The perfect coffee experience

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that in general there is no city in the world where the coffee experience is better arranged than in Milan. The barmen in the thousands of small cafes around the town are never temps, or students, or would-be actors going through hard times. They know how to make coffee. That’s their life. […] This man —in his early thirties, I’d guess— is at home in his job. He knows all his customers, their likes and dislikes. He is not studying to become a computer programmer or trying to write a novel or taking days off for theater auditions. He works very fast and can talk football or politics as he does so. When you take your cup from his hands you can feel sure that the next few minutes will be exactly the break you were after. And all this is done without that horrible pretension that hangs around the celebrated coffee houses of Paris with their silly red awnings and clutter of wicker chairs. In Milan, at street level at least, everything is natural, busy, fast and right.

Tim Parks, Italian Ways.

Carlos Fuentes y la inteligencia

Carlos Fuentes escribe sobre la inteligencia y sobre su infancia en la década de los treintas en Washington:

Mexico, the imaginary country, dreamed of a painful past; the United States, the real country, dreamed of a happy future.

The French equate intelligence with rational discourse, the Russians with intense soul-searching. For a Mexican, intelligence is inseparable from maliciousness —in this, as in many other things, we are quite Italian: fuberia, roguish slyness, and the cult of appearances, la bella figura, are Italianate traits present everywhere in Latin America: Rome, more than Madrid, is our spiritual capital in this sense.

For me, as a child, the United States seemed a world where intelligence was equated with energy, zest, enthusiasm. The North American world blinds us with its energy; we cannot see ourselves, we must see you. The United Stated is a world full of cheerleaders, prize-giving, singin’ in the rain: the baton twirler, the Oscar awards, the musical comedies cannot be repeated elsewhere; in Mexico, the Hollywood statuette would come dipped in poisoned paint; in France, Gene Kelly would constantly stop in his steps to reflect: Je dance, donc je suis.

The United States was a country where things worked, where nothing ever broke down: trains, plumbing, roads, punctuality, personal security seemed to function perfectly, at least at the eye level of a young Mexican diplomat’s son.

How to Make Friends in a New City

Excerpt from How to Live, Work and Play in the City, by Glouberman & Heti.

If you’re just finished school—maybe you’re in your early twenties, maybe you’re moving to a new city—you need to make friends. The most important thing is to know that this isn’t easy. It’s really easy to make friends in high school and in college. But for a lot of people, I think, it’s a real shock to discover that making friends doesn’t take care of itself in adulthood. When you come to university you’re crammed together with a couple of thousand people who are around your aged and who share a bunch of stuff in common with you, and most, important, are at that very same moment also looking for new friends. In this sort of situation, it would take a lot of conscious effort to end up not having friends.

But adult life isn’t like that. You may move to a new city, maybe for a job that doesn’t easily put you into contact with people who you have much in common with.

So what that means is that it’s work, and maybe for the first time in your life you have to actually take making friends on as a project. I knew so many people around that stage of life who suddenly found themselves isolated and couldn’t understand why, and had never thought of making friends as something they had to bring conscious effort to.

If you see making friends as a project, you can understand that there will be efforts and costs and risks. You have to go to functions that you don’t exactly feel like going to; you have to stick your neck out and make gestures that are embarrassing or can make you feel vulnerable. You’ll have to spend time with people who seem initially interesting but then turn out not to be.

But all those things are OK if you see them as the costs involved in a project. It’s useful to identify what you like to do, because friends are the people with whom you can do these things. So if you like to cook, you might take a cooking class. If you like to watch television and make fun of it, find other people who want to do that. It’s useful to remember that friendship needs an activity associated with it.

If you’re the ambitious sort, you can try to create your own world around you, like have a party at your house every two weeks. This gets you more than friends—it can create a whole community.

La Joie de Vivre

Eduardo Porter, The Price of Everything:

Americans have not always worked more than everybody else. In the 1970s European workers labored more than their counterparts in the United States. Some economists suggest higher tax rates in Europe discouraged work there. Others point to stronger unions that pushed social democratic governments in Europe to create more leisure time, including mandated holidays and shorter workweeks. In the late 1990s, the French Assembly passed the thirty-five-hour workweek as a strategy to combat unemployment—based on the idea that more people would work if each worker labored fewer hours. While the effort failed to promote job growth, it did give workers more time off.

Oliver Blanchard, the French chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, who spent much of his professional career in the United States, argues that Europe and the United States made different choices as they became richer and more productive. Americans chose to deploy their higher productivity to earn more money and buy more goods and services. Europeans “spent it” on more leisure time and more time working on household chores.

Many economists will understand these choices as rational manifestations of different preferences. The French chose time and the Americans money because they preferred it. Their choices should make them both happy. But there is another possible reading: Americans chose an unhappier path.

Some of the same studies that show Americans stuck in a happiness rut since the end of World War II suggest that the French have become happier with their lot. The French work 440 hours a week fewer than Americans partly because they take seven weeks’ vacation, compared with fewer than four in the United States. They sleep the longest of all citizens of the industrial world. They spend two and a quarter hours a day on meals, an hour more than in the United States. And they devote almost an hour a day more to leisure than Americans do.

French women spend more than twice as much time as Americans on meals and almost 50 percent more on active leisure—like doing sports or going to shows. American women spend about 10 percent more time working and a third more on passive leisure activities like watching TV. As it turns out, Americans like the French life better than their own. Researchers found they if American women were to reorganize their days to spend time as the French do, they wouldn’t be quite as happy as the French, but they would be happier than they are with the lives they lead.

¿Cuántos años lleva hacer…?

Dos años: una mina, un caballo (y dos minutos arruinarlo).

Tres años: una tendencia, un policía urbano, un cortador de diamantes, un manager.

Cuatro años: un presidente, una película de Pixar (tres años y medio sólo en la historia).

Cinco años: un abogado, un navegante submarino, un jugador de tenis.

Seis años: un amigo.

Siete años: un navegante, un gaitero, un ranchero, corregir la constitución.

Diez años: convertir a un recién llegado en un local, un encuadernador, un boxeador, un bailarín de ballet, una reputación como escritor en Inglaterra, una esposa, afilar una espada.

Veinte años: un actor, una orquesta sinfónica, éxito de la noche a la mañana, un atleta olímpico, un hombre en tiempos de paz (y sólo veinte segundos de guerra para destruirlo), un sermón.

Treinta años: un CEO.

Cincuenta años: ver si una obra es importante.

Sesenta años: una reputación (y sesenta segundos perderla).

Cien años: un ejército (pero doscientos años una armada naval), una antigüedad, un parque.

Ciento cincuenta años: un pino de boliche.

Mil años: una capa de tierra de una pulgada.

Original aquí.

The Longevity Project

Un estudio de ochenta años de duración revela que las personas meticulosas viven más. La nota apreció el sábado 4 de junio de 2011 en la versión condensada en español del diario estadounidense The New York Times. La redacción es de Katherine Bouton:

El secreto para una vida larga ha sido muy estudiado. James Smith, economista de la salud, determinó que la respuesta era la educación. No abandonar la escuela. Esto, indudablemente, es cierto. Sin embargo, sus hallazgos no necesariamente contradicen un estudio realizado por Howard S. Friedman y Leslie R. Martin, detallado en su libro “The Longevity Project” (El proyecto de la longevidad). Este esfuerzo fue singular en el sentido de que siguió a un solo conjunto de participantes durante ocho décadas, desde su infancia hasta su muerte. Sigue leyendo

Personal assistant, the perfect relationship

Personal assistant: somebody to take up all sorts of daily chores and logistic dramas. Recommended by Jina Khayyer.

Employing a Personal Assistant seems as luxurious as having one’s groceries home delivered from the chic Grand Épicierie du Bon Marché. But it turns out to be one of the finest treats I can imagine giving myself. I met my PA last year when I was living in the Marais in Paris. My neighbour, a sophisticated Isabelle Huppert look-a-like, whom I imagined was incredibly rich, must have noticed that I often had several friends staying over, sleeping on the couch. (Hotels are expensive in Paris.) So one day Madame Neighbour knocked on my door and kindly offered me the use of her empty spare room. Sigue leyendo