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There are 32,500 'buralistes' in France. Many of them who have outlets near France's frontiers are suffering because tobacco products are cheaper in neighboring countries - except in Britain, but there is a little channel there that prevents smoke addicts from driving across to buy cigarettes that are a tad less expensive in France.

Even if you aren't a cigarette addict, tabacs and 'buralistes' are important because they also peddle postage stamps, tax stamps, Bic pens, Swiss Army knives, phone cards and other small but useful items such as newspapers and magazines. Quite a number of tabacs also sell Loto tickets, and a minority also act as PMUs, for off-track betting.

In general, 58 percent of a 'buraliste's' income is from cigarettes. Their share is eight percent of the price of a packet, while the government's slice is 80 percent. Three thousand tabacs have disappeared in the last ten years, and 450 have closed their doors this year, with another 50 expected to shut by year's end.

Today, the 'buralistes' marched in protest from Denfert to the Ecole Militaire in Paris. The government has already made a concession on the future price increase. It is to 'freeze' to price for the coming four years - after next January's increase.

But this won't help the retailers close to the frontiers with countries with lower prices. There are also rumors that the Mafia is getting interested in the business, as well as whispers that some 'buralistes' will begin stocking up on the other side of the borders.

For one-stop low-grade sin, you can't beat a good café-tabac-Loto- restaurant-newsstand. In the heartland of France, sometimes these establishments are the only ones. If the boulangerie and the tabac go bust, then there is desert.

Tony Blair Speaks

Tonight's TV-news had a surprise bonus, and this was Britain's Prime Minister speaking in French to France-2's Olivier Mazerolle. Mr. Blair, who is a regular visitor to his holiday home in the south of France, explained his government's policy of marching hand-in-hand with the United States' expedition in Iraq.

Mr. Blair speaks French quite well but it seemed as if his words were not quite in sync with his lips. He also looked a bit worn out, perhaps from listening to France's Président, Jacques Chirac, speaking English all day.

Actually, the very fact that Mr. Blair spoke in French was a stunning departure from normal diplomatic custom. Itphoto: chinatown spices is well-known that Président Chirac is proud of the English he learned while being a busboy at Harvard during his student days, but nobody in France is ever supposed hear him speaking English. It is just, sniff, 'not done.'

The swag picked up in Chinatown. All of it too hot to touch!

It seemed clear, during tonight's interview, that Mr. Blair is not at all content with the way things are going in Iraq. "We are trying to bring democracy and prosperity to the Iraqis," he insisted.

Mr. Blair also mentioned that the 100th anniversary of the 'Entente Cordiale' will be next year. Olivier Mazerolle seemed to think that this is a significant anniversary worth celebrating too. The 'Entente Cordiale' was a loose form of friendship between Britain and France - a sort of 'first' for Britain - but without specific commitments, other than some colonial trade-offs.

However, it set the stage for the eventual major alliances of WWI - or it effectively triggered the fears which caused the alliances - and everybody began building as many battleships as they could afford.

Online Weather Warnings

We have oozed into a week of crummy November. There will be dreary rains. The alert service of France-Météo's is very short-term. Its level '3' and '4' warnings are changed to colors for TV presentation, with orange indicating 'beware,' but level 4's red is seldom shown in advance because level 4 never happens.

Mainly these warnings will about areas beyond the area of the Ile-de- France. If you are curious or need to know more about France's late fall weather, give the Météo France Web site a hit, for its short-range forecasts.
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