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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, one thing you can say about spring weather in the great Commonwealth of Virginny is that it is reliably schizophrenic.  Last weekend saw snow flurries at Port Swiller Manor.  This weekend, La Wrangler goes topless and we eat dinner on the porch.

Speaking of cars, this week the Middle Gel (yes, the Middle Gel) is doing her behind-the-wheel training.  By next Tuesday, she most likely will have her driver’s license.

Yeek.

I say this not so much because I worry about her driving, but because this is another one of those milestones that shows just how fast time is moving and how soon the lot of them will be up and out of the house.   Their formative years seemed to drag on forever sometimes.  Once they hit high school, however, life just seems to go to flank speed.

And speaking of driving and ups and outs, back on Holy Saturday the three of them spent the morning helping out at the Easter egg roll at Robbo’s Former Episcopal Church.  Mid-afternoon, as I was fooling about with something or other in the kitchen, they all suddenly congregated in the front hall.

“Bye, Dad,” they said with elaborate casualness.

“Bye? Um…where are you going?” I asked.

“King’s Dominion.”

(King’s Dominion is about 75 miles from here, all of it interstate.)

“Whuh?  Ruh? Is it even open this early?” I stammered.

“Oh, yes, it opened yesterday.”

“Well, when are you coming back?”

“We’re going to leave at 8:00 pm.”

“You do know tomorrow is Easter and that we need to get up especially early, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes.  We promise we will.”

Well.  Ol’ Robbo was torn.  On the one hand, I reminded myself that when I was the Eldest Gel’s age back in San Antonio, my parents let me drive myself down to the beach (about 150 miles) and up to Austin (about 80 miles).  I also didn’t want to discourage them doing something as sisters, since they usually don’t hang out together.  On the other, I-95 is a nasty piece of highway.  Also, I envisioned all kinds of trouble getting them out of bed in the morning if they were going to get home that late.

Muttering something about putting all one’s eggs in the same basket, I decided in the end not to make a fuss.

Happily, it all worked out.  When I got home late that night from the Vigil Mass, I found the car in the driveway and all of them up in bed.  And in the morning, much to my surprise, all three of them got up, got dressed, and were ready to head out before I had to say a single word.  And on top of all that, they behaved themselves both at church and at brunch afterward.  Easter Miracle, indeed.

UPDATE: Driving test successfully passed, license issued.  She’s already done her first “because I can” solo run, too.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

As is still his wont sometimes these days, ol’ Robbo tagged along with the family this past Sunday morning to his former Episcopal Church pour encourager les autres, where he was chagrined to observe that the youngest gel had discovered one can put one’s head in one’s arms across the back of the pew in front and look deep in prayer while, in reality, grabbing a quick snooze.

Anyhoo, after the service, I found myself sitting in on the adult ed hour downstairs in the parish hall.  The topic this week was the Sabbath – what it means and how to observe it, the presentation being made by some visiting cleric.

Well, as it turns out, the woman giving teh presentation – despite claiming to be a priest – quickly asserted that she had no intention whatever of discussing the theological aspects of the Sabbath, i.e., its place in the relationship between God and Man.  Instead, she spent the better part of the hour serving up a combination of common sense time management and New Age spiritual gibberish about aligning the circles of one’s inner being in order to release the Seventh Chackra, or something like that.  In other words, the lecture was really about self-worship.  (On reflection, I’m rayther glad she didn’t tackle real theology.  I probably would have got quite upset.  This was a lot easier simply to ignore.)

Eventually, in order to emphasize her theme about self-alignment, she served up a story about a South American tribe that, when it traveled, would walk for four days and then, no matter where it was, simply stop for a day before continuing.  When asked why they did this, they replied, “We stop in order to give our spirits the chance to catch up.”

The audience, or at least certain parts of it, ate it up.  I heard any number of those little mmm‘s and ahh‘s of wonder and affirmation from around the room, a virtue-signalling technique that I hate almost as much as the knowing, ironic chuckle the same sort of people let out whenever some oddity of their own church’s tradition is discussed.  (Such vocalizations, in my observation, are two parts preening and three parts sheer, gut-wrenching ignorance.)

But ah, the South American Tribe!  Jolly Jean Jacque Rousseau’s Noble Savage is alive and well in the Amazon Basin, imparting wisdom to anyone willing to take the time to listen.  I started musing about what other stories of South American Tribes could be served up and swallowed without question:

  • There was the South American Tribe who were so attuned to Nature that they could hold conversations with not only the animals but also with the trees.  The trees being Really Old could pass on all sorts of accumulated observation and wisdom.
  • There was the other South American Tribe who worked out Pi to its final decimal place using nothing but a complex series of finger movements.  Even their children could do it, although it would take a Westerner three whole lifetimes to become sophisticated enough to understand their technique.
  • There was the other, other South American Tribe who became such experts at peyote-fueled meditation that they could actually alter the atomic structures of their bodies and pass straight through rocks.
  • Finally, there was the South American Tribe who, through eons of studying the stars, were able to accurately predict the winning number in every single Power Ball drawing.

Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

The whole thing reminded me once again of the line attributed by some to Chesterton (although I’ve never actually been able to locate it) to the effect that when people stop believing in God, the trouble is not that they believe nothing but that they’ll believe anything.

(Speaking of GKC, I am currently rereading his Everlasting Man.  Unfortunately, I bought my edition from one of those fly-by-night publishers and the font can’t be much larger than about 8 or 9 points.  Very headache-inducing.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was sitting quietly last evening and reading Anthony Powell’s autobiography To Keep The Ball Rolling (amazing how small and interconnected the Brit art world was back in the day) when the Eldest Gel came into the library, mischief written all over her face.

“Hey, Dad!” she said, “What do you think of what Pope Francis said about The Donald and immigration today?”

“I wish he hadn’t,” I replied.  “He tends to shoot his mouth off without considering the likely results.  Nothing good can come of this kind of high-profile spat, especially once the media get their claws into it.”

“And about what he said about condoms and disease prevention?”

“Again, he’d have been better off not speaking off the cuff like that.”

“Not a good day for the Pope, eh?”

“No, probably not.”

“And on top of all those abuse scandals, too, no?”

“Look, was their something in particular you wanted?” I said sharply, “Or are you just here to mess about with me?”

“Oh, my, aren’t WE grumpy tonight!  I guess you miss your glass of wine during Lent, don’t you.  Too bad you have to wait so long to get back to drinking again.”

And with that, having given the dog an extra pat in order to show her unconcern, she strolled off.

Grrrrrrrr…….

There’s a line from the breviary hymn of St. Ambrose “Jam lucis ordo sidere” (which I recite as part of my morning prayers) that the 1962 Missal translates as, “And by spare use of meat and drink/our rebel passions to control.”  I can’t help wondering if this might not be an error.  In my normal state, I would have laughed down from lazy eyelids at the gel’s obvious attempt to bait me.  However, on my tenth day of giving up the grape?  It was all I could do to prevent myself from laying hands on her neck.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

As mentioned in the post below, ol’ Robbo decided to give up the grape for Lent this year.  We’re now in the middle of the fourth day, and although so far I’ve been able to avoid the temptation (said by H.L. Mencken to be felt by all normal men) to spit on my hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats, it hasn’t been easy.

I know, I know:  Offer it up.

In order to avoid overloading myself with abstinences to teh point of bringing down the whole programme, I decided that it would be a bad idea to try also, as I usually do, to cut out (secular) books, musick and teevee/film (and, I guess, the innertoobs), at least at first.  We’ll see how things go.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not pursuing my Lenten reading.  (As usual, I’m starting out with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales.)  Instead, it means that I’ll probably fiddle around with the mixture, gradually thinning out the pleasure part as the season progresses.  My goal is to be able to devote Holy Week to pure contemplation of Faith.

Anyhoo, I thought I’d offer up a few random observations on what I’m reading, listening to, and watching at the moment.

Books:  I think I mentioned somewhere below that I had started in on Anthony Powell’s magnum opus, A Dance to the Music of Time.  Arranged in a quartet of books of three smaller novels each, it tells (from his point of view) the story of Nicholas Jenkins, a young man of respectable family, from his school days in the 1920’s up through the 60’s.  It begins with the interactions at school among Nick and his friends Charles Stringham and Peter Templar, as well as those with the awful Kenneth Widmerpool, and gradually expands outward, taking in family, friends, professional and chance acquaintances, spinning a complex web of repeated personal encounters and relationships as the characters leave school and pursue their various lives, loves, and careers.  All of this is set against the backdrop of the (arguably terminal) change in British society across the 20th Century: Post-WWI; Roaring 20’s; 30’s crash; WWII; post-War hardship; rise of the Left; goddam 60’s hippies.  And of course, not only do the characters interact with each other, they are all enmeshed in these larger social movements as well.

On Ash Wednesday, ol’ Robbo found himself in the middle of Temporary Kings, the next to last of the twelve books, and decided that, since I am so close, I would push on through to the end.  Ol’ Robbo has never been what one might call a “quick” study.  I usually have to read a book repeatedly to really start getting into the meat of the thing.  This is, I believe, my third time through ADTTMOT, and I must say that I am enjoying it exponentially more than my last go.  As I say, Powell weaves an immensely complicated web of personal interactions in a quite satisfying manner, but what I appreciate more and more is his rayther droll wit.  While Nick (whom I suppose to be the author’s alter ego) is caught up in the immense personal and social upheavals going on all around him, he never really gives away much about what he thinks of it all.  From Powell’s deliciously dry observation, however, I’m guessing the answer is not that much.  (UPDATE:  I noticed that the last book in the series, Hearing Secret Harmonies, published in 1975, was dedicated to Robert Conquest, the great anti-Stalinist and social conservative.  So there you go.)

Musick:  Recently, long time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, in the process of cleaning out his collection, sent ol’ Robbo a big box of CD’s of Renaissance Musick, figuring they would find a good home at Port Swiller Manor.  Of course, he was right:  Ol’ Robbo loves teh vitality of this era, from the dolorous introspection to the toe-tapping exuberance, all of it pleasantly free of the self-centered navel-gazing of the Romantics.  On the whole, ol’ Robbo likes his musick a bit more formalized (the Baroque period being my favorite), but this gives him plenty of delight as well.

Anyhoo, I’ve started working my way through the stack.  A few observations:

Dansereye 1551, Tielman Susato (c. 1500-1561):  When thanking ODT for his gift, I mentioned that very few of the composers (apart from some of the English ones) were at all familiar to me.  I put this CD on thinking I was in for something new, as Susato’s name did not immediately ring any bells, but soon started laughing:  The first few tracks happen to be included (in different arrangements) on a compilation of Renaissance dance musick I own and love entitled Terpsichore.  Small world after all.  By the bye, the performance here is by the New London Consort under Philip Pickett, a very good group.  The CD is copyrighted 1993 – I hadn’t realized they had been around that long.

Los Ministriles – Spanish Renaissance Wind Music: Composers such as Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Manuel de Tavares and Manuel Cardoso.  Good stuff, but I couldn’t tell you what makes it particularly Spanish in character.  (I suspect some of this musick is also, in fact,  Portuguese.)  This is not due to the album, but to my own ignorance.  Of course, the “Renaissance” took different forms in different parts of Europe.  I also believe that, given Spain’s particular history, it took different forms in the different kingdoms united under Ferdinand and Isabella.  Naturally, then, so would the arts within those kingdoms.

On that front, let me also recommend a CD in my own collection:  1492: Music From The Age of Discovery – The Waverly Consort.  Mrs. Robbo and I saw them perform this album in concert eons ago and bought the CD on the spot.  It blends Spanish, Italian, Jewish and Moorish musick from the time in a most satisfactory combination that really gives you the flavor.  (There are some similar Old/New World crossover CD’s in ODT’s stack that I haven’t reached yet, but will mention when I get to them.)

Fortune My Foe: Music of Shakespeare’s Time – Les Witches:  So far as Renaissance artists go, this is closer to ol’ Robbo’s own home turf, featuring composers such as John Dowland, Thomas Morley and Michael Praetorius.  (It also includes the weird -and aptly-named – Nicholas Le Strange.  However despite what the Amazon description at the link may say, William Byrd is not included.)  Ironically, despite the album’s subtitle, most of these composers were, in fact, chased out of England by Queen Bess in the early 1570’s on (among other things) anti-Catholic grounds, and set up shop in Sweden and Northern Germany.   The local publick radio station used to run a track from Les Witches some years ago that must have been from this album – they’ve only put out a few, and most of them very recently – but I can’t recall which one it was.

Screen:  The other day, because she had been watching it in her English class and wanted my opinion, Eldest Gel and ol’ Robbo sat down to watch Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet.  I lasted about 45 minutes of the scheduled four hours of screen time.  In a word? Bombastically unwatchable.  Nobody tops ol’ Robbo in his admiration of Branagh’s obviously outstanding talent as a Shakespearean actor, but I’ve been saying the same damn thing ever since his Henry V first came out:  What Branagh needed more than anything else in his efforts to bring the Bard to the big screen was an iron-fisted director with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!!”  Alas, he didn’t have one and went to seed as a result.

Similarly, I’ve been picking my way, act by act, through the old BBC production of Othello starring Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins.  Hoskins is great as the scheming Iago, but as fine an actor as he otherwise is, I just don’t get Hopkins’ treatment of Shakespeare.  He hesitates, blanks out, inflects oddly, sometimes doesn’t quite seem to grasp the psychology of his character.  It was the same thing when I saw him on stage in 1987 doing Lear.  Strange.

I am also working my way through Christopher Guest’s cycle of “mockumentaries”, just having polished off Best in Show and A Mighty Wind.  Made in the early 2000’s, part of me wonders whether these films could even be offered these days, given the number of triggers in them that would send the Social Justice Movement cry-bullies into catatonic fits.  Indeed, the inclusion of the fact that I’ve watched them on my Permanent Electronic Record is probably more than enough on its own to get me sent to the Happy Fun Reeducation Camps when the revolution comes, if not simply shot out of hand.   On the other hand, they’re all wicked funny, so it would be worth it.  (Anyhoo, there’s plenty other anti-revolutionary material on my PER already, so the question is largely moot.)

Finally, I just finished the 1st season of Star Trek: The Original Series, with “The City on the Edge of Forever” (with a young Joan Collins) and “Operation – Annihilate!” (the one with the flying killer washcloths, one of which hits Spock in the back: I once saw an outtakes clip where it hit him in the fanny).  I don’t have much to say about Star Trek:TOS except that the show has held up surprisingly well all these years and is just as entertaining to me now in my 50’s as it was in my misspent yoot (obviously for a different combination of reasons, although skimpily-clad alien space babes still enter into the calculus).  Of note:  Netflix offers up the revised versions of the old shows, with modern computer graphics cleaning up and enhancing the more painfully primitive special effects of 50 years ago.  While I abhor the kind of retro-tinkering George Lucas indulged himself with in the Star Wars franchise, I have no problem with what has been done here:  The alterations are seamless, in line with the original spirit, and not designed to draw attention to themselves.  It’s amazing what can be done when Ego is taken out of the equation.

At any rate, there you have it.

UPDATE:  R.I.P. Justice Antonin Scalia.  As I may have mentioned here before, his family are fellow parishioners of mine and I’ve seen him many times at Mass although I never got up the nerve to try and start a conversation.  I’m sure he would have been gracious about it, but I’m equally sure he would have been annoyed at having to deal with a groupie on Sunday.

I must say that I was flatly repulsed by the amount of pure bile and venom that erupted across the innertoobs when news of Scalia’s death broke yesterday.  Disgusting.

 

 

Port Swiller Manor after the  Initial Driveway Cleanup

Port Swiller Manor after the Initial Driveway Cleanup

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, the Family Robbo survived Snowzilla intact.  Indeed, we didn’t even lose power this time around, owing to the lightness and dryness of the snow. Deo gratias.

Dulles recorded 29″ while they got 22″ downtown.  I think we probably split the baby here.

In any case, I’ve spent the last three days heaving snow off the Port Swiller driveway and my arms and shoulders ache something fierce as a result. (I also think I pulled something in my abs today.)  But the real story of the cleanup was the Eldest Gel.  I had mentioned casually to her a couple days before the storm that I expected her to help shovel out, given that her own car was involved in the matter.  Nonetheless, I had envisioned that when push came to shove she would balk, finding some excuse for weaseling out and leaving the whole job to ol’ Robbo (who, quite frankly, is getting a bit old to deal with this sort of thing all by his lonesome.)

Well, was I pleasantly surprised.  Both yesterday and today, the gel was actually on station and shoveling away even before I even got out of bed.  Plus, not a single word of complaint the entire time, indeed, the closest she came was to say, “I hate this, but I know it needs to be done.”  Instead, we chatted and listened to her iThingy playlist of classic rock.

Musick to ol’ Robbo’s ears.  That the gel is thinking like a responsible adult is something I’ve been praying for, for a very long time indeed.  Also, although I suppose we could have hired somebody to come and dig us out, ol’ Robbo was brought up with the idea that hard work (including manual labor) is important to character development.  The gel felt damned proud of herself for pitching in, and so she should have.  (And get this: She also asked if she could borrow my copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, as she has felt the need recently to shore up the underpinnings of her faith in the face of all the hostility she gets about it from some of the kids at her school.)

Oh, speaking of musick, at one point I was at the top of the drive while she was working closer to the garage.  “Bohemian Rhapsody” turned up on her phone, and even though I was some distance from her, at the appropriate point I went into “Wayne’s World” head-banger mode.  The gel laughed and laughed.

Good times.  Good times.

 

 

Image filched from the Capital Weather Gang (which see link)

Image filched from the Capital Weather Gang (which see link)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, from the midst of Snowzilla!

Yes, it set in around 1:45 pm yesterday and has been snowing like dammit ever since.  Tough to eyeball accurately, but I’d say we’re already well north of a foot at Port Swiller Manor, with a forecast of continued white stuff well into tonight.

Ol’ Robbo was actually surprised to wake up this morning and find that the power had not gone out overnight.  That means at least one more hot pot of coffee for me, so for the moment all is well.  The wind hasn’t really been an issue yet and I think, I think, we might just dodge that particular bullet.

Of course, I could be mis-

No, no.  Just kidding.

If the power holds up today, I plan to watch a 1981 production of Othello that I stumbled across in the Netflix library.  Bob Hoskins plays Iago, so it has some potential.  I’ll let you know what I think.

If not, I’ve started in again on Anthony Powell’s A Dance To The Music Of Time.  I’m not sure if this is my second or third reading but I’m already getting much more out of it than last time.  How I could have missed a line like “He’s so wet you could shoot snipe off of him” previously is beyond me.

The Big Dig starts tomorrow.  Despite the fact that the Bishop has already granted dispensation to stay home, I would like to have gone to Mass.  Unfortunately, I just don’t think I’ll be able to get the driveway cleared in time to make it.  Oh, well.  At least I’m guaranteed some good exercise.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

By now I imagine all three or four of you have read the news that the Anglican Communion this week put the Episcopal Church on a three year suspension over the issue of ghey marriage, with the instructions to get back in line or risk being chucked permanently.  ECUSA immediately responded by playing the defiant victim card.  Frankly, ol’ Robbo was astonished.  For years the attitude of ECUSA was that Canterbury would never take punitive steps in response to its creeping progressivism because it basically bankrolls the Communion.  I guess the African and South American Bishops, who have become the real theological leaders, finally have had enough.

It’s possible that one side or the other will blink eventually, but this sure looks like the beginning of a final and permanent schism to me.  If that happens, I suspect that most if not all of the remaining traditionalists within ECUSA will bail – going to the North American Anglicans, some other Protestant denomination and maybe Rome herself.  The rump, finally free of all adult supervision, will then crumble further into fringe Unitarian obscurity.

This news aggravates a long-standing sore in ol’ Robbo’s conscience, since, as regular friends of the decanter know, when I swam the Tiber myself eight years ago, I left my family on the other, Palie, shore.  Mrs. R has no interest whatsoever in following me, and the gels are all caught in teenaged limbo – too old to remold but not quite old enough to make up their own minds (at least while still under Mrs. R’s roof).  I pray for their conversions (and those of the rest of my family) daily and try to set an example and drop gentle hints, but so far, no joy.  I’m not sure what else, if anything, I can do, but I still worry that I haven’t exerted myself enough to get them off the Titanic before it finally goes down.

Perhaps this sudden new in-gushing of ice water will motivate them to take stock anew.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy Epiphany!

Yes, today marks the O-ficcial end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and – practically speaking – all those lords, ladies, maids, partridges, rings, et al are invited to get off my lawn.

Seriously, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is, in my humble opinion, one of the most tedious and un-rescuable of all the Christmas standard carols, despite the fact that some people think it’ s some kind of Catholic code.

EpiphanyAnyhoo,  the point of the day is to mark the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, there to worship and adore the Baby Jesus, thereby heralding His ministry amongst the Gentiles.

I try to wrap my brain around this encounter.  According to Matthew:

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

I love that “another way” language.  Clearly, the Magi got wind of what Herod (not a man to be crossed0 intended and wanted no part of it.  But what was the timing? What was the protocol?  I’m fine with the idea that the Magi were not”Three Kings” but were something more like astrologers or “wise men without portfolio”.  But what were the temporal obligations of their visit? What were the security protocols? How did it end?

Inquiring (and yet, perhaps, useless) minds want to know.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Father P said in a recent homily that Holy Mother Church deliberately placed a number of saints’ feast days in the period immediately following Christmas Day to cover the dearth of Biblical references to the actual birth and immediate infancy of Jesus.  This, he said, was because newborns – even that who was God Incarnate – are good for little more than feeding, sleeping and producing poopy diapers, and Scripture deems it best to avoid such squalid details about our Lord.

Reasonable enough.

Anyhoo, today is the Feast of St. Thomas a’ Becket, martyred Bishop of Canterbury.  You know, the one at whom Peter O’Toole kept rolling his eyes and crying out in anguish, “Thomaaaaassss!!!!!

Because my mind is what it is, I can’t help associating this day with SCTV’s parody NASA production of T.S. Eliot’s “Murder In The Cathedral”.  Alas, there seems to be some kind of copyright ban on showing the clip, but – and you can trust me on this – it was damned funny stuff.  (SCTV was always better than Saturday Night Live, even in SNL’s original heyday.  **Breaks beer bottle, looks around for challengers to his assertion.**)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Feast of St. John the Beloved!

Friends of the decanter are probably aware of the lovely little non-controversy controversy over what day Christmas actually ends.  Conventional teaching – as in the “twelve days of Christmas” – says the Epiphany on January 6.  Some others argue that it ought to be the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord on January 8.  Real hard-core types hold out for Candlemas on February 2.

It’s fascinating stuff to me, however I don’t bring it up here to get into the arguments but to note that when I went for a jog yesterday afternoon, I saw that somebody had already run their tree out to the curb.

And earlier in the day when I had flipped on the local classickal radio station there was not a ghost left of the “holiday” musick with which it had been saturation-bombing my ears since the day after Thanksgiving.

Sigh.

The appropriation and commercialization of the season by the secular world is bad enough.  What’s worse is the bending and mutilating of its symbols, images and traditions in order to fit the needs desires of said world.  (These desires include the deliberate destruction of their religious associations, by the way.  The government/industrial complex does not suffer other centers of power in its long march toward creating Utopia.)

Ol’ Robbo saw an item in the nooz a few days back about some academic type down in Florida who is proposing we change “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Federal Holiday”.  Her reasoning centers on the usual blather about inclusiveness and insensitivity, but part of me thinks the actual proposal isn’t such a bad idea.  Go appropriate your own damned symbols!

 

 

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