...Continued from page 1

Acrilor, Metaleurop, Daewoo, Pechiney, France Télécom, La Banque de France and Air Lib, among others, have all recently announced their 'plans sociaiaux.'

The military equipment contractor Giat Industries, a state enterprise, is on the verge of its next 'plan,' which will be its sixth in the past 12 years. Down from 18,000 employees and actually with 6300, it is expected that the government will have to decide to tell another 3200 to look for work elsewhere.

Employees says Giat's order books are full, but the enterprise is heavily in debt, and the management thinks out-sourcing is a way to continue its vital work for the state. Union official think the company intends to concentrate on managing contracts and on its all-important engineering tasks.

Late today, a commercial court dropped the final axe on Air Lib, after an emotional period of uncertainty lasting several weeks for its thousands of employees.

France Wins Again, Sort Of

Because of choosing a clever location in Europe, central to one of the world's biggest pools of tourists - if not the biggest! - France again managed to entice more visitors than any other country in 2002.

On top of this, the number of visitors rose by two percent, to 76.7 million. Even though foreign touristsphoto: banner, students spent slightly more than before, France rests in only third place for total revenues, behind the United States and Spain.

France does well for absolute numbers because it is a crossroads - many final destinations require a transit through France. Spain probably takes in more money because visitors stay there longer on average.

Visitors from the United States were fewer in 2002, with their numbers being off by 18.4 percent from 2001. Apparently this was felt most in the luxury sector, where occupancy of four-star hotels dropped by eight percent.

Particularly hard hit were the palace hotels on the Riviera, which have seen their occupancy rates tumble again by 10 percent in January. Taking into account the desolation of the stock market, the rise of the euro and the international situation, such a drop is not surprising.

Palace operators are countering with promotions, while they polish their Champagne buckets for the upcoming Carnival in Nice, and other seasonal high points.

Many vacationers, both French and foreign, are economizing by taking shorter holidays and staying in rural settings and B & Bs. These saw an occupancy rise of 18 percent last year.

The Starving Artists

The city of Paris has decided to reclassify Montmartre's often scruffy portrait artists as 'hustlers' and has effectively banned them from carrying out their artistic trade in or near the Place du Tertre.

This was put into effect at the beginning of last November with the aid of a prefectoral decree, backed up by 'La Loi Sarkozy' which forbids commercial 'hustling.'

The actual term is 'racolage,' and was once a word used for 'forceful recruiting' by the military, but is also what aggressive streetwalkers might be accused of - if they weren't also subject to other new laws dreamed up by the energetic minister of the interior.

Facing fines of 230 to 760 euros, the artists are also angry with being classified as prostitutes and 'treated like monkeys.' Their art materials have also been confiscated.

Actually, the portraitists who could number up to 300 in summer, are not allowed to be closer to the Place du Tertre than the entry of the Rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre and the Place Jean-Baptiste-Clément.

Le Parisien also says they are forbidden to 'work' between 10:00 and 20:00 in winter and between 10:00 and 22:00 in summer.

The only artists permitted to set up shop in the Place du Tertre must be licensed, sitting down and immobile. Places are limited to 280 screened and hand-picked artists.

The 'chosen' must make an application to the municipal office that manages Paris' markets, with a dossierphoto: scarf peddler containing proof that the artist pays retirement dues to the 'Maison des Artistes,' pays income taxes, has no criminal record, and has a fixed address.

If this dossier is accepted then the candidate must pass an inspection by municipal commission, presided over by the mayor of the 18th arrondissement, including elected representatives, functionaries of the city and the prefecture of police, and the presidents of various Montmartre associations. If accepted, the lucky winner then only has to pay for a 90 euro license fee, annually.

One of the stand-up portraitists, on the job on the streets for 30 years, fumed that it was 'becoming Disneyland, without bohemian spirit, no liberty.'

But the merchants on the Butte, who pay high rents and taxes, are glad to see order in the place, and their doorways freely accessible. Bohemian spirit is not something they care to peddle.

Online Weather Warnings

We are in the strong grip of winter now and it seems to be going about it more seriously than seen for many years. France-Météo's online alert service is very short-term. Its former level '3' and '4' warnings have been changed to colors, with orange being the one to watch out for on TV.

Mainly these warnings will about areas beyond the area of the Ile-de-France. But winter is winter and Paris is not completely immune to it.

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

All photos: Place Denfert-Rochereau, Saturday, 15. February
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