A Lot Less

photo: rest la tourelle, rue hautefeuille

One quiet block off the Boulevard Saint-Michel, in the
'old,' non-fastfood Quartier Latin.

Than All the News 'Fit To Print'

Paris:- Monday, 24. September 2001:- For a reason unknown to me, and one claimed to be unknown to Le Parisien's management, this newspaper has been unavailable where I habitually get my daily dose of newsprint.

This has forced me to rely on unfamiliar publications such as 'Le Monde,' 'Libération,' 'Le Journal de Dimanche' and lastly, 'Le Figaro.'

These are all esteemed publications but they lack an attribute enjoyed by 'Le Parisien.' Nonephoto: us flags, scarves, 50 francs of them are known as the 'concierge's newspaper of choice.' Jargon aside, it means that they all have smaller type and many pages.

This verbosity annoys Dimitri enough so that he only reads 'Le Parisien' if it is freely available at the café Le Bouquet. Dennis, being a literary-type of newcomer here, prefers to read his newspapers free in another part of town - and in the case of this week he has chosen Rome to do it in.

Not available everywhere, but US flags on sale outside FNAC Saint-Lazare on Friday.

This leaves me face-to-face with nearly a half-dozen strange papers to skim for likely - or better yet - unlikely stories, all within 90 minutes - and get the gist of them down here within the same time.

Explosion of the Week

Slightly more than a week after the incredible events in New York and Washington on Tuesday, 11. September, Radio France-Info astonished me by breathlessly reporting a huge explosion at 10:20 in Toulouse on Friday.

The blast, at a petro-chemical plant in a southern suburb of Toulouse, demolished the factory and its shockwave blew down everything around it while registering an earthquake level of 3.4 on seismographs.

Cars on a nearby autoroute were reduced to battered junk, roof tiles were blown off roofs, suburban stores, schools and hospitals were demolished and windows were blown out as far away as downtown Toulouse - while a five-metre deep crater 50 metres across was left to mark ground zero amid the smoking ruins.

The blast gave off a giant orange cloud of smoke and people who had rushed out of buildings for safety, scrambled back into them as it approached.

Early reports of the blast swept the country, already nervous from the terrorist suicide attacks ten days earlier - especially when the first rescuers on the scene believed they were confronted with a bombing.

By today, the death toll has risen to 29, with 2450 wounded, including 782 persons still hospitalized this morning.

Five hundred houses were rendered inhabitable, with 69 schools, 18 high schools and one university with 25,000 students being severely damaged.

Emergency funds totalling 30 million francs were set up by the government, by the city of Toulousephoto: metro, printemps, bd haussmann and by TotalFinaElf, the operator of the chemical works.

The explosion is believed to have centered on a silo containing 200 or 300 tons of ammonium nitrate, which is used for making fertilizers, explosives and solid rocket fuels.

The Printemps' flagship store on the Boulevard Haussmann.

By tonight investigators were said to be certain the explosion was accidental, but the plant's operators were still at a loss for an explanation for the cause of the detonation.

There are currently 372 industrial sites scattered around France that are classed in the high-risk category of 'Seveso II.' When the AZF factory that exploded on Friday was constructed in 1924, it was beyond the outskirts of Toulouse.

It was only in 1987 that a law was passed in France to prevent urbanization near dangerous sites. Needless to say, Friday's explosion has launched a debate, with the usual promises of investigations, and the deliberations of committees of experts.

Part of France Votes for Part of Senat

According to Saturday night's TV-news, elections for a third of the seats in France's 320-member Sénat were to take place on Sunday. Terms in the Sénat are nine years long and elections take place every three years - to renew a third of the Senators each time.

Senators are not elected by universal suffrage, but by communal and regional representatives, who tend to return right-wing candidates to the body. TV-news did not bother to explain how candidates are chosen, or if they campaign for office.

All the same, leftist candidates are expected to increase their representation by some seats, partly due to proportional voting being introduced to Départements that are represented by three or more Senators.

Despite 'parité,' candidate lists have been juggled to put lady candidates into second place. No more than a dozen were expected to receive convincing majorities, which will continue the imbalance in the highest assembly.

France's Sénat is important for at least two reasons. All laws voted by the universally-elected Assembly National have to pass the Sénat with a majority. If they don't, the Assembly National has to rewrite them and try again to get them accepted by the Sénat.

The Sénat is located in the Palais du Luxembourg in the Luxembourg garden, which also belongs to the Sénat rather than the city of Paris. The Sénat also runs the Musée du Luxembourg.

In the past few years it appears as if the Sénat has been much more conscious of its relations with the public, with its regular fare of important exhibitions, both in its museum and hung outside on the railings lining the gardens.

After the votes were counted Sunday night, the combined left increased its seats in the Sénat by 12 and the right gave up 10 seats. Lady candidates elected were 17, bringing their total up to 34 - still somewhat short of 50 percent of the total.

Bus Lanes In Width Dispute

Paris' city council returned to work today and right-wing council members want to complain about not being consulted about the bus lanes that were installed in the city, during the council's recess.

According to one, they are in agreement 'in principle,' but they want to argue about the fine details - such as the width of the barriers separating the buses from the rest of traffic.

What they are calling it is Mayor Bertrand Delanoë's 'coup de force,' instead of conceding that Monsieur le Maire has a majority in the city council.

Meanwhile an opinion poll has revealed that 62 percent of the Parisians are in agreement with the idea of the bus lanes, while 58 percent of suburbanites living in the Ile-de-France prefer a more moderate scheme - possibly to make commuting by car a little easier.

Non-starter No Car Day In Paris

While this was called off for Saturday in Paris - when? - 970 other cities and towns throughout the worldphoto: cafe terrace, bd haussmann went ahead with it, including Lyon, Lille and 61 other towns in France. Cities in Eastern Europe participated in this action for the first time.

Café terrace on the Boulevard Haussmann for use by weary shoppers.

On Saturday afternoon, being completely unaware that the city's effort had been more than merely reduced in scope, I walked to the Quartier Latin with the intention of strolling along the Boulevard Saint-Germain.

By the time I was still fairly well up the slope of the Rue de l'Odéon, I could see that the approaching boulevard was anything but traffic-free.

As I walked around the Quartier Latin a bit I got the distinct impression that car drivers has made a special point of infesting its narrow streets with more cars than usual, and driving them more aggressively than usual.

Internet Life

If grades were given for surfing on the Web I think I could easily get an 'E' and it wouldn't be for effort. If I'm trying to find out something I think of a keyword for it, toss it into a search engine, and if nothing comes up I assume that 'everything' is still not on the 'Net.

But most of the time, something does turn up. If the first likely site I hit doesn't have what I'm seeking I'll try a few more - like getting down to the possible offers in the 60 to 70 range before giving up.

But my major problem is with Web sites that I've been tipped to by various newsletters and other sources. It seems to me that most of these should be winners, if only because somebody with lots of inexpensive access and time has tracked them down for me and taken the trouble to give them an interesting plug.

Nine out of ten of these I find to be total losers. I swear, I do turn on my nearly-up-to-date browser for these little researches. But it doesn't make any difference - I still find Web sites that are not simple to use to be uselessly complicated - if they don't return absolutely blank pages.

By far the worst offenders are the ones with front-pages so clogged with items that you have to scroll in several different directions to actually see the whole page - in installments. These usually are characterized with unreadable type too.

Before you yell that I should wear glasses, use a magnifying glass, or change my browser's default font to 24-point Helvetica, you should know that a monitor's screen resolution is somewhat limited, and if type goes below it - goes below about seven pixels in height - it becomes unreadable.

Apparently this fact is unknown to a large number of so-called 'web-designers,' who specialize in type in sizes suitable for labeling the ingredients of industrial chicken-and-sardine goulash on the head of a pin. It can look like sans-serif Arabic when it is this small.

With this ranting rave off my mind, I give you:-

One-Stop French Tourism

The URL for this started out with a description of what was supposed to be one jumbo Web site that includedphoto: wine bar, les bacchantes links to all the major sites dealing with 'everything you wanted to know about tourism in France.'

However, this proved to be less than advertised - or I got an 'E' with it - but finally I got to somewhere that seemed to show promise.

One-stop self-taught French wine courses available here.

This seems to be the 'Tourisme en France' Web site, which has versions in French and English, and the URL here is for the version in English - but don't be surprised if it seems to be in French - much as the 'French' in Metropole is as 'French' as I can make it, like the phrase 'Tourisme en France.'

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.

'Fall' Officially Begins

Paris' weather pulled off a surprise by changing for the better on the first day of fall, on Saturday, 22. September. It was cool with high temperatures not greatly exceeding 17 degrees but it was very nice to see the sun again.

If you are curious or need to know more, give the Météo-France Web site a hit, for its short-range forecasts.

Météo-France has also begun its 'Vigilance-Météo' service. This consists of putting out special warnings about coming hurricane-speed winds, torrential downpours, heavy storms, tornados, blizzards and/or avalanches, within the next few hours.

Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
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logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini