Eric Cantona runs for President

If a Hollywood actor can become President of the USA, and an Austrian body-builder can become governor of California, why can’t Eric Cantona be the President of France?

The 45 year old former Manchester United star made the front page of left-wing French newspaper Liberation on 10 January, confirming that he had written to the mayors of France for the “500 signatures” required to become a presidential candidate.

However, don’t be too alarmed: the provocative footballer assures that he is not looking to take the future position of Nicolas Sarkozy or Francois Hollande, but simply to bring their attention to France’s housing problem. “Housing is a huge issue in France”, he told the paper, “but the worst problem is that the presidential candidates aren’t addressing it.”

So, is Cantona credible? The last time he was in the French press was in December 2010, when he called for people to withdraw all their money from cashpoint machines to protest the global financial crisis. Some withdrew their money, but Cantona did not. He affirmed that he would pull out 15,000 euros, but never did.

Cantona’s letter to the mayors was published in Liberation. He refers to himself as an “engaged citizen”, with a “keen sense of [his] responsibility”.  He talks about the “millions of families whose daily suffering is too-often forgotten and from which the government’s ministers are so estranged.” He also mentions what he perceives as the main problems of today’s France, where the chances offered to young people are “too limited”, and the injustices made against them are  “too numerous” and ”too violent.”

The 500 signatures will allow him, he says, to bring his simple, clear message, which apparently “millions of families are waiting for.”

Few of the French have missed the resemblance between Cantona’s campaign and that of comedian Coluche in 1981. Coluche ran for President against Francois Mitterand as a joke (his slogan was, “They take you all for imbeciles, so why not vote for an imbecile?”) and gained shocking popularity in the polls, with 16% of voters claiming they would vote for him at one point. He set up the Restos du Coeur (Restaurants of the Heart), a volunteer association which brings assistance to the poor and homeless, most notably by the provision of free meals, and aiding social and economic rehabilitation. In 2010, the Restos du Coeur distributed 109 million meals to France’s poor.

In France, over 8 million people live below the poverty line. The price of rent in Paris has risen by 50% over the past 10 years, and 89% of the French consider their rent too expensive. 1 in 20 people living in France will experience homelessness during their lives.

Perhaps Cantona’s provocative candidature will not fall flat, as his ‘credit crisis protest’ did. Let us hope that it will instead make housing one of the main issues for the 2012 elections, and that he will gain a legacy akin to that of Coluche, who proved that provocation made in jest, with perseverance, can lead to lasting social change.

Anti-fur protest on Avenue Montaigne

Militant campaigners from the anti-fur association Fourrure Torture protested on Saturday afternoon on Avenue Montaigne, a street famous for its fashionable shops, in the posh 8th arrondissement of Paris. In front of chic designer stores such as Dior, Jimmy Choo and Chanel, the 50 or so protesters held up atrocious photographs of slaughtered animals, underneath which were written the words “Sonia Rykiel killed me” and “Gaultier killed me”.

Saturday 14th January was a date carefully chosen to coincide with what Metro has dubbed the “bloody” sales, and the peak shopping period in the French capital. As shoppers passed, the campaigners, wearing outfits covered in fake blood, shouted about the death of millions of animals, “sacrificed on the altar of fashion”.  

“By protesting today, and speaking to shoppers, we hope to bring about changes that will lead to an end of the suffering of animals, bred and killed for their fur in abominable conditions,” said Olivier Rafin, the coordinator of the protest.

Today, fur can be bought cheaply in the form of collars and accessories. Rafin warned that those coming to shop in the sales should be particularly careful as it is often hard to see the difference between real and ‘faux’ fur.

The protesters invited passing shoppers to sign their petition, which called for “an end to the production, importation and selling of animal fur”.

Rebecca Beaurein, 26, had come to look for bargains in her favourite designer stores, but sympathised with the cause of Fourrure Torture: “There are so many products on the market made of synthetic leather, such as bags and shoes. It’s really not complicated to make good choices which don’t involve the exploitation and death of animals.”

56 million animals are killed for their fur every year worldwide.

The association Fourrure Torture was created in November 2004, and has since worked in collaboration with numerous militant animal rights groups in France, informing the government, regularly investigating ‘fur farms’ across the world, and generally spreading awareness.

Because of the efforts of Fourrure Torture, several mainstream French clothes stores have already stopped selling products containing animal fur, including Promod, la Redoute, Camaieu, Caroll, Decathlon, and Pimkie.

With the hope of spreading awareness of the horrors of the fur industry, and particularly among younger generations, Fourrure Torture is active on Facebook, Twitter and Myspace.

Their next protest is planned for the 21st January in the town of Emagny. It will call for the end of the breeding of mink for fur, and FT hope to prevent the opening of a new mink farm in Moncley, a nearby commune.

Green living in the French capital

I highly doubt that eco-friendly living is your immediate association with Paris. It certainly is not mine: when I moved here from a small Sussex village, I was certain my new lifestyle would be a million miles away from self-sufficiency, carbon-footprint worries and organic/fair-trade eating.

Of course, in many ways, I was right, but there are tons of tactics to ‘green up’ your Parisian lifestyle. So, this is a guide for those of you who want to stick to your organic, fair-trade, carbon-clean ways in this hectic, 21st century metropolis.

In terms of your everyday groceries and weekly shop, you have many choices for green eating. All French supermarkets offer some organic produce, and also boast fair-trade sections, but if you can’t find something, or if you want to buy everything organic, the chain store Naturalia is a safe bet. They offer a wide selection of groceries, as well as make-up and cleaning products for the house. There is also a super gluten-free range, with pasta, biscuits, cakes, even ready-meals (so you can keep your frantically-paced days and feel reasonably healthy about it!)

 You could also try a similar chain called Bio C’ bon. This shop is much the same as Naturalia, and can likewise be found in most arrondissements, however, it is worth mentioning their excellent selection of wines and fresh cheeses.

 If you are looking for a more special, one-off sort of place, Touch of Bio is an independent store situated at 30, boulevard Saint Germain. Here you can find fresh, seasonal groceries, organic wines and champagnes as well as fancy organic beauty products. It is an ideal place for buying gifts.

You might think (as I did until recently) it would be an impossible feat to find a restaurant in Paris offering an organic menu. Not so: Le Comptoir (not to be confused with the prestigious restaurant of the same name at Saint-Germain-des-Pres) is to be found in the rue Berger near Metro Chatelet les Halles, and offers organic fruit smoothies, cocktails, salads and vaguely oriental dishes, most of which are scattered over/smothered with many bean-sprouts.

I would personally recommend 97 Bio, which you will find at 97, rue Jouffroy d’Abbans in the 17th arrondissement. This is a high-quality restaurant/take-away/ tea-room sort of joint. On the menu are fresh salads, pasta, and various fish and chicken dishes. They also do a lovely Sunday brunch (a popular function at many Parisian cafes, but this one comes without the drunk or hungover customers. 25 euros for adults, 15 for children.) You have to order 48 hours in advance, but, trust me, the pancakes are well worth it.

 If you want organic clothing, you could obviously order online from any organic clothing retailer. I would actually recommend you do this, because (without sounding snobbish) you are more likely to get garments that are aesthetically compatible with Paris! But if you like to try things on, try Fibris, at 40 boulevard St Marcel in the 5th. This cute little shop offers organic clothes and lingerie for women and men. However, comfortable, breathable, and of course, organic as the clothes are, the style is decidedly frumpy – not exactly Parisian chic!

 Everyone knows that the inconveniences of public transport are greatly outweighed by those of having a car in the capital. The Velib system of public bikes is also cheap and easy to use, giving you a chance to exercise between engagements, which is always a plus! As of yesterday, Autolib has been established, which means that, for 12 euros 60 a month, you can rent an electric car whenever and wherever you want.

 As you can see, it is possible to live a reasonably green life in Paris. But don’t forget that this is Paris, and that most of us cannot be growing veg in our window boxes or wearing un-flattering organic gear on the Champs-Elysees. This is the city of lights – not of energy-efficient light-bulbs. Paris is a city of excess, a city of extremes, and I wouldn’t change it, not for all the fair-trade tea in China.

Twlilight Breaking Dawn: Part 1 – Review

Film title: Twilight Breaking Dawn: part 1
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner
Director: Bill Condon
Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes

The latest instalment of the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn: part 1, is certain to be another box-office hit thanks to its obsessive, often hysterical fans. Hype for this film franchise has so far been something akin to ‘Potter-mania’, and, as with the Potter series, the final novel has been adapted into two movies for the big screen (part 2 is coming next year).

Breaking Dawn features the long-awaited wedding between pallid heart-throb vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and the glum, virtuous, equally pallid eighteen year old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). The ceremony will have the primarily teenage, female fan base squealing in their seats with excitement. A real fairy-tale affair, Bella glides down the aisle surrounded by trees in blossom… and yes, the dress is just perfect. Next, the couple speed off for their idyllic honeymoon on a secluded island near Rio, where Bella and Edward finally consummate their relationship. As long-awaited as the marriage, this intimate moment is cautiously kept-off screen. However, we soon understand what has happened when Bella discovers she is pregnant with a half-vampire child which is growing so quickly that it threatens her life.  

Many parents encouraged their children to watch the previous Twilight films because of the traditionally moral aspects of Bella and Edward’s relationship (abstinence before marriage, respect for parents’ wishes, etc). However, these parents might think twice before taking their kids to this next movie. Despite the director’s determination to leave any sex-scene to the imagination, he doesn’t hold back on the copious amounts of blood and shocking images in the ‘birth’ scene, which, along with a terrifying vision of pregnancy, might well verge on being traumatic for impressionable young girls.

It is gruesome to watch Bella’s body deteriorate into a state of anorexic frailty as her stomach swells, but Stewart plays her part with far more assurance than she demonstrated in the previous films. Pattinson convincingly – if a little stiffly – plays the new husband who fears for his young wife’s life and wants to protect her at whatever cost. Together, the two portray with surprising naturalness a couple agonising over an unexpected and very dangerous pregnancy.  To complicate matters, werewolves are determined to destroy the infant before it is born… and Bella’s old friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) becomes her only hope for survival. Of course, Condon hasn’t forgotten to include many lengthy shots of Jacob hurtling through the forest, ripping his shirt off, glowering at Edward, and storming off in a huff. These are essential parts of the Twilight tradition, and fans of the saga wouldn’t be without them.

With none of the self-conscious humour of the previous films, Breaking Dawn seems to take itself seriously, but then it can, because the acting is significantly improved. We await the final film…

Danielle Mitterrand dies aged 87

Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of former French President Francois Mitterrand, died on Tuesday morning at the age of 87, at Georges Pompidou Hospital in Paris. Her funeral takes place today in her hometown of Cluny.

The former First Lady of France was taken to hospital last Friday, suffering from fatigue and respiratory difficulties. She was placed in an induced coma on Sunday and died in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The announcement of her death was met with emotion by politicians, with Nicolas Sarkozy publicly announcing the death, and Socialist leader Francois Hollande making a moving tribute. However, ordinary Parisians have also been moved by the loss of this extraordinary lady, and many have since paid their respects at Mitterrand’s city mansion at 22 rue de Bievre in the 5th arrondissment, where she lived for forty years with her husband.

Journalists, mourners, and ordinary members of the public alike stood outside Madame Mitterrand’s green front door in the days following her death, some placing flowers, and some discreetly slipping cards into her letter-box.

Yesterday, hundreds of people gathered on the Pont des Arts in Paris in her honour, including many left-wing politicians such as Jack Lang and Jean-Luc Melanchon. They released hundreds of red balloons into the sky for her.

Madame Mitterrand was an exemplary, inspiring woman. She joined the French Resistance as a teenager, and went on to be a militant campaigner for human rights, famously supporting Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution.

She shattered the traditional mould of First Lady by refusing to be a mere hostess at the Presidential palace or decorative adornment standing quietly beside the head of State. She loudly voiced her strong views, which often veered far left even of her Socialist husband’s policies. A friend of the Dalai Lama, she supported a free Tibet and fought for other minority groups such as the Kurds.

She famously accepted her husband’s infidelity, causing a great stir by standing beside his mistress and embracing his illegitimate daughter, Mazarine, at his funeral. She remained loyal to him for the rest of her life.

She founded the association ‘France-libertes’, which continues to fight for important causes, one of its main focuses being a campaign to bring safe drinking water to everyone on the planet.

‘La Locanda’ – Restaurant Review

This small gastronomic Italian restaurant is in a prime client-trapping position for the discerning tourist, well-off local or literary-minded wanderer. It sits in a quaint street close to the famous Place Jean-Paul Sartre-Simone de Beauvoir, with its church, and the literary temples of Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. The many boutiques and restaurants of the Rue du Dragon lend it that convivial feel, characteristic of the 6th arrondissement of Paris. This is the haunt of the older (and wealthier) generations – far from the crammed loudness of the bars of Rue Princesse.

When my partner and I saw a candle-lit table for two available on its make-shift terrace (the pavement), we bagged it immediately, thinking what a rare, authentic place La Locanda looked.   

I entered the restaurant to alert a waiter to our arrival, and met with the simple, rustic, and charming interior of an eighteenth-century building with stone walls, oak beams, a high ceiling and mezzanine. A table was set in the centre of the room with cute bottles of olive oil and bowls of various antipasti – gloriously coloured glistening vegetables… 

A theatrical waiter welcomed me enthusiastically and ushered me back outside with flirtatious encouragement (“of course, of course, mia bella!”) His face fell slightly as he greeted my partner, but he rescued it. “I will get you some menus”, he said through suddenly taught lips, and scuttled off.

I will add here that my partner, who is of Moroccan heritage, was very handsome and well-dressed that evening.

The menu offered a delectable choice of Italian specialities. I went for the Linguine Alle Vongole, the speciality of Venice, with clams and white wine sauce. My partner went for the Rigatoni alla Checca, with a more basic tomato, garlic and basil sauce.

“Can you recommend a good wine to go with the meal, please?” asked my partner, knowing little about wine but wanting to order something special. Our waiter smiled and pointed at the cheapest wine on the list, without a hesitation.

We waited almost an hour for our meal, but when it arrived, there was no doubting the freshness of the products. My clams were like a breath of sea air. I read later on the restaurant’s website that all their shell-fish is delivered fresh every day. Incidentally, their buffalo mozzarella and truffles are also flown in weekly from Naples.

My dish was correct, taste and portion-wise, and its presentation was simple and pleasing, with fresh parsley scattered over the open mouths of the clams. My partner’s plate was less generously served, though it was quite delicious, if you really like garlic.

At the end of the meal (we decided to have our dessert elsewhere) our dear old waiter purposefully presented me with the bill. Now, I don’t know about where you live, but in Paris, you present the bill to Monsieur. Always. Especially when the couple are dressed up and clearly on a date.

I read later that there is a table VIP inside, reserved for any celebrities that might stop by. I concluded that although the place was tastefully decorated, and thoroughly quaint and rustic; although our meal was of high quality, the spirit of La Locanda is not what it seems to strive to emanate. What it emanates is rather what is unfortunately the well-known phenomenon of Parisian stuffiness, or snobisme.

‘La source des femmes’ – film review

It was an ambitious idea for a Romanian-born, French-speaking, male director to make a film about Arab feminism from the point of view of rural Moroccan women. But Radu Mihaileanu seems to have done his homework; The Source is a sensitive portrayal of a present-day community held back by entrenched views and tradition, but with great hope embodied by its increasingly well-educated youth.

Mihaileanu’s film tells the story of the women in this archaic community, who rebel against the long-established, dangerous tradition whereby they must climb a treacherous mountain path to fetch water. Young, well-read Leila (Leila Bekhti), horrified at the number of women who miscarry as a result of falling on this trek, calls for a women’s love strike – no kisses, no cuddles, no sex – until running water is installed in the village. A strong central performance is given by the stunning Bekhti (the latest ambassador for L’Oreal).

The resonance with the recent Arab spring is self-evident. The women of the village rise up against their men, who we mostly see exercising their patriarchal right to sit around all day drinking tea and smoking. Leila’s husband Sami, a progressive schoolteacher of the younger generation, is an exception.

The simple, linear plot is compensated for by an emotional realism of great force. The women portrayed are strong, used to maltreatment, and do not indulge in self-pity or easy tears. Their inspiring resilience to violence is shocking at times, however, close-up face shots add a tenderness and sense of hidden vulnerability which is quite touching.

Despite the heavy subject matter of domestic violence, miscarriage and rape, the film manages to retain a certain lightness, provided mostly by the brilliant Biyouna, who plays ‘Old Warhorse’, a hardy character who contributes comic moments with her no-nonsense attitude.

For those of us who are interested in the human fight for tolerance, equality and progress will appreciate this film. At times slow-moving, it none-the-less carries emotional power and relevance, and will undoubtedly be watched by too few.

‘Cezanne et Paris’ Exhibition

Runs 12th October 2011 – 26th February 2012 at the Musee du Luxembourg, Paris

If you think of Paul Cezanne, you undoubtedly think of Provence. Looking at his Mont Sainte Victoire, you can almost hear the cicadas; you can almost feel the violence of the sun, the dryness of the heat. Cezanne, the ‘Master of Aix’, is best known for his paintings of the Provencal countryside and its light. But at 21, the young painter moved to Paris, encouraged by his friend Emile Zola, in order to ‘make it’ in the art world. Indeed, he spent more of his professional life in the Ile-de-France than he did in the south. But however much he ‘needed’ Paris to succeed, Cezanne was often up in arms against established art, which the Parisian ‘Salon’ typified. This conflicting relationship with Paris is reflected in this new exhibition, which shows how Cezanne – often described as a regionalist painter – developed his style in the French capital.
So what did Cezanne paint during his many years in Paris? Not the city, if you were wondering. At this exhibition you will not find a ‘portrait of a city’ in a traditional sense; you will find none of the urban iconography of Degas, Pissarro or Renoir. There are only three paintings of Paris intra muros at the Luxembourg Gallery, and they show very ordinary streets. The ‘Rue des Saules’ for example – a depiction of an empty street in Montmartre – could very well be taken for a street in any provincial town. It is an image of loneliness. Unlike Zola, whose novels portray Paris with near-perfect realism, Cezanne paints the street as though it were a natural landscape, focusing on the textures of the stone, the stark winter light on the walls, and certainly not including any passers-by.
Aside from the few representations of city streets, Cezanne chose unusual subjects for his Parisian paintings. Rather than describe the wide, beautiful, tree-studded Grands Boulevards, the Invalides, or the Eiffel Tower, Cezanne found inspiration in fruit and fish, of which you will see examples of still-lifes on display at the Luxembourg Gallery. Another unusual subject is the found in a painting entitled ‘The Eternal Feminine’, a disturbing image of a nude woman with red eyes and flowing hair, set above a dark crowd of male figures. The men lean towards the woman, and yet they look away, as though in fear or disgust. This image of a woman as temptation, as a compelling creature of frightening fascination, might reveal some of Cezanne’s own feelings about the capital – it is like a beautiful, desirable woman, who he wishes to ‘conquer’ but who frightens and disgusts him.
Surprisingly, perhaps, given the title of this exhibition, a large number of the paintings are of natural landscapes. Cezanne spent much of his time in the more rural areas on the outskirts of Paris, such as Pontoise, Auvers and Issy-les-Moulineaux. ‘The Bridge of Maincy’ shows a bridge crossing a reflective river running through woodland. The calm greens of the foliage and the deep darkness of the muddy water seemingly breathes the solace that Cezanne must have found in the towns surrounding the busy metropolis. A perfect capturing of the light here foreshadows what would become Cezanne’s most lasting stamp on modern painting, and what led Picasso to call him ‘the Father of us all’.