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Techno Boom

photo, cafe leffe, montparnasse

Café Leffe in Montparnasse.

Fast What?

Paris:– Monday, 20. September 2004:– Whoever Mary–Kate and Ashley Olsen are, McDonald's France has hired them to sell fastfood – 'le malbouffe' – to French kids. Apparently McDonald's is not doing too well, with sales off by nearly a whole percent in August – when kids here are on holidays.

Kids on holidays in the United States managed to increase sales at the fastfood chain by 3.9 percent, which might not be surprising because of their distrust of strange regional foods. French grandmothers wouldn't put up with this nonsense.

The famous twins, whoever theyphoto, boulangerie are, have a line of branded items that McDonald's will use to make kids forget what they are eating, or make them eat more. The report about this came from CNN and added that Mary–Kate Olsen, whoever she is, was being treated for an eating disorder last summer.

This story has caught me offside for two reasons – the McDonald's in the quartier is closed for renovations, and I have never heard of Mary–Kate and Ashley Olsen. For all I know they are the Dribble Twins.

Happy School Days Return

What I can say is that the national direction of public schools decided to yank vending machines out of French schools – just as interested parties were deciding to fill them exclusively with fresh fruit and plain water, so somebody had to backtrack to allow the vending machines to stay.

This is typical of life in France. Every 'reform' almost immediately requires its counter–reform, because nothing is ever perfect. At least here one can say that even semi–good ideas are on shaky ground – such as suppressing the public holiday of Pentecôte and putting the entire value of a day's extra work towards social services for old people.

Until two days ago everybody thought, grumpily, this was a done deal – that next year everybody is going to work on the Monday of Pentecost, next 31. May. All the kids and their teachers are going to go to school, all their moms and dads to work – all are giving up a valued public holiday and a holy three–day weekend.

Until yesterday – when the Prime Minister, Jean–Pierre Raffarin, contradicted the Minister of Education by saying that school principals can decide whether there will or won't be school next 31. May – or – the suppressed holiday will or will not be on some other day.

Major crises! Consider that the French are just getting over the annual heavy stress of returning to school after the summer holidays, and a good number of them have taken note of the calendar of public holidays from now until next summer, and have already made firm plans for next 31. May – to wit – no long weekend, kids in school, parents at work, no yes no yes, and now nobody knows what next 31. May means.

The planning for an entire school year has just been rendered a total shambles.

The 'why' of it has nothing to do with Nicolas Sarkozy, but was apparently the result of some of his party's UMP members in the Assembly National. They thought suppressing the Monday holiday of Pentecôte was a bad idea – even though May already has other long weekends. No other public holiday is a candidate for suppression, so no other has been proposed. Are some UMP deputies against helping out old folks? Are some UMP deputies unconditional fans of Pentecôte? Is this France?

Other Candidates

And speaking of dear little Nicolas, fans of democracy will be cheered to hear that even the UMP has some of it in its young bones. Reports say Christine Boutin and Nicolas Dupont–Aignan are gathering signatures for the race for president of the UMP, and Minister of Health, Philippe Douste–Blazy, who says he isn't in the competition, also has 4000 signed supporters.

The government majority has another problem. It seems incapable of winning any elections except the sole one that put it in power. Next up to bat are elections for the Senat on Sunday, 26. September. This isn't decided by a popular vote, but by just over 50,000 various officeholding 'grands électeurs.' According to calculations the UMP will have great difficulty maintaining its absolute majority against an onslaught by diverse lefties and its nominal allies of the centrist UDF led by Francis Bayrou.

Prime Minister Raffarin is said to be thinking of running for re election to a warm seat in the Senat to represent Vienne. But he shouldn't be thinking about trying for the presidency of thephoto, techno truck Senat because he hasn't been minding his fences there. Four other government ministers are also in the race for seats in the Senat. A cabinet shuffle is expected after this election – well, may be necessary, after the government loses ground in the third election in a year.

At the beginning of Saturday's Techno Parade.

Laws passed by the Assembly National are scrutinized by the French Senat and if it doesn't like the handiwork they are sent back for correction. After a law has passed in both houses, then it goes to the Constitutional Council and if it conforms it become law. If it doesn't, back it goes for a rewrite. A law is not the same thing as a wobbly decree suppressing a public holiday.

Driving School

Other news from France this week was equally unexciting. Some driving schools were discovered 'fixing' written driving tests, by rigging up candidates with buzzers in their socks to give them clues for the correct answers to multiple–choice questions on the test. Theory in France has it that driving is as obscure as quantum mechanics so it requires an unholy amount of lessons and costs a fortune, which can easily double or triple when 40 percent of candidates fail the test on the first try.

If you add the fact that all sorts of people taking the lessons and the tests don't understand French too well – some who already know how to drive – you can understand that some would be willing to pay cash under the table for a guaranteed short–cut. The papers are howling that this is cheating – it's 'le Scandale.'

The actual scandal is making the test so fraught with angst that all drivers who do pass it immediately refuse to remember everything they're learned as soon as the are in possession of the pink license.

Tour Eiffel Strike

Finally I'm happy to be able to report that the strikers at the Eiffel Tower went back to work on Friday after picketing the closed tower for three days. The city of Paris owns the famous meccano set on the Champ de Mars but puts out a contact for its operation. This expires next year and the employees apparently had no guarantee from the city that their working conditions would remain unchanged with a possible new employer.

The city is currently a large shareholder of the semi–private operating company, and according to a recent law must become the major shareholder – so, in effect, the employees were striking against the city. About six million tower fans a year pay to visit it, and since it opened in 1889 it is estimated that 210 million have been up it. Which is not bad for an exposition attraction that was originally scheduled to be demolished after 10 years. The Eiffel family operated the tower until 1979.

Film of the Week

All the time I was writing 'other' news from Paris, I meant to write about Claude Lelouch and his new film. Hephoto, pont des arts didn't like what the critics wrote about 'Les Parisiens,' so on the day after it opened in France last Wednesday – 854 tickets sold in Paris – he offered it free, first–come first–served, at the 19:00 showing on Thursday at 400 cinemas throughout France.

Afternoon light on the Pont des Arts.

Spielberg's film 'The Terminal' also opened in Paris on Wednesday and sold 2494 tickets. Philippe de Broca tried the 'free' ticket trick in 1966 for 'Le Roi de Coeur' and advised Claude against trying it. For de Broca, the film attracted fewer viewers the day it was free.

However, cinema fans had good things to say about the new film, which is part one of a trilogy, 'Le Genre Humain.' Lelouch had to pay for the free entries himself. Happy ending – Lelouch has to pay for full houses. And the manager of the Grand Rex in Paris decided to let everybody in to see the film free at the following 21:30 showing.

Techno Boom

But do not let this detract from Saturday's marvelous 'Techno Parade,' which launched from Montparnasse at noon. I didn't actually see anything like the 29 'floats' advertised, but the weather confounded the forecast by being sunny and warm – perfect for wrecking Paris' Saturday traffic from Montparnasse to Bastille.

The so–called 'floats' are flat–deck trucks with generators for running the massive sound systems. Most are only sketchily decorated, manned by a few chickies who bump and weave – for eight hours! – and some young dudes. There's a lot of heavy boom boom boom, but not much else.

Contrary to how the beginning of the 'Techno Parade' looked, the middle and the end – thanks to TV–news coverage – seemed to be much more successful. The TV–news reported that between 100,000 and 600,000 took part in the parade. I guess it depended on how many spectators took part in it.

One view of the Rue de Rennes, from Saint–Germain, showed it to be full of techno fans. So much sophoto, techno vespa that Monday's crowd estimates were revised to 200,000. Close–ups showed many in costumes, who either joined the parade in its rear staging area at Montparnasse or joined it after it started. Many would do this in any case, rather than all trying to gather at Montparnasse at the beginning.

Three–wheeled bug–eyed Vespa sound truck.

The present Minister of Culture said 'techno' is a good thing, and the former Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, who was responsible for importing the idea from Berlin, said what he usually says. This year's 7th edition was without major causes other than to 'faire la fête,' and to turn Paris into an immense amateur dance club.

Then, as if to point out how utterly foolish this is, the city of Lyon had its 'Biennual de la Danse' on Sunday. The TV–news showed musicians playing musical instruments and groups of dancers in elaborate costumes – who have been rehearsing for months – and they were all out in the streets doing real dancing to real music, for the appreciation of an enthusiastic crowd of 200,000.

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