Ready, Set, Go - We're Off

Bistro 1900 in Cour de Commerce Saint Andre
The Cour de Commerce Saint-André
has been a long-time local hang-out.

Parisians Head for Exits in Usual Mad Scramble

Paris:- Saturday, 28. June 1997:- Last night roads leading out of the city were paralyzed as everybody in the Ile-de-France left to go on holidays simultaneously. The weather has been so rotten, nobody can stand it anymore and the city and region have been abandoned to visitors and waiters.

SNCF put on hundreds of extra trains and airline pilots and crews temporarily called off strikes as extra flights were shoved into the schedules in order to handle the holiday traffic.

Highway 'bouchons' were predicted 'partout en France' for the entire weekend, and we also have a set of pre-predictions for the same sort of vehicular agony for the weekends of 18:00 at Gare de Lyon Bastille Day, the first weekend of August, the weekend of mid-August, for the next-to-last weekend in August and disaster of disasters, for the final August weekend.

The Gare de Lyon's clock shows the official summer holiday start time.

If this weren't bad enough, we have the same pre-pre-predictions for 1998, 1999 and for 2000, even! If you plan to travel in France on any of these dates or all of them, take plenty of bottled water and lots of sandwiches.

This is, of course, hyperbole. Yesterday was only classed as 'Orange' by driving organizations - a 'Red' classification is necessary before drivers leaving Paris stall in front of out-going highway toll gates, for lines longer than 5O kilometres. There is, by the way, no 'Black' classification.

For some reason Le Parisien thinks it odd that the recent rain - remember our recent drought? - in the Paris region has not deterred holidayers from leaving as planned - planned as much as six months ago; if not last year. When you are booked, you go, rain or shine.

All the same, travel operators estimate that 13 percent of their customers are still thinking it over. Since there are still places available everywhere, these holdouts may be waiting for summer sales - and it has not been unknown to pay half the going rate for lodging if you have the nerve to wait until empty beds will be sold at any price.

Gites de France reports full bookings from mid-July to mid-August; possibly because these informal places are relatively economic, but most of the major operators have capacity to spare.

'Europride' Brings La Vie en Rose to Paris

For the first time, Paris has been chosen as the site of the 'Europride' weekend, which is holding its fourth annual gathering of homosexuals in the City of Light. The event-filled weekend is expected to draw 250,000 visitors.

On Saturday afternoon a monster carnival parade was planned to start in the place de la Republique, and a super gigantic open-air rock concert was planned for the field at Reuilly. Start for the concert was 21:00 and the 'marathon' of Techno was scheduled to start at midnight and run through to 17:00 Sunday afternoon.

The reason I am not reporting that these large events actually happened, is because I saw no reports of them on TV-news. I do not doubt that they took place, but while I was watching the news tonight, it took me ten minutes to realize that the bike tricks I was watching were on a kid's program which was not the news. (On Sunday night, the evening France 2 TV-news did not mention the event either.)

Not only was it a first for Paris, but important local organizations graced 'Europride's' posters with their logos - SNCF, the fnac chain - which allowed its logo to be printed in rose instead of the usual ocher - and the RATP, which had pink métro tickets issued for the affair. Other sponsors included Virgin Records, Ben & Jerry's, Avis, Canal+ and Libération.

I am a bit in retard here, but Europride Paris 97 also has a Web site. Their poster didn't make it into Metropole's Poster of the Week simply because it has far too much text in it; but it was plastered all over the city.

Oh oh; on looking at yesterday's Libération I see that I failed to get the 'free!' CD-ROM, but more importantly, failed to see the ad for Saturday's 20-page 'Le Modèle Gay' section.

White Pages Go Online in France

France Telecom, after years of getting fat off their 'online-for-all' 1200-baud Minitel and all its pay-per-view 'information' providers, and after launching a ho-hum White and Yellow Pages on a CD-ROM, have finally decide to get serious with their newest effort, called Les Pages Zoom. In theory, the Internet service offers France-wide white pages, Yellow rain fell in France Pages, name-brand pages, 'Rues Commerçantes' and wonder of wonders, 'Pages Web.'

Currently typical street-scene in western France.

I say 'in theory,' because my trial of it left me unconvinced about its maturity, due in part to some odd dialogue boxes. However, I have been using their CD-ROM version - which does not have addresses - off and on for some time, and with its 30 percent 'hit' rate anything else has to be better.

France Telecom, which was slated to go public - which is now in some doubt, with the new government - is extremely reluctant to abandon its hyper-profitable Minitel service. But it must be looking closely at the Internet and at the wider technical possibilities it offers, and if 'Le Pages Zoom' can handle the lucrative Yellow Pages advertising without bothering users too much, it will show the way.

I suppose the 'set-top-box' is lurking in the background, because for the French operator, it would offer an easy-to-use alternative to Minitel.

There are actually some clever Minitel operators who are offering Internet email service from the Minitel - 3617 EMAIL - and from what I understand, it works, if slowly. You can also 'pickup' your email from it; if you know the name of your regular ISP's mail-server - but remember it costs 2.23 francs per minute.

Telephone, cable, satellite, digital-TV, digital cable and satellite, are all running around Europe trying to get focused, while the various operators are trying to form alliances, marriages and other sorts of relationships - which they seem to sever as fast as they're forged. I've given up trying to keep any kind of track of it because it looks like a very active phantom to me.

That said, if you feel like looking up anybody's phone number in France, give 'Le Pages Zoom' a try. Some bugs may have been worked out of it since last week.

The Man With the Red Cap

Everybody should know by now that Jacques-Yves Cousteau died last Wednesday at the age of 87. French media were full of the news and there was quite a lot of interesting things to see on TV for a change, especially if you like fish, seaweed and bubbles.

The Commander as he was generally called, or JYC, or 'Jique' by his companions, was too well-known for me to make a 'great commentary' about his life. Most of the planet is covered in oceans and they were the domain of Jacques-Yves Cousteau; and as a man with a strong bent for media, all of this is public knowledge.

He co-invented the Aqualung, together with the engineer, Emile Gagnan. What I didn't know before is that 'Aqualung' is a brand-name, and royalties from its patents financed a lot of Cousteau's activities.

I remember reading 'skin-diving' magazines in the early '50's when 'aqualunging' was a fairly exotic water-sport; so exotic in fact that none was done near where I lived, although there was a lot of ocean around. When 'skin-divers' or 'frogmen' did show up, they always drew a fair audience. If they did more than float 29.O6 in the Pyranees around with the masks underwater, it was like watching the submarine races, which was also a popular local spectator sport.

Hikers in the Pyranees had to switch gear on Sunday.

The oddest comments I heard about Cousteau's death came from radio France Info's reading of the Belgian newspaper commentaries. While success in business is considered to be a bit show-off and low-class in France, Belgian negative comment centered on Cousteau's successful business activities. Belgians are not generally considered to be as shy about business as the French, so I thought this attitude was curious - but it was very early in the morning and maybe I got it wrong.

Libération's headline on Thursday was, "Cousteau de Profundis."

Beach News

Eh oui! Despite the rain hitting my window-ledge like b-b pellets and thunder rolling in the background, here is the official French beach news.

Thirteen years ago a foundation was launched in France for the purpose of giving 'Blue Flags' to French beaches which could meet a serious set of criteria: for clean sand as well as water, for equipment, for layout and for their environment in general.

This year 108 seaside towns and 60 water-sport ports have received the coveted 'Pavillons Bleus.' Today, 18 other European countries also follow the French model - so what I write here goes for them too.

The 'Blue Flag' is not a PR gimmick. A jury of experts passed 238 French beach towns and 98 ports through a fine-tooth comb. Besides the 108 towns and 60 ports which got honors this year, about a dozen got demoted and lost their flags. The over-all news is good, because the number of flags given has risen from 77 last year.

In the listing of winners, it is interesting to note that some beach towns have gotten the blue flag for all of their beaches, while other multi-beach towns have not. I am not sea racing in the Vendee going to run the list of winners because it is too long; and the losers are not mentioned at all - and I can see from the map that a couple of serious bathing areas have no mention at all.

This is not 'Beach News,' this is ocean racing on Sunday, in the Vendée.

If you are at the beach in France and you see a blue flag, it is equivalent to four stars on a hotel. If you don't see a flag, it doesn't necessarily mean the water is polluted; it could be a combination of other factors - and one can always hope that these places will be trying a little harder next year.

Sports News

Tennis at Wimbledon was rained out last week. For sports fans this is hardly news; but I am not a tennis fan, so that makes us all even.

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