aubistro21 (20k)

At Long Last, the 'Real' Holidays Can Begin

Paris:- Saturday, 13. July 1996:- My favorite tabloid 'Le Parisien' declared on Friday that this weekend is the 'real beginning of the holidays' and they are probably right. It used to be, that unlucky people got July and the French got all of August.

Times change. Now that the natives have to share their country with 60 million visitors a year, people are accommodating themselves to reality - by generally taking off from 15. July to 15. August.

Actually, a whole four weeks at once is probably more exception than rule, because there are three fairly long school holidays outside of summer - and if parents don't share some of these with their kids they will go broke paying babysitters or other minders.

The weather, kind of cool in the mornings, and not too hot in the afternoons, is nearly perfect for long-distance driving; or long-time waiting in traffic bottlenecks.

Asbestos Comes to France

Excuse my misleading headline but I couldn't help it. France is actually full of asbestos and it has even been long recognized here as dangerous stuff - but it is only in the last few months that a combination of factors has rolled together and brought the awareness of the danger of asbestos to the daily news.

As other countries have long ago discovered, the easiest and cheapest way to get rid of asbestos in buildings is usually to tear them down and rebuild. This is a bitter pill financially but it has to be taken - and it looks like this is now going to happen in France. The scope of the action necessary is monumental. For example, the entire university complex of Paris-Jussieu in the fifth arrondissement has been condemned and I think I just heard on the radio that this campus will not reopen in the fall.

jac&nelson.jpg (11k) Should Nelson Mandela have a Garage Shirt?

Although Le Parisien says that Nelson Mandela's recent visit to see the Queen in London was the first ever by a President of South Africa, I have been much more interested in press discussion of Mr. Mandela's idea of the suit.

I quite agree with him, if he has been quoted correctly, that nice shirts are more interesting to wear than suits, all the time - unless, of course, you go to the Queen's for lunch, or help President Jacques Chirac review the troops marching down the Champs-Elysées on Bastille Day. Mr. Mandela makes page one of Saturday's Libération in one of his shirts, and makes his point yet again.

Update: Mr Mandela is right. His suit did not look too good on Sunday at the parade and I have seen him on TV in a great variety of fine-looking shirts recently. I hope that somebody reading this can contact Mr. Mandela before he leaves Paris and tell him that Printemps may still have some of those ultra-cool 'Garage' shirts on sale.

churchlady.jpg (9k) The Church Ladies

I was in a towering snit last Tuesday when my office doorbell rang and I found the Church Ladies on my doorstep.

They had not been around to see me for a long time, a couple of years at least - I might have been out - and as usual they were two colors and, possibly, two nationalities. I greeted them with my customary, "Hello Church Ladies! Where have you been?" - which I learned from four ten-year old re-runs of Saturday Night Live quite some time ago and had been saving for this occasion.

Pollution was on their minds on Tuesday and I said I was paying attention to it and letting readers know about it, and they pointed out that pollution inside may be worse than outside and, although I did not invite them in - it is my 'form' with the Church Ladies - seeing if they are on their toes out in the hall, having to hit the light switch every 90 seconds or so - and I assured them my office was very polluted indeed.

Before we could really get into the murk of this, I suggested they forget pollution and think about human rights - as this is under constant attack, and lack of it affects your mental health, and possibly your spiritual health as well. This line caused me to think of my Metropole duties as a newsman, so I asked them if they were being persecuted much lately. The short answer is, yes, France is sort of lumping them in with the wilder sects.

At the time, I had not yet read Monday's Le Parisien, which had a story about a little village of 460 inhabitants in Alsace, which has no priest and no café - which is resisting the construction of a Jehovah's Witnesses' centre large enough to accommodate 2000. Nor did I pick up the parliamentary report about the activities of sects in France on Friday at the Assembly National bookshop,which apparently classifies this group as a 'sect' rather than a state-recognized religion.

To confuse me further, it seems as if in Alsace, there is no separation of state and religion - while in the rest of France there is. If I understand things correctly, there is 'freedom of religion' in France, but not 'freedom of sects.'

Even so it is like a little holiday to chat once in a while with the Church Ladies - to have a little shot at playing them dozens by trying to instill... doubt. It's not that easy to get into philosophical discussions with total strangers, and especially when I am in a snit, these kinds of discussions can make my day. The other thing to consider is that they make house calls - although uninvited - and nobody else besides the oriental carpet hustlers do that.

The next one of these that shows up, I'm going to ask if he has any flying models.

Canal du Midi Chosen by Unesco

Started in 1662 by the engineer Pierre-Paul de Riquet, and 14 years in construction, the Canal du Midi may very well be chosen by Unesco to figure in the list of the World's Patrimonial sites, of which there are already 21 in France. The purpose of the canal was to join the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, to reduce the need for freight to pass by Gilbralter.

In 1897 the state acquired the canal. More than 200,000 tons of freight came through the canal as recently as 1970; but it was no more than a thousand tons in 1989. The canal has developed into a tourist site - from Toulouse, past Castelnaudary and Carcassonne, to Sête on the sea, and nearly 9000 river boats go through it every year. I have friends who have taken canal holidays and they have enjoyed them; it apparently takes no great skill to navigate the various locks, and there are plenty of bars, cafés and restaurants handy if one tires of steering all day.

Johnny Hallyday Summer Tour

France's most married and perhaps oldest rock and roll star is touring France this summer and will play many locales throughout the country. The tour started today at La Rochelle and will end up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday- 23, 24, 25. August, in Monte-Carlo. Johnny puts on a very big show with lots of top groups and soloists besides himself. He has been doing this for a long time and he is good at it. He will also be rehearsing some new material that he will present in a one-off show at Las Vegas, on 24. November.

Correction - Late, But Not Too Late

Last week I mentioned that the French-brand 'Hollywood Chewing Gum' is running a neat promotion this summer, called 'Open Miles.' This involves free bus rides across France for those who reserve places.

Metropole reader Seth Theriault wrote from St. Louis to point out the telephone number I gave is probably incorrect. The '36 68' numbers are a sort of French '900' number that can be called from anywhere in France, without the code for either Paris (1) or province (16).

Therefore, the number to call is: 36 68 11 99. I do not know if this type of number can be accessed from outside France because it has a special tariff structure, like the Mintel services. For the rest of the details, see last week's Au Bistro column.

Demonstration :

The Fête Nationale - throughout France, this weekend. After this weekend - the summer vacuum. If I learn otherwise, I will put it here.

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