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.

Te 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.
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