President Chirac's Roadshow

Bistro en Fete
Bistros were having a party today,
but aren't they always?

And Mr. Tapie Comes Back to Entertain Us

Paris:- Saturday, 27. September 1997:- After a long period away from public view, the President of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, leaped into the media spotlight last Monday - and stayed in it all week.

Le Parisien started it off in their Monday edition with the publication of a poll by the CSA, done for the paper. The front page title was, "Chirac On the Reconquest;" which I'll admit is not perfect English - but it is probably an oxymoron in French too.

Of those polled, 76 percent think the President will complete his term of office. As far as I know, Mr. Chirac is in good health and there is no constitutional reason for him not to complete his term - so I don't know why the question was posed.

The French being themselves; apparently 24 percent doubt the President will finish his seven-year term. This is probably about the same amount who do not believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

I am sort of reassured that 68 percent think the President will 'act' when he thinks it necessary. This means they think the President has read the French Constitution; and may possibly mean that some of those polled parked dog have read it too. If the subtext of this question is supposed to mean - will the President throw out the present Socialist government if he thinks it necessary - I think he will, if it seems to be constitutionally necessary. Otherwise, no.

This friendly-looking dog is bigger than a small car, but 'no parking' anyway.

The bad news is, only 50 percent of those polled think the President is 'close' to the residents of France.

Except for a few foreign visits, Mr. Chirac has not been seen much in France since the beginning of August - and obviously, half of the French miss him.

On Tuesday, Le Parisien's front page said, "Chirac Attaque!" I added the exclamation point that Le Parisien left out on account of the narrow column headline. This was a report about the President's first day of doing the new 'road show' on Monday.

At Troyes in the Aube, he said that the days of the French government running the economy 'are over.'

This was an allusion to the planned sell-off of state enterprises such as France Telecom, the state banks, and so on. As such, it was a historic statement, for the French state has traditionally been a very large part of the French business scene; and what it didn't own outright, it has kept under tight control.

Getting rid of state enterprises is all part of getting 'in to' the Euro, and getting the Euro to launch on time. France is so big, that the Euro cannot launch without it. What is new, is this hard commitment by the French state - not just the President - to say in no uncertain terms that France is going to be 'on time.'

Socialists and Communists will ask, "At what cost?" But with the recently elected Tony Blair, a socialist, now running the UK and looking like he will drag Britain into the continental partnership with his bare hands if necessary - the answer to the question is, "Whatever it takes!"

One of Those Socialist Election Promises

You don't need poll results to know that French residents are worried about unemployment, which is at a record high level. In the election campaign, the Socialists promoted the 35-hour working week - as a way of creating jobs.

Employers are not happy with the idea of 39 hours pay for 35 hours of work; but it is not surprising that this should be so, as they would have everybody work 60 hours a week for 39 hours pay if they could get away with it.

While they are mulling this over, the question of manager's working hours has suddenly arisen. Traditionally, if you are a 'manager,' you are expected to work until whatever you do is finished. In France, managers work slightly more that 45 hours a week and 58 percent of them would like to work less.

Working an unspecified number of hours per week is contrary to France's 'Code de Travail,' but this set of laws is not closely adhered to for managers - although it applies to everybody.

It might surprise readers to learn that managers in France also belong to unions; just as their employers have their 'union' too. Therefore, on a question like the 35-hour week, the two groups can discuss the issues - and it is not each individual manager for him or herself. This is for the general rules of play; for amount of pay, individual managers work this out by themselves with their bosses.

Taxes are Going - Where Else? - Up!

The Minister of Finance, Dominique Strass-Kahn, shared the week's media spotlight with the President - especially after the budget was adopted Wednesday evening.

Besides a lack of tax revenues from the unemployed, the never-yet-employed and the seriously under-employed, the government has to get finances straightened out for the launch of the Euro.

This involves the 'good-news bad-news' sort of decisions, which make it really hard to figure out if you are winning, losing or treading water.

One example: France's value-added tax is high and will have to come down to line-up with its partner's rates. This is 'good news,' especially for visitors.

The 'bad news' part is that the government depends more on value-added taxes for revenue than income taxes, so what it loses from one source has to be made up from another. The story is, the rate of 'CSG' is going through the roof. This hits all residents directly; but has no direct effect on visitors.

What is the 'CSG?' It stands for something like 'General Social Contribution,' but is, in fact, an income tax; which is added to normal income taxes. It should be called, 'Higher Income Tax,' or HIT.

The French have historically hidden about half of all the cash in France under their beds. This is 'sleeping money' and it does not do much good because it does not change hands; it does not circulate. The modern version of 'under the bed' is something like a post-office savings account. It doesn't pay much interest, but it is solid.

In order to force this 'sleeping money' into circulation, the tax on its interest is being raised. But the ultimate wisdom of doing this is in doubt, because the tax on capital gains is also going to take a hit. In fact, the government intends to leave few rocks unturned in its search for revenues.

The Rich Are Not Like You and Me

Just as we are looking at getting poorer, the state statistics people - the Insee - have come along to plunge us into deeper gloom.

The poorest people in France, who are about 10 percent of the population, pay something like 18 percent of whatever revenue they have, on taxes of all sorts. The so-called middle classes, pay out about 40 percent for these taxes. The wealthiest people, pay only seven percent.

Income tax is not the government's major source of revenue. The value-added tax is the cash-cow, and its weight falls heaviest on the poor and the middle-class. Other items highly taxed are cigarettes and gasoline; the rich drive no more than others, and buy books - TVA at 5.5 percent - instead of cigarettes.

I heard on the radio that the wealthiest one percent of the French, effectively control 20 percent of the national wealth. That leaves me and Pierre and the other 98 percent of us to share the 80 percent left.

Loitering Over Paris

Your days of swilling free champagne while twirling around in the skies over Paris while waiting for your aircraft to receive landing permission, may be over - in 1999.

After much debate and many fiercely-opposed proposals, the green light has been given to build two more - landing only! - strips at Roissy; known in airline lingo as 'CDG.' This will bring the total of strips at Roissy to four, and when operational, the airport will be able to handle traffic carrying 55 million passengers.

The minister, Jean-Claude Gayssot, stated categorically that a 'fifth strip' would not be built at Le Bourget, which is closer to Paris. Apparently the freight operators would like to see this. They had probably been hoping for an entirely new airport south of Paris - but this is now one of the quashed plans.

Party-Time for Bistros

It is supposed to be customers who initiate this; but if bistros want to do it instead it is okay with me. The fourth annual 'Bistrots en Fête' began on Thursday and continues until today - throughout France.

There are about two thousand establishments involved and the idea is supposed promote the worth of bistros with animation - such as live music, jugglers, magicians, organ-grinders and even recitals.

There are bistros and there are bistros of course. Some patrons permit free-lance 'ambiance' and some do not. For all I know, singing in bistros is illegal - but I can't sing so I have never learned about this first-hand.

In some bistros, it is the patron - himself, herself - who is the 'ambiance,' but more often, it is the other customers. In quiet, country bistros, there may be card-players inside and boules players outside and this is about as much 'ambiance' as most drinkers need or can stand.

Paris is another story. Paris has a wide choice of bistros and somewhere, there is one to suit you - even if there is no special 'fête' going on. The best thing about bistros is you don't have to pay to enter - and sometimes you don't have to pay when you leave either.

100 Candles of Rocket Science

Early in the week the 100th launch of the Ariane rocket was announced and I thought, this is like 'spitting into the wind.' Space rockets are more complicated than microwave ovens, and it can't be good luck to get too cocky about throwing one up by merely snapping your fingers and saying 'nothing to it.'

Anyhow Aérospatiale says that I am just supposed to call it a 'routine flight.' Ariane's first launch was on 29. December 1979. On Wednesday night 450 people turned up at the factory in Les Mureaux near Paris, to watch the historic 100th launch via TV from Kourou in French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America.

Nobody applauded until the cargo - an Intelsat-803 - was successfully placed in orbit, 23 minutes and 40 seconds after the launch. It was the 29th successive zero-error shot.

The next lift-off will be of the new and very much bigger 'Ariane 5,' trying for its first zero-fault launch. This is its second trial; the first flopped on 6. June 1996. The rocket launched last Wednesday was an older 'Ariane 4' model.

18 Candles for 16 Arianes were blown out in Kourou on the occasion of the successful launch. The sixteen Arianes from a half-dozen European countries were guests at the launch - invited because they were all born within hours of the first launch in 1979.

The Annual Paris Transport Strikes?

I'm not quite sure if they are in fact 'annual,' but somebody said they were to me yesterday, after my SNCF train was less than on-time getting me to La Défense. This action by SNCF crews has mainly affected trains running west out of Saint-Lazare. I had a free ride last Wednesday because my station was closed. It was late and slow, but it was free.

According to Le Parisien, some long-distance routes are affected as well. Cause of the labor action is reported to be the new fall timetable, and new 'bonuses' to compensate for fewer 'conductors.' I put 'conductors' in quotes because there are drivers and there are controllers, but I've never laid eyes on a conductor.

Watch out next Wednesday for irregular RATP bus service in Paris. Ticket vendors and métro controllers are also supposed to be absent underground, but the métro itself is supposed to be running normally.

The Grape Harvest on Montmartre Report:

Jean Tiberi, Mayor of Paris, and Daniel Vaillant, Mayor of the 18th arrondissement, each clipped a symbolic grape off a single vine at the vineyard by Montmartre's rue des Saules, Thursday morning.

The two mayors do not share the same party affiliations, and may not even be mayors in the same country, as the bottle tree 18th is sometimes called the 'Republic of Montmartre.' After taking a tour of the Clos Montmartre, the two retired to the Lapin Agile cabaret, across the street.

Not everybody in Montmartre has a bottle-tree like this one.

Mr. Vaillant used the occasion to deny a report that he had been on hands and knees to get Sophie Marceau to be 'god-mother' to the 'Cuvée Dalida,' which will be the name of this year's wine from this vineyard. Paris' mayor, Jean Tiberi said that one shouldn't believe everything printed in the 'Canard Enchaîné.'

Starting next Saturday, 4. October, the 'Vendanges à Montmartre '97' will commence. Eight hundred bottles of last year's wine will be offered for 300 francs each, posters will cost 80 francs, and long-distance telephone cards, with an image of Dalida, will be sold at the city hall of the 18th.

This year's harvest was treated in the cellar of the city hall by Françis Gourdin, who thinks it will be one of the best years - rating perhaps 14/20. Clos Montmartre, Cuvée 'Dalida' - 1997.

Welcome Back, Bernard Tapie!

All those dreary months in prison were not wasted by France's very own Mr Dynamic Businessman, Bernard Tapie. According to Le Parisien, Mr. Tapie has written some Rap-lyrics, which he is to record with French 'rappeur' Doc Gynéco, and the CD is going to be pressed by Virgin.

This is not Bernard Tapie's first pop outing. Under the name of 'Bernard Tapy' he brought out a four-song super-45 in 1966; which was in tune with those yé-yé times. As a rapper, he is expected to have some 'hard-time' lyrics on the new disc. Welcome back, Bernard!

FN Attempt to Rewrite History in Vitrolles

Bruno Mégret is number two of the ultra-nationalist Front National party, and he also works as the press-agent for his wife, the Mayor of the southern town of Vitrolles.

Malicious tongues in the opposition also say he functions as shadow-mayor, and I hesitate to discount this rumor. On Wednesday he announced proposed changes of some place names in the town.

If the changes are adopted at the next municipal council meeting, they will start with the name of the town itself. Thus, Vitrolles would become 'Vitrolles-en-Provence.'

The existing place Nelson-Mandela, close to the city hall, will become 'place de Provence,' the avenue Jean-Marie-Tjibaou will become 'avenue Jean-Pierre Stirbois.' Apparently, Stirbois was imprisoned several times for public brawling and carrying illegal firearms, and was known as one of the most extreme FN leaders.

The avenue Salvador-Allende will become the 'avenue Mère-Teresa' and the arcades Marcel-Paul - of the Communist resistance - will become the 'arcades Colonel-de-Courson.'

Opposition leaders, who plan to go to court over changing the name of the arcades Marcel-Paul, speculated that Mégret was pulling a publicity stunt, "in order to divert attention from real problems concerning the management of the town."

Sports News

The Salon We Missed

The World Motorcycle Salon opened yesterday at Paris-Expo at the Porte de Versailles without me learning about it - until I saw poster for it in the métro yesterday. The salon runs until Friday, 3. October.

TV-news showed an interesting film of a crash-test, with a motorcycle- looking thing crashing into a sturdy wall. The two-wheeler had sort of a 'roll-cage' on it, and according to the commentary the crash-dummy moto motor was not killed - and didn't need to wear a helmet.

Big-scale motorcycle production ceased in France nearly 25 years ago with the death of Motobécane, but there remain a few small manufacturers who make nearly custom bikes, costing very 'custom' amounts of money.

Four cylinders, 16 valves, 80 hp; must be Japanese.

It is now legal in France to drive 125 cc models with an ordinary car-driver's license. Because of this, the sales of the small-bore bikes and scooters has skyrocketed - and so have accidents.

Being once on a Matchless, in the rain, on streetcar tracks in a cobbled street, was enough to make me swear off for life. If insanity strikes and I do get the bug, I'll spend a couple of francs on some lessons first.

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