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July 24 2012

Monsieur Hollande's holiday looks set to pass normality test

Staycation at no-frills traditional summer residence would please austerity-hit French after Sarkozy's ostentatious jet-setting

Gone, it seems, are the heady summer days when a French president could spend his holidays on a billionaire friend's luxury yacht or jet off to New Hampshire for a couple of weeks; gone, too, the possibility of enjoying the five-star hospitality of a friendly dictator, generous African autocrat or wealthy industrialist.

The choice of holiday destination has become somewhat limited for the French president, François Hollande, having sold himself as Monsieur Normal, once declared "I don't like the rich", and draw up a "morality code" for his administration.

Add the constraints of security and the austerity required in an economic crisis, and even Hollande's second home, near Cannes, is too risky and too "showbiz".

With time and options running out, it has been revealed that Hollande's partner, Valérie Trierweiler, visited the traditional presidential summer residence of Fort de Brégançon, on the French Riviera.

Trierweiler made a trip down south to the 11th-century fortress with a security officer last week, claimed Le Parisien, to check it out as a suitable spot for the couple's two-week holiday at the beginning of August.

A magnificent edifice atop a rock in the Mediterranean may not be everyone's idea of a "normal" spot for a holiday. But the fort, connected by jetty to the mainland and the nearby village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, on the western edge of the Côte Varoise, has been the property of the French state and a presidential summer residence for over four decades.

In the past leaders have tended to love or hate Brégançon, with its cramped rooms, cold stone walls and austere interior. Charles de Gaulle was said to have been so uncomfortable during a sleepless night in a too-small bed at the fort in 1964 that he never set foot in the place again.

Some in Hollande's entourage have suggested that even Brégançon, with its private beach – albeit one on which it is impossible to avoid the prying lenses of the paparazzi – may be too grand for a French leader seeking to prove his normality. But, like the holidays of the British prime minister, David Cameron, in Cornwall, the choice shows a certain patriotism.

Marc Concas, the head of the regional council and a Socialist party member, thought it unlikely Hollande would spend many holidays at Brégançon, however.

"It's too ostentations," he said. "Personally, I can imagine that François Hollande will come and visit the place. I'm sure he will: not to stay there but to see if it would be useful to get rid of it so it at least so it's no longer a cost to the taxpayer."

Hollande will be mindful that it was Nicolas Sarkozy's penchant for expensive holidays that contributed to his damaging "bling-bling" image. Days after his election victory in 2007 Hollande's predecessor and his then wife, Cécilia, were in the Mediterranean, off Malta, on a yacht belonging to the billionaire French businessman Vincent Bolloré.

Despite the criticism, a few months later the Sarkozys flew to the United States to holiday in a €22,000 (£17,000) a week luxury villa at Wolfeboro, where the president had brunch with his US counterpart, George W Bush. Later, with his third wife, Carla Bruni, Sarkozy flew to Egypt in Bolloré's Falcon 900 private jet to stay in an apartment belonging to an Abu Dhabi sheikh. Holidays in Jordan, Mexico and Brazil followed.

After his defeat, in May, the Sarkozys were in Marrakech staying in a luxury apartment belonging to King Mohammed. Shortly afterwards, they were in Canada holidaying at the home of a wealthy media, insurance and investment tycoon.

Apart from a few days in 2007 near Tangiers, in Morocco, where he was photographed on a public beach with "no towels and no frills", according to journalists, Hollande has chosen to spend most of his holidays in France.

He is a familiar face at Mougins, near Cannes, where Picasso lived and where he has a second home. But he spent last summer with Trierweiler at Hossegor, in the Landes, on the south-western coast, where they were photographed cycling and enjoying the local oysters.

When approached by reporters Hollande told them he was on holiday "like everyone else". The local paper was quick to point out the contrast with Sarkozy: "Two men, two styles", it wrote.


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May 11 2010

Metz's magic lantern

French president hails landmark Paris gallery's Metz outpost as culturally and economically important to deprived region
In pictures: the all-new Pompidou in Metz

Nicolas Sarkozy hailed a renaissance of one of France's most overlooked regions today as he inaugurated the Centre Pompidou Metz, the first regional outpost of Paris's landmark gallery and a project expected to give a much-needed boost to the north-eastern Lorraine.

The distinctive building with its undulating roof was designed by the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and his French colleague Jean de Gastines. It has been variously compared to a Smurfs' house, a magic lantern and a Chinese hat, and its high-calibre modern art exhibitions are expected to attract around 200,000 visitors a year to the out-of-the-way city.

"The Lorraine has suffered greatly in recent decades from restructuring, transfers, changes, the textile and steel industries, the mines, the military," said the French president, standing inside the entrance hall of the new gallery ahead of its official opening to the public tomorrow.

"This museum, which is a strong cultural gesture, is at the same time part of a strategic policy of economic development ... In this remarkable architectural gesture, we will from now on be able to take hold of the renaissance of Metz and the renaissance of the Lorraine," he said.

The first step in France's attempts to decentralise its cultural treasures away from the capital, the Parisian flagship's €72.5m (£62.2m) sister gallery was inspired by the Guggenheim Bilbao – the Frank Gehry structure that turned the struggling Basque seaport into a sophisticated citybreak destination. Just as the Louvre hopes to do in the former mining town of Lens, where it is planning to open its own offshoot in 2012, the board of the Centre Pompidou Metz (CPM) is determined to emulate the Bilbao boom.

Metz, a military city long fought over by France and Germany, is located in an unglamorous part of the country and is expected to be hit hard by cuts to the armed forces brought in by Sarkozy's government. Although connected since 2007 by high-speed rail to the capital in 80 minutes, it has yet to experience the TGV "electroshock" from which other French cities have benefited.

"The Pompidou is going to radically alter the image of our town," said Jean-Marie Rausch, the city's former mayor, who believes that as many as 400,000 people could flock to the CPM each year. In a literal sense it already has – growing out of former wasteland, the tent-like structure with its white Teflon roof dominates the Amphithéatre district.

While it will not have a permanent collection of its own, the CPM will be able to borrow from its Parisian equivalent in order to put on exhibitions which its directors say will be of the highest quality. As Europe's biggest modern art museum, the Centre Pompidou in Paris has a dazzling collection of around 65,000 works and only enough space to show a fraction of that at a time.

For its inaugural exhibition, entitled Chefs-d'oeuvre? – Masterpieces? – director Laurent Le Bon has acquired around 700 works from its sister gallery and dozens from other institutions in an exploration of what constitutes a masterpiece. Paintings by Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky and Miro are amongst those on display. One, Henri Matisse's final self-portrait called La Tristesse du Roi, was transported to Metz despite its great fragility and value.


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February 12 2010

Chinese artist's work removed from Paris gallery in censorship row

Ko Siu Lan's banners satirising Sarkozy slogan deemed 'too explosive' for public exhibition

A British curator has accused France's most prestigious art school of "unambiguous censorship" after a work satirising one of Nicolas Sarkozy's campaign slogans was taken down hours after going on display.

Clare Carolin, a senior tutor at the Royal College of Art in London, who was working on the ill-fated project at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, condemned the decision to remove the work, which was deemed "too explosive".

An installation of four banners by the Chinese artist Ko Siu Lan on the exterior of the Beaux-Arts building in central Paris featured the words "earn", "less", "work" and "more" as a play on Sarkozy's phrase "Work more to earn more".

The now notorious slogan was used by the president when he ran for election in 2007. In a country reeling from recession, it has since become a symbol of what critics say are his rightwing agenda's failures.

Sources inside the Beaux-Arts indicated that the work had provoked complaints from the ministry of education because of its politically sensitive nature.

"This is unambiguous censorship," said Carolin, who had been working with Ko on the project as part of an exhibition co-organised by the RCA, the Beaux-Arts and Singapore's Lasalle College of the Arts.

Ko, a 32-year-old artist who spent two years in Paris before returning to Beijing where she now lives, said she was shocked and saddened by the ban. "I come from China and we know what to expect there but I would not have expected this kind of brutal censorship in France," she said.

There was no indication that criticism of the work had come from the Elysée palace. A statement from the Beaux-Arts said the work had been removed because its "explicitly political" message could violate "public service neutrality".


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