18 July 2006

Aidez l'Espagne

This morning I was greeted with the following bit of wonderful news in the Nouvel observateur:

29,8% des Espagnols juge que le soulèvement militaire du général Franco, point de départ de la guerre civile espagnole, était 'justifié'
Yes indeed. Nearly a third of Spaniards still believe that Franco's uprising was justified. Good on them. When I wrote earlier this month that I thought that there seemed to be something of a chevauchement between Spanish support at the World Cup and Franco's Fan Club, I had no idea that the attitude of these fans of Franco (and possibly of football) had pervaded Spanish society as a whole. Golly! You can implore Aidez l'Espagne all you want, but if after all these decades we're still here, there doesn't seem much we can do. At the end of the day, nul n'est servi mieux que par soi-même. Before we can do anything for them they're going to have to help themselves a little bit.

16 July 2006

Le ciel d'été remplit nos coeurs de sa lucidité

With temperatures surpassing 35°C this week, it is safe to say that summer has definitely arrived on plains of central Canada. From -35°C in the winter to 35°C in the summer, the continental climate continues to do its thing.

It's times like this that you wish Canada were just a bit smaller, to facilitate travel, and that it had a Côte d'Azur, so you would have somewhere to go. I suppose I've always implicitly had this feeling, somewhere in the back of my mind, but when L'Express publishes a feature on the Riviera, including its top 10 beaches, effectively rubbing it in your face, there's really no escaping it, is there? You just want to hop into your car and zip down to Juan-les-Pins on the Nationale 7, that mythical link between the capital and the sea & sun that Charles Trenet celebrated in song back in 1955. Have a listen to Stereo Total's 2001 cover version of his Route Nationale 7 by clicking here (the location of this mp3 sample is dynamic, so I couldn't embed it in the page, but this m3u file that points to it appears to be static; the link will launch your computer's default application for m3u files). Despite the advent of motorways and TGVs, the queen of the routes nationales is still the way to travel.

Unfortunately for me, an excursion to the Riviera is just out of my reach, so I'll have to settle for Jim Ring's new(ish) book Riviera: The Rise and Rise of the Côte d'Azur, and my old 1:100000 scale Michelin map of the Côte d'Azur from 1989. Also, in keeping with the theme, I highly recommend J.G. Ballard's 2000 literary techno-thriller Super-Cannes, as well as his review in The Guardian of the aforementioned book by Jim Ring. Finally, if you like these two vintage posters, you'll want to know that both were designed circa 1930 by a certain Roger Broders, the most accomplished affichiste of the golden era of French travel posters. He seemed to mainly do work for locations on the French Riviera and in the French Alps (including this alpine masterpiece from 1927 that I have hanging up on my wall), but he also realised posters for locations around the world. If you're as hardcore as me, you'll also want to pick up the recueil of his travel posters recently published by Queen Art.

Purchase the items mentioned in this post
Musique automatique by Stereo Total: [Canada] [France] [Deutschland] [UK] [USA]
Riviera by Jim Ring: [Canada] [France] [Deutschland] [UK]
Super-Cannes by J.G. Ballard: [Canada] [France] [Deutschland] [UK] [USA]
Roger Broders, Travel Posters: [Canada] [France] [USA]

Site News 2006-07-16

It's been a full week since the end of the Fußball-WM, so I've purged all of the frivilous sporting content from the right-hand sidebar. In its place, I've added a new feature that I'm calling The Literary Supplement. It will always have links to the ten most recent (the rest can be found here) literature-related bits of content published by the sources I most regularly consult. This is also available as an Atom feed. While we're on the topic, I'll do a quick run-down of what else is currently populating the sidebar on the right-hand side of the main page.

Unfortunately Podnova is currently down, but when it goes back online I'll put back the integrated flash-based rss mp3 player that allows anyone to listen to my podcast queue right from the sidebar. The whole affair, including the corresponding RSS feed, is powered by Podnova and consequently doesn't work right now.

Another feature in the right-hand sidebar is the long-running Read What I'm Reading module. It always has links to the ten most recent (the rest can be found here) bits of syndicated web content that I've read and found interesting. This is also available as an Atom feed.

The busiest bit of sidebar action is the permanently-shuffling rectangle featuring my meagre (but growing) oeuvre of amateur photography. This too is available as an RSS feed.

The rest of the sidebar content is self-explanatory. You've got the standard links, previous posts and archives sections, as well as my e-mail address and RSS & Atom syndication options for the blog.

La citation du jour 2006-07-16

Le grand public pense que les livres, comme les oeufs, gagnent à être consommés frais. C'est pour cette raison qu'il choisit toujours la nouveauté. -Goethe (via Heileen)
Goethe is saying that the general public thinks that books, like eggs, should be consumed fresh. For this reason, the average punter tends to choose new releases. Of course the average punter these days isn't likely to choose a book at all, but this idea can be applied to the consumption of culture in general (television, cinema, etc.).

This is as true today as it was in the time of Goethe, particularly in the Anglo-saxon publishing world, where new releases in hardback can be found piled high in supermarket bargain bins just months after publication, thereby making room in the 'proper' bookshops for the next slate of throwaway bestsellers.

In the world of French publishing, hardbacks barely even exist anymore. Most new releases are done in a high-quality trade paperback format, and very often they remain in print for decades after their initial publication. After a year or so many books will also be available in the poche format, which is of a slighly better quality than the Anglo-saxon mass market paperback format. I wouldn't be surprised if the hardback format remains in use in the Anglo-saxon publishing world specifically because it stands up better to the demands of the supermarket bargain bin environment, i.e. an environment where books are chucked about by philistines like so many pieces of worthless tat.

What can you say? You just get the feeling that the written word is treated with more reverence in certain cultures than in others. Different strokes for different folks...

14 July 2006

La citation du jour 2006-07-14

Interroggée sur l'antenne de France 2 dans le cadre du 14 juillet, Michèle Alliot-Marie, la ministre française de la défense, a dit:

L'armée a réagi avec beaucoup de réactivité
Can you say langue de bois?

13 July 2006

La citation du jour 2006-07-13

The newest feature of this blog is the tried and tested Quote of the Day. This, the inaugural entry, comes courtesy of Lucas Armati writing in Télérama's Blog Télévision:

Marre de ces [....] documentaires dont le seul suspense consiste à savoir s'il s'agit d'une coproduction franco-allemande ou germano-française ?
Lamenting the state of summertime telly in France, he asks: 'Aren't you sick of these documentaries whose only suspense consists of finding out if it's a Franco-German or Germano-French co-production?'


Les ponts de Paris

There's a wonderful article by John Lichfield in today's Independent about the new Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, and more generally about the history of bridges in Paris.

Choice extracts:

The bridge is both chaotically modern, and graceful, preserving a long tradition of epoch-defining but beautiful Parisian bridges going back for 400 years.


Paris has more river bridges than any other city.Other river-bisected cities, such as London, Rome and Budapest, have a dominant bank. The Right Bank and Left Bank of Paris, although different in character and preoccupations, are equal partners.

The President lives on the Right Bank; the Prime Minister's official residence is on the Left Bank. The principal business quarter is on the right, but the parliament and most academic institutions are on the left. Ministries and museums are scattered on both sides. Some urban historians say that the proliferation of bridges explains why Paris has developed so evenly on both sides of the river. Others suggest that the fact that both Rive Gauche and Rive Droite were equally important forced the Parisians to build a lot of bridges.


The oldest surviving Paris bridge is, theoretically, Le Pont Neuf (the new bridge), completed in 1607. Its 12 low, sweeping arches and its breadth made it one of the wonders of Europe in the 17th century.


The Simone Beauvoir bridge continues this all-purpose tradition. If you walk along the oak planks all the way from the high sides of the Parc de Bercy to the top of the steep steps in front of the library, you cover 300 metres. You can, however, divert on to the lower deck or arrive or leave by the slopes, stairs and lifts to the lower Seine quays.

The high deck gives you a splendid view of eastern Paris, with the double-deck Bercy bridge carrying both Metro trains and cars in the foreground. There are glimpses from the northern end of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. The lower deck takes you close to the water, just above the tourist launches and the barges full of coal or gravel.

Fascinating stuff...

12 July 2006

L'été à Lutèce

Piscine Joséphine-BakerIt could be my small-town naïveté, but I have never heard of anything like this. Paris has just inaugurated (slideshow) its 35th municipal public baths. Nothing too extraordinary in that, except that this swimming pool floats on the Seine. It's called the Piscine Joséphine Baker and is moored on the Left Bank, just opposite the Bibliothèque Françcois-Mitterrand. On board this floating marvel, in addition to a 10x25 metre swimming pool, one can also enjoy a pataugeoire, saunas, a jacuzzi, Turkish baths, a restaurant and snack bar and a fitness centre including weight room. There are also two solariums, one on board and one on the adjacent land, where people can relax and get a natural tan. If that weren't enough, it also has an eco-friendly ozone water treatment system that purifies the water from the Seine as it is pumped into and out of the pool. The facility will be operate daily, year round (the roof can be opened or closed in a matter of minutes), and will be open as late as midnight on certain days.

The construction took 18 months and cost 17 million euros. Bertrand Delanoë, the Socialist mayor of Paris, says that the most important thing about this realisation is that it enables all citizens to have access to what is beau and joli. I cannot imagine a publicly-funded project in this part of the world going ahead on that basis. The concept that beauty could somehow improve or enhance our lives and therefore be considered to be a legitimate aim of the state (i.e. if you're already going to build a swimming pool, you might as well put in a bit of
effort and make it interesting and not ugly) is completely and utterly foreign in these parts.

Passerelle Simone de BeauvoirThe Piscine Joséphine Baker is right next to the brand new Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, an ultra-modern footbridge over the Seine that's due to open tomorrow. It's the 37th parisian bridge currently spanning the Seine and, according to The Independent, Paris continues to boast more river bridges than any other city in the world. Together, the floating pool and footbridge will form the centrepiece of this year's Paris Plages, which since 2002, through the reduction of traffic, the importation of huge quantities of sand and the organisation of numerous activites, has transformed the Right Bank Paris Plage 2004(and as of this year also the Left Bank) of the Seine into a beach-front holiday resort for those not fortunate enough to escape the capital during the summer holiday season. Of course one can access Paris Plages by métro, bus or boat, and there's even a boat service linking the different sites. It all sounds like too much fun. As the self-proclaimed River City of Canada, we should try something similar over here. It will never happen though. The mayor's too busy covering our urban parkland with condos.

As an aside, both Le Montieur and French Duck report that there used to be another floating swimming pool on the Seine called the Piscine Delign
y. The details are a bit sketchy, but it was apparently run as private enterprise and was bulit back in 1805. Depending upon who you believe, it sunk either on 8 July 1993, or sometime in 1995. Meanwhile, Delanoë has promised a second floating municipal pool, to be moored in the 15th arrondissement, just opposite André Citroën Park. It should be ready by 2010 at the latest.

I tell ya, it's a heck of a town. Can you imagine what sort of things they would be coming up with if they had actually been awarded the 2012 Olympics? The mind boggles...

09 July 2006

Oh là là là là !

Amy Lawrence had it spot on exactly one week ago today: Genius always comes with a dark side. Neverterless, Zidane remains the greatest footballer that I will have seen in my lifetime. Merci Zizou!

In the end, it came down to a single, narrowly missed penalty by Trezeguet. He'd hardly been given a kick at the ball the whole tournament, and to go from virtual inactivity to then be thown into perhaps the most stressful situation of his entire career could not have been easy. I don't blame him at all.

I'd kept quiet once we started to win, but I d
on't know how Domenech was not able to find a way to play Henry and Trezeguet together. As two of the highest scoring players this season in England and Italy respectively, they surely would have formed a formidable attacking partnership. Bit of a waste that. In any case, we dominated from half-time onwards, but simply could not find a winning goal.

Féliciations à l'Italie, et merci à l'Équipe de France pour nous avoir fait vivre cette belle aventure.

06 July 2006

On est en finale, on est en finale, on est, on est, on est en finale

Well, here we are. At the beginning of this whole affair, nobody thought France would be anywhere near the final. The 2004-2005 qualifying campaign was turning into a nightmare; although they hadn't lost a single match, France drew with Israel and Switzerland twice, and Ireland once, and were in danger of not qualifying. In the end the old guard came back and France ended up winning the group, but could just as easily been eliminated had they not won their final match. Then there were the three unimpressive friendlies in the run up to the finals against Mexico, Denmark and China, culminating in the injury that put Djibril Cissé out of the World Cup (injured Cissé is now available as an action figure; yikes!).

The World Cup itself started off badly. After the effect he had as a super-sub, or joker as they say in French, the press were demanding that Franck Ribéry be part of the starting line up. Raymond Domenech then started him in the first match against Switzerland and they didn't win. Ribéry didn't look as effective as he had done as a subsitute and even less so as the match wore on, so of course everyone said that he should only have come on as a substitute and that the manager didn't know what he was doing.

After opening with draws against Switzerland ans South Korea (although they should have beat the latter after having had a goal disallowed even though the ball clearly crossed the line), France needed to beat Togo by two goals in their final group match to be guaranteed passage into the knockout stage,and Zidane would not be able to play because of a one match suspension. Around the world, among both the press and the general public, the consensus was that the team was too old. Domenech didn't have a clue and Zidane et Cie were simply washed up. All the while, Domench answered his critics by saying he would see them on 9 July. Nobody believed him for a second. Many thought that it was a good thing that Zidane was suspended as it saved Domench from having to drop him, especially as he will retire at the end of the World Cup and they could have been eliminated after that match.

It was at this point that I realised that I was no longer a neutral watching this competition. As a Canadian, my team hasn't been in the World Cup since 1986, when I was but a lad of four, so I generally just enjoy the footie, hoping for England (English is my mother tongue and I've always been a bit of an anglophile) or France (I was educated in French, Canada's other national culture) to do something good. In this World Cup the country of my father's birth and the country of my maternal grandfather's family were also both qualified, but I don't feel the same attachment to either team. As I slipped away from work to watch the second half of France-Togo on the big screen down the street, I came to the realisation that I really wanted them to win. A couple of weeks ago on the French radio programme On va s'gêner (rss podcast), Belgian panelist Maureen Dor said that she had been back in Belgium during the France-Spain match and, despite the taunts of her incredulous compatriots, she really wanted France to win. She's been living in France for a few years now, and she suddenly had the epiphany on that matchday that she finally feels French now that she wants France to win at football. She went on to add that amidst all of the talk from hard-line French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy about citizenship tests for immigrants, all they really have to do is sit potential candidates for citizenship down in front of a football match featuring France and whatever country they've come from, and if they cheer for France they can stay. What's that you say? That's ridiculously simplistic and not particularly funny? Well, it made me laugh at the time...

In Canada,
this supposedly Commonwealth country that's really nothing more than a province of Hollywood in the parts that speak English, we have easier access to French television (and arguably French books ) than we do to books and television from Britain, and thanks to region-free DVD players, podcasting and the Internet in general, I find myself becoming more and more culturally French. This was becoming evident in my increasing cultural isolation from my generation, mainly because I haven't seen any of the Hollywood rubbish that they have, nor have I heard the latest top-40 'music' that will be the soundtrack to their summer. For all the talk of the americanisation of France, they're still holding out better than the British. Also, like a French person, from time to time I actually read books. Not Da Vinci Code because the movie was 'AWESOME!'. No, I read actual (not just French) books. Honest to God... And now to top it all off I want France to win at Football.

In the following match against Spain, even if the Spanish coach and fans hadn't been such racists, I would have still desperately wanted France to win. Even if the Spanish fans hadn't booed and whistled during La Marseillaise (also the anthem of the republicans during the Spanish Civil War) and even if the Spanish press hadn't declared they were going to send Zidane, who plays his club football in Madrid, into retirement, I would still have been four-square behind the l'escouade française. At the same time, it made it all the more enjoyable to silence Franco's fan club, these representatives of a supposedly modern country that still harbours such strong racist and anti-republican tendancies and displays them openly in the context of an international manifestation of sport and friendship. The contrast between the French and Spanish nations really was quite striking. In response to Miró's call of Aidez l'Espagne, I would say that it needs all the help it can get. Conversely, when England went out to Portugal, it didn't affect me in any significant way. I still feel a great attachment to Britain, but not, I fear, to the same extent that I now do to France. Now we're (yes, the first-person plural is wholly appropriate) in the final, and you just get the feeling we're going to go all the way.
With a repeat of the Euro 2000 final in Rotterdam in prospect, we've got a player who scored 29 goals in Italian football this season on the bench. David Trezeguet did it against Italy six years ago in Rotterdam, and could easily do it again...

There have been celebrations in Paris after each of the victories against Spain, Brazil and Portugal to rival the one held after they won the final back in 1998, and the whole country has been swept up in the spirit of optimism. After the rioting in the suburbs, the protests against the CPE and the Clearstream Affair (about which, as predicted, we have heard nothing since the beginning of the World Cup), it's a nice change of pace. It's a bit cliché to associate the state of a nation with the state of its football team, and the black-blanc-beur euphoria following the 1998 World Cup was certainly démentie by the 2002 French presidential election where nearly 20% of voters backed the far-right, and by the aforementioned riots. Nevertheless, you've got to hope that some of this rubs off on the nation as a whole. I've read La maladie allemande (The German Malady; see below) and The French Malady. With some luck the unexpected performances of both nations' football teams will contribute to higher spirits in both France and Germany, and ultimately to a relance of the European project, whose very existence depends upon the dual impulsion of both countries.

From the ironic chants of Allez les vieux of a few weeks ago, the fickle French are once again behind their sélection nationale, an entire nation in full voice.

Allez les Bleus !

Purchase La maladie allemande: [Canada] [France] [Deutschland]

04 July 2006

Dodgy Balls

If you were to read the following, would you think that terrorism had struck again?

The police are still not certain if all the balls are out of circulation, and have asked Berliners to report any suspicious looking footballs immediately.
Rest assured, it hasn't. I couldn't help finding this somewhat amusing, malgré moi.

It turns out that 'twas but a harmless Austrian art project.
The challenge 'Can You Kick It?' had several possible interpretations, the group argued. "The sentence can also mean: football affects us all or football is everywhere," said the group.
Well, I'm satisfied.