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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.
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