Farewell to Indolence?

Letter From Madrid

Spain, Voltaire once observed (expressing the scorn that many Frenchmen feel for those unlucky enough to have been born on the wrong side of the Pyrenees), is “le pays de la paresse”—the land of laziness.  For a long time, paradoxically, this was part of her charm, part of the magnetic attraction, of the “Byron syndrome” that drew so many English travelers—from George Borrow and Richard Ford right down to Gerald Brenan—to settle down in the peninsula and to record its eccentric ways.  A land where it was customary to lunch between 2 and 3 in the afternoon, to dine any time from 9:30 on until midnight, after enjoying a good two-hour siesta, was clearly no ordinary country.  It was alluringly exotic, refreshingly non-European, and thus seemed to be—as Tom Burns Marañon, the grandson of a famous Spanish writer and endocrinologist, has aptly written—a heaven-sent “reserve of natives living on the periphery of Europe, torn between indolence and militancy, and thus a fascinating ‘target’ for seekers after adventure and strong emotions.”

It would be oversimplifying matters to say that this romantic, essentially 19th-century view of Spain has little to do with present-day realities.

Irksome though it has been for many, the Madrileños have learned to keep reasonably strict office hours.  However, they obstinately continue to lunch and dine...

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