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Pointman’s is a great site for socio-political commentary not only on the present but also the past.

On January 5, 2018, Pointman wrote about phony political parties, jaundiced voters and declining governments. Please take the time to read ‘The Misrepresentation of the People Act’ in full.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Political party set-ups are essentially the same wherever one lives:

The actual names vary from country to country; Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Labour, Liberal or Labor. There are always a few tiddler or schism parties wandering aimlessly around the political edges going nowhere accompanied by nothing other than their own strident outrage at something or another, but the essential shape is two big mainline parties, or in some cases as in Germany, comfortable coalitions of such long-standing that they might as well be one party anyway.

As we know, one party is in power for a time, then the opposition party takes hold of the reins, then the cycle repeats. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t:

When it works as it should, it’s a pragmatic recognition of the debilitating aspects of the same party being in power for too long, and also acts as a natural emetic to get rid of them. That hackneyed old saying about the corrupting effect of power is very true …

Where this paradigm breaks down is when the leaders of both the parties begin to treat the whole election process as a turn and turn about thing; okay, you’ve won power for a couple of administrations and then it’ll be our turn. We won’t rock the boat too hard for you other than giving you a jolly strict telling off when you make a public cockup of something. The unspoken but understood caveat on being an effectively quiescent opposition party is that the big players in it still get a decent share of the power and money floating around that’s commensurate with such tacit co-operation.

When the system doesn’t work, it is because both parties have too many commonly-shared interests:

The people running these parties, and being run themselves by big money interests in various shapes and forms, tend to share the same education, privileged background and über political world views of what used to be termed internationalism but has now mutated into a bastardised consensus of smug political globalisation, because that’s what’s really good for their super rich patrons.

For the low-information person, including a voter, a change of government looks stable and normal. However, that is not necessarily the case:

it’s inherently unstable since it lacks any feedback to correct the corruption such power in perpetuity will inevitably engender. It pushes the day of reckoning further ahead, but that day will arrive in the end.

As always, the basic cause allowing this situation to develop is electorates disinterested in politics who sleepwalk into this mess. For too many years they’ve listened to the vague promises of jam tomorrow from political con men whose only talent is stringing the mark along.

That has troubled me, personally, especially when I speak with Americans who invariably elect the same people for years and years on end. These are congress-critters and senators who are useless in serving their constituents, yet Americans keep re-electing them. It really bugs me a lot.

Now and then, someone new and fresh emerges on the scene who is elected, but they seldom seem to be around very long. But, no one cares, and the cycle of electing self-serving politicians continues:

There is a propriety Antipodean shortcut into this situation which involves electing a reasonably sane leader who’s very quickly stabbed in the back by one of his underlings who turns out to be incompetent but has the saving grace of being eminently corrupt. Anyway, this combination of lazy electorates and seemingly Alzheimer stricken populations who can’t quite connect promises made and promises not fulfilled, will eventually break down.

This definitely happened in the United States, and one man is doing his very best to rectify the situation. That said, there is still a lot of rot in both the Democrat (un-‘Democratic’) and Republican parties, to the extent that politically-aware voters have dubbed both the Uniparty. And, what follows is a highly accurate description of the end result that the Uniparty and, in other countries, long-term coalitions bring about:

It’s all about them, not you. The vested interests prosper at the expense of impoverishing the ordinary person, irrespective of their race, colour, creed or politics …

By this late stage, the bulk of electorates are totally jaundiced about any involvement in the political process and those actively engaged in it as foot soldiers are starting to suspect they’re not even a minor player in the game, but the football. They’re regarded by their betters as highly motivated, but easily manipulated drones busy at work producing honey for their masters.

By this time we’re heading into stage 4 cancer in the body politic, but the status quo of those deeply entrenched in power will start to defend itself by any and all means available, whether legal or not. Imagine getting the snouts of a hungry herd of swine out of a steaming swill-filled trough, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the immensity of the task.

The next stage is to create a new — phony — third political party that sweeps into power:

As the new broom of the faux opposition party being elected isn’t working any more, it’s possible to invent a third party that’s making all the right reformist noises but is still a cat’s-paw of the current background interests.

Much of the time, these parties are unsuccessful.

Pointman says this happened in Greece …

It was a freshly minted party by the power mongers which just continued on in the same old way, but was quickly found out.

… and in France, with Emmanuel Macron in 2017:

with a hitherto unknown leader Fifi Macron mincing around in front of it and making all the right noises. A few months in, he promptly junked the modest tax reforms of the previous nominally left-wing administration which were a tad too expensive on his extremely rich backers who’d put him into power to do just that. At the same time, he started lumping more and more taxes on blue and white-collar workers.

Today, Emmanuel Macron is facing the prospect of a ninth weekend of demonstrations by overly taxed, low income French men and women: the yellow vest movement — les gilets jaunes:

Despite disparaging reports you might have heard about them, they’re painfully ordinary people struggling to survive in Macron’s France. There’s a lot of them and they’re composed of that most dangerous segment of any electorate, those pushed into a corner with no way out and not much to lose.

As I listen to French talk radio (RMC) every weekday, I have been following this movement with interest — and the way in which Les Grandes Gueules are covering them. For the first few weeks, the hosts and panellists were empathetic. Before Christmas, their opinions became more critical, which made for interesting discussions as some panellists are still on the side of les gilets jaunes. Fair enough, shops and restaurants lost a lot of trade in cities at the heart of the protests, but the media seemed to focus on the violence rather than the vast majority of peaceful protesters. This year, the media, including the two Grandes Gueules presenters, are shifting the narrative a bit towards the ‘we’ve all had enough of les gilets jaunes‘.

One thing that did not help the yellow jackets’ cause was the vehicular break-in at one of the French ministries last weekend. The other was a boxer who started punching policemen, also last weekend. He had no criminal record prior to that.

Once the weekend demonstrations became a regular fixture — about a month in — violent rabble-rousers started infiltrating the movement, which has attracted a few extremists from both the Left and the Right.

This ongoing violence gave the media carte blanche to negatively cover the movement as a whole. Lately, there has been less coverage of the ordinary gilet jaunes who gather to protest because they cannot make ends meet.

The media were rightly, in my opinion, taken to task for it today. Here is Michel Onfray, a philosopher, who tells them the media have been labelling les gilets jaunes racist, sexist, homophobic and everything else pejorative under the sun. And he accuses the two Grandes Gueules hosts of similar negative coverage — equally ‘staggering’ (sidérant). They did not like that at all:

This weekend, it will be interesting to see if the government — via the police — allows any protests to go ahead.

Pointman already sussed that on January 5, and referred to preventive arrests made near the end of 2018:

Riot cops or paramilitary thugs are deployed to brutally suppress public demonstrations against an administration that’s becoming a dictatorship in all but name. Not only are public demonstrations being physically attacked, but wholesale arrests and incarcerations start to become the norm. Behind the scenes, preventive arrests start to be made. With regard to the weekend after weekend protests in France, numbers like 1400 arrests made are bandied about by the Quisling media, but what’s not being disclosed is 1000 of these were preventive arrests. Arrest and imprisonment of people before any protest has even been made. When that begins, we’re on the slippery slope with occasional stops for doing things like arresting schoolchildren and treating them like POWs.

He reminds us of the situation in Venezuela:

If the government manages to put down what is in effect a rebellion, you end up with a dictatorship with a nice name like the Democratic People’s Republic of Whatever, as happened in Venezuela and with the usual dire results for the inhabitants.

The alternative is something akin to America’s Revolutionary War, which had a good outcome.

Pointman then discussed President Trump and the constant opposition he is facing:

A third and extremely rare outcome is a natural leader primarily in touch with the people rising to power. Even more rarely, if not uniquely, that person comes from the super-rich classes, who’re usually the power brokers and puppet masters behind the various thrones, and refuses to accommodate them. They will bring to bear every power at their command to destroy him, because he’s betrayed what should be his natural class, is re-energising swathes of the electorate to re-engage with politics and they’re rallying to the colours of someone who’s actually doing things for them.

That is exactly why Trump haters should rethink their position. President Trump has done and will do more to help America and her people than any president in living memory.

As far as Europe is concerned, Macron won’t last beyond one term (if that) and Merkel has seen the writing on the wall for her chancellorship:

The heart of power within the EU was Germany with France as the supporting act, but Fifi is finished and Merkel has become an electoral liability even for her own party. Like the stricken battleship Bismarck, she’s alone and steaming around in circles with no flotilla rushing to her aid. A few more torpedoes and she, like the EU, will be out of the game.

Eastern Europe, he says, is breaking away from Western Europe’s outlook on the world, recognising the sovereignty of the nation state rather than globalism.

Ultimately, voters everywhere in the West need to wake up, smell the coffee and become more engaged with what is going on. Are we being represented or, as Pointman posits, misrepresented? I think we know the answer.

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On Thursday, March 23, 2017, RMC (French talk radio) had a morning discussion on the London attack which occurred the day before.

Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) discussed the trend for vehicle terrorism, an ISIS-approved method which started with the July 14, 2016 attack in Nice. The Berlin Christmas market attack on December 19 was the next spectacular. On Wednesday, it was London:

The day after the London attack, Belgian police detained a man in Antwerp for driving at speed along a main pedestrian-only street. Reuters reported:

“At about 11 a.m. this morning a vehicle entered De Meir at high speed due to which pedestrians had to jump away,” a police spokesman told a news conference, referring to the street name.

He added the driver was later arrested and additional police and military personnel had been deployed to the center of Antwerp, but did not give any further details.

The Daily Mail reports that the attacker is French-Tunisian. The article has good accompanying photographs.

French media now call such attacks ‘low cost’ terrorism, meaning that no equipment other than a vehicle is required. The radio show panel debated on whether this was appropriate terminology. Opinion was divided. Some found it demeaning to the victims. Others thought it described the situation objectively.

Regardless, the London attack has raised the same reactions and the same questions of previous attacks.

American military veteran, author and film maker Jack Posobiec summed it up on Twitter:

An Englishman, Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars editor-at-large, tweeted:

He also made a short news video in which he put forth the inconvenient truth about the London attacks and others:

People have been speculating incorrectly on the significance of the date the London attack took place. Reuters has the answer (emphases mine below):

The mayhem in London took came on the first anniversary of attacks that killed 32 people in Brussels.

The article also stated that Khalid Masood — formerly Adrian Elms, then Adrian Ajao — whom police shot dead:

was British-born and was once investigated by MI5 intelligence agents over concerns about violent extremism, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement issued by its Amaq news agency. But it gave no name or other details and it was not clear whether the attacker was directly connected to the group.

Police arrested eight people at six locations in London and Birmingham in the investigation into Wednesday’s lone-wolf attack that May said was inspired by a warped Islamist ideology.

About 40 people were injured and 29 remain in hospital, seven in critical condition, after the incident which resembled Islamic State-inspired attacks in France and Germany where vehicles were driven into crowds.

The assailant sped across Westminster Bridge in a car, ploughing into pedestrians along the way, then ran through the gates of the nearby parliament building and fatally stabbed an unarmed policeman before being shot dead. tmsnrt.rs/2napbkD

“What I can confirm is that the man was British-born and that some years ago he was once investigated by MI5 in relation to concerns about violent extremism,” May said in a statement to parliament.

So far, four people have died:

It was the worst such attack in Britain since [July 7] 2005, when 52 people were killed by Islamist suicide bombers on London’s public transport system. Police had given the death toll as five but revised it down to four on Thursday.

Some found it strange that the March 22 London attack took place on the same day that Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan said:

that Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey, his latest salvo in a row over campaigning by Turkish politicians in Europe.

While that is strange, it probably remains a coincidence. Erdogan is angry with the Netherlands and Germany at the moment.

Once again, we have the lone-wolf narrative. Patently wrong, as it has been in other terror attacks. Notice Reuters says police arrested eight people. Therefore, how could it have been a lone-wolf operation?

On the notion of normalising terror in big cities, Tucker Carlson had this to say:

Although it sounds clichéd, it is true that prayer — public and private — help greatly at a time like this.

We can pray for the families and friends of victims PC Keith Palmer, fatally stabbed by the attacker, as well as the two civilians who died: Aysha Frade (wife and mother of two daughters), Kurt Cochran (an American tourist, husband and father) and the latest victim, a 75-year-old man. We can pray for Mrs Cochran, who was injured in the attack and is in hospital. We can pray for the 40 injured. Their lives will never be the same again. They will need God’s help for physical and mental recovery.

In closing, The Sun has an excellent set of photographs which tell the horrific story of the March 22, 2017 attack.

Ahh, the dog days of August. They bring to mind sunshine and the beach. The days for both are swiftly drawing to a close.

Let us, therefore, consider both for a final time this year.

The burkini

As Britain baked for two glorious days, France debated a hot question.

For the past fornight, RMC’s (radio) talk shows have been crackling with daily discussions about the dreaded burkini, which, by the way, is sadly becoming part of the fundamentalist Christian wardrobe. All in the name of modesty.

Modesty, my foot. This is physically dangerous (inhibiting swimming) and socially provocative. Christian women have no business wearing such an outfit.

Around the time the Catholic priest near Rouen was stabbed to death in cold blood as he prayed the Mass — and, just as importantly, the Nice attack two days before — this notional swimming garment hit the headlines. In a preventive measure the mayor of Cannes — David Lisnard, LR (Les Républicains, conservative) — forbade burkinis on the city’s beaches. The city of Nice, the nearby town of Villeneuve-Loubet and a dozen others followed suit as did the town of Sisco in Corsica. Sisco was recently the scene of a violent altercation by a group of Muslims against several locals — on the beach. No burkini appears to have been involved. A court case will be heard on September 15.

These local burkini bans are being debated at national level in a French court, in response to a complaint by a human rights group. A decision might be arrived at as I write on August 25.

The Guardian reports on the wording of relevant local law:

The various mayoral decrees do not explicitly use the word burkini; instead they ban “beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation,” citing reasons such as the need to protect public order, hygiene or French laws on secularism.

French opinion is sharply divided on the burkini. Opponents say the garment goes against French values. Others surmise that it is a religious or political provocation. Coming so closely after the murder of the priest and the Bastille Day attack in Nice, the burkini does seem to be over the top. Both groups support the mayoral bans. So does the prime minister, Manuel Valls.

On the other hand, feminists, oddly enough, say it is liberating, even if they do not wear one. Muslims say it has nothing to do with religion. Secularists say that allowing the burkini promotes republican values; after all, don’t people wear swimsuits everywhere?

No, they do not. Not even on the relaxed Côte d’Azur.

I know Cannes well and have stayed in Nice long enough during the summer to know who goes to the beach. Contrary to what French Muslims say, nuns, monks and priests do not go. Whilst that is stating the obvious, I have heard that argument posited on RMC nearly every day.

I have seen Westerners on the beach and Muslim African men peddling trinkets. That’s it.

When I walk the streets of Cannes — and, similarly, those of Nice — everyone wears normal clothes. I have never seen anyone in a bathing suit. I mention this because pro-burkini people say that bathing suits are allowed everywhere. Whilst there are no signs forbidding them, I have never seen anyone going to or returning from the beach without a cover of tee shirt and skirt or shorts.

It’s like it is in the United States, although many establishments in American beach resorts have signs on the doors saying that patrons must be dressed appropriately. Swimsuits are strictly forbidden.

The police in Nice have issued fines to 24 women seen inappropriately dressed on their beaches.

The most controversial police intervention involved a former flight attendant on Tuesday, August 23. Did it happen in Cannes or in Nice? Were there two incidents? It’s hard to tell and, frankly, it’s not worth the time to investigate further. You can see photos at the links.

It looks to some people as if this woman — or these two women — might have been seeking attention for the following reasons.

One, she came with no towel or beach bag and, according to reports, had one or two children with her. They were not nearby when photos were taken of the police approaching her. Furthermore, as can be seen by the photo, Nice’s public beaches are stony, not sandy as they are in Cannes. Regardless of terrain, no one goes to the beach without a towel. Nobody, nobody, nobody would ever lie on a public beach without a towel. The woman just looks weird lying there curled up on uncomfortable stones. One of RMC’s panellists, a grandmother, also pointed out that parents always bring toys and soft drinks for their children. I can vouch for that. There were none in the photo.

Two, even if the woman denied she was wearing a burkini, her outfit looked suspiciously just like a … burkini.

Beachgoers seemed divided. Global Scoop has more.

I read in passing on a French site that Frenchwomen opposed to the burkini did not want fundamentalist Muslim ladies to turn public beaches into places where modesty patrols take place. One lady wrote:

What happens when children see a lot of women in burkinis? Do they look at those of us in swimsuits and say, ‘Look at the Frenchwomen prostituting themselves’?

I predict that, next summer, Muslims will be requesting their own public beaches, in the same manner no-smoking stretches of beach were allocated in France a few years ago.

Regardless, informal modesty and vice patrols could become a reality.

On August 24, The Guardian reported on the trial of a British convert to Islam found guilty of assaulting a teenager hugging his own girlfriend:

Michael Coe, 35, was driving through east London when he spotted the two 16-year-olds hugging on the pavement. He pulled over to confront the pair, demanding to know if they were Muslims and calling the girl a “whore”.

He then grabbed the boy by the throat and threw him to the ground, kicking his head and leaving him unconscious and bleeding from two injuries. When passing schoolteacher Boutho Siwela tried to come to the teenager’s aid, he was also attacked.

Coe admitted “shoving” the boy, but claimed he was acting in self-defence. He was convicted after a trial at Southwark crown court of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and battery in Wilson Road, Newham, on 15 April.

The jury returned unanimous guilty verdicts after 90 minutes of deliberation.

Coe was convicted of a similar offence in May 2013, after getting out of his car to confront a group of young people about their “inappropriate language” on an estate in east London. During that incident, he allegedly called a girl a “slut” and the others “kafir scum”.

And that’s appropriate language?

In any event:

Judge Michael Gledhill described Coe as a danger to the public and warned him that he faced a “substantial” term of imprisonment. Sentencing was adjourned until 21 September for further reports.

And who knows the motive behind the murder by a French national of a young British woman in Queensland? The perpetrator, making the usual cry (‘AA!’), also killed a dog at the hostel and injured a man who tried to intervene in the attacks.

A happier subject: the man tan

It’s summer. It’s supposed to be a happy time. So, let’s end on a lighter note.

A few summers ago, the French newsweekly Marianne had a humorous yet true analysis of the link between the man tan and social status.

If people from the ancient world, whether Mesopotamia, Greece or Rome, were to come back to life now, they would be shocked to see that the Western male with the highest social status today has the suntan a slave would have had a few millennia ago. Only a senior executive or wealthy business owner has deep and (nearly) all-encompassing colour.

The plagiste — private beach attendant (plage means ‘beach’) — has the same skin tone from his summer on the sand, however, a tee shirt and shorts limit his man tan coverage. A plagiste directs you to a chaise longue and gives you a beach towel. He also takes your order for — and may serve — drinks and snacks.

Last year, I spoke with a senior executive who worked as a plagiste in France one summer when he was a university student 20 or so years ago. Like many French, he has dark hair and colouring. He said that, by the end of the summer, his hair was blond. Although we did not discuss man tans, he did volunteer what happened to the soles of his feet. In his day, he and his colleagues were barefoot during their working hours:

The hot sand hurt like anything. It took weeks to build up calluses which served like a shoe sole. After that, we felt no pain. I didn’t think anything more of it, until term started again. I was off the beach, back in socks and shoes. By October, the calluses were coming off — in big strips of skin. It was weird at first. Oh, and, by the way, my hair grew out too — back to its normal colour, as you can see.

Beneath the plagiste in the pecking order is the construction worker, who has the same man tan but lacks the advantage of working on the beach.

At the bottom of the pile is the man who had no opportunity to seek sunshine and relaxation. Marianne said, tongue in cheek, that he deserves our empathy. Indeed.

I hope that all my readers had the chance for a relaxing summer holiday, even if it was one at home. I also hope that the sun shone brightly on you and your chaise longue.

Embedded image permalinkAs a maître pâtissier, Christophe Felder is Alsace’s pastry king.

On Christmas Eve 2015, he was the special guest on RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules (Les GG), a three-hour radio news and current affairs talk show with a group of regulars from social workers to cheese makers to judges. The panellists change daily, yet, after a while, one feels as if one knows them well.

Felder is in the v-neck in the photo from Les GG‘s Twitter feed. Around him are panellists Père Patrice Gourrier, educator Etienne Liebig (holding Felder’s latest book Gâteaux [‘Cakes’]) and businesswoman Claire O’Petit. The hosts, Alain Marschall and Olivier Truchot, are not in frame.

Les GG are in the process of interviewing famous French chefs. On New Year’s Eve, Philippe Conticini appeared on the show. Like Conticini, Felder baked a cake. Or is that, ‘Felder baked a cake and Conticini did, too’? (I’m moving backward with the interviews.)

Felder wrote one of my favourite books, Patisserie: Mastering the Fundamentals of French Pastry. If anything approximates a ‘bible’ of desserts, with each step of every recipe accompanied by a colour photograph, this is it.

SpouseMouse bought our copy in 2013 from Amazon.co.uk, however, it appears now that only Amazon in the US has it. If you are living in Britain, you can sign on to Amazon UK, then go through to the US site and order it — provided the seller ships to Britain. If you are ordering it as a gift, have it sent directly to the recipient, otherwise, postage is going to cost a fortune. (Photo credit: Amazon.com)

I have tried several of the recipes and each one worked the very first time! You will be able to make all your favourite French cakes, tarts, biscuits, macarons and chocolates — including decorations and glazes — in no time. Recipes are grouped by category — types of pastry, cakes, macarons — and so on. Each category’s set of recipes is ranked from easy to difficult. You can comfortably work your way through each chapter and progress as you go. The book is very heavy and one should handle it with care, because the paper and cardboard binding is not the best.

It makes a perfect gift for a family member or friend who wants to be able to bake what they see in French pastry shop windows. The lucky recipient will never need another dessert cookbook.

Now on to the show! (Translations mine below.)

Rants galore

During the first segment the panellists ranted about all their pastry pet peeves. I got the impression the hosts were a bit embarrassed, but that’s the nature of the show.

That said, everything kicked off very early.

No sooner had they introduced Felder and the gloves were off, not against him but the French pastry situation in general.

Etienne Liebig was angry that so many small shops no longer make their own croissants and macarons but buy them from large companies that make these items on an industrial scale. He does not like paying ‘€1.30 for something that costs 30 cents’ and isn’t even made on the premises.

Felder countered that the same thing happens in a restaurant. How many buy cash-and-carry desserts? How many make their own ice cream? Much of it is bought elsewhere. This is why I ask for a cheese plate or, where available in the UK, a savoury.

Claire O’Petit said she is a competent cook when it comes to savoury dishes, which she can easily adjust for taste and texture, but when it comes to dessert, she feels frustrated, as if she has no chance of success. She later said that Felder’s recipes look achievable and that she wouldn’t need to ‘waste an hour of reading’ to understand them.

Père Gourrier announced that he is gluten intolerant:

So, what’s out there for me? Everything has flour in it. I can’t eat it.

Felder suggested a dacquoise, made with ground almonds and (left unsaid) meringue.

Gourrier was unimpressed:

I’m not about to start making meringues.

He then asked:

When is someone going to come out with a gluten-free croissant?

The break and the cake

Then there was a commercial break and everyone, except the priest, tucked into the cake.

By the time the next segment started, O’Petit was very quiet. One of the hosts remarked on it and asked if she was enjoying every mouthful.

Gourrier interjected:

I’m having a fine time just sitting here watching all of you tuck in.

Felder’s advice to young hopefuls

Like Conticini, Felder was accustomed to the food trade. Conticini’s parents ran a Michelin-starred restaurant. Felder’s father was a successful baker in Alsace.

Unlike Conticini, who believes that young people should pass their baccalauréat, Felder says that any adolescent who is serious about baking or pastry should become an apprentice at the age of 15.

He believes that is a good age because romantic attachments haven’t yet formed:

Later on, they’re reluctant to move 300 kilometres away for a career. They have a girlfriend and get too attached.

(Most pastry apprentices and chefs are men, hence the girlfriend reference.)

Felder had worked for his father by the age of 14 and, the following year, 1979, he was apprenticed to the Litzer-Vogel pâtissiers in Strasbourg, where the head pâtissier was very elderly yet went to work every day.

He told les GG that, unlike cookery school, this work — which includes training — doesn’t cost parents anything. Furthermore, as an added bonus, their children can bring earned money home.

Also:

By the age of 17, they’re quite good.

And so it proved in Felder’s case. At that tender age, he had won his first gold medal at the Foire européenne de Strasbourg.

Felder’s trajectory

Felder moved to Paris where he worked for Fauchon, makers of luxury breads and pastries near the church of La Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement. He then worked for Guy Savoy, who ran a Michelin-starred restaurant in the upmarket 16th arrondissement. (By 2002, Savoy had earned his third Michelin star, which he still retains today. He has since opened his own restaurants in Las Vegas and Singapore.)

In 1988, Felder began working at the prestigious Hotel Crillon as a pastry chef. He stayed there for 15 years.

Incidentally, when he first started, there was no air conditioning in the Crillon’s pastry kitchen. He described the near impossibility and frustration of making croissants with butter melting in front of him. (Butter needs to be firm for puff pastry, the stuff of which these delights are made.)

Return to Alsace

These days, Felder is based in Alsace.

He prefers it, especially for his young apprentices. He and his staff train and mentor them. Having families nearby makes it easier for everyone:

In Paris, you can feel a bit lost. You need money for rent, you don’t really know anyone and it can be a bit overwhelming.

In Alsace, our apprentices live nearby and can work more flexible hours. They can come in early and go home late.

It’s also helpful to get to know their parents. We have discussions with them. Some say, ‘My child is a bit excitable’. Such conversations help us to manage a situation and guide the apprentices.

Hard work

Felder spoke a lot about hard work in the pastry kitchen.

He cited a young apprentice of his who asked why Felder was ‘punishing’ him. Felder replied that there was no punishment — that was the nature of the job:

Sure, there are a great many shared moments, but there is also a lot of pressure every day.

And not everyone can handle that pressure.

Dessert evolution

The panel asked about the continuous change in French desserts.

Felder explained that, in the old days, sugar and fat were used as preservatives. These days, with near-universal refrigeration and modern cooking methods, we can buy products with much more fresh fruit as well as less fat and sugar.

In addition to owning his own business, Felder also works for a firm in Japan, which is interested in anticipating the next dessert trends. The Japanese are fascinated to find that French techniques remain classic yet move with the times. Felder helps this company determine how that is done and develop new recipes accordingly.

Conclusion

Most of us — younger or older — are not fit for a pastry kitchen.

As Felder says, you’re on your feet all day. The atmosphere is demanding. It requires a lot of stamina, self-discipline and patience.

Working in a pastry kitchen will be unsuitable for many, but most pastry chefs want — and feel obliged to — pass knowledge on to the next generation and to the general public.

Christophe Felder is one of them.

For that, many of us are grateful.

As my regular readers will know, in 2015, I wanted to learn more French techniques for cooking and baking.

During a two-week stay last June in France, I watched Christophe Michalak’s Dans la peau d’un chef (DPDC), which is an excellent programme featuring home cooks vying to see who can make the best dish assigned by either Michalak or one of his guest chefs. The winner receives €1,000 and can continue to compete the following day. These two posts feature short videos from DPDC:

Decorating fruit tarts — the French touch (Christophe Michalak)

Piping whipped cream — the French touch (Christophe Michalak)

One of the guest chefs on DPDC was Philippe Conticini, who owns Pâtisserie des Rêves (‘Pastry of Dreams’) in Paris. Since he began his career in the 1980s, he has won many awards from a Michelin star from his days as a restauranteur, following in his parents’ footsteps, to honours from the French government. He also appears as a guest judge on a number of cookery shows, including the French version of The Great British Bake Off — Le meilleur pâtissier. (Photo credit: Sortiraparis.com)

Married and father of a 14-year old daughter, Conticini is evolving his recipes to make the classics lighter and more flavoursome. Over the past several years, he has been experimenting successfully with his hot and cold technique which helps to produce spongier cakes with better rise. Dorie Greenspan’s Madeleine recipe is one example; Conticini taught her how to employ his hot and cold technique. Proust would have loved them!

Although he needs a walking stick, Conticini continues to work. He nearly died in 2010, afflicted with an illness that put him into a coma for 18 months. Since then, he has problems with his right hand and has had to learn to work with his left.

On New Year’s Eve, he gave an interview to RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules (‘The Big Mouths’), where he discussed his work and created a cake just for them. One of the panellists pronounced it ‘sublime’. What follows is a summary of what Conticini said.

Popularity of baking

Conticini says that television shows have done much to enhance the profile of baking, likening the phenomenon to sport. The more sport is televised, the more people are interested. It is the same with baking.

Wherever he goes, Conticini is met with all sorts of questions from the public about ingredients, measurements and quality of the end product. He thinks this is because people are engaging with cookery shows.

Advice to young people

Conticini is softly spoken and mild mannered. Yet, he had firm advice for would-be apprentices:

Absorb instruction like a sponge — and, even better, be quiet.

All renowned chefs expect — and want — to transmit their knowledge to the next generation. Conticini is no exception, and, like his peers, expects his apprentices to remain silent and listen to what he has to say — then follow through as told.

He said that many who interview are sure they know how to bake a croissant until the time comes and they cannot. Hence the need for on-the-job training — learning by doing.

Conticini said there is no substitute for a good apprenticeship. Cookery school can teach you only so much. You have to know what the actual working environment is like, whether it is a restaurant or a pastry kitchen. The main problem is that there are fewer bakeries in France to meet demand.

He says that young people should definitely finish secondary school and pass their baccalauréat, the equivalent of an American high school diploma. Then they can go on to decide what sort of restaurant/catering course to take and gain on-the-job experience at the same time.

Technical recipe development

Along with other great chefs, Conticini is focussing on reducing fats and sugars without compromising taste and textures.

This involves understanding the molecular structures of mousses and cakes. He gave a detailed description of how he has made his cream fillings lighter by replacing fat with air and gelatin, both of which, oddly, give a better structure and enhanced flavour.

One of RMC’s panellists said it was like listening to a NASA engineer. Conticini said that, in a sense, he is an engineer because there are many technical aspects to creating new methods in pastry making.

Another panellist countered, ‘Surely you are an artist, first and foremost’. He replied that he was not an artist at all. There are precise techniques and measurements to master. Whilst there is creativity, all of that comes from understanding the underlying basics and knowing how to employ them.

After the November 2015 attacks

Conticini said that sales took a hit after the Paris attacks last November.

Footfall is also down. Yet, online sales have increased. People are hesitant about going into Paris.

That said, Christmas was a busy time. Sixty employees started fulfilling orders at 10 p.m. on December 23. They worked through the night to have cakes and pastries ready for pick up on Christmas Eve.

His customers have been asking for the more classic pastries since November 13. He surmises that remembering one’s childhood through sweet favourites provides a measure of comfort.

The future

Although Conticini occasionally has overseas assignments, he has no plans to open shops in foreign countries. He wants to be near his wife — his childhood sweetheart — and daughter before she grows up and leaves home.

In September 2015, he opened a cookery school featuring short classes which teach the basics of understanding flavours and making pastries to the general public.

He is convinced that anyone can make good desserts provided they have the right instructions. He promised to send Les Grandes Gueules the recipe for the cake he brought them.

Ultimately, he wants to transmit his knowledge as broadly as possible.

Les Grandes Gueules have had other recent interviews with French chefs. More will follow here. You’ll find much of what they say is similar, with sharing knowledge and a generous spirit coming first and foremost.

I will have links to this series on my Recipes / Health / History page under ‘Great chefs’.

The following is a reprint of the entry I posted at Orphans of Liberty on January 22, 2015.

It will help us to understand the Islam of today:

The French newsweekly Marianne has featured excellent analyses of the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket attacks. Some of them are in abridged form on the magazine’s new website.

One of their journalists, Eric Conan, looked at the development of radical Islam (16-22 January 2015 issue, p. 16):

After a century of colonial domination, with no leadership since the end of the last caliphate in 1924, the Islamic world was once again in flux, torn between partisans of modernity (a Turkish or Tunisian version of Islam) and those who wanted a return to the glorious past of centuries of rapid expansion by sword and hunting down infidels.

He added that André Malraux understood that events in the 21st century would revolve around this conflict.

Conan says that the author and first Minister of Cultural Affairs never uttered the words often attributed to him:

The 21st century will be religious or it won’t happen.

He went on to cite what Malraux wrote in 1956:

The big phenomenon of our era is the violence of the Islamic eruption. Underestimated by most of our contemporaries, this rise of Islam can be compared analogically to the early days of communism from Lenin’s time. The consequences of this phenomenon are still unpredictable …

Africa will not be unaffected by this phenomenon for long … The Western world hardly seems prepared to confront this problem.

This morning’s RMC talk show discussion revolved around the violence and insularity in France’s poor suburbs. Mohammed Chirani, a consultant in public policy who was closely involved with this demographic between 2009 and 2013, says that those who live there must stop denying the reality of their situation.

He told the other panellists on Les Grandes Gueules that he could not put all of the stark truth in his book Réconciliation Française because most readers would have found it too alarming.

Chirani said that whilst the government can implement programmes in schools to help integrate these children into society, no real progress can be made until families admit that life in these suburbs is violent and dysfunctional. Violence in the streets and at home — notional conflict resolution — will lead some youths to pursue religious extremism. This can stop only when residents of these areas admit they have a problem and start changing their behaviour.

He posited that this continued denial has also led to the many conspiracy theories about the Paris attacks now circulating in households in these vulnerable areas. Teachers emailing RMC — and commenting online elsewhere — reveal that students of all ages are convinced the attacks did not happen as shown on television news. These children receive their news from a handful of popular conspiracy sites and from what their parents tell them.

Clearly, much work needs to be done, but a government educational programme on French values is unlikely to help.

Chirani and his colleagues in the Radicalisation Awareness Network will probably be able to do more. I wish them much success.

Gosh, the Pope really comes out with some strange statements when he is on a plane. Is high altitude a problem for him?

A few days ago he said he would meet an insult about his mother by throwing a punch.

On Tuesday, January 20, on a flight from the Philipines to Rome, he said:

Catholics do not have to breed “like rabbits” and should instead practise “responsible parenting”, Pope Francis said on Monday.

The Revd Patrice Gourrier, a Catholic priest and regular panellist on RMC’s Les Grandes Gueules, was interviewed by phone today by the show’s hosts.

He said that the context was a question from the press about a woman who had had seven caesarian sections and was pregnant again; the pontiff was merely saying that there was no Catholic obligation to keep getting pregnant.

Gourrier added that he thought it was a positive statement:

This is the first time a Pope has advocated sexual intercourse for pleasure and not for procreation.

Maybe so, however, one of the panellists took exception to comparing human sexuality with that of animals, particularly when talking about poor people. She also said it was ‘colonialist’ language.

I agree with her on the Pope’s unfortunate choice of words.

There is a difficulty in telling people, particularly those in the developing world, that they can have intercourse without getting pregnant. The Pope recommends natural methods of birth control. Every woman I know who has used those methods has a house full of children. It’s a bit difficult having intercourse and avoiding pregnancy without birth control or surgical intervention.

The Pope went on to criticise organisations who were supplying condoms to Africans, accusing these groups of ‘ideological colonisation’.

This week, pundits on France’s RMC’s mid-morning show Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) have been debating how far freedom of speech should go.

On Monday, January 19, opinion was divided among them and those ringing in:

Charlie Hebdo should continue as they are.

Charlie Hebdo should stop publishing cartoons of Islam’s prophet; anything else they do is acceptable.

– A phone-in poll on the subject started with 42% of respondents saying they objected to Charlie Hebdo cartoons of said prophet; ten minutes later, 52% were opposed.

RMC’s hosts and panellists discussed the Pope’s prounouncement insinuating that an insult should be met with physical violence. They were surprised and bemused.

His comment was breathtakingly weird:

Gesturing towards Alberto Gasparri, a Vatican official who organises pontifical trips and who was standing next to him on board the plane, he said: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose.”

He then went further and said that no one should make fun of religion. Those who do should expect the worst:

They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.

What about what a lot of us who are 50+ were taught at home: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’? Nor will cartoons, for that matter.

An article in Le Monde asked if there was a difference between offensive cartoons and the anti-semitic speech of the controversial French comedian Dieudonné. With regard to the latter, anti-Semitic speech and text are illegal. That said, some judicial decisions against him have been overturned. Therefore, even when there are laws, nuances abound.

Charlie Hebdo, too, has fallen foul of the law. Le Monde‘s article has a bar chart of the number of lawsuits brought against them since 1992. They had none in 2014 and five other years. Their peak year was 1998, when ten formal complaints were filed.

Another article provides detail on the lawsuits. Most came from ‘far right’ political parties, then from the media and Catholic organisations, then from Muslim groups. After the Millennium, the magazine won most of its cases, citing French legislation guarding freedom of the press.

Going back to the Pope’s statements, he — and many others in the West — lay the blame at cartoonists’ feet. I would ask:

What did the victims of the kosher supermarket attack do to offend anyone? Nothing.

What did the policewoman killed in cold blood on January 8 do to offend anyone? Nothing.

Granted, the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly had different targets. The former were notionally defending their prophet and the latter targeted police and Jewish people. However, gratuitous violence will continue and more innocent people will die — whether we do anything offensive or not.

It’s odd that no one is talking any more about how offensive these three men were in killing law-abiding Frenchmen and women. The narrative has turned inward once again to ‘How can we law-abiding, reasonable people stop offending others?’

Our politicians are not helping, either. The same things are being said now in France which were said in 2001 in the US and in 2005 in the UK. In the latter case, in 2006, the Labour government issued a sweeping hate crimes law in response to pressure from the Muslim community after the London bombings when the rest of us were still reeling in shock and sadness. No one wanted reprisals. We just wanted to mourn our dead.

It’s hard to disagree with this sentiment from a National Review reader:

I don’t know what’s more insulting. That some [person] thinks he’s superior to me because his parents raised him in a certain religion or that my own government thinks that if they mention this religion after terrible things happen, I’ll go out and start murdering its adherents.

Yes, the fact that our governments do not seem to trust us is worrying — and rather offensive.

Church and state averypoliticalwomancomIn the 1950s and early 1960s, the Venerable Fulton J Sheen not only had his own television shows on American network television and radio but was also a guest on secular shows, one of them being What’s My Line?

No doubt one or two nationally renowned Protestant ministers also appeared on secular programmes. Although alive at the time, I was too young to know.

Today, that happens rarely. The last secular programme which had clergy on from time to time was CNN’s The Larry King Show. Although I am not King’s biggest fan, it is to his credit that he invited the Revd John MacArthur several times as well as priests and rabbis.

It’s unclear whether the strident tone of the Moral Majority’s clergy in the 1970s put an end to inviting men of the cloth on secular shows, but, surely, they do not represent the vast majority of ordained men and women.

Perhaps it is time for producers of secular television and radio programmes to reconsider their moratorium on clergy.

One happy exception to this is France’s RMC radio. The morning current affairs show Les Grandes Gueules (The Big Mouths) has a priest from Poitiers — the Revd Patrice Gourrier — on frequently. He is pastor of Saint-Porchaire Church, which dates from the 11th century.

Père Gourrier adopts an appropriate stance of taking his faith seriously but wearing it lightly. He mixes well with everyone and has a quick wit. On Thursday, April 3, his fellow panellists included an atheist and a conservative homosexual jurist.

The atheist declared herself within seconds after being introduced. Gourrier made a witty riposte and the two conversed during breaks in the show.

Homosexuality also came up in the discussion, specifically around France’s Christian Democratic Party. The jurist, formerly an active party member himself until he came out, said that considering homosexuality as a sin was an archaic stance. Gourrier gently countered that the New Testament tells us that it is an ‘abomination’ and still a sin.

However, he warned against people defining themselves by family values alone. He added that it had become an ‘obsession’ for some French conservative politicians which, he reckoned, would produce ‘interesting psychoanalysis’. As a practicing clinical psychologist, he should know.

Gourrier is intellectually curious and well informed on the issues of the day; he reminds me of priests and Protestant ministers I have known over the years. The world must have millions of clergy around the world just like them. Why don’t the mainstream media invite them on to news shows? Not all would wish to accept, but even a few more would reveal to viewers and listeners that balanced Christianity can be in the world — intelligently — but not of it.

Since Gourrier began his regular appearances on Les Grandes Gueules, he occasionally meets RMC listeners who are travelling through or taking their holidays in or near Poitiers.

For him, attending church is essential. Last year, he deplored the family values marches in Paris which were held on a Sunday: ‘I fear my pews will empty on the protest days. They would do better coming to Mass.’

On April 3, he deplored attacks on women as part of a worrying trend objectifying people instead of viewing them as human beings. He also said that he was appalled by an increase in racial harrassment, which he also sees in Poitiers: ‘What these people don’t realise is that those attacked are not only French but are also doctors and lawyers’.

Gourrier said that it is entirely ‘normal’ for us to gravitate towards those who are most like us: ‘We can tolerate minor differences which add interest but nothing too far out of the norm’. That said, he added, over the past five years, the economic crisis has exacerbated racially-motivated verbal and physical assaults: ‘Sadly, hard times bring out the worst elements of human nature’.

One of the show’s hosts, Olivier Truchot, noted that every racial grouping in France had its part to play, not just French Europeans. The conservative jurist added that another part of the problem was the onslaught of ‘diversity’ messages ‘every day, morning to night — people are fed up’. Another panellist wryly told him, ‘A bit like your homosexual lobby. So there are gays. We don’t need to be told anymore. Please — keep it to yourselves’.

Still, in France, as anywhere else in the West, RMC’s callers lamented that they couldn’t correct certain colleagues without being called a racist by everyone else.

But I digress.

Gourrier’s measured, intelligent discourse, 15 books and his Twitter account are persuading lapsed Catholics to return to the Church.

An article in La Nouvelle Republique tells us that his parishoners avail themselves of printed copies of all his Sunday sermons, which contain flashcodes leading to a video version on Dailymotion.

Gourrier told the paper that a life in the Church and in Poitiers saved him. When he began working, it was as an editor and a publishing house director. He lived comfortably in Paris’s 15th arrondissement. All the same, he felt that he lacked something. He reflected on his childhood when he would go off alone to read the New Testament during lunch at school. He entered seminary at the age of 23 but left, possibly fearing where that life would lead him. In the 1990s, he returned and was ordained at the age of 40 in 2000.

He will be leaving Poitiers this year for health reasons (severe GI-tract problems) and because the diocese is reorganising the parishes. However, he will continue in some capacity with the Church, saying that ‘we need more mission work for priests’.

Meanwhile, Catholics in Poitiers can attend his Sunday Masses — ‘beautiful, traditional’ ones — because, as he explains, ‘people need a well-established ritual’.

Returning to Archbishop Fulton J Sheen, Benedict XVI declared him Venerable in July 2012. In a fascinating article excerpted below, National Catholic Register tells us how mainstream media aided his ministry. Emphases mine:

A consummate communicator, Archbishop Sheen hosted the evening radio program The Catholic Hour for 20 years, and his Emmy award-winning Life Is Worth Living (1951-1957) and The Fulton Sheen Program (1961-1968) became some of the most-watched television shows airing at the time. He authored numerous books and is often referred to as one of the first televangelists.

He harnessed the new media of his day — radio and television — and used those tools to lead others to Christ,” said Msgr. Deptula. “We can look to him to see how to bring the eternal news of Jesus Christ to our modern world.”

As important as his works, Bishop Jenky also noted Archbishop Sheen’s life of holiness.

One of his greatest gifts was his example of prayer, preaching and teaching — especially his prayer before the Eucharist,” said Bishop Jenky. “His life of prayer began as a seminarian. As an associate pastor of a parish in Peoria, he had a huge impact on bringing that parish back to life. He said that miracle came from the time he spent on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament.”

He constantly preached that, even for the most hardworking priest, the most important time would be the time he spends in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament,” said Bishop Jenky. “I can’t speak of anyone who spoke more eloquently about this, and he lived it every day of his life.”

We need more Fulton J Sheens in today’s media — balanced Catholic and Protestant clergy. May God bring them forward. And may secular programme commissioners and producers see the need for inviting them on air.

A brief post in which to thank RMC (French radio) for not going on holiday during July and August.

Indeed, ‘RMC takes no holiday’ (‘RMC ne prend pas de vacances’) was their summer slogan, and one hopes that their strategy paid off. Their ratings went up between April and June 2013, placing them just behind public radio station France Inter in greater Paris (Île de France). It will be interesting to see what the next set of ratings says.

I have no interest commercially or promotionally in the station other than to say that RTL, Europe1 and the rest produced dire programmes over the past several weeks. I’m merely a daily listener of RMC — sometimes other commercial French stations.

With all that happens in the news, especially domestically, is taking a broadcast holiday a wise one? RMC kept up with all its regular programming and introduced replacement guest hosts where necessary. Shouldn’t all the other stations?

La Lettre, which concentrates on French radio, notes that holidaymakers prefer lighter programming to the usual cut and thrust of news analysis or socio-psychological discussions. That said, whilst La Lettre advises lighter shows they warn against going too far in this vein. They base this on increased radio audiences last summer for the 2012 London Olympics, despite people being on holiday. Incidentally, men between the ages of 35 and 49 years of age are still the principal audience during July and August. This explains why talk radio and interview shows are male-dominated. Men also tend to listen to most of a show whereas women wander off to do other things.

Happily, this week, regular programmes are back with la rentrée — the return to school and work.

I am delighted to see that RMC’s Eric Brunet is back, continuing with his series on the waste of public money: ‘Thank you, French men and women. Thank you, taxpayers’.

Even if you do not live in France but are an EU ‘citizen’, you are most likely paying for such things as the following:

Eric Brunet RMC Facebook 1173868_10151805273713094_1784349877_nWatching La Vuelta a Espana (cycling tour) this week, SpouseMouse and I are wondering how many British pounds have contributed to the resurfacing of their roads. The commentary has noted the Spanish efforts, but what about the rest of us in the EU? Certainly, one can make the same argument for the Tour de France.

And, yes, presumably, some of our taxes have paid for the aforementioned regional information centre in Lille. How many Britons, Germans, Spaniards, et al, have any appreciation of and access to that?

The good burghers of Lille would counter, ‘Oui, but we are paying for your projects, too!’ Swings and roundabouts. The issue is — where does it all end? Furthermore, is this worthwhile for our respective countries and taxpayers?

Merci beaucoup, RMC, for your continuing summer coverage. (Yes, Brunet did go on holiday but Christophe Bourdet filled in with the same style and quality.)

You can read and listen to more about ill-spent taxpayers’ money on RMC’s Carrément (‘Frankly’) Brunet page. For France alone, this totals over €1.5bn.

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