Piers Court for Sale

Waugh’s country house in Gloucestershire has been listed for sale according to Country Life magazine. The listing agent is Knight, Frank and the asking price is £3 million. The article by Penny Churchill explains that the current owners, who have lived there since 2010, have substantially made over the house’s interior. Several detailed photos illustrate the results of these efforts. The one of a large bathroom is particularly over the top:

Certainly its present owners – who bought Piers Court in 2010 – have done much to enhance a house described by Pevsner as ‘dignified and elegant’, which, behind its classical 18th-century façade, caters for both formal entertaining and informal family living. The standard of fixtures and fittings is really something – as a picture of one of the bathrooms demonstrates. The genial, pleasantly rambling family house has some 8,400sq ft of accommodation, including five reception rooms. There is also a kitchen/breakfast room with a beautiful beamed ceiling, tiled floor and lovely rustic feel. Upstairs there are eight bedrooms and six bathrooms … plus extensive attics and a one-bedroom staff wing. Approached down a long drive lined with high beech hedges, Piers Court nestles in some 23 acres of gardens, parkland and pasture, with distant views over its land to the Welsh Hills and the Forest of Dean. Within the grounds are several outbuildings, including a mews and a Queen Anne coach house.

There are also several other photos accompanying the article including one of the library, hardly recognizable as such in its current incarnation. The article goes on to explain that Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited as well as Men at Arms and Officers and Gentlemen while living in the house. It is not clear whether this information comes from the estate agents or the magazine, but it is incorrect as to Brideshead. The Waughs let the house to a convent school in October 1939 and returned only in September 1945. Brideshead was written in 1944 and published in May 1945. The books written while in residence at Piers Court would include Robbery Under Law, The Loved OneHelena, and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold as well as the other two mentioned in the article. The book most closely associated with the house would be Pinfold since it describes a narrator who lived in such a house as well as hallucinations which took place there and involved some of the neighbors.

Another house associated with Evelyn Waugh is Plas Dulas in North Wales. This is located in Llanddulas where Waugh taught at the Arnold House school immortalized in Decline and Fall as Llanabba Castle. This is one of several historic buildings in North Wales described in the Daily Post  (Wales) that are threatened with destruction and for which restoration funds are being sought. This was the country home of Prof. R M Dawkins of Oxford, known to Waugh through the Hypocrites Club. In the unfinished second volume of his autobiography, A Little Hope, Waugh wrote:

…He had for a time provided an aegis for the Hypocrites Club. I had not known him well. Now, when he came home for the long vacation, he appeared as a rescuer sent to me in the desert from that green country. Professor Dawkins was a man of almost boundless tolerance but he did not take to Captain Grimes. To me and another young master he offered open-handed tolerance & companionship (CWEW, vol. 19, p. 487; see also Diaries, p. 213).

UPDATE (11 May 2018): The Times has a story about the sale of Piers Court in today’s edition. This in the “House of the Week” column by Anna Temkin. It adds some interesting details but also gets it wrong about the venue for composition of Brideshead:

Some of Evelyn Waugh’s most famous works, including Brideshead Revisited, were written in Piers Court. The Georgian mansion near Stinchcombe, Gloucestershire, was given to Waugh in 1937 by the family of his second wife, Laura, and the couple lived there until 1956. Their son, Auberon, later recalled in his book, Will This Do?, how he and his siblings knew “the front of the house belonged strictly to my father . . . one detected his presence as soon as we walked into the pretty hall, with its white and black stone floor and glass chandelier”.      [… ] Nikolaus Pevsner’s description of Piers Court as “a dignified and elegant house” still holds true. It has been grade II* listed since 1952. According to its Historic England citation, it dates primarily from the 18th century, but incorporates an earlier house that was on the site in the 16th century. Its present owners, who have lived there for the past ten years, have restored the 18th-century façade and updated its interiors. The grounds extend to 23 acres; the gardens, created by Waugh, feature gravelled walkways and ornamental fountains, along with a croquet lawn and tennis court.

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U and Non-U (more)

The U and Non-U debate continues in the pages of the TLS. The latest batch of comments centers on the proper salutation before having a drink. A letter takes issue with the Non-U status imposed on “Cheers” by Nancy Mitford, which may be acceptable in U circles if pronounced “Chars.” Similarly, in the N.B. column, “Bottoms up” and “Chin-chin” may be U-ish “if accompanied by an ironic smile.” The discussion concluded (for this week at least) with this:

Martin Murphy cites Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh: “‘Here’s how,’ said Major Tickeridge, downing his pink gin…’Here’s how,’ said Mr Crouchback with complete serenity. But Guy could only manage an embarrassed grunt”.

There’s always “Here’s to you” or–again with a familiar wink–“Here’s lookin’ at you. Another reader suggests “Good health”. On which none can improve.

Thanks to Peggy Troupin for keeping us updated.

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Put Out More Flags Reconsidered

John Rossi, Professor of History at La Salle University cites Put Out More Flags as underrated, while nevertheless being considered by some as the best novel of WWII. This is in the latest issue of the American Conservative Magazine. Rossi describes the novel as:

 …a seminal work in the transformation of Waugh from the author of savage satires about the “Bright Young Things” of the late 1920s and early 30s like Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, Black Mischief, and Scoop, to the more sober novelist of the postwar crisis of faith. It’s filled with the characters who once trotted mindlessly through those books, the “wealthy ill-mannered louts whose action left havoc in their wake,” men like Basil Seal, Peter Pastmaster, Alastair Digby Vane Trumpington, “Bright Young Things” all. It is also the novel that foreshadows the more serious postwar world of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited and Guy Crouchback in Sword of Honor. As such, Put OutMore Flags is worth a second look.

He goes on to discuss in greater detail the development of many of the characters from the  the early novels into more mature individuals in the early days of the war. He focuses particularly on the women in the novel;

Basil’s batty sister Barbara; his lover Angela Lyne; and Sonia Trumpington, Alaistair’s wife, all in Waugh’s phrase part of the “wreckage of the roaring twenties.” They all are sketched affectionately and with warmth; no longer the brainless females of his earlier novels, they are key figures whom Basil’s, Peter’s, and Alastair’s lives revolve around.

He also discusses the novel’s context and its publication at a crucial point of the war. There are discussions about the major characters and how they evolved from the earlier novels. And he notes Waugh’s references to other literary figures of the day in characters such as Parsnip and Pimpernell. The essay is well written and contains several original insights. It has already been cited and recommended in the Prufrock column of the Weekly Standard magazine.

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Lord Marchmain and a Secular Death

A scene from Brideshead features prominently in a post on the Oxford University Press weblog. This is by Wayne Glausser, Professor of English at De Pauw University. He was reminded of what he calls secular death by the recent passing of Stephen Hawking:

When Stephen Hawking died recently, a report echoed around the internet that he had rejected atheism in his last hours and turned to God. The story was utterly false; Hawking experienced no such deathbed conversion. Similar spurious accounts circulated after the deaths of other notoriously secular figures, including Christopher Hitchens and, back in the day, Charles Darwin. … The topic of secular dying has been on my mind for a while now. In the middle of 2016, I learned that an incurable cancer had taken lodging inside me. … As I tried to sort things out, I thought of … scenes from the verge of secular death. One was fictional: Lord Marchmain, the bitter apostate from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, made a sign of the cross as he received last rites, shortly before he died… My challenge: find equanimity and some sense of cosmic resolution…but without Lord Marchmain’s sacramental revival of faith.

Profesor Glausser goes on to consider his options, rejecting LSD but looking for some form of more acceptable “do-it-yourself psychedelic therapy” that might be the answer. This would be combined with some work he is doing on his perception of time. He concludes: “for now, anyway, I don’t find myself … tempted to replace secular with sacramental dying.”

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A Naïve Domestic Little Unicorn

Writing in Forbes magazine, John Mariani surveys wine writing and finds that this is one area where inexperienced “experts” tend to bring too much imagination to bear on their work. He uses a scene from Brideshead Revisited to illustrate his point:

People madly in love with inanimate objects like a bottle of wine feel the need to exaggerate to make a point of their irrational obsessions. And as a wine writer who labors arduously not to repeat himself with inane adjectives in describing half a dozen of the same varietals, I feel their pain. […]  The most hilarious mockery of effusive wine talk is, of course, James Thurber’s New Yorker cartoon of a man at dinner with friends saying, “It’s a naïve domestic little [sic] Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”

A more extended satire of such pseudo-poetical descriptions is in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, when his two louche heroes try to top one another in their assessment of a Château Lafite-Rothschild 1895:

“…It is a little, shy wine, like a gazelle.”

“Like a leprechaun.”

“Dappled, in a tapestry meadow.”

“Like a flute by still water.”

“…And this is a wise old wine.”

“A prophet in a cave.”

“…And this is a necklace of pearls on a white neck.”

“Like a swan.”

“Like a [sic] unicorn.”

Mr Mariani may have brought a bit too much of his own imagination to bear in this case, as well. He claims that this discussion is about a particular bottle of a particnlar vintage. But in fact, Waugh’s description makes clear that Charles and Sebastian were drinking three types of wine and were so hammered that they were even mixing different wines in the same glass and had no idea whatever of which one they were so effusively describing. Moreover, there is no mention in this passage of Château Lafite-Rothschild 1895. More sadly, Mr Mariani misses one of the best parts of the quote. In the concluding remark,  the wine was not compared to “a unicorn” but to “the last unicorn.” He also has a problem with his quote from James Thurber’s 1937 New Yorker cartoon. The wine there being discussed was, indeed, naïve and domestic but not “little” as well.

 

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Homeless in Mayfair

The religious website Aleteia reports the decision to erect a statue of a “Homeless Jesus” at a Roman Catholic church in Mayfair, London:

The sculpture titled “Homeless Jesus” can be seen in several locations around the world, but none as surprising as the Church of the Immaculate Conception, on Farm Street in Mayfair, London. … London has always had a reputation for legions of the homeless, whose unkempt and often unwashed presence encourages the authorities to move them on swiftly, especially in the City of Westminster. Not in the vicinity of Farm Street though. The Jesuit priests there intend to place the sculpture on the inside of their church. Timothy Schmalz’s life-size bronze representation of a figure huddled under a blanket on a park bench will be placed before the Shrine of Our Lady of Seven Dolors.

The article goes on to explain Evelyn Waugh’s long-time association with the church, which he usually referred to simply as “Farm Street”:

Farm Street, as it is known, was made famous through its many literary associations. This was the church that produced some of Britain’s most celebrated Catholic converts, including Graham Greene and Sir Alec Guinness. Most famous of all is Evelyn Waugh, whose definitive novel about the English class system, Brideshead Revisited, gives due prominence to Farm Street.

This church was, for example, where Rex Mottram in Waugh’s novel was sent for his religious instruction by Fr Mowbray (London, 1960, p. 214). One doubts whether that bit of religious/literary history is commemorated within its confines. Waugh’s daughter Margaret worked at Farm Street for its vicar, Fr Caraman, in the early 1960s.

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Waugh Story on Sunday Times List

On the occasion of announcing the winner of the Sunday Times EFG short story award, the paper has issued a list of the 100 best short stories. These are selected by 9 Sunday Times “culture writers” who are named at the conclusion of the list. There is no more than one story per writer, and a Waugh story is among those selected:

Bella Fleace Gave a Party by Evelyn Waugh (1932)
An elderly aristocrat in an Irish country house of fading splendour decides to throw a grand society ball: Waugh’s skewering at its sharpest.

Waugh’s story first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar (both London and New York editions) and was first collected with other Waugh stories in Work Suspended and Other Stories (1948). It is currently available in The Complete Stories. Others selected from the same period include “Landlord of the Chrystal Fountain” by Malachi Whitaker (1934), “Green Tunnels” by Aldous Huxley (1928), “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton (1934), “A Clean, Well-Lighted Room” by Ernest Hemingway (1933), “The Crime Wave at Blandings” by P G Wodehouse (1936) and “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz” by F Scott Fitzgerald (1922).

The Daily Telegraph last week selected the 60 best British TV shows of all time. The selection was made by five journalists named at the beginning of a slide show presentation and is described as “highly subjective.” The 1981 Granada TV production of Brideshead Revisited is #32 (although whether that is a ranking or merely a random number isn’t clear). The production is described as “sumptuous… and excessively faithful to its source material,” as well as “leisurely and literary.” It has also become “the benchmark for TV costume drama.”

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Boa Vista in the News

Boa Vista, a remote city in northern Brazil, received considerable attention in Evelyn Waugh’s 1934 travel book Ninety-Two Days, as it was the furthest point reached on his trip from neighboring British Guiana. The city is again receiving attention as a mecca for refugees from the chaos of nearby Venezuela. According to a story in the New York Times:

The population of Boa Vista…ballooned over the past few years as some 50,000 Venezuelans resettled here. They now make up roughly 10 percent of the population. At first, residents responded with generosity, establishing soup kitchens and organizing clothes drives. By last year however, local residents in Pacaraima, the border town, and Boa Vista, the state capital, which is 130 miles from the border, felt overwhelmed. “Boa Vista was transformed,” said Mayor Teresa Surita. “This has started generating tremendous instability.”

On a recent morning, squatters who took over the Simón Bolivar plaza, one of the city’s largest, were preparing meals on small wood burning stoves. Some napped in hammocks while others stared blankly, having nowhere to go and nothing to do. The mood was grim. A stomach bug had spread through the camp, leading to bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. Adding to their discomfort, neighboring residents, in an act of defiance, had burned a row of bushes near the plaza that the Venezuelans had been using to defecate.

As she watched smoke billowing across the campsite, Ana García, 56, said she could scarcely believe her new reality in Brazil. She was a homeowner who ate well and lived comfortably on a social worker’s salary in the Venezuelan city of Maturín. But as her paycheck became worthless last year because of soaring inflation, she quit her job of more than a decade, hoping to get a payout large enough to go abroad. Instead, she walked away with an amount that was so little it only enabled her to buy a small bag of rice, half a chicken and a banana. As food became increasingly scarce, Ms. García set out on a nearly 600-mile journey with her 18-year-old daughter, hitchhiking most of the way. The first night she slept in the plaza, Ms. García said, she broke down in tears before crawling under a black tarp she now shares with her daughter.

Waugh also found himself to be a refugee in Boa Vista. He arrived from the wilds of British Guiana in the hope of finding the bright lights of a big city in Boa Vista, as well as access on a river boat to the even more civilized city of Manaos further to the south. Instead he found no available boat passage and a ramshackle city lacking any vestige of charm. He describes Boa Vista in in Chapter 5 of the book, which contains some of its funniest passages. In this quoted text he recounts Boa Vista’s history:

…It was a melancholy record. The most patriotic of Brazilians can find little to say in favour of the inhabitants of Amazonas; they are mostly descended from convicts, loosed there after their term of imprisonment…They are naturally homicidal by inclination, and every man, however poor, carries arms; only the universal apathy keeps them from frequent bloodshed. There were no shootings while I was there; in fact there had not been one for several months, but I lived all the time in an atmosphere that was novel to me, where murder was always in the air…There was rarely a conviction for murder. The two most sensational trials of late both resulted in acquittals…The [second] case was the more remarkable. Two respected citizens, a Dr Zany and a Mr Homero Cruz, were sitting on a verahdah talking, when a political opponent rode up and shot Dr Zany. His plea of innocence, when brought to trial, was that the whole thing had been a mistake; he had meant to kill Mr Cruz. The judges accepted the defence and brought in a verdict of death from misadventure… (Penguin, 1983, pp. 90-91).

When a long-awaited boat operated for the local Boundary Commissioner arrived, Waugh requested passage for himself back to Manaos, but the Commissioner:

 flatly refused to have me in his boat. I cannot hold it against him. Everyone in the district is a potential fugitive from justice and he knew nothing of me except my dishevelled appearance and my suspicious anxiety to get away from Boa Vista. (Idem, p. 99)

Despairing of securing passage to Manaos, Waugh painstakingly put together supplies and horseback transport for a return trip via British Guiana. According to his Diaries, Waugh  was in Boa Vista for a total of 14 days (4-18 February 1933), and it was while there that he conceived of the short story that bccame “The Man Who Liked Dickens” which, in turn, became the ending of A Handful of Dust. When he wrote up the trip in Ninety-Two Days, he managed to turn what was probably an extended period of tedium and anxiety into something full of humor and even a bit of satire.

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Haphazard Dust-bins

Spanish novelist Imma Monsó has written an article inspired by the publication in Spanish of US novelist James Salter’s The Art of Fiction. Salter’s book is based on a series of 2014 lectures he gave at the University of Virginia as their Writer in Residence. Monsó’s article focuses on Salter’s inclusion of a quote from Evelyn Waugh about the process of writing a novel. This comes from a 1930 Daily Mail article entitled “People Who Want to Sue Me.” Neither Salter nor Monsó cite the source for Waugh’s quote; Salter slightly misquotes it, and the Spanish version carries things even further. Here’s the quote from the article (reprinted in A Little Order, p. 13):

If only the amateurs would get it into their heads that novel writing is a highly skilled and laborious trade. One does not just sit behind a screen jotting down other people’s conversation. One has for one’s raw material every single thing one has ever seen or heard or felt, and one has to go over that vast, smouldering rubbish-heap of experience, half stifled by the fumes and dust, scraping and delving until one finds a few discarded valuables.

Then one has to assemble these tarnished and dented fragments, polish them, set them in order, and try to make a coherent and significant arrangement of them. It is not merely a matter of filling up a dust-bin haphazard and emptying it again in another place.

In CWEW, v. 26 (pp. 241-45) a note to this article explains that Waugh was concerned to avert litigation involving persons claiming they were depicted as characters in his novel Vile Bodies–in particular Rosa Lewis who saw Lottie Crump as a parody of herself.

In Monsó’s article, she updates Waugh’s analysis a bit based on her own experience of writing several novels and short story collections:

The metaphor of rubbish has enchanted me. And that’s what Waugh said a century ago! Imagine now: since virtual life has been added to real life, our mind is a dumping ground for images, phrases and encounters that do not give us time to recycle. Such is the infinity of stimuli to which we are subjected, so many perceptions that reach us in a single day, in reality and on the screen, that unprocessed waste accumulates incessantly in our heads. Also in the head of the writer, whose biggest concern is no longer the blank page: it is the blank mind that worries, that the mind goes into collapse, gripped by the creeping chaos against which it is difficult to fight.

In this way, the blank page is now almost a chimera, an object of desire, something as rare as the white blackbird or the green ray. I have not seen one for a long time, since I first published notebooks at the university. Sometimes I dream, and at the thought of dirtying it, I wake up in terror. Fear of the blank page? No man no. Our biggest concern, is currently one and only one: rubbish.

Translation is by Google; Waugh’s “rubbish” is substituted for Google’s translation of “basura” as “garbage”. The article appears in the Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia and is entitled ¿En blanco? (“Blank Page?”)

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Roundup: Vile Media

The magazine GQ India had an article about Asian-based novels satirizing Asian-based rich people. This opens with a reference to one of Waugh’s novels:

It is an unassailable truth that where there is money, a thinly veiled roman-à-clef documenting the lives of the one per cent is not far away. It has been proven time and time again in the West – from Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh in 1930, to the more recent Primates Of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin. But as Asia ascends, and its people join the ranks of the global wealthy elite, so too does a whole new literary genre: the one percenters of the East.  Already, Singapore’s Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy has achieved cult-like status for its dizzying depictions of the manic spending by the super-rich of Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Most of the remainder of the article discusses Kwan’s books which were mentioned here in a previous post.

The English Department at the University of Regina in Canada is offering a course this Fall that uses the same Waugh novel for a different purpose:

ENGL 110-397 Mass Media and Misinformation  WEB DELIVERED

This course will focus on literature that explores the troubled relationship between mass media and objective reality. To that end, we will study a variety of texts – including works as diverse as essays by George Orwell, Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and episodes from the first season of Matthew Weiner’s long-form television series, Mad Men. Through such texts, we will approach representations of what Stephen Colbert refers to as “truthiness” in the context of totalitarianism, the gossip column, Gonzo journalism, the newsroom, and advertising.

Although not listed as the lecturer for this course, Marcel DeCoste, well known in this parish, is the head of the English Department and may well intend to contribute something.

The Guardian reviews the revived Universal Films 1932 horror classic The Old Dark House. In his review, Peter Bradshaw unearths some interesting literary connections:

Revisiting this film is a time to ponder its origins in a novel by JB Priestley (adapted by RC Sherriff and Benn Levy) and to see a literary lineage of the horror film, quite apart from Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. You can see how the creepy brother Saul, lurking at the top of the house, is in a line that stretches from Charlotte Brontë’s madwoman in the attic to Thomas Harris’s imprisoned Hannibal Lecter, cunningly persuading people to do his bidding. And there’s a touch of Evelyn Waugh’s butler Philbrick from Decline and Fall as well.

The New Statesman in a review of a collection of short stories by a Peruvian writer–Daniel Alarcón, who writes in English–notes an analogy to another Waugh novel:

Alarcón saves his most overtly surreal writing for his final story, the outstanding “The Auroras”, a novella-length piece. Herman, a lecturer, takes a sabbatical from both his university and from his wife and stepson, arriving in a port city precisely “2,700 kilometres from home”. Almost immediately he is taken in by Clarissa, a sinuous beauty he first glimpses standing “against a wall as green as the sea”, whose sailor husband is away on a long voyage. The ensuing events with Clarissa and, one by one, her friends, occur in a fug of erotic disassociation, as Herman falls truly “out of his element, as he hoped he’d be”, although his final status recalls the delirium-soaked fate of Tony Last in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. It’s a magnetic piece in a collection that dazzles with allegorical power and satire.

The Catholic Herald mentions Waugh’s contribution to another sort of collection. This was the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors compiled by Sister Mary Joseph at Webster College near St Louis in the 1930s and 1940s:

By 1954, membership of the Gallery itself had climbed to 775. … The organisation was in possession of more than 60,000 pages of manuscript, 750 letters, photographs and voice recordings, and countless books, pamphlets and magazines. … Academy members included Hilaire Belloc, naturally, and Evelyn Waugh, who sent manuscript pages of Edmund Campion to form part of the Gallery’s collection of authors’ papers. … Other members included Clare Boothe Luce, … Thomas Merton, …  François Mauriac, Maria von Trapp and Fulton Sheen. … Jacques Maritain seems to have been a particularly strong champion of the Gallery…

The remainder of the story is behind a paywall but other sources relate that the Gallery soon exceeded the ambitions of Sister Mary Joseph and the resources of Webster College and in 1960 was transferred to Georgetown University where it is now part of their Special Collections. Waugh’s contribution of handwritten manuscript seems to be limited two pages of his text of Edmund Campion according to Georgetown’s catalogue.

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