The New York Times/Op-Ed/25 November 2007
The Big Sleep
by Graham Robb
The new French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, has made no secret of his country’s 35-hour workweek....On Oct. 1, he effectively abolished the 35-hour week by removing fiscal penalties on overtime. The strikes and protests in France this month give a taste of the union’s reaction to President Sarkozy’s measure.
President Sarkozy’s 19th-century predecessors would have been amazed that such comparatively small adjustments are treated as matters of economic life and death. They, too, were worried by the snail-like progress of the French economy, and wondered how to compete with the industrial powerhouse of Britain. But they were faced with something far more ruinous than unemployment.
Economists and bureaucrats who ventured out into the countryside after the Revolution were horrified to find that the work force disappeared between fall and spring. The fields were deserted from Flanders to Provence. Villages and even small towns were silent, with barely a column of smoke to reveal a human presence. As soon as the weather turned cold, people all over France shut themselves away and practiced the forgotten art of doing nothing at all for months on end.
In the mountains, the tradition of seasonal sloth was ancient and pervasive. “Seven months of winter five months of hell,” they said in the Alps. When the “hell” of unremitting toil was over, the human beings settled in with their cows and pigs. They lowered their metabolic rate to prevent hunger from exhausting supplies. If someone died during the seven months of winter, the corpse was stored on the roof under a blanket of snow until spring thawed the ground, allowing a grave to be dug and a priest to reach the village.
The same mass dormancy was practiced in other chilly parts. In 1900, The British Medical Journal reported that peasants of the Pskov region in north-western Russia “adopt the economical expedient” of spending the year in sleep: “At the first fall of snow the whole family gathers round the stove, lies down, ceases to wrestle with the problems of human existence, and quietly goes to sleep. Once a day every one wakes up to eat a piece of hard bread...The members of the family take it in turn to watch and keep the fire alight. After six months of this reposeful existence the family wakes up, shakes itself” and “goes out to see if the grass is growing....
EACH WEEK we scan ads from an actual catalog, a catalog selling junque. (That's junk with cachet.) These ads are real. Maybe they don't seem real, but they are.
This week we feature a still, an alembic, and I'm afraid that again we have lifted a graphic from Hammacher-Schlemmer. So it's a still, and it's on page 10 of the H-S Winter Supplement.
What else? You know this item could be practical, but I don't think that folks would actually make perfume in it. Think about that one for a minute; get that picture in your mind. But, hey, what about booze, alcohol? You know, the good folks of H-S can't really suggest that their customers make hootch in the pretty little copper still because that's illegal; the ATF boys would come after you if you tried it. So the folks of Hammacher-Schlemmer say it's for the making of perfume. Sure, it is.
So, it's my belief that the folks of H-S, who sell, it seems, primarily to rich degenerates (yet send me, a poor degenerate, their catalog) offer this copper still so that the bored rich—who care nothing about the law unless it's to their benefit—can have a little more diversion with their cocktails. That's my theory, that's this poor degenerate's theory. I mean that it might be fun for the boys at Stinking Rich Pines Country Club to gather around this little beauty in the clubhouse after some golf and make their own booze or collect what's already been distilled (more like it) instead of that boring routine of bellying up to the bar and ordering another round.
"Look at that copper bastard. This stuff is pretty good. Damn straight! What's the proof? Pour me another, Charlie! Would you look at that thing? Great shot on fourteen! Har, har, har!"
And then after a few stiff ones (no limit on alcohol proof when you make your own) they can go out and drunkenly, happily, rape and pillage the poor. Having been both lubricated and diverted by this copper still. Which is all the rich want.
So, in conclusion, this device from Hammacher-Schlemmer, this copper still, is a clever little tool that facilitates the raping and pillaging of the poor. A Republian device, you might say.—B.L.