Our Man in Paris: Surrender-monkeys eat the tastiest bananas

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American television networks may be full of disobliging stuff about the unwarlike French but their contempt does not extend to rejection of French military food. At least one of the US networks has been trying for a number of weeks, I hear, to buy several hundred French army "meals ready to eat" (MREs) – the combat rations issued to front-line soldiers.

American television networks may be full of disobliging stuff about the unwarlike French but their contempt does not extend to rejection of French military food. At least one of the US networks has been trying for a number of weeks, I hear, to buy several hundred French army "meals ready to eat" (MREs) – the combat rations issued to front-line soldiers.

During the first Gulf War and the Balkan wars, American news correspondents developed an intense loathing for the MREs issued to US troops. They discovered, by swapping with French colleagues, or on assignment with French units, that the French equivalent – rations de combat individuels réchauffable (individual, re-heatable combat rations) – were exquisite.

With a second Gulf war looming, one of the big three American news networks has been trying to persuade the French military to supply it with a bulk order of MREs to feed its correspondents and technicians in the field.

To no avail, it seems. The defence ministry in Paris has declined to supply the meals on the grounds that they might imply – if they fell into Iraqi hands – clandestine support for an American military adventure of which France officially disapproves. This is rather petty. France has a perfect right to refuse America its political or military support. That is no reason to deny American television its gourmet combat rations.

The French rations de combat 1.5 kilo pack – enough to feed one person for a day – consists of three meals. Breakfast is dried bread or pain de guerre (war bread) and instant coffee. Lunch and dinner are selected from 14 different four-course menus. The hors d'oeuvre could be rillette de saumon or paté de campagne or a vegetable soup. The main dish could be saumon au riz et légumes or paella or tajine de poulet (a Moroccan dish) or cassoulet, or navarin d'agneau (a kind of lamb stew). There is also cheese and dried fruit.

The spokesman in the French defence ministry who gave me these sample menus is himself an army officer. He had eaten many of them while he was serving in Bosnia, he said, chuckling at the recollection. "They are indeed delicious and many of our colleagues from other countries were rather jealous."

By contrast, the Pentagon's Defense Feeding Program at the Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts, has invented what it calls the "indestructible sandwich" – a barbecued chicken roll that can be stored for three years at room temperature and dropped out of helicopters.

Small surprise, therefore, to learn that it was this unit that was responsible for the proliferation of Spam during the Second World War.

There is a book to be written on the subject of combat rations. Did you know, for instance, that the Mongol hordes were issued with sharpened straws to suck blood from their horses when food ran short? Or that chips were first devised by chefs serving with Napoleon's Grande Armée as a quick way of feeding soldiers in the field? Or that the reputation of camembert as the prince of French cheeses was established when Norman cheese-makers supplied a free example every day to each French soldier in the trenches in the First World War?

To be fair (even if fairness is going out of fashion), the Pentagon claims to have made great strides in the quality of its MREs since the 1991 Gulf War. In those days, a typical meal was "smoky frankfurters", which came to be known as "the four fingers of death".

Gerard Darsch, head of the Defense Feeding Program, told Fortune magazine recently that he had been obliged to improve the menus by abusive letters from ordinary GIs. It was not the four-letter words in the letters that had persuaded him, he said, it was the "intriguing combination of four-letter words".

The upgraded American MREs now come in 24 menus, which include such delicacies as pasta alfredo, thai chicken and seafood jambalaya. They are said to be at least as good as airline food.

US television war correspondents will soon have a chance to find out for themselves. With great short-sightedness, Paris is passing up a wonderful opportunity to "re-heat" the attitudes of American TV journalists towards all things French.

The very latest in loft living

The two biggest sources of complaint to the mayor of Paris are dogs and pigeons. When he was elected two years ago, Bertrand Delanoe promised to get rid forever of the estimated 15 tons of dog poo deposited each day (don't ask who counts) on the streets of the world's most beautiful city. His policy of fining dog owners and handing out free poop-scoop bags has been an almost total failure.

Having failed in one campaign, Delanoe has started a second. Last week, surrounded by pigeon-loving old ladies, he opened the capital's first municipal pigeon loft, a rather beautiful, wooden, tiled structure on a 10ft-high mast in the 14th arrondissement. The idea is to attract pigeons to one place, where they can be given birth-control drugs and their droppings disposed of more easily. Further lofts are planned: one for each of the 20 arrondissements by the year 2007.

Having fought our own unavailing war against the pigeons which occupy ledges just outside our flat, we are on Delanoe's side. So are all the city's associations of animal and bird lovers who disliked the old policy, begun under the previous mayor-but-one (Jacques Chirac). This consisted of catching pigeons in nets and crushing them alive.

Delanoe is missing a trick, with his first campaign, however. What he needs to do is build a series of enormous dog kennels in which all the chiens of the capital could be forcibly confined. Or maybe a series, arrondissement by arrondissement, of giant canine toilets.

All hail Ryanair's boss

British expatriates in France, miffed by Ryanair's decision to close several flourishing air links between Stansted and provincial airports convenient to them, will be pleased to hear of the latest media embarrassment to befall Michael O'Leary, the budget airline's chief executive. To beat the Dublin traffic, O'Leary bought himself a taxi and a taxi licence so that he could legally drive himself along the bus and taxi lanes. However, since news of his wheeze was leaked to the Irish press, Dubliners have been scouring the streets for O'Leary's cab. Under the city's rules, they have a right to jump into any taxi without a passenger when it stops at a traffic light.

Anyone who has travelled with Ryanair from Dublin to "Paris Beauvais" airport – which is little more than a hut and a tent in darkest Picardy – might not risk getting in a cab with O'Leary. They might find themselves in a large field, many miles from their chosen destination.

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