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Montpellier in the spotlight: development mania in France’s fastest-growing city

This sun-kissed city has just become Frances seventh largest on the back of students, biotech … and a lively skanking scene

This compact, sun-kissed city of 275,000 people, located six miles inland from Frances Mediterranean coast, should be passing Strasbourg as the countrys seventh-biggest. Any time now.

Often overlooked for the bigger southern metropolises of Toulouse and Nice, and even Provenal tourist-draws such as Avignon and Arles, Montpellier has been the fastest growing French city over the last half-century, more than doubling in size from only 119,000 in 1962.

Growing pains

Spend five minutes on 18th-century plaza Place de la Comdie, and youll feel the livening effects of the citys massive student intake, who comprise up to one-third of residents. But for some people, the growth has been too abrupt.

My feeling is that the city has lost a bit of its soul, says Marie Laure Anselme-Martin, 70, from a local family going back four generations. There are very few Montpellirains with real roots only about 15% of the population now. You could put us all in the zoo.

The citys journey from poky provincial capital started in the 1960s, when it was first swollen by the influx of pieds-noir (Christian and Jewish people whose families had migrated from all parts of the Mediterranean to French Algeria) and Spanish exiles from Franco. Enter outspoken socialist mayor Georges Frche. This frank mayor once declared he would name the municipalitys cleaning-supplies room after Franois Mitterand: Un ptit president, une petite salle. (A small president, a small room.) His development programme including the love-it-or-hate-it neoclassical Antigone quarter, and later the Jean Nouvel-designed town hall, a kind of black Rubiks cube made Montpellier Frances urbanist laboratory. Montpellier took off with him, says Anselme-Martin, even though she stood in opposition to Frche as a municipal councillor. When he arrived, the city raised the bar very high.

City in numbers

300 Annual days of sunshine.

2,680 Species in the Jardin des Plantes, Frances oldest botanical gardens.

82 Points with which Montpellier HSC did a Leicester and unexpectedly won the French football championship in 2011-12 for the sole time in their history. (Theyre currently mid-table.)

37 Percentage of youth unemployment in the city testament to ongoing economic stagnation in the south, and Montpelliers reputation as a cushy beach-bum option.

and pictures

Theres a Lynchian frisson to Montpellier by night, according to photographer Yohann Gozard. His local nightscapes are currently showing at La Panace gallerys Retour sur Mulholland Drive exhibition.

#sunset #montpellier #france

A post shared by Laurena Stanos (@laurenastanos) on

History in 100 words

Unlike its illustrious neighbours, Montpellier has no Greek or Roman heritage. First mentioned in AD 985, it grew to prominence in the Middle Ages, thanks partly to a school of medicine that quickly became a European leader and is now the worlds oldest active medical faculty. Former pharmacist Anselme-Martin says Montpelliers research culture is one of its highlights: I bathed in it. Ive got lots of friends in the research world, theyre people I appreciate because theyre humble. Open-mindedness was key: in 1180, William VIII decreed that anyone, including Jews and Muslims, could practice in Montpellier though not apothecaries, as Nostradamus, expelled for being one, would learn. Today, the medico-botanical influence is still evident in the scores of biotech and agribusiness companies.

Montpellier in sound and vision

Profound late-career Truffaut or misogynist misstep, depending on who youre talking to, the great director let his wandering eye rove on Montpelliers streets for 1977s The Man Who Loved Women. Here is local directors Yann Sinics airborne tribute to the film.

The Meds little-known skanking outpost, Montpellier has a vibrant roots-reggae scene dating back to the late 1990s. Since 2010, record label Salomon Heritage has taken the reins broadcasting the Jamaican sound system tradition to the Languedoc and further afield.

Whats everyone talking about?

Surprisingly for a small city, Montpellier has ranked high in recent studies of Frances most congested places, rivalling Marseille and Paris. Its less surprising when you look at the thick tangle of arterial roads and exurban sprawl surrounding it. Cutting a 12km scar through the red loam to the south of the city since 2014, is the massive A9 building site currently the countrys largest motorway construction project, designed to siphon off all non-commuter traffic and reroute it southwards.

Whats next for the city?

With real-estate development sprouting up on every side, Montpelliers mayor, Philippe Saurel, is still fixated on showy flagship projects. The Belaroia (jewel in Occitan) is a new luxury hotel and apartments complex expected to be completed opposite central Gare St Roch at the end of 2018, where a fifth tram line a new axis linking villages to the north and southwest may intersect by 2025.

Then there is the flashy 55m LArbre Blanc tower, stylistically situated between Japan and the Mediterranean. Anselme-Martin has her doubts: These showcase buildings are they going to work? Can people afford this housing? Because Languedoc-Roussillon is nearly Frances poorest region. Not much work, a lot of unemployment.

There are certainly signs of development mania. The overarching Occitan region recently withdraw its share of funding for a new 135m out-of-town train station already under construction, after learning that only four TGVs a day will stop there on its initial opening in 2018.

With all this activity, one thing is sure: Nantes, Frances sixth biggest city with a population of about 285,000, is now in Montpelliers sights.

Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro)

Au tour de @montpellier_ davoir sa photo spatiale! Je crois bien avoir loup de peu la Grande-Motte et Palavas-les-Flots #Proxima

January 30, 2017

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The lively but slightly-too-Saurel-friendly Gazette de Montpellier is the local Time Out. MontpellierCityCrunch is the buzziest events guide. The underground-orientated Jacker magazine is Montpelliers answer to the Beastie Boys Grand Royale.

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French trial reveals vast wealth of Equatorial Guinean president’s son

Teodorin Obiang, accused of plundering $115m, owns luxury properties, yachts, cars and Michael Jacksons crystal glove

The days of the Bugattis, the chateau Ptrus and the fine Parisian restaurants may be over for Teodorin Obiang at least in western Europe.

The son of Equatorial Guineas leader is due to go on trial for corruption and money laundering in a landmark case in France.

Obiang, the 47-year-old vice-president of the oil-rich but impoverished African country, faces an array of legal cases across Europe as authorities on the continent investigate the sources of his vast wealth and uncover new and even more extravagant ways that he spent some of it.

US officials have already forced Obiang to forfeit property after accusing him of shamelessly looting his country. In a settlement, Obiang agreed to hand over more than $30m (24.5m) worth of properties, including a vast villa in Malibu, California, and a dozen luxury cars.

Obiang, however, managed to keep his $38m private jet and collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia, which includes a crystal-studded glove.

Two Ferraris belonging to Teodorin Obiang are towed off the freight zone by police at Geneva airport. Photograph: Laurent Gillieron/AP

In Europe, Dutch, Swiss and French authorities have seized property including Obiangs 76-metre yacht, the Ebony Shine, and a mansion in Paris estimated to be worth $200m.

The mansion includes a cinema, spa, hair salon and sports room. Bathroom taps were covered in gold leaf while original paintings by Degas and Renoir hung on the walls.

Cars seized in Geneva included a Swedish-manufactured vehicle worth $2.8m and a $2m Bugatti Veyron.

French prosecutors allege that Obiang plundered nearly $115m between 2004-11 when he was agriculture minister for his father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979.

The post gave Obiang control over the lucrative timber industry. Proceeds from a so-called revolutionary tax imposed on wood sales was transferred to his personal accounts, prosecutors allege.

In court on Monday, one of Obiangs lawyers asked for the trial be suspended on the grounds that his client had not been given enough time to properly prepare his defence, having been summoned to trial just three weeks ago.
Were not talking about a moped theft charge, Emmanuel Marsigny told Reuters.

The trial marks a major shift for France, which has long turned a blind eye to corrupt African dictators buying Parisian real estate, enjoying spending sprees in the capital or on the Cote dAzur, or simply fleeing to the country when in difficulty.

The policy was seen as part of a wider attempt by France to maintain influence in former colonies, but also in Africa. Equatorial Guinea is a former Spanish colony.

A crystal glove worn by Michael Jackson at the 1983 Grammy awards. Photograph: EPA

The change is in part due to evolving popular and political values, greater media scrutiny at home and abroad, and nearly a decade of lobbying by anti-corruption campaigners.

In the beginning, there was simply no political will in France to listen to us, wrote one of the campaigners, William Bourdon from the Sherpa group, in September.

The move by Swiss authorities also indicates a tougher stance, observers say.

Obiang is expected to plead not guilty in the Paris court to charges of laundering the proceeds of corruption, embezzlement and misuse of public funds.

He has always said he earned the money legally in his country, Marsigny told Agence France-Presse news agency.

The defendant, who has failed with previous legal efforts to stop the trial, is not expected to attend or serve any sentence if he is convicted.

Campaigners say the case will set an important precedent and has cost Obiangs father diplomatic capital in the region.

Now the longest-serving African ruler, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo made his son vice-president in June just after being re-elected with his usual score of more than 90% of votes cast.

Born in 1969, Obiang was 10 when his father overthrew his bloodthirsty uncle, the dictator Francisco Macas Nguema. He has denied all wrongdoing and, during one of his appeals against the French trial, a lawyer acting for the French government said his client had a compulsive need to buy.

Obiang is known to have bought a crystal-covered glove worn by Michael Jackson during his Bad tour, which is worth hundreds of thousands of euros. Its whereabouts are unclear.

The US justice department said he embarked on a corruption-fuelled spending spree in the United States after racking up $300m through embezzlement, extortion and money laundering.

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The French Ideologues Who Inspired the Alt-Right

Elderly Frenchmen Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye are far from household names in Europe and the U.S. But their ideas have fueled white nationalism across both continents.”>

NICE, FranceAlain de Benoist is the prolific and quintessentially Gallic icon of Frances New Right, the political and philosophical school of thought that formed in Nice in January 1968and somehow wound up as a principal inspiration for Americas alt-right.

Benoist, 72, and Guillaume Faye, 67, another key figure in the often-controversial Nouvelle Droite who later broke with Benoist, are far from household names in Europe or the United States. But references to these two elderly French intellectuals pop up regularly in the alt-right and pro-Donald Trump forums on Reddit and 4chan. Their work is reviewed and promoted by many key white nationalists in the U.S., including Richard Spencer and Greg Johnson.

Ideas cribbed from the New Right, which peaked in the 1970s, are also part of the engine fueling the rapid rise of the extreme right in Europe, including the brand-new, anti-immigration National Party in Ireland, whose first meeting at a five-star hotel in Dublin was canceled this week after a public outcry.

In particular, Fayes Why We Fighta call to whites to unite against the colonization of Europe by non-whiteshas become the literary cri de coeur for right-wing nationalists all over the world, from 65-year-old Jared Taylor, the founder and editor of the white-supremacist American Renaissance magazine, to a young Swedish man called The Golden One who has thousands of followers on YouTube, to a 28-year-old Paris-based porn star-turned-alt-right goddess named Electre.

Earlier this year, Benoist and Faye were cited as dangerous influences by the Southern Poverty Law Center, alongside Rush Limbaugh and the Ku Klux Klan, after Breitbart News published a video made by members of the European anti-immigrant Identitarian youth movement.

The Identitarians formed in France in 2002 before spreading throughout Europeand they also cite Frances New Right as inspiration. Breitbart News calls them right-wing hipsters, and they champion Donald Trump as much as they do far-right politicians all over Europe, especially Frances Marine Le Pen of the National Front.

Benoist could have hardly imagined that one day hed help lead the charge against cuckservatives the world over.

Reached at his home in Paris this week, he laughed and then started coughing when asked if he ever envisioned that the ideas contained in his more than 100 bookssuch as Manifesto for a European Renaissance or On Being a Paganand his more than 2,000 articles could ever be linked with the real-estate developer soon to occupy the White House and his consigliere, Steve Bannon, the former chairman of Breitbart News.

Monsieur Trump? said Benoist. I know him only by reputation. Monsieur Bannon, non. I know nothing of their milieu and I find it hard to believe they know much about mine.

Benoists history with the New Right is as complicated as the movement itself, which was labeled racist and fascist in its early years but was more rooted in populist ultranationalism and opposed to multiculturalism, immigration, and the idea of the American melting pot forced on European culture than anything else.

The New Right grew out of the think tank called GRECE, formed in Nice, and was largely an academic pursuit into the early to mid-1970s, when it morphed into a set of ideals that led to various nationalist parties like Frances National Front.

Benoist, once the culture editor at Le Figaro, told The Daily Beast he feels some of the alt-right is white supremacist but rejects that label himself, and indeed he has written extensively against racism. Hes also long been opposed to the National Front, though many others in the New Right have been allied with it. He considers Faye, long the bad cop to Benoists good cop in the Nouvelle Droite, to be an extremist.

Yet while Benoist claims to know little about the alt-right, he and Faye have appeared at white-nationalist conferences in the U.S., including Jared Taylors annual American Renaissance conference.

Greg Johnson, who runs the Counter-Currents website, and other white nationalists told The Daily Beast theyve met de Benoist at conferences in the U.S. and Europe, and have communicated with him over the years while overseeing translations of his books. Yet Benoist said their names were barely familiar to him.

The French New Right has been a big influence on me and the alt-right, Johnson told The Daily Beast. Benoist and Faye come up with great stuff. Europes being colonized by Islam. They replicate their forms of society within our forms of society, and the end result is that we will lose our homelands. Faye tries to understand why people wont defend their own. After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the French were more concerned with Islamophobia than with those who were massacred for their opinions.

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Benoist and Faye owe one white nationalist in particular for the spread of their work outside the French-speaking world.

Daniel Friberg, 38, a Swedish-born former mining executive, began Arktos, now the biggest alt-right publishing company in the world, seven years ago. Friberg grew up happily in a small, homogenous town in Sweden with what he said were leftist liberal parents. All that changed, he said, when at 13 he went to junior high school, where there were many immigrant students, part of the first wave of the large-scale immigration that began in Sweden in the mid-1980s.

I had been taught to think multiculturalism was great until I experienced it, Friberg told The Daily Beast. But the reality was a culture shock. The media and everyone else told me that it was all good. It was a rude awakening. It wasnt good. There was a lot of chaos, crime, drugs, bringing guns to school, you name it.

Feeling hed been lied to by everyone and wanting to understand this transformation Sweden was undergoing, Friberg started reading political-science books voraciously, in particular Benoist and Faye. Even though Friberg had only a schoolboy knowledge of French, he understood the texts.

The French New Right books were the first I read, and they were an eye-opener for me, Friberg said. I couldnt find anything in them I disagreed with.

In 2009 Friberg left his day job to start Arktos and Right On, a blog for the alt-right. One of the first things he did was approach Benoist and Faye, and buy the rights to publish their most popular books in Englishand later other languages.

Weve red-pilled people all over the world, even China and India, with these books, Friberg said, using the term favored by the alt-right to describe the process of turning others on to their ideas. Many of our customers are surprisingly young and surprisingly well-educated. Many are former leftists who as we like to say [are] former members of the regressive left. A lot are disenfranchised libertarians.

Friberg has written his own book, The Real Right Returns, and like pretty much everyone in the alt-right universe, he is thrilled with Trumps election.

Wed be growing with or without him, Friberg said. But now its clear. Right-wing populism is here to stay.

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Paris haute couture leaps into the 21st century

Vetements revolutionary show, held in a department store, saw weird and wonderful display from alt-thinking label

Disruption is a vogue-ish word as overused in the modern fashion industry as iconic was in the last decade. But when evening wear at Paris haute couture fashion week means pink velour Juicy Couture palazzo pants worn with a promotional T-shirt for lager rather than ball gowns, then disruption is definitely happening.

The invitation to join the haute couture schedule extended to the alternative design collective Vetements, whose previous show featured Kanye West on the front row and repurposed Justin Bieber tour merchandise on the catwalk, is nothing short of revolutionary. Paris haute couture, which until now has maintained a defiantly pre-revolution Versailles image think organza and corsetry has taken a leap into the 21st century.

The Vetements show was held in the Galeries Lafayette department store. This is the haute couture equivalent of Alexander McQueen staging his 90s London Fashion Week shows in freezing, leaky warehouses. Department stores, where the clothes have price tags, are frankly dclass in the haute couture realm of the bespoke and unique.

The runway for the Vetements show in the Galeries Lafayette department store. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

The clothes were deliberately off-kilter. Trousers are cropped above boot level, as if the models have outgrown them, or shrunken eye-poppingly tight at the groin. Models dont look like models, or walk like them. They look pale, and awkward, and anxious.

There have been weird clothes at couture before Gallianos Dior was outre in its day but the difference with Vetements is that the alt-thinking permeates everything the label does. Status, and the value placed on craftmanship, are the bedrocks on which haute couture and its billionaire-class price tags are built. But Vetements have a mischievous, Warholian viewpoint which sees beauty in the everyday (the DHL logo, which they adopted as a signature) and venerates mass-produced brands such as Levis and Hanes.

Vetements is led by Guram and Demna Gvasalia, who moved with their family from civil war-torn Georgia to Dusseldorf as children, and are now based in Paris. With Demna now installed as designer at Balenciaga, they are an unlikely but formidable new power duo in Paris fashion. This show replaces the Vetements ready-to-wear show that would have taken place in October, meaning that the team had three months rather than six to produce that collection.

In direct opposition to the seamstress-in-an-atelier heritage of haute couture, Vetements tackled the challenge of this short lead time by collaborating with 18 best-in-class brands ranging from Italian tailoring house Brioni to Reebok. In this way Vetements, granted a golden ticket to couture, opened the doors to 18 other labels. Even the Vetements own-label tracksuit a holy item in the 2016 fashion world was poked fun at with a collaboration with Britney Spears favourite, Juicy Couture.

Meanwhile at Versace, the essential alchemy of the brand is a cocktail of mass sex appeal and high class. Before the show, Donatella Versace said of this haute couture collection that it reveals a womans power and her allure. The verb is telling, reminding us that strategic exposure is all part of the Versace gameplan. A combination of sex and status gives the Versace woman an air of bomb-proof, self-confidence that any consumer in her right mind would want a piece of.

The dresses at Versace were the most sumptuous of body-conscious gowns. Photograph: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

It is a much-emulated formula, which means that every Versace show is an important opportunity for Donatella to remind the world who owns this piece of aesthetic real estate. The Italian brand has a new British CEO in Jonathan Akeroyd, who joined less than a month ago from Alexander McQueen, but the aesthetic on the catwalk was pure Donatella. All the firepower of Atelier Versaces formidable army of tailors and embroiderers were laser-focused on creating the most sumptuous of body-conscious gowns. Think drapery that would become a classical goddess, with a thigh-high slit for good measure.

But Versace has to be about fashion as well as sex, because the younger consumers Versace needs to communicate with if it is to stay relevant are hardwired to demand constant newness. The messy buns and oversized hoop earrings were based on contemporary model-off-duty style rather than on traditional couture beauty tropes, while oversized evening coats worn dramatically falling off the shoulder reflected fashions new proportions.

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