Grey Power

10 June 2018 – A month of near-constant sunshine has convinced me that the sun is a trickster. All that zap-powie brilliance, explosions of colour in all directions — and meanwhile it’s hiding, I have decided, more than it reveals.

Hiding it the way any illusionist hides a whole lot of what is really going on: by distraction. We are so zap-powie focused on the colour, we tend to miss everything else.

Whereas, with a grey sky — which we had the other day — with a grey sky, you notice everything else. Line, form, texture, luminosity. Also colour, oddly enough. Grey really sets off colour.

I am walking east on West 1st Avenue, heading for Hinge Park and False Creek, umbrella under my arm, leaden sky overhead.

But it isn’t really leaden — or, not uniformly so.

And it dramatically sets off the disused warehouse beneath and that brave poplar, twirling its leaves green/silver/green in the wind.

Strong line of the roof, all those tones of rust, the twirling shrub. In bright sunshine, I wouldn’t have noticed all that. I know it.

Into Hinge Park. Transfixed by one small bird a-top the rusty pillar, silhouetted against the dark-dancing sky.

And now that sky patters down rain.

Drops form endless tiny concentric circles in the pond, a Mallard duck creates one arc of larger circles there on the left, and silver light bounces back from the rufffled surface of the water. Grey sentinel stones too, at water’s edge.

More rain.

I graduate from putting up the hood on my jacket to putting up my umbrella. And then, knowing when a tactical retreat is in order, I dive into an Olympic Village café.

(Time passes.)

End of latte, end of rain shower, but a still-dancing sky as I walk back home.

How it makes that mural pop! And how it plays up the march of the hydro poles down the alley.

Then I stop looking for examples of how the sky enhances what lies beneath, and I just … look at the sky.

Which stands up very nicely on its own.

Next day the sunshine is back, and guess what. I am still noticing grey. Suddenly I see that old trickster sun as a backdrop for grey.

Though not just any old chunk of grey concrete, I have to admit.

This is one arc of landscape architect/artist Don Vaughan‘s work, Marking High Tide, which stands at the seawall in David Lam Park on  the north shore of False Creek.

Vaughan also wrote the poem: “As the moon circles the earth the oceans respond with the rhythm of the tides.”

Time Well Killed

11 May 2018 – Yes! You can kill time and still hold up your head in polite society.

(Credit, by the way, to Comedy Central, whose old tag line “Time Well Wasted” I have just appropriated.)

Select your location, open your eyes, and enjoy yourself.

Exhibit No. 1

I am in George Wainborn Park, smack by the walking/cycling paths along the north shore of False Creek. I’ve never noticed this park before, and it is not my destination: it is simply a meeting point. “By the fountain,” said my friend, as we planned our outing.

I am a few moments early. I kill time.

Admiring the fountain, of course.

Admiring all that “geometry at work & play,” as I like to think of it — vertical waterfall on the left; horizontal black fencing left to right; stone triangle on the right; great arch of the Granville St. Bridge overhead.

I watch a father carefully hold his toddler high enough to peer into the triangle. The child gurgles with delight, flexes his tiny starfish fingers in-out-in-out toward the spray.

I wait ’til they’re gone, then go and do the same. (Peer, that is, but perhaps even gurgle.)

Then my friend arrives, and we leave.

Exhibit No. 2

Next day, same need (same opportunity) to pace myself between appointments, and kill some time.

A quick visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery and then, because it’s a lovely day and I am in no hurry, I plonk down on the VAG steps terracing down into Robson Square.

Many others are on the steps as well, including one permanent resident.

Meet Bird of Spring, one of at least three authorized bronze replicas of a 14 cm. original by the Inuk artist Abraham Etungat, of Cape Dorset.

Bird and I watch the action below, in the Robson Square skating rink.

In season, well … it’s a skating rink, isn’t it? And off season, well … it’s whatever people want to make of it.

At the moment, it’s a studio for choreographed routines. Foreground, two young martial arts practitioners, with batons; background, a trio of dancin’ fools.

I stroll down around the rink, zero in on the dancin’ fools.

They are just a-shimmying their little hearts out.

Bird of Spring and I now bracket the rink, on the watch from opposite ends. The baton couple are still hard at it, in that sweet-spot combination of athletic precision and sheer flowing beauty.

Overhead, an audience of pigeons.

On I walk.

Still with some time to kill, but I have another destination in mind.

Exhibit No. 3

Another destination, with another overhead audience, if we may refer to inanimate objects in such terms.

It’s a tower of the Woodward’s Development on West Hastings —  the multi-use redeveloment of the old Woodward’s department store site.

The tower rises over, is visible through, the Atrium, which is a welcoming pass-through space open to all. Last summer I sat here & listened to a series of Hard Rubber Orchestra rehearsals; today I listen to the piano.

The  bright-blue piano chained to a bicycle, always there & available to anyone who wants to play it.

This intent young man is playing Chopin. He is very good, and we applaud when he ends a selection. He doesn’t look up, but, eyes still on keyboard, he does give one quick nod of the head.

He is playing again as I leave.

Nicely in time to meet my friend at our Purebread Bakery rendezvous.

 

 

 

Vancouver + Toronto = Victoria

7 May 2018 – So here I am, Vancouverite me, at the ferry terminal, about to make the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay crossing that will eventually take me to Victoria. Where I’ll spend a few days with a Toronto friend, who is doing a spot of house- and cat-sitting while there on vacation.

Smooth, easy crossing. I contemplate islands, mountain ranges, all that magic B.C. coastline stuff. Also the ferry’s wake, endlessly spilling out in its endlessly same-but-always-slightly-different patterns. Chaos theory made visible.

That thought would never have occurred, but for yesterday evening’s  BBC documentary, host theoretical physicist Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, on quantum physics, chaos theory and the natural world.

So, at least temporarily, I “read” the wake with a more appreciative eye.

Nothing temporary about my appreciation for cats! The house cat is a charmer, and — when not asleep in his basket — amazingly lithe for an 18-year-old.

Much to appreciate outdoors as well. We are in Vic West, just across the Upper Harbour from the heart of downtown.

Downtown can wait; today we stay on our side, walking on up the Galloping Goose Trail along the Gorge Waterway. Total delight.

Joggers, runners, speedy cyclists (in their speedy-cyclist lane), mums & tots, oldies with canes — and, of course, a happy young guy snoozing under a tree. While racing boats power on by.

We’re down around the Railyards Development, the reinvention of old railway/industrial land with parks, condos, and shops. Simple materials & lines for the buildings, punched up with colour.

Next day, downtown & beyond: our target is a pair of public gardens. One, the grounds around Government House, unknown to me but highly recommended; the other, the Abkhazi Garden, a remembered enchantment.

But first, into downtown via the Johnson St. bridge — the new one, that is, open barely a month and the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada. (One of the largest in the world, come to that, at just under 46 metres.)

I’m not thinking about that. I don’t even know that, not yet. I’m just enjoying its sleek, white curving lines, and their contrast with the blocky heft of the old bridge, now being dismantled.

We walk waterside along Wharf St. for a bit, dancing around sidewalk reconstruction. Reconstruction with a commemorative purpose, I see, when I focus for a moment on the bricks in the nearest wheelbarrow.

I don’t know the story. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are being honoured. But I do like the thought of Poppy Franc Rekrut, “Honourable Gentleman,” and of George & John Haggis, “Father Son Sailor.”

We grant ourselves a genteel pause in Murchie’s Tea & Coffee on Government St., where my attention is soon focused on the decidedly ungenteel back alley I glimpse through the window, with its splashy mural.

My friend grins. She knows exactly what will happen after our coffee break. Yes. I tear down the alley, to see that mural close up.

 

I walk to the end, and discover a less-elegant offering down at the  T-junction. No artistic images here, just the power of the alley-scape as a whole: tagging, wheelies, brick walls, bright orange door.

Right! Time for those public gardens.

It all turns into a 12-km hoof, and worth it, both for the gardens and for sights on quiet residential streets along the way.

This neatly clipped rose, for example, tucked carefully into someone’s front-yard fence.

Gates to Government House: suitably dignified, armorial and splendid for the home of the provincial Lieutenant Governor. Even the logistical announcements — hours, leash-your-dog — are dignified.

Another notice on the adjacent railing explains why it is a good idea to obey the rules, and keep Fido on leash.

See? Fido vs. Deer in Rut? We all know who’d win.

The grounds are wonderful, we linger, we enjoy, we blink for a while on a bench, and then we walk on (with occasional guidance from passing pedestrians), making our way to the Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Rd.

“The Garden that Love Built,” says a brochure, and for once PR is an understatement.

Exiled Georgian prince crosses paths with young woman in 1920s Paris; they are both interned during World War II (he in Germany, she in Shanghai); post-war she makes her way to Canada and buys a wooded, rocky chunk of land in Victoria. Each thinks the other dead; they find each other again; Prince Nicholas Abkhazi marries Peggy Pemberton-Carter; they spend the rest of their lives developing this garden, its legacy now protected by The Land Conservancy (and many other supporters).

The couple planned their garden from this tiny Summer House at the back of the property, here peek-a-boo through trees toward right rear; only later did they build a modest bungalow home (now the tea room).

We leave only when staff is, literally, closing the gates.

Next day I’m in reverse gear, on a bus to Swartz Bay, starting the trip back home. One last unexpected visual treat, as we wind through the town of Sidney enroute the ferry terminal. Me staring out the window, at nothing in particular …

Crows! Images-of. Look! Dormer windows, this cottage-y little home.

My kinda people.

 

 

Geometry at Work & Play

23 April 2018 – I know it’s a stretch to think of bridges as geometry-made-visible; any mathematician (or architect) would blench at the thought. But still. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines geometry as “the study of space and the relationships between points, lines, curves and surfaces.”

Doesn’t a bridge quite wonderfully show us all of that?

So I hoof onto the north end of the Burrard Bridge, ready to be delighted by all those points, lines, curves and surfaces, and by the relationships that weave them together in space.

Oh, honestly … just look at this gateway. Towers and boat prows and heroic stern-faced gentlemen and a gallery running between, with windows that serve no purpose. And all so stylishly, so happily, Art Deco.

We enjoy it now, but imagine what a tonic it must have been to the Depression-weary crowd that watched the opening ceremony on 1 July 1932.

I’m amused to discover later that these gateways — one each end of the bridge — were created for a workaday purpose. They were not structurally necessary. The architect decided to build them in order to mask the network of steel that lies between them.

Geometry looking playful, but hard at work.

Never mind. Don’t care. I’m charmed by the gateway and the arches — but also by the way they bracket that network of steel in between. This is a steel truss bridge, after all.

Step through, and here’s an invitation for pedestrians to stop walking and take a moment for play — a whole line-up of black benches, tucked into place between the trusses.

Sit down, look up — geometry at work. Wouldn’t the Cambridge dictionary be proud? Line/space relationships galore.

Now look forward, through the railing.

More invitation to play: the curve of the seawall on the north shore of False Creek. It rolls away from the Aquatic Centre Dock close to the bridge, past Sunset Beach, past English Bay Beach, on to Stanley Park.

Enough lolly-gagging! I have to get up. I have places to go, things to do.

Off the south end of the bridge, around & down & eastward along the seawall on the south side of False Creek. I pause, look back at the bridge.

From this angle, doesn’t look soaring at all, does it? No, it looks impaled on all those bristling masts in the marinas below.

But those gateways still stand out, still tell the world: “Burrard Bridge.”

I walk on, properly intent on my things-to-do.

Then, as I pass the public fish market, I am diverted  by Go Fish, a tiny takeaway booth with a big view over the Creek and a bearably small line-up. (And the day is sunny & mild! And I’ve walked a lot and deserve a rest! And I want, I really really want, their salmon & chips!)

So I place my order, snaffle the last Creek-facing perch on the little patio, and have myself a blissful half-hour.

 

 

Negative

11 April 2018 – As in, space.  Negative space. Defined by the edges of the positive-space objects you are actively looking at.

I really don’t spend time in an artistic swoon, thinking I must go out and pay attention to negative space. But, sometimes, it is just right there in front of me, and I notice it.

For example, while waiting for the doors of Christ Church Cathedral to open for an Early Music Vancouver performance.

My eyes slide upward, between the cathedral wall on my right and bank & hotel towers on my left …

and are funnelled into this jagged slice of sky.

Rather the shape of False Creek, I think frivolously to myself, spun 90 degrees clockwise. Except for that pointy bit at the bottom.

Then they open the doors, and I leave frivolous thoughts — and negative space — outside. Inside, there is Bach & Hayden.

A few days later, over at Commercial Drive and East Broadway on a very different outing indeed, I look upward between two Sky Train tracks.

Smooth-curving tracks carve smoothly curved negative space.

That same evening, back in the east end but this time farther downtown, I’m leaving the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts after a DanceHouse sponsored talk about tap dance and jazz.

It is the “blue hour” of early dusk, and the negative space of sky is richly, warmly dramatic.

All the more so for the “W” revolving at its heart — the recreation of the iconic Woodward’s “W” that for so long marked the department store and now stands guard over the redevelopment of that site.

I walk back through Gastown to my bus stop. Lights twinkle and buildings straight to my eye curve magically inward in my camera’s eye …

tenderly embracing one final offering of negative space.

I get on my bus, and go home.

Snagged

7 April 2018 – No thematic unity to these images, except that they are all part of the Vancouver cityscape, and they have all recently snagged my eye.

Sometimes from amusement, as here at an entrance to Mountain View Cemetery — not a location one traditionally associates with amusement.

Got that? Rover-on-a-leash, yes. Rover-no-leash has to stay home with your pet elephant and pet camel.

(Amusement mixed with admiration, I should add. What a gentle way to remind people how to behave.)

More amusement and admiration across the street from the cemetery. A very handsome, beautifully maintained yellow home — that’s the admiration part.

Amusement comes with the family’s Little Free Library box, there in the foreground, built and painted to copy the home.

Even more amusement when we come close. Lovely details on all sides, including two tiny figures on the balcony.

Speaking of homes … Here’s one to snag the eye!

We’re bundled up for a fitful grey day, but all this blue & orange blazes through.

The house is special for more than its colour scheme.

It is a surviving, and prettied-up, example of the Vancouver Special — the city’s one indigenous house form, says the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Built 1965-85, sometimes described as a “two-storey rancher turned at right angles to the street,” the Vancouver Special was a response to setback by-laws and the need for economic housing. Almost all the Specials quickly became multi-generational housing, reconfigured for a ground-level suite. Today, each survivor is a history lesson, reflecting both that civic moment in time, and its own succession of owners.

So my delight has a whole vernacular-architecture streak to it.

Another Vancouver “special” – i.e., something else that is Very Vancouver.

Bicycles.

Clusters of bicycles, whole art-installations of bicycles.

I’m passing the Tandem Bike Café (which fixes bikes and feeds people), with its distinctive, of-course, form of advertising out there at the street corner.

It’s what’s behind that snags my eye, makes me pause on yet another misty day.

First I see that red trike, touched to see it carefully fastened to the bicycle stand. Then I notice the very-Vancouver adaptations of those other bicycles, each with a front carrier, each prepared for rain. (Also the burgeoning Grape Hyacinth, thriving in the showers.)

Rain City!

As I type this, my chimes sing in the breeze, and we have just had the season’s first flash of lightning, first clap of thunder.

 

 

16,901 Steps

2 April 2018 – 16,901 footsteps or 11.3 km, says my pedometer app, and I won’t argue. Though I could, instead, just call it a fairly long walk on a bright blustery day …

Either way, the outing gives me happy hours tracing a rough rectangle through a downtown-ish subsection of Vancouver.

I have a destination in mind, which sets my general direction. It is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first such scholars garden to be built outside China, meticulously accurate and created with the help of 53 master craftsmen from China, 950 crates of traditional materials and strictly 14th-c. building methods.

And so down the hill I go to False Creek, and follow its southern shore east to its stubby end by Main Street. Mostly I’m striding along, enjoying sun, fresh air, choppy water, bird song, spring blossoms — and all the other people enjoying all the same things.

But I do pause, right there where the creek proves itself a false creek, to watch a chalk artist create a great big labyrinth on the pavement.

And then I’m around the curve, doubling back to the west, now on the north side of the water. I’m watching for the exit to Carrall Street, which is unfamiliar territory for me. My preoccupation makes this cluster of inukshuk on the rocky shoreline particularly appropriate, given their traditional way-finding role.

The inukshuk (plus a large sign with a large arrow) do their job. I right-turn away from the Seawall and walk north up Carrall Street, heading into Chinatown.

Bold stripes splashed by sunshine onto an apartment building opposite the Classical Chinese Garden.

Equally powerful design inside the Garden, here created not by nature, but by careful human attention to every detail.

I linger.

And then I leave, walking north still, heading toward Burrard Inlet, out of Chinatown and into Gastown. It’s an entertainment district, a tourist district, and a magnet, this holiday weekend, for Vancouverites as well.

Laugher and music and clinking glasses on outdoor patios. But if you look sideways to the edges, to the margins, not everything is pretty-pretty.

Another alley-edge a few blocks over, and the most fully-executed street art RIP that I have ever seen.

I keep moving, now west to Cambie, where I turn south and start homeward. The streetscape evolves again. Here in the pavement at the intersection with Robson, it issues a call to bibliophiles.

The open book is a visual cross-reference to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, just a block away.

But you don’t have to go even that far! Crouch down, and read the terra-cotta inserts …

On south, now approaching the Cambie Bridge over False Creek.

I go right by the new Parq Vancouver entertainment complex — all very whizzy it is, with its hotels, spa, casino, and bunches of restaurants. Yawn, don’t care. I’m more taken with the rich colour and lines of its outer skin; the flags right-angle from their staffs in the brisk breeze; and the construction cranes reflected on the façade, just below that oval inset balcony.

Bridge ramps converge overhead.

I climb.

And I cross the bridge, looking east toward Main Street, remembering the chalk artist and his labyrinth, hours and hours ago.

The final climb, hoof-hoof-hoof, and I’m home.

I check my pedometer app, and learn how to translate this particular day’s adventure into a set of numbers.

But really, the point is the adventure, not the numbers.

(Even if they did give me a post title.)

Good-bye, TDOT

14 March 2018 – The visit ends as it began. With a great visual punch of art.

But, this time, not street art!

Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, not all of Toronto’s art is on the street. Some of it is on walls — interior walls, you understand,  and sometimes visible only by paid admission. Really.

I spend my last day in Toronto — indeed, I am en route the airport — at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The architecture and exhibitions come second to the power of memory and the joy of seeing old friends and former colleagues.

Mind you, as “second” goes, it’s first-rate.

I visit the Burning Forest …

La Forêt ardente, Jean Paul Riopelle, part of the Mitchell/Riopelle exhibition …

wander through the Narcissus Garden

one installation in Yayoi Kusama’s multi-floor exhibition …

and drink my latte under a bright winter sky in the AGO’s Galleria Italia café.

 

All that skyscape is curated into multiple images by the lines and curves of Frank Gehry‘s architectural magic, a fitting tribute by this native son to his home town — indeed, his home neighbourhood.

Over the years, one weekly shift after another, I nursed my coffee-break lattes under these soaring arcs, exposed to the weather visually but protected from it physically, and so free to enjoy its every mood.

One more latte, this time as a visitor. The perfect end to the perfect final day of my visit.

And I’m off to the airport, and home.

 

“This Is Toronto”

9 March 2018 – I borrow the title and, in a bit, will show you the source.

What a good time I am having, in this visit to my old home town! Above all, for beloved friends. But also for the sheer pleasure of once again prowling the city’s alleys & streetscapes.

Enjoyment comes naturally. I don’t need this command to STOP and enjoy.

I enjoy …

Mural cat, with balloons …

and porch cat, with Jesus and a pair of cardinals …

and a pair of dogs …

a pair of caterpillars …

and a whole birdo animal fantasia.

I enjoy the long-view impact of one exuberant garage …

and the up-close impact of a love letter to Pete …

and a tribute to Baxter.

There is life guidance on offer.

Lower-right, tucked into this alley-corner mural, for example:

Here I must stop shooting photos at you and add a few more words.

The quote is beautifully lettered, and attributed to Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. I carefully say “attributed,” because I cannot find it online. Which doesn’t disprove the attribution and, either way, I am charmed. Charmed to see the loving reference to Lawren Harris on a downtown alley corner.

Also charmed by the quote itself, which includes the lines: “It is blasphemy / to be merely moral … / to succumb to second-hand living”

Let us never succumb to second-hand living.

Less elegant, just as urgent, the guidance offered in the upper-right corner of this cinder block wall, over there in black, above the black grill and the black car.

I see a doorway tribute by someone who follows that advice, who explicitly promises never to give up on love …

and an implicit, and unexpected, message of respect.

Yes! Respect. The mural covers the wall and touches upon the parking sign, but — deliberately and carefully — does not obliterate it.

I usually curl my lip at stencil work. I make an exception for this statement, and I am delighted to run into it twice, in two days.

Later, I stand mesmerized on a street-corner, dancing my eyes around this big, bright, multi-coloured, multi-imaged proclamation of joy.

Can you read the inscription? Small letters, above the artwork, just to the left of the wooden hydro pole.

It says: “This is Toronto.”

And so it is.

Honorary Tuesday (Still)

7 March 2018 – Oh, the magic of the Present Historical Tense. Or, the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Or whatever you want to call the fact that we are happily pretending we are still in the middle of the walk I began describing in my previous post.

So. We have lunch. Then — once again as so often before — we begin a zigzaggy sort of walk north/west-ish, heading toward our respective homes.

We hit Dundas St. East. And the intersection of Craven Road.

Yes! We must revisit Craven Road!  The question that sends our legs north: Is any art still left on the Longest Wooden Fence in Toronto?

Yes.

I blogged about Craven Rd. while living in Toronto — most recently in March 2015 — celebrating its superlatively tiny homes & its superlatively long wooden fence in the stretch between Dundas & Gerrard.

Very short & inadequate fence explanation (see that March 2015 post for more): in 1910 or so, the City hived off the back portion of a north-south road; threw up a wooden fence along one side; and hey-presto, the humble little houses that once crouched in the back yards of that other street now had a street of their very own. Craven Road.

The fence is still there. So is the line-up of homes opposite.

When we first began visiting the street in 2013, a great long stretch of the fence was covered in wonderful art work, much of it by Toronto artist Christine Kowal. The pieces were already showing signs of wear, and  grew more and more tattered with the snow and rain of each passing year.

Which made me love them more and more, for their resilience. (I know. Hopelessly anthropomorphic.)

Now, in 2018, we pounce on survivors with delight. Look! there’s that black & white cat …

and that ginger cat …

and those very silly sheep.

We’ve come to the end of the old survivors.

And that’s when we see there is new artwork on the fence. Very different style & mix, but in the same spirit. The Craven Road Art Fence lives on.

We see this perhaps explanatory plaque, tucked just below a leaping golden fish.

I’d missed that, in the hurly-burly of my own 2016 … How wonderful to catch up with it now.

The closer you get, the more detail there is to enjoy.

For example, not just a teapot next to a child’s story book. Not just a child’s story book with a drawing of a pussy-cat. Not just the drawing of a pussy-cat with a cut-out where the head should be … but …

all that, plus a stuffed mouse head, to complete the cat.

Well, of course.

And look, there’s one of those plastic humanoid knife-rests. Devoid of knives, but equipped with footwear.

Also equipped with a guiding philosophy: “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

Respectful nod at the philosophy; big laugh when we turn to look again at the homes opposite. Many are still the modest ones of early days, but some — like this one — are in full gentrified splendour.

Endearing thing is, this home (unlike some of its nouveaux neighbours) joins in the larky art-spirit of the street, with its very own blackboard.

Spring? I don’t think so, my friend.

Just a couple of degrees above freezing that day and, as I write this in real-today time, still just a couple of degrees with the promise of more snow.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver …  No. Let’s not think about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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