We Did It! We Got 'Golden October!'

Cafe Le Lamark
At the top of the métro stairs, or the bottom
of Montmartre's stairs - 'Le Lamark.'

And Along With It, We Got a Big Bad
Pollution Alert Level Three

Paris:- Saturday, 4. October 1997:- Friday night's TV-news showed sunbathers on a beach near Perpignan; some of them swimming in the Mediterranean. When asked if he thought of being in the office, one laid-back gent said, "Not much."

Then Perpignan's official weatherman was shown looking at his Hansel and Gretel weather-station thermometers. He said Thursday's high of 33.5 C was a record; and to tell the truth, it would have been a fair temperature for August.

It is not quite so warm in Paris and the mornings have been a cool 10 degrees, but at midday, it has been a lot warmer than practically any day of this summer's July.

While the government goes about its tiresome chores of announcing new and higher taxes almost daily, devil-may-care Parisians are by metro Lamark-Caulaincourt walking giddily around in last summer's clothes while the 'new' season's winter threads gather dust on store shelves.

From inside Le Lamark, to the stairs, or to the métro.

The dateline above says 4. October - so its now official! - its 'Golden October' time in Paris. If you had the misfortune to be someplace damp and drizzly during the recent 'summer,' jump on a jet today and get yourself to Paris as quick as you can.

'Golden October' means you get mid-summer weather in the daytime, cool evenings for dressing up, plus you can take advantage of the full fall offering of Paris activities. I won't say this is a one-time opportunity; but the possibility of it happening again in this millennium, is remote.

Every Blue Sky Has a Bit of Silver Smog

The flip-side of the 'Golden October' story in Paris, is smog. There is a solid high-pressure lid over the Ile-de-France; and there has been little wind, so warmth and diesel combined on Tuesday to send air-quality into the Red-Alert zone.

When this happened, in the 12th arrondissement, Dominique Le Parisien - Oui et Non Voynet, the minister for the environment and leader of the 'Green' Party called the Prime Ministre, Lionel Jospin, and they set off the alarm.

Odd or even, it's the last number before the letters that counts.

Locally this is called 'level three' and it has been agreed that this will set off emergency measures. One of them was to ban cars with, on Wednesday, even-numbered plates.

Le Parisien devoted its front page to making this as clear as possible to its readers. An odd number is okay or 'Oui,' and an even number is not, or 'Non.' If you are caught 'even' on an 'odd' day, the fine is 900 francs

On an even-numbered day of the month, I think it would be reversed. This is logical and everybody should be able to remember it. But, suppose all the smog-alert days are 'odd.' It would mean the 'evens' would never get their turn. It is probably for a reason such as this that Rome abandoned this system in 1993.

Wednesday's big surprise, which caused Le Parisien to print an editorial on its Thursday front page, was the fact that Parisians wholeheartedly accepted abandoning their beloved cars.

The habitual morning jams leading into the city were less than half of normal, even though the total traffic reduction was estimated at only 20 percent - even-numbered cars with pool-riders were permitted, for example. The biggest surprise for travellers was the regional public transport's decision to give everybody a free ride - and passenger traffic was up by five to ten percent.

Okay, these figures don't seem like much. I rode the bus number 29 from the gare Saint-Lazare across town to the gare de Lyon, and the trip - through many narrow and usually clogged streets - was almost swift. The bus was pretty full most of the way, and there were more people waiting at busstops than the number usually seen.

Evening TV-news showed pedestrians walking across an empty place de la Concorde, and evening rush-hour traffic racing along the Seine quais - when it is usually crawling or outright stalled.

A cyclist said it was great and in the next breath said it was very dangerous - because the few cars around were going much faster than usual. Usual is, the cyclist goes faster.

There were jokes too. The government is trying to somehow squeeze a 35-hour workweek into reality; and people were saying, why not just work on odd or even days - 'la alternée.'

The authorities are very pleased with how it turned out; they apparently had no idea whether residents would accept it or stage a revolution.

It could be, as often seems to be the case, that public opinion is far ahead of management thinking. After passing a bad day in Paris, you have Le Parisien - 'Ca Marche' a rotten evening, feeling lousy. Most of us are grown up and can handle it - but there are a lot of kids and people with breathing problems. For them, air pollution is pure poison.

Le Parisien is surprised about how good we were.

If you have kids, half of their infections seem to come from the air, doctors say. Doctors know it, from years of observation; and parents know it from the amount of time they spend sitting around in doctor's waiting rooms with a lot of sick kids.

There is no heavy industry around Paris; what there was moved away long ago. What we have here, is a government policy which promotes the sale of cars and light trucks with diesel motors, through low taxes on diesel fuel. At the pump, diesel costs about 25 percent less than unleaded super. The tax on all fuels, is about 80 percent of the pump price.

The RATP-SNCF reckon they lost about 16 million francs worth of fares in the Ile-de-France on Wednesday - although not from monthly-ticket holders who have already paid the full shot. To this they added a small bill for the cost of posters - pre-printed for the occasion - congratulating themselves for providing pollution-free public transport.

The syndicate of public transport will present the bill for this loss to the city of Paris, the seven departments surrounding Paris, and the central government. Taxpayers will pay it all.

When Paris has permanent pollution-free air, taxpayers will pay for it, just like we pay for garbage collection.

Meanwhile, Parisians handled it pretty well on Wednesday. Some of them rented electric-powered cars.

TV-News: France 2's Bruno Gets Bumped

I am not a great fan of French TV-news; but I have been catching it nearly every evening at 20:00 for 15 or 20 years. Like all news everywhere these days; the 'foreign' reports are mostly about disasters or wars and many times France is treated as if it were an island in the Pacific; sometimes one where bananas seem to be the main crop.

The 'presenter' of the news can make a difference. Since 'news' on TV has become showbusiness, it can sometimes be treated as a sort of macabre entertainment; shrill and breathlessly.

For 13 years Bruno Masure has done it differently. For one thing, Bruno wrote the words he spoke and he spoke them in good, even and pleasantly-modulated French. If I could speak French, I'd like to do it like Bruno.

Starting out in radio, he moved to TF1 as a political reporter while it was still state-owned. In September 1984, he took over the anchorman-slot on the main 20:00 TV-news. The state sold 'our' TF1 and hired a game-show presenter to do the news, and Bruno moved over to Antenne 2 - now called 'France 2.'

This is a tough job, handling 30 to 40 minutes of news each night, and he alternated with some other good men; but Bruno was the best of all.

France in panic? Calm Bruno had a little play on words that reduced the heat. France in fear? Bruno could put fact two first, followed by fact one; thus reducing the impact and adding perspective.

He had a habit of turning up perfectly droll little stories and truly clever puns to end a half-hour of war, famine, terror, and catastrophe - like a model bullfighter getting the bull planted - to sit still through the commercials - until the weather forecast.

Because of this, Bruno Masure was also the most popular news 'presenter' year-in and year-out in France; although Bastille from free bus often outrated by rival TF1. I do not know why this could be, because I never watched TF1 after the government sold it.

On Wednesday, Bruno told us about how well we handled this exceptional day. On Thursday he gave his last newscast on France 2, TV-news, ending at 20:35.

The actual pollution level-3 was reached the day before Paris' Pollution Day.

After the last show, the usual half-hour of bitter criticism by the editorial team lasted exactly one minute. Then they - secretaries, technicians, journalists; 60 in all - had a 'pot' for Bruno which lasted an hour before he drove off in a 205 to have dinner with friends.

Bruno's replacements in the number-one hotseat are well-known and respected faces and I will be glad to see Paul Amar back if he is one of them; but I'm sure everybody is going to miss those close-the-show puns.

One last thing. Bruno Masure wore consistently perfect shirts.

Birthday for Sputnik Today

Launched on Friday, 4. October 1957, space travel started with a Russian-made little metal ball that went 'beep-beep' as it circled the earth, while the US military establishment went ape. Things have not been the same since then, and it was the last year the 1957 Chevrolet was manufactured.

Sports News

Alain Prost, who has just installed a Formula One factory in a town near Versailles, spent part of the week trying to convince his new neighbors that Formula One motors do not make much noise.


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