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News 31.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 31.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 31.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 31.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 31.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Among the many treasures in the British Museum’s forthcoming Stonehenge exhibition is a collection of carved and polished spherical stones, each about the size of a cricket ball. The stones are 5,000 years old and have mostly been found singly in Scotland. The most famous of the 400 or so discoveries is a beautiful polished black sphere from Towie, Aberdeenshire, with three bulbous surfaces, tactile as a miniature Henry Moore. The sphere is carved with precise geometric whorls and spirals. In common with the much weightier neolithic monuments that the Stonehenge exhibition celebrates, the longer you look at the stones, the more mysterious they seem: what and why and how?

If the answers to those questions remain unknowable, one thing that the balls – and the culture that prized them – make clear is their creators were people of enormous curiosity and skill, prepared to invest untold hours in making a perfect object, because they could. They were connoisseurs of stone.

I was thinking about the ancient magic of those finds, and their more spectacular counterparts, while driving across Salisbury Plain early one morning last week in the company of Neil Wilkin, the curator of the British Museum’s World of Stonehenge show. With a trace of moon still evident, a thin mist lying in the valleys, and the morning light just beginning to ink in the curves of hills, this landscape can hardly have changed – the A303 and firing ranges apart – since the bluestone and sarsen boulders of the monument were first raised. The 300 sq miles of Salisbury Plain is the largest area of chalk grassland in northern Europe. Its rolling flatness and enormous skies demand some verticality, like the surface of the moon demanded a flag; Stonehenge is, among other things, a monument that gives a sharp sense of identity to the landscape around it.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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Last summer, the science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson went on a backpacking trip with some friends. They headed into the High Sierra, hiking toward Deadman Canyon—a fifty-mile walk through challenging terrain. Now sixty-nine, Robinson has been hiking and camping in the Sierras for half a century. At home, in Davis, California, he tracks his explorations on a wall-mounted map, its topography thick with ink. He is a devotee of the “ultralight” approach to backpacking and prefers to travel without water, instead gathering it along the way, from lakes and streams. Arriving at the canyon, with its broad, verdant floor cradled in smooth slopes of granite, he planned to fill his bottles with meltwater from the seven glaciers buried in its headwall.

But as the group hiked they found no water. Streams that had once carved elegant oxbows in the canyon floor were now dusty lacerations. Perhaps because of the altitude, one of Robinson’s friends was feeling ill, and the others worried about how he would fare if they had to make a dry camp that night. Eventually, they found a rivulet of water. After his companions replenished their supply, Robinson hiked ahead, tracing the water uphill. He discovered that six of the seven glaciers had melted away completely. This was a new development, not recorded on any map. Only one corner of one glacier remained—a canted block of ice the size of two Olympic swimming pools. “It was the smallest living glacier that you could possibly imagine,” Robinson told me. He broke off a tiny chunk and carried it back to camp for the hikers to use in their Scotch. “It was like a goodbye,” he said. “Like going to a hospice visit.” Recalling the moment, he shivered.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 31.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 31.01.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Ring ring. Gary Hersham’s phone was going, as usual. The super-prime London estate agent blew through the Mayfair office of his company, Beauchamp Estates, scattering employees behind him. As he climbed into the passenger seat of the company car, a Volkswagen Golf rather than his personal BMW, I asked where we were going. “I don’t know!” he said. He found a postcode, and announced it to the driver. Ring ring. Hersham’s mobile has the high-pitched jangle of an old-fashioned telephone at fire-alarm volume. “I didn’t ask you for that,” he roared down the phone as we sat stationary outside his office. “What makes you assume that’s what I was doing? Could I speak to Emily please?” Emily, his fantastic secretary. Ring ring. Someone else was calling. “We’ve got to wait for Marcus!”

Enter, at a trot, Marcus O’Brien, Hersham’s protege: tall, slicked hair, suited and groomed, just 30. (Hersham is 68.) O’Brien had been out for a big dinner the night before, knowable only from his stating the fact: there was no sickly pallor, despite being crammed into the back seat of the Golf, which was now winding its way through Mayfair, past the members’ clubs and hedge funds and townhouses, a neighbourhood in which Hersham has been selling property for 43 years. His agency has sold houses for quantities of money that seem increasingly conceptual as they rise: Belgrave Square (£50m), Caroline Terrace (£60m), Grosvenor Crescent (£100m). Then the ultimate, a career peak in an already elevated range, the most expensive house ever sold in Britain: 2-8a Rutland Gate in Knightsbridge, sold in early 2020 for £215m.

As we drove, I asked Hersham what skills were required to do his job. “May I suggest,” he replied, “that you listen to my telephone conversations and see what goes on.” Well, this is what goes on. His phone rings constantly. He is usually having at least three conversations at once: two on the phone (there is typically someone on hold) and one in real life. He talks with the frenetic urgency of someone whose conversations contain the potential for expensive failure. He is often finding numbers, asking people for numbers, giving out numbers. Hersham has the kind of deep, multigenerational well of contacts that means he now sells not just to individuals, but entire dynasties. “He knows everyone,” a former colleague of his told me. And not just everyone in London. He shuttles between representatives of New York financiers, Middle Eastern royal families, the now-almost-quaint Russian oligarchs. “It’s probably third-generation wealth that he’s seeing now,” O’Brien told me. “They’re closer to my age than to his.”

As he swerved from conversation to conversation, Hersham modulated his tone accordingly: from soothing compliments to bawling out an underling. He did this instinctively, it seemed, his personality as volatile as the job required, and indivisible from it. The work was the conversation. “Was it a good price or not?! Just a simple yes or no!” Next call: “Believe you me, I know it was the best apartment I’ve ever seen.” Next call: “You’ve got us into serious trouble because you left a door open!”

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.