Archive for the 'Uncategorizable' Category

Etc.

I’ve started mentally composing three different posts for this blog in the past few days (I’m pretty much constantly editing in my head by the way, no matter what else is going on around me, a sick compulsion that I blame for my insomnia, absentmindedness and at least one failed relationship), but have abandoned each post as they all deteriorated into frothing rants against a certain senatorial campaign and their lying and cheating and thieving and baffling desire to actually make the world a worse place while they chase personal gains and burden the rest of us with their pathetic Napoleon Complexes, all of which they’ll most certainly regret on their deathbeds and are probably causing various antecedents to spin in their graves as we speak, but I digress…

Instead, I’d like to publicly thank Maryn M., Lori B., Bryan M., and Skullateral Damage, who answered my pleas for donations of various items for my impending visit to Burma. Anyone that’s had the staggering free time to read even part of one of my Burma travelogues mentioned below will know that traveling there is at once a fascinating and moving experience. I’m very excited to go back and be a little better prepared this time.

With that, I’m afraid I’ll be mostly off the grid, at least on this blog, through the end of the holidays. I may be posting a bit over at KillingBatteries.com while I’m on the road, but it’ll be trivial at best. Between pacifying various vacation-related indulgences and the little (Thailand) to no (Burma) internet access I’m expecting to encounter, there’s really not going to be much opportunity for filing substantial reports from the road.

Please check back here after the holidays when I hope to return to my whimsical-as-usual posting schedule. Thanks for reading.

Uncategorizable | 15.11.2008 12:05 | Comments Off on Etc.

Minneapolis culture shock

Why do people always bemoan culture shock when they go abroad? If you don’t like culture shock, why ever leave your neighborhood? Isn’t experiencing the cornucopia of differences and peculiarities of a new place the main point? Hell, apart from topless beaches and wine, culture shock is the primary reason that I travel! If I don’t get culture shock I feel like I got ripped off and someone owes me a replacement trip (I’m talking about you Brussels). They should rename it ‘Culture You Asked For It’, because you did ask for it when you bought the plane ticket, dummy.

What truly sucks is reverse culture shock. When you finally get home and the stuff that’s been around you for a lifetime suddenly confuses or scares you shitless – that’s the part I hate. It’s embarrassing and far less likely to induce compassion from those around you. If you have to use a squat-toilet outhouse in the jungles of Malaysian Borneo with toilet paper ostensibly made out of fiberglass people are like “Oh. My. God. You poor thing!” But you get no sympathy when you faint after one look at the 76 different kinds of chips at Rainbow.

That’s only the beginning. I’ve had to fight to stay conscious and maintain urethra control while:

  •  Crossing Hiawatha Ave. at 46th street during rush hour.
  • Staring at a TV screen mounted two inches in front of my face at the urinal in the bathroom at Solera playing bright, strobe-y, fast-edit commercials – I abhor frivolous lawsuits, but the first time someone’s advertising campaign causes me to have a public seizure with my pants around my ankles, I’m gonna ruin the bastards.
  •  Struggling to consume an entire hamburger at Old Chicago with a shrunken Asian stomach capacity.
  •  Not staring at the shocking overabundance of morbidly obese people.
  •  Making a split-second decision on how much to tip a pizza delivery guy/taxi driver/bad server.
  • Watching drivers kindly waving pedestrians by so they can safely cross the street instead of flying into a rage over the minor inconvenience and leaning on the horn for 10 seconds.
  • Overhearing conversations and actually being able to understand them (and then wishing I hadn’t).
  • Being able make lunch plans without having to wonder if the restaurant will be closed due to day of the week, summer holidays, siesta or major soccer matches.
  • Driving a car for the first time in a year (to Pinedas Tacos) and having to get right on Hiawatha Ave, which felt like the highway battle scene in “The Matrix II” after five months in Southeast Asia.
  • Emailing someone at a government office and a) not having the email bounce with a ‘user has exceeded their disk quota’ error and b) receiving a reply.
  • Having the server leave the bill on the table after only two forkfuls of my meal, rather than having to sit for 30 minutes after the dishes have been cleared and beg for the bill so I can get on with my life.
  • Having to park my car in a carefully marked, designate spot (and pay for it!), rather than just abandoning it on the sidewalk like Buddha intended.

I’ve gotten significantly better at transitioning between home and abroad now that I actually live here, but it was a rough ride during the years that I was a homeless wanderer, only coming home once a year or so for 3-4 week visits. I still get a little light headed every time walk into a Super Target or go to the post office and find people actually working.

I often day dream about writing the Euro-version of the scene in “Pulp Fiction” where gangsters in Italy are discussing the little differences about America:

Gangster Number 1: “And they serve the Bolognese over spaghettini instead of spaghetti!”

Gangster Number 2: [pukes] “Ugh. You asshole! Why do you always tell me these things right after lunch?”

Uncategorizable | 6.08.2008 12:40 | 8 Comments

Local bloggers unite

Paraphrased message sent to a select few people this morning, before I realized that posting it here was more effective:

Hi,

I woke up this morning and decided that I wanted to meet other bloggers tomorrow and drink too much cider (that was gonna happen anyway), so I’m inviting you and others to Grumpy’s tomorrow (Friday, June 13th). They have free parking so you can drive into downtown without the usual anxiety. Plus they have tots.

Since I’m the newbie, please invite your friends or blogger counterparts or any red hot smokin’ babes that you know that have excellent health insurance and are open to marrying me in the next week, so I can get my achy hip MRIed for less than a squillion dollars.

I’m going to arrive at 6pm. I’ll be the one that looks like an exhausted David Beckham look-a-like in need of a haircut. Other Leif telltale signs include at least one open Strongbow in hand, several empties off to the side and a hint of sex personified.

Hope to see you guys there.

Leif

Uncategorizable | 12.06.2008 12:54 | 10 Comments

Sweet home Minneapolis

I’m so happy to be home that I get weepy if I dwell on it too much. Lately I only get weepy about two things: missing my new condo and the Celtics almost pissing away a 24 point lead Sunday night. I can even overlook the worse-than-usual jetlag, the increasingly unsettling hip/knee injury that has me limping like an amateur daredevil and the exact same ca-ca weather that was here when I left – except more humid.

I’ve done trips that were ten times longer and more taxing than my month in Romania, but for a variety of personal reasons this trip really knocked the wind out of me. Chiefly because I think buying the condo has transformed me into an insta-homebody. Having been effectively homeless for nearly five years must have accelerated the bonding process. Then, like young lovers dry humping on a park bench in Madrid and interrupted by someone’s grandmother, we were torn away from each other too soon. I think while I was away I missed my condo more than my family and friends.

I’ve made the most of my first week home. In the past five days I’ve eaten food from Maria’s Café, Tum Rup Thai, Café Levain, and single-handedly consumed half of a chocolate birthday cake from Wuollet Bakery.

I’ve slept in my ridiculously comfortable bed, albeit fitfully, waking repeatedly to wonder for several minutes why the hostel I was in was so quiet and roomy. I’ve stared out my 26th floor window at my suddenly very green city, anxiously awaiting the day when lithe young women start frequenting the sun deck 11 stories below, rather than the grunting, paunchy, middle-aged men that have monopolized it thus far. I’ve repeatedly ridden our reliable and clean public transport . I’ve run numerous errands during torrential downpours, never leaving the pricelessly controlled environment of our Skyway. Also, I’ve now enjoyed two games of the NBA finals in pulse-quickening High Definition on my 50 Absolutely Not Excessive Inches of Plasma TV Goodness (you get to capitalize it when the screen is that big).

And I must fawningly plug the person who is largely responsible for my instant transition into sustained repose after a month on the road. As the end of my time in Romania approached and various parts of my brain and body went into emergency shutdown, I realized that all I had to eat in my condo was frozen chicken breasts, a stick of butter and a half bottle of Wild Turkey 101. Since the thought of having to Light Rail directly to Rainbow after 23 hours of ass-spanking travel made me want to dive under a horse cart, I hesitantly secured the services of Alexis at Personal Touch Errands. I really like to do my own shopping, on account of my autism-like food requirements, which, if they are not precisely met, causes me to run around in tight circles, smacking myself in the head with my IKEA cutting board. After four agonizing drafts, I sent her an exhaustive final grocery/liquor store list, painstakingly designed so that I wouldn’t have to step foot outside my condo for two weeks if necessary (as it was, I only lasted 16 hours). She arrived just after I got home, having satisfied my grocery list to the letter, and minutes later I was enjoying pizza and Strongbow, like Buddha intended. With the possible exception of my Blackberry, it was the best money I’ve spent in my adult life.

Though obsessive writing duties must resume tomorrow, I’m looking forward to getting out to the Mill City Farmer’s Market this weekend, some light biking if my hip injury allows for it and more loitering in the Skyway, catching the eyes of the cute office workers as they accelerate past wondering if HCMC’s psyche ward security door failed again.

By the way, no big deal or anything, but today is my 38th birthday. As such, I’ve just taken a long, hard look at myself in the mirror and I’ve concluded that I look fantastic. The occasional mysterious hip injury notwithstanding, aging has treated me well. I plan to head to Bev’s Wine Bar tonight in a pseudo-fruity Euro-shirt to lubricate before Game 3 starts at 8pm, when I fully expect that, like me last month in Romania, Paul Pierce will play through his leg injury to further heroics, leading to imminent lucrative book deals.

Uncategorizable | 10.06.2008 13:16 | 8 Comments

Things that I will and will not miss while in Romania (the goodbye for now post)

I apologize to my seven regular readers for what I assume has been incapacitating distress over my silence lo these past nine days. I have been hard at work, coordinating/preparing/stressing out over my one month trip to Romania and Moldova to research and write the definitive guidebook works on these rapidly changing countries that I both love and hate so much. I think I can get all this stuff done in about two weeks. Unfortunately, I leave Wednesday.

In further TIWILMinneapolis blog neglect news, since I’ll have precious little time or material for this blog while I’m away, I’m afraid that I’ll mostly be reduced to cross-posting my Killing Batteries stuff here, which I hope you’ll find entertaining or at least sufficiently distracting. You’ll be happy to know that I suffer unremitting nervous breakdowns and exhaustion while on the road for Lonely Planet which, oddly, makes for decidedly hilarious blogging material.

There’s been plenty of Minneapolis-centric personal events/discoveries to write about recently, but little time or energy to make each item a standalone post, so since the remainder of my life is consumed with lists right now, I’ll simply offer you this bullet pointed breakdown of conversations/rants/raves:

• Et tu T-Mobile, et tu? It’s bad enough that you drop my calls every time I enter a building, dare to use my phone in a suburb of Oakland or spin around too fast, but now you’ve gone and reduced coverage around my building? Maybe its my imagination, but for the first three weeks, all calls made from inside my condo were fine and clear. The past few days, calls are dropping and call recipients are reporting that only about one syllable out of three gets through and I sound like I’m calling from inside the Chunnel. This is downtown Minneapolis, for Buddha’s sake. If you can’t provide decent coverage here, you’ve got problems.

• Awww yeah!! I’m dying to see the Mill City Farmer’s Market! Everybody’s talking about it and City Pages just name it Best Farmer’s Market in the Twin Cities! The anticipation is killing me! I’m gonna get onions, tomatoes, bananas, apples, garlic… What? It doesn’t open until May 10th? Three days after I leave the country for a month? Razzle, frazzle, grazzle, ^%$#%^%#@!!!

• I try to avoid being the 1,397,376th person to comment on a tired topic, but this cruel weather lately is just too much. I’m growing weary of this constant vengeful God business. If I believed in God. Which I don’t. So there.

• Ate lunch at Wilde Roast Café yesterday. Wonderful, wonderful sammiches. Free Wi-Fi, fireplace, puffy chairs. Good thing the kitchen people cook better than they read – the words “tuna melt” on my order were somehow interpreted as “chicken curry”. The correct sammich was quickly produced though. I’ll be going back frequently, however with Bralessa right across the road, I predict a lot of time standing around on the corner trying to decide which place to eat.

• After months of pretending that it was a dumb fad, I sacrificed an hour this week and got myself onto Twitter. I briefly had this fantasy of logging tweets from the road in Romania (e.g. “In Transylvania now – price for garlic flower necklaces are up.”), only to discover that my Blackberry is too dumb to load the Twitter web page. Et tu Blackberry? Et tu? Going to test two workarounds in the next few days, time permitting. Tweets will be mostly geared to the Killing Batteries crowd, since there’s literally tens times as many Battery Killers as there are Minneapolis Lovers at the moment. Again, I hope you’ll still find my off-topic missives worthwhile.

Finally, I don’t believe I have ever been happier with a dwelling in my entire life as I have been with my bitchin’ new condo. I leave you with a snap of the view from my living room. A friend and I sat and stared out the window at traffic, people, HCMC helicopters and flickering lights for like two hours on Tuesday night. Better than TV.

p1000804.jpg

Uncategorizable | 3.05.2008 12:50 | 3 Comments

Buying a condo: Almost as expensive and furnishing a condo

moving.jpgHello from Saipan! In case you were wondering, it’s pretty hot on this part of the planet. It also happens to be the hot season, so it’s extra hot. And humid. It’s the humidity that really gets you, ya know. That and the heat. Which is on the hot side, incidentally.

So, in summary it’s hot.

As I flit hither and thither, solemnly viewing WWII sites and noting the deals that can be had at the Prada duty free outlet, my mind is still very much back in Minneapolis. This is because I am closing on my bitchin’ new condo two days after I return from Micronesia and I spent the week prior to my departure racing around the city buying stuff to make it livable. This was not cheap. Let me set the scene:

Let’s pretend that you’ve just been dropped off on Earth after four and a half years on an alien planet. Just for fun, we’ll call this imaginary planet “Romania”. Now interstellar travel between Romania and Earth isn’t easy at the best of times. When you make the journey, you can only bring so much with you. Mostly just clothes and, if you’re feeling up to it, the Vlad Tepes Dracula coffee mug/ashtray set that some naïve, but good intentioned native gave you on a birthday.

So now you’re back on Earth. Firstly, welcome back! It’s pretty much the same as when you left except we let the economy go in the crapper while you were busy trying to sort out the metric system, but c’est la vie!

When you left four and a half years ago, you figured that you’d be gone a long time and since your parents frown on you storing your stuff in their garage, you pretty much sold everything you owned. You saved some random clothes that are no longer in style, a few books and DVDs and that’s pretty much it. Since you can’t sleep on old clothes or watch TV on a book, despite what grandma claims, you’ve got considerable shopping to do.

Having never had to start from zero like this before, you never could have imagined exactly how protracted and expensive this was gonna be. Even when you moved out at 18, you had your bedroom furniture and the apartment’s existing garage sale living room and dinning room sets that barely survived the last student residents.

So, it goes without saying that you need furniture: Bed, couch, dinning room table, chairs, desk, entertainment center, wardrobe (the bitchin’ condo has precious little storage space), coffee table, bedside table, couch-side table…

Then you need all the basics for the kitchen and bathroom: plates, knives, forks, glasses, pots, pans, cutting knives, spatulas, cutting board, pasta strainer, spice rack, towels, soap, mats, toilet paper, magnifying mirror for those hard-to-shave areas…

Then you need cleaning stuff: broom, vacuum, mop, bucket, garbage cans, garbage bags, toilet brush, microbial organic growth neutralizing spray-on compound…

And let’s not forget the all important home office and entertainment components: printer/scanner, PC speakers, optical mouse, shredder, absurdly large plasma TV, amp, speakers, DVD player, stripper pole…

What I’m getting at is that furnishing a condo from scratch – even one that is of modest bitchin’ size, as mine is – starts to add up. Staggeringly so. I spent about $6,000 in less than a week and that was even after getting a BeautyRest bed at 70% off and the geeks ringing up my stash at the electronics store forgetting to scan most of my home office stuff. And I still have to grit through the whole double-barreled shotgun blast to the ass-side where I keep my wallet with next week’s down payment and closing costs.

The smoking crater that used to be my savings account aside, my credit rating must be 1,000%, or whatever an idyllic credit rating is these days. Only a few months ago, I was reportedly flagged as having “no credit” – you are thusly punished for having the audacity to live abroad long-term – but after this series of purchases, I bet I could buy a private jet and an island off Dubai with only a phone call.

Anyone wanting to go in on an island off Dubai with me, email my corporate secretary. No freaks.

[Photo credit: cockanippledoo]

Uncategorizable | 28.03.2008 6:26 | 7 Comments

Germs, germs, germs!!!

barf.jpgI’ve been receiving email and telephone reports from outside my hermetically sealed Chamber of Super Awesome Journalism that there’s a strain of flu out there that’s immune to the flu shot and you filthy Twin Cities residents have been passing it around like an elite Frisbee football team.

Honestly, doesn’t anyone wash their hands anymore?

It’s times like this that I thank Buddha and his benevolence in allowing me to work at home where I have complete control over every single microbe in the joint and I no longer have to keep tabs on co-workers who exit the bathroom a dubious three seconds after flushing, then having to avoid them for the rest of the day, lest they touch me with their bacteria-infested extremities, forcing me to burn every stitch of clothing upon returning home that evening and taking a bleach shower out in the garage. God I miss the Federal Reserve Bank…

Meanwhile, since none of you can keep your various and copious diseases to yourselves, I have no choice but to remain sequestered here, writing tedious, but absurdly well-paid corporate content and having my meals delivered at precise intervals, three times a day through my one-way, air-tight, pass-through carousel, coated in a microbial organic growth neutralizing compound. Like Buddha intended.

Actually, this bloody cabin fever is killing me. The combination of staggering workload and prohibitively awful weather has kept me rooted to my desk chair for weeks like those creepy Second Life enthusiasts. The only time I get up during the day is when I take calls on my cell phone, requiring me to walk across the room, press my head against the window and stand in the Tranquility Tree yoga position, so that the call won’t drop because T-Mobile’s coverage in downtown Minneapolis is reprehensibly weak.

But the end of the tunnel is rapidly approaching. I left the building a record three times last week for various errands and business, during which time the sun and temps in the 30s zapped the little transistor in my brain that usually compels me to go outside a minimum of three times a day in the summer. Reactivating that part of my physiology couldn’t have been timed better, because I leave for a two week “familiarization tour” to Guam and Saipan on the 20th – via a one night layover in LA – where temps are in the 80s and 90s and despite the prevailing duty-free, budget Japanese vacation atmosphere, I’ll be enjoying pristine beaches and some of the finest SCUBA diving on that side of the planet.

Then there’s the developing side trip to a curious Micronesian island called Yap, where judging from the picture gallery on the Visit Yap web site, women still wander around the island topless as a matter of course (and presumably dance euphorically for prominent visiting journalists). I answered the email invitation reluctantly, approximately two seconds after receipt, solemnly accepting the duty of thoroughly and exhaustively researching the anthropological curiosity that is Yap for journalistic posterity. I am, if nothing else, a slave to my rarified art form.

[Photo credit: PayPaul]

Uncategorizable | 3.03.2008 10:25 | 3 Comments

Live blogging – Escape from Minneapolis via Blackberry

8:00 – Wake up. Remember that I’m going to San Francisco today. Get happy.

8:07 – Learn that criminal weather misinformation spread by Paul Doulas is going to screw me yet again. Ungodly weather forecast for Wed has arrived a day early. Sub-zero wind chill and snow expected before 2:35 take-off

8:22 – Coffee (1st cup). Give up trying to find true weather outlook between conflicting forecasts all over the net. Realize that combo of weather and Northwest on-time departure record virtually guarantees flight delay.

8:32 – Sign up for NW flight status email alert for my flight.

9:00 – Start packing.

9:57 – Finish both packing and 2nd cup of coffee. Eat apple. Figure out I can blog from my *@?#ing awesome Blackberry. Resolve to liveblog Minneapolis exit.

9:58 – Consider that liveblogging departure with weather and NW reliability factored together all but guarantees flight delay/cancellation debacle. Decide to go forward anyway – for the fans.

11:20 – Eat pre-flight omelet (ham, onion, tomato, mushroom, cheese, extra spicy).

12:00 – Agonize over which jacket to wear. It’s zero here, 55 in SF. Decide to layer long shirt, fleece and light jacket. Only alternative is parka that looks ridiculous, even in Mpls. Hood flaps so wide, strong gust gives me six inches of air.

12:15 – Leave. Walk four blocks to Government Center LRT station. Miss train by 30 seconds. Curse in four languages while waiting for next train.

12:23 – Get on train. See that EDGE service is dead. Can’t blog. T-Mobile coverage in downtown Mpls sucks so much ass. Curse more. Everyone but deaf old lady clears 10 foot circle around me.

12:50 – Arrive at airport. Having checked in online, step to auto baggage check desk. Wait one minute. Check bag in two minutes. Go to security.

12:53 – Step up to security line. No waiting. Stand in disbelief. Pinch self liberally. Am invited by guy behind me to move my ass. Get through security in under two minutes. Conclude that I haven’t gotten through U.S. security that fast since 1988.

1:04 – Arrive at gate. See that flight is delayed by 25 minutes. Listen to very familiar lie by NW agent that it’s Air Traffic Control’s (ATC) fault.

1:20 – Still using *@?#ing awesome Blackberry, confirm on two web sites that SFO is experiencing 15-25 minute delays. Blame gate agent anyway for form’s sake.

1:47 – NW announces that we are now delayed an hour. Still blaming ATC. Cue NW ass covering.

1:58 – Listen to loud business traveler call seven friends and associates to announce our late flight. Keeps telling people he’s in Detroit, not Mpls.

2:05 – Using laptop, try old WiFi hack to bypass stupid concourse pay net service and get free WiFi. Hack no longer works.

2:07 – Man with throat clearing tic and severe nasal congestion sits next to me. Begins bodily function cabaret.

2:15 – Try to find the motivation to work on high paying article. Fail. Continue online detective work using Blackberry to collect evidence that NW is lying to us. Start planning revolution.

2:34 – Write seven words for high paying article (893 words to go!). Reward self by switching to answering personal emails offline.

2:57 – Things are starting to happen that suggest that we might be getting on the plane soon. Too good to be true? Leaving one hour late on domestic flights these days is like leaving on time. Online evidence suggests that the NW agents are telling the truth about ground delays in SF. Start considering that multi-agency conspiracy may be in effect.

3:04 – Air marshal just escorted a shackled prisoner onto the plane. Yay? Now slow people are being invited to board. Usual hoard of idiots crowd the gate, impeding boarding.

3:10 – NW invites whole plane to board at once. Chaos ensues. I’m not moving from my chair. It’s 2 degrees on the jetway.

3:21 – In seat. Not convinced we’re actually leaving yet. Read in-flight mag. Note editor’s name for future email sleuthing and unsolicited pitching.

3:23 – Sitting next to Chinese mother/daughter team. No English. Both enthusiastically snapping gum. Why never a cute girl? Sat next to a cute girl once on a flight to Norway in 1990. Never since.

3:25 – We’re leaving! See you in a week suckers!

Postscript – Why am I such a dupe sometimes? Of course we didn’t leave. They rushed us onto the plane made us switch off all our blogging devices and then left us to marinate for another 30 minutes. I’m too trusting, when I’m not too bitter and jaded.

Uncategorizable | 29.01.2008 13:20 | 2 Comments

Dude, have you looked outside lately?

This is only breaking news for those of you just coming out of a coma (and if you’re one of those people, thanks for reading when you clearly have a lot on your plate), but I just wanted to state the obvious for historical record that it’s been cold as balls outside for the past few days.

Incidentally, why do people say “cold as balls”? That makes absolutely no sense. Have you people ever touched balls? Not cold, that’s for sure.

People seem to have two approaches for dealing with this kind of unholy cold: either stockpile supplies, barricade the doors, crank the heat and watch three consecutive seasons of ’24’ or stubbornly charge out into the freezing tundra like it’s not happening (defiantly wearing no hat for additional rebellion points) and go about business as usual. I fall into the former category.

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Uncategorizable | 20.01.2008 15:17 | 6 Comments

Hello from Santiago

Folks, I’m just a few hours away from wrapping up my four and five star trip through Chile. But am I sitting back and letting these final hours wind down unproductively? Perish the thought. I’m a professional. When I’m on the road, I work like a miserable dog right down to the final buzzer. That’s what makes an outstanding travel writer people.

As such I am writing to you now with only my left hand. My right hand is holding a generous pour of Carménère, a French wine grape thought to be lost forever until it was re-discovered in Chile in 1994. The rest of me, from the tits on down, is immersed in a Ritz Carlton Hotel signature wine bath. Don’t talk to me about dedication. I am Mr. Dedication. Where’s my goddamn Nobel Peace Prize?

I caved to the wine bath idea after repeated insistence by the hotel’s public relations manager. Strangely, I thought it was just a bit over the top after the one hour relaxation massage, swanky lunch, repeated trips to the Jacuzzi and three indulgent nights in one of his Club Level Rooms. But I am nothing if not cooperative, so I relented.

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Uncategorizable | 11.12.2007 16:19 | Comments Off on Hello from Santiago