#JohnSandford on #townandcountryplanning in #northernMinnesota

John Sandford, Naked Prey (2003)


The thing that made travelling across the land [northern Minnesota] so strange, Lucas [Davenport] realized, was that you did nothing: you simply sat in the car and time passed. Driving almost anywhere else, the road moved: you went up and down hills and around curves and past houses, speed zones came and went, cars and trucks went by, and something new was always popping up. Out here, the road was dead straight, with hardly anything on it, or at the sides. Rather than whipping around a curve over the crest of a hill, and finding a town tucked away, surprising you, here the towns came up as a slowly growing lump on the horizon; you could see them, it seemed, for hours before you arrived. 


Small towns, [Lucas]’d realized a long time ago, were a little like spaceships, or ordinary ships, for that matter – they generally had to have one of everything: one McDonald’s or Burger King (couldn’t support one of each), a department store, a quick oil change, a hardware store, a feed store, a satellite-TV outlet, a bar or two. Everything needed for survival. Armstrong was like that, a lifeboat, one of everything necessary for life, all packaged in yellow-brick and red-brick two-story buildings. About one in four of the storefronts was empty, and the owners hadn’t bothered to put “For Rent” signs in the windows.

These are great pieces of description (happy to be reading detective stories again). I haven’t any photos that could remotely be considered to expand on them; but I do have a photo of McDonald’s.

McDonalds Moscow 812.JPG(Moscow, 2012)

Marilynne Robinson on cigarettes and on meadows

Some more quotes from Lila (2014).

Lila had money in her pocket. She went back to the store and bought a pack of Camels. On the way home she stopped and lighted one, cupping her hand around the flame, that old gesture. But it has been a long time, and whatever it is about cigarettes went straight to her head.

(She’s living in a shack in a meadow:) She hoped the old man did not know where she was staying, and she knew he would never come there if he did. But if he ever did come, she hoped it would be in the morning. Those little white moths fluttering over it made that raggedy old meadow seem almost like a garden.


I like the word meadow. What’s the difference between a meadow and a field, though? I have no photos labelled Meadow. Does this Field (at Godinne on the river Meuse, June 2011) qualify?

swing in field Godinne 611.JPG

I am blocked in the book, unwilling to go forward. Lila’s pregnant, she’s in the middle of a long day’s reflecting at the old man’s house, and I think something bad is going to happen. I’ve started reading detective stories instead.



On #chess and #nondrivers

[G]randmaster Danny Gormally… was turning out at the [Four Nations Chess League in Birmingham] for a team called Blackthorne Russia, for which he was getting £300 and accommodation. Deduct his train fare from Northumbria – strong chess players, either for economic or complex cognitive reasons, are notorious non-drivers – and his profit was minimal. “I don’t think anyone now would seriously consider taking up chess as a career,” he says. – Stephen Moss, Guardian, 21 November.

chess Galerie Bascule 414.JPG(Galerie Bascule, Brussels, April 2014)

#MarilynneRobinson, Lila (2014)

I’ve been saving this book up for months. Started it today. These quotes are in chronological order, not the order they come in the book.



[Reverend Ames tells Lila about his childhood] 

She said, “I liked that story.” 

He looked away from her and laughed. “It is a story, isn’t it? I’ve never really thought of it that way. And I suppose the next time I tell it, it will be a better story. Maybe a little less true. I might not tell it again, I hope I won’t. You’re right not to talk. It’s a sort of higher honesty, I think. Once you start talking, there’s no telling what you’ll say.” 

She said, “I wouldn’t know about that.” 

“Apparently not. I do. I’ve spent my life talking.[…]”




If she left she had nowhere to go especially, except not St. Louis. She decided she might as well stay for a while.



[The Reverend] stood up… because the kind of gentleman he was will do that when ladies come into a room. They almost can’t help it. How was she supposed to know? They have to be the ones to open a door, but then they have to wait there for you to go through it. To this very day, if the Reverend happened to meet her out on the street he took off his hat to her, even in the rain. He always helped her with her chair, which amounted to pulling it out from the table a little, then pushing it in again after she sat down. Who in the world could need help with a chair?


[Lila as a Martian observer. Wikipedia: Martian poetry was a minor movement in British poetry in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which everyday things and human behaviour are described in a strange way, as if by a visiting Martian who does not understand them. Poets most closely associated with it are Craig Raine and Christopher Reid. The term Martianism has also been applied more widely to include fiction as well as to poetry. The word martianism is, coincidentally, an anagram of one of its principal exponents, Martin Amis.]



“Lila,” [the Reverend] said, “I’m glad to know you aren’t planning to leave. But if you ever change your mind, I want you to leave by daylight. I want you to have a train ticket in your hand that will take you right where you want to go, and I want you to take your ring and anything else I have given you. You might want to sell it. That would be all right. It’s yours, not mine. It doesn’t belong here – I mean it wouldn’t –“ He cleared his throat. “You’re my wife,” he said. “I want to take care of you, even if that means someday seeing you to the train.”


women eating ice creams Riga station 815.JPG(Riga central station, waiting for the night train to Belarus, summer 2015)




Marc Bojanowski on #teaching

I taught because there’s nothing like that feeling when someone fully understands something complicated because of something you’ve articulated and demonstrated over time. That feeling is addictive. It is, in the old sense of the word, awesome.

– Marc Bojanowski, This is now, Granta summer 2015

school Brest 815 101.JPG(school, Brest, Belarus, 2015)



#MarilynneRobinson on the future

Interview by Alex Clark in today’s Observer

-Your new collection of essays, The Givenness of Things… [includes] this wonderful thought that … “we are less interested in the exploration of the glorious mind, more engrossed in the drama of staying ahead of whatever it is we think is pursuing us”. It’s an intriguing idea – what did you mean? 

-There’s a strange future orientation in contemporary thinking. We don’t know anything about the future; we probably know less than people have known at any given time, because everything is in flux. We know that huge technological innovations can permeate society very quickly, and yet they’re always saying that we have to prepare for the future – they use this word competition irritatingly frequently. At the same time, there’s no secure model of what it is that we have to do in order to become the societies that they see as being prosperous or as surviving as viable societies over even the next decade. And meanwhile, the most interesting thing that could be imagined, which is to be a human consciousness on a beautiful planet, this is something that is completely bypassed; that only present experience and reflection can give us access to and allow us to enjoy the privilege of existing. 

I like the idea that as a society we know more about the past than any previous one; and less about the future, technological or otherwise.

tractor with machine Pont de Lescun 713

(tractor, Lescun, France, 2013)

The #costofcapital in public sector planning

In this month’s edition of Prospect, John Kay examines the methods used by the Airport Commission, which compared the merits of an extra runway at London Heathrow or at Gatwick (pictured).

Gatwick 612 2

[W]hat figure should be used for the cost of capital? There are several possibilities. First, the risk free rate at which the British government can borrow. The longest dated index-linked gilt, maturing in 2068, currently yields minus 1 per cent. Second, the “green book” rate prescribed by the UK Treasury used in the Commission’s cost-benefit analysis, and fixed arbitrarily in 2003 at 3.5 per cent in real terms. Third, the anticipated cost of the Private Finance Initiative-type deal which it is anticipated will be employed to fund airport developments – around 5 per cent – 6 per cent in nominal terms. The final possibility is to use the weighted average cost of airport capital of between 5 per cent and 6 per cent real terms, as set by the CAA, British’s airport regulator… [A]rguably it is the first… which is the most relevant. Which rate is used makes all the difference. At minus 1 per cent over a life of 60 years, the annual cost of the proposed capital expenditure at Heathrow is about £250m. At 3.5 per cent, the figure is £800m. At and 5.5 per cent the annual cost becomes £1.35bn.