Artspeak

8 May 2022 – “Artspeak” is the term that I (and some equally snippy friends) use to disparage gallery signage we consider unduly precious about the art they are describing.

This Japanese camellia blossom, recently dropped into this bronze hand, made me think about that term another way ’round.

Restore ‘speak’ to verb form, I say to myself: the power of art to communicate with the viewer.

More specifically, the power of some public art pieces to speak so powerfully to passers-by — everyday, you-and-me passers-by — that they become part of their community, adopted by that community, beloved.

My mind jumps a few kilometres east to my own neighbourhood park, officially Guelph Park, unofficially and pervasively Dude Chilling Park. Because of this bronze statue by Michael Dennis…

officially Reclining Figure, but unofficially The Dude who — just look at him — is chilling. We chill with him. We hang with him from our favourite park bench…

and we cuddle up to him with our picnic lunches.

The fact I enjoy seeing this kind of familiarity is… extraordinary. I respect art work! It is art, dammit, so admire with your eyes and keep your hands (and other bodily bits) safely out of range! And yet…

With the onset of the pandemic, The Dude became not only beloved, but comforting. The park was a safe place to visit, everybody carefully distanced, and, for the first time, I saw people sit on the plinth, creep into the Dude’s embrace. He is now regularly visited this way. He has never been vandalized.

Very similar story for another bronze sculpture, this one by Henry Moore: Large Two Forms, which for a very long time sat by the sidewalk at the north-east corner of the Art Gallery of Ontario, owner of the sculpture (and much more by Moore as well). Not fenced off, fully accessible, right there by a street car stop. Torontonians have a history of loving works by Henry Moore — this one more physically than the rest. Of course it featured in endless selfies! And of course people sat in its convenient curves, or boosted their children to slide through those curves, while waiting for a street car!

I took this photo in 2015, when the statue had already become seriously weathered — except for that bright patch in the middle, constantly burnished by hands and backsides.

More recently, the AGO has had the statue restored and moved into the equally refurbished (and public) Grange Park to the south of the art gallery. A recent AGO communiqué shows it sparkling bright — but, apparently, still accessible to loving hands.

Back to that camellia, dropped into a local bronze hand, right here at Main and East 24th.

The blossom caught my eye, as I walked past. How could it not?

A child offering a flower to a fire fighter… I read the plaque, later go online. This statue honours the BC Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund, a charitable organization that does exactly what the name suggests — offers help to burn victims. My guess is that the flower is a very personal tribute, to one instance of that help and the difference it has made in someone’s life.

Statues and floral tributes. My mind jumps years and continents to land in Havana, Cuba, in 2009. I’m revisiting Habana Vieja to write a story for Outpost about the places that my habanero friends love best in their city. One example: the Plaza de San Francisco in general, and this bronze statue in particular.

This is sculptor José Villa’s representation of a much loved local street person, nicknamed El Caballero de París for his insistence (unlikely) that he came of aristocratic French origins. One friend remembered him, still a familiar figure in her childhood: “He was a love! He refused to go into an institution, so everybody fed him and looked after him.” She then sang for me a local ballad, composed in his honour, about the way he greeted his community: “… con una flor tan linda para tí / y un saludo para mí.”

The pretty flowers are now being offered to him, not by him, and on a regular basis. I just happen to pass by when the offering is an Ostrich Plume (aka Red Ginger, or Alpinia purpurata, and thank you to my generous Master Gardener friend, who identified it for me).

I remember lingering across the street, watching the community greet their Caballero. Again and again, passers-by of all ages slowed for a moment, trailed their fingers across his hand or stroked his beard.

Or even…

threw their toddler arms around his legs.

Art that speaks.

Warmth Makes Happy

23 April 2022 — Not that much warmer, just an upward nudge from mid-single digits to low double, yet suddenly emotional muscles unclench along with the physical, and people are smiling at each other. Not to be outdone, happy sights are smiling up at us as well.

In the Camosun Bog, for example.

I enjoy all the usual delights. The boardwalk, embracing the rescued & stabilized remnant of ancient bog, made safe from the encircling forest …

the bog ground covers and undulating carpets of moss …

and the shallow lake at the heart of it all, home to the double headed serpent — sʔi:ɬqəy̓ — of Musqueam lore.

I don’t see the serpent here today, but I remember him as he was once presented to us in a Museum of Vancouver exhibition that can still be enjoyed online.

And then, just as I turn to leave, something so unusual I don’t at first believe it is there.

But my eye is snagged, and I stop, I turn, I look up through branches into the fork of a tree. Just here, here at the edge.

And I see it.

A thunderbird, perhaps? Somebody has carved this beautiful spirit, and brought him here, to guard his ancestral land.

Later, in Sahalli Park.

A small local park, with standard grass/benches/kiddy swings. Even so, magic in its own quiet way. Once we watched a coyote walk politely by, going peacefully about his own animal business, leaving startled but equally polite humans in his wake. And once, when I admired a passing woman’s armload of fresh-picked flowers, she promptly thrust them into my arms instead: “Take them! I’ve just been clearing them out of my plot!”

Her plot is one of many in the adjacent Sahalli Community Garden. Today, a languid Girl Gardener oversees spring clean-up …

and a fresh line-up of Rainbow Birdhouses is on offer for artistic (but very small) birds.

Across the street a retro Pink Caddy flaunts its fins (and fuzzy dice in the front window) …

and a bold new Magic Toadstool has jumped up in the “sit back – relax – unwind” nook next to the Community Garden.

I am tempted! But I am also hungry. So I head home instead.

“All the Possibilities…”

17 April 2022 – Wisdom courtesy of Eeyore, who was always my favourite in the Hundred Acre Woods cast of characters (and as drawn by E.H. Shepard, thank you, none of that Disney nonsense). Not that Eeyore was even remotely in my mind, on either of the Friday-Saturday walks I’m about to show you.

But later, looking at photos with their various camera angles, two references came to mind. One was that corporate stand-by, the 360 Review: assess from every angle, not just a chosen few. The other reference, which amounts to pretty well the same thing, is the advice Eeyore gave a flustered Piglet and eaves-dropping Christopher Robin, back in 1928:

“Think of all the possibilities, Piglet, before you settle down to enjoy yourselves” (The House at Pooh Corner, chapter 6, by A.A. Milne).

I love it, I’m glad I remembered it. Because … that’s what we’re all doing, isn’t it? There it is, in your posts and mine: we bounce around, full of curiosity, we notice all those 360-possibilities, and we enjoy ourselves.

On Friday, heading north-west down an alley, my enjoyment is distinctly vertical. I’m captivated yet again by a line of H-frame hydro poles.

I look up …

and up …

and finally away, as my eyes track those wires off into the sky.

Saturday has me walking north again, but this time veering east not west, down to Great Northern Way by the Emily Carr (University of Art + Design) campus.

Where I look down, not up.

Construction for the Broadway Subway is all around my neighbourhood. This mammoth hole in the ground, nicely framed for sidewalk-superintendent convenience, will eventually become the Great Northern-Emily Carr station on the new line.

From eyes down to eyes up, as I pass Emily Carr. Skateboarders are clacking away on an unseen obstacle course to my left, while Kandis Williams’ Triadic Ballet silently unfolds on the wall screen to the right of a building entrance.

Just east of the university, in front of the Digital Media Centre, I literally do a 360 review. First, I am in front of this striking red heart. Striking, but awkward in its placement.

Then I circle around, and read Ron Simmer’s explanation.

I think it’s wonderful, and I no longer care about the ungainly placement. It’s all part of the vulnerable charm of this survivor (and the dotty determination of the man who rescued it).

On east along Great Northern Way, and then eyes all over the place as I head north on Clark Drive.

Below to my left, protective arched screening over the Millennium Line tracks, beyond that railway tracks with all those colour-block shipping containers rolling past; straight ahead, only slightly upwards, the Expo Line as it crosses Clark; and ‘way beyond that, very up indeed, those Coast Range mountains.

Plus — back to right here in front of me — an old-fashioned street lamp. Charming, and still part of the mix.

Nothing charming about the next bridge I cross, which I meet after exploring northward-then-eastward and finally back south again on Commercial Drive. The best you can say for it is, it’s functional.

Until you read both plaques. (“Explore all the possibilities…” Thank you, Eeyore. Got it.)

Plaque on the left announces the civic factoids of this Commercial Drive Bridge. Plaque on the right is a whole other, human story.

One last spin-around when I’m back in my own neighbourhood, as I cut through Guelph (aka Dude Chilling) Park.

To the north, the cherry trees that line East 7th Avenue (Kanzan cultivar, the Blossom Map tells me) …

while to the east, there are members at work in the Brewery Creek Community Garden, children playing on the swings, and over toward the south, a group of seniors just hanging out.

Meanwhile, on his plinth by the southern park edge, the eponymous Dude is also hanging out. Just chilling, right along with the rest of us.

I look back over my shoulder, catch this fresh new baby Kanzan blossom emerging from a mossy old tree trunk …

and walk on home.

Mood Swings

30 March 2022 – Not my mood, you understand.

No, wait, come to think of it, indeed my mood — but only in response to the mood of my walk. Which just keeps bouncing around.

From gritty-graphic …

to a juxtapositional joke …

from nature’s beauty, among the trees …

to a child’s eager spirit, upon the sidewalk.

And then, after adding some books to the East 10th community book exchange, I check the display on the adjacent tree, which always sets a seasonal theme, supplies art materials, and asks for comments.

The mood dictated by this current theme is helpfulness: suggest an activity or an attitude that will help you, your community, the world. Write your helpful idea on one of the hand outlines provided, and peg it up for all to see.

There are lots of suggestions. Some, like this one, point to an activity …

others recommend an attitude.

And yet another sets my own mandate for the walk back home.

I’d been striding along — Walking Warrior, that’s me! — now I slow right down. I turn my attention from my surroundings to my own physical self: my alignment, my pace, my footfall.

And … I … just … breathe.

Sun + Double Digits

12 February 2022 – It hits 11C this sunny Saturday — double digits, and it’s only mid-February! I break out my summer Tilley (hat), leave my coat behind, and head for False Creek. I am giddy with the promise of spring.

I’m not the only one. “Giddy” pretty well defines the mood all around me for my entire walk.

There are preening Canada geese and munching human youth by this condo water feature just east of the Creek …

and humans of every age lolling, their bodies at ease with the temperature, as they watch balls carom off whirlygigs and springs go spronnnnggggg in this Rube Goldberg sculpture outside Science World. (I am particularly taken with the eclectic style of the little girl on the scooter: lavender princess-ballerina net skirt and a bumblebee helmet.)

The playground next to Science World, with its child-friendly crushed rubber surface, is alive with leaping, squealing youngsters.

An Aquabus sets out to zigzag its way, dock by dock, west to Granville Island …

and four guys keep four basketballs busy on the court under the north-side access ramps to the Cambie Bridge.

I walk on a bit farther, past the western end of Coopers Park where I again note how much “higher-rise” and marina-dense the north side of the Creek is, compared to the south …

then turn back east. Thanks to low tide, Jerry Pethick’s Time Top sculpture is fully visible.

Four shells and one gull: the humans paddle like crazy, but the gull is still in the lead.

Down in its final curve, where False Creek is revealed to be no creek after all, a little girl adds just one more stone to the top of the stack that she has been so carefully constructing — with daddy so patiently standing by as she tests her skills. In the distance, a more exuberant family tableau: everybody is throwing stones into the water, not balancing them.

Two riders are about to pass the electronic eye on the cycle path as it dips behind Science World. When I arrived earlier, a read-out told me that 2790 cyclists used the path yesterday (midnight to midnight), and the current count for today was 800 and change. Now, a few hours later, it has already topped 1700.

Assorted buskers vie for attention. My favourites are these ukulele players, who take turns playing and being part of the audience. A moment ago, the man (right) in the black vest and watch cap was strumming away; now he is tapping his foot and smiling encouragement.

And I head home, also smiling and feeling encouraged. Time to pull out more spring clothing! (Oh, all right, still too soon. But wow, it’s coming.)

Sun, Fog, Fog, Fog

25 January 2022 – Bouncing sunbeams Saturday morning, as we bounce off to Blackie Spit Park. It is at the tip of Crescent Beach, a sandspit that extends into Mud Bay, itself an extension of Boundary Bay in South Surrey.

Hardly a muddy bay today! Everything sparkles, from the water right before us to the snowy North Shore Mountains in the distance.

Sparkling water in the canal as well, with (I think) American Wigeon ducks paddling their way toward that red cabin beside the controls that regulate water levels.

That was Saturday.

Sunday morning, and, yes, the forecast was right. Dense fog hovers over the Lower Mainland and is expected to last for several days, with periods of “near zero” visibility.

Car headlights peer through the murk on Main Street; black crows, doing their westward morning commute, blend into the sky.

And one guy, presumably, says “Sod it!” and turns back east. Maybe home to his Burnaby roost, where he will tuck his head under his wing and sleep away the day?

I am made of sterner stuff. I’m off to Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley — much larger than Saturday’s park, with 29 km of sprawling trails looped through the valley and around Little Campbell River.

It’s a study in up-close clarity, and misty fog beyond.

The moss pops colour — was ever green so green? — but all is steely-grey just beyond those trees.

Like Blackie Spit (which is on the Pacific Flyway), this Campbell Valley park is a haven for birdlife. I know about Wood Ducks …

but I am introduced to west-coast varieties of species I only know in their eastern versions. The Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, for example, and the Spotted Towhee. Perhaps the Fox Sparrow as well, but my companion is as scrupulous as he is knowledgeable, and cautions he is not quite sure about that one.

Don’t care. Don’t need to know all the names. It’s all splendid, just as it is.

Ultimately we’re on the Shaggy Mane Trail, shared by humans and horses. Neither of us knows anything about horses, but they are well-behaved and their riders courteous, and we are perfectly happy to step aside and admire them as they clip-clop past.

Monday: foggy.

Late Tuesday morning: still foggy.

Even deep downtown.

Barge Brain

21 January 2022 – I did not expect to contract Barge Brain. I was setting out from the Olympic Village dock in False Creek with an English Bay walk in mind — one that, yes, would include walking past the barge, but nothing more emphatic than that. Just a polite nod to an improbable celebrity as I carried on toward points farther north-west and whatever delights they might offer.

So I jump on the ferry with a clear plan in mind.

A family jumps on as well. The parents, engaged and empathetic, encourage their toddler to face forward, clutch an imaginary wheel with his little hands, and steer the boat. He of course will have none of it, and looks every which way but forward.

Ah well. They get off at Granville Island; I transfer to another ferry for the onward trip that takes us under the Burrard Street bridge, out of False Creek into English Bay, and across to the Aquatic Centre dock on the north side of the Bay. From there, I’ll walk the seawall — past Sunset Beach, on up to Morton Park just shy of Stanley Park, beyond the top frame of this map.

Sunset Beach is home to the barge. The cap-B Barge. The Celebrity Barge. The barge nobody knew or cared about until violent winds on November 15th sent it crashing onto the rocks of Sunset Beach. Where it hung its ponderous length at a tipsy angle, for all the world like a drunk clutching his lamp post, and has continued to hang ever since.

I step onto the Aquatic Centre dock, look north-west — and there it is. That rusty-red rectangle on a point of rocky land.

I start walking toward it, already feeling more fascination than I had anticipated. Two discoveries, even at this distance.

One, the barge is damn big. Lordy, it is big.

And two, the barge is just across that narrow tongue of water from my favourite Vancouver Biennale sculpture of them all: Bernar Venet’s 217.5 Arc x 13 installation of 13 arcs of steel, each arc shaped to that number of degrees. So before approaching the barge, I veer onto the sand, to pay my respects to the sculpture. (And to take this so-obvious shot of them both. Sorry! It is very obvious, isn’t it?)

Now on past that little tongue of water, closer to the barge — and to heaped piles of other debris, also thrown ashore by the storms.

Now I’m close, and I just stand there and gawk. Seeing one of these things far off in the water gives you no sense of scale. Up close, it’s different. You measure it against a parked car, or passers-by — these women with their strollers, for example.

My brain is whirling. How big is it? Media love factoids, why has nobody told me how long this thing is, how tall? And come to that, what is it? They say “barge” — but surely there are categories of barge? Why haven’t they told us these things? Pick-pick, grumble-grumble.

Later I look online. I can’t find any local reference to length, but a recent New York Times article about our celebrity barge says it is “nearly 200 feet long.” (Nearly 60 metres.) And one local story does in passing identify it as a “chip” (wood-chip) barge — corroborated by a photographer, who in November sent a drone aloft to investigate, which indeed saw scant wood chip residue in an otherwise empty shell.

I prowl its length, staring over and up. Up and up.

From the near end …

looking toward the far end …

taking in all those shades & shapes, all that texture …

sliding off the far end …

with a final backward glance at the entire hulk.

I think what fun Vancouverites have had, coming up with punning names for this impromptu event: “Barge on the Beach,” an easy slide from the Bard on the Beach open-air theatrical offerings across the water in Vanier Park; also “Barge Chilling Beach,” an amused play on our Dude Chilling Park.

But it’s not all fun, and I think about that, too. Several tiers of government are trying to solve the problem of guarding & removing the barge (which poses real environmental risks) and the owner, Sentry Marine Towing, is not proving particularly visible or forth-coming. Indeed, when I try to visit Sentry’s website I end up staring at a Not Found/404 message instead. As a recent CTV report suggests, removal is complicated and civic authorities, fronting the process & the costs, may not see either action or repayment any time soon.

And then I stop thinking about all that, and tell my Barge Brain to give it a rest.

I move on. I turn my attention to nature.

A whole flotilla of Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks …

two small stones resting atop two large rocks, in modest tribute (the storms tumbled all those grandiose stacked stones and I find I am pleased) …

and even the first spears of spring daffodils.

Just off Morton Park, where I’ve often visited the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculptures, I discover a sundial, a 1967 Centennial project that has until now escaped my notice.

So I linger with it a moment …

and then turn back east to start the walk & ferry travel that will take me home.

I walk several docks past the Aquatic Centre before boarding a ferry, all the way back to the Aquabus dock in David Lam Park, and I am well pleased with my day when I finally step into a floating rainbow.

Sunshine & Seawalk

21 December 2021 – Second-shortest day of the year, but dazzling sunshine in compensation. Bad weather in the forecast. A good reason to stir my bones right now, and explore the Seawalk that skirts the north shore of Burrard Inlet between Dundarave Park and John Lawson Park, out in West Vancouver.

Girl-on-turtle in Dundarave, very beachfront, both of them sporting bright red caps, very seasonal.

Freighters wait at anchor out there for their scheduled time with Port Authority cranes; waves roll in to hiss at our feet here on the shoreline.

It’s a complex shoreline, tangled and rough. Someone has carefully placed five stones on this one log; frost glistens still in the morning light.

I am fascinated by the frost, lean closer, look more closely.

Then I walk out Dundarave Pier and look east down the Inlet, tracing my eyes along the Seawalk I am about to follow. I dance them a moment across Lion’s Gate Bridge there in the distance, over to Stanley Park.

Back in the park proper and about to leave the park, I’m snagged by this wonderful German Friendship Globe. It spins gently, as indeed the world should, cushioned on an underlying bed of water. I admire the beauty and the precision of the etching.

The equator, neatly bisecting the globe; Australia, buoyant beneath it.

And then… the world is turned on its ear.

An inquisitive little girl marches up, and gives the globe a mighty push. The equator plummets out of sight, and the Americas turn sideways.

I laugh out loud. This is terrific! We are reminded that map conventions are only that — conventions. Hurray for inquisitive little girls.

And with that happy thought, this inquisitive old girl sets off down the Seawalk.

I read signage as I go. All they’ve done is pave a well-established path.

A path with a long, and still continuing, history of jousting with the rail barons.

In places dramatic tree trunks ride the rocks …

elsewhere, there’s nothing but a delicate curl of vine.

I reach John Lawson Park, far end of the official Seawalk, and watch that little boy swinging hand-over-hand in the playground. He is also being watched by four seagulls — one of them real.

Another pier, and who can resist a pier? I walk out to the end, so much closer now to Lion’s Gate Bridge, but pay more attention to the ducks — Barrow’s Goldeneye, I think — than to the bridge. A whole flotilla of them, gliding along, perfectly happy in the chilly water, perfectly at home.

It’s still possible to hug the water, and I do for a while longer, on to Ambleside Park.

Where, finally, I cut back up to Marine Drive, to look for a bus.

Culture shock!

Ostensible (1 & 2)

12 December 2021 – It is not what I anticipated, as I set out for a misty walk to False Creek, but here I am in an alley just west of Main & north of East 4th, pondering the meaning of the word “ostensible.”

Don’t you love an erudite alley dumpster? Grubby, battered & odiferous it may be, but by the Lord Harry, it is determined to improve our minds and build our vocabularies. All the way to polysyllabic adjectives.

Nothing “ostensible” about this dumpster, per definition no. 1: it is exactly what it appears to be. And if definition no. 2 seems (to my mind) to better fit “ostentatious” than “ostensible,” never mind! It defines the scene here on the alley’s east side.

It is indeed “open to view.” Indeed, “conspicuous.”

From barbed wire and ominous signage …

to the jumble of piled-up rubbish, punctuated by dumpsters.

Behind the rubbish, Nick Gregson‘s peacock mural still rides high.

It’s a 2016 veteran, one of the collection painted (largely in this neighbourhood) in that very first year of the Vancouver Mural Festival.

And here it is again, reflected in a doorway of the new construction on the west side of the alley — construction that undoubtedly explains the pile of rubbish.

Murals used to line both sides of this alley. Not now! Old structures disappear, new builds arrive.

Ahh, but. I have no right to sound that doleful; it is misleading. We have a net gain of murals every year, and I like a lot of the new construction, fresh & clean-lined & none of it high-rise.

And there are still murals in the alley, including Chairman Ting‘s 2017 bunny-rabbits, just north of East 3rd.

Partnered with — I hope you noticed — one of my beloved H-frame hydro poles, doing its party trick: a 45-degree pivot to accommodate alley intersections.

So that’s it, I decide: enough photos, enough to think about, should anybody be inclined to do so; I shall now just walk on on down to False Creek, and have myself an eyes-only walk.

That resolution lasts all the way to the Village Dock, the last ferry dock right at Science World. Where the pedestrian pathway leads me past this garbage bin. With this contribution neatly piled on top.

I dissolve in giggles and pull out my camera. Two passing 20-Somethings pause, and raise quizzical eyebrows.

“Look!” I say. And point, and giggle some more.

They flash bright nervous smiles, and scoot on past me as fast as their alarmed little legs can carry them.

Light

2 November 2021 – Northern hemisphere, somewhat northern latitude in that hemisphere, and the late fall theme is darkness.

Shorter days. Darker days, too, with seasonal rain and low-hanging clouds.

And then… and then a couple of days of dazzling light. Sunshine and breeze and exploding colour and skies to infinity.

I’m up in the VanDusen Botanical Garden, on the edge of the Cypress Pond, and I am punch-drunk with it all.

Even the greens pulse with energy.

And, all around, those Bald Cypress doing what they do in fall — prove they are conifers, yes, but deciduous as well. Their needles blaze rust, and will soon be shed.

Up the zig-zag footbridge that floats pedestrians over one side of the Pond, and a view from the far end worthy of an impressionist painting. Perfectly anchored with that one dot of distant scarlet, a Sourwood Tree.

Now circling back down the other side of the Pond, promising myself a closer look at that Sourwood, but stopping half way. Stunned yet again at the buzz of colour and texture all around, the Pond and its little footbridge just visible, down below.

With an Alberta-blue sky overhead! (Ever since my Calgary days, I’ve called any intensely blue sky, “Alberta blue.”)

I’d never heard of the Sourwood Tree before. Not very big, and I bet most of the year entirely unremarkable. But, this short moment in fall… this is its moment. I sight through its leaves, a last look at the Pond in that tangle beyond.

And then it’s just a short woodland trail to Livingstone Lake.

Where everything glitters silver-white.

I circle the Lake, brush past shining plumes as I follow a path that will lead me back down to the Visitor Centre…

and, still be-dazzled, out to city streets.

  • 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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