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Mini-Heatwave, Rocket Flop, No Strike and Bats

Paris:- Saturday, 8. June 1996:- Since it is fairly cool today and overcast, I guess this last week's four days do not exactly make a heatwave. Maybe it should be 'shockwave' after last weekend's so-so weather, but heatwave, no. I was nice to see real blue sky again after so long and it was nice to put the winter clothes away again and it was nice to go out without the parka on. Have you noticed how few pockets there are in summer clothes?

The combination of threatened transport strikes and temperatures up to the mid-30's brought pollution in Paris back to the newspapers as a subject, with Le Parisien noting that there are restrictions for private cars on pollution 'alert' periods in all of Germany, and in the cities of Rome and in Athens, where there can be a total ban on traffic in the city centre.

Air is being measured in Paris now and on Wednesday it was 'médiocre,' on Thursday it was 'mauvais' and the preview for Friday was 'mauvais' again. Today the temperature is about 26 degrees and it rained during the night. It's cool.

Neighborhood Rocket Science

By now, most of the world with television has seen the disaster of the maiden voyage of Ariane 5 - broadcast last Tuesday from the launch site in French Guiana, in South America. After 59 seconds of flight, the rocket exploded and fiery pieces of it fell back to earth.

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As it was the first flight of a new rocket, it was deemed 'experimental' and as such, was uninsured except for damage to third parties. Also because of its experimental nature, the cargo was composed of four scientific satellites rather than commercial telecoms satellites that will be its normal freight.

The rocket's new Vulcain motors are made in Vernon, on the Seine, about 70 kilometres north-west of Paris, and the entire rockets are assembled in Les Mureaux, also on the Seine, about 35 kilometres from Notre Dame. Despite all the computer simulations and the general confidence that the test flight would succeed, there was bitter despair here that was not tempered by the flight management's effort to minimize the drama.

By Thursday, engineers had studied all the data available and had been able to pinpoint an erroneous computer instruction sent to the hydraulic devices that orient the propulsion nozzles. As both the main computer and the backup computer on board the rocket issued identical instructions, it is believed that a bug found its way, during last-minute tinkering, into the program - which caused a mistake which had never been produced in simulations.

There is no doubt that Ariane 5 will soon be putting up big satellites like clockwork, so that we will get even better telecoms and even more cable-TV. This non-flight was pre-budgeted and another test flight is planned; if a third is required, then Arianespace will go over-budget. Either way, some of my neighbors will get their salaries on time.

placeopera.jpg (20k) The Transport Strike That Wasn't

Paris and Ile-de-France public transport rolled more or less normally on Thursday, the day of the pre-announced general strike by transport workers. However, a lot of commuters took the warning seriously and tried to get to the city with their cars, where they ran into transport workers, telecom workers, teachers, gas and electricity workers and retired workers marching in the streets - not to mention other demonstrators marching after 18:00 - all of them tangling up the city just about all week.

In Wednesday's report in this issue of Metropole - see 'Lost and Found' - I mentioned what seemed to me to be a lot of traffic squeezing into the narrow rue du Faubourg Montmartre. Later, when I reached the Opéra, I came across the cause. The whole place was full of a giant CGT-organized street party. A bandstand had been set up at the foot of the steps to the Opéra; there were sound trucks on the opposite side, playing against the live band and there were several barbeques smoking and there were lots of people having a pretty good time.

This demo - as well as four others mentioned in the morning edition of Le Parisien - was supposed to have started at 8:00 at Gare de l'Est - and it was still happening at 16:30 - the effect being, even if there was no public transport strike to speak of - there certainly was immense difficulty with driving in Paris. The heat was no help either.

For visitors, I suppose it was a fiction come true: Paris traffic at its worst. Usually the big daily traffic jams are mostly out of sight as they are on the roads leading into the city, or on the Périphérique or on the major cross-town axis' along the Seine, and slightly out of scenic views.

A French Bat Did It, Apparently

In the first case of rabies in Great Britain since 1922, two people in the south of England were bitten by a continental bat. It is not known whether the bat - a Dawbenton's Bat - flew across the channel or rode a ferry or took the Eurotunnel to reach the island. Pet owners have been reassured by the government that spread of rabies is unlikely, since the bat died. Animals brought into Great Britain are placed in quarantine for six months - and this measure has kept Great Britain free of rabies for a long time.

Meanwhile, French scientists now suspect - as was suggested by their British counterparts in March - that bovine spongiform encephalopathy - 'mad cow' disease - can carry an infection risk for humans and may be a possible cause of Creuzfeldt-Jakob Disease. French expects have asked for funds to conduct a two-year study into the matter.

In order not to cause undue alarm, I have been calling this ongoing story 'Silly Europe Week' since about a week after it commenced, in March, and I last mentioned it when 'Silly Week' began its third month. In fact, European media are covering the story and there are reports on a daily basis; some medical and but mostly political. From all that I have read, I would like to say that the risk to humans seems to be extremely remote and is about as likely as a piece of Ariane 5 falling on your head in downtown Paris.


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