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Monday, May 21, 2012


It came, it happened, it went and now we have a new president and the prospect of the parliamentary elections, les législatives,  first round in three weeks. And running with the predictions of some months ago Franços Hollande beat the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, into second place in the first round of the presidential contest and then extended his lead to take the presidency. Much was made of Marine Le Pen's relatively good showing in the first round though it was exaggerated to say the least. The far right had picked up a bigger share of the vote before shared between parties than the new helm of the Front National managed alone. It was, everything being equal, not a huge departure from the time when her father slugged it out for the party of false nostalgia, so, in that sense, the new broom has not exactly swept clean, merely cleaning up in the same places as they always did.
More interestingly Madame Le Pen has put herself up for election to parliament, for, dear reader (thank you!) this political beast is only a member of the European Parliament sitting not so far from the British Conservatives. What shame! Imagining herself a safe ride into "power" no doubt, in her adopted fief of Henin-Beaumont in the Pas de Calais, she confidently put threw her bicorne into the ring believing her beloved serfs would support her all the way to the Assemblée Nationale. Little did she know that her arch rival and complete opposite number, the leader of the extreme left, Le Parti de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who also found support in the presidential elections, would pitch his electoral tent slap bang in the Grand' Place of Henin-Beaumont, metaphorically of course. And even more interestingly, the latest opinion poll shows Mélenchon clinching the seat by a margin of some 10% in a second round duel with Mrs Le Pen. One can only imagine the fulminations at FN HQ. La bataille or perhaps ze battle as we must now call it following the first series of Ze Voice, is joined. Watch this space.

The Voice was very popular in France taking top spot on Saturday evenings with some ease I believe. Not difficult, admittedly, given the lack of alternative entertainment offered by the proliferous other channels. A careful mix of characters and talents both in the judging panel and the contenders ensured that the final was a decent competition between three singers of discernible talent. It is too tempting not to make a comparison with the UK version, which, if the press is anything to go by (answers by email please) was more to do with a duel between it and Britain's Got Talent (won by a performing dog). Would I be alone in thinking Mr Cowell has not really done himself many favours by his churlish putting down of the opposition? Those who have stuck with the newer programme have cited the fact that it is less glitzy, kinder, and more "real" than any of the ITV productions. Anyone who still believes that the X Factor, for instance, is primarily about talent are probably in a very small, or deluded, minority. It is about rating, it is about making lots of money for ITV and Simon Cowell, and giving embarrassingly inappropriately experienced "judges" a work and exposure opportunity. If the winner has talent then so much the better but is not obligatory. BGT's winning pooch and owner may have a brief career but post Royal Variety Performance, without an album to promote, whereto? Seems to me that at their worst these programmes are mostly about exploiting the naïve and feeding the pseudo celebrity machine which endlessly churns out "personalities" without any prerequisite to talent nor personality. I, for one, hope the BBC sticks with The Voice and, head held high, give it another series without the need for the false competition with ITV/Cowell.

The month of May in France is a highly punctuated affair. This week is the only week of the month that doesn't contain a national holiday together with various ponts ie days off bridging the holiday and the nearest weekend.

Meanwhile my wisteria is blossoming beautifully having been the recipient of a substantial haircut last autumn now the blooms are at the best I have ever seen them.

We spent a handful of very lovely days in Lower Normandy ie Easter Bank Holiday Monday in Houlgate by the sea followed by time with family in Le Neufbourg in the countryside and a visit to Le Mont St Michel just before the new park and ride scheme was introduced. Strictly speaking that has turned out to be park, walk almost 1km, and ride, but that is another controversy! 

The island sits almost menacingly a kilometre off the coast at the end of a causeway. The day we visited the sky behind loomed dark and almost menacingly - it could have been Colditz castle. Inside, the tourist excesses aside, the steep windy streets put me in mind of Diagon Alley or perhaps Buttermeade.

The other milestone and highlight of the last few weeks has been Max's sucessful first full marathon run in the Route du Louvre starting in central Lille and ending not far from the site of the soon to be opened northern branch of the Louvre museum. It was a surprisingly good day weatherwise, perhaps too nice as he sustained a painful sunburn and I managed to pick up rather too much colour though did not succumb to my usual sunstroke after just minutes. 

Max about to cross the finishing line looking remarkably fresh given that he had run over 42km.

The finishing line was next to the famous terrils(slag heaps!), looking somewhat surreal in this picture. There are plans to plant some of them with vines and one has been equipped with an artificial ski slope.