BACKGROUND

FOOTNOTES

July 1 1961
BACKGROUND

FOOTNOTES

July 1 1961

OVERSEAS REPORT

A visitor’ s view of a smoke-choked, crowded land, and its newfangled railway, which works

Leslie F. Hannon IN FRANCE

Anti-smoking programs? Not here. Here, the state pushes tobacco

PARIS - Shrugging its shoulders at the lung-cancer scare, the French state tobacco monopoly is this year celebrating its 150th anniversary with a slambang publicity campaign. A traveling show called Tabarama is on tour in the provinces and a commemorative medal and a special stamp mark the occasion. A new society. Fes Compagnons de Jean Nicot, has been formed by connoisseurs of smoking. (Nicot was the French ambassador to Lisbon four hundred years ago; he's credited with getting Europe started on the tobacco habit by bringing a primitive snuff back to Paris in the hope of helping Catherine de Medicis to cure her migraine.)

It may be that the worldly French have noted the failure of anti-smoking campaigns elsewhere. A recent report by the British Ministry of Education showed that smoking had actually increased in classes of older boys and girls fed anti-smoking propaganda for a school year; among girls; the percentage of smokers leaped to seventeen from eight.

Or, and perhaps more likely, it may be that the state monopoly is simply too profitable to allow anyone to knock smoking. For France certainly smokes. The traveler soon becomes used to conducting all conversations with watering eyes, in a haze of acrid smoke. It seems impossible that the French could smoke any more if they tried, whatever publicity the monopoly puts out. It is currently making 44,000,000.000 cigarettes a year, roughly 1.000 for each man, woman and child in the country. Add to this 2.400.000,000 cigars and tons of snuff and chewing tobacco. I'he popular brands of French cigarettes. Gauloises and Gitanes, are less than half the price of most imported or American brands, but the treasury still rakes in a thumping four hundred million dollars a year in direct taxes.

Filter tips, available on some state brands, have only a small sale. They seem to be regarded as an American affectation. Controversy about the harmful effects of smoking seems non-existent in France, perhaps because, in normal years, the monopoly doesn’t advertise. *

A great place to visit, but there’s hardly room to live (or drive a car)

Throughout the next couple of months thousands of Canadians on that oncein-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Paris will go for a cruise along the Seine—a dollar a head—and goggle and gasp at the riverside beauty. The five sleek and jazzy excursion boats can seat up to six

hundred, and one leaves every half hour until ten p.tn. from the Pont de l’Alma. As they slip along the darkening quays under the magnificent trees, their blue searchlights probe the balconied windows of the elegant apartments on the Ile St. Louis and the multilingual spielers broadcast their seductive commentaries of history and high life. The enthralled tourist goes back to his hotel in the velvet night, half sick with envy of the people who actually live in this paradise.

It’s certain the tourist will barely believe that most of the eight million people who do live in the great sprawl of the French capital would gladly swap it for the visitor’s suburban NHA bungalow, even without a split level.

Except for a gilded few, Paris in 1961 is a hell of a place to live and work in. Love her as one must, she is a gay deceiver. Her breathtaking sights are compactly grouped: no travel agency or chamber of commerce could have arranged them better. They blind the visitor to the sober truth that Paris is hopelessly overcrowded, choking on its own traffic, exhausting itself in the routine affairs of eating, sleeping and (almost) breathing.

For instance: Though Paris is famous for the extent of its parks, there is less than a square yard of green space for each Parisian; the average in other European cities is over eight square yards. For instance: There’s one motor vehicle in France for every six people and often it seems they are all trying to drive down the one cobbled street, just wide enough for two horses abreast. Even the spacious sweeps at the Etoile get so choked in the late afternoon that by comparison Montreal’s St. Catherine Street is a sleepy byway.

Eight hundred thousand of Paris’s two and a half million dwellings have been condemned as unhealthy. In the city proper, only seventeen percent have bathrooms. Experts state that the number of primary and secondary schools should be doubled to create proper conditions and even to keep pace with the demand. With fierce competition for central sites — fierce for centuries, that is—offices and workrooms are often jammed into poorly converted old homes, creating bad working conditions and dreadful fire risks. Under the stabilizing hand of de Gaulle, increasing efforts are being made to tackle these problems, mainly within the terms of a ten-year townplanning scheme estimated to cost nearly four hundred million dollars. The plan calls for half a million new homes, the resiting of two railway stations, extension of the subway, the moving of the mammoth produce marts, and new throughways, schools, parks, hospitals and parking lots.

Like many another great city, Paris is trying to tempt people to leave it. A ring of self-contained satellite towns just out of commuting range is planned. although no brash redeveloping hand can touch the famous façades of the historic streets in the suburbs. Slum clearance is under way at a fair clip.

The “island” system is favored, much the same technique as was used in Toronto’s pioneering Regent Park scheme. (The comparison ends there; the soaring, airy apartment blocks created by the French architects would give the cautious Toronto aldermen apoplexy.)

Can Paris really be reshaped into some approximation of the tourists’ midsummer night’s dream? No Parisian would bet on it right now. A new dwelling is being completed every six minutes. but a new Parisian is being born every three minutes.

The French solution to traffic problems may be to go over them

The small town of Châteauncuf, a few miles up the Loire from Orleans, is drawing railroad fans from all over the world this summer. The magnet is a mile of track that goes nowhere and looks like no other railway on earth.

Among the camera-harnessed tourists may be seen groups of hard-eyed businessmen who take a few minutes’ ride and then return to hotel rooms to put questions to eager officials of the improbably named Société Lyonnaise des Eaux et de l’Eclairage, which is trying to sell the world its new' version of the overhead monorail. It prefers the term “suspended railway.” The businessmen include MPs, mayors, transport experts and investors who are trying to decide if the French have come up with the best way yet of breaking the creeping paralysis of great cities.

Airport and airline executives particularly are studying the experimental line. Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, chairman of British European Airways, pointed out recently that if even ten minutes could be cut from the cityto-airport journeys at each end of the London-Paris flight it would have the same effect as doubling the cruising speed of aircraft.

France isn’t alone in the field; West Germany is rushing a new monorail similar to the train actually in service

in Disneyland. The German model sits on the rail; the French hangs from it.

Elevated railways — even monorails — are of course far from new. One was tested over a British quarry in 1X27. Parts of the Paris Metro still roar and wobble as belt-line trains thunder overhead, and the bellow and blight of NewYork’s El haven't yet faded from memory. The world’s first monorail. at Wuppertal, Germany, still screeches and sways along after sixty years.

So what’s the current excitement about? Well, the French now claim to have beaten most of the known monorail problems. They offer a complete double-track system with stations every mile at an estimated $4.4X0.000 a mile. Each train would be of two or three streamlined cars capable of 75 m.p.h. and would move a peak load of 30,000 passengers an hour in each direction. The train rides on pneumatic tires, which cut wheel noise dramatically.

The German system, built to a Swedish design, is much cheaper (approximately half the price), but the speeds are slower and the cars smaller.

Both the French and German entrepreneurs recently showed films of their systems in London, considered the world’s No. I potential customer. The British government’s transport and airport authorities are well aware that they must cut the 40-to-60-minute drive from London Airport to town (in fog it can be an hour longer). And they must cut it soon: 5'/2 million passengers used the airport last year and by 1970 the yearly total is expected to hit 10 to 12 million.

An extension of the London underground system from Victoria Station to the airport has already been surveyed. It would cost a towering $25 million a mile. The unpopular alternative of a surface railway could be built for a mere $2'4 million a mile. Lord Douglas says BEA will put up nearly $3 million if the government should decide to go ahead with the $67 million French monorail scheme or any other fast transport system, and British Overseas Airways Corporation is reported to be willing to match his offer.