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Monday, 30 June 2014

A World Cup "dilemma" for François Hollande

All right, so "dilemma" might be a little bit of an exaggeration.

But hey. It's football (and politics). And hyperbole is pretty much par for the course in both domains.

All the same, how about "quandary"?

Yup, "François Hollande's World Cup quandary".

You see, the French president can't have helped but notice the  increasing popularity of Les Bleus during their first three games of the World Cup tournament in Brazil, especially after their convincing wins against Honduras and Switzerland (we'll forget that goalless draw with 10-man Ecuador).

The talk in the French media was about "team spirit" and "the players' pride in representing their country" with the folk back home tuning in by the millions to follow their exploits on telly.

Ah yes. Apparently the French had (and have) falllen in love with their football team once again: to such an extent that some people actually see them as being capable of winning the whole thing.

Meanwhile Hollande watches from the sidelines, or the Elysée palace - just as he did during a soirée he organised; the sumptuous setting and giant-sized screen more "gauche" than "bling bling" and rather spoilt by his constant (caught-on -camera) snacking throughout the game.

Still, "President Normal" and all that.

Anyway, that's all an aside (and a long-winded one at that).

The "quandary" for the French president is when and, indeed even, if he should make an appearance in Brazil, and how that might be interpreted.

Of course, Hollande doesn't have the same sort of PR savvy as the German chancellor Angela Merkel.

She's an "old hand", so to speak, at managing to show how "in touch" she is with what makes a footballing nation tick (during the World Cup) and could be seen in the stands during Germany's opening game, cheering on die Mannschaft as they made mincemeat of Portugal.


Angela Merkel at the World Cup (screenshot Newsloop video YouTube)

And to top it off, Merkel then had a photo op' in the dressing room with the players.

Smart lady - and smart move.

Hollande, in contrast, was last seen with the French squad in Clairefontaine as they prepared for their World Cup campaign.

There was plenty of humour, although it all looked a little awkward at times during the photoshoot with the players which left the president looking rather...er...portly and "buffoonly".

But that's perhaps being unfair as there's nothing wrong with not being quite the right shape. After all, how many of us really are?

Since then, nothing much. Well just that ostentatious "soirée". And no real sign that Hollande is about to fly to Brazil to support Les Bleus.

Yes, he has a packed agenda - most political leaders do. But he could have followed Merkel's example and "played safe" by putting in an appearance during the group stage.

After all, the tournament and the group match schedules were published months ago.

Instead Hollande now faces the risk of turning up during the knock out stage when his presence at the country's defeat (should it happen) could well be interpreted as a "jink".

Yes it's (more than) a stretch of the imagination, and there's no way that Hollande's attendance would contribute to the outcome, but that wouldn't stop the more unkindly drawing a link between the two.

Apparently the French president has pencilled in a "surprise (you have to wonder how much of one it will be) visit" should Les Bleus make it through to the quarterfinals after their next match against Nigeria.

The only problem (oh, life can be so cruel sometimes) is that if all goes true to form and planning, France's opponents in the quarterfinal match would be...Germany.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Friday's French music break - Wilhelmenia Fernandez, "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana"

This week's Friday's French music break is a treat for all opera lovers out there; the American soprano Wilhelmenia Fernandez singing "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana" from Alfredo Catalani's "Le Wally".


Wihelmenia Fernandez (screenshot from "Diva")

No, not much French about it at all, except that this version of the aria is probably one of the more popular and most well-known (but not necessarily "best") as it featured in Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1981 art house classic film "Diva" in which Fernandez played (and sang) the part of Cynthia Hawkins, "a beautiful and celebrated opera singer who has never consented to have her performances recorded."

So why dig up a version that's more than three decades old of an aria from an opera that first opened in 1892?

Well, even though many famous sopranos have had "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana" in their repertoire (just do a search on YouTube and you'll come up with, among others, versions by Angela Gheorghiu, Renée Fleming and the late Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi ), "La Wally" as an opera is rarely performed.

Apparently that's because it's difficult to stage as it's set in the Tyrolean Alps with the heroine throwing herself to her death into an avalanche at the end, which sounds like hogwash as a reason, given the (sometimes improbable) plots in other operas (think Puccini's "Tosca" for example, in which the heroine "hurls herself off a parapet" at the end).

Anyway, right now "La Wally" is coming to the end of a run at the Grand Théâtre in Geneva - the first time it has been performed there since the venue reopened 50 years ago.

Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta (screenshot  from clip of "La Wally" Grand Théâtre de Genève)

Spanish soprano Ainhoa Arteta (pictured) shares the lead role with English-born Morenike Fadayomi (you can read her full official biography here) who takes over for the last two performances.

And for those of you who might fancy seeing the Geneva performance of "La Wally", Arte still has the June 20 "live transmission" in its site.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

World Cup fever - let's get a grip

What is it with football?

Yes the World Cup - warts (Fifa) and all - is a major sporting event.

There's no doubting that.

But really, does it mean our elected leaders can afford to forget the really important things happening in the world to ride - albeit briefly - the crest of the feelgood wave they hope might somehow benefit them?

Russia reduces its gas supply to Ukraine "raising the possibility of disrupted transit of gas to Europe" and a difficult winter ahead if things aren't sorted.

And what are our illustrious leaders up to?

Well, the German chancellor Angela Merkel hot-footed it over to Brazil to watch "die Mannshaft" make clinical mincemeat of Portugal (with a little help from an imploding Pepe early into the game)

Back in France as the country limps through its economic muddle, now complete with the inevitable industrial ("non") action from SNCF employees and les intermittents du spectacle, how did the president François Hollande spend his time during Les Bleus' opening game?

He ostentatiously invited 200 people (and the cameras) to la salle des fêtes at the Elysée palace to gawp ("with collective passion") at a giant screen as France ran out victorious over mighty Honduras in their first match.


Giant screen at the Elysée palace (screenshot BFM TV)



Oh well. Winter is months away, so why should politicians care about gas supplies right now?

Perhaps the football commentators will help jog their memories by broaching the subject during Russia's first game against South Korea on Tuesday!

Nigeria kicked off its tournament on Monday with a thrilling 0-0 draw against Iran, and in the meantime the 200 or so missing schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in April are still being held hostage. They've been located apparently, but still haven't been freed.

Never mind. Who gives a damn anyway?

French TV news reports spend an inordinate amount of time analysing and speculating on the Les Bleus' chances, interviewing individual French players and managers - past and present - wheeling in the "experts" to give their opinions and asking the man and the woman in the street what they think.

And at the same time Sunni Islamist militants have taken control of Iraq's second city Mosul and are now approaching Baghdad.

The world watches - says little and does nothing as the focus of media attention seems to be elsewhere.

And that "elsewhere" of course is Brazil - the host country, profiting from the glory and the money it's not going to make and the prestige the whole tournament will bring as an answer to its social problems.

Just ask South Africa, the host of the 2010 tournament.

Don't get me wrong. I love the so-called beautiful game. But I also care about other things.

And a World Cup which is as much about business and displays of exaggerated patriotism (whatever that might be) as it is sport, surely simply deflects attention away from those other things that really matter.



Friday, 13 June 2014

Friday's French music break - Louane, "Jour 1"

If ever you've had the misfortune of catching the French version of (what must surely be an oxymoron) "The Voice, la plus belle voix" you might remember the young women (or girl) who sings this week's Friday's French music break.

Louane (real name Anne Peichert) appeared in the second series, making it all the way through to the semi-finals and apparently leaving her mark as a singer of "talent and sensitivity".

In other words she didn't really have that much of a voice, but was able to put in a performance which charmed the public (but not enough) and the coaches alike.

Louane (screenshot from official video "Jour 1")

All right, that's being a little unfair perhaps.

Louane is just 17 years old and her participation in "The Voice" secured her a recording contract with Universal Music/Mercury and the release of her first single "Jour 1".

It's a pretty (love) song (what else?) with a catchy enough melody, and Louane has voice that's delicate in the tradition of, say, Cœur de pirate or Joyce Jonathan.

It doesn't exactly knock your socks off, but it's not unpleasant to listen to either.

"The Voice" wasn't Louane's first stab at trying to make it in showbiz.

Back in 2009, she appeared in the now defunct talent show for children aged 8-12 on D8 "L'École des stars" making it through to the final, won by (the then) nine-year-old Léo Rispal.

What's the betting he makes an appearance at the auditions of a future "The Voice"?

Anyway, here's Louane with "Jour 1" - plenty of airplay but not many sales.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo's lack of brolly etiquette

You don't need to be "into" royalty, but there is such a thing as good manners, especially when playing host to a head of state (and it matters little, that it's a non-elected one).

Somehow though, for just the briefest of moments, François Hollande and the recently-elected mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, seemed to forget theirs (manners that is) during Queen Elizabeth II's three-day state visit of France last week to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Their collective faux pas (let's keep this French) happened at the end of the visit as Hollande and Hidalgo accompanied their guest to the flower market in the capital's IV arrondissement to a ceremony at which it would be renamed in her honour "Marche aux Fleurs - Reine Elizabeth II"

(screenshot i>Télé)


There was just the slightest of drizzles in the air as the trio made their way on foot to the flower market.

Hollande, well used to the rain (who can forget how the heavens opened to "rain on his parade" just after he had been inaugurated president back in May 2012) didn't blink twice as a few drops fell.

And the Queen, clearly a hardy soul and always prepared, simply opened (or had it opened for her) a modest but clearly regal personal transparent umbrella (so that "one" could best be seen by the adoring crowds presumably).

Hidalgo though was having none of it and instead was accompanied by a "factotum" carrying the largest black brolly covering...well, just her really (click on this link to see the photo).

Of course in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that important and certainly far from being dramatic but for the French weekly news magazine Le Point, it "spoke volumes about the characters involved."

"It's hard to believe your eyes," went the rather tongue-in-cheek piece.

"Elizabeth II, 88-year-old sovereign for 62 years, holding her own umbrella while Anne Hidalgo, not yet 55 years old and mayor for just over two months has someone else holding hers....Shocking!"

(screenshot BFM TV report


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Snails, sardines and "helpful" police advice for Paris drivers

So this flashed up on Sytadin, a site some of those who live and work in Île-de-France might use to find out information on the traffic flow in and around Paris.


And just look at the helpful recommendations  La Préfecture de Police is offering drivers to avoid the tailbacks expected on the road as taxi drivers all but block access to Paris from both the major airports with their opération escargot which will see them driving at a snail's pace.


Screenshot Sytadin


"La Préfecture de Police conseille aux automobilistes, notamment en matinée, de différer leurs déplacements vers la Capitale ou d’emprunter le métro pour les résidents les plus proches de Paris."

Or summarised, they're advising motorists to try to leave at a different time (earlier) or take public transport.

Yep - as the first reports on breakfast telly showed, Wednesday is going to be a fun day with the opportunity of becoming intimately acquainted with complete strangers as those needing to get into Paris, are sardined into heaving métro carriages.

Still, there's always the train...or would be, if trade unions weren't on strike too meaning that there'll be a limited rail service.

screenshot BFM TV

Have a great day!


Friday, 6 June 2014

Friday's French music break - David Serero, "On veut la coupe sur les Champs Élysées"

Nothing could be worse than the Eurovision Song Contest (and epsecially the French entries) when it comes to music, could it?

Think again - and not too hard. Because the answer to a somewhat loaded question (and what would under other circumstances surely be purely rhetorical) comes in the title of this week's Friday's French music break "On veut la coupe sur les Champs Élysées".


(screenshot from YouTube video)

It's the unofficial "anthem" of the French team for this year's World Cup and a timely choice as the whole shebang is set to kick off in São Paulo on June 12 with hosts Brazil taking on Croatia in the first match of the tournament.

To accompany Les Bleus in their attempts to forget the nightmare that was Knysna four years ago in South Africa, French opera and Broadway musical baritone (and all round showman according to his official bio) David Serero has teamed his tonsils with those of "un collectif d'artistes anonymes" to produce a song which is presumably meant to inspire the team's performance on the pitch and drum up enthusiasm among fans back home.

David Serero (screenshot "Autumn leaves - Les feuilles mortes" with Jermaine Jackson)

Quite frankly though, it could well have the opposite effect - prompting the players to run back to their dressing room in embarrassment (should they have the misfortune to hear it in the first place) and leaving supporters in no doubt that the Eurovision result (two points and last place, remember) was not a one-off when it comes to appreciating French music.

It's meant to be a "festive" offering with a sunny Caribbean-South American beat and flavour but the result is just a mess.

The 33-year-old Serero might well have a voice well-suited to opera and popular standards (the latter is a matter of opinion) but when set among the cacophony that is ""On veut la coupe sur les Champs Élysées" he just sounds...well ridiculous and slightly off-key to boot.

All right. If your ears are up to it, here's the song.

How many seconds will you be able to endure?

Let's just hope that Benzema, Giroud, Ribéry and co prove more effective on the pitch than Serero and others did in the studio.

Courage!


Serving up French diplomacy - the François Hollande way

If ever you doubted François Hollande's capacities as a world leader or his talents at practising that oh-so delicate yet famous art of French diplomacy, you may be reassured.

As the host of this year's 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy, the French president found the ideal way of meeting and greeting world leaders as they assembled for Friday's events - and ensuring that nobody had their nose proverbially put out of joint.

And he managed it with bonhomie - helped along with a healthy appetite or at least a gastronomic capacity which would make any man proud.

First up Hollande played host to Queen Elizabeth II at the Elysée palace.

Tea for two - and a few more - presumably along with something to take the edge off his appetite as he had a hard evening of chow down power talking ahead of him.

Then it was off to Michelin starred chef Guy Savoy's restaurant Le Chiberta in the VIII arrondissement of Paris for dinner with the US president Barack Obama (and entourage).

On the menu, according to Savoy who tweeted (what else?)  what he had  prepared - blue lobster salad and Normandy sea bass as the two men (and entourages) talked (but hopefully not with their mouths full) politics.


(screenshot Guy Savoy Twitter)

And then back to the Elysée palace (because of course Hollande had a "double dinner date dilemma") for what was described as a "light supper" (doesn't that just make the mind boggle) with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Ah yes. Hollande - willing to sacrifice all - and especially his waistline - for the sake of keeping everyone happy.


François Hollande at the Salon de l'Agriculture, February 2014 (screenshot collage from Le Petit Journal Zapping)

And he hasn't finished yet.

Because after Friday's memorial celebrations in Normandy, he'll be hotfooting (or more likely helicoptering) it back to Paris and the Elysée palace once again for a state banquet with Queen Elizabeth II as the guest of honour.

http://news.yahoo.com/france-pulls-stops-super-guest-honour-queen-elizabeth-170945179.html

Chapeau M. Le President.

Alka Selzer?

Carving up the camembert - redrawing the French map


After much reported and totally uncharacteristic to-ing and fro-ing, the French president, François Hollande, finally made up his mind and released earlier this week his "vision" of a how new administratively slim-lined France could look.


 (screenshot www.elysee.fr)
Add caption


Hollande wants to reduce the number of regions from the current 22 to just 14, in an effort to "reduce regional bureaucracies and cut back on spending".

It's a move which, if approved by parliament, the government reckons could save around  €25 billiion annually.

And, at a time when France is looking to cut back on public spending, that can't be a bad thing.

No sooner had the plan been announced, than Hollande's supposed latest sidekick (although you have to wonder who is actually in charge), the prime minister, Manuel Valls, promptly popped up on TV (yet again) to explain the mechanics of passing the proposals through parliament and how, if they were approved, the process of transition would take place.

Most telling perhaps was his admission right from the start, that there could well be some room for manœuvre, implying perhaps that the 14 regions currently outlined might not be the final figure and conceding that the debate had just begun and it would be complicated.

"There will be debates in the Senate first and then in the National Assembly and there may be changes," he told Jean-Jacques Bourdin on BFM TV.

The key is to reduce the number of regions to make them stronger and more competitive. There needs to be change and it has to be done."



Ah, does it sound as though Hollande and Valls are already preparing themselves for a famous French fudge even before the debate has started.

The whole idea, of course, is not a new one. Over the decades, successive governments have toyed with the idea of redrawing the regional map of France.

And ever since Hollande came to power, rumours that he envisaged some sort of "carving up of the camembert" have been...well, if not rampant in terms of news coverage at least bubbling gently under the surface.

Some of the apparent choices seem bewildering - even to those who know about these sorts of things.

That ruddy great Poitou-Charentes, Centre and Limousin proposal for example. Or the fact that the département of Loire-Atlantique  and its capital Nantes and the current region of Pays de la Loire will not find itself in Bretagne where it probably belongs at least historically.

But perhaps everyone should breathe a huge sigh of relief that the much touted merging of Aquitaine and Limousin  (right up until the day before the announcement, as the map below from the Journal du dimanche shows) looks as though it won't happen.




What the JDD predicted François Hollande had in mind (screenshot JDD)

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