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Iftar dinner, with a side of politics

PARIS — Between bites of chicken tagine and spoonfuls of chorba, the traditional vegetable and meat soup eaten during Ramadan, political leaders debated and digested. Some called the topic the Muslim question in France while others described it as the struggle of French Muslims to strike the right balance between practicing their faith and living fully in a secular republic.

Keeping wine out of the red

NANTUCKET, Mass. — Not that wine drinkers around the world want to see wineries struggle in the midst of the global economic downturn. But massive decreases in disposable income mean that some high-end wines are now either going unsold or are selling at significantly lower prices, which leaves avid wine consumers of more modest financial means hopeful of uncorking a bottle.

The Airbus v. Boeing slugfest

BOSTON — Government subsidies. The words sit uneasily on some American tongues like poison. Or worse, French. Noxious or not (depending on your geography and point of view), the concept was the talk in global trade circles Friday as the World Trade Organization ruled that Airbus had received illegal subsidies from European governments. Yes, folks, we've got a nasty fight on our hands.

Are culture and democracy inseparable?

PARIS — French summer festivals can run the gamut from the quirky to the hokey to the plain bizarre. But more than just an excuse for making merry, the widely supported events can also be an exercise in cultural democracy. In southwestern France, there’s the annual pig festival in Trie-sur-Baise in the Hautes-Pyrenees region whose motto, “we hear it, we see it, we eat it,” sums up the event, which includes both a pig squealing contest and feasting on intestine specialties like black pudding.

France 2.0 is "tres Americaine"

PARIS — A recent headline in Figaro proclaimed: World Ends; No Survivors. Actually, it said stores could now open on Sunday. But, for many, both amount to the same thing. The French are not generally wild about being told what to do — or not do. Yet every week, it seems, the Juggernaut of global change mows down something sacred. And now even Sunday lunch, where families bond and pass along tradition, is falling victim to people who see “24/7” as a universal measure of progress.

Need a haircut? Sorry, everyone is 'en vacances'

BRUSSELS — "I’m told that in Brussels, the word 'August' doesn’t exist — the summer months here are June, July, Les Vacances. So it’s nice to see all of you today." That’s how new NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen began his first meeting with journalists earlier this month, either feigning surprise or truly not expecting to see several dozen reporters present in the NATO auditorium.

Paris' take on New York graffiti

PARIS — If graffiti is popular now, it shouldn't come as a surprise: The art form as we know it (aerosol spray paint on urban wall) began in another economically depressed time and place. In the 1970s, New York couldn't afford to pay police to defend against the guerrilla art form emerging from disenfranchised neighborhoods.

The French struggle to debate burqas

PARIS — When considering that more than an estimated 5 million Muslims reside in France, the government’s calculation that 367 women nationwide wear a burqa might seem negligible,  but the debate over legislation to outlaw burqas has been anything but.

Grandpa and grandma Sarko? Some don't think so.

News that President Nicolas Sarkozy will be a grandfather soon came on the heels of a recent health scare that left him hospitalized overnight after he collapsed while jogging on a hot day.

Bringing the beach to the people

PARIS — Since July 20, the banks and motorways bordering the Seine River and the Bassin de la Villette in Paris have undergone a drastic transformation. A total of 1,350 tons of sand, 250 sun umbrellas and 50 palm trees, among a myriad other beach-like items, have been poured and perched beside these channels of water as a part of the annual Paris Plages, or Paris Beaches.
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