France Gets Rewired

photo: cafe du commerce

The 'Commerce' is a popular, low-priced restaurant.

The 'Morning-After' Pill Goes To School

Paris:- Sunday, 9. January 2000:- The week began with more than 400,000 households in France without electricity, and with about 400,000 having no telephone service.

At this weekend, two weeks after the first storm, only 50,000 households are still without power and another 100,000 are without phones. Also this weekend, two areas still do not have drinking water, affecting 1150 households.

Two departments, Limoges still lacking power and Brive still lacking fresh water to some households, werephoto: metro emile zola also the longest without mainline train operations. These departments are two of five to the southeast of Bordeaux that may have been hardest hit.

Put another way, these adjacent departments are taking the longest to be put back to normal, after suffering a one-two punch of wind and floods. At the height of the crises, 3.7 million households were without power throughout France.

Winter-grey streets, dimly-lit and warm métro.

Heavy oil is still leaking from the wreck of the Erika and landing on French beaches from south Finistère, to Morbihan and the Vendée. The harvest of oysters at La Bemerie-en-Retz and Les Moutiers-en-Retz has been halted because of the pollution.

To clean the beaches, volunteers were called for and they showed by the busload. Each attempt to mechanize the effort has come up short, so the most effective method to date is to do it by hand. TV images shows black messes that look like ugly, silly-glue.

Politicos At the Front

When the storms struck, most leading politicians were on holidays; some outside France. The Minister for the Environment, Dominique Voynet, showed up first, to inspect threatened beaches.

For taking five days to get from the Indian Ocean, she was somewhat criticized. As a government minister, she was in constant telephone contact with her ministry - but could not do more 'on the spot' than she was already doing.

At the time, I wondered about the whereabouts of the Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and France's President, Jacques Chirac. Without a great deal of criticism, they showed up later and are now all over the place.

Meanwhile, Le Parisien published poll results, that show the Prime Minister with a global positive approval rating of 64 percent, with 80 percent of those polled thinking he is competent.

All recent polls of this type have shown the Prime Minister in a nearly equal position with the president, and this is probably unchanged.

However, where the oil spill is concerned, a majority think its containment has been poorly managed by the government.

Day after day, TV-news has relentlessly reported failure after failure to contain the spill, and its advance to French beaches has been slow, steady and unstoppable.

There was a fleet of ships that tried to capture the Erika in some way. There has been countless attempts tophoto: les 3 as tavern pump the sludge directly out of the sea. Barricades were put in place and the storms blew them askew. Armies of civil servants and volunteers are doing all they can - but it appears to be an unavoidable disaster.

Transplanted Nevada gambling joint is actually a Paris café.

To show that this is a 'can't win' situation, Gabriel Cohn-Bendit criticized the Green Party's Environment Minister in Libération, saying that she succeeded in transforming an ecological catastrophe into a political one for the party.

Worse though, was the failure to show up at all, of his brother, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Then the hardline leftist went on to praise the Prime Minister and the Ministers for transport and fishing.

Which means, if a politician, they have to show their faces at disaster scenes - regardless of what they actually do at them. Gabriel Cohn-Bendit knows his hardball politics.

France Adds Up the Bill

Last Tuesday Le Parisien did its sums and presented 'l'addition' under the headline, "75 Milliards !" This is about 11.5 billion dollars and Le Parisien says it is a historical record. Later in the week Le Monde did its sums too and arrived at a total of about 45 billion francs.

And this is without calculating losses to companies and individuals - of lost production, lost sales, lost revenues and lost wages.

The umbrella re-insurance groups think their bill will be 25 billion francs; but the state isn't insured for its roads wrecked, monuments damaged and forests flattened.

Despite having to pay out a heavy nut, the insurance companies see a great opportunity to raise their premiums - and for decades to come. They always fail to remember premiums already paid, for past decades.

The finance ministry can't put a figure on what the taxpayer will end up paying. It merely suggests that repairing the damage will not be unfavorable for the economy. The Paris Bourse took off early in the week, with heavy buying seen for the building materials concerns.

This sounds kind of rosy but it is not seen this way by individual farmers who have seen years-worth of work blown away in a few hours. Householders who have had all their personal belongings destroyed by water and mud, will not receive any compensation for sentimental values.

Residents who saw 2000 arrive without power, light, heat, or TV will not be compensated. All the volunteers who spent their holidays picking up oily sludge off public beaches for everyone's benefit, will not be compensated. No insurance is going restore the 88 lives lost.

Le Parisien says the bill will be divided between the state and the insurance companies, and perhaps, by residents. Le Parisien, as 'popular' as is tries to be, cannot figure out that taxpayers and residents pay for everything - always.

In the four-page 'who pays the bill' feature, I cannot find out how Le Parisien arrived at the idea that the amount of damage inflicted on France is an historical record.

Storm Profiteers

In France this week, if you have the only chainsaw in town then you have a golden future for as long as it lasts. For one resident in Yvelines, having two cedars cut into logs in a little less than two hours cost 4850 francs.

He was left with them, plus the stump with the roots still in the ground. Wanting total removal, he was told that the contractor had 'more interesting things to do' - unless the hapless homeowner wanted to pay another 4850 francs to have the job completed.

Roofers, who already had full order books because of a recent tax reduction, are tackling emergency roof damage, but do not know when they will be able tophoto: grenelle frite return to do a proper re-roofing job.

As a result of the storm overwhelming service professionals, there are freelancers underway with their chainsaws - carrying away cheques and leaving insurance agents to explain why they will not cover 10,000-franc bills for cutting up a few branches.

Individual Paris fast-food places have their own characters.

In the Ile-de-France area, there are only about 30 legitimate firms competent to take care of trees. Their daily rates are about 5000 francs for an team of two and their equipment. Heavy-lifting equipment can cost 15,000 francs extra, per day.

For roofing estimates amounting to more than 30,000 francs an expert for the insurance company must okay the work, and these experts will not be available for inspections until mid-February or March.

Some building supply shops are reported to be making a bit too much of a good thing. Ordinary roof tiles costing 45 francs each, can now cost 150 francs. One repair contractor was quoted, "We're choosing our clients."

Where electricity is still out, one franc candles were reported to be selling for 30 francs.

The Disaster In Paris

Many of the closed city parks and gardens reopened during the week. But the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes were particularly uprooted.

Last week Paris Mayor Jean Tiberi toured the storm damage, and let it be known that one of Paris racetracks is going to go.

Vincennes in the east will be kept for the trotting races, but the fates of the flat-racing track of Longchamp or the hurdles at Auteuil are up in the air.

With the Bois de Boulogne so damaged, the city wants one of the tracks for conversion into a park or public garden.

At the edge of Paris, Auteuil's 33 hectares are attractive, but not quite so attractive as western Longchamp's 57 hectares. The city is going to talk to the concessionaire, France-Galop, about it.

Apparently talks were already going on because the concession at Longchamp expired in 1998. France-Galop cannot covert Auteuil to flat racing, but could make Longchamp do double-duty.

France-Galop would also like to add a mall to it - and a gambling casino.

Have You Given This Year?

Don't give New Years' gifts - les étrennes - to just anybody, says Le Parisien. Ten percent of a month's rent is fair for concierges or gardiennes - say, from 200 to 500 francs.

The postman, or postlady, should get about 50 francs. Be ready with another 10 to 30 francs for the firemen. Finally, be ready to dig out from 10 to 100 francs for the guys that haul away the garbage.

At one time, concierges received no salary and their only income was from these 'étrennes.' Some buildings' concierges or gardiennes now even get a '13th month' salary, but they provide a variety of small services all year long and their salaries are not great.

The people who deliver the mail - often to the gardienne, who in turn distributes it within a building - are civil servants and therefore salaried. La Poste tolerates their 'étrennes' - for which they exchange a calendar.

For both the gardienne and the people from La Poste, the tax-collectors look the other way. La Poste's management only checks the calendars to make sure they are not offensive.

When the pompiers arrive - with their calendars - they must be in uniform. What you give them goes to charities. In Paris, the garbagemen are not allowed to make their annual visit, so you can buy yourself a double-café.

This means I should have 300 francs of cash on hand, just in case anybody knocks on my door. Out in the suburbs, the mail, firemen and garbage people used to turn up before Christmas - to add to the feeling of money flowing away fast.

In some years I have used the Poste's calendar, in others the firemen's. The garbagemens' version was always too small.

Late in December, I bought a professional 'Ed's' calendar because they were sold out by the time I remembered I needed one last year. It cost 28 francs.

The 'Morning-After Pill' Goes To School

The country that made the 'morning-after pill' available without a prescription last June, has now made it available to students in public high schools.

This step was taken, according to the lady Minister of Education Ségolène Royal, to combat an average of 10,000 'accidental' pregnancies annually.

School nurses will distribute the controversial pill 'on demand,' without seeking parental permission or even necessarily informing parents.

The measure was announced last November, which launched a 'for' and 'against' debate in France. An opinion poll done in December produced a score of 66 percent 'for.'

One parents' organization, the 'PEEP,' is against the schools distributing the pill. They think the problem should be discussed within the family.

The larger and more liberal parent's association, the 'FCPE,' insists that the distributionphoto: metro overpass of the pill be only for emergencies - and that it be accompanied by increased instruction of contraception in schools.

The school nurses see another problem. There are only 6000 of them while there are 7500 schools.

On certain week days, many street marchés are found under the métro tracks.

Some teachers worry that the measure proves once more that instead of schools being centres of education, they are becoming more like ordinary places of daily life. Teachers are required to be social assistants rather than teachers.

However the measure does not concern teachers - who can be distressed with the predicament of students' unwanted pregnancies and all of the consequences.

Some female students think that boys may take advantage of this 'fail-safe' measure. The boys themselves, favor the measure but are less well-informed than the girls.

But in general, girls think parents should be reassured. Anybody can buy the 'morning-after pill' over the counter in any pharmacy; but students think it is better to have the free and confidential consul of school nurses.

The measure is designed to prevent pregnancies, abortions and teenage mothers. Many girl students, for one reason or another, cannot discuss these issues with their families - and the few who can't even discuss it with the school nurse, keep 55 francs handy, for emergencies.

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contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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