Back To Square One?

photo: bistro la sieste, montparnasse

This bistro in Montparnasse looks like it is asleep.

Wheels Roll Again In Paris

Paris:- Sunday, 10. September 2000:- Last week the main topic of news was the gradual disappearance of fuel from filling station around France. Near the end of the week, the noose tightened around Paris.

What also disappeared was a good part of Paris' habitual traffic. I noticed this first on Thursday, when the normally fully jammed Quai du Louvre outside the Café Metropole Club's café, was nearly deserted.

Yet, as a far as I know, this was not mentioned in newspapers nor on TV-news. Perhapsphoto: quai du louvre traffic jam no cars was 'no news.'

In the midst of the crises the petrol giant TotalFinaElf announced sharply increased profits for the first six months of this year.

On a normal 'club' day, you can't see the bouquinistes.

The figure reported was an astounding plus of 165 percent - which was about three times better than a year earlier - and a third better than any of the other best-performing oil companies.

French Gas 'Hostage' Success

Last week's national oil boycott has been wildly misinterpreted outside of France if I am any judge of reader reactions that have been sporadically trickling in.

A Metropole reader and Café Metropole Club member wrote from Queens, "No money at ATMs and banks, then no gas. What group is going to hold the country hostage next - laundromat workers?"

Careful analysis of the situation has revealed that the French are perfectly capable and willing to govern themselves if the government fails to act in a timely fashion.

When the recently announced government tax reductions did nothing to redress the excessive prices of petroleum products, certain residents simply staged a nation-wide boycott of them.

This achieved two goals quickly: a variety of reductions on petroleum taxes and some other taxes; and the boycott sent a strong warning signal to oil producing countries. In effect, the French said, "We can live without your lousy oil!"

Just imagine - the whole worldwide oil-chain of supply suddenly had a cork in it. Only so many supertankers can be diverted; hundreds of refineries can store only so muchphoto: fiat 500, smart production. What happens to this oil-chain when a large car-crazy country suddenly just says 'No!'

The 'Fiat 500 of the Week' and another car, both parked.

We will probably never see the figures, but the cost of the gas not burned up by French consumers last week, is never going to be recuperated by oil producers, oil companies or France's tax collectors.

Not only this - as both farmers and truckers removed their blockades throughout France, they vowed to reinstall them at any time without warning if certain government agencies and domestic and foreign oil producers were thought to be getting too greedy again.

The farmers also picked up another 'ace' to play. They squeezed a promise out of the government, for aid to increase the production of 'bio-fuels.' This will aid farmers who produce it and generally reduce dependence on petroleum imports.

The French government, in a timid attempt to play catch-up, has suggested to OPEC that it should consider $28 per barrel as a maximum price.

Meanwhile, truck drivers put gas tankers into heavy rotation in France. Lines of motorists formed near filling stations in the hopes that fuel would arrive soon.

French 'Lunacy' Proves Infectious

Beginning today, other European countries are looking at the lesson of the professional-level boycott in France, and erecting their own barricades to blockade oil refineries and storage depots.

Central Brussels has been blocked by Belgium's truckers and taxi operators and British haulers are looking for likely targets.

Prime minister Tony Blair has firmly adopted a 'no negotiations' stance, and government spokesmen have pointed out that there are 'laws' in Britain - and by implication indicated that there are none in France.

Obviously the TV has been switched off at 10 Downing Street. If it hasn't, the Prime Minister must be aware that Britain does not have enough jails to hold all the truckers that may be tempted to challenge the authorities.

In Britain fuel costs more than in France - despite being a country which has a source of crude which costs less than the world-level OPEC price.

The 11-member Organization of Oil Exporting Countries, meeting over the weekend in Vienna, announced a production risephoto: gas guzzled scooter of the week of 800,000 barrels a day. This brings the total production rise for this year alone to an extra three million barrels daily, and OPEC ministers said they can do no more.

Torched scooter was unrelated to Paris gas shortage.

OPEC also suggested that governments 'come clean' and reduce the taxes they levy on petroleum products. How this would reduce demand that OPEC apparently cannot match, wasn't mentioned.

Road professionals were joining the lower-price movement in Holland, Denmark and Sweden. In France, other workers such as artisans who need to use smaller trucks professionally, are unhappy with concessions already accorded to the groups already mollified, and they want to benefit from reduced petroleum taxes as well.

This was reflected in a poll that indicated that the truckers had an 88 percent approval rating for their actions in France. How many pedestrians were polled was not indicated.

Constitutional Change Ho-Hum

The proposal to change France's seven-year presidential term to five years, which will be decided at ballot boxes on Sunday, 24. September, seems to be meeting general indifference.

Polls indicate that only 40 percent of registered voters intend to vote. Of these, possibly 77 percent will vote for the reduction of the term of office.

Polls also indicate that voters are very confused, with only 78 percent of 'oui' voters actually approving the constitutional change. However this eclipses the voters who will vote 'non' - who can only muster a 68 percent disapproval rating.

Of the 100 percent who have been predicted to abstain entirely, 75 percent think society faces more important challenges. Half of this group think abstaining will send a high-tax protest message to somebody, while the other half thinks the opposite.

Robert Hue, secretary general of the French Communist Party, is for 'active abstention.' I think this means that the number of voters who don't bother to go to the polls, regardless of how many, is or is not a 'vote' in itself.

Paris' Official Carless Day

For the past couple of years, there has been an official 'carless' day in France. This day was certainly never entirely 'carless' in Paris, but it was a step in this direction.

This year it seems as if Paris will not be officially involved with the project organized by the Ministry of the Environment.

Apparently the city has to propose the measures it intends, and it did, and these were rejected by the ministry. Even 'reading between the lines,' I cannot figure this out.

So the mayor ordered a new proposal, based on last year's idea of a near total traffic ban. This time it was the Préfecture of Police that pleaded it hadn't enough time to put the more ambitious project into action.

The Green faction in the Hôtel de Ville claimed that the mayor was showing his 'true face' on the problem of pollution. The mayor's office insisted that Paris would have its carless day, without the official label of the Ministry of the Environment.

Web Life In France:

France's Patrimony Weekend

This coming weekend set aside annually to take a look at cultural heritage which includes all of Europe as well as all of France.

In France, the 'Journées du Patrimoine' take place this coming Saturday and Sunday, 16 and 17. September. The 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 forphoto: street gas pump this year's 'Journées du Patrimoine' program' should have complete details for you. You can search through the program by text or by geographic areas.

Last Wednesday, this Paris filling station was still filling cars' tanks.

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.'

Public Access Internet

After the RATP set up its free-access 'Cyberdecks' in certain RER and métro stations last March, the idea is attracting new operators.

France's La Poste offers to furnish everybody with an email address. These are accessible via the thousand post offices equipped with iMacs. The rechargeable 'Cyberposte' card costs 30 francs per hour, after paying an initial 50 francs for the first hour's connection for it.

Not wanting to be left out of the game, France Télécom has started to set up 3000 'Netanoo' stations throughout France. These will also be activated with a card, for about 90 centimes per minute. Within a short time, these should also accept normal debit cards too.

During the summer, Photomaton, the operator of the ID-photo cabins, announced that it would set up Internet access points near its photo vending machines.

Present and Past Olympic Games

The Olympic Museum has the history in text, photos and video of the Olympics, plus all the latest developments - including, I suppose - ample presence of all the logos and stadium slogans that add so much to the visual aspects of the games.

In case you are wondering what the Olympics used to look like, the Olympic Television Archive Bureau has a Web site with old films, plus new films showing all the logos and stadium slogans in color.

The 'Official' Weather

Météo France gets another run this week on account of delivering good weather today. This is the official source for France's TV-weather people. If you don't get French TV where you are, you can get the weather from where they get it. Because it is 'official' - meaning: as true as possible - don't expect forecasts to exceed 24 hours.

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