August 4th, 2014

Chris Brooke has been reading The Sleepwalkers, Christopher Clark's book on the outbreak of the First World War.

[What…] I was repeatedly struck by were the sheer number of quite extraordinarily belligerent actors that I encountered along the way, and I ended up a bit surprised that continental war didn't break out much earlier than 1914. […]

[French diplomat…] Paul Cambon takes the prize:

Underpinning Cambon's exalted sense of self was the belief – shared by many of the senior ambassadors – that one did not merely represent France, one personified it. Though he was ambassador in London from 1898 until 1920, Cambon spoke not a word of English. During his meetings with [Foreign Secretary] Edward Grey (who spoke no French), he insisted every utterance be translated into French, including easily recognized words such as 'yes'. He firmly believed – like many members of the French elite – that French was the only language capable of articulating rational thought and he objected to the foundation of French schools in Britain on the eccentric grounds that French people raised in Britain tended to end up mentally retarded.

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Spin, spin, spin…

February 12th, 2014

From the [pen|keyboard] of The Yorkshire Ranter: Dave from PR in the French Revolution

Being a Salmagundi from the Talking-Pointes of the late Sieur Davide du Camerone, Gentleman of the Privy and Counsellier upon the Fourth Estate to his most Catholic Majesty, the late King Louis XVI

An unexpectedly large forecast error in the Budget leads Finance Minister Necker to call an emergency Estates-General:

We’re all in this together. Only a balanced parliament reflecting the national consensus to deal with the debt can keep us from ending up like Spain. M. Colbert didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining, but His Majesty is determined to get our finances in surplus by 1792. That’s on a rolling five-year cash basis excluding interventions in North America and royal mistresses.


[FX: Applause]

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'Pay attention to the cat.' Not that they ever do.

July 17th, 2013

Feline ennui, in French: Henri 2, Paw de Deux

[Via Memex 1.1]

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Unidentified and unspecified

January 25th, 2013

Could this be the best doping denial ever attempted by an athlete?

Fatima Yvelain, a middling middle-distance runner from France, tested positive for EPO after competing in the 2012 Perpignan half-marathon. Yvelain was 42 and her best days (she once won three consecutive French national 5,000m titles) were long behind her. Caught out, Yvelain decided to concoct an outrageously improbable explanation, presumably on the grounds that the authorities would refuse to believe that anyone would have the brass neck to try and con them with such an unlikely tale. Like all good shaggy dog stories, it started with a kernel of truth – there had been torrential rain on the day of the race – and then span wildly off into the realm of farce. The water streaming over the road, Yvelain argued, must have washed through "unidentified medical waste" which had been discarded "at an unspecified location" on the course. While she was running, this EPO-tainted water had splashed up from her shoes and soaked her shorts, which had then run off into her urine when she was asked to give a sample after the race.

At this point, I hope that the appeal panel hearing her case rose to their feet and gave her a round of applause. I mean, how do you even start to prove her wrong?

"But of course!" agreed the French Athletics Federation. And then they banned her from competing again for two years.

C'est la vie.

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Quantified Self 1 – 2 Paris (aet)

October 17th, 2012

Craig Mod versus a Fitbit:

I bought a Fitbit on a whim. It was spring 2012. I bought it to understand how devices like this worked. If they worked. What it meant, precisely, for them to work. Between JawBone's Up, Nike's FuelBand, and now Fitbit, the entrepreneur in me wanted to understand this emergent product space and know how these devices affected awareness.

I assumed our relationship would proceed like this: I'd use the Fitbit for a few weeks, think it was neat, and then forget to wear it. One forgotten day would turn into a week would turn into a month. It would start off as a novelty, devolving quickly into another well-intentioned, dust-covered tech product.

Boy, was I wrong.

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Paris In Motion (Part I)

August 16th, 2012

Paris In Motion (Part I):

[Via feeling listless]

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April 23rd, 2012

Ferdinandea will rise:

In the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Sicily, an island comes and goes. Called, alternately and among other names, depending on whose territorial interests are at stake, Graham Bank, Île Julia, the island of Ferdinandea, or, more extravagantly, a complex known as the Campi Flegrei del Mar di Sicilia (the Phlegraean Fields of the Sicily Sea), this geographic phenomenon is fueled by a range of submerged volcanoes. One peak, in particular, has been known to break the waves, forming a small, ephemeral island off the coast of Italy.

And, when it does, several nation-states are quick to claim it, including, in 1831, when the island appeared above water, "the navies of France, Britain, Spain, and Italy." Unfortunately for them, it eroded away and disappeared beneath the waves in 1832. […]

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A trivial affair

December 3rd, 2011

Having lived in Paris for almost a decade, Simon Kuper has come to the conclusion that happiness is a table for one:

[On lunch…] By now I've worked out the essential elements. For me, the first is solitude. As a married person with children living in a cramped city, loneliness isn't the problem. Rather, you're always drowning in loved ones. Happiness is a table for one with something to read. I don't go as far as the man I know who says he's happiest when eating dinner alone with a book about war, but nearly. As I once had to tell my wife: "Nothing you could say could be as interesting as this article that I'm reading." (After some thought, she offered the correct response: "I'm pregnant." Luckily it was a joke.)

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More like immediately after and long after…

July 29th, 2011

Before and After Shots of Joggers:

Last summer, Sacha Goldberger decided he would take on a very interesting project. He assembled a team who helped him create an outdoor studio at Bois de Boulogne, a park located near Paris that's 2 1/2 times the size of New York's Central Park. He stopped joggers, asking them for a favor – would they sprint for him and then pose right after for his camera? Many obliged. Out of breath, these joggers showed an overwhelming amount of fatigue on their faces.

Goldberger then asked these same people to come into his professional studio exactly one week later. Using the same light, he asked them to pose the same way they had before.

"I wanted to show the difference between our natural and brute side versus how we represent ourselves to society," Goldberger tells us. "The difference was very surprising."

[Via MetaFilter]

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The Year of 'G'

July 27th, 2011

I did not know that:1

French law requires that a purebred dog or cat – that is, an animal belonging to one of the breeds listed in the Livre des origines français or the Livre officiel des origins felines – be given a name beginning with a prescribed letter of the alphabet, determined by the year of its birth, rather like the way British car registration plates used to be organised. The alphabetised system began in 1926, with Z omitted. In 1972 the Commission Nationale d'Amélioration Génétique further regularised the system, and K, Q, W, X and Y were also taken out of contention. […]

  1. #376 in an ongoing series.

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Coming next: a study of how Wile E Coyote survived all those falls

July 3rd, 2011


Academics have carried out a detailed analysis of the 700 head injuries suffered by characters in the Asterix comic books, in a paper published by a respected medical journal.


The researchers, led by Marcel Kamp of the Neurosurgical department at Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf, conclude: "The favourable outcome is astonishing, since outcome of traumatic brain injury in the ancient world is believed to have been worse than today and also since no diagnostic or therapeutic procedures were performed." […]

[Via Ansible 288, July 2011]

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April 17th, 2011

In 1962, Michel Siffre had an idea:

In 1962, you were just twenty-three years old. What made you decide to live underground in complete isolation for sixty-three days?

You have to understand, I was a geologist by training. In 1961, we discovered an underground glacier in the Alps, about seventy kilometers from Nice. At first, my idea was to prepare a geological expedition, and to spend about fifteen days underground studying the glacier, but a couple of months later, I said to myself, "Well, fifteen days is not enough. I shall see nothing." So, I decided to stay two months. And then this idea came to me – this idea that became the idea of my life. I decided to live like an animal, without a watch, in the dark, without knowing the time.

Instead of studying caves, you ended up studying time.

Yes, I invented a simple scientific protocol. I put a team at the entrance of the cave. I decided I would call them when I woke up, when I ate, and just before I went to sleep. My team didn't have the right to call me, so that I wouldn't have any idea what time it was on the outside. Without knowing it, I had created the field of human chronobiology. […]


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Demolition of the Paris Metro

December 27th, 2010

This photo-essay on exploring the Paris Metro is fascinating:

Back in October 2007 sometime after midnight and before the first trains rolled into regular service, qx and I took our first timid steps onto the tracks of the Paris metro. With more nervousness and care than I'd like to admit we gingerly stepped down between the metal rails just off the end of a platform wondering what madness had possessed us to do so. We'd never done Metro like this before and this scary new world was full of elements we didn't understand at all. Looking at every rail critically working out which carried the power, asking ourselves so many questions: how far could the electricity arc, would that even happen, could the cameras on the platform see us, did security wait in the tunnels after hours, were there any trains after service, if so how fast did they go, did anyone live in the tunnels, would we encounter writers? We'd heard lots of stories about RATP security forgoing the usual legal punishments and simply beating up those found in the tunnels and kicking them out onto the street. We weren't packing paint but would that matter?


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"One chance in several dozen millions"

November 8th, 2010

I do hope the world's luckiest baby hasn't just used up his entire lifetime ration of good fortune in one go.

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At play in Belleville Park

April 26th, 2010

Is this playground in Belleville Park, Paris the best playground in the western world?

Be sure to click on the images to view them at a decent size, the better to appreciate the sheer scale of the thing.

[Via Pruned]

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Arcade Fire, Paris

October 3rd, 2009

I could have sworn that I'd posted a link to this film of Arcade Fire playing in a lift for La Blogothèque's Take-Away Show a couple of years ago.

Better late than never…

[Via iamcal]

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Viaduc de Millau

September 27th, 2009

I thought this was my favourite photo of the Millau viaduct, until I saw this.

[Via Flickr Blog]

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Les Machines de l'Ile

June 15th, 2008

Les Machines de l'Ile: quite possibly the coolest tourist attraction in the history of the world.1

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. It's not clear to me whether there's some formal link between the creators of Les Machines de l'Ile and the street theatre group who brought The Sultan's Elephant to London a couple of years ago, or whether it's just that the French really, really love the combination of Jules Verne and giant mechanical creatures. Either way, Vive La France!

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April 5th, 2008

Jon Henley on the war on the semicolon:

It is a debate you could only really have in a country that accords its intellectuals the kind of status other nations – to name no names – tend to reserve for footballers, footballers' wives or (if they're lucky) rock stars; a place where structuralists and relativists and postmodernists, rather than skulk shamefacedly in the shadows, get invited on to primetime TV; a culture in which even today it is considered entirely acceptable, indeed laudable, to state one's profession as "thinker".

That country is France, which is currently preoccupied with the fate of its ailing semicolon.

Encouragingly, a Committee for the Defence of the Semicolon appeared on the web (only to disappear some days later, which cannot be a very good sign). Articles have been written in newspapers and magazines. The topic is being earnestly discussed on the radio. It was even the subject of an April Fool's joke on a leading internet news site, which claimed, perfectly plausibly, that President Nicolas Sarkozy had just decreed that to preserve the poor point-virgule from an untimely end, it must henceforth be used at least three times a page in all official correspondence. […]

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