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Monday, 21 November 2016

Nicolas Sarkozy quits politics…again

So the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has promised to leave politics.

His announcement came on the eve of his defeat in the first round of the primary to choose the candidate from the centre-right in next year’s presidential elections.

Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot BBC News)

Sarkozy finished a distant third to his former prime minister during his five-year spell in office from 2002-2007, François Fillon, and blast-from-the-past hopeful (and another former prime minister) Alain Juppé.

Yes, how ironic that Fillon,  the man Sarkozy had described (apparently off-the-record) as his “assistant while the boss, that’s me” back in August 2007 “romped” to victory with just over 44 per cent of the four million who turned out to vote with Juppé (28.6) second and Sarkozy third (20.6).

The top two will now go head to head in a second round of voting on Sunday 27 November.

An unusually subdued and dignified Sarkozy thanked just about everyone possible during his speech in which he conceded defeat and gave his support in next Sunday’s round to his former “assistant” - moving many of his fans (because the cult of personality is and was at the core of Sarkozy’s approach to politics) to tears.

Sniff, sniff.

Just a shame the 62-year-old hadn’t been a little more noble and distinguished earlier in the day when he went to vote.

While Fillon, Juppé and the other four candidates had been happy to stand patiently in line while waiting to vote in their respective constituencies, Sarkozy, presumably not wanting to rub shoulders for too long with the (well-heeled) hoi polloi of the swanky XVI arrondissement in Paris, jumped the queue.

Jumped the queue.

Surely the way he will be lovingly remembered and treasured by his devotees.

And as for stepping out of the limelight to "have a life with more passion privately and less publicly”…cue that interview in March 2012 with Jean-Jacques Bourdin perhaps.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Rachida Dati’s “fascist, thug” 2013 text message to Brice Hortefeux

Well, it’s quite a while since either of these two French politicians has made the headlines.

But hey, here they are. Rachida Dati and Brice Hortefeux.

And what a handbags at dawn session they must have had when they were both frontline government ministers.

That’s if the text message sent by Dati to Hortefeux a couple of years ago (but revealed last week) is anything to go by.

It shows just how loving, friendly and understanding members of the same party and government can be towards each other.

Rachida Dati's text message to Brice Hortefeux (screenshot Mediapart's tweet)

Set the scene.

It’s September 2013.

And the former justice minister and current member of the European parliament and mayor of the seventh arrondissement of Paris (yes, wearing two political hats simultaneously - a very French tradition), Rachida Dati, whips of a text message to (take a deep breath…at least there’s some punctuation to allow you to respire while you’re reading) Brice Hortefeux, former interior minister and employment minister and also a current member of the European parliament and a councillor (and second vice president no less) for the recently-created region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes .

The two protagonists - both close to former (there’s evidently a lot this “pastness” going around) president (and wanna-do-it-all-over-again hopeful) Nicolas Sarkozy - clearly had what could be termed (politely) a “strained” relationship.

That’s going on the evidence of Dati’s SMS.

Rachida Dati (screenshot BFM TV September 2016)

The tone is set from the very opening words by Dati greeting Hortefeux with,“Salut le facho”!

And then continuing with a barrage of menaces such as revealing “the cash he had been given for a number of meetings involving Sarkozy without specifying what the money had been used for” and his “illegal employment of his wife at the European parliament”.

“Tu me fous la paix” (you can translate that for yourselves on one of the many online services, but it basically means “stop messing around with me” - but in a far more vulgar manner), Dati ends with a flourish, calling Hortefeux a “thug” and threatening once again that she won’t be fooled with.


Thanks Mediapart - a French online investigative and opinion journal - for sharing that apparently “private” email with us. Good work.

And the reason for Dati’s vitriol? Apart from the fact that the former ministers clearly didn’t get along.

Well, once again, according to Mediapart, it was because she had got wind of Hortefeux’s  suggestion that her “air and border police privileges be stopped”.

Behind the scene advisers apparently managed to calm the two (mainly Dati) and the incident is now no longer either wants to remember…with Hortefeux admitting on BFM TV that “relations with his former government colleagues had been difficult at times, but the page had now be turned.”

For the moment?

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Name that French politician

A quick test (no cheating) for those of you who follow French politics and think you (might) know a thing or two.

Try to name some of the faceless wonders and barely memorable people who hold, or have held, a post in government under the current president, François Hollande.

It’s just a bit of “fun” after watching BFM TV presenter Jean-Jacques Bourdin conducting his daily grilling of a French politician. On Wednesday morning it was the minister of justice.

1. And that’s your first question. Who was in the “hot seat”? In other words, who is France’s minister of justice? (clue - it’s no longer Christiane Taubira - and hasn’t been since the beginning of 2016)

2. Who is Juliette Méadel (in other words, what’s her job)? And who is her immediate boss. (clue - she has had her current job since February 2015 indirectly succeeding Nicole Guedj who held the post for a year in 2004-2005)

Juliette Méadel (screenshot Europe 1, September 2016)

3. Who did Matthias Fekl (who?) replace as minister of state for foreign trade, the promotion of tourism and French nationals abroad? (clue - Fekl’s - who? - predecessor spent just one week in the job and is probably best known for his inability to pay bills/rent/taxes)

Matthias Fell (screenshot BFM TV)

4. Harlem Désir. Apart from surely having the coolest of names, what’s his government job (and does he actually do anything apart from draw a nice, fat salary - here’s a piece outlining some of the reactions when he was appointed to his current post in April 2014)

Harlem Désir (screenshot Public Sénat interview, January 2015)

5. Name the minister of state for higher education (clue - if it helps - he replaced Geneviève Fioraso in March 2015).

6. Can you name either of the junior ministers who work under Marisol Touraine, the minister of social affairs and health? (clue - their job titles are, respectively minister of state for disabled people and the fight against exclusion and minister of state for elderly people and adult care. And they’re both women).

7. Who replaced Sylvia Pinel in February 2016 when she left the government to take on more responsibility at a regional level? (clue - her job was split into one holding the housing and sustainable homes portfolio and another one of town and country planning, rural affairs and local government)

8. Three-part question this time.

How many ministers of sport have their been during François Hollande’s stint as president?

Who currently holds the job?

And does he use the same hairdresser as the president (they both seem to go for the badly dyed look)

9. A nice easy one…name the minister of culture and communication (clue - she’s a close friend of Julie Gayet but denies that had anything to do with her getting the job)

10. Finally, when there’s a full cabinet meeting, how many ministers in total are sitting around the table?

Check out the answers below. If you managed to name all the ministers then give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back, in the knowledge that you’re probably better informed than many political hacks in France.



1 - the minister of justice is Jean-Jacques Urvoas

2 - Juliette Méadal is minister of state for victim assistance, a post she has held since February 2016. She reports directly to the prime minister, Manuel Valls.

3 - Matthias Fekl replaced Thomas Thévenoud as minister of state for foreign trade and the promotion of tourism in September 2014. Thévenoud was sacked after just one week in the job when it was revealed in Le Canard Enchainé that he suffered from "administrative phobia" and had “forgotten” to pay his rent for three months. Says a fair bit about Hollande’s judgement.

4 - Harlem Désir (gotta love the name) is minister of state for European affairs which, given that he had an appalling attendance record as a member of the European parliament, pretty much makes a mockery of his appointment.

5 - Thierry Mandon is the minister of state for higher education and research - a post the 58-year-old has held since June 2015.

6 - The two women who report directly to Marisol Touraine are Ségolène Neuville (minister of state for disabled people and the fight against exclusion) and Pascale Boistard (minister of state for elderly people and adult care).

7. When Sylvia Pinel resigned from the government in February 2016, her job was split in two. Emmanuelle Cosse took over as minister of housing and sustainable homes while Jean-Michel Baylet became minister of town and country planning, rural affairs and local government.

8 - During Hollande’s presidency there have been three different ministers of sport.

Valérie Fourneyron, May 2012 - March 2014
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem April - August 2014
Patrick Kanner - incumbent minister who, yes, has hair completely the wrong shade of very dark brown for a 59-year-old.

9 - In the February 2016 reshuffle Audrey Azoulay replace Fleur Pellerin as minister of culture. The appointment raised more than a few eyebrows, not only for the way cack-handed way in which the talented Pellerin was “thanked for her time” but also the fact that she way replaced by a woman close to Hollande’s not-so-secret girlfriend, Julie Gayet, and a former advisor to the president.


The current government (including prime minister Manuel Valls) numbers 38.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Laurent Ruquier’s “donkey" views on Donald Trump’s behaviour

And that’s a polite euphemism for what has to be one of the most crass public comments this undeniably intelligent man has made during his television and radio career.

You might not be a fan of Laurent Ruquier, but there’s no denying his work ethic and prodigious output.

Just take a look at his (English) Wikipedia profile, “Television and radio host, producer, and satirical comedian. He is also a lyricist, writer, playwright and producer of shows, and owns his own theatre.”

The 53-year-old is probably best known for his weekly show on France 2 - “On n'est pas couché”.

It’s a talk show - a mix of cultural, social, sport and political elements — in which invited guests are given a grilling (or positive critique, depending on the mood of his two “Rottweiler” co-presenters  - currently Yann Moix and Vanessa Burggraf)

Over the years there have been some pretty heated exchanges, particularly when the two Érics - Zemmour and  Naulleau - worked alongside Ruquier. And some celebrities have refused to appear on the programme to promote whatever book, record or film they had just released or participate in a political discussion.

And then there’s the daily programme on RTL radio “Les Grosses Têtes” in which, since 2014 when he moved to the station from Europe 1,  Ruquier is joined by several members of his (faithful) band of “commentators” to take a light-hearted look at some news items and, in a semi-quiz format, determine which famous figures (past and present) might have uttered particular phrases and compete against listeners in an audience challenge.

Laurent Ruquier (screenshot from RTL radio’s "Les Grosses Têtes")

It’s not meant to be too earnest, although sometimes serious issues can be addressed, albeit in a supposedly good-humoured and good-natured way.

But listening to last Sunday’s special (a round-up of the previous week’s highlights) you will have heard Ruquier come out with the most bizarre of statements.

It was almost (but not quite)  a defence of US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s behaviour after the release of a tape in which he had bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy”, the media reaction there had been to the tape and Trump’s subsequent “locker room talk” apology.

“Heaven knows, I’m not for Trump,” Ruquier said (at around 18 minutes into the programme)…making it easy for listeners to guess that there was about to be some sort of justification for the US presidential candidate’s conduct.

“But frankly I’ll defend him - just a little. I think what was done to him last week was disgusting”, he continued, seemingly swallowing Trump’s line that he had in fact been the “victim”.

“If you take any guy who is talking to another guy and record them while they’re talking about women, there would have been exactly the same result.” (Does that argument sound familiar?)

“And the same is true for two women talking about men.” (Add your own exclamation marks).

Now - purely opinion - and not a particularly well-informed one at that. But where exactly does Ruquier get his valuable information from?

First up - to state the obvious - he’s a man.

So as such, even though he is a gay man, he cannot possibly have had  “all-girl chats” - or even know how they talk about men and/or sex when there’s no man around.

Somehow though, he seems not to have grasped that fact - because…?

Well, you answer it.

Then there’s the locker-room talk aspect: as though such language and behaviour is somehow acceptable, excusable, understandable and…whatever this might mean… “normal”.

The two women invited to participate in that particular edition of the show, former Brazilian model turned TV presenter Cristina Cordula and US-born French, singer, actress, director and model (gasp - a “multi-talent”) Arielle Dombasle weren’t entirely (to put it mildly) in agreement with his “analysis”.

But, for the sake of humour and entertainment, their views were dismissed by the show’s host and the other male panellists as they, in time-honoured tradition, maintained that women’s conversations were “just as bad, if not worse.”

M Ruquier - from one man to another, might I suggest that you keep away from a subject about which you can have little or no real knowledge and, while you’re at it, take a listen to the speech US first lady Michelle Obama made in New England last Thursday.

Just in case you missed it, here it is…. in its entirety.

It should, hopefully, make you realise that not only are you very wrong. It might also help you understand that a microphone and a celebrity status do not give you the right to express views that are so ill thought-out and have no substance.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Christine Boutin’s latest Twitter gaffe - lacking dignity and class

You know some people (politicians in particular) should not be allowed anywhere near a microphone. It only encourages them to utter the most absurd ideas in the mistaken belief that they’re making sense.

Similarly they should think twice - nay thrice - before allowing themselves to share the benefit of their “thoughts” on social media platforms.

Nadine Morano springs to mind. A classic example of someone who’s “good” for a soundbite although many would probably wish she were less of a buffoon.

And then there’s Christine Boutin.


Another “serial offender”.

(caricature of) Christine Boutin “La vache qui prie” - although there’s none of the “tendrement conne” in her latest Tweet (screenshot from Canal + Le Grand Journal video, February, 2016).

Yes, the ex-housing minister and founder and former president of the Christian Democratic Party, well-known for her opposition to civil partnership (for two men or two women) and same-sex marriage (and currently appealing a fine for having said that homosexuality was an “abomination”) has taken to the Twittersphere with her usual “panache”.

This time around though, there’s none of the eye-rolling “here she goes again” reaction. Rather she has committed what many consider to be a monumentally offensive gaffe.

As you might know the former French president, Jacques Chirac, has been hospitalised.

The 83-year-old reportedly has a lung infection, the most recent in a series of health scares.

His wife, Bernadette, has also been admitted, suffering from exhaustion.

A number of French politicians, including the front runners for Les Républicains primary Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the current French president, François Hollande, have “expressed their support” for Chirac and his wife.

Enter stage right Boutin, finger-twitching presumably to announce in just three words on Twitter the death of Jacques Chirac - remembering to use the hashtag of course!

And how did she react when faced with the obvious truth that she had got it all wrong (yet again).

By defending herself in claiming that the information had come from “ a reliable source” and that she had shared it because, in her words, “I think the French are waiting for it, as shown by the buzz it has generated.”

Nothing like an apology!

And Boutin’s response was nothing like and apology.

What class.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Friday’s French music break - Cyril Mokaïesh & Bernard Lavilliers, “La loi du marché”

There’s no doubt about it. This week’s choice for Friday’s French music break is a heartfelt piece of social and political commentary (and that’s not hyperbolising) with a haunting melody and powerful lyrics that would leave only the most insensitive, indifferent.

Inspired by Stéphane Brizé’s award-winning 2015 drama “La Loi du marché” (“The Measure of a Man”) for which Vincent Lindon (deservedly) won Best Actor at last year’s Cannes film festival and a César (the French equivalent of the Oscar) in 2016, Cyril Mokaïesh’s song of the same name sees him pair up with another politically engaged artist, albeit from another generation, Bernard Lavilliers.

And the combination of Mokaïesh (31) and Lavilliers (69) is a stroke of genius.

As is the clip which accompanies the song, directed by none other than Brizé, the man who made the film.

Cyril Mokaïesh (screenshot from official video of “La loi du marché”)

Bernard Lavilliers (screenshot from official video of “La loi du marché”)

“ ‘La Loi du marché’ (the film) marks a moment in our history,” Mokaïesh said in an interview with Le Huffington Post.

“It’s about the difficulty of contemporary existence , the fierce world of work and its injustices.”

So moved was he by the “poetic nature” of the film that Mokaïesh wanted to “make his own contribution”, and in particular express the,“difficult lived of migrants and the way in which society had become dysfunctional” without neglecting structural and social issues in France of course.

You see, a world and-a-half removed from what many other artists have to offer.

“There is no song that can change the course of events,” he said.  “But there is a chance that it (a song) can reveal feelings and unite forces.”

The (overwhelmingly positive) reaction to the song on Mokaïesh’s Facebook page might well be from those who have already been converted to his music and his message. But there’s a strength in both the lyrics and performance that’s undeniable. And Brize’s video clip complements it perfectly.

Maybe there is hope that Mokaïesh’s sentiments, as idealistic as they most definitely are, might be heard by some who are not necessarily natural listeners of his music.

Anyway, here’s a triple recommendation for you.

Firstly, if you haven’t already, try to see Brizé’s film (the first clip below is the trailer): it’s touching and troubling and, needless to say, Lindon is just magnificent.

Secondly, take a listen to (and a look at) Mokaïesh and Lavilliers’ joint “contribution” (the second clip below).

And finally, read the lyrics (in French). “Real” poetry.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

François Hollande named “Statesman of the year”


Say what?

That’s surely the only way to react to the news that the French president, François Hollande, has been honoured as International Statesman of the Year.

The prize, which is awarded by the New York-based interfaith Appeal of Conscience foundation recognises “individuals who support peace, prosperity, liberty and promote tolerance, human dignity and human rights, both in their own countries and internationally through cooperation with other leaders”.

François Hollande (screenshot from Le Monde/Reuters video of acceptance speech)

Right, that’s the news angle, and maybe the international community knows something the French don’t. But does Hollande really merit the award?

After all poll after (endless) poll in this country only emphasises Hollande’s unpopularity with the electorate at home and the frustration there has been with his seemingly trademark “waffling” approach to governing.

As Hollande’s five years near their end, what have been the highlights of his term in office?

In no particular order:

Julie Gayet and the scooter.
The ceremonious (and acrimonious) dumping of not-quite first lady Valérie Trierweiler
Ace government appointments such as Jérôme Cahuzac (the minister of economy, charged with fighting tax fraud who…well, you can probably guess the rest) and Thomas Thévenoud (the trade minister who “forgot” to pay his tax bill…for three years)
Electorally courting the Greens, including them in government and then seeing the “principled” Cécile Duflot flounce out of office.
Facing the wrath of so-called Frondeurs of his own party, abandoning Socialist party principles but refusing to endorse completely those of Social democracy.
Being (and this takes some doing) abandoned by government ministers on the left of his party - Arnaud Montebourg, Benoît Hamon and Aurélie Filippetti and those on the right - Emmanuel Macron (all right, so Manuel Valls has stuck the course, but most political commentators would argue that he has his own agenda).
Telling the French endlessly that unemployment would drop and staking his future on it.
Making administration easier (huh?), reducing the number of regions (at what price?), shifting a dollop of the state’s tax burden to those very same regions.
Oh yes - same sex marriage.

On the whole, a pretty grim and disappointing track record - domestically speaking.

So, to abroad - foreign policy; an area in which every French president stamps his authority.

Just a sampling.

French intervention in Mali and Syria, the battle against Daesch, the handling of refugees in Europe…the list could go on…have, and let’s be brutally honest about it, hardly been resounding triumphs in French foreign policy and ergo for Hollande.

And that term “Statesmanship”.

Take a look around the Net and you’ll come up with several key elements (and, as in all matters of this nature, there is no one clear definition, so the meaning of the term is open to some degree of interpretation) that are embodied in being a statesman.

Having a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision. And an ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision.”

Hollande? Really?

Or how about this?

"A person who is skilled in the management of public or national affairs." or, in determining the difference between a politician and a statesman, “A politician works with details. A statesman works with ideas.”


And this?

“A person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs” and “A person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.”

Double ditto.

Now, while Hollande might score (just) on some of these points, he clearly misses big time on many.

Certainly he has had to deal with the terrorist attacks in France during his time in office. And few could argue that he has led the nation’s mourning with exceptional dignity.

But that in itself cannot warrant the award of International statesman of the year.

And maybe Hollande recognised that fact in his acceptance speech on Monday, realising that the award was not for just one man, but for a nation.

“It honours France,” he said. An inspiring France which defends  liberty, democracy and human rights everywhere.”

And referring to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,  he continued, “ On that day we were all American. Today we are all French.”

Monday, 19 September 2016

Cough up motorists - French motorways need more money

That’s more or less the message the French government sent out this past weekend.

Now, let’s get this straight.

On the whole, drivers have to pay to use motorways in France (the main exception is in Brittany). That’s right, the network of autoroutes consist, for the most part, of toll roads.

And they’re operated and maintained by a number of private companies: the largest being Vinci, which controls around 4,380 kms of motorway.

This being France, of course, the motorways are actually owned by the state and the companies run them along concessionary lines…making a healthy profit along the way, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth their while as private companies are not in business for altruistic or philanthropic reasons.

But when it comes for repairs or upgrades to be made, who do you think coughs up?

The state? Ha ha. It wants to cut back on spending as much as possible.

Those private companies? Not on your proverbial “nelly” as that would eat into their profits and shareholder dividends. And besides, they’ve apparently already invested heavily.

So who’s left?

Think about it - the answer, if you’re reading this and have ever been behind the wheel of a car - is looking right at the screen.

Yep - drivers!

At the weekend the junior minister in charge of transport minister, Alain Vidalies (who? you might well ask) announced that, to finance the necessary roadworks on 30 stretches of motorway dotted up and down the country, the government was going to call on local authorities to foot part of the bill.

Alain Vidalies (screenshot Europe 1 radio interview, June 2016)

And the rest…the rest…will be met by the motorist as the toll charges are set to increase from 0.3% and 0.4% annually during the period 2018-2020.

Great timing - and handy for whichever government might be in power at the time to enforce.

Yes, there might well be good economic arguments for the price hike (and passing it on the consumer or motorist) such as the likely increase in employment building works will necessarily provide, and the government wanted to avoid getting into lengthy and protracted negotiations with the companies that “run” the motorways.

But the timing is pretty crass and, what’s hidden behind what seems at first a reasonable increase, is the fact that it will be in addition to whatever rise in toll prices there might be over the same time period. In other words, it’s an hike on hike yet to be agreed.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

SNCF’s catchy little renaming of Paris-Bercy railway station

There's a lot to be said for getting the name right, isn't there? Especially when you’re promoting a product or a service.

The simpler, catchier and more relevant the better.

Bearing that in mind and with a magic wave of its wand, SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français - France’s state-owned railway company) - and of course not succumbing to the implicit political pressure “state-owned” might suggest - has renamed one of its main Paris stations.

On Tuesday, Paris-Bercy - based in the area of the Paris of the same name - officially became…wait for it…”Paris- Bercy- Bourgogne - Pays d’Auvergne”.

Paris- Bercy- Bourgogne - Pays d’Auvergne (screenshot from France3 report)

Snappy, isn’t it?

Precise and to the point and not at all an unnecessary mouthful.

Apparently it took several (well-used) (wo)man hours of meetings to come up with a compromise that would satisfy elected politicians of both Bourgogne (or Burgundy in English)  a  former administrative region of east-central France which is now part of the new Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region and Auvergne, another former administrative region which is now part of the larger Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (the number of metropolitan regions in France was reduced to 13 as part of a cost-cutting and efficiency exercise aimed at making local government and administration  simpler, yadda yadda yadda)

On hand at the inauguration ceremony to soak up some of the political glory (????) was the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, He was only too keen to emphasise how the name change a) would reflect the area of France the railway station actually serves and b) would be a window to the world for tourists (honestly, even if there’s some truth in the declaration, only a politician would have the gall to say so).

Laurent Wauquiez (screenshot from France3 report)

“At last there’s a railway station in Paris that carries the name Auvergne,” he said in a television interview. “It’s really going to be a super way to promote our region.”

Similarly over the moon  was Marie-Guite Dufay, president of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.

“It could increase travellers’ knowledge of our regions as a tourist destination,” she said enthusiastically.

“There could be demonstrations (at the station) of our regional products by people from the area,” she added, perhaps forgetting that…well…”Paris- Bercy- Bourgogne - Pays d’Auvergne” (what a mouthful) is just a railway station and nothing more; a point of departure and arrival et basta.

Marie-Guite Dufay (screenshot from France3 report)

Still, politicians love “over-egging pudding” whenever they get the chance.

Surely all that passengers passing through the railway station (and adjoining bus terminus) really care about is that the trains are on time and that SNCF can provide a reasonable service that isn’t too costly.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Friday’s French music break - Claudio Capéo, “Un homme debout”

There is life after “The Voice : La Plus Belle Voix” even if a) you don’t win it and b) by your own admission you’re far from having the talent to match those who have really been blessed with vocal cords that actually merit the moniker.

Such is the artist featured in this week’s Friday French music break; Claudio Capéo with his breakthrough single “Un homme debout”.

Claudio Capéo (screenshot from “Un homme debout” official video)

Capéo (real name, Claudio Ruccolo) appeared in the most recent season of “The Voice” (Won by? Won by? - Do you remember? Do you even care?*), made it through the blind auditions, only to be knocked out in the first round of “les battles”.

Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the format. It’s enough to know that Capéo didn’t get very far but, as he says in his own words, he wasn’t at all surprised.

“I found it incredible that I was chosen to take part,” he said in an interview on BFM TV. “Just look at what I look like...and I even haven’t taken singing lessons.”

The 31-year-old, who had been playing in the Paris métro for several years, simply took part in the programme to get some professional advice and also (perhaps) some exposure.

And it paid off as his latest single, “Un homme debout” has become one of the surprise summer hits here in France and his latest album (his third)  imaginatively entitled “Claudio Capéo” held the number one spot for five weeks and turned platinum.

Plus he has a series of concerts lined up in towns and cities throughout France in October, November and December, including one date at La Cigale in Paris.

Not bad going for someone whose gravelly voice is (and let’s be upfront about it) not really among the best, but who, along with his cherished accordion (which he has apparently been playing since the age of five) certainly seems to have captured the attention of many French.

* Slimane Nebchi for those who have been racking their brains…and for those who haven’t)

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Donald Trump renews his France bashing line

Not content with alienating many groups at home, US presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has turned his attention to foreign affairs (again) and in particular France (again).

Donald Trump (screenshot from Fox News video)

“France is no longer France” he said at a campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina on Tuesday.

“I have friends who go to France every year. They love it,” he told the audience.

“I say, How do you like it this year? They say, we don’t go to France anymore. France in no longer France.”

(The first video below is silent...which, for many, might well be the best way to listen to Trump)

Wow. That’s an astute and shrewd analysis.

And one that Trump has made before. Yes, he’s a repeat “offender” of French feelings. Evidence that he has a complete understanding of a country he clearly knows and appreciates so well.

Back in July, after a terror attack in Nice on Bastille day left 87 people dead and the killing of a French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, 10 days later in a suburb of the north-western city of Rouen, Trump came up with his perceptive and incisive analysis that “France is no longer France.”

His source - an unnamed “friend” who apparently wouldn’t go to France because…yes, you’ve guessed it…”France is no longer France.

Interesting,  isn’t it, (not really) that within the course of a few weeks the singular friend has become plural…and even though they apparently no longer set foot in France, they are knowledgeable enough to proclaim that, “France is no longer France”.

So, M. Trump (and friend/friends) if “France is no longer France” what is it?

Let’s have the benefit of your undoubted wisdom. It’s bound to be enlightening…if not completely skewed.

And in the meantime, perhaps you could take a look at this piece in "Le Monde" (just FYI, that’s a French daily newspaper) by journalist Olivier Ravanello.

It’s short and to the point and suggests that when you’re French bashing so "eloquently", you’re actually talking about your own country.

Take a read - do.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Why Nicolas Sarkozy should withdraw from the presidential primary race

Even though Nicolas Sarkozy is popular with a sizeable chunk of the centre-right Les Républicains (LR) party faithful, the French in general could probably come up with a fair number of reasons why he shouldn’t take part in the primary to choose next year’s presidential candidate.

After all, Sarkozy’s popularity in those ubiquitous opinion polls might have risen since he officially launched his campaign, but he still has some ground to make up on his main rival, Alain Juppé.

Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot Euronews “Zapping” August 2016)

More importantly, no matter how sceptical you might be about the veracity of opinion polls, a whopping 79 per cent of the French don’t want to see Sarkozy at the Elysée palace.

Not surprising really as he has already had the job once.

And, in spite of all his pugnacity, Sarkozy proved he really wasn’t up to achieving much on political, economic and social fronts, while reducing the role of president to that of an often ill-mannered (“Casse-toi alors, pauv' con !”) impetuous caricature.

Then there’s his programme (as outlined in his latest bestseller “Tout pour la France”) - an almost knee-jerk reaction to the increase in support over the past years for the far right Front National by proposing policies that would move LR further to the right and taking a hard line on identity, immigration and security.

But most importantly there’s the so-called Bygmalion affair - when Sarkozy’s party, then known as Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) allegedly “connived with a friendly PR company (Bygmalion) to hide the true cost of his 2012 presidential election campaign” and thereby breaking the limits allowed on campaign spending.

On Monday, the French prosecutor's office recommended that Sarkozy should stand trial for breaching campaign spending limits.

“A crude political manoeuvre”, claimed Sarkozy supporters and in particular his lawyer, Thierry Herzog; the inference being that the judicial system bowed to pressure from the Elysée palace.

And the timing - coming as it did on the opening day of the trial of Jérôme Cahuzac (remember, the former budget minister in charge of cracking down on tax evasion who was forced to resign in April 2013 after he admitted he had held  a secret foreign bank account for about 20 years) was too much of a coincidence and simply evidence that the government (read, the French president, François Hollande) was “using the French justice system to divert attention (from the opening of the trial).

Yes, well. There might well be some credibility on both counts as few would maintain that politicians are the most ethical of creatures.

But, here’s the crux of the matter. It’s not really important whether Sarkozy - as he claims - knew nothing about the false accounting and overspending, the fact remains that he was the beneficiary.

“That’s why he should withdraw,” said Christophe Barbier, managing editor of the weekly news magazine “L’Express” on his morning slot on BFM TV.

“He was maybe unaware of what was happening,” said Barbier. “But he was the one who benefitted (from the incredible overspending and false accounting) politically and electorally. And that’s the reason he should withdraw,” he repeated, “If only for reasons of humility.”

Yes. Well. Hardly one of Sarkozy’s main attributes.

Monday, 5 September 2016

“Elegance personified” - Gianluigi Buffon drowns out booing fans at Italy-France friendly

Many might (rightly) maintain that the so-called “beautiful game” ain’t exactly what it used to be.

Big bucks and “state of the art” hairdos (or “hairdon'ts) seem to count as much as on-the-pitch skills for the elite that make it to the top of the game.

And let’s not take a nightmare trip down memory lane to the “Knysna affair” at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when the French national side threw a collective tantrum and refused to train.

It surely marked an all-time low in (French) football.

But there are exceptions of course. And perhaps it should come as no surprise that the man who recently showed such outstanding behaviour should be an Italian.

After all, it’s a country in which football is revered - even among those who don’t really follow the game.

Look at the recent Euro 2016 (held in France) when every Italian man, woman and child (enough hyperbole?) seemed to follow the fortunes of Gli Azzuri until they were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage.

Anyway, back to that man, Italy’s goalkeeper and captain and (more hyperbole perhaps - but just ask an Italian) legend, 38-year-old Gianluigi Buffon.

Gianluigi Buffon (screenshot from Rahim Abdullaev’s YouTube video)

“An example to what we should be seeing on the pitch”, said Fifa president Gianni Infantino after a friendly played on September 1 in the Italian city of Bari between the hosts and France (a game which Italy were to lose 1-3)

But what exactly had Buffon done to earn such plaudits - not only from Infantino but much of a soccer mad world.

Quite simply he had single-handedly led the response to counter booing that occurred from a small section of the crowd at the Stadio San Nicola while the French national anthem was being played before the match began.

Buffon reacted immediately, applauding La Marseillaise throughout, followed by his teammates and, it has to be said - a vast majority of those in the stadium.

Such class Monsieu Buffon!

Friday, 2 September 2016

Friday’s French music break - Måns Zelmerlöw, “Should've gone home (Je ne suis qu’un homme) "

If you’ve been following Friday’s French music break for a while now, you might have noticed the trend for some featured artists to sing only in English…or a sometimes approximate version thereof.

Conversely, there are also several non-native French speakers who choose to re-record tracks they've originally sung in another language specifically for release in francophone countries.

Josef Salvat did it with “Open season” for example.

And so did Mika - although, with “Elle m’a dit”,  he went the whole hog and released a song he had never previously recorded in English.

Joining the club is Swedish pop singer and TV presenter Måns Zelmerlöw with his plaintive (good word that) but catchy “Should've gone home (Je ne suis qu’un homme) “

Måns Zelmerlöw - screenshot from video of “Should've Gone Home (Je ne suis qu’un homme"

Actually on first hearing the song, you might well think it’s Salvat again as it has the same sort of feel to it.

Now, Eurovision fans among you (and there are a fair number scattered around the globe) will probably recognise the name, because Zelmerlöw won the whole shebang for his country back in 2015 and was one of the co-hosts at this year’s show.

Originally released in August 2015 and taken from his sixth studio album “Perfectly damaged”, the French version of “Should've gone home (Je ne suis qu’un homme)” keeps the original melancholic (OK so let’s not exaggerate too much) chorus cry.

But most the verses have been translated - courtesy apparently of singer-songwriter Doriand (Laurent Lescarret) who has done the same for the likes of Mika, Julien Doré and Camélia Jordan.

Anyway, “Should've gone home (Je ne suis qu’un homme) “ isn’t that bad, and neither is Zelmerlöw’s French as the audience at a one-off performance at la Maroquinerie in Paris in October 2015 was able to hear he performed  Gilbert Bècaud’s French standard “Et maintenant”.

Et maintenant

So take a listen.

And just in case there are any Swedish readers out there - Ha en bra helg

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Has Emmanuel Macron really “betrayed” François Hollande?

How does the (perhaps somewhat sexist) saying go? “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? ( an interpretation  based on a quotation from English Restoration period poet and playwright William Congreve’s “The Mourning Bride”).

Well, how about when it’s applied to a president, seemingly “betrayed” by one of his closest advisers and former (if the word is not too strong) “acolyte”.

Yes, you’ve guessed it - if not at least from the title.

The man (or men) in question is the French president, François Hollande, and his, now, former minister of Economy, Emmanuel Macron.

“Shocked” and “betrayed” is apparently how Hollande feels.

“If anyone believes they can go it alone and implement policies by themselves, they’re wrong,” he said on Wednesday to several hundred leaders of associations - an allusion to Macron’s resignation, without mentioning him by name, as well as his lacking a party machinery to back him.

And those words (at least the “betrayal” part, because let’s face it, Macron’s decision hardly took anyone by surprise) have been echoed by others in the Socialist party as the both the president and his government ministers try “ostrich-in-sand” style to ignore the reality and get on with surviving their final months before next year’s elections.

But was it really a "betrayal" or sign of disloyalty?

Sure, Macron had been an adviser to Hollande at the Elysée palace before landing (being given) his ministerial portfolio in August 2014 (replacing Arnaud Montebourg), but he has hardly made a secret of his ambitions.

In April this year he launched his own movement En Marche “which was neither of the right nor the left. Open to anyone from any political party” -  widely interpreted as a testing ground for a potential presidential bid in 2017.

And although a member of a (supposedly) leftwing government, Macron has always maintained he would be prepared to work with those from the right who share his values.

Indeed just weeks before his resignation, Macron admitted that he “wasn’t a Socialist”, totally in keeping with his repeated attacks on subjects dear to the party’s faithful such as the 35-hour working week.

No, 38-year-old Macron has never held elected office and doesn’t have a party machinery behind him. And that might hurt him - or at least make it difficult - should he decide to take a shot at next year’s presidential election

And yes, Hollande gave him his break and has “tolerated” his outspokenness and inability to play the collective solidarity game that is so “treasured” (if only in name) among French politicians.

But that’s the point.

French (any) politics is also about individuals full of ambition, not only for serving their country (which is what they want the electorate to believe and in true Méthode Coué come to believe themselves by repeating it endlessly) but also for their own self glory.

And it’s not “betrayal” if you realise that the man you once advised is no longer listening (or perhaps never was) and is refusing to see merit in your arguments.

You might not like what Macron stands for (pro-business, too removed from traditional leftwing politics, anti public sector and too reformist) but you have to respect that his decision to resign is one based on total and utter common sense and is a move that could (unlikely but nonetheless possibly) shake up France’s jaded political landscape.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Emmanuel Macron quits the French government

There’s little surprise in France that (former investment banker), Emmanuel Macron has quit his post as Minister of Economy (Industry and Digital Affairs) to (according to many political pundits) prepare for a shot at the top job in next year’s presidential elections.

It has been on the cards for quite some time, and especially so, since the founding of his own (good Socialist, that he isn’t) Centrist movement, En Marche, in April 2016.

Emmanuel Macron (screenshot BFM TV)

But there might well be a few raised eyebrows over the choice of his replacement.

It’s none other than the current Minister of Finance, Michel Sapin, a long-serving politician who was a classmate of the French president, François Hollande, (and Ségolène Royal, come to that) at the École nationale d'administration (Voltaire promotion of 1978-80).

Michel Sapin (screenshot BFM TV)

Yes, the two men go back a long time. Not only did they study together, they also shared a room during military service back in 1977.

If such a thing as friendship exists in the weird (and not so wonderful) world of French politics, then maybe that term can be used to describe the relationship between the two men.

And that means Hollande has an ally and someone he can trust to tell him the truth, if not of his chances of being re-elected next year (pretty slim to nil would be the wise man’s bet) then about the outcome for the Socialist party in the National Assembly elections slated for June 2017.

Because, as the managing editor of the weekly news magazine “L’Express” (and proud wearer of scarf)  Christophe Barbier, pointed out at the end of his slot on BFM TV’s "Première Édition", it’s not the first time Sapin has held the post.

Get in your time machine and travel back to  1992 when Sapin was similarly appointed to the “super ministry” of Economy and Finance.

And then fast forward - ever so slowly (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) just one year later - March 1993, to be precise - when the governing Socialist party suffered its worst electoral meltdown returning just 53 members to the National Assembly.

“The worst electoral defeat for the Left - apart from that perhaps in 2017,” commented Barbier.

Food for thought - n’est-ce pas M. le President?

Friday, 26 August 2016

Friday’s French music break - Imany, “Don’t be so shy”

August 26, 2016

It hasn’t been easy to find a video to accompany this week’s Friday’s French music break that isn’t, well,  almost semi pornographic.

Little wonder really given the title, feel and not exactly concealed sexual nature of the song.

But hey.

It’s worth sharing because “Don’t be so shy”, the latest single by former French model Imany (Nadia Mladjao) and remixed by Moscow-based House and Deep House DJs Filatov & Karas (Dmitry Filatov and Alex Osokin) to become an upbeat European-wide hit which has topped the charts in several countries, is both contagious and a sumptuous delight.

Imany (screenshot Le Grand Studio, RTL)

This version (you can listen to it here) of “Don’t be so shy” combines class of her sublime and evocative voice with the remix which does the song complete justice.

The song originally featured on the soundtrack of the 2014 film “Sous les jupes des filles” (or “French woman”) and you can hear an excerpt towards the end of this trailer (yes, you’re really being treated to three different versions of the same song this week).

This isn’t the first time Imany has featured on Friday’s French music break (FFMB).

Back in 2011, she exploded on to the French music scene with her debut single, “You will never know”, a song which brought parallels with US singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman and had both commercial and critical success.

Enough words though.

As ever, FFMB is all about the music and the artist - sometimes good, sometimes bad.

Or in this case…excellent.

And here’s Imany with an acoustic version of "Don't be so shy" recorded in the studios of RTL radio.


You will.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Nicolas Sarkozy’s non-shock presidential election candidacy announcement

Well that’s a turn up for the books.

Former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy has announced that he’s to run in the primary to choose the candidate who’ll represent the Right and Centre-Right at next year’s presidential elections in France.

Screenshot Nicolas Sarkozy Twitter

Yes, the same man who, back in 2012 assured viewers, during an interview with Jean-Jacques Bourdin on BFMTV, that he would “retire from politics” if he lost that year’s presidential elections, has joined 14 other hopefuls - a decision which surprises absolutely nobody.

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

The announcement was the kind of political non-event which pretty much sums up politics in general in this country, and the tradition whereby those defeated in earlier elections, along with disgraced politicians, attempt a comeback.

You know, “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose”. Or in the case of French politics, the same old faces keep popping up all the time.

Take a look at just a few of those on the list for the primary.

Ex prime minister Alain Juppé who has made his way back from a criminal conviction for abuse of public funds to become the man most likely to be able to beat Sarkozy.

Jean-François Copé, the former president of the Centre Right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a popular movement, (which under Sarkozy’s second stint as chairman renamed itself Les Republicans) who was forced to resign from that post following the Bygmalion invoices scandal (about which he knew nothing of course).

François Fillon - another former prime minister (under Sarkozy). Squeaky clean (in French political terms although there was that “storm in a teacup” scandal in 2014 when he reportedly encouraged one of François Hollande’s closest advisers at the Elysée Palace, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, to “accelerate” judicial proceedings against Sarkozy) but rather…er…dull.

Nadine Morano - no criminal convictions - but plenty of - let’s be polite - “barmy” Tweets (she’s an adept at Social Media) and controversial statements (such as France being  “a Judeo-Christian country, of white race")

Then there’s…

No, to list all of them would increase the yawn factor inexorably. And besides, with Sarkozy’s entry into the race, some will more than likely drop out.

Ah yes - that entry. Long expected and accompanied by a book (of course) “Tout pour la France” in which he outlines his “ideas” for the future of this country, and a scheduled appearance on prime time TV news.

Sarkozy has his work cut out. He might well be popular among his supporters (pretty much a foregone conclusion as it would be disastrous if he weren’t) but, if those never-ending opinion polls are to be believed, among the general population he’s unpopular and a majority have said they would not like to see him stand.

Oh well, too late now.

Affaire à suivre

Monday, 22 August 2016

Tears, jeers and a touch of farce as France celebrates Olympic "success"

So they’re over - the Rio Olympics that is.

And French headline writers are celebrating the country’s “record haul” of 42 medals and seventh-placed finish overall.

Heck, even the French president, François Hollande, took time out to bask in the glory and congratulate France’s sportsmen and women saying they “were more than champions, they were role models”.

But while politicians can be forgiven for having selective memories and choosing only to use statistics that fit their own perception of the world, it surely only takes a few clicks of the mouse for even the most inexperienced of journalists to check the facts and figures.

Sure, the 10 Golds, 18 Silvers and 14 Bronzes the French team brought home was collectively more than London (35), Beijing (41) and Athens (33)  - the last three host cities - and the highest post World War II cluster (well ahead of the paltry five in Rome in 1960 or nine in Montreal in 1976) but still way behind the total when the Olympics was still about competing and not just winning.

Back in 1900, when Paris hosted the Games and a certain Pierre, Baron de Coubertin was president of the International Olympic Committee, France claimed…wait for it…101 medals in total (26 Gold, 14 Silver and 34 Bronze) finishing top of the table.

All right, so as everybody’s online friend, Wikipedia, points out, in 1900 Gold medals weren’t actually handed out (first place received Silver and second Bronze).

But apparently the IOC has since “retroactively assigned Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals to competitors who earned first, second and third-place finishes respectively to bring early Olympics in line with current awards”.

So there.

And bedsides, should the French really be feeling so smug about their overall performance?

While US swimmer Ryan Lochte (along with a few of his team mates) made a complete jackass of himself and embarrassed his fellow countrymen and women by “fabricating a story of being robbed at gunpoint”, some French competitors were also proving they could be equally farcical and unsportsmanlike..

After finishing fifth in the 100 metres backstroke final, French swimmer, Camille Lacourt,  decided he would take a pop at China’s 200 metres freestyle Gold medallist, Sun Yang.

Swimming is becoming as tainted as athletics, he told French radio “with two or three doped in each final.”

“Sun Yang, he pisses purple," said Lecourt, a reference to the Chinese swimmer having faced a three-month doping ban in 2014.

Lacourt later apologised saying he had been “frustrated” and “upset” with his own performance and his failure to secure a medal.

Apologies too from French pole vaulter (and world record holder) Renaud Lavillenie as he had not only to battle with home favourite Thiago Braz da Silva, but jeers and boos from fans in the stadium.

“I’ve never seen that before,” he told French television during the event. “Something like that has probably not happened since Jesse Owens appeared in Berlin in 1936.”

The clumsiest of remarks (to say the least) made in the heat of the moment, no doubt. And one Lavillenie regretted by Tweeting his apologies later.

But the crowd during the medal ceremony was equally unforgiving; once again booing Lavillenie and moving him to tears as he took Silver behind da Silva.

French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie in tears during medal ceremony (screenshot YouTube video)

No sign of an apology though from French tennis player Benoit Lepaire.

Quite the opposite really after he lost his second-round match and was then asked to “pack his bags” and effectively excluded from the French team at the Olympics by the French tennis federation's technical director Arnaud Di Pasquale.

The 27-year-old  Lepaire. had apparently decided his place was with his girlfriend (pop singer Shy’m) rather than fellow team mates at the Olympic village - as required by the French tennis federation.

Lacking both grace and humility, Lepaire retorted. "I have a different view of what is happening at the Olympics. I keep my opinions to myself. The federation, they are non-existent, so it is not very serious.”

Finally, throughout the Olympics, the French media simply couldn’t help itself.

While talking up this country’s performance, there was also the constant look to what was happening to “that lot” from across the Channel - Team GB.

Final medal table (screenshot France TV)

“How come the British were winning so many medals?” they asked innocently.

“How did a country with a population more or less the same size as France produce so many more medalists?”

“Lottery money, investment (time and professionalism), precise preparation for the Games, the exclusion of many Russians and the poor showing of the Chinese” were the sporting conclusions of a nation which, let’s face it, put in a pretty mediocre performance overall.

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