Monday, August 27, 2007

Are You en Seine?

Seanachie's most recent absence can be explained by his presence at Rock en Seine, Paris' 'premium rock festival', as David Brent might describe it. It's been going four years now and has finally branched out into a three-day project. And though not the world's most prestigious rock festival, it has its definite advantages. Located in the St-Cloud national park, it is right beside a major city (hence, along with Budapest's Sziget, probably the only such festival) and, if you don't fancy camping, you can take Metros 9 or 10 all the way home. Apart from the luxury of being able to sleep in one's own bed, an extra attraction for the Parisian resident is the wonderful atmosphere engendered by the festival, which fits almost seamlessly into the publicly-spirited enterprises of the Cinéma en pleine air at La Villette and the live Jazz performances at Parc de Vincennes. For someone who grew up going to Irish rock festivals that always seemed hostage to chancers and scumbags, the camaraderie of Rock en Seine is a novelty. An added bonus is the proliferation of bars so no queuing for half an hour to buy a maximum of two beers, as is the case in Ireland, and neither are there cops wasting taxpayers' money checking on what people are smoking. Needless to say, there are no resultant public order problems. To top things off, after six weeks of miserable rain, the sun mercifully shone.

The festival is organised by the regional government of Île de France, the region that encircles the capital, and they put up about 20% of the €3.5 million budget. According to a report in yesterday's Libération, for the fifth year, the festival has once again made an undisclosed loss, in spite of attracting a record 65,000 people. UMP member of parliament Yves Jégo tried to score political points against the Socialist President of Île de France by claiming that the ticket prices were prohibitively expensive. Even UMP Minister for Culture Christine Albanel (who attended Les Rita Mitsouko's set on Saturday) dismissed Jégo's newly-found compassion for the little man, noting that the prices (ranging from €42 for one day to €99 for three days) are reasonable when compared with one-off concerts in Paris. I remember paying £60 back in 1992 for a two-day ticket at Féile; with inflation accounted for, Rock en Seine presents very good value for money.

The biggest draw on the first night was The Arcade Fire, whom I missed on their pre-world-fame appearance two years ago. Though the band have little discernible stage charisma they nonetheless provided an impressive set, with thirteen members on stage, a great light show, and they also brought along a hurdy-gurdy. It's always good to see a hurdy-gurdy. More explosive and arguably more entertaining were The Hives, who are, as my friend Nick noted, like four milkmen fronted by Mick Jagger. When they first came on the scene six years ago, I thought that they would never last, that their admittedly amusing concept masked musical shortcomings but their subsequent albums have been surprisingly fresh and only the hardest-bitten of cynics could have failed to smile at their hilarious set at Rock en Seine. Because of work I missed MIA, The Shins and Dinosaur Jr, the latter two of whom were reportedly great while I heard mixed views about MIA.

The highlight of the weekend went unnoticed by most on Saturday as it took place on the smallest of the festival's three stages. It was 22-year-old Scot Calvin Harris, who has been remixing Kylie Minogue, CSS and Groove Armada and who now has his own LCD-esque six-piece group that provided the weekend's hardest-working bassist and most of the best dancing. As with James Murphy's combo the lyrics are sharp and funny, particularly in the recent single 'Acceptable in the Eighties'. CSS played also and were a big improvement on the last time I saw them - at the Elysée Montmartre in April, when they seemed jaded and going through the motions. This time they provided the perfect festival atmosphere with their girly rock trappings - balloons onstage, streamers and party poppers and bubble kits distributed to the audience. Their forty-minute set was much too brief even if they did surprise us by going out in an impressive hail of feedback.

Speaking of feedback, later in the evening saw the return of the Jesus and Mary Chain. The band are blessed with the greatest moniker in rock history - a name that fascinated me as a nine-year-old with its outrageous blasphemy - and their sound towers over even their own music. The Mary Chain sound is as much a fabric as anything else, and though their music became repetitive after 'Automatic', their third, 1989 album, there was enough material to fill an excellent set. Jim Reid still looks like a sadistic Liam Brady - you wonder how he ever managed to bed Hope Sandoval - and their music still sounds like the Beach Boys reflected in a Glasgow puddle - perfect in other words. Cold War Kids had the thankless task of replacing Amy Winehouse and did tolerably well, while Israeli techno-popstars Terry Poison and French legends Les Rita Mitsouko provided good cheer at the other end of the festival site. Quite why California dirge rockers Tool were called upon to headline Saturday night is beyond me but their light show at least was worth looking at for about fifteen minutes.

Sunday had less of interest for Seanachie and the first band he bothered watching was Kings of Leon, who, despite not being natural showmen, provided a tight set of tunes that showcased well their masterly musical and lyrical virtuosity. My favourite line of the weekend is that one from 'Milk': 'She'll loan you her toothbrush/She'll bartend your party', which is so good that it's really too dangerous to use around most of the women I know. Just Jack also provide a fine line in wordsmithery, though their production is sometimes a little too polished. Live, however, they were unexpectedly sunny and got a large crowd dancing with something that was in short supply all weekend: real basslines. Due to my relative proximity to the main stage I suffered Faithless' utterly inane public-school techno for a couple of hours and then moved closer to catch a glimpse of Björk.

I think it's fair to say that Björk is the anti-Bono; someone who is just so faultlessly cool and admirable it is impossible to take offence at her sometimes quite difficult music. Which is why it pains me so much to admit that I just don't really like the music. Why, I don't know, as, by the looks of those gathered around me, many others do, and my own tastes can sometimes stretch to the realm of the recondite. Like the last time I saw her - back at Féile 94 - I resolved to enjoy the show at least and it didn't disappoint. Backed by an all-female brass orchestra heavily caparisoned with runic banners - which are surely the result of spending far too much time around Matthew Barney - and with programming by former LFO maestro Mark Bell, the wee Icelander toyed with the crowd for a first half of sombre numbers before upping the tempo. Though the audience seemed to be appreciative, there was no indulging them, which is a measure of how confident and challenging an artist Björk is. Shame I could only tap my feet and nod, really.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pûrement Coincidental

I wrote last October about a bizarre and grotesque case of infanticide involving a French mother living in Korea and wondered at the time how soon it would be before a writer or filmmaker used the story in a narrative form. Well, now it has happened and it is none other than François Mitterand's daughter Mazarine Pingeot, who has decided to incorporate it into her sixth novel. The mother in question Véronique Courjault has claimed that her case is being exploited, while Mme. Pingeot is covering herself, saying that there is no direct connection to events in real life. Well she would, wouldn't she?

Revenge for the Viking Raids

Friendly internationals, especially those at the very beginning of the season are notoriously unreliable indicators of form, but it was good to see that Ireland were determined not to start this season as they did the last (a 4-0 home defeat to the Netherlands a year ago); they even went the extra mile and won 4-0 away from home, something they haven't managed since they watched Roy Keane take Cyprus apart in March 2001. Denmark were the opposition, a team Ireland hasn't lost to since Eoin Hand's last match in charge in October 1985 and Robbie Keane and young Shane Long weighed in with two goals apiece. Pleasing stuff even if I'm not fully convinced that Ireland have what it takes to win in both Bratislava and Prague next month (and two wins are what are needed), but we have, at least being served up a comforting illusion that will make the first game, at least, worth a look.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Distasteful Experience of Being Exposed to an mp3some

An Irish friend of mine returned from a trip to New York late last year disgusted with a sight he saw in a fashionable bar in Williamsburg: a DJ working exclusively off mp3s on their laptop. Now in Paris it seems that every second 'DJ' is packing nothing heavier than a MacBook when they go out mixing; it took many years for mixing with CDs to get even remotely respectable - and even now it is usually accepted only as a bit of back-up for a well-stocked bag of vinyl - but mixing with equipment that scarcely justifies any of the traditional demands of DJing is alarmingly widespread.

In the Bottle Shop the other night this development reached its nadir when not one but three people turned up with a MacBook each to 'collaborate'. So, gathered around the mixing decks - which may have begun their inexorable slide towards ultimate redundancy, were three youngsters with computers, pretending that they were Richie Hawtin. Of course the music was much the same as played by any other DJ in the Bottle Shop - meaning it was a decent enough selection, if hardly too imaginative - but most of the other DJs do have the quirky habit of bringing old-fashioned black discs with a wee hole in the middle.

I know that I will be accused of being snobbish here but I don't think it is too much to ask that folks with what they take to be a fantastic collection of audio files to confine their broadcasting of them to their homesteads. I listen to mostly mp3s these days (though I still buy CDs), mainly because the cramped quarters of Parisian apartments have discouraged me from bringing my not-exactly-immense collection of vinyl over from Dublin, but I wouldn't dream of turning up to a bar with my laptop to offer to 'spin some tunes'. Not least because I could do it with a few carefully-chosen playlists stocked on my iPod, which has twice the hard-drive space as my old G4. But if a DJ flicks through their iPod to pick the music people will not be too impressed. Some people imagine though that plonking their computer down on a bar table makes them look like Orbital or Paul Oakenfold, while all the time 'programming' tracks by The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. When one realises that one or more DJs are getting paid to play songs using equipment and applications that are already used by the bar to play music at other times of the day, well, that's just cheating. You may as well just sit in the corner, with your Nano hooked up to the PA and shuffle away.

The cheating is more acute still when the effort of putting together a vinyl collection is considered. Most DJing occupies, in my opinion, a place a few rungs below real creative activities but there is still a venerable craft exercised by many DJs as well a strong sense of curiosity and adventure. Good DJs travel hundreds of miles to get hold of that track that they could never find on vinyl (though they might already own it on CD or mp3), they reinvest huge amounts of their DJing pay into their collection, they haul back-breakingly heavy bags from bar to bar to club and they are forever on the look out for new or obscure tracks that might set them apart from their peers. And the best DJs never take themselves too serious. They are part of a music culture that owning 12,000 music files on a hard drive will never qualify you to enter. Now it appears that they might be on the way out because some geek with a shiny iBook wants to play the same tunes they hear on MTV2 in a vain effort to get laid. I'm quite serene about the effect of the file-sharing phenomenon - the music industry had had it coming to them for years, and it has allowed bands to reach new markets that they would never before have had access to - but this is one consequence that is certainly deleterious. A real involvement in music is much further than a click away.

'Tis a Pity She's a Whore, Zizou'

This blog started last year with a few words on the Zidane-Materazzi incident and Seanachie was firmly on the side of Zidane - even if he could see the obvious logic behind Materazzi's unlovely act. Now the Inter thug has disclosed his exact words of July 11th last year to the world and they are, in translation, at least, curiously Shakespearean. 'I prefer the whore that is your sister', is what he confided to TV Sorrisi e Canzoni magazine. It may simply be a quirk of the English language but it is a difficult phrase to translate without sounding quaintly archaic - it might also be rendered as 'I prefer the whore that your sister is' - or Irish; perhaps what Marco meant was 'I prefer your sister, whore that she is'. In any case, the words seem worthy of a Tybalt of fair Verona or one of the Italian villains of John Webster or John Ford's Jacobean Revenge tragedies. 'Tis a pity she's a whore, Zizou'. Perhaps Zidane should simply have swallowed his pride, bit his thumb at the dastard and reserved punishment by bastinado until after his retirement.

How to Identify the Research Potential of Innovative Work in the Field of Cutting and Pasting

I've been overworked, out of time, fagged out, in the wrong place at the wrong time, too busy, lazy, fit only for Facebook, reading about the Holocaust etc. So apologies in advance for cutting and pasting from a great letter in today's Irish Times - an organ I tend to reserve an inordinate amount of scorn for:


Madam, - Your report of the launch of the Adult Literacy Awards quotes Inez Baily, director of the National Adult Literacy Agency, as saying: "The awards were designed to encourage organisations to identify the research potential of their innovative work and recognise, share and learn from the work being done by others in the field" (The Irish Times, August 14th).

Madam, this is gobbledegook on stilts. Such vernacular vandalism, spouted by an organisation such as NALA which is charged with helping the 1 million Irish adults who are functionally illiterate, is mind-boggling.

Furthermore, in 2005 NALA launched its Plain English Mark. This is awarded to organisations which are committed to clear communication. Is it not time that NALA and its director employed the same standard of English that it demands from other organisations? - Yours, etc,

MICHAEL O'DONNELL, Old Youghal Road, Cork.

Michael O'Donnell of Old Youghal Road in Cork, you're on the button there. Literacy - especially in a country with rates of functional literacy far behind many developing countries - is far too important a thing to be left to the sub-literate to administer. I promise to be more pro-active tomorrow. I'm only working one job for the next few days, you know.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

...Names Don't Bother Me

Football is notable, apart from the fact that it the most-widely played team sport in the world, for the relative sobriety of its club names, no more so than in the home of the sport. English football is replete with a plethora of Uniteds, Cities, Towns, Rovers and Wanderers. There are a few more adventurous monikers, such as Arsenal (repeated in many countries around the world, most notably in Argentina), Tottenham Hotspur (feeding off the Boy's Own popularity of Harry Hotspur in the late Victorian era), Nottingham Forest and, of course, those midweek specialists Sheffield Wednesday, whose name is echoed in the Welsh part-timers Abergavenny Thursdays. But in the main the names are standard, as a result of which football fans are not too fond of the more colourful American-style team names, which were foisted on Rugby League about ten years ago. The advantage of ordinary team names is that a nickname can then be appended to the team. With the American naming tendency, the Boston Red Sox remain the Red Sox, the Green Bay Packers the Packers and so on; it seems, to European ears, one-dimensional.

Irish football is similarly bereft of colourful names, with the exception of Bohemians south of the border - a name that is more evocative in its official title 'The Bohemian Football Club' and Distillery in the north. In Scotland though, the names are more creative, akin to rugby clubs in their originality, which always made the Scottish results on Final Score a greater pleasure to listen to, almost like the Shipping Forecast in its lilting recitation of lengthy names. Some are well-known, such as Heart of Midlothian, named for the eponymous prison in Walter Scott's novel; others less so, such as Queen of the South, one of the few teams to have taken their name directly from the Bible. The musicality of real placenames such as Stenhousemuir (with their equally lyrical Ochilview Park home - beside the McCowan's toffee factory) and Cowdenbeath complete the medley.

The origins of most football clubs lie in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and many of the most popular names reflect the nationalisms of the day, such as Borussia, Hansa and Hertha in Germany; Español (recently Catalanized to Espanyol) and Real Sociedad in Spain; Maccabi in Israel, Hajduk in the Balkans, Thistle in Scotland and Albion in England and, strangely, Scotland too. Irish football is lacking nationalist names, probably because the GAA was more concerned with using them. Also popular, and not surprisingly given the public school origins of the game, were references to antiquity in names such as Corinthians, Ajax, Atalanta (of Bergamo in Italy), Sparta and Hellas (as in Hellas Verona). There are also teams around the world that retain names in English due to their English founders or a simple anglophilia such as Milan (never referred to in Italy as 'AC'), Athletic Bilbao (as opposed to 'Atletico'), the Racing clubs of Paris, Strasbourg, Lens and elsewhere in France, Sporting Club de Portugal (better known as Sporting Lisbon), River Plate and Newell's Old Boys in Argentina, though not, as I pointed out yesterday, Red Star Belgrade.

Most continental clubs are similarly restrained in their nomenclature, Scandinavian clubs, in particular, being almost exclusively named after places. There are exceptions though, such as two Swiss clubs with English-language names, such as Young Boys of Bern and Grasshoppers Zurich. The former was a simple riposte to the more common fashion of calling alumnus teams 'Old Boys' but its name does provoke mirth in the English-speaking world these days. A couple of days ago, the URL BSC YOUNG BOYS - OFFIZIELLE INTERNETSEITE appeared in my del.ic.ious subscriptions and I was momentarily disturbed by the prospect that I had been directed to a site that was not only unsavoury but also possibly illegal. But I soon realised that these Young Boys are a much more wholesome lot, though it must be pointed out that they do play at the Wankdorf Stadium. Grasshoppers, for their part, apparently owe their name to their early players' 'energetic goal celebrations', which evokes the image of old black-and-white newsreel footage. The vigour of youth is also celebrated in teams such as Juventus, the Jeunesse teams from Auxerre to Yaoundé and the recently-formed Wexford Youths, rescuing that fine word from its long-standing connection with juvenile courts.

Eastern bloc teams were often named after their connection with a particular state body, such as the Lokomotiv teams, from Leipzig to Plovdiv to Moscow; Dynamo teams, who were usually associated with the Secret Police; Honvéd Budapest, who were named after the Hungarian Army; Shaktior Donetsk is named after the local mine ('Shaktior' is Russian and Ukrainian for 'mine') and both they and Zenit St. Petersburg were at one time in the past named 'Stalinets'. Probably the best name from the former Soviet Union is Torpedo Moscow, the team of the Soviet armaments industry, funnily enough. Though the team's name has rarely stricken fear into the hearts of opposition since the glory post-war years the name is a suitably formidable one for a Stalin-era football club.

Dutch football provides us with one of the world's greatest football team names, Go Ahead Eagles of Deventer, a case of someone using the English language to invoke powers that were well beyond it. A similar name is provided in the name of the Breton club En Avant Guingamp ('En Avant' meaning 'ahead' or 'in front'), who spent a couple of years recently in the French top flight. French football team names are usually a lot more elaborate in their official denomination than in the names that end up in the newspapers and often they are referred to by almost unrecognizable acronyms, such as ESTAC for Troyes, LOSC for Lille, MUC72 for Le Mans.

But one must venture outside of Europe for the best club names; South Africa veers close to the American formula whilst still being distinctive, giving us Kaizer Chiefs (the Britpop band uses an 's'), Orlando Pirates, Platinum Stars and best of all, Mamelodi Sundowns. One of the greatest clubs in African history is Hearts of Oak of Accra, the Hearts that Valentin Romanov has yet to get his mitts on, but Ghanaian football has even more impressive club names such as Ebusua Dwarfs and King Faisal Babes. In Cambodia there is a team called Hello United, while Bolivia boasts some great names such as Blooming, Destroyers and The Strongest, who started off as 'The Strong' before graduating to the superlative, and they are considered formidable opposition every year in the Copa Libertadores.

Trinidad & Tobago's Joe Public FC is also an inspired name and their chairman is the dodgy, populist FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. Jamaica's Violet Kickers is also a good one, an echo of the Ruhr Valley legends of yore Kickers Offenbach. There are some teams that have great names by dint of their mundane professional connections such as Botswana Meat Commission FC or FC Impôts (i.e. 'Taxes FC') of Cameroon while others such as the Sierra Leone trio of Real Republicans, Golf Leopards and Mighty Blackpool have a deeper resonance. Though Big Bullets of Malawi is a fair attempt at a great club name, the overall crown must go to the Swazi club named Eleven Men in Flight. Pure poetry.

Of course, some team names have been missed out upon because their names were in languages unknown to me. Feel free to point any out that I might not have mentioned, be they famous or otherwise.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I Had an Uncle Who Once Played for Red Star Belgrade

Reading in the Guardian today about Rangers' 1-0 win over Crvena Zvezda Belgrade in the Champions' League qualifying round I noticed yet another erroneous referral to the Serbian club being 'formerly known as Red Star Belgrade'. There's no 'formerly known' about it; they are still known as Red Star in English - as the official club site testifies - it is just that for some reason they are being referred to these days by UEFA and by English-language media by their Serbian name. The club was always known as Crvena Zvezda, as anyone that paid close attention to the Yugoslav lineups in the Panini World Cup sticker albums back in the 80s will know. If some in Britain or Ireland (the 'formerly-known as Red Star' line was used in the Irish media when they played Cork City in last year's competition) imagine that a Yugoslav club founded by communists in the last days of the second world war would choose an English moniker, only to change it to the Serbian sixty years later, then the English-speaking world has an even more Ptolemaic sense of its own position as centre of the universe than I previously thought. Funny that: they speak Serbian in Serbia. Will the Guardian's reporter be referring to Spartak Moscow - Celtic's European opposition tonight - as 'formerly known as Sparta Moscow'? Tomorrow on Underachievement: a piece on exotic club names from around the world. In the meantime, a bit of trivia: what song does the title of this post come from?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ireland in the World Cup Semis

Further to Sunday's post, the Irish ladies team today defeated France 1-0 to reach the World University Games semi-final. This is heroism on an unprecedented scale in Irish sport. Well done ladies, and best of luck against Russia in the semi-final. Here's hoping they believe in themselves and go on to win it rather than be satisfied with just making the last four.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Textbook Brown-nosing by Dónal MacIntyre

Dónal MacIntyre first came to prominence a few years back with his 'MacIntyre Undercover' series in which he entrapped a number of dodgy characters - Nigerian scammers, football hooligans, slobbering statutary rapists at the Élite model agency - with his undercover camera and came away with the shocking truth that everyone already knew. Like the more serious investigative reporter Sacha Baron Cohen, MacIntyre has been forced, by his now greater renown to confront dodgy characters in the flesh. His cinema debut A Very British Gangster does so, with the Manchester Mr Big, Dominic Noonan, and it is difficult to tell who is having more fun onscreen: Noonan having his ego massaged by big screen stardom or MacIntyre who gets to hang out with some very tough guys.

David Thomson once said that the problem with Martin Scorsese was that he was a sickly kid that worshipped hard men; MacIntyre is another sickly kid and his veneration for Noonan verges on the fetishistic. You might forgive him the exposure he gives Noonan and his band of thugs if it were at least done with any panache or in any genuine spirit of inquiry. But this is Dónal MacIntyre, and working for Channel 5 to boot; MacIntyre is like a cross between Alan Partridge and Roger Cook, with the emphasis more on the former. In fact you expect Noonan to explode at some point just like in that episode of 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' where Partridge's gangster guest responds to Alan's innuendo with a vicious 'do you want to get involved? Because I'll get you involved!' But Noonan is generally calm and it is not as if MacIntyre probes him too harshly. There's one unintentionally amusing scene where Dónal lectures Noonan in an avuncular manner, asking him 'do you not think there has been enough killing?' MacIntyre's breathless voiceover is both inane and irritating - he tells us that the people in Noonan's north-west Manchester fief go to him rather than the police to sort out their social problems, and you wonder who he imagines he is enlightening with this information. He also points out that Noonan is, surprisingly, a practising Catholic, despite his penchant for murder and thuggery. Perhaps Dónal MacIntyre could be introduced to the Godfather films and countless other mob movies for evidence of similar anomalies. Neither does MacIntyre find Noonan's combination of a gay sexual orientation and Catholicism strange but I suppose that would entail too many ideas in the head at one time for the spectacularly moronic director.

Giving thugs like Noonan and his ilk publicity like this is, of course dubious, though that is not to say that one couldn't make a good film with the material. There are some good moments in the film provided by the young goons that follow Noonan around and who readily dispense their homespun amorality (one teenager says that he he knows nothing better than the rush you get from relieving people of their property), but MacIntyre's shambolic sense of observation squanders most of the opportunities. And of course, there is also MacIntyre's morally questionable tactic of putting himself centre-stage, which he does at one point when Noonan is briefly arrested, making phone calls and ostentatiously convening with the gang with all the gusto of a bunch of lads on a stag weekend arguing over what restaurant to eat in. MacIntyre is also gifted with plenty of incident, Noonan's older brother Desmond - arguably a bigger thug - is stabbed to death during filming and Noonan himself goes down for unlawful possession of firearms. And still the film is dull and still MacIntyre grates like a sandpaper foreskin.

But the film has had its admirers; in France the reviews have been inexplicably positive and it won the top prize at the Cognac Festival des Policiers (for crime films) but then the French have a hankering for voyeuristic studies of distant milieux - they love Scorsese, even his more risible recent films. Many French critics were not so enthusiastic about Jacques Audiard's De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, in which Romain Duris played a viciously racist and xenophobic enforcer. Les Inrockuptiples called it a 'stinking' film that sought to propagate beauf chic, which is admissible only if one admits also that the films of Scorsese, Coppola and Brian de Palma, which the French love, are equally irresponsible. As for Dónal MacIntyre, hanging out with the rough diamond chavs of the Manchester underworld hasn't cost him all refinement; according to Wikipedia, he has named his recently-born daughter Tiger Willow. This man is priceless, as they say in Dublin.

Football - His and Hers

My current heavy workload has kept me from here, but I have been keeping an eye on the football, with the Scottish and French leagues kicking off last week, and the Premiership yesterday. Sunderland got off to a good start back in the top flight with Michael Chopra's last-minute goal giving them the points against Spurs; Celtic got things going after an alarming run of pre-season results with a 4-1 win over Falkirk, which will settle them somewhat before Wednesday's trip to Moscow. Sligo Rovers moved back up to fourth place in the Eircom League with a 3-0 win over Bray Wanderers, which saw three players and two members of Bray's coaching staff sent off. The most impressive performance of the past week though has been that of the Irish Women's University team, who have reached the quarter-finals of the World University Games in Thailand, after an astounding win over Germany. Considering that Germany is one of the world's strongest nations in women's football and that many of their student team play in the Women's Bundesliga, this is a shock on a par with the USA's famous win over England in the 1950 World Cup. The ladies play France in the quarter-finals tomorrow and Seanachie wishes them the best of luck.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Lee Hazlewood

Lee Hazlewood is the latest legend to go, having died of kidney cancer at the age of 78. Though I doubt his ailment was too bearable in his final years, the man lived the fullest of lives and kept recording until recently enough. May he rest in peace.

On a Good Footing

I sang the praises last year of the French football magazine So Foot, which is the greatest of its sort I have ever encountered (there may be better elsewhere in the world but there is certainly nothing to rival it in either English or French), and, for want of anything else to write about, I'll give it another plug. Even the close-season issue out at the moment is packed with fascinating stuff, such as a lengthy article on gypsies in football - the most famous of whom, the Austrian Zipflo Weinrich, whose promising career was ended by injury in the late 80s, is now an acclaimed jazz violinist in the Django Reinhardt mould and is to collaborate with George Benson on his next album. There are also interviews with French left-wing rap group La Rumeur and Congolese rapper Youssoupha, who claims that he is a huge Marseille fan because of his adulation for Chris Waddle when he was a kid. 'I even cut my sister's Barbie doll's hair like his,' he confides.

A nostalgic piece recounts the heady days of Bastia's UEFA Cup final appearance in 1977; the excellent football photography of Stuart Clarke gets a ten-page feature and two pieces demonstrate the magazine's twin qualities of intellectual inquiry (an article on the French league, entitled 'Jacobinism, the ill of French football') and hip, hedonistic swagger: an interview with former Argentinian national goalkeeper Germán Burgos. Burgos dismisses his recently-acquired goalkeeper-training badge as teaching him little more than 'how to talk properly to kids' and first aid of the sort that he hopes never to have to use: 'giving mouth-to-mouth to children, not really my thing.' He also says that he will encourage his son to become a centre-forward and not a keeper because 'goalkeepers only get to shag the fattest and ugliest birds'. When asked what he misses most about his playing days, he says it is fans taunting him with 'your mother's a whore.' Classic. All for only €2.90. If only they ditched that awful franglais name.

Start of Cycle

I am usually late getting into most things, and I have been meaning to try out the Velib, which was set in train a few weeks ago but I wasn't, erm, libre in order to do so. As it turned out, being a bit late for a trek over to the 6th arrondissement to watch the Sligo-Cork All-Ireland quarter-final on Saturday (with, alas, disappointing results) I was forced to take one for a less leisurely spin than I had intended. Leisure has been the priority of most people that have been taking the bikes so far, and it has been obvious that many of them are not used to riding a bike through the city. But, it being summer, the Parisian traffic is not too heavy and the real litmus test will arrive in September when people will start using the bikes as an alternative to the Metro to get to and from work.

The bikes are not terribly attractive, being built with durability in mind and though they do seem at first to be excessively safety-conscious, you can pick up a fair speed on them. The only problem is parking; as with a four-wheeled vehicle, spaces are at a premium, or at least they were at St-Germain-des-Prés when I arrived over there. At €29 per year for a subscription, with the first half-hour's travel each day free, the deal is not too bad for those that plan to use it regularly, though one would imagine that the city's more enthusiastic cyclists will be unwilling to trade their own steeds in for the Velib, and I plan to repair my own bike once the weather starts getting a bit more constant. The Velib bikes do, of course, have the attractive potential of serving as late-night crosstown transport when taxis are thin on the ground, but a restaurateur I know was recently informed by the police superintendent of the 4th arrondissement that the Velibs are going to be targeted for spot checks in case drunken revellers decide to cycle home, which can result in two points on one's driver's license, as happened to a Frenchman I know earlier this year.

Nicolas Machiavellian

It's been a while since I posted on Nicolas Sarkozy, and a couple of weeks since the intercession of his wife Cécilia seemingly occasioned the release of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor in Libya (something I posted on last December), though at the time German sources claimed that negotiations by EU delegates were already well underway and that Sarkozy's instrumentation of his practically-estranged wife was nothing other than a publicity stunt. Following the bluster with which Sarkozy's debut showing at June's EU summit in Brussels was reported in the French media and his stuffing of his cabinet with a number of centre-left fall guys - the most prominent of which is new foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner - it appears that Sarkozy's greatest borrowing from Anglo-Saxon political economy would be the fine art of spin. Many of the more naïve French supporters of Sarkozy claimed before the election that the wee man would make France an international force to be reckoned with once again. He is certainly managing to put that idea about.

Except, of course, that now it has been established that Sarkozy's intervention was a pretext for arranging the sale of a nuclear reactor and other deals with the Libyans. After initially strenuous denials, Sarko's government has stopped trying to counter the accusations first floated in Le Canard enchaîné, a publication that rarely gets such things wrong. The Germans are fast losing patience with the French, after an early rapprochement with the Elysée Palace, and my election-day assessment of Sarkozy and his lack of substantial difference from the fetid political culture of Gaullism is proving to be prescient, even if I say so myself.

Sarkozy, while holidaying in New England, had a confrontation today with a couple of American photographers, grabbing the camera off one of them; his critics here in France are rubbing their hands with glee at this latest dispatch, but I have a certain degree of sympathy for him in this instance. Meanwhile, French rapper Doc Gynéco, a high-profile supporter of Sarkozy, was bottled offstage this weekend at a music festival in Switzerland of all places by a dozen or so bolshy leftists. Interestingly, Sarkozy affirmed upon the release of the Bulgarian nurses that they 'were French', which is a more gracious conferral of honorary citizenship than that offered to tens of thousands of non-nationals that actually reside in France. Though I despise Sarkozy, I readily admit he is a formidable politician. What I can't understand is how he has managed his first couple of months in such a shambolic fashion. The Socialist Party might not even have to reorganise at all if Sarkozy's faux pas continue.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Lead Astray

Mattel, most famous for Barbie and, back in the day, He-Man, have recalled over one million toys made by a contract producer in China, because the toys - ranging over 83 different products - have been coated in lead paint. It reminds me of the title of one of the educational films that we might remember Troy McClure from: Lead Paint: Delicious but Deadly.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Underachievement's Annual Sumo Wrestling Post

The Guardian's always-entertaining Fiver mailshot is the source for today's scandalous news. Mongolia's sumo-wrestling pride and joy Asashoryu Akinori (apparently considered one of the greatest wrestlers in the long history of Sumo) has been banned from the next two grand tournaments after being caught playing football back home in Ulaan Baator, despite telling the sumo authorities he was injured. The chat forums (including this thread started in Dublin) are hopping and here is the newsflash from Japan just in case you don't believe us:

'Tis strange

Bizarre news day: Martin McGuinness launches the Derry Gay Pride festival, presumably because his immediate superior, the Reverend Ian Paisley was unavailable to get down with the Foyleside sodomites. And then Kanye West, who has already fiddled about a bit with Swedish indie lads Peter, Björn and John, has asked them to be his backing band at the Gothenburg Way Out West festival next week. Topsy-turvy indeed.

The Other Ingenious Michelangelo

They're dropping like flies in the world of cinema; the latest to go is Michelangelo Antonioni, probably Seanachie's favourite living director (or living until today that is). As with Bergman, Antonioni, 94, had a good innings and was directing until relatively recently; he made Beyond the Clouds ten years ago and contributed an episode to the film Eros two years back along with Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar-Wai, both directed after he suffered a stroke in the 1980s rendering him mute. The son of a banker, he came to international prominence late enough, being already 44 when his seventh feature Il Grido (The Cry) was a success in Europe. Significantly it was influential enough to dissuade Albert Camus from naming his work in progress Le cri (he settled eventually for La chute or The Fall as we know it in English - who knows, if it weren't for Antonioni, Mark E. Smith might be fronting an entirely different group).

It was L'Avventura three years later that broke Antonioni in a big way, and the tale of a woman who reconciles herself suprisingly serenely to the disappearance of her lover on a Mediterranean island is probably the most influential arthouse film of the past fifty years, and I count the films of Bergman, Godard, Truffaut, Dreyer, Tarkovsky, Fassbinder, Fellini, Kurosawa, Lynch, Ozu and Kiarostami (all directors I greatly admire) among the competition. Pauline Kael might have repeatedly derided Antonioni's films as 'the sick soul of Europe on parade' but they had a chilly rigidity that perfectly befitted the attempted social pacification of post-war Europe. Watch L'Avventura today, or La Notte, or Il Deserto Rosso with a dubbed Richard Harris starring opposite Antonioni's actrice fétiche Monica Vitti, and you have a jarring sense of modernity that few films made since can provide. The trappings might be classic post-war Italian style and the cinematography lush black and white (except, of course, for Il Deserto Rosso) but they look, feel and sound like they might have been made last week. L'Avventura is also one of the most beautifully lit films in cinema history, which is all the more remarkable as its Director of Photography Aldo Scavarda never worked with Antonioni again and drifted into the staple bread-and-butter of Italian exploitation cinema.

Antonioni moved into English-language cinema with Blow Up in 1966, and though many people claimed he got swinging London all wrong, the film endures as an examination of the boredom and disillusion engendered by the nascent empty consumerism that its characters lived in. Zabriskie Point, his first American film, is, without any doubt bad, but it is beautiful to watch and is testimony to Antonioni's consummate filmmaking skill, allowing oneself to suspend the harshest of judgements until the very end. As for The Passenger, his film about identity theft and escape, made with Jack Nicholson in 1975, I posted on it a year ago, and it remains one of the most amazing films I have ever seen, and bears repeated viewing. Antonioni's icy, distant style is still favoured by the more arty elements in film schools and, in the right hands it can be exhilarating to watch, such as in Gus Van Sant's Gerry and Elephant, Nanook Leopold's Guernsey, Mathias Luthardt's Pingpong, Nobuhiro Suwa's M/Other, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Climates and the films of Tsai Ming-Liang and Todd Haynes. Few people would say that Ingmar Bergman was the second-greatest filmmaker to die this week, but I would be one. May both of them rest in peace.