Oyster Opener of the Year

photo: foire crowd, lacets magiques

'Magic Shoelaces' mean you've found the inventors.

Inventions and Wine At the Foire de Paris

Paris:- Wednesday, 8. May 2002:- With the 16 candidates for president of France out of the way it seems safe enough to make the annual pilgrimage to the Foire de Paris, even though it is the first day in a long time that promises pretty good weather.

Normally Wednesday is not a good day to go to a big show at Paris-Expo because many schools have the afternoon off. But radio France-Info says, between the 'pain-complet' with blackberry jam and the yogurt, that the routes out of town are clogged with happy campers on their way to the 'viaduct' of a five-day weekend. Bless them all.

On the avenue there is rare blue sky competing with harmlessly fluffy white clouds, a gentle breeze waving the new green leaves and not many people about on urgent business. Undergroundphoto: russian rotary motor, arktur trading in the métro, the wagons are about as full as they are on Sundays during the period of Mass.

Not many of the few passengers make the switch to the Issy métro line to the Porte de Versailles. This is another good sign. At the gates to the exhibition park, the entry lines are so short that it seems as if fans of big fairs must be on strike or having exceedingly extended lunches - which would be a good idea if they are having picnics.

The small rotary motor made by the Russian engineers in St. Petersburg.

In my usual direct-to-the-point fashion I have entered by the vast hall one. This requires me to take the tunnel across to the other side where all the other halls are, to get to the target hall seven.

It has seemed deserted until the tunnel entry. The tunnel is full of people and the stairway in front of the hall two is black with people mounting it. Have they been hiding in the tunnel?

The main thoroughfare leading between the halls is plugged with last week's May Day paraders. Luckily, the free jazz tent is right at the beginning of this. It has its fans - probably those too intimidated to go further.

The radio must have got it wrong. All those cars in the traffic jams must be cardboardphoto: jacques veillon, mr splak replicas, meant to fool the airborne traffic counters. These are not flying over Paris-Expo today. If they were they could figure out the same masses of people can't be in two places at once.

The fairly-high entry fee to get in is a deterrent to abandoning the whole project and heading for some calm spot by the Seine - perhaps to the André Citroën park, to see the tethered balloon there lazily going up and down.

Jacques Veillon says the name 'Splak' will be used in the US.

As a determined 'Internet Reporter for Paris' I can't just give up before I've started, so I plow southwards against an army of fair-goers towards hall seven, in the hazy distance beyond the flyover of the Périfreak!

The sun is warming this all up and helping all the snack stands distribute their variety of odors. Crêpes, hot dogs, popcorn, sausages, more crêpes and more hot dogs.

I don't understand why more people seem to be coming my way than going my way. Maybe they came at nine this morning, have seen everything, and eaten their regional foods and are now doing want I'm tempted to do - get laid back elsewhere for the day.

Less than two hours later I arrive at hall seven and instead of starting on its ground floor, I take the escalators up to the third floor. The first escalator isn't working, so the ascent begins with climbing higher-than-normal escalator stairs.

Not many people ever take this route, except those that have been to many expos here. Notphoto: cannon porsche many people are taking it today - less than would be expected to be riding up to see an 'mobile-phone solutions scam' show, to cite one example.

With this equipment on your Porsche, the highway patrol may think twice.

The space on level three of hall seven is reserved for do-it-yourself hardware, wines and regional food specialties, some big restaurants and the inventor's show - the 'Concours Lépine.'

There is no crowd pressing to enter this floor. Just inside the entry is another story. There are about 400 stands showing off new hammers and lathes for making home-made rocket motors or weekend chalets with bookshelves, and many people are giving them careful attention.

This goes on for miles, all the way around the two sets of giant central stairways, and the restaurants - about 20 of them with seats, another 45 stand-up booths - line the back and west-side walls. Keeping on going from left to right I run into the wine producers and the regional foods. Here are another 900 stands.

Where are the inventors hiding? The far east section remains to be explored, and it turns out to be the right place. Some dozen rows of stands before it, the crowd begins to get dense.

In it, there is a compacted mob. There are about 120 exhibitors, mostly with small stands or tiny booths. There are another 45 to 50 'demonstrator' stands, slightly beyond the 'inventors' area. The pathways between most of them are no wider than between-the-métro seats, and they are plugged with the curious and the seekers of sensations.

I am, of course, subjecting myself to this sweating squash of cacophony, elbows, tripping over cables - for one reason only. Somewhere in here there will be the newest of the new 'Oyster Opener of the Year.'

These are a French phenomenon. Maybe once a year somebody will decide to have oysters at home. The simple knife professional oyster-openers use is far too deadly in the hands of amateurs - as are oyster shells themselves - and therefore there is a monster need for a fool-proof oyster-opener that works like a charm, at least once a year.

This year's model, seems no more or less tricky to use than last year's 'new' model. The problem with the demonstration is that there aren't enough unopened oysters available - so eager buyers have to guess how it really functions.

Similar problems exist with cork-pullers. These have their new 'Corkscrew of the Year' too. Think of almost any kitchen utensil or household tool, and these show up 'new' here too. Would you walk a mile for 'magic shoelaces?'

The crush is so great that I do not learn the purpose of the cannon affixed to the roof of the Porsche 911. The rotary motorphoto: barbecue tongs presented by the St. Petersburg Association of Independent Engineers, is an improvement of one by the Canadian inventor, Cherry Bryan. The Russians kept the existing 'seals,' and built a new motor around them. It puts out 300 hp.

Nothing to it - with these tongs, zip, twirl, and the weenie is on its back.

'Mr. Splak,' who is really Jacques Veillon, is talking a kilometre-a-minute and showing off his 'Universal Dish Covers.' These serve the purpose of cling-film, but are washable and reusable. They also permit expelling air from the dish before freezer storage, and have a neat tab for letting it in again - so the chicken curry won't explode in the microwave.

Nearby there is a cold barbecue grill with fake wieners on it, being turned with the aid of 'revolutionary' tongs. They have little wheels at their tips, that allow the wieners to revolve.

There are also many other slightly more serious inventions - including artificial hearts, a mini-scooter with a rechargeable battery, and an elaborate pooper-scooper for dog owners.

Le Parisien's readers would like to see a pen that writes what they think, or a teleportation system in order to avoid the métro, or a mini multimedia centre in a matchbox. Another would like a fingerprint-reader system to replace PIN numbers, and - renewable, cheap energy.

I have little of this, so I go back to the wine and food section of the hall and wander around while wine makers try to entice me into trying out a little and buying some cases of the stuff.

I kind of wash up at the stand of Château Fonrazade, which produces 'Grand Cru' wines inphoto: sign, ouvre huitres the Saint-Emilion area of Bordeaux. I watch an interested lady try their 1995 models, the 1998s, the reds, a white, and a sparkling pink.

Right under the sign - the 'Thing of the Year!'

After an eon of testing, a cheque is written for a truck-load and the lady retires two metres to a neighboring stand, featuring burgundies. After some rapid tests, several of these are chosen and another cheque is written.

I get some very heady smells while this is going on, and taking a circuit past some of the food stands makes me dizzy. I think I will skip the kitchens and bathrooms on the second floor, skip the multimedia on the ground floor - and get out of this cornucopia until next year - when the wine a food part resumes with the 'Beautiful Cow Show.'

The Concours Lépine

In 1900, Emile Laurent noted a general despair of Parisian toy manufacturers and retailers, caused by cheapo foreign imports available during the Christmas season. He persuaded Louis Lépine, Paris' Préfect de Police, to organize a contest for inventors.

The initial contest was held in the Grand Hall of the Tribunal of Commerce and it contributed to the success of local manufacturers for the 1901 Christmas season.

The creation of the non-profit French Association of Inventors and Manufacturers - AIFF - took place on Saturday, 12. April 1902. Edouard Cousin, the secretary-general of the AIFF, hit upon the idea of naming the contest after its initiator, Louis Lépine, who also became the association's honorary president.

The AIFF's main purpose has always been to give aid to inventors, to help them with the formalities of protecting their work and to provide assistance in finding the means of manufacture and distribution.

After the First World War the contest was held on the banks of the Seine, until the event was affiliated with the annual Foire de Paris. This year marks the 101th edition of the contest. Prizes include cash, medals and certificates.

The partners Mantelet and Moulinex won the prize in 1931 for a potato masher and you can see wherephoto: oyster opener of the year Moulinex is today. About a third of the innovations presented by the 'Concours Lépine' reach commercialization, as opposed to only about 2.5% of inventions with European 'brevets.'

But how does it work - exactly?

The only formalities of the competition are that the exhibitor must be a member of the AIFF - foreign members are welcome - and be able to exhibit an innovative object. Everything on show during the fair has to have been 'breveted' or patented.

During the Foire, the inventions are inspected by the AIFF's jury to choose the winners of the prizes, which are awarded two days before the end of the fair. According to TV-news, this year's winning invention has been a motorized shopping cart, which is already in trial service in two supermarkets.

About a third - about 240,000 this year - of visitors to the Foire de Paris don't leave without taking a look around the part of the hall seven reserved for the 'Lépine Contest.'

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