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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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