The Night of the Stars

photo: taverne st germain

This terrace's only fault is being on the shady side of Saint-Germain.

Help Wanted - Grapepickers

Paris:- Sunday, 13. August 2000:- Last year we had the big eclipsomania deal on 11. August. Last Thursday evening was the occasion for the tenth annual 'Nuit des Etoiles' in France. For this, France-2 TV put on a big show - instead of a re-run - for those who preferred to stay indoors.

Each of these evenings has had a theme of sorts. This year's was 'exoplanèts' - the outer-space planets that revolve around nearby stars outside our solar system.

This is the first time I've heard of their existence. But since 1995, astronomers have discovered 48 of them. On Thursday 300 observation sites throughout France were opened to amateur space fans to look for more.

France-2 TV's lookout was situated up on the Pic du Midi in the Pyrenees. Unfortunately the live portion of their show was dimmed by clouds, but the scheduled documentary was reported as being fascinating, unlike the somewhat technical debate that followed it.

Apparently the sky was clear at Buthiers in the Seine-et-Marne department near Paris,photo: tar job rue boulard and those who gathered at the site there got the show they went to see.

Curiously, Paris' observatory was not open to the public and the 'official' look-out was the Place de l'Hôtel-de-Ville - pretty much in the centre of local 'light pollution.'

First jackhammers, then tar and finally, asphalt - makes a paradise for rollers.

There were 199 other observation sites in the Ile-de-France region, and an estimated 100,000 amateurs of outer space took part in the evening's activities in France.

August's 'Bridge'

In France, Tuesday, 15. August is a holiday - for the Fête de l'Assomption, or 'Ascension.' With Monday thrown in as a 'bridge,' it is also the summer's last long-weekend - and as far as traffic in France is concerned, it started on Friday evening.

Some people in Europe and France have waited for this moment to go on holidays. For many others - the majority - it is the end of theirs. Many must quit whatever they've rented before noon on Saturday, because the new holiday makers are scheduled to move in at 14:00 - so two races are on.

Therefore, we were warned by the media that roads would be full - and this was announced by radio France-Info around noon yesterday, as '600 kms' of traffic jams throughout France.

We were also warned that the Minister of Transport was throwing 20,000 cops and gendarmes into the battle for road safety. Special instructions: immediate driver's license suspensions for boozy driving and for speeders 40 kph over the limit. 'Zero tolerance' in other words.

Without having any figures, a spokesperson for road security has said the summer-long 'repression' by law-enforcers seems to have reduced the numbers of killed and injured on French roads.

Meanwhile, Le Parisien has complained that it can't get shocko death numbers from the road security people. The paper intended to publish the previous weekend's 'score,' on the eve of each 'grand départ,' as an extra warning to its readers.

TV-news joined the battle with many split-second graphic video clips of shiny little cars reduced to unrecognizable lumps of twisted rubble. Many clips were also shown of the police and gendarmes at work - with radar, helicopters, and general but polite harassment.

The most exciting TV-clips of traffic jams always show the line-ups at the toll booths on the autoroutes, which are places where the four-lane autoroutes become up to 20 lanes wide.

The autoroutes in France are well-built and they permit traffic to flow rapidly in relative safety. Tollbooths are also relatively safe, but they severely interrupt the flow.

Summer Pollution

Thank the weather in Paris if you will, but it is the reason that it has taken until this weekend to register the first signs of a pollution alert this summer.

Yesterday, the 'Atmo' scale reached eight out of 10, and motorists were 'invited' to reduce their speeds by 20 kph. Since many of them were stuck in traffic jams elsewhere in France, breathing was easy, if warm, in Paris.

Good Score

In two big roundups last week, three squads of Judicial Police nabbed the suspected heads of two gangs of bank robbers. One gang had been sought for a year and the other, for two years.

The first was nailed on Thursday, 3. August while attempting a hold-up in Paris. He was suspected ofphoto: s f muffin co robbing another bank earlier in the day. His gang, numbering six, went after ready cash and didn't bother with safes. The number of their hold-ups is unknown, but they were a lot.

What are San Francisco muffins? Whatever they are, they are open in August.

The second gang, with an older crew, were less hit-and-run and more choosy. They didn't hesitate to wave big guns around and take hostages, to get as far as banks' safes. Unlike the first gang, the second group robbed banks outside the Paris region; staging hold-ups in Bordeaux, Lille, Metz and Nice.

Real pros, they avoided the usual police methods of detection. But the crooks made a technical error; during a hold-up one of them left his wallet behind, containing the name of a hotel in Bagnolet.

This gang's leader - with a four-month stay in a Belgian jail early this year included - was suspected of masterminding the knocking over of 40 banks over two years, for a total haul of more than a million francs.

This sum, even if inexact, could be divided by two years, the number of the gang members, and with professional expenses subtracted - couldn't have made much more than average wages for each member.

Help Wanted - Grapepickers

In the grape region of Beaujolais, this year's harvest is expected to be a big one and will possibly begin as early as late August. The 3500 vineyards there will need 40,000 pairs of hands to bring in the grapes.

Normally recruitment is by word-of-mouth and small classified ads, but these are not bringing enough candidates this year. The ANPE, the national employment agency, is advertising too, without coming close to its quota.

What's happened, is the economy has picked up. Short-term - six to 12 days - grape picking jobs are no longer in demand. Harvesting machines can't be used because grapes picked with them lose their quality AOC label.

Daily wages, for eight hours of hard work, are between 229 and 248 francs, with meals included. If interested, contact the ANPE, Service Vendanges de Belleville, 8. Rue du 14-Juillet, 69220 Belleville. Info. Tel.: 04 74 66 14 10.

Summer TV

Re-runs, 'bests of' and recycles are the ideas of TV's summer programmers in France. Thisphoto: friday opera steps is according to Friday's Le Parisien, which didn't have any other 'news' for its inside pages two and three.

Normally, each summer brings out at least one new romantic series to make viewers wake up from their siestas, but this area is deserted this summer.

No TV on the steps of the Opéra; just a bit of Paris sunshine.

The summer is also a time for TV to send up its trial balloons, but not this year. The only new show is 'Qui Veut Gagner des Millions?' - which is a copy of some foreign shows that are currently popular.

I'm as bad as Le Parisien. This is not news, even if I don't watch enough TV to be able to tell what is a re-run or not.

Web Life In France:

This was so little and so low-key last week that the high point may be Al Gore's possible Democratic Party nomination for President of the USA this week. Meanwhile, the weather is a good standby - as boring and transitory as it is.

La Chaine Météo

To bring an umbrella, to bring a hat - this is the question. If you are having difficulty deciding, check out the 'La Chaine Météo' for French weather forecasts - up to six days in the future. If your trip is planned for six months in the future, don't worry. Both umbrellas and hats are sold in many Paris shops. But if it is raining when you decide to buy, don't expect any discounts.

The 'Official' Weather

Météo France is the official source for the TV-weather people and for other professionals who are concerned with the state of France's skies. If you don't get French TV where you are, you can get the weather from where they get it, before they put their version on TV. Because it is 'official,' don't expect forecasts to exceed 24 hours. Since they can't do anything about it, they don't talk about it much.

Summer Festivals, Continued

Take a look at the Ministry of Culture's Web site for the section "Organismes" and then look for the Festivals category, and should find nearly 1000 events on this summer throughout France. Festivals are better than TV; a lot better.

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