Just got back from Sauris. Oh yes, just like the real Parisiens at this time of year, I’m currently not in Paris. Yours truly is breathing the fresh air and taking in the lovely sights offered by the splendid Italian Alps, specifically in the mountains of Friuli Venezia Giulia, the region that (incidentally) I call home.

There are TONS of things to do and see in Friuli, and today I was lucky enough to re-visit Sauris, this tiny town of around 420 people near Udine with a very special history and a unique local German language. And the views! Lovely view of the mountains and the Val Lumei valley, gorgeous wooden houses adorned with red and pink geraniums, and a delicious local production of prosciutto, Sauris-made ham with a soft texture and a sweet taste. The prosciutto platter I had there for lunch was divine!

Sauris Italian Alps

Obviously, I was not the only one captivated by the charm of Sauris, which seems to be a well-kept secret in the Italian Alps. I happened to run into an Italian government minister there, and not just anyone! Say hello to Mr. Giulio Tremonti, Minister of Economy and Finance, whose photo I snapped discreetly while he was exploring beautiful Sauris:

Sauris Italian Alps

Giulio Tremonti, Sauris 09/08/2010

Nice sweater, Mr. Tremonti. Of the many questions I would like to ask you, one is more pressing that the rest: who is the mystery, smiling blonde you went to Sauris with?? There wouldn’t be two bodyguards following you around if she wasn’t special…

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It’s almost August, which means Paris is emptying out weekend by weekend and… Paris Plages (Paris beach) has begun! Wooo!

Yes, yes, I’m being sarcastic. I mean, I love the concept of Paris Plages (which I will explain in a second), but I should have known better than to get all excited about it at work. As soon as I said “woo Paris Plages starts today, we should definitely check it out during lunch”, all I got was a bunch of snickers and eye rolls from my colleagues. One of them even said “typical, the non-Parisian knows more about what goes on in Paris than we do”. Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment and go write about it on my blog.

Anyway, Paris Plages is a one month event where they shut down the traffic on a huge chunk of the road along the Seine in the very heart of Paris and transform it into a beach. Imagine deckchairs, sunbeds, sand, showers, ice cream vendors, beach volleyball, a mini pool and LOTS of kids… all in front of the Seine. These pictures will give you an idea of what it looks like:

So yeah, you get the idea. Although it’s not exactly a place where I would feel comfortable soaking up some rays in a bikini, it’s still a great place to go for Parisians to feel better about themselves that they’re not at on a real beach like all their postcard-sending friends. Or not yet anyway.

Much like in Italy, summer vacation is very, very important in France. Absolutely everyone takes some significant time off to jet off somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s not near Paris. As natural as this may seem, I don’t think the Frenchies realise how lucky they are to be able to take so much time off, 2 weeks minimum, even in a junior position.

“Oh one week vacation is nothing”, I was told today. “You hardly get used to being on vacation and then you’re back in the office again.”

“Yes,” another girl agreed. “If I don’t have at least two consecutive weeks off I just don’t feel rested.”

Oh la la. Go tell that to your Japanese or American friends.

So yes, French people are spoiled when it comes to vacation, this is a well-known fact. But when will they ever realize the luck they have and stop whining about their lives? Everyone in the office who rolled their eyes about Paris Plages today complained it’s too crowded and hot. That very well may be, but how many cities organize these kinds of (very well-organized) month-long events just so that the citizens stuck in the office of the summer can have a breath of fresh air?

In the end, after lunch in the cafeteria, I convinced a few colleagues to take a stroll down Paris Plages, just to get a feel for it. Although there was “too much sun”, “too little sand” and “not enough potted palm trees”, I think we’re going back tomorrow. It took a foreigner to convince them to test it out.

Hardly a week has gone by since the World Cup ended and it yet to me it feels like an eternity. Yesterday at a party a Frenchie asked me how I felt about Italy leaving after the first round and the feelings of anger and disappointment towards my team came back veeeery slowly, I really had to dig around for them. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m really good at erasing upsetting things from my memory or whether it’s because I felt relatively indifferent to the outcome of the World Cup once all my favourite teams got kicked out. Probably a little bit of both.

While the details of the World Cup may be slipping my mind little by little and other exciting summer activities are taking its place, one thing is standing the test of time: the World Cup soundbites. And no, I’m not talking about the vuvuzelas (although the commercial below is pretty funny)

Ever got a song stuck in your head and had no idea where it came from? You know, that catchy, hummable song that just doesn’t want to leave but you have no clue how it even got there in the first place? Well, then you may be one of the many, many victims of sonic branding. Case in point: Coca-Cola’s World Cup anthem.

(Excerpts from the article via BrandChannel.com, my latest Internet discovery)

“Coca-Cola took a risk by choosing a tune by a relatively unknown artist — K’Naan, who wasborn in Somalia and grew up in Canada — as its official song and crown jewel of its $300 million 2010 FIFA campaign.

According to soundlounge CEO Ruth Simmons, “Coke has used a technique we call audio watermarking. This is a popular and well-known trick that has been around for centuries and used by composers and producers to weave a sound/motif into a piece of music … watermarking acts like an ‘earworm’, which gets inside our brains and becomes so compulsive that we go around humming it as we walk down the street and not understanding why. We effectively become living, walking, singing commercials for Coke.”

As for Coca-Cola, Emmanuel Seuge, its group director of worldwide sports and entertainment marketing, told Billboard: “We wanted a song that embodied our campaign. It needed to be upbeat, it needed to be uplifting, it needed to be an invitation for people to celebrate.”

“By sneaking the Coke melody into an otherwise musically unbranded song,” notes Simmons, “they’ve seen incredible success in the charts. In our opinion, it’s a much more intelligent form of branding than paying artists to name-drop brands in their lyrics.”

Indeed, Coca-Cola’s announcement wrapping up its 2010 World Cup campign notes that the anthem reached number one on music charts in 17 countries and generated more than 800,000 download purchases. The video versions of the single amassed more than 87 million views on YouTube in addition to being the centerpiece of Coca-Cola’s World Cup trophy tour.”

So basically… we cannot escape brands. Liking a song on tv may lead you to buy the product that has sponsored it. Nobody is safe!

Here is video explaining the Coca-Cola sonic branding strategy, watch it at your own risk!

Mmm, so thirsty now.

Firemen and fiery hair

July 16, 2010

Dear French Republic,

Thank you for a lovely Quatorze Juillet this year.

First of all, it’s a great idea to open up the fire stations for big parties on the 13th. Thanks to the friendly firemen, I was able to skip the two hour line to get into the party to join my friends inside. And what a fantastic party atmosphere! A great DJ, charming decorations, cheap drinks, and a mixed crown of all ages make it a really fun night. And who doesn’t like to see men in uniform making absolute fools of themselves on the dancefloor?

I really hope there were no emergencies in Paris that night because the majority of firefighters weren’t able to walk in a straight line.

Anyway, speaking of fire, thanks for turning the heat on in the media by having Sarko invite the heads of state of 13 former African colonies  to the Bastille Day défilé on the 14th. That certainly caused a stir.

As did Cameroon’s first lady Chantal Biya, whose huge, fiery red coiffure (see where I’m going with these fire metaphors? Thank you, IB A1 English class) almost stole the show (Carla Bruni-Sarkozy being at the center of it, most of the time).

While we’re at it, thanks for showing us the fire (that was the last metaphor, I promise) between Carla and her amoureux (which is actually how she calls him, it’s not just me being obnoxious)

They make a very intriguing couple even though every day I become more and more convinced that Carla is, in fact, an alien.

So yes, Bastille Day was great, including being woken up by the dozens of military jets and helicopters fly over my house right before reaching the parade on the Champs Elysées. Impressive. Thanks for showing the world that the US isn’t the only country with a worrying military-industrial complex.

Also, thanks for ending the day with some nice fireworks under the Eiffel Tower. While they were less impressive thank last year (I’m told a smaller budget is to blame?) they still did the trick. The tourists were ooohing and aaahing on cue, and the day ended under a clear sky instead of with a thunderstorm like it started.

French Republic, I give you an A for the Bastille Day festivities this year. Now if you could only work on making the temperatures a bit more you know, July-like, that would be great too.

A la prochaine!

I see red, I see orange

July 10, 2010

Waka waka eh eh

Choices, choices

July 6, 2010

The World Cup will be over in a week, and I just can’t (or don’t want to) believe it. Although my body will be better off without the chips and beer that football-themed evenings (and weekends!) have consisted of, I will definitely miss the anticipation, the excitement and let’s face it, the shenanigans. In fact, let me share two of my favourite Internet picks that characterise these shenanigans before the World Cup ends and it’s too late:

in reference to the uncounted goal in  England’s match against Germany



Ex US pres Bill Clinton with US Team captain Bocanegra, chilling in the changing rooms after the USA v. Algeria match. I will let the photo speak for itself.

But back to today, or rather tomorrow, and the big match that opposes Uruguay and The Netherlands. Two small countries, one ambition: to make it to the final. Not coming from either country nor having a particular affinity for one or the other, who to support?

Luckily, a Gawker writer helps us make such a difficult choice. Here are a few sample arguments for each team:

1. Uruguayans are surprisingly hot.

Check out star striker Diego Forlan, a ridiculous blond Adonis whose midriff isn’t so much a six-pack as a symphony-grade xylophone.

2. Cheering for villains is always perversely enjoyable.

Sure, sure-we all convinced ourselves that if Ghana made the semifinals, everyone would get their own personalized Nobel Peace Prize in the mail. Enter nasty Uruguay. Sinister Uruguay. As you may have heard, Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez “saved” a last-second Ghananian shot with a seventh-grade-girls-volleyball punch off the goal line. Some people now consider Suarez a war criminal for snuffing out Africa’s World Cup hopes. Meanwhile, the culprit and his mates areexquisitely unrepentant about the whole affair. You know what? Screw Ghana. Get into it.

3. They basically took a time machine to get here.
Uruguay won the first World Cup ever, in 1930. Uruguay also won the 1950 World Cup. Retro cool.

THE NETHERLANDS

1. They wear orange (and make it work).
Only the Dutch can pull off eye-bleeding orange, and make it seem totally appropriate.

2. Wesley Sneijder might secretly be the best player in the world.
Wesley Sneijder, the Netherland’s stubby, 5-foot-7-inch midfield generalissmo, is just bossing the scene. He just knocked in two goals to eliminate Brazil. He leads the World Cup’s only unbeaten, untied team. The dude is an undervalued stock.

3. They all look like World War II resistance fighters.
Shaved heads. Starved countenances. Overall, a steely approach coupled with some crafty, old-school Dutch flourish.

Hmm, this journalist definitely gave us something to mull over, and I think I’ve made my choice. Have you?

(p.s. I’m not trying to influence you or anything, but how great would a Germany v. The Netherlands final be??)

Don’t say it’s over

June 25, 2010

Long day, going to sleep. Also, feeling morally shattered because of Italy’s elimination.

France strikes again…

June 21, 2010

…. but not at the goal. Just in general. It’s so crazy, I don’t even know to begin. I wanted to write a proper weekend round-up but there’s too much to cover! And plus, I’m sure you’ve read all the details in the press.

Ah, the press. A lot of people in France think that it is mostly to blame for what’s happening with the French football team. There’s a taupe, they insist (in English, a mole) who went and told the press what was said in the locker room during the France v. Mexico match. A team’s changing room is sacred, the players say, and regardless of the gravity (and obscenity!) of Anelka’s words to the coach, those words should never have left the room.

A fair point to some, but not to others. I mean, yes, I agree that the media is partly to blame for the situation spinning out of control (there was not need for L’Equipe to publish such sensational and shocking headlines), but aren’t we missing the point here? If Anelka insulted his coach as quoted, shouldn’t he deserve to get sent home? As noted in an article on Eurosport-Yahoo!, “the fact that the row should not have left the four walls of the dressing room is neither here nor there” (much like in 2006, as the journalist remembers, where instead of acknowledging Zidane’s mistake in head-butting Matterazzi, the French spent weeks investigating which member of the family Materrazzi had insulted and how).

Details, details, I feel like we’re getting lost in them. What I will remember from these last few days is not the football played, but the fight between Evra and Duverne,  followed by the French doing of the things they do best: going on strike. During the World Cup. I can barely believe it. If I were a French team supporter I would be thoroughly ecoeuré et degouté too (that means nauseated and disgusted, and I am directly quoting the managing director of the French football federation, who resigned today).

So what matches will we remember from this weekend of distracting drama? The Netherlands’ decisive match against Japan? Denmark’s surprisingly good goals? Yes, maybe. Unfortunately, with time we might forget about Ghana, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast’s attempts this weekend, during which we inched closer to the possibility of a World Cup in Africa without a single African team. What a real shame.

Italy v. New Zealand is a match that I personally wish I could forget, although according to the AFP the Kiwis couldn’t be happier. And rightly so! How many times has a team with only 4 World Cup matches behind it challenge and control a 4 time World Cup winner? As much as it pains me to say this, this was a deserved tie; Italy was motivated but lacked the quality necessary to push it forward. Oh and what is happening to Cannavaro? He is partly responsible for letting that Kiwi goal go through, and his quality is definitely slipping. Can we just cut out his cameo in the Nike “Write the Future” commercial, please. It’s much less funny now…

In any case, thank you to those who voted in my poll, especially to those who believed in the Italian team, even just a little bit.

Another week of World Cup games begins soon.  Hope we can just turn over this page of soap opera worthy drama in the press and focus on what really counts, le foot.

Just finished watching Germany absolutely dominate Australia. The general feeling (on Twitter, on Facebook), is that although the score may have been fair, the red card received by Tim Cahill was absolute nonsense (he was in tears, by the way). Even Schweinsteiger comforted him afterwards and said he thought the red had been excessive! Feeling kind of bad for the Aussies, to be honest. They’re definitely in trouble in their next game against Ghana without one of their best players.

Once again, reading the endless flow of incoming World Cup tweets on Tweetbeat really amused me during the match. Unsurprisingly, the best comments of the night were about the Australian team’s misfortune, either mentioning how they were really “down under” or how they should stop calling themselves the Socceroos if they want to be taken seriously in soccer. Ohhh dear.

Anyway, BIG day tomorrow! Netherlands v. Denmark, Japan v. Cameroon, and last but definitely not least, Italy v. Paraguay! Very curious to see how the reigning champions compare to last time.

In fact, I should probably think about going to bed soon. I expect to face a lot of snide comments about Italy tomorrow and my replies are likely to be sharper after a good night’s sleep.

Bonne nuit.

The Hands Theory

June 13, 2010

Like many New Yorkers, one of my favourite moments of the entire week is waking up on Sunday to read the New York Times. Although I do turn to the NYT every day for a very high percentage of my news intake, the Sunday edition is packed with even more interesting articles on a myriad of subjects, making waking up on the last day of the weekend (a.k.a. The Day That Comes Too Soon) a much more pleasant experience. And because I’m reading from Paris, I feel like I get a sneak peek at the Sunday paper that the New Yorkers will read 6 hours later, after they’ve recovered from their own Saturday night activities.

Today on the NYT I discovered their very cool graphic analysis of each World Cup game, showing minute by minute lineups, passes, areas of play and other statistics. Wonder how many interns they have working on those.

I also quite liked one of the NYT articles on the England v. USA match yesterday, forever to be remembered as the one that Green, England’s goalie, messed up. Poor, poor Mr. Green. Watching the ball bounce slowly out of his hands and into the goal was worse than watching an ice skater fall.

Sigh. Given Green’s beginner’s mistake and US goalie Tim Howard’s strong performance, the NYT notes that for once, the Hands Theory may have applied. The Hands Theory is something that I’ve been trying to put my finger on (no pun intended) for a long time: it’s the theory that soccer will never go far in the US because the Yanks “only understand games that involve the use of hands”. That’s what I’ve been trying to say since 2006! And unfortunately, yesterday it worked in favour of Team USA, who, with a little bit of luck, managed to equalize with England in the first half and keep it that way for all of the second thanks to several good saves by Howard. Better luck next time, England!

Today’s matches are: Algeria v. Slovenia, Serbia v. Ghana and Germany v. Australia.

Will definitely be watching the last one! And if it weren’t Sunday night it would be fun to watch it at the Australian bar I was at last night, Café Oz, where the huge screens and sitting space make up for the Foster’s beer and loud American tourists.