A World of Wonders

On marginalrevolution.com, Tyler Cowen often compiles his favorite things about a country or a state that he is visiting, revealing extraordinarily catholic taste. Here is a sampling:

Electronica: Start with Suba’s São Paulo Confessions, one of the subtlest techno albums. For a good collection of the music he inspired, try The Now Sound of Brazil, which includes cuts by Cibelle, Bebel Gilberto, Zuco 103, and others.

Movies, set in: I love the best parts of From Russia With Love and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (really), but the clear winner is Orson Welles’s Othello.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Music: There is Count Basie, Lauryn Hill (download “I Just Want You Around”), Paul Robeson, and Deborah Harry’s best songs; my favorite is the reggae-inspired “The Tide Is High.” … Even in my forties, I’m still not into Frank Sinatra. Bruce Springsteen I now find mostly unlistenable (monotonous rhythm sections), but parts of Born to Run still send a thrill through my heart.

Artist: I find much by the Impressionists sickly sweet and overexposed. I’ll opt for Poussin, Seurat’s black-and-whites, and Cézanne watercolors. Right now I would rather look at Chavannes and Bouguereau than Renoir or Monet. As for the most underrated French artist, how about Delacroix? A few years ago, some of his small canvases were selling for as little as $60,000.

TV show: I only know one—Epitafios—but it is a blockbuster. Noir about a serial killer in Buenos Aires; sometimes shown on HBO.

Food: Fish and chips is to New Zealand what barbecue is to Texas—tops in the world. The best places are owned by Greeks. New Zealand is also a first-rate locale for Malay, Cambodian, and Burmese cuisines.

Novel: Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet (four volumes, but quite readable) is perhaps the least-read great novel of the twentieth century. On the surface it concerns imperialism but it is actually about what a life really consists of and how that life is defined. … The author “wrote” most of it during his 14-year stint in Buru prison, but most of the time without the benefit of pen or paper.

Poet: Wallace Stevens worked for an insurance company in Hartford for many years, but the people in his office did not know he was a poet. “He was an imaginative claims man,” later opined one colleague.

Chess player: Viswanathan Anand is a no-brainer. India has a history of supercalculators, so how about this guy? You give him two and a half hours on his clock against world-class competition and he still uses only 30 minutes.

U.S. Presidents: I’ll pick Washington as the best, simply because he had a successor, and Madison as the best political theorist. Jefferson’s writings bore me, and Woodrow Wilson was one of the worst presidents we have had.

Photo: Atlantide Photo Travel/Corbis

Art: I confess to liking the amazing sex pots of the Moche. Produced some 1,500 years ago, these erotic ceramics depict all manner of sexual act, including oral sex, anal sex, threesomes, homosexuality—a real sextravaganza. Alfred Kinsey introduced the sex pots to the West in 1954, writing that the Moche artifacts were “the most frank and detailed document of sexual customs ever left by an ancient people.’’ Hilariously, quite a few archaeologists at the time argued that the pots were symbolic warnings about what not to do!

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A World of Wonders