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.
54th Formula One Grand Prix de Monaco

Le Parisien's headline today of 'Red Alert in the Principality' turned out to be a sports story about this weekend's annual Formula One race in Monaco and not about a revolt of the local masses.

Today the bimbos are trucking in from Cannes, just down the road, and the yachts are snuggling up to the Tip Top Bar where champagne costs the same as the rent of a two-bedroom flat in Paris, while the ball-bearings are heating up on the roulette wheels in the casino; which is also the off-season club of many of the racing drivers. If there are any 'masses' living here, they are not revolting as they are obviously outnumbered.

If you are interested in F1 racing, you'll probably see the outcome of the race before you read this. I quit following F1 racing some years ago when guys like Prost and Senna were doing it. I thought they were a little too serious about winning for the glory of their sponsors; and lacked the sheer pluck of the Laudas and the class of the Hills, although I see that Hill Fils is currently leading the points this season with 43 after five races.

I am tempted to say, let the most deserving budget win - but the Monte Carlo street course is a real road race and is not quite as risk-free as the tracks specifically built for high-end high-speed high-stakes automobile racing, so the drivers deserve some respect for the nerve to drive fast here.

Sunday: 20:25 - Winner of the Monaco GP was France's Olivier Panis, driving a Ligier, and winning his first Grand Prix. Eric Coultard was second in a McLaren-Mercedes and Johnny Herbert came in third, and disliked being sprayed with champagne the most.

Ray Charles Featured on TV with French Producer

Thursday evening's A2 TV 'Envoyé Special' program featured an unusual documentary with Ray Charles and his French record producer, Jean-Pierre Grosz, a Montmartre locksmith. I did not hear this program because of the usual racket of my kids, but I did see parts of it accidently as the TV happened to be tuned to A2's frequency.

According the Le Parisien, this was the first time since 1973 that Ray Charles has been the subject of a TV report. While it was really nice to see Ray - if I can be a bit informal (I know a lady in Seattle who went to the same high school... or was that Jimi Hendricks, and a different high school in Seattle?) - onscreen, in something other than the bit he did in the 'Blues Brothers' - the unusual part of the piece was without doubt, Mr. Grosz.

Besides being a locksmith, Mr. Grosz is a jazz fan. He'd heard a song that he thought would suit Ray's style. He learned that Ray Charles was to be in Paris, so he wangled his way to the bottom of the steps when the plane arrived, and sold the song there on the runway. In the eighteen years since then, Mr. Grosz has seen Ray regularly, and he recently produced eight of the 12 titles for the record, 'Strong Love Affair.' Mr. Grosz has also produced five albums for Dee Dee Bridgewater.

Bus vs Circus

I missed giving you a circus story last week, so this one is in compensation. Last Thursday evening, in the Paris suburb of Courneuve, a circus had packed itself up and was hitting the road just as a RATP bus was coming along. As the bus driver didn't wish to get stuck in the middle of the caravan of circus vehicles, he beeped a couple of times and tried to overtake them. This blocked other circus vans and they in turn blocked the bus and then they got out their iron bars and bats. After the driver and two RATP security men had been neutralized, fifty policemen entered the fray. Result: 16 circus people arrested and three policeman plus two RATP agents injured.

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