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One Minister of Finance, on taking office asked for a list of the 250 top salaries within his ministry. He repeated the request 10 times in six months, until he received a list on paper that couldn't be photocopied.

For many, their salaries are augmented by 'bonuses,' which can amount to percentages varying between 15 and 70 percent. There are 162 different 'exceptions,' and the 15 percent is nearly general.

Finance Ministry functionaries - 180,000 salaries - receive a bonus for 'technicité' - on account of the 'technical' - calculation - nature of their work.

Some Finance Ministry functionaries also do something not permitted by taxpayers - they are not required to report some of their bonuses as income, subject to revenue tax

A senior civil servant in the tax collection service is paid 48,000 francs net a month, and nearly 25,000 of this is a 'bonus.' 'Net' salary in France is usually two-thirds of gross salary.

In total, the salaries and pensions of state functionaries gobble up 38.2 percent of the entire budget. For the coming budget, the government wants to include one billion francs worth of unbudgeted 'bonuses' that don't officially exist.

Poison Food In the Frigo

After all of our 'mad cows' and dioxin-chickens, now we suddenly have to be on guard against 'listeria' in rillettes and pork tongues. An uproar was set off last week when six were afflicted and two died.

The contaminated products were quickly traced to one manufacturer, and the batch numberphoto: orchestra in metro, photo a salmona was broadcast on TV-news and printed in newspapers. All of the products, under a variety of brand names, were taken off retail shelves throughout Europe.

A mini-symphony at Châtelet, playing Morzart's 40th. Photo: Annie Salmona©2000

This episode is not yet over, because the incubation period is up to two months. In 1992 an outbreak of listeria caused 63 deaths in France. Since 1987, the number of deaths from listeria have been cut by 66 percent.

The company incriminated - already under suspicion - is pointing at the whole food-chain, and specifically at the chain of refrigeration.

This is a good thing to blame because it involves so many actors and variables. Pinpointing the exact location of failure in this train of transport and storage is nearly impossible, and at the end of it the consumer can be fairly blamed.

Another finger can be pointed at the recent power outages caused by the big storms. In many places, portable emergency power was first set up to provide electric current to deep-freeze units.

This listeria scare needs to be put into a perspective of food distribution in France. What has been incriminated is industrial-food manufacture and distribution - from food-factory to refrigerated trucks, to refrigerated central warehouses, back to refrigerated trucks, to the cool shelves in supermarkets.

Like a lot of people, I don't buy frozen food; but I do buy butter and yogi from the cool shelves in supermarkets. Most of the rest, I get at the local street marché.

No matter how strictly controlled these may be, you can see a hundred possibilities for contamination. Edible foodstuffs are put out in the open air, and what remains unsold goes back in the stall operator's truck. How many times does this happen?

The ham I buy at the marché has no 'good until' sticker on it. Nor does the cheese. If there is anything weak in the 'cool-chain,' the open-air street marchés are it. Especially in summer.

In 24 years of more or less steady shopping at street marchés, I have never been killed because of listeria. I think most people who live in France build up an immunity to it.

Worst Outbreak of Flu In Ten Years

Between two and three million residents in France have been stricken by this year's version of 'Asian flu' - which is called the 'Australian virus' by Le Parisien. Records are being set in Champagne-Ardennes and in the Ile-de-France.

This epidemic is not exclusive to France. In Britain and Italy, two million are ill in each country, and more than a million are in bed in Holland. The vaccine against it - mainly for older people - is only 80 percent successful.

Doctors suspect there is a second virus this year, and this is why the rate of infection in France is higher than in neighboring countries. Since this makes no sense, the other reason could be the presence of 'fake flu,' which is not flu, but acts a bit like it.

[Paris]-Dakar-Cairo Takes Off

Responding to terrorist alerts from French and American spy agencies, the organizers of this year's African rallye, the 'Dakar-Cairo' decided to hop over Niger instead of racing through it.

This has caused much dismay in Niger and especially in Agadès - which is spelled 'Agadez' in Le Parisien. Local merchants had a years-worth of goods ready to sell to visitors there for the rallye - practically the only time therephoto: cafe-resto le numide are any visitors. This would have been the rallye's first visit to Agadès.

The rallye halted at the end of its sixth stage in Niamey, Niger's capital, and the four stages planned for Niger have been canceled.

A quiet café-restaurant, in a quiet part of Paris.

At a cost of 30 million francs, the rallye's organizers chartered three Antonov 124 jumbo-freighters to carry the organization and the competitors to Sabah in Libya, where there is a long-enough runway.

The three Antonov's have to haul 150 cars, 64 trucks, 144 motorcycles and eight helicopters; which will take about 18 round-trips. Having fuel for the jumbo aircraft at both locations is a problem.

The rallye's other 22 aircraft will fly to Waw-al-Kebir in Libya, with perhaps a modest Boeing charted to carry the 1365 other people associated with the rallye. Another problem is setting up bases in advance in Libya, but the whole gang should be there by tomorrow.

French Life Online

Shorties: I haven't mentioned Montmartre yet this year on account of the New Years parade being on the Grandes Boulevards, so this is a good moment to remind you about Montmartre's own Paris.18. The site has pepped itself up with the inclusion of a monthly dose of local information, in addition to its maps and history.

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