politics.

Now if you're reading this piece from outside of France, you can probably come up with a number of politicians who've run for (high) office in your country and, after having been beaten, have tried again at a later date.

Similarly you'll also probably be able list several who've been president or prime minister but after defeat have moved on gracefully to pastures new.

In France, while you might be hard-pressed to find examples of the latter, you don't need to look very far to find evidence of the former - particularly during the country's Fifth Republic, that means since 1958.

Defeat seems just to be another way of a politician turning round and saying, "It has perhaps been a blow to my ego, but I'll be back...count on it."

The most recent example, of course, is Nicolas Sarkozy.

Just a couple of years ago, when asked by Jean-Jacques Bourdin during an interview on BFM TV whether he would leave politics if defeated in the 2012 presidential election, his answer was unequivocal.


Take a look - and a listen.

Archive 2012 - Quand Sarkozy assurait qu'il... by BFMTV

But hey ho, as we all know, he has now changed his mind because...well, not only does he want to return...he also "doesn't have the choice".

In other words, it's something he's duty-bound to do.

And Sarkozy's case is far from being an isolated one among French politicians, as the segment on La Nouvelle Édition by journalist Elise Baudouin illustrated

In fact the seemingly peculiar French political "illness" even has a name (coined by Baudouin) -
the "compulsive comeback syndrome"

"Did you see Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush or Gordon Brown try again at a later date after their 'debacles'," asked Baudouin in her report.

"Germany's Gerhard Schröder, Spain's José María Aznar and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero?"

One notable absentee from the list was Italy's Silvio Berlusconi - perhaps proving the maxim the exception proves the rule (???).

In France though, it seems to have become common practice - successfully in the case of François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac both of whom achieved the highest office after suffering defeats.

Or aborted such as attempts of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Lionel Jospin.

And failed, as in the case of Ségolène Royal - although it probably won't have escaped your notice that she's currently a government minister.

Whatever the outcome, defeat doesn't seem to stop French politicians from seeking re-election at a later date.

The explanation - as far as the programme's political commentator Nicolas Domenach is concerned is two-fold.

Nicolas Domenach (screenshot La Nouvelle Édition, Canal +)

Not only is French politics a sort of "hard drug" for those bound up in it (that could probably also be said for politicians around the world), but the role of president is that almost of a "republican monarch" - the esteem with which a leader is held has been....well almost akin to that of royalty.

Not implausible by any means.

And on that premise, what's the betting that some very familiar faces (Alain Juppé, Marine Le Pen, François Bayrou and even perhaps Martine Aubry - all of whom have lost elections in the past) will, alongside Sarkozy, be among the front runners for the 2017 presidential race - or at least throw their hats into the ring at some point?

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Poll shows "Sarko revival" gathers momentum - among UMP party supporters

We all know how much French politicians seem to love opinion polls.

Well, here's one that'll have the former president Nicolas Sarkozy grinning from ear to ear, at least in terms of the level of support he has within his "political family" the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP).

It's an exclusive (aren't they always?) survey carried out by Ifop on behalf of the national radio station Europe 1 and the daily newspaper Le Figaro to gauge the impact of Sarkozy's 45-minute TV interview with the channel's prime time weekend news anchor Laurent Delahousse on Sunday.

And the result?

A resounding win for Sarkozy, as far as, UMP supporters were concerned, in the party's leadership battle due to be put to a vote among members on November 29, with a second round scheduled a week later should no candidate secure a majority.

At the moment, that second round doesn't look as though it'll be necessary as the poll shows Sarkozy (at 75 per cent) to be way ahead of his rivals Bruno Le Maire (16 per cent) and Hervé Mariton (2 per cent) as far as UMP supporters.

(screenshot Ifop poll for Europe 1 and Le Figaro)

And the future looks bright for Sarkozy in terms of his popularity among UMP members should he decide to run for the party's nomination to be its presidential candidate in 2017.

The poll has Sarkozy at 65 per cent with his nearest rival Alain Juppé at 23 per cent and the "also-rans" François Fillon and Xavier Bertrand at seven and two per cent respectively.

Once again those figures are only a reflection of the Sarkozy's popularity among the party's supporters - and even then 28 per cent of them

But it's not all good news for Sarkozy.

The general electorate still considers Juppé (at 33 per cent) to be the party's best candidate in the 2017 presidential election ahead of Sarkozy (26 per cent).

And although UMP members will, of course, ultimately decide who'll run (and remember Sarkozy hasn't officially confirmed he'll seek the party's nomination) it'll be the French as a whole who decide the best man or woman for the job.

A couple of other factors to consider as well are other polls released recently showing that the far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, would make it through to a second round run-off in 2017 - no matter who would be her opponents in the first round, along with another (carried out before Sunday's interview) showing that 60 per cent of the French "disapproved" of Sarkozy's comeback.

And let's not forget the judicial enquiries which could "continue to dog" the success of the so-called "Sarko revival".

One thing's for certain, more polls - many more of them - over the coming months will allow those "in the know" to interpret and analyse to their hearts' delight.

Anyway, for the moment,  for you number crunchers out there, the full Ifop poll results and the methodology can be found here.

Happy reading!

Oh, and because a healthy slice of satire never did any harm, here's Monday's edition of Les Guignols de l'info on Canal + with (among other things) its own particular take on that televised interview and Sarkozy's comeback.

Now that, you can really enjoy.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Back to the future - with Nicolas Sarkozy

The former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, took to television on Sunday evening to win over the hearts of the nation and explain why he felt an obligation and "a duty" to run for the leadership of the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement).

Watching Sarkozy as he answered anchor Laurent Delahousse's questions, it was more than a little difficult not to be struck by the resemblance he seemed to bear to his puppet on the satirical show on Canal + "Le Guignols de l'info".

Laurent Delahousse and Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot France 2 interview 21/09/2014)

There were all the familiar shoulder-heaving, head-bobbing, twitching mannerisms which make him so easy to caricature.

And they were accompanied with the unforgettable "iron fist in a velvet glove" (for want of a better idiom) verbal style with which, for example, he attacked François Hollande after saying he didn't want to "waste time criticising his successor".

"He (Hollande) has spent two years demolishing what we accomplished," he said.

"M. Hollande seems to want to think of me as a "bad" person. I simply don't think about him."

So that's the superficial impression. It was TV after all, and Sarkozy is a proven master of communications and image.

But what about the substance? What did Sarkozy actually say...that was any different to what he has said in the past? And what concrete measures did he present for transforming the party and of, course, the country?

Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot France 2 television September 2014)

Well...there was the  use of the referendum as a political tool to let the people have their say.

"It's the key," he said.

Putting aside the relative merits or not of the idea, wasn't that part of his campaign pledge in 2007?

And the need for some changes to the Schengen agreement (which allows its signatories a borderless Europe)  - without outlining exactly what apart from admitting that "I should have said before that in its current state Schengen is not functioning as it should"  - a theme throughout his failed 2012 campaign.

Other than that, not very much, other than the broadest of brushstrokes about the need to bring people within his political family together, provide an alternative to the current government's policies and prevent the prospect of France becoming completely isolated.

Over 8.5 million people apparently tuned in for the 45-minute interview  - proof perhaps that Sarkozy leaves few indifferent.

And some - in particular his two declared adversaries for the leadership battle, Bruno Le Maire and Hervé Mariton - might have found it odd that Sarkozy was given so much air time to make his pitch as a candidate.

Only this is French politics where defeated candidates never seem to fade away gracefully after losing but reappear again and again and again.

And as much as Sarkozy might have wanted those viewing to believe that the interview was ostensibly about the UMP leadership battle, the real focus surely was and remains the 2017 presidential election campaign.

In case you missed it, here's the full interview.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Sarko returns

The speculation is over.

Former french president, Nicolas Sarkozy has announced he's returning to politics and running for the leadership of the centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a popular movement, UMP).

Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot from Europe 1/TF1 interview, July 2014

In what has to be one of the worst kept secrets after months - no, make that years - of conjecture, Sarkozy took to social media - Facebook, what else - to deliver his rallying call.

"I am a candidate for the presidency of my political family," he wrote.

"I propose turning the party upside down to create within three months the conditions for a vast new movement that will address itself to all French people regardless of their political persuasion."

Ah. that familiar call of unity and appealing to the broadest possible electoral base.

Still, love him or hate him, French politics is about to get a whole lot more interesting and the chances are this is just the first step in his campaign to run in the French presidential election in 2017.

But wait.

Remember back during the 2012 election campaign when asked by Jean-Jacques Bourdin on BFM TV whether he would continue in politics should he lose?

Sarkozy categorically said "No" and that he would "find something else to do.

Ah well. How does that famous quote (often attributed to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Napoleon's - how appropriate - chief diplomatic aide) go?

"Only fools never change their mind".

Or in political speak - don't believe a word I'm saying right now because sometime in the future I'll do and/or say the opposite.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Toulouse begins preparing for Christmas - What?


While most French are concentrating on la rentrée - getting back into the school or work routine after the summer holidays - the local authority of the southwestern city of Toulouse has other things on its mind.


Christmas lights Toulouse 2012 (screenshot from video)

 It's only early September and already the council has begun putting up the Christmas lights!

Nope, it's not a (very) late April Fool, rather an attempt to save money according to Emilion Esnault, the municipal councillor responsible for street lighting.

"The idea is not to leave everything until the last moment (editor's note - no kidding!) and having to ask outside contractors to carry out the work because we don't have the manpower," he told France Bleu radio.

"That's expensive. Instead we can minimise the costs and use our resources more effectively."

So if for some peculiar reason, you're in desperate need of an early shot of Yuletide spirit, you know where to head to - or not, as the case may be?
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