Taxi Uber Wars!

Taxi signFist fight!  Nice taxis are expensive and often surly …and Uber cars are cheap and friendly …which makes the taxi drivers really, really mad!   So mad that the President of the Taxi Union and another taxi driver were thrown in jail last week for beating up an Uber driver at the airport!

The taxis are furious at what they see as unfair competition from car services; after all, taxis have to buy a shockingly expensive taxi license …so let’s just take a look as why that is, shall we?

The number of taxi licenses in Nice has not increased since the 1960’s, thanks to pressure from the taxi union.  This keeps the price of a coveted taxi license astronomically high, currently around 300,000€, and it can only be bought from a retiring driver.  Those that have licenses have fought tooth-and-nail not to increase the number of taxis to meet the demand, using every tactic at their disposal.  A couple of years ago it was proposed to simply allow the possibility of a taxi license to be shared by one driver during the day and another at night, which would help relieve some of the pressure.  Result?  The Nice taxi drivers pulled their trademark escargot’, blocking all traffic into the airport for days, causing airport chaos as thousands of innocent travelers missed their flights, until the proposal was finally dropped.

By the way, the Nice taxis are threatening to go all escargot again in May, targeting the period that encompasses the Cannes Film Festival, Mother’s Day and the Monaco Grand Prix.

So what is this Uber, anyway?  It is a ride-sharing service somewhat akin to AirBnb; you register on-line with your payment details, and then when you want to order a car you do so on your smartphone.   Shortly after, you get a text message confirming the car and driver, the estimated price, and in how many minutes. No cash changes hands, all the driver’s info and photo is on your phone, everything is confirmed by text message and email, and you rate the driver at the end of the ride.

There are two levels:   Uber-Berline is the more expensive service (but still less than a taxi) where you are picked up in an fancy car with a professional driver.  It’s a professional service and completely legal in France.

But it’s the wildly-popular Uber-Pop that is causing the ruckus …this bargain-priced service is from moonlighting drivers using their own cars (kind of like AirBnb), which France, under pressure from the Taxi Union, has declared illegal competition as of January 1st.   But technically illegal or not, it’s such a great deal for everyone involved (except for overpriced taxis!) that it’s happening anyway, and happening big.

Check out the cost comparison that the Nice-Matin did for the trip between the Meridien Hotel and the airport last week:

  • The taxi was 35€
  • The Uber-Berline took 10 minutes to arrive to the hotel, was a black Mercedes Viano with leather seats and a bottle of water, the driver was impeccably attired, friendly and professional, and the cost of the trip was 26€
  • The UBER-pop took 15 minutes to arrive in the Kiss & Fly zone at the airport, and was a clean and well maintained Opel Astra, with a friendly driver who is a delivery driver by day (and father-of-two), who moonlights as an Uber driver to round out the month. The 11-minute trip cost 8€, with the debit confirmed by an email.

Wow, no wonder the Nice taxis are so mad!

Sources: Nice-Matin Le president des taxis nicois en garde a vue, and Quel prix pour la meme trajet a Nice?

Photo credit: Taxi sign by Simone Ramella, licenced under creative commons

See related page Taking a Taxi in Nice

Posted in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Urban Hazards | 3 Comments

Love it or Hate it, Carnival is upon us

Love it or hate it, here’s how to make the most of – or avoid completely – the Nice Carnival.

If Carnival is not your bag, simply stay as far away as possible on…

  • Tuesday nights:  Avoid coming into Nice at all or even taking the tramway through town, as it will stop halfway and you will be forced to deal with the crazy crowds to pick it up on the other side.
  • Wednesday afternoons:  Avoid the Promenade des Anglais
  • Saturdays:  Avoid the Prom in the afternoons, and downtown/trams at night
  • Sunday afternoons:  Avoid downtown and taking the tramway through town
  • Friday the 27th:  Avoid downtown at night (Queernaval)

Follow this simple schedule and you won’t be stuck in gridlock, in trams that don’t run, and you won’t get lost in a Felliniesque sea of big heads.  Easy!

If you DO want to jump in, here are my Insider Carnival Tips to make Carnival fun, painless, and relatively quick. I have to say that the King of Music theme lends itself to some pretty hilarious and kitschy floats (a giant Mick Jagger, for instance)… and the military presence will make for some very ironic photo ops.

Queernaval on Friday night the 27th, will be the first gay carnival in France, and is free, even in the seats, so if you are up for some bawdy gender-bending burlesque carnival fun, this is for you.

The Bataille de Fleurs boasts all new and more spectacular floats this year, and to complement your experience, why not go all the way with an amazing flower-themed lunch at Keisuke Matsushima.

carnaval floats arriving -wikipediaAnd if you kind of want to avoid it, but also kind of want to see it, the perfect compromise is to hang out on the Port or on the top of the Quai des Etats-Unis, around noonish on Sundays, and around 5-6ish on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and watch all the floats go by one by one, as they make their way from the Carnival workshop in Riquier to get in place for the big event.

And finally, by next year Nice will have it’s own giant Carnival Museum which will highlight its fascinating history as a festival of Church-sanctioned debauchery dating from the Middle ages, but also will be an inside look at how the floats are made.  I was lucky enough to be able to go behind the scenes for a private tour of the Carnival float workshops this summer in Rio, the epicenter of Carnival, and I can tell you it will be well worth a visit!

Here’s the official Nice Carnival website… go there if you dare!

Photo credits: Carnival King cartoon from Nice Carnival website,  Carnival floats arriving licensed under Creative Commons

Posted in Carnival | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Worst of Nice

NICE - Trois militaires en renfort Vigipirate ont été agressés à l'arme blanche

Photo by Cyril Dodergny, courtesy of Nice-Matin

Tensions are running a little high around here… First a knife-wielding Parisian stepped off the tramway at Place Massena in front of Galeries Lafayette and viciously attacked the three police standing guard.

Then we learn that just hours earlier, ISIS released a video with the cheery title Hit France! encouraging any would-be jihadists that can’t make it Syria at the moment to at least try to make themselves useful… and take a knife and try to kill a few French cops.

Now, right before Carnival, the French Prime Minister has just declared the entire French Riviera on Imminent Terrorist Attack Alert, not exactly the kind of branding that the city is looking for.  The mayor insists that Carnival won’t be cancelled (Paris has been on the same high alert ever since the Charlie Hebdo attacks and life goes on, just with more police) but the proliferation of Kalashnikovs and confetti covered camouflage flak jackets will certainly put a damper on the festivities.

Did you know that the most successful recruiter at enticing French youths to run away from home and fly to Syria to join jihad, is a local boy (and career criminal) from Nice?  In fact, he’s from, and I’m not making this up, the Nice suburb of …Bon Voyage.  Read this fascinating article on the Worst of Nice, France’s Pied Piper of Jihad by Dana Kennedy for the Daily Beast.

And if our nerves weren’t already jangled enough, yesterday a local business owner in the Old Town once again barricaded himself in his empty shoe store and threatened to blow himself up along with the entire building, to protest the the tramway construction years ago that he blames for ruining his business.  Enter the SWAT teams and bomb squads… Last time, Mayor Christian Estrosi heroically talked the guy down (see blog post Nerves of Steel, Estrosi Talks Bomber Down in Vieux Nice), but this time… enough already.

Photo by Cyril Dodergny, courtesy of Nice-Matin

Posted in Carnival, Urban Hazards | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Michelin Smichelin: The Best Top-End Lunch Deals in Nice

Michelin-2015-knives and forksIt’s the Academy Awards of the culinary world:  Yesterday, the Guide Michelin announced its prestigious new stars for 2015… and the the winner is… um …definitely not Nice.   Well we didn’t lose any stars at least, but out of 9 new stars awarded to restaurants in the PACA region, a resounding thud of none landed in Nice.

But don’t be discouraged Nice Foodies!  Since eating well is the best revenge, instead of pouting, let’s celebrate the fantastic starred (and formerly starred) temples of gastronomy that we do have here in Nice, with the top deals for the best meals in Nice for under 30€ (Michelin version).

Of the four current Michelin-starred restaurants in Nice, one offers a stunning lunch deal at a fraction of what you would expect to pay.  And the winner is…

keisukematsushimaMichelin-starred Keisuke Matsushima! His Menu of the Moment wins the coveted Best of Nice award for best lunch deal.  It includes a Michelin-starred appetizer, main course and dessert for a bargain 28€.  Wow… the bang-for-buck, or shall we say, stars-per-euro ratio here is very high.

In the Formerly-Starred-but-still-Top restaurant category, the honors go to:

Aphrodite.  David Faure is one of Nice’s most creative and audacious chefs… so much so that it probably cost him his Michelin star last year. Undeterred, he continues his culinary creativity with a passion, and offers a sumptuous and surprising ever-changing 3-course lunch menu for just 29€.

Le Bistro Gourmand in Old Nice won their short-lived star just a year after opening, but they’re still a star in our book. For lunch they offer the starter, main, and dessert du jour for just 27€, or just 23€ if you only want 2 courses.

L’Ane Rouge.  I bet you didn’t know that the name of one of the Port’s best and oldest restaurants was Chagall’s play-on-words nickname for its original owner, his stubborn red-haired mistress.  Here, Chef Michael Devillers offers an incredible 3-course Menu Discovery for just 26€.  But best of all, it’s also available for dinner at the same price (but you have to ask for it…shhhh)

Related Pages:

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Fox News reports Muslim-Only No-Go Zones all over France

foxnews_alert_2002_aLast week, if you watched American news channel Fox News, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Nice neighborhoods of Saint Augustin, Trachel, Pasteur, Bon Voyage, Saint-André and the Ariane were official No-Go Zones: off-limits to non-Muslims, void of police, and ruled by Shariah law.

No joke, this whopper unfolded when a Fox News guest and self-described ‘terrorism expert’ informed Fox’s 2 million viewers that there are 761 No-Go Zones in France alone, and without fact-checking this rather shocking claim, Fox News… just ran with it! Fox News pundits earnestly repeated and discussed the No-Go Zones over and over again in the course of the week, concluding that ‘Europe is finished’.

Once they realized that, oops! they had been merrily reporting something that was complete crap all week long, did they correct this horrendous misinformation?   Heavens no!  They were just going to let it slide, as they have in the past when dubious ‘facts’ have later proven to be dead wrong.

Here’s the hilarious must-see clip from French TV (subtitled in English), that brought Fox News to their knees, and prompted Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox News to issue an extremely rare on-air retraction and apology.  

See Related Post: 

Posted in Life Imitates Comedy | 12 Comments

Opera in English coming to Nice

Nice Opera Choir, photo by Dominique Jaussein

Attention opera buffs, this might just be a first:  Opera in English on the French Riviera! The opera ‘Peter Grimes’ is salty story set in a small fishing village in Suffolk, and features British tenor John Graham Hall as the cursed hero, backed up by the choir of the Nice Opera (pictured) and the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra. They will be belting out 4 performances at the Nice Opera next week starting on Sunday, and tickets range from a mere 12€ all the way to 78€.

According to Opera Online, “When Benjamin Britten unveiled his Peter Grimes just after World War II, the London public was dumbstruck by this powerful drama…. able to hold its own against the great works of Puccini and Strauss. Peter Grimes is a drama of fate: after Don Giovanni or Otello, the composer picks up the theme of the outcast, the cursed hero whose destruction is foretold. Its setting: a news item in a small village in Suffolk, to which Britten’s sea-tinged music, by turns impressionistic and symbolic, lends heartrending accents of realism and truth.”   Sound intriguing?

my wife the divaNaturally, English language theatre is a very rare bird here in Nice, and Opera in English even more exotic, so don’t miss this chance … to actually understand what they’re warbling!

UPDATE – More for Opera Buffs:  For a fun (and racy) read about the backside of the Opera business, check out My Wife the Diva by none other than John Graham Hall, the star of Peter Grimes!

See related pages: English Live Theatre in Nice

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Promenade du Paillon: Nice’s ‘Coulee Verte’ open at last!

Promenade du PaillonAfter 2 long years of dust, destruction and Coulee Verte controversy, the barriers are gone and the gates have been flung open…and the verdict on the Promenade du Paillon, Nice’s own Central Park: wow!

Expectations were perhaps a little low:  The city is known for its penchant for paving stones and tree chopping, and as the crews frantically worked around the clock the last few weeks, grim sneak peeks saw mud and cement outweighing green by 4 to 1.  So when thousands swarmed in for a ‘first look’ this weekend, ready to carp, the overriding emotion was… surprised delight!  The grass is thick and plentiful, the flowers and foliage off to a good start, the fountains and misters are fun and inviting, the kid’s area is cool, the panorama is amazing, and there are clean, manned public restrooms!

Even the dreaded iron grills surrounding the park are not imposing, and the opening hours, contrary to early reports, are very reasonable: 7am-9pm in the winter, and until 11pm in the summer.

The Promenade du Paillon is wonderful addition to Nice, truly a breath of fresh air!

See related blog posts:  New Name for the Coulee Verte: And the winner is…    

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How YOU can see Films at the Cannes Film Festival

Cannes 2013They deliberately don’t publicize it, but there are lots of ways to see films at the Cannes Film Festival, even without a badge.   …You just need to have the inside scoop on where to go and how to do it… and that’s just what Best if Nice Blog is here for!

Click here for my Cannes Film Festival page for details on how to:

 

 

  • Get Free tickets for the avant garde Critic’s Week Section
  • Buy tickets for the Director’s Fortnight Section
  • Go to the Free Beach Screenings of Classic Films (…but I’d wait until the weather clears up!)
  • Go to the free ‘Off” screenings in theaters around Cannes
  • and if your French is up to it, go watch Les Guingols and La Grande Journal broadcast live each night, across from the Martinez.

“Yes, you Cannes!”

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New Name for the Coulée Verte: and the winner is…

Coulee-VerteThe English translation of Coulée Verte is the rather unappetizing ‘Green Flow’, or even worse, ‘Green Drip’, so it’s great news that Nice’s new giant public garden is to be renamed.   After opening up the process to the public, the new park now has a new name…

…But first, a few of the little gems that were not selected:

  • Central Park, nor its French equivalant, Parc Centrale.
  • Adeiu Parking
  • La Promenade des Niçoise (…since les Anglais already have theirs!)
  • Le-paillon_imagelargeLa Paillonade, and Parc de Paillon, in reference to the once-mighty Paillon, a river that still runs below it.
  • La Coulée des Lavandières, a nod to the laundresses that washed clothes daily in said river for hundreds of years.
  • Les Allées du Spaggiari:  He accessed the sewers from the Paillon…click here if you don’t know that story!
  • Estropvert, or Estropoganza, for our, some say, overly-ambitious Mayor.
  • Jardins de l’Endetement Inutile, idem.
  • Le Zoo du Paillon, a jab at the iron gates that will jab anyone who tries to climb into the park after its nightly closing time.
  • And finally, Caga Blea: Coulée Verte translated into the local language Nissart, which also describes what you get when you eat too much of the local specialty Tourte de Blettes.

couleeverte-5…And the winner is….

Promenade du Paillon!

Okay… not bad, but it will create confusion when referring to the Promwhich Prom??  But since most people don’t know that the boulevard and now Park traces the Paillon river, which was the physical limit of the Old Town, along with the Chateau and the sea, we think it’s actually a great name, and far superior to the dreaded ‘Green Drip’.

This ambitious garden park is scheduled to be finished in September, although, from the looks of things (giant mud pit filled with cranes and bulldozers), they are going to have to sprint, especially since the first half absolutely must be done by July 8th, in time to host the Nice Jazz Festival!

Nice-Matin: Coulée Verte de Nice : appellez-la “Promenade du Paillon”

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Illegal Wine and Forbidden Cheese

Shhh… Don’t tell!

Tomorrow, being the third Thursday in November, is the official release date and festivities for this year’s  Beaujolais Nouveau, celebrated in every little wine store in France.  Having managed to get my hands on an advance bottle with the idea of doing an early review, I discovered something even more interesting: it turns out that drinking or selling this rather frivolous wine before that date is actually illegal, with the threat of a 150€ fine!  …So I can tell you that it’s light and fruity… and the threat of legal prosecution definitely gives the wine a bit more heft!

It’s all legal after midnight tonight, and tomorrow most wine shops will be offering samples, but one of the best place in Nice to try Beaujolais Nouveau is Cave Caprioglio in the Old Town.

Would you like a little illegal cheese to go with your illegal wine?   According to my favorite cheese restaurant, Le Bistro du Fromager, at one point the very possession of Reblochon cheese was proof of moral turpitude and was cause for arrest. In the 14th century, dairy farmers paid landowners grazing fees based on the milk yield.  The landowners charged abusively high fees, so to get back at them, some farmers would not do a complete milking; once all had been accounted for they would then secretly milk the cows again.  Supplemental milking produces a liquid that is almost all fat, so the resulting cheese was easily identifiable (Reblochon actually means ‘second milking’) and had to be hidden.  Possession of Reblochon cheese was proof of stealing from your landlord and could land you in jail!

See Related Pages:  

November Events: Le Beaujolais Nouveau!

Posted in Festivals | 4 Comments

600 years of history unearthed below Place Garibaldi: Crypt now open for tours!

Years ago, while jack-hammering up Place Garibaldi to lay the rails for the tramway, the workers noticed some strange stone structures just 10 centimeters below the asphalt… that turned out to be remains dating back to 1380!   Mandated by law to uncover the ruins (and delaying the tramway by a year), the city-sponsored dig slowly uncovered the mysteries of a Medieval Nice long-forgotten.  Place Garibaldi, it turns out, was the site of the entry to the walled fortress that was the Chateau, complete with turrets, a moat, a drawbridge, exterior walls, an aqueduct and outbuildings.

Once all the studies were completed, after the massive delay and expense of the dig, the most cost-effective route would have been to fill it all back in and let the tramway work continue. But no!  At great cost, the Ville de Nice did not fill it back in, but found a way to just cover over the top, and continued to dig under Place Garibaldi for another several years, trying to preserve this unprecedented historical find and make the resulting archaeological crypt accessible to the public.

The highly anticipated Archaeological Crypte is now open to the public… sort of.  There is only one entrance, so to meet modern security norms, disabled access, etc., they are limited to a paltry 15 visitors at a time, which definitely puts a crimp on things.  The city is looking to buy a nearby shop, and tunnel a second entrance, but that will take years, so for now, to descend the 31 steps into 600 years of Nice’s Medieval past, we will have to make do with a rather awkward entry system.

The only way to  get into the Crypt is to go with the guided tour (in French) for just 5€, which run 5 times a day (10am, 11am, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm) every day but Tuesday.   The tours must be booked in advance and the tickets purchased and picked up from the Centre du Patrimoine, 75 quai des Etats-Unis, just on the sea-side of the Old Town (04 92 00 41 90).   Then on the appointed day and time, you meet at the entrance to the Crypt (right next to Monoprix off Place Garabaldi).

31 steps… into another world.

Related page on the History of Nice:  21 Fascinating Facts About Nice  

Posted in Fun Stuff to Do | Tagged | 1 Comment

Madonna and Elton John Patch up Feud in Nice Eatery

When Elton John likened Madonna to a “fairground stripper” on Australian TV, then later followed it up with more catty comments about lip-syncing her Superbowl performance, he probably didn’t count on running into the Material Girl herself last week while dining in Nice.

Elton John owns that large yellow villa on top of Mont Boron, and when in town he and his husband often frequent La Petite Masion… which is coincidentally the same restaurant chosen by Madonna the night before her concert in Nice last week. The Rocket Man was in the middle of dinner with family and friends when in walked the Material Girl with her entourage… Awk-ward!

The two celebrity diners were in separate parts of the restaurant, and although they were very well aware of each other, the two tables did not interact… until Elton John was just about leave and couldn’t ignore her any longer.   Sir Elton finished his dinner by swallowing his pride… and walked over to see her.  A long exchange ensued, full of smiles, and at the end… a big hug.

The next night at her big Nice concert Madonna dedicated a song to Elton John, saying that he is a fan and she forgives him.   So the feud is over… or is it?    The song she chose to dedicate, Masterpiece is the very one that beat out his song Hello, Hello for Best Original Song in last year’s Golden Globe Awards!  Sacre Madonne

Nice-Matin: Madonna and Elton John reconcilies apres un diner Nicoise?

Photos of Madonna and Elton John licensed under Creative Commons, from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Posted in Life Imitates Comedy | Comments Off

Hey, Wanna Buy a Used Car… from a Prince?

Prince Rainier’s VW Beetle could be yours!

The late Prince Rainier of Monaco was a man of many passions, and one of these was his love of classic cars.  He collected over 100 during his lifetime, and some of the rarest and most stunning are on display at the Monaco Automobile Museum.   But what to do with the rest of the massive collection which is not on display?   Prince Albert has decided to auction them off!

Among the 38 cars going under the hammer are vintage models (…a 1913 Panhard X19 and a rare 1925 Citroen cabriolet 5HP…), the unique (…a retro Mercedes designed specially for the Prince), and of course the glam (a Bentley, a Porsche…), but the big surprise is that the bulk of the cars to go on the block are rather more… um, regular.    (…Well, except for the fact that they have only had one owner: a legendary Prince!)

But really, who would have guessed that tucked in among the stunners in the Prince’s collection, one would also find…  a ’76 VW Beetle, a ’71 Fiat 500, a Camaro, and even …a Dodge Dart (whaaa…??)    The more mundane models are expected to fetch fittingly mundane prices, and could actually be affordable for regular people; Prince Albert is not setting any minimum bids, so anything could happen!

The auction will be held on the Terrace in front of the Monaco Automobile Museum at 5pm on July 26th; click here for the official Auction site with photos and price estimates of all cars, the viewing times, and contact info to find out the bidding requirements.  Every car comes with its Monegasque papers in HSH the Prince of Monaco’s name… and a great story!    Going… going… gone!

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A Guantanamo Detainee Starts Over in Nice

Lakhdar Boumediene in Nice; Photo by Ed Alcock for the New York Times

After 7 horrific years in Guantanamo, how do you start over?

After his questionable arrest in Bosnia in 2002 and subsequent transfer to Guantanamo, his wife and daughters fled to Nice to be with her family;  7 years later, when Lakhdar Boumediene was released after years of hunger strikes, he too came to Nice to see if there was any shred of his former life to be salvaged.

After his release he could barely walk, his wrists are still scared from years of handcuffs, he can’t be in crowds and has difficulty in closed rooms.

Nowadays he rarely talks about his past and lives a quiet life with his family, but you can’t help but wonder how the marriage could stay intact, as he is surely a vastly different man after what he experienced.  It’s a testament to the strength of the human spirit that they are still together and now even have a new son.

Mr Boumediene doggedly looks for work, but of course that missing 7 years from his CV needs an explanation, which tanks any hope of a job.   The French government is providing subsidized housing but he does not have French residency or asylum, and as the American authorities lost his Bosnian and Algerian passports which have yet to be reissued, so after three years he is still effectively sans papiers.

All of this from a fascinating profile published last weekend in the New York Times, which details the questionable circumstances that landed Mr Boumediene in Guantanamo, what he experienced while there, how he was ultimately released, along with more on his life here in Nice as well as his thoughts about America and Americans… which are not what you would expect.  Click here to read the full story from the New York Times by Scott Sayare.

Posted in The Seamy Underbelly | 1 Comment

Ten Ways Sarko has Changed France for the Better

With the French Presidential Elections coming up on Sunday, the ink is madly flowing on everything that everyone hates about Sarkozy, so I won’t bother with that list…  But in all fairness, here are 10 Sarkozy initiatives that are major positive steps for France that never seem to get mentioned

1.  Inheritance:  Previously, all the inheriting children/grandchildren/cousins had to unanimously agree in order to sell an inherited home, which meant that a single hold-out could block the sale and cause the property in question to sit vacant and unused… for decades.   The new law lets the majority rule, increasing sales, occupancy, and rentals.

2.  Workplace:  Pre-Sarkozy, unhappy employees had 2 bad choices:  Quit (and get no benefits), or get themselves fired (with years of benefits).  This set the scene for a drawn-out workplace war with employer/employee trying to make the other so miserable that they would be forced to quit or fire, and in the process poisoning the workplace for everyone else.   Now, for the first time there is a happy medium in France: the Rupture Amiable, which now accounts for one in ten terminations.

3.  Schools:   Kids from poor neighborhoods are no longer stuck with attending a bad school; now parents have the choice of where to send their children and are no longer bound by their school district.

4.  Crime:  French criminal justice is a bit of a revolving door, but the new Recidivist Law gives judges the option to put repeat criminals behind bars instead of back out on the streets.

5.  Small Business Start-Ups:  Because of the massive paperwork and high charges (paid from the first month, whether or not there is any profit), France was a discouraging place to try to start a small business.  Sarkozy created the Auto-Entrepreneur Statute which streamlines start-up paperwork and waives or reduces the fees, which has been taken up by over 750,000 would-be entrepreneurs.

6.  Overtime:  To get around the restrictive 35-hour workweek, overtime is now non-taxable, giving everyone more flexibility and workers the possibility of higher take-home pay.

7.  Universities:  The Grande Ecoles are world renowned, but the centrally-controlled regular universities are decidedly underwhelming.  To goose the competitiveness of French higher education, Sarkozy has given universities more autonomy to choose their curriculum, motivate their professors, and  innovate to attract students.

8.  Underground Economy:  With employment rules so restrictive and with so much bureaucracy, many households use cleaners, nannies, handymen, and gardeners that work ‘in the black’, for cash.   Sarko created the ‘Cheque Emploi’ where household workers can be paid with checks that also give them benefits, and the extra tax paid by the employer is credited off their income tax at the end of the year.

9.  Bloated Government:   There is even a book boasting about ways to avoid work in your French government job.    Now, to reduce the bloat, for every two fonctionnaires that retire, only one will be replaced.

10.  Transport Strikes:  Thanks to the new Minimum Service law for public transport, while still incredibly annoying, train strikes can no longer paralyze the country on the whim of train conductors that don’t like their schedule.

Don’t miss the one-and-only debate tonight between Sarkozy and Hollande at 9pm, with simultaneous translation in English streamed online here from France24.

See Related Blog Post:  Six things you might not know about Sarkozy and Hollande

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Six Things You Might Not Know About Sarkozy and Hollande

The first round of the French Presidential Elections has just ended, narrowing the field down to just Francois Hollande and President Nicolas Sarkozy.   With the run-off election in just two weeks, here are a few interesting tidbits that you might not know about them:

Six things that you might not know about Nicolas Sarkozy:

Despite his tough-on-immigration stance, Sarkozy is from immigrant parents himself: His father (who was mostly absent when he was a child) is a Hungarian Jew and his mother is half Greek Jewish and half French Catholic.  Sarkozy was raised Catholic.

Sarkozy credits his tenacious personality to the childhood combination of being abandoned by his father, coupled with feeling inferior to his taller and wealthier classmates.

Once he got his law degree he specialized in family law and business.  Most people don’t know that he was one of Silvio Berlusconi’s top French attorneys at the time!

It was a crazed bomber taking a kindergarten class hostage in the Paris suburb of Neuilly that capulted Sarkozy onto the national scene.  He was the Mayor of Neuilly, and after the bomber was killed and the children were saved, the photos of Sarkozy leaving the building holding two children when global.

As Mayor, Sarkozy’s duties included acting as Justice of the Peace, and he met wife number 2, Cecilia, when he officiated her marriage (!) to a famous French talk show host in 1988.   They started a torrid affair and she left her husband for Sarkozy within a year, and he soon left his wife.

Cecilia Sarkozy acted as his top aide as he rose on the national scene, but in 2005 the relationship was on the rocks, and Sarkozy found himself running for President while simultaneously trying to save his marriage.  The nearly 20-year relationship ended soon after he took office, and one month later he met Carla Bruni, who coincidentally bears a striking resemblance to Cecilia.

 

Six things you might not know about Francois Hollande:

Hollande is running as a Mr. French Everyman, but his campaign is strictly American.  His three top advisors are young American-schooled Frenchmen that met at Harvard and MIT, and are duplicating Obama’s 2008 strategy.

Hollande owes his candidacy to DSK, who would have been the front-runner, and probably would have beaten Sarkozy, if he hadn’t had that 5-minute encounter with a hotel maid as he came out of the shower, that she thinks was rape, and he thinks… was completely consensual.

Hollande is the front-runner this year, but in the last election the candidate running against Sarkozy was Segolene Royale, Hollande’s life-companion for 30 years and the mother of his 4 children.   As the Head of the Socialist Party, he was somewhat blamed for the failure of her campaign, and now that they’ve split up… he’s running.

Other than heading up the Socialist Party (while they’ve been out of power), he has never held a Ministerial post or anything on a national-level, other than being a one-term representative for the department of Correze on the National Assembly.

As opposed to Sarkozy’s Energizer Bunny reputation, Hollande’s nickname is Flamby, after the pudding.

Brigitte Bardot was quoted last weekend as saying that having a French President named Hollande would be as bad as if the French President was named Germany.

Watch the one and only televised debate on Wednesday, May 2 at 9pm, which will broadcast with simultaneous translation on France24 English.

Photo Credits: Hollande and Royale by by Marie-Lan Nguyen, Nicolas Sarkozy by the European Peoples Party, both licensed under Creative Commons.

Sources: Wikipedia Sarkozy and Hollande, Nice-Matin, and NPR.

See Related Blog Post:  Ten ways Sarko has changed France for the better

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Royale with Cheese: French McDo Loses its American Marketing Edge

UPDATE:  Good news, Pulp Fiction fans!  Not to overestimate the reach of this web site or anything, but just weeks after this blog post appeared, McDo succumbed and is bringing back the mythic ‘Royale with Cheese’.  Travolta will be so pleased.

When you think of a French McDonald’s what comes to mind?  John Travolta in Pulp Fiction explaining to Samuel L. Jackson that a Quarterpounder in Paris is a Royale with Cheese?  Well, technically, it’s a Royal Cheese… er, that is …was.

In a mystifying marketing move, McDonald’s France has eliminated a sandwich that has achieved cult status around the world thanks to Pulp Fiction: just google ‘Royale with Cheese’ and you get 29 million pages!  It’s a burger that has made McDo Paris an obligatory stop for a certain strata of American tourist, just so they can utter the words.

McDo France has decided to ban this iconic sandwich to make way for, um, newer hamburger creations.

Well today, with great fanfare, McDo released the latest and greatest of these new ways to disguise grey meat…

wait for it…

Le McBaguette.   

What would Tarantino say?

 

Posted in Life Imitates Comedy | 1 Comment

Picasso Affair: The Electrician’s Revenge

Danielle and Pierre Le Guennec in front of their Mouans-Sartoux home. Photo by A.B.-J., courtesy of the Nice-Matin

The treasure trove of Picassos came to light in 2010, when retired local electrician Pierre Le Guennec and his wife decided to pull out the box of little Picasso scribbles, paintings and notebooks that Picasso’s wife Jacqueline had given him 40 years ago after he installed alarm systems in Picasso’s various Riviera homes.

The almost forgotten box in the garage was ‘remembered’ after the heirs of Le Guennec’s cousin, nicknamed ‘Teddy Bear’ and who also worked for Picasso in the early 70’s as a chauffeur, auctioned off some of the 100 drawings given to Teddy Bear, and made quite a haul.

Le Guennec and his wife wanted to be able to leave something for their sons, so they took some photos and sent a letter to Claude Picasso, the artist’s son who manages the estate and represents Picasso’s heirs.  No response.  Another letter, then another… no response from Claude, who dismissed the photos as fakes and the couple as nutters.

Finally, after months with no reply, Le Guennec and his wife, both in their 70’s, got on a train for the 6 hour ride to Paris… with a shabby old suitcase stuffed with millions of euros worth of original Picassos!

Finally getting the attention of the Picasso Administration, the elderly couple opened the scruffy suitcase to reveal 175 of their 271 Picassos from his early years, 1900-1932.  The Picasso heirs were astounded, first thinking they had to be fakes, but then noticing the intricate numbering system known only to the artist.

Were they grateful to have the unknown Picassos brought to light?  Uh, no: they had the electrician and his wife arrested, their modest house in Mouans-Sartoux near Cannes raided, the artworks seized, and charged them with receiving stolen goods.  It seems that Picasso was notoriously stingy and dedicated every gift, so with all the witnesses dead, the heirs had serious doubts about how these un-dedicated troves came into the chauffeur’s hands, and now into his cousin the electrician’s…

For his part, Le Guennec was indignant at being treated as a criminal:  If he had stolen the works, would he really have brought them directly to the heirs?  Would he really have kept them in a cardboard box in his garage for 40 years, …while living on his modest pension?   He acted in good faith, and this is what he gets?

Now, after a-year-and-a-half of having his name smeared by the Picasso children, Le Guennec has had enough and is striking back with a team of his own lawyers: filing a 40-page brief with the Court of Grasse (where Picasso’s inheritance was finalized), disputing the three illegitimate Picasso children’s right to their father’s estate.

Unlike Paulo, Claude, Paloma and Maya Picasso are the artist’s illegitimate children: born out of wedlock to his mistresses, unacknowledged, and rarely seen by their father.  Picasso left no will, but in France one’s estate is automatically divided equally among the children.  Illegitimate children now have the same inheritance rights as legitimate children, but that law was only passed a few months before Picasso died in 1973, allowing for a margin of doubt.

According to Le Guennec, the arrogant Picasso children have underestimated the little retired electrician.

Photo credits: Le Guennecs by A.B.-J. courtesy of the Nice-Matin, Old Suitcase by Linda Bailey, licensed under Creative Commons, Picasso from 1947 art poster owned by Best of Nice Blog.

Sources: Nice-Matin: Affaire Picasso: l’electricien se rebiffe,  Le Monde via WorldCrunch: His Chauffeur, An Electrician, and the Mysterious $50 Million Stash of Picassos,  The Guardian: Hundreds of Unknown Picasso Works Discovered, and this one from the Daily Mail with photos of many of the discovered Picassos

Posted in Life Imitates Comedy | 4 Comments

Big Benefits for Bilingual Brains

Bonne nouvelle, ex-pats!   Those embarrassing gaffes and awkward efforts to master French will ultimately pay off in ways you never expected… with a lean, mean brain that can even ward off the effects of Alzheimer’s!   A raft of new studies are showing that bilingual brains are not only better exercised, but actually wired differently than those that speak only one language, and that the rewiring happens even when the second language is mastered as an adult.

Unfortunately though, just having a few years of high school French won’t do it… it takes using both languages on a quasi daily basis.

Fluency won’t stop you from getting Alzheimer’s, but it will give you an average 5-6 extra years before you show any symptoms at all.  Other benefits include better problem solving, observation, anticipation, and multi-tasking.

It works like this:  You know what you want to say, but since the words and grammar are different in the two languages, the brain comes up with both and then has to make constant snap decisions as to which to use.  It turns out that for bilinguals, both language centers are always active, going through this whole effort even when using only one language, and this constant extra workout strengthens the cerebral muscles.

With neuroimaging, scientists can also see that bilinguals use completely different brain networks than monolinguals to solve problems, even non-verbal problems, as if the bilingual brain is wired differently.  This extra facility gives the brain more problem-solving paths, which is why the difficulties presented with Alzheimer’s can be circumvented through these alternate neuron pathways, effectively hiding the disease for years.  C’est excellent, ca! 

For more on the subject, check out these articles from the New York Times:  The Bilingual Advantage and  Benefits of Bilingualism… or better yet, Google Translate them into French!

Photo credit: Brain in jar by Gaetan Lee, licensed under Creative Commons.

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Man Dead for 4 Years in His Nice Apartment

Photo by Richard Ray, Nice-Matin

To the horror of the neighbors, it turns out that Henri has been sitting in his apartment, dead, for the last 4 years.

Granted, nobody had seen him for awhile; he didn’t go out much anyway and largely kept to himself, as did his neighbors…  In fact, other than some funny smells in 2008 and his strangely overflowing mailbox, nothing struck anyone as amiss.  His bills were even up-to-date thanks to his direct deposited pension and his rent and utilities paid each month by direct debit.

Henri was discovered sitting on his bed, completely mummified, with his dinner dishes to the side, the remote control in his hand, the TV guide open to the night’s shows, and a sports journal on his lap.   If an old friend hadn’t investigated a letter returned-to-sender thanks to the overstuffed mailbox, the 66-year-old retired bus driver could have stayed there like that for another… 10? 20 years?

It brings to mind a similar story in Paris last year when an elderly woman was trapped in her bathroom and banged on the pipes day and night for 3 weeks trying to get help. Instead of going up to inquire as to the cause of the strange sounds, the neighbors preferred to start an anonymous petition to stop the noise.  Finally, after walking past a letter at her door that had been sitting there for 10 days, someone called the authorities and the woman was found on the floor, starving and in shock, but alive.

In France, this non-engagement is actually normal: neighbors usually stick to themselves, a tradition stemming from a general distrust of those outside the family circle.  This wariness was exacerbated during the war when citizens were encouraged to spy on and denounce each other, which was often used as a way to retaliate for perceived slights and lingering grudges.

In an attempt to break this tradition of isolation, in 1999 a Parisian association created the Fete des Voisins:  a springtime apartment-dweller pot-luck, which, predictably, met with rather tepid response.   It took the heatwave of 2003, when thousands of elderly French died alone, to get the government to really back the Fete des Voisins …but still the idea of snacks and forced gaiety among people with an ingrained distrust of one another has not exactly taken off…

As one of Henri’s neighbors confided in a masterful understatement: “Here in this building, we don’t really do the ‘Fete des Voisins’.”   Hmmm… I wonder if they will decide to do it this year?   June 1st, mark your calendar.

Photo credit:  Photo by Richard Ray, courtesy of the Nice-Matin

Nice-Matin:  Un homme decouvert mort chez lui depuis 4 ans a Nice, Comment Henri a-t-il pu etre decouvert 4 ans apres sa mort?

 

Posted in The Seamy Underbelly | 4 Comments