Speleologists Rescued At Last

photo: bistro le phenix

A busy café in central Paris, while everybody
is Christmas shopping elsewhere.

Beef War, Strikes, President and Socialists

Paris:- Sunday, 21. November 1999:- Tonight's big TV-news is about the rescue of the seven speleologists trapped deep underground as a result of last week's 'Hurricane Aude.'

No efforts were spared to get the underground explorers back to the surface. The story was a major news item for the entire week and images of mud-covered search speleologists and of all the heavy-duty equipment brought in, were impressive.

Spokesmen speleologists consistently expressed optimism about recovering the missing seven men alive, which was a bit hard for a surface person like myself to believe.

It was the biggest operation of its kind in France and its duration was the longest. The préfet - governor - of the department, not one of France's most prosperous, admitted the cost of the rescue would be high. At times the rescue crew numbered 400.

One rescuer said the massive use of heavy-duty equipment was only possible because of the search location being on an army base, and not down in some deep canyon.

There are quite a number of speleologists in France and they get into trouble underground fairly regularly. When this happens there is a general tizzy.

Although TV-news devoted some of is airtime to the clean-up of the catastrophic wreckage caused by 'Hurricanephoto: new balal, resto indian Aude' last weekend - which affected thousands, the major focus of their coverage was on the trapped speleologists.

The 'New Balal,' perhaps Paris' only un-Indian-looking Indian restaurant.

The scale of the rescue had nothing in common with efforts routinely used to try and find people buried under avalanches. Those buried are usually characterized as careless; and sometimes at fault for causing so much trouble.

But the speleologists in question were highly praised as being professionals. Glossed over has been the fact that they knowingly went down into the caves, to an area known to have underground rivers - without paying much attention to weather reports of the coming storm.

Beef War Settled?

Apparently the French and the British have reached a compromise agreement that will allow the export of British beef to France, but will not compel anybody in France to knowingly eat it.

The compromise was a simple one. Britain agreed to label all beef for export with some sort of 'British beef' sticker - such as the one routinely used by British merchants to prove how patriotic their customers in the UK are by 'buying Brit.'

The agreement came too late to prevent French TV-news from showing hard-core British beer drinkers pouring Beaujolais Nouveau into gutters on Thursday, which they did with glee.

Strikes - 1. January 2000

Unlike the Euro's quietly successful launch early this year, France's 35-hour work week launch, to be in effect at the beginning the coming year, is not going smoothly.

Negotiations between employees and management have been going on non-stop, and some agreements within a few enterprises have been reached.

These are usually private companies that are attempting to gain a competitive advantage byphoto: crepes, snack shop biting-the-bullet early so that they can be functioning when their competitors are mired in a slow change-over.

Last week it was the turn of the state radio and television employees to walk off the job, in dissatisfaction with management's proposals. Radio-FIP plays classical music instead of its regular program, and Radio France-Info plays FIP's usual music selection; while nobody does the non-stop news.

A central Paris crêperie being readied for 'l'after-shopping' on Saturday.

Today on Sunday, things seem to have returned to normal, with France-Info broadcasting its regular news feature, 'The Life of Plants.' The evening main TV-news also seems normal, with only the weather-news getting by on a 'fewer-frills' standby version.

In the state sector, which is being seen more and more as a state-owned service sector of the economy, the sticking point usually involves the hiring of extra staff and the management's reluctance to do so.

The Socialist-led government is widely supported by public employees for introducing the 35-hour work week legislation. Unions support it too, in the hopes that it will reduce unemployment - which is also the government's intention.

However, as is often the case in France, there is a wide gap between 'good intentions' and putting them into practice.

That government enterprises are hard hit indicates that there is a backlog of unresolved grievances, and the 35-hour 'new hire' problems are really just another new one on top.

On a practical level, the truck drivers should be slated for strike action sometime in the future. The drivers, during the last two strikes, were already complaining about oer-long working hours - and the 'settlements' of their previous strikes have never been fully implemented.


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