Does 'Au Bistro' Have a Future?

photo: bistro de la gare

The Bistro de la Gare is a popular place in Montparnasse.

The Food Wars

Paris:- Sunday, 25. July 1999:- I shouldn't make rash promises for this column. When Metropole started, I had a grand vision of sitting in a café or bistro for an hour a day, just reading the papers. A distillation of this was to be the contents of this column.

Also, I have a pal who is an old-time Fleet Street hack, and I thought he might like to take it on and give it a particular Brit spin. But he said, "No thanks. That sounds like work and I'm retired from the game."

Now he is only a twenty-minute walk away, I might take another shot at turning it over to him. Other the other hand, I like doing it. If I can get into a habit of doing it daily, it'll be a breeze. For this edition, I'm doing it the old way - a crash all-at-once flash read and tap it in.

Should I start with "Four Bodies In the Garden of the Embezzler" which Le Parisien had for a headline last Tuesday? Nah. It's not a 'Paris' story.

United States Attacks French Truffles

Trade wars are fun because they are so nonsensical. They break out on the average of about once every 18 months or so and we are having another one.

In the latest one, it is the United States vs Europe and France. Poor France; always getting it in the neck - or should I say, in the truffles, Roquefort, foie gras and mustard. And mustard?

The issue: Europe and France's refusal to allow imports of US beef treated with hormones.photo: tf1-tv: bastille day review Hasn't the United States read about our dioxin chickens, mad beeves, poisoned pork? We had the calves with hormones issue in the 80's too.

President Jacques Chirac reviewing the troops on Bastille Day, as seen by wide-screen TV. Image©tf1-TV

The odd thing is, every time one of these wars happen the issue is always Europe's refusal to take some US bulk commodity such as bananas, or in this case, beef. In retaliation the US whacks a huge import tax on French goods such as the items mentioned above - never on croissants or mineral water, for two examples.

Maybe the US thinks it has us over a barrel; that we'd rather eat beef stuffed with hormones than mad cows.

The US produces its own foie gras, but this amounts to only one percent of the world's production; while France produces 85 percent. Losing the 10 percent of production destined for the US on account of a 100 percent surtax, is something to be shrugged off relatively lightly.

But French producers of Roquefort are mumbling about the Coca-Cola affair, thinking that the Americans have nothing to teach French producers about hygiene.

These cheese producers, for whom the US has no domestic substitutes, are in fact worried about losing the two percent that the American market represents.

Some New York restauranteurs are very worried about the possible effects of the surtaxes, scheduled to be levied starting 29. July. They claim not to make huge profits off the pricey French imports - but their clients will pay only so much.

In Europe the case is different. With so much poisoned food around, these high-end foodstuffs may be the only things left safe to eat.

Duty-Free Goes Overboard

Cross-channel ferries suspended their duty-free shops at the beginning of July and now passengers are learning how these discount luxo boutiques subsidized passage fares.

The suppression of 'duty-free' within Europe is an order from Brussels, one that falls within the logic of the absence of import-export duties within the European Union. If there are no border taxes, then 'duty-free' is redundant.

However, before the introduction of the Euro, European currencies fluctuated against one anotherphoto: fish marche on leclerc and against the US dollar. This had the effect of sometimes making 'duty-free' more expensive than ordinary land-based shops in certain countries at certain times.

A big fish market on the Avenue Leclerc near Alésia.

Whisky is cheap to make and a lot of people drink it and they pay a lot of tax to do so. Other European regulation may someday force whisky manufacturers to list the ingredients on the label as consumer information.

What I'd like to see on the label, is a list of the taxes that make up the price. Seeing this may reduce overdependence, as well as a general tendency to question all taxes, for these are very high in Europe.

Back to the channel: the ferries are expected to raise their fares by 60 percent and some have already phased out 'duty-free' in favor of pure discount shops. Passages through Eurotunnel are expected to rise by 40 percent after four years of sinking rates.

The Eurostar trains still have a low Paris-London round-trip rate of 495 francs, but it is hedged by restrictions and will probably not last much longer. The normal tariff is about the same as flying.

It seems to me about time to dust off the plans for a bridge. A toll-bridge, of course. If you think this is unlikely, forget Britain and go direct to Ireland. The fares are about the same - or less - I think.

Vacation Time Is the Time To Lose Weight

This is Le Parisien's theory, based on the idea that you have plenty of time to eat well-balanced meals. They also throw in the suggestion of doing a lot of sporting activities.

This is fine, but people generally do things to excess, so the real sporty types will be doing so many activities they will have no time for leisurely meals.

Based on recent personal experience, my modest suggestion is to remove your teeth for the summer and lie around and do absolutely nothing.

However, if you are still interested, Le Parisien suggests eating tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and onions. For desert you can have sorbets. The best of all are the sports 'sans efforts' and the leader of these is pétangue. If you do this 22 hours a day, you will lose weight.

Sports News

Lance Armstrong was the winner of this year's Tour de France according to last Wednesday's Le Parisien. On Saturday, after the final sprint on the Champs-Elysées, his victory was made official - according to a short video-clip I saw on TV-news.

Due to other matters I did not follow this year's event much the same as I did not follow last year's. Alert readers may recall that the 1998 Tour was plagued by a doping scandal; one which managed to overshadow this year's apparently 'clean' competition.

Nevertheless, doping was mentioned in every report I did manage to catch - proving, I suppose, that dirty tricks are more newsworthy than sporting feats.

The annual Tour de France is much more than a bicycle race. It is the world's premier race, it is probablyphoto: view rue daguerre the hardest sporting event in the world for the competitors, and above all it brings the world's attention to places and areas in France often ignored by Paris itself.

The local pedestrian 'mall' - known as Rue Daguerre.

It is hard to understand the mythic force of the Tour de France. Imagine that you live in a remote village that may have lost its post office, and once every five years the whole circus of the Tour comes rolling through - and if something dramatic happens, the village will be featured in a 10-second clip on national TV-news.

This is short fame for a small place where any kind of fame is rare. So all over France, the citizens come out in the hundreds, thousands, millions, to watch the Tour flash by; carrying along its advance men and trailing its support cars plastered with advertising, its functionaries and groupies, the press on motorcycles, in helicopters, by satellite - whoosh, gone.

Lance Armstrong was a very good winner as far as I could tell. He won on pure merit and was cheered on by all. If the press had been able to forget the dope for as long as the Tour took to pass some of the villages, it would have been a very good 'Tour' indeed.

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