Au bistro... (19k)
Paris:- Friday, 26. April 1996:- Last Sunday the weather was absolutely perfect when I got up... When I got up the first of 21,400 marathoners had already crossed the finish line. Henrique Crisostomo, of Porto, did the whole thing in two hours, 12 minutes, 16 seconds. It was only the Portuguese's second major marathon victory; the first being in Macao.

Another 18,243 followed him across throughout the morning. The last to finish, crossed the line following Crisostomo by three hours, 31 minutes and four seconds. Le Parisien devoted 16 pages in Tuesday's and Wednesday's editions to listing all of the finishers.

No French competitors were fast enough to qualify for the Olympics in Atlanta; the number 10, Pascal Fétizon, missed the qualifying time by a whisper - three minutes twenty seconds. For that matter, Crisostomo won't be going either, as the Portuguese marathon team for the Olympics has already been selected.

'When the train came in the station...' (12k) Train Mechanics Assist With SNCF PR Campaign

In Metropole number 8, I mentioned some of the results of a massive survey carried out by the French railroads, SNCF, to find out what was bugging passengers. An astounding 189,000 rail users replied to questionnaires distributed in train stations and printed in newspapers throughout France.

On Monday afternoon at St. Lazare, coming back from the Jardins du Luxembourg, I was astonished to see SNCF personnel and info booths all over the station. An earlier story in Le Parisien had announced that the SNCF would be carrying on an PR action to back up the questionnaire, but without fully explaining the broadness of it.

On confronting Monsieur SNCF, the first thing I wanted to know was, where did the SNCF get all these people - were they in fact employees of the SNCF? The answer; 'my' Monsieur SNCF had started work that morning at the usual time of 8:15 at his usual job, as a maintenance engineer in the SNCF rolling stock shops just down the line from St. Lazare. He had volunteered for this PR job, after his regular day's shift was finished. Few of the PR crew of about 50 had ever spoken to any rail passenger as a function of their regular SNCF job.

As an engineer, working on important things like brakes, he was largely unaware of the 57 daily round-trips between my station and St. Lazare passing his workplace. I had the impression he probably took a RATP bus or métro to work. Besides that, as an SNCF employee, he probably never stood in line to buy a ticket; nor had wrestled with the automatic ticket machines; nor cursed the reluctance of the canceling machines to punch a ticket, as they often do just as the train is about to leave.

The main point is that the SNCF is willing to listen to its two million daily Ile-de-France passengers - and has already promised to 'do' something good for us - at the end of June. Just so long as they don't promise 'reform.'

Five Films for Cannes Competition

[You will find the URL's for the various Cannes sites in Yahoo's 'Cinema' directory - too many for us to note here. TG]

The selection committee for the feature-length film category, for the 49th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, choose five French titles on Monday.

As expected, Andre Téchiné's 'Les Voleurs,' featuring Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil was chosen. Other French films in the competition are 'Ridicule' by the director Patrice Leconte, with Fanny Ardent, Bernard Giraudeau and Jean Rochefort; 'Un Héros Très Discret' by Jacques Audiard, with Mathieu Kassovitz; 'Comment Je Me Suis Disputé' by Arnaud Desplechin; and 'Trois Vies et Une Mort' by Raoul Ruiz, with Marcello Mastroianni and his daughter Chiara, Smain and Arielle Dombasle.

The selection committee looked at 428 movies in order to make the final official selection for 1996. Nathalie Baye and Henri Chapier will be on the festival jury, which is headed this year by Francis Ford Coppola.

Despite the traditional hoopla surrounding the annual festival, the 49th edition is sure to be paled by next year's 50th anniversary version. The Ministry of Culture is reported to have already begun planning for it, so get your tickets early.

Smart Plastic Traveller's Cheques?

If plans afoot come to pass, you can leave your credit cards at home and forget paper traveller's cheques. The Visa - Carte Bleue group is testing a card for travellers that works like a phone card. It has a built-in memory and you just tell your bank how much money you think you need and that amount is placed in the card's memory.

Then you use the card as you would the debit card - but, presumably without having a PIN number. If the card is stolen, you cancel it the same way you do with traveller's cheques. This will be handy for people who like to have a budget to travel on, and are adept at keeping track of how much the card has left. I recommend keeping return tickets in a safe place, just in case.

Silly Europe Week Enters Second Month

The first mention of 'Mad English Cows' was in Metropole on 22. March - issue 5 - and this was followed up in the next issue under the headline, 'Silly Europe Week.' With this issue, Europe is now well within the second month of this affair and few aspects of it are clearer now than they were then.

The amount of beef being consumed has dropped drastically on the continent, as the cattle industry would rather have people foresake beef than charge less for it. Meanwhile producers of other meats are doing well as are fishermen - but the result of the disagreement between Great Britain and Brussels about 'what to do' will have long-term repercussions - and it is exactly this sort of wrangle that make ordinary citizens despair for the future of the EU - as the present seems to be marked by uncommon lack of common sense.

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