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BEST BET

September 19, 1993|M.H.

It was the high point of our lives. The Minister of Tourism had come to the escargot farm. The plumpest and most succulent of us, myself included, were lined up to greet him, little tricolor flags fluttering from our horns.

"I am asking for volunteers," he said, "to go to America and be eaten there to promote tourism and investment in the Rhone-Alpes region. You will fly first class on the Concorde, along with choice pate, truffles and wine."

An escargot farm is like the army. The first rule of life is never volunteer. But escargots, like soldiers, are sentimental, hopelessly susceptible to the snap of flags and the strains of the "Marseillaise." (A military band, the Chasseurs Alpins, was playing in the background.) Tears rolled down our shells.

"France needs you," the minister said. "Think of the heroes who saved it in the past. Think of Joan of Arc. Think of Napoleon. Think of the taxis of the Marne. And think of the GNP of la patrie. "

We asked for details.

The minister provided them. He said the Rhone-Alpes Chamber of Commerce and the French Government Tourist Office have planned a 10-day cultural offensive in Los Angeles and San Francisco from Saturday through Oct. 3. The Los Angeles visit will include:

* A free exhibition of works from museums of the Rhone-Alpes region at Two Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills.

* A concert by the Grenoble Orchestral Ensemble on Sept. 27 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, preceded by a buffet dinner at Two Rodeo Drive prepared by the Club Culinaire de Los Angeles, an association of local French chefs. Proceeds benefit United Friends of the Children. Tickets: $20 for the concert only, $65 for concert and dinner. Information: (310) 273-2569.

* Performances by the Vitamine Jazz Band and the Chasseurs Alpins. Information: (310) 859-3486.

* A luncheon for business leaders Sept. 27 at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills. Tickets: $95. Information: (213) 651-4741.

* A celebration Sept. 28 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles. Chefs Paul Bocuse, Pierre Troisgros, Georges Blanc and Alain Pic will offer cooking classes followed by a luncheon. Tickets: $150. Information: (310) 859-3486. Then Bocuse, Troisgros, Blanc and Pic will each cook one course of a gala dinner to benefit the UNICEF Audrey Hepburn Memorial Fund. Tickets $250. Information: (310) 277-7608.

This is where we would come in.

"For obvious reasons," the minister said, and his eyes, too, were moist, "I cannot kiss you all on both cheeks. But every man--er, snail--who volunteers will be awarded the Croix de Guerre posthumously."

"What if we don't?" asked a voice from the back row.

"Devil's Island," the minister said.

We shuddered. What a fate! To be cooked by a prison cook in some rusty old caldron; to be eaten off tin plates, without proper sauces, by convicts with the most deplorable table manners!

We slithered forward as one man--er, snail.

"Merci," the minister said. "I knew I could count on you. France will be proud."

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