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GP 28 March 2007: In Praise of Siestas 

The Exception that Proves the Rule.  Just when we knock the Times for being a dreadfully dreary rag, it gives us a chuckle—even two chuckles.  First, on Friday’s Op-Ed page, usually the home of people with narrow axes to grind, appears “No Sex, Please, We’re French.”  Stephen Clark, writer of Talk to the Snail: The Ten Commandments for Understanding the French, gives us the gist of what he has to say about the French and the current race for French President in a short, spritely article: 

“In fact, though, their heyday of revolution is over.  Twenty-first century France rebels against change, not for it.  These days, what typically happens is that a government decides to do something radical like, say, enable companies to fire service-sector workers who assault their customers.  The unions see this as the first step on the slippery slope to slavery and call a national strike.  After a week of posturing, the government backs down and waiters and sales clerks go back to insulting customers just as they have done since time immemorial.” 

“All in all, until very recently, the 2007 campaign had been glamorous and Clintonesque, fought out via the celebrity magazines—a thoroughly modern, media-led affair.”  “Until eight weeks ago, François Bayrou, a centrist former minister of education, was a marginal figure, down there in the polls with the Marxists and the ‘save the organic truffle’ brigade.  Since then, he has leapt to join the leaders.”  “His rise in the polls seems to prove that, despite what they say, the French are upset by upheaval, revolted by revolt.”  They want things to stay the way they have always been. 

If we remember rightly, the French have trotted out 12 candidates for President, heavy on quantity and low on quality, all of whom would govern badly, not unlike the dirty dozen or so now offered up in this country by the Democrats and Republicans.  Perhaps with the single exception of China, all the major countries of the world are showing a fondness for political deadlock and weak governance at the moment.  It is the smaller countries, hither and thither—a Singapore here, even a Mongolia, perhaps a Jordan—that do the interesting things.  The French Republic has deep problems, in government and business, and no real taste for something different.  We are for Ms. Royal, incidentally, since she is pretty and has the good sense to clothe her socialist agenda with a monarchal name. 

It’s Not Cricket.  Lo and behold, on the same day on the same page came another witty piece in the witless Times, “Our Cricket Problem.”  Authored by Shashi Tharoor, a departing under secretary general of the United Nations, it is simultaneously more droll and more important.  Unlike Clark, he is not even flogging his book.  “Last week, the greatest sporting event of the year in terms of audience began in Jamaica, when the West Indies beat Pakistan in the inaugural match of the 2007 Cricket World Cup.  A six-week extravaganza follows—51 matches that are being monitored with nail-biting excitement around the world.”  Cricket keeps much of the world spellbound, with the exception, of course, of the very insular United States. 

“In a concession to the pace of life in our increasingly Americanized world, one-day international cricket matches were born in the 1970s, and the World Cup features one-day games (which take about seven hours, rather than 30 as in the five-day “test matches”).  But that hasn’t made it any more popular here.” 

Tharoor once thought of it as his divine mission to show Americans what they were missing.  “But now I’ve given up.  As legions of missionaries have discovered before me, you can’t bring enlightenment to people who don’t realize they’re living in the dark.” 

“World cricket now uses Hindi terms (the “doosra” trips off the tongues of Oxonian commentators) and 80 percent of the global game’s revenues come from India.”  “In any event, nothing about cricket seems suited to the American national character: its rich complexity, the infinite possibilities that could occur with each delivery of the ball, the dozen different ways of getting out, are all patterned for a society of endless forms and varieties, not of a homogenized McWorld.” 

It does give pause to think that we cannot be bothered to pay attention to a sport that gets such rapt attention from say a billion people.  It is the passion of the West Indies, where the current world matches are set.   It formed one major thread in the writings of the remarkable Marxist CLR James, who, we are embarrassed to say, only recently came to our attention. 

Time to Pause for a SipAd nauseam we read articles about how American culture and globalization, as spawned by us, are rolling across the world.  Often to great effect, sometimes to the world’s peril.  Perhaps it’s time for us to stop talking and spreading our gospel to the world.  We have redone the world, but now, we think, it’s time for the world to redo us.  Not the world of France, or Russia, or Japan—which are now suffering from a malaise of the spirit that is analogous to our own—but of Estonia where Skype was put together or of Finland, which enjoys such high literacy rates and which has chopped its cancer and heart disease incidence with truly outstanding public health programs.  We require new energy and new thinking from all those small countries that go unnoticed and where things are working a bit better. 

Jibarra by way of San Sebastian.  This week we journeyed to Raleigh, North Carolina and, by chance, took in Jibarra, a Mexican restaurant that is easily the best restaurant in the Research Triangle and is the best Mexican restaurant we’ve uncovered in the United States.  With flautas made from rabbit, or a main course starring cabrito, the restaurant dares to be adventurous, though it also has to feature steak 9 ways for local suburbanites who would certainly be scared of a rabbit.  You will hear much more about Jibarra on the Global Province and on our sister site Spicelines

America has always been enriched by its immigrant populations, and Jibarra is a case in point.  All of a sudden Hispanics comprise more than 5% of the North Carolina’s population: the Latino population has grown from 76,726 in 1990 to 517,617 in 2005, an average increase of 13.5% per year.  These visitors now form the backbone of the day-labor population both for agriculture and building.  But, as importantly, they are having a titillating effect on the Southern mind, which needs some provocation.  Soon enough they will change North Carolina politics, which suffer from rigor mortis. 

But the plot is more complex.  It’s not just a case of moving Mexico City to Raleigh.  Chef Ricardo Quintero put in time at Akelarre, a very special restaurant in San Sebastian, itself a remarkable town that houses more Michelin star restaurants per capita than the other renowned food meccas of the world.  In fact, one should read “The Best in the West,” to learn how San Sebastian (off in Spain) has come to be the epicenter of the food universe.  Mexico spiced up with San Sebastian is one way that our somewhat inward-looking country can learn about the ways of the world.  We would do well to focus hard on some of the other pockets of expertise spotted around the world in unlikely places. 

After a Flight of Tequilas.  Well, you will be much too sleepy after a flight of tequilas at Jibarra or your own Mexican restaurant to go back to the office.  And a good thing that.  As Mr. Tharoor hinted above, the American obsessive-compulsive schedule—cramming too much in—is taking over the world and doing away with any pretense of civilization.  It is not leading to productivity—in fact, our productivity gains are slowing—but just to busyness.  Doing things for the sake of doing them.  We not only need Slow Food as touted by the Italians; we need a dose of slow everything. 

It is both with enjoyment and alacrity that we read Ms. Louisa Thomas’s “Waking up to the Benefits of Napping,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2007.  She’s on the editorial staff of The New Yorker, which once had a famous staff devoted to drink, food, and sleep but has since gotten politically self-important, full of the kind of people who carry on monural conversations.  At least Ms. Thomas shows signs of reviving the snooze part, though she confesses she is better at the theory of it than the practice. 

“Studies showing that naps improve cognition and response time have been coming out for decades.  The most recent, released last month, found that individuals who took half-hour naps at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of death from heart disease.” 

“Napping has been common practice for most of history, in many cultures—not just in Spain and Latin America, where businesses famously shut down in the hours after lunch.  According to Mednick’s new book, ‘Take a Nap! Change Your Life,’ ancient Roman, Christian, Jewish and Arabic mythologies featured demons roaming the Earth during midday, terrorizing those who weren’t safely tucked in bed.  One such demon, Poludnica, wandered over the (notably chilly) Slavic regions, carrying shears to signify death.” 

The only worry here is that Thomas seems to think we should preach the gospel of napping because it is good for us.  Enough preachiness, healthy living, moralizing.  We don’t much care for that.  We think the rallying cry for us napsters, which will die in our throats as we fall asleep, is that we are saving the world or at least Western Civilization by laying our heads on the pillow.  Our napping is an act of selflessness, at attempt to put the world at rest. 

P.S.  One sad note about the 2007 Cricket World Cup.  Bob Woolmer, coach to the Pakistanis, was strangled to death March 18 in his Jamaican hotel room after his team suffered an upset at the hands of the Irish.  Some punters are betting that it was over betting: the Indians and the Pakistanis wage huge sums on cricket, and it’s thought a crazed bettor may have done the deed.  A cricket commentator, he had played for England, and previously coached South Africa and Warwickshire. 

P.P.S.  A red teeshirt from The Economist, the English news magazine that is now more American than Brit, just came in with the mails.  They haven’t quite got it right— it chokes at the collar and the type and décor lacked a designer’s hand.  It says, “Think Responsibly.”  There’s a bit of an oxymoron there.  IBM has it right—just ‘think.’  ‘Thinking responsibly’ is akin to the French disease we cited above—revolting to keep things as they were.  Think often and think freely, absent the choke collar.  We cannot ask people to think on a leash, as all the bloggists in China will testify. 

P.P.P.S.  Quintero, incidentally, is about to marry.  Could it be that a happy man makes food that smiles at us? 

P.P.P.P.S.  Mexico is better off than we think.  NAFTA has lifted large portions of the population in northern Mexico out of poverty.  Vicente Fox, the last president, did a much better job than our impatient journalists are willing to acknowledge.  He brought about some financial stability, a necessary prelude to progress.  “Because of its relatively conservative fiscal policy, the government now absorbs only 16% of national savings, down from 80% in 2000.  That has helped everyone else to borrow more cheaply.  Big companies are now issuing ten-year peso bonds at a fixed rate of around 8%, according to Damian Fraser of UBS, a Swiss investment bank” (Economist).  Despite his thin mandate, Calderon is off to a promising start.  If both the U.S. and Canada can devise a real integrated policy for this hemisphere, Mexico can leap further ahead, even though its oil sector is troubled by lack of investment.  Then it could adopt its rightful place as the most populous Spanish speaking nation in the world.  Talented Mexicans on the make, like Quintero, still have to adventure abroad.  By the way, we particularly recommend the Veracruz entries on Spicelines.

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