The Big Train Robbery

photo: au diable des lombards
A long-time downtown joint for downtown folks.

The Even Bigger Roller Derby

Paris:- Sunday, 4. October 1998:- Last Monday evening, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid decided to rob a train. These two are a bit too old for it, so they settled for robbing a train station instead.

Wearing ski-masks, the two banditos stuck up the SNCF station at Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, which is at the end of a line from Saint- Lazare, buried deep in the Marly Forest.

Just as in the 'old days,' the two bandits did not get much - 1,000 francs - but nobody was hurt even though a pistol was waved around a bit. The two escaped into the forest and managed to slip through the Marly police net.

But the effects were large as angry trainmen decried the lack of security. For an eight-wagon suburban train, the driver might be the only SNCF personnel aboard; responsible for as many as 1500 passengers.

On Tuesday, no trains operated out of Saint-Lazare and the action was repeated on Wednesday. This affectedphoto: gare st nom about one million passengers - over the two days - who do the daily commute between Paris' western suburbs and the city centre.

This had a ripple effect on traffic, with jams in the north-west and west on Wednesday mounting up to a total of 200 kms at 8:30.

Willie Sutton never said he robbed train stations, 'because that's where the money is.' He stuck to banks.

The government immediately announced an 80-man reinforcement by the CRS for the trains and promised that cops would ride the suburban trains in the future. The SNCF itself has a security force of 800 agents and they have said they'll double this number.

Trains on the northern and south-eastern networks have had a simple radio-alarm device for the past two years. These are very much like portable phones and the have their own reserved frequency.

During the last rolling 'incident' I witnessed, passengers phoned home to say the train would be late - while the driver had to run down the tracks to the nearest station to do the same thing.

The upside to the sudden train strike, was that everybody went back to work on Thursday - including those involved with the 'shipwreck' of the RER line 'C,' which ended its 14-day strike to coincide with the opening of the Mondial de l'Automobile.

Friday Night Roller Mania In Paris

Yesterday I got a participant's account of the weekly Roller Derby that starts at the place d'Italie, and rolls merrily around Friday-night Paris.

As I was told about this, I did not realize that the as-yet-unread Saturday edition of Le Parisien I had with me contained a two-page spread on it. It has been going on for some time now, but the paper has been merely noting it with a traffic-jam logo, right on the place de l'Italie, in its Friday editions.

According to my informant, the roller gang numbered about 4,000 and police cleared the way before them and swept up stragglers after them - as the mob did their 22 kilometre tour. It started informally in 1995, and the police - 'les Roller-Flics!' - have been in on the ride since last October.

The rollers reached 5,300 in number on their 3. July outing. It can take them a quarter-hour to pass any given spot. And they fall down; but along with the cops are the travelling ambulancesphoto: auto salon: fete ford with 'first aid' available. Taxis drivers and other Friday evening party people don't care for the traffic jams caused by all this.

They go through Montparnasse and over to Trocadéro, up to the Champs and east through the right bank and after about three hours end up back where they started.

Ford, celebrating the world launch of its new 'Focus,' by dispensing lots of food and drink to journalists.

The word is getting around and Friday's Eurostar brings in a load of Brit rollers. Reason: graveled paths in parks and too many cobbles in the UK. In Paris, when the bricks get hit, warnings are shouted back by the leaders. "Pavé! Pavé!"

I don't assume anybody reading this is a nut, but I will put in the Web URL for Friday Night Rollers all the same. Don't let me stop you. It is a non-profit organization with the purpose of having fun.

French Draft Reduced to One Day

In 1996, President Jacques Chirac announced his intention to 'professionalize' the French army. This happened yesterday, when 15,000 draftees reported for national service at 8:30 in the morning at 226 military sites around France, and were discharged at 17:00 after serving their country.

This is the result of a number of different plans, and because it costs the least, this 'bikini' of military service has been the one adopted. It is even planned for the year 2000, that girls do it too.

Why conscription wasn't thrown wholesale into the trash can, has to do with citizenship. During the eight hours and 30 minutes of 'service,' the draftees are tested, among other things, for their ability to read.

Illiterates were once considered 'cannon-fodder' by the military, but in modern societies illiterates have a dangerous potential to be non-citizens - in the sense that they don't understand how society works.

For the moment, the government sees it as a 'second chance' to catch illiterates before they become uncatchable. For the approximately eight percent found to have great difficulty with reading simple texts, the follow-up is to propose courses.

The Fifth Republic Has Its 40th Birthday

France's Fifth Republic came into being on 4. October 1958 and its anniversary today is passing with little fanfare. This indicates that the constitution is flexible enough for all to fit inside.

Despite some detractors, nobody is looking forward to a sixth republic. The historical reason for not doing so, isphoto: 'smart' publicity because all previous republics have been the result of foreign invasions, world wars or colonial wars.

The present constitution has been revived 11 times. One time by general referendum - to decide to elect the president by universal suffrage - and the other 10 times by majority votes of Assembly Deputies and Senators.

It may not look like it to you, but this is a 'Smart' car dealership.

As Europe grows closer, it is interesting to note that the last six revisions have taken place since 1992. Ex-Prime Minister Michel Rocard was quoted in Libération as saying, 'This constitution makes, from a purely constitutional point of view, out of 58 million all but one happy. Who? The Prime Minister!'

Sports News: Football

Eh oui, back again. You had your fun in the sun or up in the mountains and now its back to real life, and the fact that Paris' soccer team, PSG - short for 'Pretty Silly Games' - is at the near bottom of the French league - again - right after the new season has barely started.

Here are words used by Le Parisien: 'Fiasco' and 'Pitoyable!' PSG managed to eliminate itself from the first - the first! - round of the Europe Cup, by losing to Israel on Thursday - now known as the 'Catastrophe of Haïfa.'

Today PSG arranged to lose the match in its eighth game of the season - to Lens. The Paris club has won three of these games, tied one and now, lost four. This is Canal+ big-time soccer team in a big-time town but it looks like bush to me.

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