Sky-High Fuel Prices

photo: cafe bistro le luco, bd st michel

On the Boulevard Saint-Michel, 'Le Luco' is near the Luxembourg garden.

Back To School In France

Paris:- Sunday, 27. August 2000:- Summer is a good time - for somebody - to have rising fuel prices. It is not a good time for travellers who need gas and can't always be choosy about where they get it. Homeowners who look ahead, try to buy their winter fuel in summer too, when supply is supposed to exceed demand.

Then there are the professionals such as farmers, fishermen and truckers who can't operate without full tanks. What they have to pay, is eventually paid for by consumers - some of whom buy neither gasoline nor heating oil themselves.

On Friday, Le Parisien showed a map of France, indicating where the cheapest pumps are. Many of these are operated by the hypermarché's of big food outlets rather than oil company service stations.

In the Paris region low-priced super unleaded was quoted at 7.30 francs per litre at a Carrefour outlet. On the autoroute A4, a service station was charging 7.99 francs for the same fuel.

The absolute cheapest gas seemed to be at an Esso station in Clamart, where super unleaded was quoted at 6.99. This was the lowest rate for the entire Ile-de-France.

Never good at arithmetic, I can't figure out what this may be in US dollars, because all I have available is the dollar-euro rate, which puts value of a euro at about 90 US cents. If I still had a car, I might be able to do better with this.

In an announcement, to be made this coming Thursday, the government is expected to make its gas-tax a fixed rate, rather than a yo-yo percentage of the wholesale refined price - which rises when the crude market gets overexcited.

Morocco's weekend news of the discovery of new oil fields may calm down the fuel market a bit. Other geopolitical events may also put downward pressure on the world's crude prices.

Holiday Driving

Le Parisien's map of what it calls the 'summer's eternalphoto: memorial, 22 aout 1944 traffic jams,' sums up the situation of drivers and their families returning with the last big wave of returning vacationers.

I don't understand why the notorious bottleneck at Millau was left off the paper's map. The annual summer-long traffic jam at Valence is supposed to be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Last week marked the 56th anniversary of the liberation of Paris in 1944.

The toll-autoroutes are estimated to have had 120 million vehicles on them this summer. This road network, now totalling 7200 kilometres, only had 122 in 1960 when nearly everybody in France who had a car had a Citröen 2CV or a tiny Renault.

Back To School - the 'Rentrée'

Mixed in with the cost of the holidays, the high fuel prices and the impending final tax-bite, the cost of the 'rentrée' - back to school - plays a major but negative economic role on parents at this time of year.

Every kid who goes to school in France must have a bag or sack to carry all their school supplies. Every kid must have a new bag, and the size of the bag is in inverse proportion to the size of the kid.

The reason for a 'new' bag is simple. 'Cartables,' as they are called, are often substituted for footballs during the school year and seldom survive from one to the next.

Uniformed parents who do not worry about the timing of shopping for school supplies may be in for a horrible surprise if they leave it too late - there is never a selection of excess 'cartables' after the first few days of the rush.

Although most kids in France go to state schools - paid for by taxes - many scholarly items must be purchased by parents. Exercise booklets are published, and teachers hand out lists of the specific titles they require for the new school year.

Being tardy with acquiring these can result in the darn things being sold out; requiring reordering, and waiting.

Meanwhile the teacher will be sending the hapless parents threatening messages, containing predictions that the under-equipped kid will become unemployed and homeless in the future because of their inept lack of foresight.

The 'rentrée' in France is not a joyous time for parents. It is as if having had a good time on your holidays is rewarded with a major reality-check before you have any chance to enjoy having been relaxed.

Outfitting one kid with the necessary can cost as much as a full-pension week of holidays for four people. As in any part of our funky western world, fads are rampant in France, and these are applied to school supplies.

So a mere brand-x 'cartable' is not sufficient - it must be one, not necessarily of strength, but at the height of fashion; liberally sprinkled with major logos.

The only ray of hope in this gloomy and stressful 'rentrée' scenario, is the knowledge that - waitaminute! - Christmas is a 'ray of hope,' isn't it?

Paris' Forbidden Sports

Sometime, weeks ago, the national football league began its new season. This seemed to be about ten minutes after the last one finished, but I only think this because I don't follow it and it is always in my face.

In Paris itself, there are few places where residents ca play recreational soccer. Wildcat games, that were banned out at La Villette two years ago, have resumed recently after a set of regulations have been worked out.

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