Brit Tabs Savage French Flics

Cafe La Belle Ferrorriere
Café La Belle Ferrorriere in the rue François 1er.

But Britain Honors Simone Veil With Knighthood

Paris:- Saturday, 13. September 1997:- According to Le Parisien, some of the press across the channel is not happy with the way the French authorities are handling the investigation into the circumstances of the tragic crash in Paris which took the lives of Lady Diana, Emad Mohamed 'Dodi' al Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul two weeks ago.

I have to take Le Parisien's word for it because I do not even read the few British papers I like. The theme seems to be, 'It would never happen in Britain.' The tabloid 'Sun' reportedly wrote, in part, "Nine days after the accident, the British people are still waiting for the truth. This shameful delay is an insult..." and "it's not an ordinary accident; it's the one that killed our princess." And this is the polite part.

The simple fact is, Parisians are just as much in the dark.

As of today, this is how the matter stands: Dodi's father and owner of the Ritz - and Harrod's - Mohamed al Fayed, insisted on having a third analysis performed on his deceased employee's blood. The results showed a similar high level of alcohol content plus the presence of a tranquilizer - possibly Prozac.

The victim's family wanted this analysis done too, and now both the family and Mr. al Fayed have reluctantly accepted the findings. Implication: not the fault of the paparazzi.

This does not mean Mr. al Fayed is solely intent on clearing his employee's reputation and whitewashing the image of the hotel; I think local associations day he is being loyal to a long-time employee who he probably knew well, and his interests coincide with the victim's family, who also knew him well.

Throughout France, local associations sign up new members today.

However, the matter is still not clear - although Mr. Paul was apparently following a medical treatment for alcoholism, the autopsy revealed a normally-sized liver, uncharacteristic of a chronic alcoholic.

Rumors broadcast by radio France Info reported a Ritz employee as saying Mr. Paul had had a medical checkup only a few days before, and he was in tip-top shape. Then there are the hotel's security videos which show Mr. Paul seeming to act normally, over a period of hours, at the hotel on the night in question.

Meanwhile Paris police are eagerly waiting to question the Ritz' bodyguard, Mr. Trevor Rees-Jones, who was severely injured in the fatal crash - and survived because he was wearing a seatbelt.

Today's papers report that it is feared that Mr. Rees-Jones may be suffering from partial amnesia due to shock. Doctors say it is common for crash victims to not remember the circumstances of an accident. Mr. Rees-Jones has had 10 hours of surgery to re-construct his face, and anesthetics used during the operation could also have short-circuited his memory.

The British are naturally anxious to have the truth of the matter; but it is no reason for some of the press there to vilify French investigative efforts - and jingoist name-calling is really low-class, if not obstructive.

Paris has 30 investigators from the Brigade Criminelle working on the 'Dossier Diana.' A few days ago it was 100, to interview the photographers and all the other witnesses. According to an investigating judge, being able to close the 'Dossier Diana' next June will be an 'excellent résultat.'

As far as newspapers here go, Le Parisien had its first six pages devoted to the 'Diana Story' last Monday, and Wednesday's editions had a full-page page one photo of her.

Last Wednesday, more than a thousand Parisians and members of the British community, attended a sober memorial service, held at the Madeleine.

Record Sales for 'Goodbye England's Rose'

The CD-audio recording of Elton John's tribute to Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, was selling at a furious rate at the Virgin Megastore on the Champs-Elysées yesterday. Initial sales were hitting 500 singles per hour, and the store expected to move 6,000 copies by the end of the day.

In Britain, Elton John is furious with BBC and ITN video producers. These producers are refusing to forward all profits from the sales of the funeral videos to the Memorial Fund, and Mr. John has reportedly told them to cut out footage of him performing his tribute, 'Goodbye England's Rose' if they don't change their minds.

The producers have offered to 'donate' either £3.00 or £3.50 to the fund, out of an expected retail price of £12.99, but Mr. John doesn't think this is all of the profits they will make on it. The producers disagree.

Mercury Records in France reported that it had orders for 200,000 copies and they were having difficulties filling the demand. The entire profits from the sales of the CD will go to the 'Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.'

Virgin said some customers were buying 10 copies at once. Orders in the UK are reported to total 1.5 million copies.

Simone Veil Gets Knighthood

At a ceremony at the British Embassy in Paris, Britain's ambassador to France named Simone Veil, 70, a Dame Commander of the British Empire. This honorary title is equivalent to a British Knighthood and Madame Veil is the first Frenchwoman to receive it.

For the rare honor, Madame Veil was called "one of the great figures of France and Europe today," by Ambassador to France, Sir Michael Jay.

Madame Veil has been an important figure in post-war French politics and a staunch supporter of European unification. She survived war-time 'deportation' to the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen death camps and was liberated from the latter by British troops at war's end.

In France, Madame Veil has made a lot of headlines over many years - but most notably in 1992 by urging President François Mitterrand to make a gesture to recognize the responsibility of the wartime 'Vichy' government for crimes against Jews. President Mitterrand was himself a forced worker in Germany for a time during the war.

Lucky Luke Can Draw Faster than His Shadow

The cartoonist, Morris, whose complete name is Maurice de Bevere, can not draw quite as fast as his creation - but he draws long. Last Wednesday, 10. September, was chosen as the 50th anniversary of the creation of 'Lucky Luke,' hero of 78 comic-albums, hero of 250 million of them sold worldwide.

For the occasion, Morris, now 74, launched his 74th album, entitled 'OK Corral,' which he said was inspired Florent Bascunana aka 'Lucky Luke' by the good dozen of films treating the now, mythical, shootout in Tombstone, Arizona between Wyatt Earp and pals vs the Clantons and their pals.

Like Lucky Luke himself, the story is true myth: the Clantons lost and the famous sheriff died in bed in Los Angeles in 1929 with his boots off.

Bad guys leave town when Lucky Luke is around; here portrayed with enthusiasm by Florent Bascunana.

Morris, a Belgian like Hervé, the creator of 'Tin-Tin,' has a huge library of history and lore relating to America's 'Wild West.' Lucky Luke, according to artist's privilege, is about as authentic as the average Hollywood western movie, and this probably accounts for his popularity.

Starting in 1955, Morris collaborated with René Goscinny, creator of Asterix, on the comic scenarios and this lasted until Goscinny's death in 1977. The two did 38 albums together.

In 1984 Lucky Luke gave up his eternal hand-rolled cigarette. As there weren't any Suzettes to suck on out on the plains, Lucky Luke cut his craving with a bit of prairie grass and for this Morris was decorated by the WHO in 1988. In the albums Lucky Luke still takes a strong drink, but for cartoon-movie versions he sticks to milk or lemonade.

In 1991, Terrence Hill, the blue-eyed slightly insane Italian actor who used to team with the burley Bud Spenser, became 'the lonesome cowboy' in a movie version.

Even though Morris thinks Lucky Luke is something of a goodie-two-shoes, he is actively planning the 79th album - which will feature 'Marcel Dalton,' the hapless bank-robbing Dalton's uncle from Europe.

Computers Empower Kids - to Make Funny Money

With a scanner, printer, some graphics software and a computer 'trés prefectionné,' a public-works student of 23 managed to make some 200 franc notes, described by a police investigator as 'pas mal faits.'

At first it began as a joke: toss a real 200 franc note into the scanner to see what comes out. Then it got serious and as Le Parisien describes it, all that was necessary was a bit of tinkling the keyboard a bit.

The result was good enough for the pianist and his partner to pass 25 of the fake notes before one was spotted by a merchant.

I like Le Parisien's light-hearted style and I'm sure the Bank of France does too. Most PCs are 'trés prefectionné' these days and scanners are cheap, but high-end printers and bank-quality paper are not easily obtained. A lot of shops around Paris have phoney money detectors too.

According to French law, which is incidently printed right on both real and fake 200 franc notes, counterfeiters risk up to 30 years behind steel bars and fines of up to three million francs. Fines payable only with the Bank of France's own notes.

Oddly, it seems to be an editorial policy of Le Parisien to tell its readers that the reason they're not on the Internet in big numbers is because it is too difficult to master, but they delight in telling the same readers how easy it is to make complicated money with computers.

Meanwhile - at the Mint

Set for circulation Monday, the Minister of the Economy has unveiled a new, massive-silver 100 franc coin. This 15 gram beauty, 31 millimetres in diameter, carries the portrait of André Malraux on one face and two cats - symbolizing the transfer of his ashes to the Panthéon, on the other.

The accompanying photo of the minister, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, shows him holding models of the new coin; about the size of 1934 Packard hubcaps. The mint will press only a half-million of these, so I guess they will be for collectors of fancy coins rather than for general use. On sale at banks near you, if you are in France.

Level Crossings

There was a horrible crash last Monday; between a two-car passenger train and a tank-truck at a level crossing. The accident resulted in 13 deaths, 40 injured, the destruction of the train, the truck and an adjacent house.

The train, carrying a good number of students, also had one American, one German and three Japanese as passengers who were injured.

The residents of Port-Sainte-Foy in the Dordogne are angry. A car smashed the level-crossing barrier to smithereens only a week ago Friday; and the frail barrier was replaced in time for Monday's collision - and this was for the umpteenth time. The owner of the demolished house, which used to be the gatekeeper's, said he lived in constant expectation of such a tragedy.

This sort of story is not a regular feature of this column. But because of this crash, it can't helped but be noted that there are 150 accidents at level-crossings in France per year, with an average of 10 fatalities and many more injured.

The French rail network has 11,000 active level-crossings. They are being eliminated at the rate of about 60 per year; but arithmatic shows that it will take another 200 years to entirely remove this danger to travellers.

Instead of costly bridges or tunnels, many level-crossings have been 'improved' with chicanes or other tricks to slow motorists approaching rail tracks. Such 'improvements' have caused a good number of road accidents; and the site of the accident at Port-Sainte-Foy had a version of these.

Close to Paris, where I live, there are three level-crossings I regularly have to use. Fortunately, two of them are over unused tracks - which are slated for renewal, to eventually complete the Ile-de-France's 'Big Belt' of rails.

Conviction in Vitrolles

The mayor of Vitrolles, Catherine Mégret of the Front National Party, was found guilty last week by a court in Aix-en-Provence, of making racist remarks to the Berlin paper, the Berliner Zeitung.

The following appeared in this column in early May: "After the publication of the interview with Catherine Mégret [see Au Bistro, Saturday, 1. March 1997] the newly elected Front National mayor of Vitrolles, in the Berliner Zeitung, a bunch of French people went to their local police stations and lodged civil complaints.

"Last Wednesday, 729 of them filed through a courtroom in Aix-en-Provence as their names were called out; thereby making the complaints into official court cases. Each had deposited 100 francs for the privilege - a sum demanded to dissuade frivolous charges."

Last Monday this court pronounced a sentence of three months - suspended - and a fine of 50,000 francs for the Mayor, Mme Mégret. Anti-racist groups were happy with the result even if it was less than the prosecutor requested.

Mme Mégret's husband, Bruno Mégret - the phantom mayor and number two of the National Front Party - said the conviction of his wife was 'a scandal' and announced an appeal.

More Rentrée

On Thursday, 2,366,000 students returned to France's general, technical and professional lycées. This is an increase of 25,000 over last year. I learned at little bit metro Cluny-Sorbonne more about this first-hand last Wednesday, but not overly much.

This is the métro stop closest to the 'royal' colleges.

The Minister of Education, Claude Allègre, has been getting about as many columns of newsprint as the annual 'rentrée' coverage in the French press.

The Minister has had the cheek to suggest that teachers and professors take their training sometime during their annual 16 weeks of holidays, rather than during the first week of the rentrée.

Teacher's unions immediately and loudly objected to this off-the-wall proposal, while anxious parents were scrambling to find minders for their - in school - but abandoned, children.

Every new Minister of Education that comes along brings a new set ideas for reforms. Mr. Allègre's problem seems to be that he is not only willing to examine all and any reforms, but he has a direct manner of speaking seldom heard and rarely appreciated in France.

In Finland, a teacher works 47 weeks a year; 39 weeks are in class and eight other weeks are spent on professional training. Holland, Germany and Portugal are thinking of adopting this schedule, while the Austrians and the Luxembourgois follow the French model of teaching for only 36 weeks of the year.

The Car Wars - Xoom, Here Comes Xsara!

Europe's big car show this year is in Frankfurt and it is on now. These shows are where the manufacturers roll out their spacy 'future' cars for the oglers, but the real intention is to draw a lot of people to look at their new bread-and-butter offerings.

This is especially important for the cars in the class of the highest sales. The French constructor, Peugeot-Citroën has presented new Citroen Xsara its latest entry in this battle at Frankfurt, and popped it into French showrooms today.

The Xsara's looks less 'French' than the ZX it replaces, so it may sell better.

The Citroën Xsara is basically a lifted ZX. Citroën is a company with a long history of making slightly odd cars and now that it makes slightly more normal cars, it maintains tradition by giving them odd names - and, to add to the confusion - is in the process of moving from 'XYZ' designations to proper names, mostly starting with 'X.'

Therefore, the old 'BX' became the Xantia and their smaller 'AX' became the Saxo and the new version of the 'ZX' becomes the Xsara. Is this all clear?

The Xsara is in the same class as VW's Golf and Opel's Astra; both also in new versions at Frankfurt this year. Peugeot-Citroën has no models in the top ten list of European sellers, but it is represented in the 'Golf' class by its Peugeot 306 line and the new Xsara.

The Xsara and its predecessor the ZX do not have the famous Citroën hydro-pneumatic suspension, but the Xsara shares its 'steering' rear-suspension with the hydro-sprung Xantia - making it a good car on twisty European roads.

A friend told me the ZX' suspension took a bit of getting used to as the rear-end helps going around corners; but my old BX took some getting used to, too - being kind of 'floaty' as it is.

Citroën's peculiar suspensions have their fans, but their motors, which are shared with Peugeot, are given good marks for durability. The Xsara has the usual range of motor sizes from 1.4 litres to 1.8 with 16 valves, plus two 1.9 diesels, one with a turbo.

Diesel-powered passenger cars have big sales in France and Europe, and some of the turbo-diesel mills can push both little and big cars to formidable speeds very quickly, while running on cheapo fuel.

The fuel itself is coming in for more criticism lately, because it pollutes more than unleaded super - and, in France, fresh-air fans are starting to complain about the decided price advantage of diesel. Truck drivers like it though.

The Set Top NetBox

Long awaited and often rescheduled, the magic 'set top' box called 'NetBox' arrived in some French shops in August. This gizmo, attached to TV sets, is supposed to enable viewers to access the Web - without the need of impossible and insanely-complicated PCs.

Priced at about 2,000 francs - while the cheapest new computer with a modem sells for about 6,000 - the 'NetBox' is supposed to bring the Internet into every French living room, and be no more complicated than a home video recorder - or even less so.

Available for the moment only at a TV rental chain and a mail-order firm restricted to certain functionaries, the 'NetBox' should available at big chain stores around 20. September.

So far, only about 3,000 units have been made, but the Parisian firm, Netgem, is negotiating with a big German electronics outfit for German sales. In Germany it will likely be called, 'WebBox.'

Apparently, a subscription to a Havas-On-Line service for 65 francs a month is required to make the 'NetBox' operational. However, there is is one other little problem. Netgem as yet has no firm agreement with the line-supplier, France Telecom.

The telephone monopoly has agreed to start a pilot service in the region of Annecy on 1. October. So the 'NetBox' will be on sale in the Paris region 10 days before access to the Internet is available - in Annecy.

This doesn't seem to bother Netgem at all. They are planning to launch a more elaborate 'NetBox 2' in the first quarter of 1998. Surfing the web in French living rooms is just around the corner; somewhere, sometime maybe sooner than later - but who knows?

Honors List

Named officier de la Légion d'Honneur: Charles Aznavour; Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur: Stéphane Grappelli; Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur: Nana Mouskouri, Greek deputy to the European Parliament and Unicef Ambassador - by the Président of France, Jacques Chirac, at the Elysée Palace on Thursday.

In a quote from Le Parisien, the Président said, "Nana Mouskouri est considérée comme une chanteuse française et rien ne nous fera changer d'avis." He had similar kind words for the singer with the Armenian name and the jazz-fiddle player with the Italian name.

Sports News

Due to an excess of other news - twice as much as the average, 'Sports News' is suspended again this week.

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