Category Archives: lifestyle

We are Naked and Call Each Other Du

What else could this post be about, except for the German proclivity for public nudity. Americans find this to be peculiar. But does that have more to say about American prudery than anything else? I think so.

It may be time for someone to write a history of nudity. Not of the nude in art. Sir Kenneth Clark already did that,  and you can buy his work for $50 in paperback-I am talking about attitudes towards the exposed human body detached from sex.

More than one hundred years ago in Europe, some promoted public nudity as a way to find a more healthy and balanced connection to nature. This idea still resonates in Germany. though it is under assault. CityLabs discusses the issues.

Most regretfully, our digital culture appears to be spreading the least enlightened view.

Tant pis!

Jeff Bezos on Day 2

Jeff Bezos may not be the most likable guy on the planet, but he is one of the most successful in organizing people around a vision.  In his letter to shareholders, he makes this interesting comment

Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.

That sounds bad. As You might imagine, Jeff is obsessed with keeping Amazon on Day 1.  So how do you do it?`If this topic interests you, check out Jeff’s letter.

The most basic point is that businesses are focused. if they lose focus, they move to day 2. Maintaining a focus is the first step to staying on day 1. BTW, human nature abhors this type of extended focus. Which is why managers need to be very skilled in crafting messages that justify the effort to resist drifting.

Jeff argues that the most logical focus point is the customer. After all, the customer is the person who you hope will reach into his pocket (or her bag), pull out a wallet, and part with cash for whatever it is that you have on offer.

Many firms scoff at this. Why? Because it is possible to thrive by making sure customers have limited choices for items that they feel they must buy. Clever! One way to do this is to find ways to make the produce very expensive to manufacture. That becomes a “barrier to entry” which leads to a nice life if you can get it.  And while you are sailing your yacht around the Carribean, who cares what customers think of you?

Jeff makes an interesting comment about this. His point is that customers are unhappy even when they report that they are happy.  In other words, they ALWAYS want something better. Very interesting. I would put it this way, there is no limit to the value that can be added from collaboration.

That is a pretty amazing statement. So amazing that I will stop here top reflect on it some more.

Check out Jeff’s letter! He writes well!

A Potted History of the Post War British Bon Vivant

The Battle of Waterloo took place in 1815 and marked the end of the Napoleonic era. Winston Churchill was born in 1874, nearly 60 years later. He would go on to lead Britain in the great war from 1940 to 1945. You might think of Churchill’s life as spanning the great arc of the British empire that ended over 70 years ago.

I mention these times spans to make a point. We are now roughly the same amount of time away from the start of the post-war era as young Churchill was from Waterloo. Using 30 years to mark a generation, we are a bit over 6 generations removed from Waterloo and just over 2 generations removed from the end of the war.

It is no surprise, therefore, that we are still affected by the post-war period. In a sense, we are still “in it” without realizing that we are in something. What do I mean? I Let’s take a cultural idea to see how it has evolved from the 19th century to the post-war era and the present – that of the “bon vivant”.

The bon vivant is

a person having cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes especially with respect to food and drink

The phrase seems to have first come into vogue in late 17th century France. It made its way into English, and by the 20th century suggested two things – being “refined” (well versed in the pleasures of the world) and being easily tempted to pleasure (being experienced in indulging and perhaps over-indulging).

So what pleasures?  A prominent example of the bon vivant of the 19th century is Oscar Wilde (he died in 1900). Do you need evidence= How about these quips

  • I can resist anything except temptation.
  • It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating
  • ‘I put all my genius into my life. I put only my talents into my works.
  • I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best

How could he be anything other than a bon vivant? But I would call Wilde a bon vivant of the old school. I say that because Wilde associated this lifestyle with the aristocracy. or at least the educated and prosperous middle class of his time and place.

One was a bon vivant IN society. This need to be “in” society made Wilde’s eventual expulsion from society so painful for him. It destroyed him. BTW, Churchill — who was 20 years younger than Wilde — certainly was a bon vivant of this sort as well. He could not imagine a better life than the one that he had IN society. So as a young man, experiencing great adventure in India, and Egypt, he had a strong urge to write back TO society about what he saw and did.

And what is the main pleasure? Food and drink were important then as now. But excellent conversation also ranks very high. Especially conversation that triggered deeply appreciated relationships. Put another way, the bon vivant life was in being someone in relation to society. That belonging gave special flavor to the various things one might enjoy.

The post-war era brought a different sense to this idea. Evelyn Waugh captures the change in his novel, Brideshead Revisited, which came out in 1945. The pleasures that made society “worth it” have been debauched. A certain rudeness has set in. And the bon vivants of the prior era (like Charles Ryder) have to make the best of it in a new, rather barbaric world.  An exaggerated picture? Of course! But you get the idea. Something has changed and Waugh did not like it at all.

The question arose, where would folks find a renewed sense of the good life? How would one aspire to be a bon vivant in 1946? We might keep in mind that food rationing in Britain was first imposed in 1940 and was not lifted until 1954 – fourteen long years of privation.

This may explain why the food books of Elizabeth David (her first came out in 1950) were so popular. David was fiercely bon vivant and she wanted to write about it.  Her books are called “cookbooks” but in fact, they are much more. They are homilies to the way food should be experienced if one expected to live the good life.

Here she is as a young lady

Image result for Elizabeth David

David was quite a character

Born to an upper-class family, she rebelled against social norms of the day. She studied art in Paris, became an actress, and ran off with a married man with whom she sailed in a small boat to Italy, where their boat was confiscated. They were nearly trapped by the German invasion of Greece, in 1940 but escaped to Egypt, where they parted. She then worked for the British government, running a library in Cairo. While there she married, but the marriage was not long-lived.

The key event in David’s life was meeting the writer Norman Douglas in 1940.  This excerpt from the same Wikipedia bio explains

(David and her husband) halted at Marseille and then, for more than six months, at Antibes, where David met and became greatly influenced by the ageing writer Norman Douglas, about whom she later wrote extensively. He inspired her love of the Mediterranean, encouraged her interest in good food, and taught her to “search out the best, insist on it, and reject all that was bogus and second-rate

David may have been a character, but Douglas was by far the more eccentric of the two – part of his mystique was how he stayed “one step ahead of the law”.. They had one thing in common – their values were ferociously bon vivant – not for society, but despite society. They would live well — contra mundum!

What does a bon vivant contra mundum lifestyle look like? One traveled to remote places where things are better and you are better too. in part you are better because you are no longer bothered by the bores and snobs and whatnot whom you left behind.

Gerald Durrell’s book “My Family and Other Animals” captures this lifestyle brilliantly.

Image result for my family and other animals

From today’s Guardian

When My Family and Other Animals was published in 1956 it was as if someone had flung back the curtains, thrown up the windows and let in a stream of bright light. British readers, having only in recent years torn up their ration books, were transfixed by the naturalist Gerald Durrell’s account of his biophiliac childhood on prewar Corfu in the bosom of his eccentric family. Here was the comic opera version of Elizabeth David’s wildly popular Mediterranean cookbooks – the same colours, textures and sand-between-the-toes lyricism but with an added helping of wacky local characters, naughty fauna and ribald – “Rabelaisian” was the word the Durrells liked to use about themselves – humour.

As the article points out, the story remains popular today, as evidenced by the recent British TV series, The Durrell’s.  It matters not that the real lifestyle of the Durrells took place, shall we say, on a considerably lower level. Go to the Guardian article if you want to learn more about that. The image of how life could be better – how one could become a bon vivant,  contra mundum — is what matters and we love it still!

We forget, however, that while Elizabeth David is a cult figure now among foodies, she might not have had the same appeal in an earlier time. And 100 years from now, folks may have some difficulty understanding why someone would pay a  huge sum to buy her used kitchen table and set of knives. Don’t believe me? Then explain to me the reason why fops and dandies were so at odds in Regency London?

Gotcha! Errr … at least I think I gotcha.

Career Advice: Find the Value Added and Enjoy!

Many years ago, one of my law school professors asked the class how we saw ourselves 20 years in the future.  Good question. The truth was that none of us had a clue how ou professional lives would turn out.  That was true whether one was at the top of the class or not. Some of us hoped that if we could master a given aspect of legal practice, we could step out of the rat race. But again, how to do that was unclear.

As it turned out, one thing has become clear. Success has pretty much directly correlated with learning the value added from what one does. Not just mastering how to do stuff at a high level, but seeing why that stuff is needed and therefore, how the skills involved can be applied more broadly. In other words, mastering a given skill set itself is just a starting point.

This has always been true. The new wrinkle here is that those who achieve this these days can go a lot farther. They can “plug into”amazing situations with wider networks than ever before. Here is a peek at how that might look. as a lifestyle.

As technology further accelerates the rate of innovation, possibilities to plug into opportunities to add value more broadly will multiply for those who are ready to take advantage of them. Those with a strong strategic sense of how to add value will have amazing opportunities.

This is why developing a strategic mindset is a great idea BEFIREyou need to start applying it.

Sipping Cider in the Asturias

Thanks to my Basque friend, I am newly energized to make cider. The next step will be to start assembling the equipment that is needed.

In the meantime, I just read this from Saveur

For the past few years I’ve had a mission to eat and drink my way through Spain: grocery-shop through Barcelona, roust the pigs in Andalucia, go orange-picking in Sevilla. Next year I’m ready to dive deep into one of my favorite things—cider—in one of the best places to get it: the rugged northern Asturias. Sidra is as much a part of life here as wine is in Bourdeaux, and many grower-producers are still using centuries-old methods to produce this electrifying, funky, intoxicating beverage. Sign me up. —Max Falkowitz, executive digital editor

Hmmm … what kind of images does this conjure up? This one is nice

Image result for Asturias

And this?

Image result for Asturias

And this?

Image result for Asturias

It seems that the Asturias region is a rather well kept secret.

Of course, the cider is more important!

visit asturias spain