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 can 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.

The only other suitable piece of grass is in front of the Invalides. Without apparent co-ordination, groups of amateur players have been showing up around 18:00 with footballs, and playing.

The police don't like this one bit. The players say the police don't do much except honk; but once they took the drastic action of confiscating the ball. The police also say the players should take their games to some miserable field in Neuilly.

Visitors to the city seem to appreciate the impromptu games - which can last until 20:30 - and some even join in. The boules players only a few metres away, play in perfect legality.

Paris' Unforbidden Sports

Reported to be more than overstressed, the young folks in Paris seem to agree that the greatest obstacle to meeting strangers of the opposite sex, is lack of any sort of inventive come-on.

Jean Gabin's "T'as d'beaux yeux tu sais" simply doesn't work any more, even if photo: poste gendarmes, luxembourgit scored some successes in prehistoric times.

For this reason, the parisienne Véronique, launched the 'Ecole de Séduction' five years ago. This is not any kind of marriage bureau; in fact it is the opposite - it offers a course in independence.

The Luxembourg's police post is not a flying saucer.

Graduates are trained - in a two-month course costing 6900 francs - to 'not miss the bus.' Graduates are also not trained to be Don Juans; their own 'sleeping potential' is merely awakened.

There is also a nine-month course costing 13,600 francs. The two courses had 300 graduates last year. This outstanding success has encouraged Véronique to plan the opening of a branch in Lyon next year.

Meanwhile, if you aren't intending to invest this much, Le Parisien offers some key phrases to use in particular situations.

Don't try tango. This type of dance requires years of training. Stick to salsa. Even if you know how to do it, you can always ask somebody - preferably 'jolie' - to show you how to do it.

In parks you must be original, because hordes of 'séducteurs' before you have been crudely offensive. Try saying, 'watch out for that pigeon!'

In a frozen-food department, I can't hurt to ask for advice - such as, 'can you recommend something I can fix for friends in an hour?'

If this seems unlikely, in a spot where there are a lot of visitors you can try, 'would you like to discover the authentic Paris?' For this you need to do it in English, with a 'seductive' French accent.

Libraries are supposed to be good spots because you are likely to run into someone with tastes like your own - if you have any. Here, the magic phrase is supposed to be, 'can you lend me an eraser?'

I'm not sure these tips really work. The magic phrases, formed as questions, invite quick 'nos.' I would try to rephrase them to increase the chance of a positive response.

On the street, the failure rate is high, so being successfully 'seductive' requires a high degree of finesse.

Here, I don't understand the recommended phrase, so I substitute my own - everybody's actually - "Excuse-moi de vous déranger, mais..." and then ask for an address of a café you know is around the corner.

You need to make up the rest, but since you are inventive enough to read this, I don't see any problems. One last tip; absolutely do not smile when you say any of this, except perhaps with the eyes - 'les beaux yeux, tu sais.'

Web Life In France:

It may be a bit late for it this year, but it might be the right time to start planning your next campingphoto: arc de triomphe, 22 august vacation in France or Europe. Camping is popular here even if all campsites are not in gorgeous national parks, where Smokey the Bear delivers the morning's kindling for your breakfast fire.

A commemoration of Paris' liberation was held at the Etoile last Tuesday.

Russell Lee has drawn attention to his KarmaBum Cafe, which is a travel Web site devoted to doing it cheaply, with a good 'road' book always in hand. What attracted his attention to Metropole, was the article about the Camping Paris Ouest campsite in the Bois de Boulogne.

When I visited it in 1998 I was told they would have a Web site, and sure enough, now they do. Check it out too.

The 'Official' Weather

Météo France is the official source for the TV-weather people and for other professionals who are concerned with the affairs 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 versions 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 - Last Days

Take a look at the Ministry of Culture's Web site for the section "Organismes" and then look for the Festivals category, and you should find some events that are on during what remains of this summer. Festivals are better than TV. So much so that TV keeps showing fascinating clips from them..

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