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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 one! - 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.

The users had complained about perpetual 15 to 40 minute delays - on a route that only totals 35 minutes running time. Now the users are furious that the appeals court has decided that the delays are more the passenger's fault - at the same time as the SNCF is running a national campaign to find out - from users - how the SNCF can improve its service.

If this were only a minor fracas, it is nothing compared to the Friday morning locking-up in cell 214 of the Santé prison of the new patron of the SNCF, Loïk Le Floch-Prigent, a former finance director of the oil company Elf - for alleged participation in a complicated financial affair involving gazillions of francs worth of 'pots-de-vin,' Swiss accounts, fake commissions and other financial hocus-pocus.

World's First?

A disgruntled candidate for a local election in eastern France sued his winning competitor - for 'false election promises' and the court agreed and fined the defendant 20,000 francs for 'diversion of votes with the aid of disinformation.'

It all turned on the text of an election brochure published by the defendant, which promised the local installation of a holiday village and the creation of 310 jobs. The brochure also denounced the authorities for putting administrative roadblocks in the way of the project, adding that it was unfair to 'play games with the employment of 310 people.'

The prosecutor argued that the candidate had known that the promoter of the project had publicly declined to proceed - long before the brochure was printed; and that the distribution of the tract just before the election amounted to disinformation, or electoral fraud.

Good News - Late, But Not Too Late

The French-brand 'Hollywood Chewing Gum' is running a neat promotion this year, called 'Open Miles.' The company has hired a bus company to carry 16 to 25 year-olds on regularly scheduled routes through France - for free. The buses are equipped with toilets, video and air conditioning.

Typical routes are Lilles-Nice, Caen-Nice, Strasburg-Nice, Paris-Nice, Paris-Perpignan, Paris-Biarritz, Paris-Brest, Paris-Quimper, Bordeaux-Nice, Grenoble-Bordeaux and Rennes-Biarritz. All of these are two-way routes.

Reservations are necessary, and these can be made by telephone : (1) 36 68 11 99 or by Minitel : 3615-Hollywood. You need to know the code number of the all the points of departure - and these can be intermediate stops. If there are free seats, when the reservation is made you will receive a passenger number and this should be used for confirmation a couple of days before departure.

There are a couple of other things to note: you need an identity paper, you need parental permission for ages 16 and 17, and you should check the day before to make sure the bus has a full gas tank.

Departures are not daily; each route has different dates. Hollywood is supplying transport only - no food and no lodgings. And the last catch: buses have a fixed number of seats and when these are full - you either keep checking for a cancellation or get out your thumb.

The free service will be maintained from 15. July until 24. August. In return for this free fun idea, this is a free plug.

Still Demonstrating :

- Sunday, 8:00, on the right bank of the Seine, from the underground of the Tuleries to the underground at Henri IV; on the left bank from Quai Anatole-France to Quai Branly: by Operation Bicycles-Pedestrians.

- Sunday, 10:00, in the streets of the 5th arrondissement and at 14:00 on the Quais of Valmy and Jemmapes (in the 10th), and from Loire and the Marne (19th): Operation Strolling and Relaxation.

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