Gas-Pump Blockade

photo: wine bar, le barometre

In Paris, wine only costs a bit more than gas these days.

Happy Ferrari Drivers

Paris:- Sunday, 3. September 2000:- New headlines this week don't mean the subjects of the main stories have changed much.

While the groaning about high fuel prices has gone up a notch and the back-to-school migration is much closer - on Tuesday - the government added a new element during the week with its major tax reduction announcement.

As mentioned here last week, everybody is groaning about the high prices of gas and diesel fuel. By Monday the situation will take a dramatic turn - which could affect you if you are travelling by road in France.

Refineries To Be Blockaded

Starting tonight, drivers of big trucks will be blockading oil refineries around France. They will be especially targeting refineries near ports where crude is landed, but they will also block many other fuel storage depots.

Tonight's TV-news showed drivers lining up at gas pumps, especially in southern areas, to top up their tanks in anticipation of Monday's action.

Some filling stations have already run dry; sending motorists on frantic hunts for those still with gas. Angry farmers are joining the truckers in the Lyon, Nancy, Nantes and Sète areas.

Actually, farmers have been demonstrating at selected locations around France since the middle of the week. Fishermen used their boats to barricade a great number of ports - to protest the high price of fuel.

But the fishermen had the satisfaction of receiving a promise of compensation for fuel prices above 1.20 francs per litre, made by the ministry for fisheries late on Thursday.

Other heavy users of gas - taxi drivers and ambulance operators, organized go-slow convoys around the country, blocking access to some airports. Operators of tour buses were also angry.

Tax Reductions - Not Reforms

While France was on holidays Laurent Fabius, the new Minister of Finance, was hitting the books with special attention focused on the finance ledgers.

On Thursday Monsieur Fabius presented a wide-ranging program of tax reductions. A preview was presentedphoto: on seine, west of pont des arts in Thursday's edition of Le Parisien. Before the actual details were known, these previews always seem rosy.

Drinking, not fishing, is this boat's business - so it's blockade-free.

The actual tax reductions touched all classes of income tax, and business taxes affecting smaller companies were lowered. For those with the lowest salaries, a couple of extra-taxes were altered; allowing an effective real increase in disposable income.

The fuel tax on household heating fuel, which is also used by farmers' tractors, will be reduced by 30 percent on 21. September.

For ordinary gas, the reduction was more complicated - after 21. September when the base gas price rises and with it the corresponding value-added tax, the tax will be lowered in compensation.

The most onerous fuel tax is the TIPP, and this is what has been lowered for domestic fuel. For vehicle fuel, this tax seems not to be affected - only the value-added tax on top of it.

The annual license tax, called the 'vignette,' has been suppressed for private drivers, but not for companies. Doing this will save a Twingo owner 504 francs and a Ferrari driver, 12,648 francs, depending on where the car is registered. Those without cars, will save nothing.

The suppression of this little tax will have its repercussions. It is collected by the operators of tabacs around France and they will lose the small commissions generated. The sums collected go directly to the departments - but the tax plan sees a fixed compensation for the loss.

This will reduce the budget flexibility of departments, which might translate into higher residence taxes, which are also paid locally.

All in all, those paid the minimum wage will get a real monthly raise; about equivalent to the savings on filling up a 3500-litre tank of domestic fuel - 500 francs.

Ferrari drivers come out of it best of all, with their five-digit savings, which they can use to tank up their luxo gas-guzzlers.

Yuk! - School Lunches

Every year at this time of the return to school in France - known as the 'rentrée' - some serious defect is found with the system.

French schools serve a billion meals a year to their students, and the French agency for sanitary security says the meals are too fatty, too lacking in vegetables and dairy products.

According to republican traditions, parents buy lunch tickets forphoto: bar one way their kids based on the levels of their incomes. A lunch ticket can vary from 4.75 to 21.80 francs within one school. The 'real' cost of an average lunch is supposed to be about 50 francs.

In translation: 'Sens Unique' - but in what sense?

The real problem with kids is they like junk food more than what is 'good' for them. If you give them a menu of taboulé, beef in sauce with carrotes vichy and a fruit of the season, they will still want breaded frozen fish and frites, with mayo and ketchup.

In Le Parisien's report, a complete 'ideal' menu for a whole week is presented. There is a filet de merlan and mashed potatoes, but no frites at all.

French breakfasts are really skimpy - even recommended ones for kids. For the 'ideal week' they are offered chocolate milk with a brioche with jam, or a pot of yogurt with a piece of fruit.

I've had more than this in a French hospital on a lean get-well diet. Schoolkids are supposed to get a 'goûter' in the afternoon, and this alone is slightly more substantial than the recommended breakfast.

The guide says priority should be given to breakfasts, with enough so the kids don't eat junk during their short morning break; so they don't ruin their appetite for lunch.

Some well-intentioned moms worry that they can't supervise the origin of the foodstuffs served by canteens. The best they can do is read the daily menus posted in the schools' entries.

Other moms say if you listen to the kids, they all say they eat pasta all the time. My kids did this too; because they asked for it all the time - until they discovered pizza.

Métro Train Derails and Crashes

Last Wednesday at 13:22, the southbound line 12 métro train fell off its tracks as it entered the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette station, and the front wagon slid into the station on its side.

The 150-metre slide stopped a metre short of the front of a northbound train sitting in the station. The accident injured 24 and 10 were seriously hurt, with three still hospitalized on Friday..

Within a few minutes of the accident, the station and the area around it were flooded with firemen, doctors, ambulances, RATP agents and managers. An advance first-aid post was set up inside the station.

Within 80 minutes everybody was evacuated from thephoto: resto, notre table station. The brasserie Le Métro on the surface also served as an aid station for about 40 shocked passengers. The RATP picked up their tabs.

By Friday, the RATP had come to suspect that the driver had been running the train too fast for the curve just before the station. The driver himself, knocked out when the wagon tipped over, wasn't sure.

'Notre Table' is not a school-lunch canteen.

Union spokesmen said the wagon in question was known to drivers as a 'soap bar,' with problems of stability and braking. It had its most recent inspection in July. Investigators are still searching for the exact cause of the freak derailment.

The métro's last serious accident was in 1996 when two were injured. The line 6 curve just before the Etoile station is reported to be susceptible to derailments. A métro driver was killed by an accident in 1981, but the last passenger deaths were recorded in 1930.

Paris Is Not 'Touristique'

Despite a horde of 22 million visitors passing through Paris in each of these past years, the city is not officially classed as a 'Ville Touristique.'

The Préfecture was asked for this administrative classification in 1998. A public enquiry must be held first and then the decision is up to the Conseil d'Etat.

In the Ile-de-France area, Versailles, Barbizon and Fountainebleu have the classification, and Enghien-les-Bains has it too, as a 'thermal commune.'

The difference would allow all of Paris' merchants to open on Sundays. Both unions and store owners are not sure this is a good thing, and continue to support the idea of Sunday being a 'day off.'

However, it seemed as if the Préfecture had given the green light to declaring a part of the boulevard Saint-Germain as a 'zone touristique.'

For 'sportive, recreational or cultural' purposes, one bookstore wanted to open on Sundays. Another one is hesitating. A third likes the idea but lacks the necessary staff.

Web Life In France:France's Patrimony Weekend

This is an annual weekend set aside to take a look at all the cultural heritage and it includes all of Europe as well as all of France - so this is not an event that can be viewed in its entirety in person unless you have a fast helicopter and a lot of gas.

In France, the 'Journées du Patrimoine' take place on Saturday and Sunday, 16 and 17. September. Thephoto: l'estiminet, oberkampf heritage of the 20th century is the theme, with emphasis on its European aspects.

Classed by subjects such as home, neighborhood, education, sports and arts - and many more - the Web site for this year's 'Journées du Patrimoine' program' should have complete details for you by Monday, 4. September. You can search through the program by text or by geographic areas.

On the ground - in past years - this weekend has offered the possibility of visiting many sites that are not ordinarily open to the public. If you are in France at this time, it may be your 'chance of a lifetime.'

The 'Official' Weather

Météo France is the official source for the TV-weather people and for other amateurs who are dedicated sky watchers. 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, neither can you.

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