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

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

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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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.

 

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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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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 (The Neighborhood Party!):  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

Nice Transport Transformed: a Peek into the Future

Since the demolition of the Nice Bus Station, Nice has been in a sort of chaotic limbo waiting for the promised new transportation hub that will put the train, tram, bus station all in one place and within easy reach of the airport.

Today the proposed plans were unveiled:  …It’s going to take a few years, but Nice will ultimately have an ultra-modern transport hub that will transform the city.  Located across from the airport, the new hub will combine a new train station, TGV station, and bus station; all accessible with the new tram line 2.   And the cherry on the gateau: a new giant adjacent Convention Center (where the MIN sits currently), where the easy access will attract a flurry of international conferences to Nice and create a new business district and thousands of new jobs.

Here’s the timeline:

  • 2017   New train stations finished
  • 2018   Tram line 2 finished
  • 2018   Nice-Italy high-speed TGV line finished (Nice-Genoa in 1 hour!)
  • 2019   New Terminal 3 opens at airport for low-cost airlines
  • 2020   All public works for the new business district/convention center finished

In addition, the decrepit Gare Thiers train station is due for a major renovation by 2017, demolishing the entire block to connect the tram with the trains, and adding skybridges, elevators and escalators.  Click here and scroll down for a quick video of the future train station, it’s quite extraordinary!

But when will the Paris-Nice high-speed TGV tracks be finished, with the promised 3h20 train to Paris instead of the current 5h30?  Looks like… never: the project is once again mired down in the merde.  Sigh.

The future tramway line 2 terminus in the Nice Port

 

 

 

See related page: Local Transport in Nice

Posted in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | 1 Comment

Thanks DSK: The end of Mademoiselle

It’s an ironic byproduct of the sordid DSK affair: the title Mademoiselle is being quietly phased out.

DSK unwittingly unleashed a major feminist “click” moment:  The debacle with the hotel maid was bad enough, but watching the French male establishment circle the wagons to insist that that the 7-minute encounter was a ‘seduction’  (“… and even if it wasn’t, what’s the big deal?”) gave French women pause.

Serious introspection ensued, and not only was it admitted that the “vive la difference” attitude in the French workplace was maybe not so great, but also the quaint tradition of  addressing women according to their marital status (but not men, who are all Monsieur, regardless) came under the microscope.   Several women’s groups put forward that marital status was really nobody’s business…especially considering that the French find it impolite to inquire even about one’s profession or family status, deeming these questions overly personal.

Cleverly avoiding the hullabaloo that surrounded the creation of ‘Ms’ (the 1970’s American solution), last week the French government just quietly announced that Mademoiselle will be removed from all government forms, leaving the choice only between Madame and Monsieur.  The old forms will be used up, but when it’s time to be reprinted: bye bye Mademoiselle… or shall we say, adieu?

Merci DSK.  …Ironic, isn’t it, as it seems that DSK has such a penchant for the Mademoiselles!

Click here for Henri Salvador’s tribute.

La Point: Ne m’appelez plus Mademoiselle  and  Herald Tribune: Mademoiselle exits official France

 

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Another Award: Nice wins Bronze for Rudest Drivers in France

It’s a big awards week between the Oscars and Michelin stars, so here’s another recent honor: Nice took the bronze medal for Rudest Drivers in France.

The weekly magazine Auto-Plus graded 10 French cities based on 6 criteria:  running red lights, surprise lane changes, non-respect for pedestrians, honking, double parking, and non-use of turn signals.  Big surprise, the nicest drivers were not found in Nice.   Lille, Toulouse and Bordeaux were the most courteous, while the rudest drivers were in Nice, Marseilles, and the big winner, of course, Paris.

Although Nice took third place overall, our city distinguished itself by beating Paris (!) and taking first place honors in two different driving disciplines: The Pedestrian Challenge (also known as Frogger), where the the test team observed a tourist nearly run down by no less than 10 cars while valiantly trying to cross the Promenade des Anglais in a crosswalk.   Nice also took the gold for Red Light Aggression, clocking the quickest time of 4.7 seconds for rudely honking once the light turns green.  Bravo!

Nice-Matin: Courtoisie au volant : Auto-Plus epingle Nice

Posted in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | 1 Comment

Don’t tell the Academy: Jean Dujardin was Brice de Nice

UPDATE:  Brice de Nice WON the Oscar for Best Actor!  Hard to believe that in just 6 years he went from Brice… to the first Frenchman to win the Oscar… wow.

Oscar nominated for Best Actor for The Artist,  Jean Dujardin is being called the French George Clooney… but did you know that he is also the French Keanu Reeves… as in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Point Break?   And that the closet where this delicious cinematic skeleton resides in is… no less than Nice?

Yes it’s true, in 2005, suave Oscar-nominated Jean Dujardin played Brice de Nice, a blond surfer-dude living in our fair city… where, actually, there are no waves.

The synopsis from IMDB:   Brice, a motherless super rich 30-year-old teenager fancies himself a trendy surfer. Only he never stepped out of Nice where the sea remains desperately calm and flat. Brice awaits a giant wave like the one he knows happened in 1979. In the meantime, what he lacks in technique he compensates in style. Yellow T-shirt, yellow hair, yellow parties, he created his own little world. One morning, his father is sent to jail and “Brice from Nice” is left penniless. He first decides to find out about that thing called “work” at a local restaurant, but then decides robbing a bank is way easier. While escaping after a failed attempt, he meets Marius. His new best buddy has an idea: all it takes is for Brice to win the $100,000 prize at the “world underground surf cup”.   It would help if Brice had surfed a big wave at least once in his life…

Check this out…  Jean Dujardin in Old Nice and Coco Beach…  Ca farte!

For more on the Jean Dujardin phenom (he is not only the French George Clooney and Keanu Reeves, but also the French Brangelina… who knew?), here’s Why the French Adore Jean Dujardin from the Guardian, The New Yorker’s take on Brice,  and this great interview clip with Jimmy Fallon from The Late Show, where he makes up for his lack of English by throwing out random impressions.

Buy Brice de Nice with English Subtitles for $20 from Amazon US:  Brice de Nice (Region 1 DVD) (Original French Version with English Subtitles)

and from Amazon France (but still with English subtitles) for 5.50€: Brice de Nice – Édition Collector 2 DVD

Photos licensed under Creative Commons, Wikipedia.

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Cannes Kebab Vendor Saves President Obama

Bilal Herche. Photo by Serge Haouzi, Nice-Matin

You won’t hear this on Fox News…

It happened the day before the G-20 Summit last November, when tensions were high and Cannes was zipped up tight as a drum: barricades, badge-only entry, missile protection systems, bomb squads, sniper teams, and spy satellites.   It seems that a hungry FBI agent popped into to Al Charq, a Middle-Eastern take-away joint, but in his rush to get a sandwich to-go, left a file on the counter…  Not just any file mind you, it was an Ultra-Classified-Top-Secret dossier with every detail of President Obama’s trip to the G-20 Summit.  

The file folder didn’t look like anything special, so when snack shop manager Bilal Herche innocently opened it up… merde!   First page: detailed map of the 5th floor of the Hotel Carlton with President Obama’s room and evacuation plans.  Second page:  President Obama’s minute-by-minute schedule.  Pages on the exact routes to be taken by the convoys, lists and info on the agents on the Presidential security detail.  Everything.

What would you do?  And if you were Lebanese?  Muslim?  With a passport on the U.S. No-Fly List because you were from a country considered a Terrorist State?  After 2 hours of nerve-wracking indecision, Bilal called the main FBI number that he found on the internet.  A surrealist conversation ensued as Bilal tried to explain what he had in broken Arabic-accented English to a skeptical agent at desk somewhere in Washington, no doubt rolling his eyes.  Finally the agent asked him to read the first page of the document…  Silence.   Then: “Don’t move: we’re on our way!”  No address needed, the cellphone had been geolocalized and in minutes two men-in-black burst through the door.   Even these jaded top-level FBI agents could not suppress gasping “Oh my god…” upon opening the dossier.

An hour later, the original hungry FBI agent was on a plane back to Washington, while poor Bilal was undergoing full interrogation:  Who gave him this file?  Whom did he show it to?  Who knows about it?  Where are the copies?   The FBI team acknowledged that, obviously, all Lebanese are not terrorrists, but they still kept a close eye on him by eating kebabs and falafels for lunch and dinner for the next 4 days.

The G-20 having passed without a hitch, Bilal was sent an official FBI medal of honor in recognition that without him, a sandwich could have cost the life of the President.

Nice-Matin: Le G20 d’Obama sauvé par un restaurateur Cannois

Related Posts with more tales of the G20 Summit in Cannes…

Posted in Life Imitates Comedy | Tagged | 2 Comments

Art Heist in Nice: The FBI made me do it!

The Beaux Arts Museum in Nice

It was a calm August Sunday in 2007 like any other at the Museum Cherét Beaux Arts in Nice… until 7 masked men, armed with pistols and Chechen hand-grenades, burst through the door and ordered everyone to hit the ground.  They knew what they were after, and four minutes later were speeding away with 4 masterworks worth 22 million euros:  a Monet, a Sisley, and 2 Bruegels.

Flashback to 1990 when FBI special agent Bob K. Wittman was put on the case of another art heist from the Gardner Museum in Boston.  After 20 years of dead ends and spectacular narrow misses, solving this heist had become his life’s work (he even wrote a book about it).   In 2006, thanks to a tip, the trail lead him to the French Riviera, where he went undercover to infiltrate the crime network.  Posing as a flashy high-flying drug dealer wanting to invest in stolen art and jewels, he staged a masterful fake diamond buy on ‘his’ yacht to win the ring’s confidence.  The con worked beautifully and they took the bait, not realizing that yacht, drugs, diamonds and cash were all from crime seizures, and the buyer, seller, crew and ‘escort girls’ were all FBI agents.  Soon the word spread along the Cote that a rich American was hot to buy stolen jewels and master artworks.

So, you see, Pierre, the mastermind of the Nice heist and known as ‘The Nicois’, heard the rumor and could not help himself faced with such temptation… and who can blame him?

A novel defense… or a defense straight out of a bad novel?

Nice-Matin:  “Sans le FBI, je ne serais pas allé piller les musée Chéret”  Tableaux volés au musée Chéret: la faute du FBI?

UPDATE:  The judge didn’t buy it… 8 years behind bars for Pierre and 4 years each for the rest.

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Anti G20 Protests in Nice

Photo: Best of Nice Blog

Whew – the first Anti-G20 protest was far from the feared free-for-all, with only about half the expected number of protesters showing up …and thankfully, not a peep from the Black Bloc.  The massive police presence along the route (1,200!) coupled with the wan attendance (5,000 max) worked out to around one officer for every 4 militants… who were a benign lot to begin with, with grey hairs outnumbering dreadlocks by 10 to 1.

The city thought of everything:  there was a total absence of tempting cars and trash bins to torch, all capitalist symbols (read: banks) were boarded up beyond recognition, and at every intersection there was a police barricade with water tanks in case a cold hosedown was needed.

Despite the heavy-handed precautions, the ambiance was light-hearted, even fun, and a healthy expression of opposition.  Some of the highlights were the Tax Robin Hoods who did a mass strip tease down to their feathered green hats, and pink haired clowns dancing in front of the police barricades.  The one lowlight was an arrest of a guy on a balcony that yelled threats to ‘smoke’ the police, and when the police entered his apartment they found arms and homemade bombs.   The only other arrests so far were a group from Spain sporting Black Bloc related t-shirts and arm bands that were stopped near the airport, and sure enough, had a trunk full of violent paraphernalia and ski masks.

All of Nice seemed to breathe a sigh of relief last night …but don’t let your guard down yet:  surprise flashmob-style protests have been promised over the next few days, and at the 2000 Summit, the first day also went peacefully before violence broke out the following afternoon when radicals attacked a bank on rue Barla.

In the meantime, while drums were beating in Nice, Cannes was being locked down tight as a drum…

Nice-Matin: Des milliers d’altermondialists defile a Nice

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Presidential Caprices of the G-20 Summit in Cannes

Obama’s tank-limo, ‘The Beast’

Tomorrow I’ll be reporting from the big anti-G20 demonstrations in Nice, but today, here is a little bit on the arrangements taking place in Cannes and a few things to watch for.

If you are stuck at the airport while security clears a presidential entourage, take a moment to check out the impressive array of 25 Boeing 747’s that will be lined up on the tarmac, including Air Force One. (…and don’t forget ‘plane spotting’… see comment below)

The police escorts from the airport to Cannes for the 25 entourages (the G-20 actually has 25 members) will cause major freeway tie-ups on Wednesday, but one cortege to watch for is Obama’s, who will be transported in Cadillac One, also known as ‘The Beast’, the armor-plated sci-fi limo that thinks it’s a tank, and goes with him everywhere.  This specially designed rolling command center is sealed against bio-chemical attacks, has thicker armor than a Boeing 747, night laser vision, tiny tear gas launchers below the bumpers, special tires that can roll at high speed even if blasted away, an iron-plated gas tank surrounded by foam to prevent an explosion even with a direct hit, pump-action shot guns in the doors, fire fighting equipment, an oxygen supply, bottles of the President’s blood in case he needs an emergency transfusion, and a Navy Seal for a driver.  Price: $300,000.

As for hotels, Obama’s first choice was to take over the Eden Roc with his 800-person entourage (…yes, 800: basically a mobile White House including a 150 person security detail and 6 doctors), the Chinese president wanted to take over his favorite Riviera hotel, Le Negresco in Nice, with his 200-person delegation, and Russia’s Dmitri Medvedev (presumably with a much smaller entourage) just wanted to crash at the villa of his billionaire buddy, Roman Abramovich …but the powers-that-be quashed these presidential caprices, and all Heads of State must stay in the ultra-secure Cannes perimeter: at the Carlton (Obama, Italy’s Berlusconi, Canada, the Saudis, India, Mexico, Spain, Brazil), The Majestic (Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Russia’s Medvedev, Argentina, Japan), The Marriott (David Cameron, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, and Ban-Ki Moon of the UN), and the Grey d’Albion, which will be taken in its entirety by the Chinese delegation.

It won’t be just Heads of State in Cannes; among the speakers will be Bill Gates who will present a report on innovations and partnerships in health and agriculture on behalf of his foundation.

Tomorrow I’ll report on the flip side of the G-20, in Nice.

Nice-Matin: Dans les coulisses du G20 de Cannes 

Photo credit Connect2Canada licensed under Creative Commons

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Nice goes from 12 to #1 on Gay Friendly

With Apollo, the gayest statue on the Riviera, now reigning over Place Massena (…and looking out on to plastic statues of nude men glowing in pastel colors!), is it any wonder that in just two years, Nice has rocketed from 12th place to #1 on the French magazine Tetu’s list of France’s most gay-friendly cities outside of Paris?

A new politic in the Mayor’s office has been a major influence: Just a few years ago, outgoing mayor Peyrat was against a Gay and Lesbian center opening in Nice, but the new Mayor Christian Estrosi not only made it happen, but presided over last May’s inauguration himself.

Certain streets and districts have started to adopt the trend, like rue Old Nice and especially rue Bonaparte in the Port, known as the ‘Petit Marais’ after the chic legendary quarter in Paris.  Nice has even started a ‘Gay Welcoming’ program to sensitize businesses to the advantages of this discerning clientele, and has promoted a list of gay-friendly hotels and restaurants.

There are still occasional instances of gay targeted vandalism and violence, the latest being last April when a public kiss incited a beating, but these types of crimes are not only happening with less frequency, but they are also less tolerated:  After that last incident, the gay community came out in force for a 200-person “kiss in” to protest the violence.

Actually, when you think of it, Nice has had a gay vibe for years: Nice’s most famous hotel, Le Negresco, has displayed a giant Niki de Saint Phalle statue rotating in the middle of its ballroom, for over a decade!

Nice-Matin: Quand Nice fait son Coming Out

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The WWII Liberation of Nice: What really happened

Nice, August 1944, 67 years ago, today

The summer of 1944 was a scorcher, in every sense.  The beaches of Nice were peppered with mines and covered with barbed wire and anti-aircraft weapons: a German precaution in case the Allied forces had any ideas of debarking on the Promenade.  The buildings lining the Promenade had been requisitioned by the Germans and were empty and barricaded… except for the Negresco, which was being used as a Nazi administrative center.  …Looming over the scene was the ghost of the magnificent Casino de la Jettee, the symbol of Nice, which the Germans had dismantled in March and April; its scrap used to build Nazi aircraft.

The Allied forces had come ashore in the Var just 2 weeks earlier, but that had not stopped the reign of terror in Nice, where tensions had reached an apex with the public execution of 23 young resistants in the Ariane just a few days prior.   The Allied forces were under orders not to cross the river Var, so on the night of the 27th, the resistants in Nice decided that they had to take matters into their own hands.  They were 350 “soldiers without uniforms” against 2000 armed German occupiers.

The guerrilla operation started at 6am on the 28th, with simultaneous attacks all over Nice, using every explosive possible down to Molotov cocktails and firecrackers, to give the impression of a force much greater than they actually were.  Early on, the surprise attack succeeded in taking a munitions storage near Gambetta-Cessole, which helped rearm the volunteers, whose number grew to 1500 as the day progressed.  Around noon the fighting intensified at Place Garibaldi, Riquier, Gambetta, Magnan, Avenue Thiers and Jean Medecin, and from their base on top of the Chateau, the Germans fired round after round aimed at at the rooftops and terraces of Vieux Nice.

The Germans were not sure what was happening, and cabled the command that Nice was infested with terrorists.  With the Allied forces just down the coast, the writing was on the wall, and at 7pm the Germans evacuated their fortifications at the Chateau, blowing up the Port on their way out.  At 9pm the Allied ships arrived and bombed the armaments on the Promenade des Anglais.  At 11pm it was over: the 2000 German soldiers left Nice in a long convoy, machine gunning the buildings along Jean Medecin on their way out of town towards Villefranche.

The battle that day cost the lives of 31 insurgents with 280 injured; the Germans lost 25 of their men and 105 were taken prisoner.  (In a side note, some of those prisoners were later made to clear the beaches of mines, and several were killed by exploding mines that they themselves had placed.)

Two days after the Nicois liberation, the American tanks arrived at Place Massena.

Photos: Nice-Matin 2002: ’28 aout 1944 : Le jour le plus long’, photos collection Musee Azureen de la Resistance

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It’s Catching: Another Victim Whomps Attacker

It must be catching:  Wednesday night a couple of Italian tourists gave a lesson in vigilante justice to a couple of local punks.  The Italians were driving through the Port around midnight, when two punks on a scooter attempted a vol à la portière:  the Nice specialty where they yank open the passenger side car door, violently grab the purse, and flee before the victims even know what happened.

Well this passenger was not letting go of that purse!   The attacker, faced with a furious Italian hellcat, let go of the purse and the chagrined scooter duo sped off around the Port towards Villefranche-sur-mer.

Then the Italians did something extraordinary:  the driver hit the gas and the rental Fiat Panda flew into turbo-mode in hot pursuit of their attackers!   The punks freaked out and sped up but the Fiat was hot on their tail and when it got close enough… rammed them!   The scooter spun out and the terrified but unhurt delinquents escaped on foot, but the police now have their wheels so an arrest cannot be far behind.    Victims 1, Criminals 0!

Nice-Matin: ‘Port : les victimes mettent àterre les voleurs a la portière’

Related posts: Celebrity Victim of  Vol à la Portière’ Attempt, which includes a video so you can see this maneuver in action, and Local Thug Beaten by Angry Granny

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