With its buttery sauces and meat-headed contempt for vegetarians, French cooking can sometimes seem like an artery-clogging relic from a distant age.
It should come as little surprise, then, that Unesco is being lobbied to give the national cuisine a status similar to that enjoyed by ancient monuments such as Stonehenge and the temple of Angkor Wat.
Backed by Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse and other eminent chefs, a phalanx of cassoulet and coq au vin diehards are pushing to get Unesco to include French cooking on a forthcoming list of “intangible” cultural treasures of global significance.
The UN body counts the protection of cultural diversity among its various responsibilities. It said Wednesday that it was too early to tell whether a national store of recipes would fit into its definition of intangibles whose continuing existence benefits the human race.
However, the prognosis does not look good. Unesco’s preferences in this field have previously been skewed towards practices such as Vedic chanting, Wayang puppet theatre, Vanuatu sand drawing and the oral traditions of the Aka pygmies of central Africa.
Even worse, Mexico has already tried to get Unesco to classify its own cooking as a masterpiece of global stature. The attempt failed. Can the French now prove that the andouillette is mightier than the burrito?
Big was beautiful at Brussels’ annual European of the Year awards, a black-tie shindig where the voting seemed to be swayed somewhat by whether the public had actually heard of the nominees as much as by any achievement.
Stateswoman of the year went to Angela Merkel who, as German chancellor, is leader of the European Union’s biggest country. Josep Borrell, president of the European parliament, eclipsed his lesser colleagues to be named MEP of the year.
So perhaps it was little surprise that José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, won the top gong at the glittering occasion and was named European of the Year.
The annual event, hosted by the European Voice, did honour some underdogs though, with Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, Skype co-founders, picking up the award for businessmen of the year for transforming the world of telephony.
The most popular winner, however, appeared to be Colin Firth, the British actor, named campaigner of the year for his championing of the completion of the Doha world trade round.
Sadly for many in the audience, Firth was only able to attend by video link, and even that broke down.
Why stop now?
Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, has a love for the colourful metaphor, regularly describing the impending mess over Turkey’s bid to join the European club as a potential “train crash”.
But on Wednesday the ashen-faced Finn explained that matters had become too serious to play with words.
“I am not in the mood for analogies,” he explained as he announced new delays to the Turkish membership bid.
This self-imposed discipline did not last long. “There is no freeze, no hibernation,” he said. “The train can continue to move forward.”
As for Ankara’s responsibility to get the process working smoothly again? “The ball is in their court,” he said. Then, warming to his theme: “There is still time for them to score a golden goal.”
It all brings to mind Tony Blair’s famous comment during a crucial moment in the Northern Ireland peace talks. “This is no time for soundbites,” the UK prime minister said. “I feel the hand of history on my shoulder.”
It seems that 419 scams have spread beyond their Nigerian homeland to Hong Kong.
In the 419 scam – named after section 419 of Nigeria’s penal code – a confidence trickster persuades a victim to deposit hundreds of dollars (or euros or pounds) into a bank account in the hope of receiving a much larger sum.
Recently there has been a spate of e-mails purporting to come from the Sai Wan Ho branch of Hang Seng Bank, offering “a obscured business proposal” [sic]: access to millions of dollars in the account of a recently deceased officer in the Iraqi army.
Although the scam’s location has changed, it’s nice to see that the scammers keep their stories topical. The classics of the genre include offers from the heirs or associates of President Abacha of Nigeria and Congo’s Laurent Kabila.
A recently updated version of the Sai Wan Ho effort offers $4.5m from the secret hordes of “the ousted Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussien” [sic], now that he is condemned to be hanged.
Europe may have eliminated its butter mountain and wine lake but it has now built up a chocolate mound.
The European parliament’s cellars are bulging with thousands of chocolate Advent calendars just a day before the season begins on December 1.
The European People’s party, the centre-right group dominated by Christian Democrats, has ordered 25 for each of its 264 members. Not that the bear pictured on them displays any overt religious message.
“They are being given out as promotional material with the group’s logo to visitors the same way as pens and pencils,” said one of the EPP’s little helpers.
He couldn’t say whether they would all be gone in time for Advent.
“With a sell-by date of March 2007, perhaps they are Easter calendars,” said one mischievous elf, displaying little seasonal spirit.
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