Au Bistro... (31k)

Loto, Jazz and Sports, Losers and Winners

Paris:- Saturday, 18. May 1996:- It is taking a bit of experimenting to get this regular column into what we imagine it should be. The idea is, our 'columnist' takes a seat in a Paris café-bar every morning, and while reading the morning papers - eavesdrops a bit on table neighbors, to find out what people are really talking about. It is supposed to be a mixture of some daily 'news' with a bit of 'between-the-lines' as a reality check.

Two Winners Split 20th Anniversary Loto Pot

Wednesday's special anniversary Loto drawing produced two winners, neither of whom wished to be famous as well as rich. They each collected cheques for exactly 50,480,970 francs (about US$ 9,726,583.). One of the winners, an unemployed 23 year old, was from the Ile de France region and the other, who had never played before, paid 50 francs for the ticket in Bray-sur-Somme.

The bar-café owners where the tickets were bought, waited in vain Thursday - a holiday - for their lucky customers to show up and the Française des Jeux, the Loto organizers, had to forego their usual massive publicity extravaganza.

These jumbo Loto wins are income-tax-free in France and there's no fiddle-faddle about paying the pot in installments. Française des Jeux offers an advice booklet (by law, the society can not offer financial consulting) to unprepared winners, in order that they don't suddenly become poor as quickly as they became rich. Winners can remain completely anonymous - so long as they don't stumble into the local press - as it is a legal right. The last big winner - the biggest so far - of nearly 70 million francs last December - chose to go public; and as recently seen on TV, didn't look too depressed. If I heard correctly, he even has had to confidence to give up his job working in a bank.

In 20 years, the Loto has created 5,718 instant millionaires in France and 19 have gotten pots ranging from 40 million to 60 million francs. There is even a 'café de la chance' in Cambrai, where three winners have collected 76 million francs over an 18-month period; one being a pot of 52 million.

Oh, by the way, the winning number: 2, 5, 20, 28, 47, and 49.

Eurovision Song Contest - oops - 'EuroSong '96'

Each year at this time the European Television consortium presents the 'European Song Contest' in a Saturday night TV show that features singing contestants from up to 33 countries. The very long contest is broadcast live from the last winner's country and organizers claim that 300 hundred million people watch it.

I have seen this many times; not to hear the latest in European songs, but for its kitsch value. The host country shows a travelogue between each act, and the rules, if there are any, seem to demand only that all songs be boring - although several of the past performers and winners have gone on the pop music stardom - Abba, for example - and that is a clue to give you can idea of what the average entry song might be like. Contestants are also obliged to sing in their own languages, but this is no handicap.

Anyway, because it is long and boring, this year there has been an elimination round and only 23 countries are performing, and the name has been shortened to 'EuroSong '96.' The best part of the show is the voting, which is done by national committees who are sitting around a TV back home someplace. The dolly lady calls out, 'Ankara, are you there? We are ready for your vote.' And Ankara replies, 'Snap, crackle, fizz... Hallo Oslo, here is the vo... crackle, sizzle, pop... eight; Luxembourg, seven...' and so on. It takes hours.

Meanwhile, if your local cable-TV has the right mix, you can hear the proceedings in several audio versions: French, English, Spanish, Italian - but the real cupcake of them all is the BBC's Terry Wogan, who shamelessly boosts the home team. Ireland has been rather successful for the past few years, so that country has been re-hosting the contest. Mr. Wogan is Irish, but he's a good company man and you'd never guess he'd ever heard an Irish song he likes.

Ireland wins (11k) Tonight Ireland handily beat out host country Norway with 162 votes to 114 after three hours and five minutes; and 300 million people have just heard a song twice, that they are unlikely to hear again. With Ireland's new win, the contest will return again to Dublin, which will give Mr. Wogan yet another chance to mangle the traditional, and since it will be Ireland, usually imaginative, travelogue.

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