Okay No Secret In France

photo: le champ de mars

If you are in the 7th, this is one of many bistros with multilingual menus.

The 'Sockless' President

Paris:- Sunday, 30. April 2000:- France is not doing too badly, according to the International Herald Tribune. Its weekend edition had a piece in the business section with the headline, 'France Reforms on Sly (But Shh! It's a Secret)' which must set some sort of record for convoluted headlines.

Apparently the 'Secret' referred to is not a secret to the IHT's readers now that this piece has let the cat out of the bag, but a 'secret' to the French themselves.

It is true that a big jump in employment was announced last week, with a corresponding dip in the jobless rate - to a 'record' low of 'only' ten percent.

In case '10 percent' seems abstract, it translates as one out of every ten workers is out of work. This was celebrated in France as a sensation, which lasted for one entire evening's TV-news.

The French, the IHT says, do not realize that the economy has been 'modernized;' becausephoto: le petit bosquet French politicians are pretending it isn't so while doing it behind everybody's backs.

I don't know who the IHT thinks pays taxes in France; and these taxpayers are totally unaware that they are being squeezed like dry sponges - and are equally unaware of 'jackpot' budget surpluses that have resulted from this squeeze.

It might be true that Prime Minister Jospin will not use the word 'flexibility' for fear offending the voting socialists. But that the French will think - as the IHT proposes - that using the substitute 'supple' is perfectly acceptable, is nonsense.

Under the guise of getting France budget-clean enough to enter the 'euro' zone on time, taxes were pumped up. This paid off, but I think it is a mistake to assume people who live in France are blissfully unaware of who paid the tab.

It does look as if the recent 'remanning' of Prime Minister Jospin's cabinet has allowed some big hat politicians to start pulling very big rabbits out of them.

'Lower taxes,' they say, 'are just around the corner.' First to get hit was the value-added tax, which was clipped a whole one percent; from 20.6 to 19.6 percent.

Residents here, not unalert, said 'ho-hum.' At around two francs out of ten, a one percent drop doesn't amount to much when buying groceries. You have to buy a fair amount of them in order to 'save' one franc - which are generally used for minor tips.

The IHT mentions deregulation and cites France Telecom. Apparently its monopoly was ended in 1998photo: che flag, may day which allowed 90 other telephone companies to operate in France, with the result that long-distance rates have fallen an 'average of 45 percent.'

The IHT doesn't mention that France Telecom has just raised the basic monthly charge for having a line, and local call rates are as high as ever.

However, half the article's text concerns the successful French shipyard that may get the contract to build the Queen Mary II, which was mentioned here some time ago.

Not today, but Monday, is red-flag day.

The shipyard management gave its workers an ultimatum in 1997, but more importantly got the outfit some good management, which has increased productivity tremendously.

While a good part of the public sector is in a turmoil at the moment over the 35-hour week issue, many large private firms have studied the law's fine-print carefully and discovered that it permits them a great deal of 'suppleness.'

While the 35-hour week is a general law; its detail permits employers to negotiate for an annual number of working-hours, and then convince workers that they should agree to work more at some times of the year and less at others - while being paid on the basis of 35 hours per week.

This means that companies that do half a year's business in the two months before Christmas can have all the work-hours they need, and at slack times the workers get larger solid blocks of paid free time.

There have been enough stories in French papers and on TV-news about this, so it is unlikely that all ordinary French workers are totally unaware of it - as the IHT contends in its headline.

Since many workers know about it, and I assume politicians read the same papers occasionally to see what is being said about them, they can hardly think they are hoodwinking anybody.

President Jacques Chirac Is a Grandfather

I don't know if this is news or not. What apparently is 'news,' is that the President was featured on a recent cover of 'Paris Match;' shown having a semi-serious discussion with his grand-son.

The photo was taken while the President was on an Easter holiday at Brégançon in the Var - on a public beach. In the photo, Mr. Chirac is not wearing his customary Elysée suit - but clothing suitable for being on a beach.

Le Parisien claims that the minions in the prime minister's headquarters are very annoyed that the president is trying - even pretending! - to look like a human being.

I don't know whether this is true or not. What is true, is the President of France does have a functioningphoto: red stop sign, may day and well-oiled PR machine. If it does have a script for him to follow - this I don't know - he is following it - this I do know - and is doing very handily in the polls with it.

Another Monday scene - this from 'ignore red-light day.'

It is the nature of the Prime Minister's job that prevents him from being Mr. Good Guy all the time. He is running France on a day-to-day basis - a job nobody in their right mind would want - and his poll results go up and down depending on random factors such as the weather forecasts.

According to Le Parisien, another thing that ticked off the prime minister's helpers, was the president wearing moccasins without socks. Do you believe this?

What's In a Promenade?

The Promenade d'Australie beside the Quai Branly near the Bir-Hakeim bridge was inaugurated last Thursday - during the Café Metropole Club meeting - in pouring rain.

Australia's Prime Minister Mr John Howard was assisted by Paris' mayor Jean Tiberi, for the unveiling of the impressive signs indicating the previously unnamed 500 metre stretch of greenery between the Quai Branly and the Porte de Suffern.

Le Parisien's claim that the 'Place d'Australie' would become the 'Place de Sydney' in a rare double-name change, turned out to be a fantasy because there never has been any Place d'Australie in Paris.

Café Metropole Club member Carmel McKenzie said the 'Place d'Australie' was marked on her map, but I couldn't read the small type without a telescope.

On Friday I toured the newly-named promenade - in the rain - and searched in vain for a possible location for a 'Place d'Australie.' In this area of Paris, between the Rue de Suffern and the elevated métro line over the Boulevard de Grenelle, andphoto: lily of the valley east of the Seine, there is simply no place for a 'place' other than the Place Dupleix.

I have looked for fictitious places before, so not finding any 'Place d'Australie' came as no big surprise.

The reason for naming a bit of Paris landscape after Australia is to honor it and New Zealand in the memory of its soldiers' sacrifices on behalf of France in the two world wars.

Which has also been Lily-of-the-Valley day.

Since Anzac troops fought in North Africa, the Promenade d'Australie is appropriately located near the Bir-Hakeim bridge which has a plaque honoring Free French troops.

There is also a monument between the bridge and the new promenade, dedicated to those who fell in the battles in North Africa and elsewhere.

Sports News

The only sports news I can think of this week involves a full-sized Formula One racing car made out of chocolate. This can apparently be seen at a place called 'La Route du Cacao' which is located on a barge tied up at the Quai de la Gare, in front of the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, Paris 13. This unusual sports item was supplied by Café Metropole Club member Jadine Brown.

French Web Life

With e-business - or is it I-business? - taking up so much attention, there seems to be a falling off of mentions about unusual and new Web sites. This is a shame because they reflected individual yearnings to share enthusiasms. Has the spark died?

I've found that readers of this magazine often do far more surfing for 'new stuff' in France than I do.* If you have found French Web sites you think other readers should know about, pass them on to me and I'll include them here - with sparkles around your name.

*I don't do much Web surfing at all. Every available space in Paris that isn't already covered with graffiti, is plastered with URLs - 90 percent of them for commercial sites. Even though I don't look at these, I suspect that once you've seen one, you may have seen all there is.

8th Prix Möbius Reminder, Yet Again

Each year the International Möbius Festival seeks to award the world's best multimedia productions - based on CD-ROMs, DVDs or Web sites. This year the festival takes place at the Centre Cultural Pompidou and the public is invited on Friday and Saturday, 5. and 6. May.

For a preview, give the Prix Möbius Web site a glance, but be sure to have 'Flash' installed before you decide to take a look at your multimedia future.

Paris' Peace Wall

The URL for Paris' Peace Wall on the Champ de Mars is: 'Mur Pour la Paix,' which is a Dot-Com and not a Dot-Org. You can also learn how to read the word 'peace' in 32 languages.

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