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Bistro Les Baccantes
A quiet bistro in a quiet street; in the rue Caumartin.

French Truckers About to Resume 1996 Srike

Paris:- Sunday, 2. November 1997:- While negotiators for trucking operators and driver's unions were congratulating themselves late this afternoon on reaching settlements of the outstanding disputes dividing the two sides, truckers around the country prepared to block trucking operations - starting this evening at 22:00.

France 2's TV-news opened with this story at 20:00 and for most of the following 20 minutes showed scenes at union locals where truck drivers were planning strike action to begin immediately.

Other video film showed truckers preparing materials for barricades, and preparing themselves for setting up picket lines, as well as getting ready to man them throughout the night.

One lesson learned from last year's strike - close down the refinery deliveries - seemed to have priority.

In the Lyon area, where there is heavy Toussaint holiday traffic trying to return to northern France, the strikers hit early, and traffic appeared to be at a standstill there.

Like last year, ordinary motorists are not striking Cafe de la Paix truckers' targets. They block non-striking trucks and let cars 'filter' through; but with heavy traffic this can be pretty slow.

The Café de la Paix was decorated by Charles Garnier, who did the Opéra.

Most trucking operators have told their drivers that they don't want their trucks used for blockades this time around, so many trucks have already been parked and are 'out of the game' for the duration.

This was anticipated by the truckers, and they have already stockpiled barricade material and have the means to move it into place and set it up.

Meanwhile, badly stung by last year's labor action, British truckers have done everything they can to get their trucks out of France before they get stuck here. At the frontiers, refrigerated trucks are being let through, but all others are being refused entry.

I do not know the details of this afternoon's Paris agreement; but TV-news seemed to clearly show that rank-and-file truck drivers around the country are not in step with union leadership in Paris - and they are willing and ready for a long strike.

As of this morning, many gas stations already had dry tanks, as most car drivers have been 'filling up.'

This Week's Other News

Paris:- Saturday, 1. November 1997:- The impending trucker's strike has been a news item all week, with Le Parisien stating in Monday's editions that the truckers had their list of barricade locations ready to put into action.

The truckers ended their strike last year with a promise of a 'bonus' of 3,000 francs. This has not been paid. Only about 16 percent of truckers drive 39 hours a week or less, and more that 62 percent drive more than 48 hours a week, with slightly over 10 percent driving more than 70 hours a week.

There are two employers' groups; the one representing smaller trucking companies is inclined to be more flexible because it is less able to withstand a long strike. All the truckers unions together have a common position, and it is unlikely there will be a settlement before the two employers' groups can make a unified offer.

After Fits and Starts, Vichy Back in Court: Maurice Papon

Hospitalized for most of the week, Maurice Papan was in court on Friday to hear testimony by the historian, Robert Paxton - in Papon's trial on charges of 'crimes against humanity.'

Mr. Paxton was in court to explain how the Vichy government had actively assisted the Nazis to round up and deport French Jews to the death camps.

This type of testimony is permitted, because it helps explain the context of the time in which offenses were committed, the offenses upon which the charges against Papon are based.

Paxton told the court that in 1942 the German occupiers of France were short-handed. In the spring of that year, the inside the cafe Vichy administration decided to aid the Nazis. The French police general-secretary René Bousquet proposed to deliver non-French Jews, caught in the unoccupied zone of France, to the Germans in the occupied part.

A quiet café across from the Opéra, next to a bus stop.

The children of Jews sent east in July, were sent after them, under the pretext, according to Pierre Laval, 'of reuniting families.' Paxton explained that this collaboration was a 'choice' of an authoritarian regime. Since 1940, but before the Nazis were properly installed in Paris, the regime had passed an entire body of anti-Jewish legislation.

"The Nazis didn't demand a national revolution," the historian insisted. Jews were well integrated into French society; difficult to find, hard to arrest. The Vichy regime weakened this population's assimilation by keeping files, by marking; thereby making them visible to the Nazis.

Another historian, Henri Amouroux, put it differently. He spoke of the terrible defeat; of the ignorance forced upon the French by Vichy propaganda. He repeated that gas chambers were unknown at the time, and nobody alerted the general population to the problems facing the Jews.

Amouroux said it was 'unimaginable and unthinkable,' in response to the prosecutor's remark that leaders of French society at the time were perfectly aware of the anti-Jewish policies of Pétain's government.

There was a sharp argument about Amouroux's past, brought up by Mr. Boulanger, one of the lawyers for the civil parties. This was cut off by the presiding judge, and Maurice Papon went back to the hospital, to spend the weekend there.

Web sites devoted to the History and Trial of Maurice Papon

The Matisson family were the first to launch a civil case against Maurice Papon, in 1981. Jean-Marie Matisson runs the website, and reports from the courtroom. At the website, click on 'Affaire Papon.'

Another website of interest contains daily coverage of the trial by the Bordeaux paper, the Sud Ouest.

The Swatch Goes Smart

With huge fanfare - such as at the place des Armes in front of the Château de Versailles - Mercedes has launched its mini-car in Europe, with the name 'Smart' instead of 'Swatch,' as it was originally conceived.

On Monday, Jacques Chirac met Helmut Kohl at a little town in Lorraine called Hambach to inaugurate a new car factory, built expressly to produce the 'Smart.' This all started in 1988 when Nicolas Hayek, inventor of the 'Swatch' watch, decided there should be a 'Swatchmobile.'

This was intended to be a minimum car, cheap and ecologically 'correct.' In 1991 the Volkswagen group said they were interested after Renault dropped out of the scheme. VW gave up on the idea and Mercedes took it over; and the 'cheap' part of the idea ended up in the trashcan.

In case you haven't heard of this or managed to escape it on TV, the 'Smart' is almost a metre shorter than a Twingo; itself no huge automobile. The 'Smart' has seats for two and no more, and with its three-cylinder motor - located just behind and under the seat, ahead of the rear wheels - it will not run faster than 130 kph, because of a governor.

Its body is plastic and it is put together like Lego. Considering that it is supposed to absorb bumps of up to 15 kph, for anything over you just unclip the damaged piece and clip a new one on.

For people who occasionally need a larger car, there is apparently a commercial plan for buyers to simply pay 2,000 francs per month for the 'Smart' forever; and this gives a 'right' to a larger substitute for serious driving.

Mercedes has just put another little car on the market - a week ago today - and it is called the 'Klasse A.' According to a photo, it has four doors and must be a bit larger than the 'Smart.' At any rate, it is Mercedes' entry into the little-car game and they are counting on winning a 'European Car of the Year' award for it.

I don't know what the rules for this competition are, but I imagine the award gives a new car a great commercial boost just when it needs one: at its launch.

Imagine then, four journalists for the Swedish technical magazine 'Teknikens Varld' whipping it through a slalom course set up on the airfield at Bromma, at 60 kph.

Then imagine the whole little thing falling on its side, and one of the journalists inside is on the jury that makes the selection for the 'European Car of the Year' award.

You guessed it! Mercedes suddenly equips all 'Klasse A' models with a formerly 6,000 franc option called ESP - which it didn't expect to offer as an option until September 1998. Mercedes also intends to recall all cars already made - maybe 35,000 - and equip them with ESP too.

In a moment of rare candor, a Mercedes spokesman said this action was purely for the media effect. The Stockholm car had been equipped with the wrong type of tires, was overloaded, was being driven beyond its limits - in short, it was a nutbush accident. I agree. We all know what ESP means, don't we?

Extra-Sensory-Perception. This is what Mercedes has up its sleeve to win the 'European Car of the Year' award.

European Car of the Year Award Proposal

Unless you are a heavy automobile fan, you probably will not have seen photos of the new Alfa 156. The Italians make some very beautiful-looking automobiles, but these are usually very expensive cars made in small-series or one-off show cars.

For the first time since the fifties, a production model has appeared and it looks like 1. An Italian Car, 2. A Beautiful Italian Car, and 3. It is an Alfa Romeo. I don't know anything else about it except that after nearly 40 years of looking for the 'right thing,' Alfa has found it.

Paris and Rome Exchange Métro Tickets

Attention: Romans! If you have an Atac-Cotral annual ticket for zone 'A' in Rome, go to the Gare de Lyon when you arrive in Paris, and ask for your free ticket which allows you to use all transport in Paris' zones one and two for a week.

If any Paris residents are reading this, the same thing works in reverse; at Rome's stazione Termini. This exchange deal starts on 1. December. If anybody pretends not to know about this, just tell them Jean Tiberi or Francesco Rutelli sent you.

Rome has been twinned with Paris since 1956. So when Rome's mayor, Francesco Rutelli, paid a visit to Paris on Tuesday, his guide was Paris' mayor, Jean Tiberi.

They took at look at what Paris is up to in its 11th and 12th arrondissements and at the Bastille, Mr. Tiberi had to explain the security measures in place at the Opéra Bastille; the ones supposed to prevent its siding from clobbering innocent civilians on the pavement.

Europe Steps Up Space Race

On its second try, Arianespace successfully launched its new Ariane 5 satellite hauler, last Thursday. On the first try in June 1996, Ariane Libe: Ariane 501 lasted 37 seconds before going wacky and being destroyed.

Ariane 502 dropped off its first satellite a bit low after 28 minutes of flight and put the second one into place 43 minutes after lift-off. To build extra suspense, the preview launch time of 10:00 was put off by 43 minutes - coincidence? - by a gizmo that switched control from ground to rocket a split-second too soon.

Flight Ariane 503 is scheduled for next spring. The new model rocket has been designed to haul items of up to 18 tons into low orbit - that is, under 1000 kilometres in altitude. This rocket is somewhat faster than a TGV; it can go from zero to 105 km in altitude in just over three minutes.

Arianespace is a consortium involving 12 European countries, with France holding 55 percent of the shares. Considering the minority stakes of its partners, it is no wonder that newspapers in France often forget that there are, in fact, partners.

Oddly, for a consortium and a European one at that, Arianespace makes money - at least its partners have got back as much as they've put in. Between now and 2000, Arianespace has 43 orders to launch satellites, and the competition has 33 others.

This is reassuring because Ariane 5 is assembled in the department where this is being written, just west of Paris. They are working on number 510 there now.

Almodovar on the Champs-Elyséesmovie: En Chair et En Os

After having chased around Paris for two weeks trying to get a clear shot of the poster for Pedro Almodovar's new film, 'En Chair et En Os,' he turns up on TV-news - in front of one of his posters on the Champs-Elysées - while I am eating dinner and the camera's batteries are recharging. Darn!

Halloween in France

On Friday, while the negotiations between operators and truckers grind on non-stop and are copiously reported every day, Le Parisien devotes its front page and inside pages two and three to Halloween, to alert Parisien: Halloween the populace to this new 'fëte.'

Ariane's successful launch story is on page four of the same edition; and this should give you an idea of how hard up France is for new 'fêtes' these days.

France Télécom gets into the act by placing 8,000 pumpkins in the Trocadéro gardens as a plug for some new mobile phone service called 'Ola' and it worked, because I'm mentioning it here.

In case anybody cares, pumpkins seem to be called 'citrouilles' in French. Le Parisien has even gone to the trouble to find out the history of Halloween, but I am not going to repeat it here as I am sure all readers worldwide know it off by heart.

Sports News: Hunting

Last week's late report of a panther roaming around the forest of Saint-Germain, sought by 300 cops, firemen, gendarmes and soldiers, turned into a captured giant black schnauzer, who had run away from his owners at Maisons-Laffitte.

Many witnesses saw glimpses of the animal and traces were found, but various 'experts' could not tell dogs from cats and the authorities did not want to take a chance on some innocent stroller in the forest getting his head ripped off by a big wild cat.

To be ultra-sure, reduced patrols continued in the forest, after the capture of the dog. Also for public safety, the entire forest had been closed to the public all weekend.

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