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“We’ve still got the sun, good food, cheap wine and each other.”

February 25, 2009
"No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain in Spain.

"No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain in Spain.

I came to work Tuesday morning in need of a little shot of encouragement. The world can seem like a disheartening place on a bleak February morning in the middle of a crippling recession. As I leisurely read the first email in my inbox, a sense of calm settled over me. It was a newsletter from our friends at Iconoculture titled “In Dicey Times, Shift Happens.” It was prefaced with a quote from Sairica Rose, an Iconoculture Cultural Fluent from Spain:

“Some call it optimism, others (principally psychologists) call it denial … but one way or another, while we’ve still got the sun, good food, cheap wine and each other, there is still hope!”

This really struck a chord with me, and has since made its way into that awkward box on my Facebook profile. After all, my happiest memories took place in the presence of good friends, home cooking, and boxed wine. Functioning credit markets and job security aside, what does your average human really need to be happy in a recession that he couldn’t have during an economic expansion? Adversity breeds innovation. From suffering, strength. To quote Bruce Wayne’s father in Batman Begins: “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves  up.”

If you ever watch “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, you know that the world’s greatest foods were born out of necessity. Discarded animal parts, fillers, and powerful spices once used only by the poor, conquered, and subjugated have evolved into some of the best and most expensive dishes in the world. I think the recipe here is beautiful in its simplicity: Use what you have, no matter how meager. Find a way to perfect it. Add time and a little cultural diffusion, and voila, success.

The rules have indeed changed. Bigger is no longer better. Price no longer dictates quality. Real value is derived from relevance and the evocation of emotion. Give people a way to empathize, exceed their expectations, and you’ll turn them into believers. Take “Slumdog Millionaire” for example. Who could have predicted that a film dangerously close to going straight to DVD, set in the slums of Mumbai, could win eight Academy Awards, the most for any film this year, including Best Picture and Best Director? “Slumdog”, which cost just $14 million to make, has already earned more than $160 million at the global box office.

Here are a  few other encouraging trends from Iconoculture:

  • Couples are staying together – “According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 37% of its members said they typically see a decrease in divorce cases during national economic downturns”
  • Consumers are embracing refurbishment – Shoe repair shops are reporting that customers, “worried about the recession’s effects on their bank accounts, have decided to mend their old shoes rather than splurge on new ones”
  • Libraries are cool again – “The public library is hot and happening today for three reasons: the national deficit in personal interaction, the Great Recession of 2008-2009, and the geek chic of your local librarian”

Maybe this isn’t the end of the world. Just the start of a new beginning.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Crystal permalink*
    February 25, 2009 9:00 pm

    I saw that quote about attitudes in Spain too and found it inspirational. Recessions do have lessons and a few positive outcomes. Terrific post.

  2. kimtrokey permalink
    February 26, 2009 10:20 am

    Silly, Alex. Libraries have always been cool. Just like me.

  3. Heidi permalink
    February 26, 2009 11:51 am

    Lovely post, thanks. It makes me want to share an article I read yesterday, by the author of “Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping.” She explores various aspects of the choices we’re all facing between being thrifty and living the way you want to, including thrift as a Christian virtue:
    http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2009/02/25/thrift_levine/

    And speaking of both Bourdain and adversity, this piece of his, from July 2006, outlines how amazing Beirut had become just before it was bombed back to the Stone Age:
    http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2006/07/28/bourdain_beirut/

    Here’s a snip that offers insight into the Beiruti attitude towards strife, and being strafed:
    “Beirutis like to tell you (true or not) that they partied right through the civil war. That it wasn’t “cool” to seek shelter during an airstrike. That we “shouldn’t worry. All the nightclubs have their own generators.” That night, we continued to shoot (and drink heavily) at the opening party for the newly relocated Sky Bar, a rooftop nightclub with a view of the Mediterranean. Moneyed Beirutis — all of them, it seemed, young, sexy and ridiculously beautiful — drank vodka and Red Bull, and swayed (if not exactly danced) while Israeli jets flew menacingly low overhead. Were it not for the warplanes, it could have been Los Angeles or South Beach, Fla.”

  4. Sairica Rose permalink
    March 4, 2009 3:59 pm

    I got a little emotional reading this. A friend told me she’d seen it and passed me the link. Your blog is AMAZING and the lovely comments you made about my comment have made me so happy.

    Warm thoughts from Barcelona to you all
    Tu nueva amiga
    Sairi

  5. Crystal permalink*
    March 6, 2009 9:03 pm

    Hola Sairi. Bienvenidos a Tangelos. Warm thoughts back atcha from St. Louis.

  6. marypatanselm permalink
    March 9, 2009 10:44 am

    What a touching, positive post.

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