Showing posts with label France. Show all posts
Showing posts with label France. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How French are you?

Oscar-winner Jean Dujardin in the role of
Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, aka OSS 117,
a very French but less-than-brilliant spy
at the time of Président René Coty.

Click here to access a funny quiz… which was obviously made in the USA, where they cherish stereotypes, and seem to be totally incapable of moving on beyond their favorite simplistic visions of non-American people who happen to be “sharing” the planet Earth with them.

I was almost surprised to find that I ticked quite a few boxes… but I won’t tell you which ones, and how many.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Say cheese... with an echo

For several years, my favorite cheese has been Ossau-Iraty, produced from unpasteurized ewe’s milk in the Béarn and Pays basque region of south-west France. In 2011, at an international cheese fair in England, a cheese of this variety was awarded the prize of the World’s Best Unpasteurized Cheese.


Even in France, this product is not nearly as well-known as celebrated cheeses such as Roquefort, Brie, Cantal, St-Marcellin, Comté, Gruyère, etc. Maybe the double-barrelled name is a minor stumbling-block, in that it’s slightly complicated, and many French people wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to pronounce it. At the supermarket, I’ve got into the habit of simply asking for Ossau… and the cheese lady knows immediately what I mean.

Well, that’s going to have to change, because the producers of this cheese have launched a TV campaign designed to demonstrate how the name of their product should be pronounced. And the least that can be said is that this is likely to give rise to a lot of decibels in French supermarkets. In fact, the next time I intend to request a slice of Ossau-Iraty, I should probably think about taking along a megaphone, combined with an electronic echo box.


I’ve noticed, too, that the various demonstrations of cries of “Ossau-Iraty” in the valleys are all performed by young women. I believe that this reflects the fact that barefoot nymphs used to work as shepherdesses in the valleys where this cheese is produced.


Meanwhile, the males of the villages were busy making cheese… and playing Basque pelota.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

French commercial property for sale

My friends Tineke and Serge spoke to me recently about a couple up near Lyon, named Bruno Richard and his wife Marie-Paul, whom they've known for ages, who would like to sell their charming rural hotel/restaurant, named La Jocondière, located in beautiful backwoods to the south of Lyon, near the village of Pélussin.


After analyzing the situation, and concluding that the affair appeared to be totally positive, I suggested that a good marketing strategy would consist of building a small website dedicated to the property in question. So, click here to visit my website (almost completed today)... whose address will get picked up rapidly, I hope, by Google.

If ever an Australian investor were interested in this interesting but out-of-the-way affair, it goes without saying that I would be happy to operate as an intermediary...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

From here to Timbuktu

When I was a kid in Waterview (South Grafton), my parents had the habit of using the hackneyed expression "from here to Timbuktu" to designate a distant place. So, I grew up imagining that Timbuktu was a mythical place on the edge of the planet Earth, where the waters of the oceans descended into a terrifying infinite abyss.


From a technocratic viewpoint, it goes without saying that vessels of this kind would be a fabulous place to house religious fanatics.

Today, I'm thrilled to learn that our French forces have chased away Islamic invaders and liberated the town in Mali whose name in French is Tombouctou.


Up until recently, few observers—even among his supporters (such as me)—would have imagined our French president François Hollande as a military chief. Fortunately, in the case of the following encounter, he had noticed that the French soldiers in front of him were wearing unusual uniforms.


As for the rest of military operations in Mali, most observers in France and throughout the world are steadfastly behind the French president.

SAD FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY: In the abominable style of mindless morons with their backs to the wall, the Islamic barbarians flamed priceless ancient documents at the Ahmed Baba Institute on the eve of their withdrawal, leaving only ashes.

— photo 29 January 2013. AFP/Eric Feferberg.

There can be no discussion with such individuals, who deserve to be captured and housed in vessels of the kind seen in my top illustration.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bastille Day 2011

I've decided spontaneously to replace my angry blog post about Rupert by an evocation of France's annual celebration. I've nevertheless left the earlier copy of a petition appeal [display].

France is shocked today by the death of five soldiers in Afghanistan.

BREAKING NEWS (July 14): An amusing surprise, this morning, was the performance of a Haka by French soldiers from the Pacific zone.



Does this mean that this ritual war dance originated from a broader cultural background than that of the Māoris of New Zealand?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dame République, expecting

Shortly after the French Revolution, a girl named Marianno was the heroine of a revolutionary song in the Occitanian language. The song became popular in October 1792, just after the creation of the French Republic, which adopted Marianne as its allegorical incarnation. She is always represented wearing a pointed bonnet, designated as Phrygian (a legendary people of Asia Minor). After the July Revolution of 1830, the painter Eugène Delacroix showed a bare-breasted Marianne on the barricades, with a tricolor held high, leading the people to liberty.

Since then, there have been countless pictorial and sculptural depictions of Marianne. Whereas the Church has been symbolized by the Virgin Mary, and French royalty by Joan of Arc, Marianne has become the official female symbol of the République. Busts of Marianne adorn town halls, administrative offices and schools from one end of France to the other.

Since the Libération of 1944, among the females who have been chosen as models for Marianne, we find Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Laetitia Casta.

Over the last few days, French people have been somewhat surprised to discover Marianne appearing in advertisements for Sarkozy's future state loan:

OK, it's nice to know that France is investing in her future. And we can understand that the République is expecting... massive financial investments. But who in fact got her pregnant? It's rather disturbing to learn that this should happen to a fine young woman whose moral behavior has always been beyond reproach. Most people weren't even aware that she was "frequenting" (as they say in rural France, meaning to go out frequently with a specific male friend). Many folk would be furious to learn that the future father is randy Sarko himself, for example. Maybe one of the old fellows: Giscard, or Chirac...

The most eloquent criticism came from an indignant feminist blogger named Emelire: "The hand of the State should stay away from my uterus, particularly if it's trying to grab some cash!"

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A thousand and one hamburgers

In France, a fast-food chain has just announced that their burgers are composed of beef slaughtered according to Muslim rites, and that the bacon has been replaced by smoked turkey.

Funnily enough, within the context of this enterprise whose name is an English word, nobody seems to have drawn attention to the fact that the first three letters in the term hamburger designate, for Semites of both creeds, a detestable foodstuff. At a time when all our attention might be directed towards steering kids away from nasty food and obesity, it's deplorable that religion has once again reared its distasteful head. Decidedly, even in France, society is having trouble emerging from the Middle Ages.

Three sources of inspiration

It's not surprising that my blog reflections are inspired by three principal sources: (1) My Australian homeland (2) My adoptive France (3) My longtime US role model.

Concerning source 1, I have less and less to say these days, because my compatriots no longer inspire me. On the contrary, they sadden and alarm me, and I no longer "feel Australian" in any other than a genealogical sense. As for source 3, Obama has deceived almost everybody... but what the hell. I've never succeeded in taking seriously this powerful but light-headed nation with God on its side. So, I'm left with source 3: France. That's great, because I live there, and I have an immense and unfathomable love and respect for France! For me, France has always been the center of the universe. Today, I'm more convinced than ever that this is the case, because contemporary France (in spite of its leaders) is a synonym of ancient wisdom.

I can't decide which of the monkeys should represent each land. All three beasts are beautiful, so I prefer not to choose between them. In fact, ideally, my mythical France would attempt—at one and the same time—to speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil. As I said, my France is a glorious myth.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dance in France

Two days ago, I was intrigued by a request from a friendly Australian fellow who would like to use an image from my article of 24 June 2007 entitled My old passports [display].

Why not? If I understand correctly, he's launching a Franco-Australian commercial venture, and it appears that this image would make a good background for his business card. I'm happy to think that my ancient passport can be recycled in this way.

To my mind, by way of a comparison, bequeathing old passport images to an Aussie entrepreneur is far more fun than donating body organs... particularly since the fellow in question has already sent me lovely photos of his wife and himself, their son and his French fiancée, and he has promised to send me his future visiting card. Truly, you can't expect to get such feedback when you bequeath a liver or some such meaty thing. Besides, I admire the imagination of a guy who's thought of a way of taking advantage of the passport stamps of a complete stranger such as me, who isn't even a spectacular globetrotter!

In fact, since I've hung on to all my old documents, I can now offer pages of antiquated passport stamps for people who might need business cards for activities in, say, Greece or Israel, not to mention Sweden, the UK and even the Kuwaiti petrol port of Mina Al Ahmadi.

Talking of passports, I have an appointment next Wednesday at the town hall of St-Marcellin (the famous cheese town) to obtain my first French passport, described as biometric... which means that the portrait and finger prints will be digitized. While awaiting next week's appointment, I've sent off an email to the French prime minister requesting the right to include my genealogical DNA data in my future French passport. To my mind, this perfectly public data would be so much more appropriate than a simple trivial mention of the color of my eyes... which, incidentally, I've never fathomed.

Meanwhile, the official website of the French ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to inform visitors that they can henceforth dance in France in an old-fashioned manner, in riverside establishments known as ginguettes.

[Click the image to visit the French government website, to see what it's all about.]

If ever you were visiting France, and you wanted to dance by the riverside, and you needed some kind of convincing visual document to gain entrance, just drop me a line, and I'll send you images of one of my old passport pages. Normally, it should suffice to tell the guy at the gate of the guinguette that you're a compatriot and a friend of William.

Winning or losing

Cycling is a subtle sport. There has always been only one way of winning: a brilliant performance, combining power and speed, strategy and imagination, along with some help from your friends and a bit of luck. A rider who wins is often the kind of competitor described in French as an attaquant (attacker). But, in cycling, there are two ways of losing: either you do little and don't make progress, or you run into big problems and descend in the results. Once again, the Australian Cadel Evans is settling in to his familiar status quo category, whereas the Russian Denis Menchov has spent the first week of the current Tour moving backwards in a spectacular manner.

So far, Lance Armstrong has impressed us greatly, whereas his team mate (?) Alberto Contador has played a waiting game. A French website says that the Astana team is sitting on a volcano... which might well go into eruption this afternoon, when the riders encounter the first mountain stage.

Once again, it's a huge pleasure to watch the world's third-greatest sporting event (after the Olympic Games and soccer's World Cup) on TV. Commentators on the France 2 channel like to make a subtle verbal distinction between the Tour de France and the Tour de la France. The first expression designates, of course, the cycling race. The second refers to the fabulous helicopter images of French landscapes, villages, castles, etc... not to mention the hordes of spectators lining the roads. It is a popular event, in the etymological sense of this Latin adjective, meaning "of/for the people". But it provides us, above all, with a bird's-eye vision of the beauty of France.

Observing these magnificent visions of the landscape and heritage in France, I'm not all that surprised when I hear that the French are considered (in a well-known poll) as the world's worst tourists. They never stop grumbling. They're perpetually disappointed, unhappy. Wherever they go, they'll always be tempted, inevitably, to compare what they encounter with their homeland.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension

Today is a public holiday in the historically Catholic but formally laic republic of France. Why? Well, believe it or not, we're celebrating an archaic act of magic. At an unspecified date during the first century of the so-called Christian era, a man in flesh and blood named Jesus, who had been recently nailed to a cross until he was assumed to be lifeless, suddenly took off skywards, like a hot-air balloon.

I shall always remember the lovely image of my future wife, when we were innocent students (?) at the Cité universitaire in Paris, trying to communicate with an English friend who couldn't understand why the French nation went suddenly dead for a day, for no obvious reason, in the middle of May. Christine attempted to use her elementary English (which has improved a lot since then) to tell the fellow that France was celebrating a magnificent ascension that took place long ago, but the uncouth Pom simply couldn't understand what she was trying to say. So, Christine turned on her miming talents, and she fluttered her arms in a vain attempt to inform the English numbskull what the sacred aeronautical Ascension was all about. I've often imagined that, after Christine's convincing demonstration of a holy bird taking off from the gardens of the Collège Franco-Britannique in Paris, our English friend no doubt became an awed monk, and spent the rest of his life in a state of Christian sublimity, maybe in charge of the pope's private jet. I really must ask my friend Graeme Henderson, specialized in aeronautical history [display], to look into that question...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New school year for French diplomacy

The transition period from the end of August to the start of September is referred to, in French, as the rentrée: the return to work and serious affairs, after the summer vacation (for the fortunate few who can afford vacations). Certain observers might consider that diplomats, like retired employees (such as me), are on full-time vacation, in that they don't have to trot off to a dull office in a French city every weekday. Fair enough. You might recall that, in my Guinea pig article of 17 July 2008 [display], I joked about the fact that my weekly dose of experimental pills constitutes a primitive calendar. This morning, at my annual checkup at Romans, the Inserm guy asked me how I was coping with their pills, and I told him that story. He replied: "In any case, your entire daily existence is composed, now, of weekends." The poor bastard must be overworked.

Every year since 1993, the French Republic has been organizing an annual get-together in Paris of its 180 ambassadors and senior administrators of the prestigious Quay d'Orsay ministry of Foreign Affairs. Here's a photo of last year's class:

The 16th Conférence des Ambassadeurs has just got under way, and it will last for three days.

The diplomatic role of France in the world has been enhanced, since July, by the fact that the Republic has been presiding over the European Union. Obviously, the primary preoccupation of the present conference is the situation in Georgia. In his opening address, today, Nicolas Sarkozy insisted upon the necessity of Russia's immediate retreat from the occupied provinces of Georgia.

Meanwhile, the foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has a grand planetary vision for French Foreign Affairs. He would like to see the the Quai d'Orsay evolving into a "ministry of globalization". This change should lead to both modernization and cost-cutting in France's 158 embassies and 21 multilateral representations throughout the world. If and when these reforms are enacted, there'll be less glitter in French diplomacy. Ideally, the glamor, foie gras and champagne will be replaced by sound suggestions about making the planet a more peaceful and pleasant place for humanity. We'll see...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blue, blues

My second-favorite computing company has made a graphic effort to remind us that today is the 14th of July, Bastille Day.

Symbolically, this year's celebrations are dominated by the color blue. For the first time, soldiers of the UN Blue Beret peacekeeping force will be marching in this morning's military parade in the City of Light.

As the defense minister Bernard Kouchner just remarked, today's 14th of July will be considered exceptionally, in the future, as "the day after the 13th of July 2008". What he's saying, jokingly, is that statesmen were preoccupied yesterday by the summit meeting to promulgate the concept of the Union for the Mediterranean.

Finally, there's the blue of the flag of the European Union, of which France has just been assigned the presidency.

Alongside all this bright blue, however, there's a wave of military blues in France today. To call a spade a spade, between Nicolas Sarkozy and the French armies, the current relationship is as cold as an unfired cannon. Something seems to have gone tremendously wrong between the supreme commander and his troops. For many reasons (which are too detailed to be examined here, even if I were capable of doing so... which I'm not), the French armies seem to have lost confidence in their chief, and he in turn no longer knows how to charm his soldiers. This distrust came to a head in the context of the shooting drama of 29 June 2008 at Carcassonne, when a soldier accidentally fired real bullets into a crowd at a military festival, wounding seventeen innocent spectators. Many military representatives consider that Nicolas Sarkozy failed to handle the aftermath of that tragic affair in a just manner. A journalist claimed that feelings between the president and military personnel have sunken to the lowest level since the notorious putsch of French generals in Algeria against Charles de Gaulle on 21 April 1961. To put it mildly, on this Bastille Day, that's a sobering observation.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fallen with the last rain

Compared to English, the precision of the Latin-based French language is splendid... and I often feel that this explains why French literature and philosophy—not to say French thinking in general—have a superior quality.

There's a delightful anecdote, maybe apocryphal, about the great French linguist Emile Littré, author of a celebrated dictionary that is still in use today. He was having a good time with a lady friend when his wife burst in unexpectedly upon the naked scene.

Madame Littré: I'm surprised!

Monsieur Littré: Not exactly. It's my lady friend and I who have been surprised. You, my dear wife, are merely astonished.

For readers who might not have seized the nuance: People are surprised when, like Littré and his female friend, observers catch them out doing something that might be judged as reprehensible. From a strict etymological viewpoint, surprise is the notion of being caught with your pants down. As for being astonished, that's merely a question of one's coming upon something unexpected.

A French expression of which I'm fond is "tombé de la dernière pluie". Fallen with the last rain. It's a synonym for naïveté (naivety).

On countless occasions, I've had the impression that Australia is a naive nation whose citizens are prepared to believe the latest information that the local media have fed them. The intellectual baggage of a typical Aussie fell down with the last media rain.

In the context of Anzac Day, the daily newspaper The Australian attempted (successfully, it would appear) to promote the idea that it would be more appropriate to put an accent on honoring the dead of the battlefields of France, where 46,000 Australians died in the Great War, rather than those of Gallipoli (original inspiration of Anzac Day). Fair enough. Why not?

A Sydney reader has reacted enthusiastically to this suggestion by referring to France in the following naive terms: "This is the forgotten front that people just don't know about." Hey, just a moment, Sir. You're talking about the Great War. Verdun, etc. Millions of mindless deaths. You, personally, may have forgotten (or never known) that this terrible conflict was fought essentially in Europe. But please don't generalize your ignorance. In the historical context of that appalling conflict, France has never been a "forgotten front". On the contrary. Pay attention to your dumb and offensive language, Sir.

As I said, I feel that much Aussie thinking fell down with the last rain.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Anzac pilgrims on the Western Front

After their calamitous initiation into warfare in Turkey in 1915, Australian troops were brought to the region in northern France that the Germans referred to as their Western Front.

Today, in a few hours, when the sun rises over Picardy, crowds of Australian visitors will be assembled for an Anzac Day celebration at Villers-Bretonneux.

The geographical heart of Anzac Day commemorations seems to be shifting from Gallipoli to France. By an amazing coincidence, the successful Australian action that liberated Villers-Bretonneux took place on Anzac Day in 1918: exactly three years after Gallipoli. But, between the events of Gallipoli and Villers-Bretonneux, by far the greatest number of Australian casualties on the Western Front had occurred in 1916 at Pozières: over 22,000 dead.

We must remember and celebrate solemnly these terrible happenings, but it would be a monstrous mistake to imagine for an instant that there might have been anything glorious or heroic, or even vaguely rational, in all that mindless butchery.

I feel ill at ease about the idea of a nice touristic "twinning" atmosphere between Australia and Villers-Bretonneux, culminating in the preposterous notion that people in that modern township might be expected to express some kind of gratitude to today's Australian war pilgrims. Obviously, the citizens of Villers-Bretonneux are unlikely to complain about this situation. Pilgrims are pilgrims, here as in Lourdes, and tourism is a business.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Foreigners in France

In the current French political climate, I often feel that, every time I dare to throw the term "naturalization" into my Antipodes articles, it's as if I were pronouncing a nasty four-letter word. The naturalization of foreigners is not exactly, at the present Sarkozian instant, the most glamorous topic in France. I don't know whether there are opinion polls in this domain, but I would say, as a guess, that the question of naturalization has a global popularity rating in France down around the level of subjects such as genetically-modified shit, nuclear wastes and global warming. Somebody with my background and accent would normally score much higher in present-day Sarkozy Land by saying "I'm a compatriot of Nicole Kidman" than by indicating that he hopes to become a citizen of France.

Be that as it may, it would be appalling if my only hope of receiving a French passport were to admire Sarko and his methods. No, in that case, I would prefer to sell Gamone and move out to Queensland. One of the countless things that stops me pursuing this line of reasoning is that it would be unthinkable for me to return to Australia without my dog. So, it's Sophia who's playing ceaselessly a silent role in holding me in France. Sophia probably doesn't realize this, but she's an everyday living symbol, for me, of everybody from Vercingétorix up to Yannick Noah, without forgetting Joan of Arc or Charles de Gaulle. Then I have another French heroine, intimately responsible for my presence in France:

Christine celebrated her 65th birthday yesterday.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Block and tackle

Living on slopes, as I do, is quite different to living on flat land. And living on my own is quite different to being accompanied by a wife and a horde of country offspring. To do anything whatsoever, I can only count upon myself. The other day, a fellow working on the new bitumen road up past Gamone asked me: "You don't live here all year round, do you?" He seemed to be amazed when I said yes. From my viewpoint, I can't imagine where the hell I might live if I didn't live here at Gamone. Do observers see me as a wealthy guy who resides normally in Zurich, say, and only comes here to Choranche to admire the countryside from time to time, when he's tired of the noise of the city? It's a little like the surprise of people who learn that I cook for myself, instead of going out every evening to eat in one of the many imaginary restaurants in the vicinity of Choranche. Or the observers who are surprised that an Australian such as myself doesn't drop out to Bondi, Alice Springs or the Great Barrier Reef every so often.

At Gamone, I'm often obliged to move heavy stuff—such as blocks of limestone—from one place to another, often over sloping ground. I do so with the help of an excellent block-and-tackle device, seen in orange in the following photo:

On the left of this photo, there's a ten-meter length of silver chain that I purchased a few days ago in a hardware store at Valence. Often, when I'm using the block-and-tackle tool (attached to a tree, for example) to drag stuff from one point to another, I use nylon ropes. But this is a silly solution, for the ropes soon become inextricably knotted. So, it's preferable to work with heavy chains instead of ropes. My newly-purchased chains are indeed heavy. In the hardware store, a young guy was struggling to drag out the ten meters of chain, supervised by a friendly and attractive female colleague, with a glint in her eye.

He: "These chains are terribly heavy."

She (in a perfectly serious tone of voice, as if she were commenting upon the price of my purchase): "In the case of a vicious mother-in-law, you can't settle for anything less."

That's what I love about France and the French. People are never totally serious. They retain a great sense of humor and linguistic skill.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wild rabbits and environmental issues

Often, I like to see how new words have come into existence. And sometimes, to understand a new word that appears to be modern— a neologism, as they are called—you have to start a long way back in time. Let me tell you how a curious new word has appeared in French.

It's a roundabout story, which starts with rabbits. As an Australian brought up in a country town, I've always thought I knew a little bit about these animals. On countless occasions, out in the bush, I saw my father take his rifle from the back of the Jeep to shoot rabbits. They were Dad's number-one enemy, because they consumed the precious grass intended for his beef cattle. In France, I discovered that the word lapin designates the huge backyard rabbit reared in cages for meat. To talk about small wild rabbits running around in the fields and forests, as in Australia, the French use the expression lapin de garenne.

Most French people, asked to define a garenne, would probably reply that this word designates patches of uncultivated land in the country where you're likely to find wild rabbits. In the Middle Ages, a garenne was a hunting reserve. At that time, in Paris, much of the land to the south of the place where the Eiffel Tower now stands was a swampy garenne. Finally, it was cleaned up and cultivated by the monks of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, who grew vegetables there. The track leading down to the former garenne came to be called the rue Garanelle, and this was later changed to rue de Grenelle. From the start of the 18th century, numerous aristocratic mansions—called hôtels in French—were erected in this fashionable street.

One of these splendid dwellings was the home of the Duke of Châtelet [nothing to do with the famous square of that name in the center of the city]. When this gentleman was guillotined in 1777, the Hôtel du Châtelet became state property. For many years, it was the palace of the archbishop of Paris. After the separation between the State and the Church became law, in 1905, the Republic asked the archbishop to pack his bags, and the noble mansion was henceforth occupied by the ministry of Employment.

In this building, on 25/26 May 1968, at the height of the social turmoil in France [referred to, since then, as mai 68], representatives of the government of Georges Pompidou [including a certain young secretary of state named Jacques Chirac] negotiated with trade unions and management organizations, resulting in a 25% increase in the basic wage, an average 10% increase in effective salaries, and the adoption of the 40-hour working week. Since then, the historic outcome of this meeting has been referred to as the accords de Grenelle [Grenelle agreement].

Today, the name of the street where this agreement was signed has become a common noun in everyday French: grenelle [still spelled incorrectly, most often, with an uppercase G]. The new word is used to designate a major national get-together involving participants, often with widely differing viewpoints, who are intent upon achieving a consensus. At the present moment, for example, a vast process of debate and study aimed at finding solutions to environmental problems is designated by this neologism: the grenelle of the environment. For wild rabbits, that's a big hop.

Friday, September 21, 2007

French sport

Theoretically, France should be able to defeat Ireland in this evening's pool D match of the Rugby World Cup. But theory doesn't amount to much in rugby, where all kinds of unexpected factors come into play. Theoretically, France should have been able to defeat Argentina in the opening match of the Cup, but it didn't. And, since then, the French have been haunted by the possibility that their team could get kicked out of the Cup during the pool matches, before the start of the real action. This evening, we'll see. It's a do or die thing. If Ireland were to win, France would be definitely out.

Evil-minded observers [Who isn't, when it's a matter of commenting upon a major sporting defeat?] would say that the bald-headed French trainer, Bernard Laporte, didn't get his act together before France's opening match. Or rather, he got his act together a little bit too well. Problems and criticism stem from the fact that loud-mouthed charismatic Laporte has become more of a popular star in France than any of the national players. He has a delightful south-western accent, and TV viewers love to see and hear him getting excited and screaming like a distraught dad at his hefty kids. Besides, we come upon Laporte all the time on TV, because smart companies have hired him to sell all kinds of wares and services. And many viewers have ended up wondering how the hell this video star could possibly find time to train the French rugby team.

Above all, Bernard Laporte has friends in high places... including one sports-minded friend in a particularly high place: Nicolas Sarkozy. Poorly-planned public relations enabled French citizens—not to mention the members of France's rugby team—to learn that Laporte has already accepted a golden job that has been offered him by his mate, the president. After the Rugby World Cup, Bernard Laporte—who knows next to nothing about politics—is destined to assume a senior governmental role in the French sporting domain. So, if ever France were to fail this evening, it would look a little like Sarkozy has signed up a lame duck to look after French sport. Let's hope this doesn't happen...

Meanwhile, French sport reached a summit with the victory in heavy-weight judo of Teddy Riner: a splendid young black-skinned clone of the great David Douillet. Although I know almost nothing about judo, I love to think that a young French Black, bursting over with personality and friendliness, has become—in a sense—the most powerful man on the planet, even more so than any of the rugby giants. Teddy Riner is truly the sort of quiet and beautiful guy [like Yannick Noah] whom you would like to invite to a home barbecue, to talk about anything and everything with the kids. Is there any better criterion of human excellence?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Australian graves in France

On this evening's TV news, a lengthy sequence showed the arrival of the national Australian rugby team in France... in a graveyard!

What a terrible symbol for forthcoming failure! It's surely the Parisian embassy staff that engineered stupidly this immediate link to spooky Villers-Bretonneux, where panels list the names of some ten thousand Australians who died in France and have no known grave. As for me, as an Australian settled in France, Villers-Bretonneux is the last place in the world I would ever think of visiting, even as a pilgrimage, because it doesn't really seem to symbolize anything whatsoever of an authentic Franco-Australian nature. That whole affair was simply a huge planetary mistake. More precisely, I ask rhetorically the following questions:

— Before coming here to die, did these dead soldiers have anything to do with the spirit of the Old World, or the great European nation named France? Or were they simply obeying orders in a blind fashion?

— Had they ever heard of France?

— Did they know anything about French history and culture?

— Did they speak French?

— Did they have personal contacts in France?

— Today, should we think of these countless dead Aussie soldiers as a symbol of Franco-Australian relationships, or rather as the terrible price of stupidity?

It goes without saying that we have no answers to such questions. Over a year ago, however, I was alarmed when Australian friends informed me that tour operators, in the context of the rugby cup, were offering Aussie visitors—besides the Eiffel Tower—a mindless blend of wine tastings and war cemeteries.

Talking of Australian graves in France, here's one that has concerned me over the last decade or so, ever since my encounter with the Dauphiné region:

Christina Jager and her young brother Nicholas were students, residing in the fabulous village of Bruno and the Chartreux monks. They came here on purpose, and they chose a magnificent place to stay and study. But, one winter morning, while setting out in their automobile to the university city of Grenoble, these Australian students were blinded by the sun on the first bend in the road below Saint Pierre de Chartreuse, their vehicle left the road and they were mortally wounded. Over the last twelve years, I've rounded that innocent but treacherous bend on countless occasions. Every time I visit the great monastic village, I spend a moment before the grave of Christina and Nicholas, who died shortly before my daughter Emmanuelle was born. I've always imagined these two Carthusian kids—brother and sister—as my Australian forebears in the territory of Bruno.