Wednesday, 31 October 2012

'Marie Clairegate', or how some restaurant reviewers want their meal and eat it

Photo courtesy of Aude Baron/

Restaurant reviewers are like politicians in a way. We all 'know' that some of them are dishonest but it's not very often that we actually see proof of it. And that is why I was most pleased to come across this very revealing article in the Le Plus section of the Nouvel Observateur a few days ago. Written by Aude Baron, the section's Editor-in-Chief, it offers a few insider insights into how some French restaurant reviewers, including those from the well-known French women's monthly magazine Marie Claire, consider that blackmail and punishment are acceptable tools when it comes to getting a free meal in return for a good review.

But Marie Claire's strong-arm tactics were revealed for all to see when details of an email exchange earlier this month between Jean-Paul Lubot, the delegate general director of the Marie Claire press group, and Parisian restaurant owner Pierre Jancou found their way onto the 'Food Intelligence' blog.

Lubot loftily announced via his staff in his initial contact email that Jancou's restaurant, 'Vivant', had been "selected" to be featured in Marie Claire's 'Le Paris de Jean-Paul Lubot' column, and he asked if Jancou would "invite him to dinner", adding that he would be "accompanied."

He soon learned that he had bitten off more than he could chew. Jancou was having none of it and he replied in bitingly terse terms to say that never in his 24-year career in the restaurant business had he ever invited a journalist to one of his restaurants, and that he considered Lubot's way of going about his business to be "shady and fraudulent."

Lobot refused to take no for an answer however, and declared in his next email that for a restaurant reviewer to get invited by the patron to a restaurant he was reviewing was "extremely common practice."

Not chez Jancou it isn't. He refused again. Lubot's reaction?

He quite simply made sure that 'Vivant' was taken off Marie Claire's recommended restaurant list and he sent a petulantly temper tantrum email in which he asserted that "you've got no idea have you, and all you have done is to confirm the stinginess for which you are well known in the business." Charming n'est-ce pas?

Baron also writes that some reviewers openly identify themselves as such when they get to a restaurant, which of course often earns them special attention and, who knows, maybe a free meal too. She has even seen amply wined-and-dined reviewers strike a deal with restaurant owners after their meal by using the arm-twisting "if you don't make me pay I'll write about you, and if you do make me pay I'll forget you forever" tactic.

Yet another scam is that of reviewers making restaurants pay for the privilege of placing the much-sought-after (by some less scrupulous restaurant owners) 'Recommended by such-and-such a magazine/restaurant guide" stickers in their front windows, next to those of the 'we accept American Express cards' ilk.

All of these 'reviewing' methods are, of course, scandalous, and I know that a well-known review booklet here in Lyon also uses dubious methods in its restaurant ratings.

This kind of news casts a shadow over the whole of the restaurant review business in Paris and elsewhere (and yes, it is a business.) After all, who, in the light of all this, can be sure, if ever they were before, that they are reading an honest review which will help them choose where to eat? Who are the honest reviewers and who are the bad guys? And who are those restaurant owners who pay the meals of their reviewers? We won't know of course, unless their dealings become public knowledge.

While we're waiting for a more reliable system to be devised and adhered to (and that's going to be difficult) we at least know that Aude Baron has had the honest courage to denounce Marie Claire's dubious practices, and she kindly sent me some recommendations of her own of restaurant reviewers, journalists, blogs and other sources she trusts. She also runs a well-read blog on restaurants in Paris herself,

Here's her selection.

Coup de Fourchette
Chroniques du Plaisir
Presque Moi

She also recommends Figaro's 'Sortir à Paris' section and their journalists Emmanuel Rubin and François Simon as well as l'Express' 'Et Toque' and 'La Soif du Miam' with their articles by Anne-Laure Pham and François Regis Gaudry.

And I have a recommendation of my own too. I haven't ever eaten there but I'll gladly visit Pierre Jancou's 'Vivant' the next time I'm up in Paris, because any owner who has the guts to resist press behemoths like Marie Claire and their 'free meal ticket' approach to reviewing deserves support and a healthy clientèle. 'Vivant', 43, rue des Petites-Écuries, Paris 10th. 0142464355.

Bon appetit !

Monday, 29 October 2012

Rockers never retire - The Gig

They say that rockers never retire, and if recent events and the photos below are anything to go by that's very true.

Music has been a major element of my life ever since I was a boy and over the years I developed into a singer-songwriter-guitarist. Today, aged 59, I can look back on hundreds of gigs, some good, some bad, as well as a few albums, and although I still do concerts very occasionally, it's just me with an acoustic, singing quieter and more reflective songs instead of the in-your-face power Britpop I used to sing with my bands.

Anyway, an old friend of mine has a son and I bought him a drum kit for his 10th birthday. That was 12 years ago, when he would come round to my place and watch my band rehearse. He loved it!

Now 22, he plays in an amateur three-piece dark metal band. Charmingly enough, he still uses some elements of the kit I bought him - toms and floor tom essentially - because he likes their rather crude sound. He says it suits their music. A couple of months ago he came round to my apartment with his guitarist who, upon seeing my guitars lying around, suggested that we sing a couple of acoustic numbers together. Sure. Beers, jamming and good fun all round.

To cut a long story short they invited me to guest for them at a private party they were giving for about 6-7 songs of my choice. I accepted, we did one six-hour rehearsal, and the evening went very well. Then they asked me to play at a gig they were doing at one of Lyon's better-known venues, so I accepted that too, although I insisted that we didn't rehearse too much because a) they are too inexperienced to stick to tight arrangements on blues-rock music, which they don't know very well, and b) because I wanted to keep the rough 'jam' edge to proceedings.

There were a lot of people at this gig and, surprisingly enough, the set went down extremely well! So well in fact that a couple of other venues whose owners were there asked us to play for them too. Good grief! They invited a near-old age pensioner?! What was supposed to be a one-off bit of fun had taken on another signfication. Wo'ever, as we say in Britain, it was a lot of fun and we were asked to stay on stage and play with some other musicians with me singing as they were doing Anglo-Saxon rock covers. Great fun it was, although I had no voice left at the end.

Here are some pix of that evening, taken by a photographer girlfriend of theirs. Enjoy.
(Please note that all her photos are copyright so please email me if you wish to use them for any reason.)

Old rocker meets young granny-eating bass player

Eat yer heart out Motorhead!

Guitarists hangin' out an' havin' fun

Bassist falls asleep on the job

"Hey sound guy, what happened to my foldback monitor!?"

Taking the worl.. euhh, Franc.. umm, I mean a rock venue by storm

Can someone tell him that you sing INTO a mike, and not next to it?

Even cleaned my shoes for the occasion
Hardly the dynamism of Aerosmith but we ARE havin' fun, honest

So there we have it. There's a kind of poetic and wheel-turns-full-circle element to this story. I mean, I offer an instrument to a kid who used to love watching me play and pestered me to let him strum my guitar strings, that inspires him to become a musician, and he ends up years later inviting the old 'un to play for him. Heartwarming stuff indeed.

Oh, and did we accept the gig offers? Yup, we did. Seems old rockers never retire.....

Have a good day everyone.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Night photos of Lyon, France

My sister came over from Liverpool to visit me here in Lyon during summer a few years ago. It was her first-ever visit to Lyon and she instantly fell in love with the city's elegance and architecture, insisting that we visit as much of it as possible during the few days she was here and telling me how "lucky you are" to be living in such a place.

And so it was that we would spend very little time at my apartment. One thing that particularly impressed her was how Lyon dresses itself up in its finest lights each evening and shows off its rivers, streets and buildings for all to see.

Which is why I thought I'd share some photos of Lyon at night. Some were taken with a mobile phone, others with a camera, and none of them are exactly David Bailey masterpieces but hey ho, I hope you like them anyway.

Much of Lyon's activities are centred upon its two rivers, the Rhône and the Saône, with the Rhône in particular being featured in the evening as it has a very wide left bank which has been developed into a leisure zone, full of barges which have been transformed into floating bars and restaurants. Thousands of people stroll along it in the evening during the balmy summer months, taking in the air and the sights. One of those sights is the river's 10 bridges, most of which are tastefully illuminated at night. Here are a few of them.

The 'Pont de l'Université was built in the early 1900s to link the Left Bank's university buildings to the centre of the city.

Pont de l'Université

Here's the Pont Wilson. First built in the 1830s, it has been rebuilt a couple of times, this incarnation being inaugurated in 1918. Like many of the other bridges it was partially destroyed by the occupying German troops as they fled the city in 1944 to avoid the allied advance in WWII. It was subsequently restored.

Pont Wilson

This is the Pont Lafayette, which began its life as the Pont Charles X before being rebaptised Pont Lafayette in 1830 after Lafayette crossed it. He played a major role in the French Revolution as well as in the American war of Independence. A quick look at Wikipedia tells me that he was made an Honorary Citizen of America in 2002.
Pont Lafayette

Meanwhile, back on the Left Bank, people are enjoying themselves on the barges, walking along, or sitting down and relaxing on the terraces and lawns.
Barge restaurant, with the Opera building at top left

One of my favourite hangouts
Hangin' out an' chattin' on the Left Bank


Some of the city's finest buildings are to be found along the Rhône, including the beautiful Hôtel Dieu. It was built as a general hospital before being used as the city's central maternity hospital, hence its nickname - 'l'Usine à Bébés', or 'The Baby Factory.'
L'Hôtel Dieu

This is one of Lyon University's faculty buildings. And guess where many students eat their lunch? Yup, down on the riverbank.
Lyon University faculty building

Here's another landmark, one of the towers at the municipal swimming bath complex, which overlooks the river. It makes me think of Star Trek...
A spaceship with its ladder deployed

There isn't just the Left Bank to see at night in Lyon though, so here are some pictures taken elsewhere. I took this sunset whilst crossing one of the bridges on my way to the city centre. You can see the swimming pool towers to the left.
On a bridge in Lyon, early evening

This is the sumptuous Célestins Théâtre. It, like many other buildings in Lyon, is a part of a UNESCO Heritage Site.
The Célestins Theatre

This church is on the banks of the Saône. Maybe it's just me but it looks like a rather forbidding place...
L'église Notre Dame St Vincent

Some of Lyon's best and most intimate restaurants are to be found tucked away in side-streets. This picture was taken from inside one of them and it shows one of the rear entrances to l'Hôtel Dieu, pictured further up the page.
Candlelit dinner anyone?

It's the same for bars. The big Brasseries on the main thoroughfares are okay, but I prefer the smaller bars which are to be found hidden nearby in back streets. This is an excellent and unassuming wine bar with a clientele of locals. Change-the-world discussions and hangovers the next morning guaranteed.
"Are you nuts? Don't tell me you voted for HIM!!!"

One of the city's well known characters, here on a bus. He can often be seen around town and he likes to sing Sinatra songs and others in his wonderful crooning style. He smells faintly of whisky, he's a real charmer, and the ladies love him..
This could have been taken in NYC. Classy guy

I read in the press this morning that it snowed last night in various parts of France for the first time since the end of last winter. It didn't snow here but it surely will soon, giving me the chance to take more photos like these. Snow? It's incredibly photogenic.
Lady, dog, snow. Near my place
Nature at work in the city

Lyon, not being like New York or Tokyo, does finally put the lights out and go to sleep, leaving the roads to late-night revelers, municipal maintenance staff and those going to work early.....
It's almost 4am and just the street lights remain to guide people home

May I wish you an excellent day, full of good stuff.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Autumn Creations

There I was drinking my second bleary-eyed coffee of the morning and wandering round the news sites and blogs when I happened to land on this photoblog on the subject of Autumn. And indeed yes, it's Autumn! I don't have any photos of this Autumn but I do have some very original ones from a while back so I thought I'd post them here.

They were taken a couple of years ago in Lyon's splendid Parc de la Tête d'Or. I was riding my bike when I thought I saw something rather unusual in the midst of the trees. A twig lady? Surely not. So I stopped and walked towards it.

'The Twig Lady'
Curious, I continued to ride, very slowly, keeping my eyes peeled in case there was anything else to be seen. I was not to be disappointed and in quick succession I discovered this gorgeous creature...


...followed by this delightful object.


Drawn further into the wood through myterious gates...


...I came across signs of societal activity.


And what is never far away from an Autumn hut built over a stream? Why, a canoe of course!


There was a book nearby, thus indicating that the inhabitants could read..

'The Book'

But who were these strange denizens of the wood? My question was answered shortly thereafter..

'The Leaves and their children'

My journey was now at an end and I walked out of the wood, thinking thoughts of how the seasons change. Life comes, and goes, it's an eternal cycle. Some things may be eternal, but we are not. I was reminded of that by this stark presence...

'The Last Journey...'

Hope you enjoyed these photos and that you have an excellent day.

Friday, 26 October 2012

'Le Baiser de Marseille' kiss shakes up France's same-sex marriage debate

Photo by Gérard Julien for AFP
Gasp horror outrage! Saperlipopette !!

French governments have always been loath to consider the legalisation of same-sex marriage, but that may thankfully change soon if recently-elected President François Hollande gets his way. He and his government intend to introduce a same-sex marriage and adoption law in 2013 but there has been a storm of protest from some quarters, including bishops, militant Catholics, the extreme right, mayors, some of whom have said they will refuse to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies to take place within their communities, the legal profession and others.

The lobbying was beginning to represent a serious threat to Hollande's proposed legislation, which is why he must surely have been pleased to see it receive some much-needed and well-publicised support earlier this week in the form of two young women from Marseille who kissed each other on the mouth for several seconds in front of a group of indignant participants in a 'One dad One mum' demonstration in Marseille which had been organised by 'l'Alliance VITA', an anti-gay marriage and abortion lobby group. The kiss has been dubbed 'Le Baiser de Marseille.'

The young women involved, Julia Pistolesi, 17, and Auriane Susini, 19, are not in fact gay and they didn't even intend to go to the demo, they just came across it whilst out walking. Once there however they were shocked by the points of view being expressed and decided to stand in full view of the crowd and put on a long and langourous protest kiss, which was greeted with cries of "you are disgusting!" and "you aren't even pretty!" The two women then disappeared into the crowd.

Their kiss was filmed by a friend.

It wasn't the video which put the story on the front pages of the French press however, but the fortuitous decision of Gérard Julien, an AFP photographer who had earlier decided not to go to the demo before changing his mind at the last minute. And he just happened to be present when the girls kissed and was able to take 9 photos of it in a few seconds, one of which is at the top of the page. He relates the story in this article.

Both the photo and the video have gone viral here and all I can say is that I'm very happy to hear it.  Hats off to these two young women for having the courage to carry out their action in front of a crowd which, for all they knew, may have turned ugly and angry.

Oh, and the latest on this story is that similar initiatives have been seen since at related demos in other cities. As for the photo, some commentators are even beginning to compare it to Robert Doisneau's iconic 1950 photograph, 'Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville' (Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville, which shows a couple kissing in the busy streets of Paris.

La Confluence, Lyon: marvel or monstrosity?

La Confluence is an area just south of the city centre of Lyon where the city's two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône, meet. It used to be an industrial centre but the end of the 1900s witnessed its decline, to the point where it was decided to completely redevelop the area in order to double the size of the city centre's shopping, office and residential capacity.

The result is the resolutely modern and spacious urban development scheme you see below. It comprises dozens of shops, restaurants, cinemas and other amenities both inside and around a sprawling commercial complex, the Regional Council now has a rather swish home there, and there are many colourful apartment buildings as well as a marina which will be fully operational next Summer.

Condemned as a monstrosity by some, worshipped as a view into the future of cities by others, it now attracts thousands of visitors weekly and the m² price of apartments there is very high although some of the housing capacity has been reserved for social housing, as the law stipulates must be the case for all new urban developments in France. Construction in this part of the city is set to continue for a few more years and it even has its own website.

For those interested in learning more about how it was designed and built and its eco-friendly aspects (low energy consumption, materials used etc) here's a fairly informative video (in French..)

The marina is overlooked by apartment buildings on one side...

...and access to the commercial centre on the other.

Apartments on the fashionable theme of shipping containers

I hope nobody was in when it hit!

I built a building just like this when I was a kid. Using Lego.

The Regional Council building

Updated Sixties-style colours and design

Not an architect's artist's impression

So, monstrosity or marvel?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Towards the quiet life life in the countryside

After fifteen wonderful years spent here in Lyon I have decided to move out to the countryside. I still very much enjoy living here, but as I'm nearing my sixties some aspects of what the city has to offer - bars, clubs, rock concerts etc - have witnessed a steady decline in my presence over the years and I have been spending more and more time in the country at friends' places because I appreciate the serenity of being out of the city.

And so it is that I am buying a house just outside a small village not far from the Alps with a very good friend I have known for many years. In fact it's not really 'a house', but two houses and several outhouses on a fair-sized chunk of land. 5,250m² to be exact. Neither is very big but we will be able to live our own lives whilst both looking after the animals we intend to have as well as tending to the land. There is a lot of renovation to do but we both know enough tradesman to get most of the work done at a reasonable price. Scheduled move-in date is next August.

Here are some photos of it all taken on two separate occasions, starting with a couple of views from the lane outside.

My place, with hers to the left in the background

Both houses under a beautiful cerulean sky

A view of the mountains with the houses behind me

Here they are again, this time taken from within the garden.

Hers, complete with balcony, and..

..his. No balcony this time, but a lot of weed-clearing to do!

The views from the windows are great. There are almost no other houses in sight and the only thing which breaks the silence is the birds chirping away and someone's donkey braying. That is going to make a change from Lyon, where as I type these words I am looking at an apartment block just over the street from my apartment. The road is busy all day long.

Once cleaned up there's going to be a table and chairs in the shade out there

From a bedroom window

This view takes in some of the extent of the land, which goes down to the trees, although there is more to the left with a couple of ponds and a henhouse. It's separated into a garden, then what will be a vegetable garden, and then a field for two ponies and, when needed for grass-cutting purposes, the neighbour's sheep.

Oh, and there's a functioning well too, on the left. That'll need building up

 My place is going to be a three-room affair basically, with a salon-american kitchen and a large walk-in-shower-cum-WC-cum-dressing room downstairs. There may eventually be a bedroom in the loft. It used to be the farmer's abbatoir and as such will need a fair bit of work, but although it looks in a hell of  mess right now the work won't take that long.

Half of the living room

Half of the bathroom
The surrounding area has several nature trails and bicycle tracks. Not surprising really because it is very pretty indeed. Here are a few views from within a two-kilometre radius.

A tributary of the river Rhône, looking upstream...

...and downstream

Looking over the fields towards the nearby village

Finally, I found a lovely wild rose growing on top of a wall where it meets my house during my last visit. I hope to be able to leave it untouched during the renovation work in the hope it will come back next year.

Simple, and beautiful

 Meanwhile, off I pop to get on a crowded metro network for a meeting. Ah well, not for much longer...