FLAT EARTH

Sweet nothings at ground zero

I SEE the French have cleverly divided people against their nuclear testing plans into two groups - the "sincere" and the "insincere". Japan for example is "sincere", whereas Australia is just "politically motivated". What this really means is Japan is a big, rich country and France would sincerely miss selling it lots of perfume and wine, whereas Australia is quite a small one whose market may be jettisoned.

By a trick of geography, the nearer you get to Mururoa atoll, the smaller and poorer are the neighbouring countries. So we arrive at a lucid Parisian paradox: the more chance you and your descendants have of actually being irradiated, the more contemptible your protests really are.

Meanwhile, a fine example of synchronicity: on the day before France announced it will eventually turn over the radiant lagoon to Club Med (or Club Merde as our Aussie mates now call it ), the photograph above arrived on our desk.

It is a montage dated 1988 and comes from the Musee de l'Elysee in Lausanne, which seems to suggest that in the Francophone world there is an urge to add a dash of interest, a pleasant shudder of horror, to those long empty hours at the beach.

And who should be leading the way into this new territory? The Paris papers last week splashed pictures of Jacques Chirac, Europe's most magnificent ruler, tripping across the sands near Fort Bregancon, wearing striped Bermudas with shiny black shoes and formal socks pulled up to pallid mid-calf.

Rasher moments

IN the real France, la France profonde, of course, these glaring mirages from modern life are not to be found. There the venerable and patient rhythms of rural life continue like the drops of wine through the press. At Trie-sur-Baise in the south-west of France, we called in last week on the village's traditional pig-squealing contest, where participants compete in imitating the squeals pigs make at birth and death, and also at what is described as "another important event during the life of a pig". It is perhaps significant, as the birth rate drops, that the imitation which most appealed to the judges was not of the birth, or even the "important event" in question, but a rendition which "recalled, very faithfully, the death of the pig."

Hop off you frogs

IT'S A terrifying thing, filial ingratitude, but there's one enjoyable spin-off from the flight of Saddam's two beautiful daughters to Jordan. And that is hearing Iraqi rhetoric in full spate once more. Remember the Gulf War? When the phrase "mother of all battles" entered the language? And Margaret Thatcher was described as the "spotted serpent spewing venom". How well that resounded through Baghdad and leafy Canonbury!

A not very exhaustive study of Baghdad broadcasts last week revealed that while the "enemies of Iraq" (that's you) are "croaking like frogs" to celebrate son-in-law Hussein Kamel's defection, in fact you're all backing a losing horse and a "spent and useless card", an obnoxious insect which "secretly and viciously used to bite here and there", and furthermore a "cancerous tumour we had to get rid of".

Up yours

A GOOD week for finger- wagging, especially at Japan. Naturally it was the Chinese who provided the most exquisitely complicated example, when they operated on an 80- year-old woman caught in a bomb blast in 1940. "My bottom went red, but that was all," she recalled. Surgeons removed from her left buttock "a bomb fragment shaped like a fingertip - a witness of the aggressive war launched by Japan during World War II," state media said.

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