I took my son to the World Fencing Championships in Paris the other day. Seeing we were running late, I broke into a trot. “Daddy, you’re going too fast!” “Hurry up!” Luckily for us, the French team was still in the middle of its semi-final against Russia. Blades flashed and tension mounted as France’s swordsmen widened the gap. “Daddy, daddy, it’s going too fast, I can’t keep up.” The French team won. Too fast.
I have a plane to catch for Madrid. It’s a sunny day. No rain, no snow, no accidents on the motorway, no strikes in Paris. In Paris, maybe not, in Madrid, yes. Air traffic controllers had walked out. The plane was stuck on the tarmac, waiting for a take-off slot. Too slow.
Winter has come too quickly this year. Much too quickly. A winter that arrives too quickly is slow to go by. Once, in the Jura valleys, long, drawn-out winters were a time for watchmaking. Now watches are made all year round. Faster and faster.
I called the electricity board hotline because of a problem with the meter. “An operator will take your call. Your wait will not exceed three minutes. Please hold the line. An operator will take your call. Your wait will not exceed twelve minutes. Please…” This recording is driving me mad. The longer I wait, the longer I have to wait! Too slow.
In 2008, the entire financial universe went into cardiac arrest. We had to act fast. Governments, central banks and the IMF all rushed to the patient’s bedside to prevent a global heart attack. Like James Bond who has just 72 hours to save the world. Quick! Quick!
One of the side effects of this attack was that watch sales collapsed while inventory ballooned. “Hold on, not so fast with the deliveries!” Some brands weren’t quick enough to react and didn’t manage to slow production. Too slow, their cashflow quickly went downhill.
A year later and the crisis evaporated like a blanket of fog melting over a Swiss valley in spring. Demand shot up. “Can’t production go any faster? Our customers are tired of waiting. Why are you so slow?” Faster and faster still.
Global warming is catching us up. The last ten years have been the hottest in four centuries. Slowing climate change means adapting our lifestyle more quickly… but we must also take the time to properly understand and explain the phenomenon. Not so fast.
Demography is snapping at our heels too. The balance between generations in an ageing Europe is under threat. So are our welfare systems. Top-to-bottom reform is the only solution, and fast. First though, we need to take time to lay the groundwork, to explain the situation. Except we don’t have time. So we push through reform. And go on strike. For young and old, for Justice. For the sake of it. So the rich will have to pay. Here in Europe, it’s a case of more haste, less speed.
The laughing stock of the world
The Japanese have a concept they call nemawashi, a metaphor for a way of transplanting a bonsai without stressing it. Because a stressed bonsai is already half-dead. Nemawashi involves digging around the tree’s roots with a spoon, day after day. Carving away at the soil so it gets used to the idea. Slowly. Gently. When it’s ready, out it comes into the new pot. All in one go. Then it can live for dozens more years to come. How long does it take? As long as it takes. They should teach nemawashi in business school.
Between “Charybdis-too-fast” and “Scylla-too-slow” there is an oasis of “just right.” Provided, that is, we know how to “take” time rather than let time take over. Stay under the covers on a frosty morning, for a long lie-in or makin’ whoopee; for the warmth of the quilt or her kisses. This and that. The belle here she comes. My bear cub Ursula…*. A candlelit dinner that lasts just the right amount of time. Where the food is cooked to perfection and the wine ideal. A recital whose soprano sings beautifully and ends at exactly the right time. Neither too long nor too short. Allegro ma non troppo.
The secret is to want to take time. To slap an embargo on Blackberries, smartphones, not-so-smart phones, alarm clocks and all these timepieces that enslave us as much as they serve us.
One last thing: it still takes nine months to make a baby. Nine months is just right. No more, no less. And for a long time to come. The rest is up to us!
*I wouldn’t want to die (Je voudrais pas crever), poem by Boris Vian