Cities and the countryside 2 (Charles Dantzig)

Pompeii 411 1.JPG

Khoranagh [en Iran] est une ville abandonnée du XIIe siècle. Murs en pisé, rues couvertes, comme le sont restés les vieux quartiers de villes comme Yazd. Que c’est paisible. Les cités sont mortes, et les passions. Il en reste le souvenir, parce que cela a été une ville. La campagne ne garde le souvenir de rien : l’homme même semble à peine y être apparu. (Charles Dantzig, Encyclopédie capricieuse du tout et du rien 2009)

I’m still thinking about cities and the countryside, and about the quote from Alfred Duggan that I blogged about yesterday. I wonder how far my love for cities comes from not being able to drive, or is it vice versa. At any rate I like this quote, sentimental as it is. But he’s wrong about the countryside. The English countryside (the photo was taken on a walk in Hampshire last month), at any rate, is something we have made, and that’s visible.


The other photos are of Pompeii, perhaps the most famous abandoned city. It was a minor town in Roman Italy and it’s vast. The Roman empire and the British empire are both inexplicable, how did they stay together?

SD Pompeii 411.JPG

Alfred Duggan on cities

runner, diners Toucan 217.JPG

“Nobody nowadays likes living in a stinking and crowded town, where there is no sport, and the presence of the clergy makes most people lead a far more Christian life than they are naturally inclined to.” (Cerdic, the protagonist of Alfred Duggan’s The conscience of the king (1951), describing Britain in the fifth century after the Romans left.)

Bernard Cornwell, in his Last Kingdom series, set in the ninth century, is interesting about how the Saxons and Danes lived within or outside the remaining stone, Roman, buildings and walls.

Returning to the theme of the quote, though, I am more convinced by the idea that Stadtluft macht frei. I have a friend who comes from a village where people who were having a lie-in felt obliged to set their alarms for 6, come down and open the curtains, and then go back to bed.

The photo was taken the Toucan, on chaussée de Waterloo in Brussels, last February.


allotment Stockholm 1010 3.JPG

“In 1931, the young Graham Greene was dependent on selling review copies of novels to Foyle’s bookshop. He decided he’d better have a commercial success… The result, Stamboul Express, is set aboard one of the variants of the Orient Express, the Ostend-Vienna Orient Express. Greene could not afford a ticket to Constantinople, so he bought one to Cologne. Therefore, the early lineside scenes are more accurate than the later ones; as he admitted in his memoir, Ways of Escape, ‘you may be sure the allotments outside Bruges are just where I placed them’.

His wife made him sandwiches so he could avoid the dining car.”

– Andrew Martin, Night Trains – the rise and fall of the sleeper (2017).

(The photo is an allotment in Stockholm)


Rwanda energy: fuelling up plane at Kigali airport for flight home


I thought my last blog would be the last, but here is another illustration of the dominate role of oil in Rwanda. Thinking about alternatives to road transport, on the flight I read (in Rémy Porte, La conquête des colonies allemandes, which I bought in the excellent Ikirezi bookshop in Kigali) that the German authorities planned, in 1914, that “A partir de Tabora [in western Tanganyika] un embranchement doit desservir… les riches provinces du Nord-Ouest sous le nom de Ruandabahn”. According to Wikipedia the train would only have gone as far as the Kagera river at the eastern edge of the country, though. No Switzerland.

Rwanda energy: back to Kigali. Oil, brought from the coast by road, must account for nearly all the country’s fossil energy


This is my last “Rwanda energy” blog for the time being – back to work in Brussels tomorrow. I could have written about other things I saw – a biodiesel plant east of Kigali, a murky lake that I was told was for dammed hydropower – but wasn’t convinced…

I would have liked to learn more about the efficient biomass stoves that some families are buying – with health benefits as well as lower wood consumption.

Most depressing thing: I was surprised that in such a tightly run country – in which police speed checks are really for speed, not for bribes, and in which the plastic bag ban seems universally respected – there were so many badly adjusted diesel engines in buses and lorries.

Most interesting thing: the sight of people selling PV systems in an up-country market ( ). I heard that in Kenya, in households that get a single solar light, children do two hours more homework. Here, it’s a whole home lighting system. It’s not the whole answer – we need to solve transport energy for that – but it’s an inspiring start.

(The EU made a contribution of which I’m proud – by stimulating demand for solar PV, our renewable energy legislation helped sharply drive down the price.)

#Rwanda energy: man carrying firewood, Rubengera, this morning


PV, solar thermal, methane from the depths of Lake Kivu are all very well – but most families in Rwanda still cook wih firewood. I wanted to show this; Rwanda is a place where you shouldn’t take photos of people without their agreement; this man was happy to be photographed.