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Roadblocks and Free Rides

Paris:- Saturday, 7. July 1996:- The weather has not been up to scratch. The TV-news weather map shows an enormous white swirly mass of mess in the Atlantic that entirely covers western Europe, down to somewhere north of Madrid, where the temperatures are around 30. For Paris, you need a sweater. I am not happy about this, and a lot of other people are not happy either because the TV-news keeps telling viewers that we are in a drought that has farmers worried. Despite the rain, the grass I see around here does look as if it is parched from over-exposure to mid-August sun. It can't be left over from last year, can it?

Paris' Summer Traffic

Newcomer automobilistas dream of driving in Paris in the summer and even dream of finding legal and unoccupied parking places. Cruel deception! The time of year jokingly referred to as 'summer' is the time of the year when the heavy equipment is rolled out and serious road repairs get under way, especially in July. Tuesday's Le Parisien has devoted its back page to a day-by-day set of maps showing the partial closures of the Paris ring-road, known locally as the Pérphérique.

There are 14 maps in all for the avid motorist to memorize. The closures are partial in the daytime, but are often total after 21:30 - and can result in interesting detours to places that are not on the way to where you hoped you were going. For driving in Europe in general, I recommend having a compass in the car, for times when you have a map but no sun for a guide - I think Mannhiem is the only European city laid out on a grid plan - although it is not north-south, east-west; all the rest were made by history, the usual muddle and chaos. Being in the wrong lane at the wrong time can send you to the boot-heel of Italy, for example.

Fly the Friendly Skies...

Everybody has heard of Air France, but many may not have heard of the interior airline, Air Inter. While Air France is being readied for international competition, the staff of Air Inter are resisting similar efforts to slim down in order to face European-level 'deregulation' and the result has been a series of sudden strikes - which on Thursday whacked off 50 percent of Air Inter's daily schedule. The SNCF put on a lot of extra trains to try and get people where they were going, but could only do so much, and private carriers could not take up much extra load as they were already fully booked.

Friday's Le Parisien says that the president of Air France declared that Air Inter will merge with Air France in 1997. To show you how confused I am, I think I recently mentioned a strike by 'Air Europe,' but it now seems as if Air Inter's official name is 'Air Inter Europe.' As I have thought for years that Air Inter was merely the domestic version of Air France, this merger comes to me as a surprise.

Confused or not, keep in mind that the labor situation at Air Inter Europe is not a happy one and there will likely be more sudden strikes to come.

In a related action, British Airways pilots have voted 90 percent in favor of a strike, foreseen for mid-July. If it comes off it will be their first strike in 18 years, and the issue is more money: BA was top money-earner worldwide last year, and the pilots do not like the pay raises they have been offered.

Oh Woe, SNCF

I can remember a time, not all that long ago, when the SNCF merely ran French local and long-distance trains instead of running newspaper headlines. As a regular user of local SNCF service for the past 20 years, I cannot remember a time like this - which seems to have started with last December's transport strikes - and does not seem to want to go away.

A railroad user group - this is a new ne! - called 'Auspee' - on the Montparnasse to La Verrière (just beyond Versailles) line, sued the SNCF for tardy service - and they won their case in February. However, the SNCF appealed the decision and on Friday, it was reversed.

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