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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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