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Last year, eight million played the lottery, and there were 55,000 winners. The 'experts' help applicants fill in the official forms and guarantee that they will be good enough to be accepted for the lottery. For this they charge 295 francs for singles and 465 francs for couples.

Americans are in on this two, with two companies in Los Angeles offering similar services for 50 or 60 dollars. A lawyer in Boston is only charging 35 dollars - proving I suppose, that competition is alive in America.

Playing the US government's lottery is free in itself. This is pointed out by the US embassy in Paris.

While some of the private 'services' are dubious, others claim they provide aid to fill in the forms correctly. Between a quarter and a third of all forms are rejected for one reasonphoto: sunday cafes, pl ed quinet or another.

Even if one 'wins' the lottery, a new and more complicated application - 'hypercompliqué' - must be made. Then there is a personal interview, and finally there is a charge of 500 dollars for the initial visa itself.

Few candidates here for the 'Green Card Loto.'

Despite all these hurdles - hardly like simply picking the right six numbers out of 49 - the Paris firm with the billboards is getting 400 callers a day. Last year it managed to register 3000 applications, and has had about 50 accepted so far.

Applications - the forms for which can obtained at the US embassy for free - will be accepted until the summer and this year's draw will be in October.

Strike(s) of the Week

In urban centres throughout France, with the exception of Paris, public transport became uncertain this morning as many transport workers continued their strikes in favor of 55 as the age of retirement.

In Paris, it could be the RATP's turn on Wednesday when two major unions call for a strike to back up demands for more employees, and rises salaries able to keep up with inflation.

On Wednesday, museums in Paris are also expected to be affected by personal demanding the effective introduction of the 35-hour work week. Ville de Paris museums are unlikely to be affected.

Internet Life In France

Between Café Metropole Club members such as Michelle Royston and readers such as Gary Jackson, I have been hearing about the cooking school at the Ritz.

It's official name is the Ritz-Escoffier Ecole de Gastronomie Française, which is a mouthful, but represents two sorts of courses. One is called the 'César Ritz course,' which I think is geared to shorter-term student-visitors, with its weekly rates.

The 'Ritz Eccoffier course' will probably be of more interest to food professionals. It has longer courses and rates beginning from a base of ten weeks. The above URL is for the English version and here is the URL for the version in French.

Since Gary, who attended a course at the Ritz, sent in these URLs, the week's 'thankYou' goes to him. He also sent an URL for a Guide to Pubs and Bars, but my browser was having a bad day or could not digest the 'Java.' It crashed, but not before I learned that Paris now has 'inexpensive places to drink' and some Happy Hours begin as early as 16:00.

I do not think this is a reference to the all-day 'Happy Hours' I occasionally see being celebrated 'al fresco' on the nearby avenue, but it might involve the same class of drinks.

All Books - Fr. - Again

What Amazon or Barnes & Noble are to the United States, Chapitre.com is to France. Long one of the biggest players here, this online bookseller is thinking of testing offshore waters. While half of its business is with new titles, Chapitre thinks it has an edge when it comes to rare or out-of-print books. Chapitre sends out real people to poke through 115 real bookstores to look for rarities, and it finds them - for you. This company also has ties to Quebec and the German bookseller Buecher.de. The firm also proposes French language revues and magazines.

Your Paris Web URLs

If you have any favorite Paris Web sites you think other readers should know about, please send them in. If they haven't been featured before and they don't crash my browser, you'll get a modest 'thankyou' here.

The 'Official' Weather - 9.3% 'Spring'

What was bad enough for Easter got worse last week. There must be a bottom to this weather-front pit we're in - but are we close to it?

Even if not, there are usually some sunny periods in a day. The trick is to be in the right place atphoto: pont debilly, seine the right time - even an outside café terrace can be comfortable enough if it is shielded from the wind.

Even with the Seine still high, spring is not far off.

Coming temperatures are predicted to be 'somewhat close' to average 'for this time of year,' which doesn't mean highs that will require any suntan lotion. For real forecasts, give the Météo France site a hit. Predictions are usually fairly shortrange because Météo France doesn't like being know for bad guesses.

This said, Météo France is hoping - don't we too! - to have ultra-shortrange predictions available online by this coming summer. These should be handy for checking the weather at breakfast, to be sure it will be sunny enough for a round of boules in the Luxembourg gardens in the afternoon.

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