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The end of austerity

Wednesday, 15 May, 2013 0 Comments

The Great Gatsby The screening of The Great Gatsby in Cannes tonight sends a message that stands in stark contrast to the policy of austerity that much of Europe is now experiencing. The hated hair-shirt imposed by Brussels/Berlin has divided the continent along its traditional geographical and cultural fault lines and exposed the myth of unity. “The European project now stands in disrepute across much of Europe,” states a Pew global survey published on Monday.

Jay Gatsby did not tolerate austerity. “The cost of the champagne and fruit alone racked up a whopping $81,300 to fuel Gatsby’s fun loving party guests. This assumes 500 guests for each weekend and that he bought fruit from The FruitGuys, and that he used Korbel champagne.” So reckons Nickolay Lamm, who asks, How Much Would it Cost to be The Great Gatsby? His conclusion: a lot. “After running the numbers on the cost of being The Great Gatsby the total figure came in at $34,320,880!”

Catching the wave, Belinda Goldsmith, reporting for Reuters from the Côte d’Azur, declares, “Cannes set to ditch austerity with ‘Great Gatsby’ launch“. She sees tonight’s premiere as “an opportunity to shed the caution of recent years overshadowed by broader economic gloom.” Let the party begin! Down with socialism!

By the way, Cannes does get a mention in The Great Gatsby. In Chapter 4, where we learn about the troubled origins of Tom and Daisy’s marriage, the novel’s narrator, Nick Carraway, tells us:

“The next April Daisy had her little girl, and they went to France for a year. I saw them one spring in Cannes, and later in Deauville, and then they came back to Chicago to settle down. Daisy was popular in Chicago, as you know. They moved with a fast crowd, all of them young and rich and wild, but she came out with an absolutely perfect reputation. Perhaps because she doesn’t drink. It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue, and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care.”

All human life is there.


Trouble of the most sweet and tender kind

Monday, 25 February, 2013 0 Comments

Proust family The Irish writer Colm Toibin went to an exhibition in the Morgan Library in New York City that celebrates the 1913 publication of Swann’s Way, the first of the seven volumes in Marcel Proust’s monumental À la recherche du temps perdu. Upon seeing a photo of the novelist’s mother, he developed a certain sympathy for her situation:

“Mme Proust is seated, looking to the left, while her sons, young men in their twenties, stand on either side of her. They are beautifully dressed and have a look in their eyes that suggests the boulevard and the salon. There is something feline and sleek about the pair of them. It is easy to imagine why maman is so dour-looking and disapproving, her mouth firmly closed, her eyes fixed on the ground. She is a woman who knows what trouble looks like, and these boys are ready for trouble of the most sweet and tender and pleasurable kind.”

From The Sweet Troubles of Proust in the New York Review of Books blog.


Dan Brown aids ailing Italy

Thursday, 21 February, 2013 0 Comments

“Bestselling-author Dan Brown sat down to a simple Tuscan meal of tomato stew followed by steak in a family-run trattoria.” Back in November 2004, Geoffrey Pullum revealed to readers of Language Log that when Dan Brown constructs his formulaic opening sentence “an occupational term is used with no determiner as a bare role NP premodifier […]

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Google bails out France

Wednesday, 6 February, 2013 0 Comments

There they were, François Hollande, the president of France, and Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, doing what the leaders of middle-ranking powers do so well: holding a joint press conference, shaking hands while posing for the camera signing important-looking documents. And what was it all about? In short, a €60 million bailout. Cheap […]

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Asterix and Obelix have left the édifice

Wednesday, 19 December, 2012 0 Comments

First out was Christian (Asterix) Clavier. He decamped to London in October. Now, Gérard (Obelix) Depardieu has followed. He’s picked Belgium. Although unvanquished by Caesar’s legions, the two heroes of Gaul have been put to flight by François Hollande’s draconian 75 per cent top marginal income tax rate, increased capital gains tax and enhanced wealth […]

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HHhH

Wednesday, 27 June, 2012

Laurent Binet, son of an historian, was born in Paris and was awarded the 2010 Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman for his first novel, HHhH. The title is an acronym for Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich (“Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”), a popular Nazi quip about the monstrous SS-Obergruppenführer. It is a stunningly original work. Snippet: […]

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Those huge French Whales: Kerviel, Tourre and Bruno Iksil

Friday, 11 May, 2012

According to Société Générale, one of its traders, Jérôme Kerviel, engaged in unauthorized transactions in 2007 totaling as much as €49.9 billion, a figure higher than the bank’s total market capitalization. On 5 October 2010, a French court sentenced Kerviel to five years of prison, with two years suspended, full restitution of the $6.7 billion that was lost because of his speculation, and a permanent ban from working in financial services. Afterwards, the bank stated that the restitution was “symbolic”, and that it had no expectation the sum would be paid.

Talking of 2010, fans of high finance will also recall the multi-billion dollar accusations of fraud against Goldman Sachs for selling its clients toxic mortgage-backed securities that it had specifically designed to fail for the sole purpose of betting against them. Who got blamed for this scam? Fabrice Pierre Tourre. The fabulous Frenchman was the only person named when financial regulators charged the US investment bank with fraud.

Now it’s the turn of their compatriot Bruno Iksil to share the (dis)honour. Back on 6 April, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iksil, a trader at J.P. Morgan known in the market as the “London Whale”, had made large bets on credit derivatives. The bank said Iksil’s unit was meant to ‘hedge structural risks’. A week later, Bloomberg ran a story titled “JPMorgan’s London Whale Could Use New Nickname” that noted Iksil “had earned two unforgettable nicknames: (1) The London Whale, and (2) Voldemort, after the Harry Potter villain.” On the very same day, J.P. Morgan reported its first-quarter earnings and CFO Doug Braunstein said that the bank was “very comfortable” with the unit’s positions. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon called media coverage on the matter a “tempest in the teapot“. That’s a “tempête dans un verre d’eau“, by the way.

Yesterday, J.P. Morgan said it had taken $2 billion in losses so far in the second quarter related to the London Whale’s trading. Dimon called the strategy “flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed and poorly monitored.”
WSJ bottom line: “Asked what, in hindsight, he should have paid more attention to, Mr. Dimon deadpanned: ‘newspapers.'”


Side by side: John Lynch & John Talbot

Sunday, 4 March, 2012

John Lynch emigrated from Ireland to France in 1691 and his son Thomas founded the Château Lynch-Bages winery in Bordeaux in 1749. Some 200 years later, Jean-Charles Cazes bought the estate and it’s been owned and run by the Cazes family since then. Sir John Talbot, Governor of Aquitaine and Earl of Shrewsbury, acquired what […]

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Three stars for those Michelin apps

Monday, 23 January, 2012

Chapeau! Last year, a total of 1.4 million Groupe Michelin applications were downloaded from Apple’s App Store and three of them were among the 2011 bestsellers. ViaMichelin Mobile in the navigation category for iPhone, Restaurants in the France – The Michelin Guide Restaurants 2011 in the lifestyle category for iPhone and the MichelinFrance map in the navigation category for iPad.

Michelin Guide Although Michelin is not exactly a startup (it was incorporated in 1888), the company has always been at the cutting edge of innovation. After all, its core product, tires, are complex things with an evolving role in the safety and comfort of the driving experience. Talking of driving, those who find themselves in the centre of France this year should visit L’Aventure Michelin, which recounts the company’s historic journey from Clermont-Ferrand to the App Store. The secret of its success is that Edouard and André Michelin weren’t just great innovators, they were marketing geniuses and superb businessmen. Their big insight was that if people took more trips, Michelin would sell more tires. To encourage motorists to hit the road, they got into the content business and Michelin became famous for its roadmaps, for its Red Guides that grade hotels and restaurants, its Green Guides on regions and countries and the literary Guides Bleus, which offered cultural interpretation of destinations. And when smartphones came along, Michelin was well positioned to port its award-winning content onto the new platforms.

Now, it seems a more radical shift is in the works. According to a report that appeared in Le Monde on 14 January, “Michelin dans la tourmente” (Michelin in turmoil), the days of the Guide Michelin are numbered… in paper form, at least. The company is contemplating making it available digitally only. Why? The venerable Guide sold 107,000 copies in France in 2010, which is a drop of of 22 percent compared to a decade ago when sales topped 400,000.