At the end of a qat party, typically close to sunset, there comes a moment when the effervescence settles, conversation slackens, and thoughts turn quietly inward. This Solomonic pause—Yemenis call it lahzat Sulayman—serves as a cue. Guests rise from their cushions; hosts slip back to their own pursuits. It is a time to be alone. Cathinone, the stimulating compound in the fresh shoots and leaves of the qat bush, at this stage induces a calm, crisp focus that drivers find useful for long trips, and students for cramming.
One imagines Tim Mackintosh-Smith retiring to the library in his centuries-old house in Sanaa, picking up a well-thumbed classic, and pondering the story of the Arabs—or rather, as he suggests in the introduction to his erudite and discursive new book, of Arabs, for as he persuasively explains, the definite article implies more solidity and cohesion than its subject may merit. Mackintosh-Smith is unusual, and not only because few English gentlemen would in this modern age choose to spend four decades living in far-off Yemen, a wildly rugged country that is now in the throes of its own darkest age. Unusual too is that although he might be called a superb Arabist, as a diligent student and ardent lover of the language, and might also be called a fine historian, as a dogged seeker of truth and a skilled storyteller, he is not a professional at either.
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