Posts in category: My documents

Le discours sur la tombe de l’idiot

Fly on over to Quebec Reads for a short translation from Julie Mazzieri’s Le discours sur la tombe de l’idiot that I did. It’s a bizarre and unsettling book, that’s for sure. Thanks to Peter McCambridge at Quebec Reads for publishing it and to Editions José Corti and the author, Julie Mazzieri, for granting permission to do so.

Pisces (Ekphrasis)


A text fragment, composed as a caption to the above, can be read now at TXTOBJX. Composed first in French before being adapted to English, the text is one of a series of texts corresponding to fifteen postcards depicting scenes in and around the French village of Quimper.

I visited Quimper ever so briefly in the fall of 2004. Fine, fond memories. It was only years later, while living in Ottawa, that I came upon the postcard booklet at a used book sale. (Trigger flashback…)

P.S. TXTOBJX is seeking submissions, so why not write something short and wild and send it to them?

Senges’ Suite Published

My latest published translation, Suite by Pierre Senges, is published today at The White Review. I am very grateful to Daniel Medin for including it in this third annual online translation issue. I am very happy with this publication, because I think The White Review has a wide readership, and I think that ‘Suite’ is a very powerful piece of prose.

And if you like that kind of thing, be sure to read these other translations of Senges I had published in 2014: Anything Goes by Cole Porter, Many Ways to Stuff a Watermelon, and chapters one and three of Geometry in the Dust. (And more in the oven!)

Reading in Vestiges

Some of Mallarmé’s personal library was being auctioned off at Sotheby’s, and I took this screenshot of one of the more expensive items, a manuscript version of Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. 

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 8.14.11 PM

It was sold recently for 963,000 Euros.

Here is the corresponding page, in my translation, published in Vestiges_00, published by Black Sun Lit. (Available for $12 USD.)


Siefring trans Mallarme

C’est beau, n’est-ce pas? Here’s an interesting passage:


There are a few other typographically interesting pieces appearing in the same volume, starting with the stunning cover:


And here is a rather beautiful page from M. Kitchell’s Dark Topographies:


(The typo escaped my awareness for a good long while as I admired it. That is a typo right?)

And here is a rather overwhelming shot of an excerpt from Chaulky White’s SSES SSES SSEY:


Anton Ivanov and Jared Fagen did a good job putting this together, needless to say.

I’m hoping to see more print publications like this. Print rules.

Geometry in the Dust again

From a translated excerpt from Geometry in the Dust by Pierre Senges published last month at The Brooklyn Rail’s InTranslation series, readable online:

The paradox is: one wants to get lost in the city, take a chance, blindfold oneself, imagine forests (how one behaves in a forest, the behavior of the forest itself), but the city does everything to ensure that no one gets lost, despite little snares and misunderstandings (to fail to find one’s way, to chase after the bus: that’s not really what it means to get lost); even if one were to ask the landscape designers to construct cul-de-sacs and diagonal passageways, these attempts would be of no avail in view of the immense arrows posted at each intersection and the numerous maps posted at eye level, maps on which everything is distinct, of a terrible precision (there is a mark of Cain there, which the traveler never can escape, wherever he may go: a red ring encircling the words: you are here).

This is the second excerpt from Géométrie dans la poussière to appear at The Brooklyn Rail. The first chapter can be read here. Another translated excerpt will be online at 3:AM Magazine in coming months, as well as short prose texts by Senges at two other publications.

Pierre Senges in Hyperion

Two more of my translations of Pierre Senges’s work were published last week, along with an annotated bibliography of his 14 or so books (“A Library of Imposture; or, a Short Annotated Bibliography of Pierre Senges’s Books”). All this can be found in the latest issue of Hyperion, the biannually published journal of Contra Mundum Press. The two translations are

* “The Last Judgment (detail),” a short text on the subject of Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566) and his commission to paint loincloths over numerous of Michelangelo’s nudes in the Sistine Chapel, after the Council of Trent deemed that nudity offensive.

* chapter 6 of La réfutation majeure (2004; The Major Refutation).

This is all quite noteworthy, it involved a lot of work on behalf of myself and the editors, and I’m very proud of these publications.

For the interested, another of my Senges translations is forthcoming in Gorse Journal #4 this September, a short story entitled “Making, Faking” (or rather, “Façons, Contrefaçons”); and there is also the excerpt of Geometry in the Dust that appeared earlier this month at The Brooklyn Rail; not to mention my previous article at this blog, “A Pierre Senges Miscellany.”

Also, Dalkey Archive has announced the publication date for Fragments of Lichtenberg: August 17, 2015. I just received a copy of it the other day in the mail…

All posts at this blog discussing Pierre Senges’s work are archived here.

The Frajerman-Volodine Collaborations

Leading up to the release of their sixth issue, the editors of Music and Literature ran a series of three Volodine-related articles online last week: a review of the recently-published-in-English Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven; excerpts from Les Aigles Puent / The Eagles Reek; and an article by the musician and composer Denis Frajerman on his collaborations with Volodine over the years.

I mention this for two reasons: Volodine has occasionally been a subject of discussion at this blog before, and because I translated the latter of these articles from French. I recommend it as a good introduction to Frajerman’s (experimental) music, which I had the good fortune of discovering through the small translation assignment. You might enjoy it for similar (or different) reasons: there are a number of audio excerpts embedded in the article worth listening to.

Two of my poems, “Goodbye, Ohio” and “O’ top the mountain,” are up at ohio edit , an interesting hybrid publication venue edited by Amy Fusselman. One was composed a decade ago, another a half-decade ago…

Bibliomanic migrates

Thanks in part to the Web System Design course I’m taking, I’ve learned some HTML, XML, and CSS basics. I’m still no expert, but I find it amazing what I’ve learned in the short span of a month and a half.

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An experiment in self-publishing

Responses to the Threat of Technological Distraction,’ the paper I wrote for the philosophy of technology seminar in which I was enrolled this semester, is now complete. I’ve assigned a Creative Commons license to the work and am self-publishing it here. If you read it, I would appreciate any impressions or feedback.

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Although I didn’t know it at the time, in 2007 I was writing flarf poetry. Flarf exemplifies the random, heterogeneous, often absurd character of spam e-mails and of other information available on the web, appropriated and blended into a discontinuous (non-sequiturs rule) mesh of colorful language. It’s striking for its aforementioned absurdity, sudden shifts of subject, its non-hanging-togetherness. If there is meaning in flarf, generally speaking, that meaning consists in the flarf poet’s attempt to mirror (or simply record, curate, edit) special instances of digitally-mediated language, almost always removed from — what? everything? — context, human relationships, an immediate setting which would give the totally of the poem its traditional meaning.

discontinuity in modernist form

An unpublished work of mine; not however, flarf.

Seeing months ago via Rod Smith’s Facebook feed that two Mel Nichols videos were featured on the Huffington Post set off a train of thought that led me here, to bibliomanic, to speak of flarf. In the mid-aughts, I used to see these two poets, Rod Smith and Mel Nichols, when I attended the regime of regular Thursday night pub-crawls that they and Dan Gutstein (my then poetry teacher, at George Washington U) followed.

Most of my flarf was a long poem without any line breaks I wrote on a typewriter in drafts and in numerous revisions on a computer: ‘Starving revelation tooth factory’. The title (a riddle, the answer of which is something like the human body in frenzy, pleases me, but the poem is unsatisfactory to me today, with the rest of my so-called “juvenilia” (in fact, this was the name of a collection I put together when I was about fifteen), it’s a little embarrassing. “Starving revelation tooth factory” is a narcissistically jagged long poem. Contains some flarf elements, much autobiographical incident, a heaping bucketful of discontinuous imagery, flibbertigibbet and other what-have-you, “kerflaffle-fla-flam,” and even the following (which I can still admire the beauty of):

felicific calculus
apophenic pareidolia
psychoramic steganography
thrombic lycocoptyopenic purpura
gnitirw erutuf sdrawkcab
meop ni esrever

That’s not flarf. And neither is Charles Bernstein. My attitude towards flarf poetry is ambivalent, but I don’t like it. On Wikipedia on the ‘Flarf’ page I read:

‘I love a movement that’s willing to describe its texts as ‘a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.’ – Joyelle McSweeney

Ugh. Flarf surrenders to the sometimes-vacuity of the digital infoscape. And for me, it seems rooted in the first eight years of the new millenium, standing opposite George W. Bush’s empty rhetoric, littered with mistakes and itself hollow, void of meaning, like the image flarf attempts to project of language as existing in a weird vacuum of truth and human intimacy or even intelligence.

I don’t think that art or literature or poetry needs to be engagé to be meaningful, but poetic language should not be complicit with the prevailing inane discourses that they have the power to counteract.

W.G. Sebald’s exoticisms

I’ve held on to this post so long, held on for so long to these ideas, I am letting this post go, rough as it is. It will never be finished. It is the story of a kind of failure, itself evidence of failure, a quest for understanding that remains forever incomplete. As more fragments will follow, I finally let go of these. Sebald’s work is, I have found, very difficult to talk about.

We have a habit of writing articles published in scientific journals to make the work as finished as possible, to cover up all the tracks, to not worry about the blind alleys or how you had the wrong idea at first, and so on. So there isn’t any place to publish, in a dignified manner, what you actually did in order to do the work. – Richard Feynman

Reluctant to enclose Gide in a system I knew would never content me, I was vainly trying to find some connection among these notes. Finally I decided it would be better to offer them as such–notes–and not try to disguise their lack of continuity. Incoherence seems to me preferable to a distorting order. – Roland Barthes, ‘On Gide and His Journal’

I knew the research paper would be about W.G. Sebald’s novels, but that was all I knew. I had fallen under Sebald’s spell, not on first reading The Emigrants in a ‘Continental Modernism’ course taught by the ribald WW II vet Robert Ganz, but in 2009 on reading The Rings of Saturn after seeing a poster for a lecture by Ross Posnock on Austerlitz, a poster prominently displaying Sebald’s provocative juxtaposition of Wittgenstein’s gaze with that of perhaps a rhesus monkey.

It was only a short time before I had read After Nature, the long poem Sebald published in the late eighties before his arrival as a published novelist; Vertigo, his first novel; and, of course, Austerlitz, his last. I was hypnotized and hooked on Sebald’s writing, fallen under the intense spell cast by Sebald’s long sentences and his visual materials.

Through work in a graduate seminar in contemporary French literature–La Fabrication de l’irréelle dans la littérature française contemporaine–I became familiar with a strange new term which would prove to be for me a challenge and a source of anxiety, later, to explain. Le post-exotisme en dix lecons by Antoine Volodine is not a difficult book, but it is, like Volodine’s other works, strange, however much it is consistent with Volodine’s conception of a mythological future-past of ruins, internment camps, political resistance. He expresses his vision through hybrid literary forms.

Volodine, Detue, & Ouellet

Post-exoticism resonated with what I found compelling in Sebald. Volodine’s vision, realized in his novels and elucidated in theoretical terms, amounts to:

  • Une littérature de l’ailleurs, venue d’aileurs, allant vers l’ailleurs
  • Une littérature internationaliste, cosmopolite, dont la mémoire plonge les racines dans les tragédies du XXe siecle, les guerres, les révolutions, les génocides et les défaites du XXe siecle
  • Une littérature étrangere écrite en francais
  • Une littérature qui mêle indissolublement l’onirique et le politique
  • Une littérature des poubelles, en rupture avec la littérature officielle
  • Une littérature carcérale de la rumination, de la déviance mental et de l’échec
  • Un édifice romanesque qui a surtout a voir avec le chamanisme, avec une variante bolchevique de chamanisme (387)

From Volodine, Antoine. ‘A la frange du réel.’ In Défense et illustration du post-exotisme en vingt lecons (vlb, 2008).

Translation: post-exoticism is:

  • a literature of elsewhere, arriving from, departing from elsewhere;
  • an internationalist, cosmopolitan literature whose memory is rooted in 20th-century tragedies, wars, revolutions, genocides, defeats;
  • a foreign literature written in French;
  • a literature where  the dream-like and the political are seamlessly joined
  • trashcan literature, opposed to ‘official’ literature(s)
  • an imprisoned, ruminatory literature, of pyschopathology and failure
  • a novelistic structure closely tied to shamanism, especially a Bolshevik variant of shamanism.

Elsewhere: a cabal of prisoners secretly circulating texts, working to overcome the isolation imposed on them.

The proposal I wrote in anticipation of my research paper was lucid, engaged, clear, direct, promising. But as I researched and wrote my paper, and continued to over-research it, my focus was exploded and irreversibly lost. In the end I tried to stay close to Sebald’s text. But at times, for whole months, I felt I needed to write lengthy theoretical contextualizations and justifications for why I was talking about post-exoticism, a term that I was never comfortable with, because its sense was split.

On the one hand, Volodine and his elucidation of post-exoticism; on the other hand, a non-literary but totally contemporary post-exoticism, related to the breaking up of empires, the acceleration of travel, and the end of an era during which romantics like Pierre Loti, Paul Gauguin, Victor Segalen, and Jean-Léon Gérôme, and a whole host of other European artists, were able to see in other cultures a difference which they found attractive, sometimes repelling, and that they patronized and acted condescendingly towards. (Edward Said’s historical work on Orientalism is what I’m talking about here; in a post-exotic era, Orientalism and exoticism are not done away with, but their historical contours are entirely changed.) I’d also read exoticists like Loti and was aware of Victor Segalen (his law regarding the attractions of human diversity, expounded in his posthumously published Essai sur l’exotisme (1978)) from having reading Baudrillard’s books, where he  refers repeatedly to Segalen and exoticism.

The first problem, which I could not circumvent must have been establishing a stable relation between exoticism and post-exoticism.

Ambros Adelwarth in Sebald's The Emigrants

An antique photo-studio portrait included in the German edition of W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants (1992), depicting the narrator’s great-uncle Ambros Adelwarth.

I couldn’t even define the type of exoticism that I was seeing in Sebald, it was too variegated and broad and heterogeneous.

Even now I can read in my notebook the organisational sketches I was making in 2009, but I can’t create true order out of them:


a) the collection (museum)

b) monumental architecture (inadvertent; neglect, disuse, decay…) (cf. The Eyes of the Skin; The Architectural Uncanny, Anthony Vidler)

c) tourist narrators

d) Jews, gypsies, circus performers

e) resort culture

f) ‘overheated, deterritorialized animals’ (cf. On Creaturely Life, Eric Santner)

g) formal syntax (syntactical)

h) Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination: Ruins, Relics, Rarities, Rubbish, Uninhabited Places, and Hidden Treasures. (Yale P, 2006.)

The problem was, I couldn’t describe the exoticist tropology at work in Sebald’s prose, because I wanted to read all five of his books–his entire ‘creative’ output– as if it were a single thing. This would have left no time for ‘close reading’ and it would have been abstracted from the individual context of any single book. But I felt a coherent exoticist strategy, complete with post-exoticist gesturing, was there; a coherent preoccupation with and nostalgic yearning for the historical ‘exotic,’ itself complicated by the knowledge that this was at best an impossible fantasy. Perhaps I ought to have chosen just one (or two) types of exoticism and pursued it as far as I could. But I could not relinquish my commitment to some larger, more elusive totality that always remained just beyond my conceptual, organisational grasp.

It was almost ironic that I discovered such excellent books on exoticism just as the time I had left to trim up my drafts was drawing to a close:

‘The phenomenon of the human zoo illuminates an interdependence, similar to that discussed and popularized by Edward Said in Orientalism (1978), between science, spectacle and colonial power’ (Forsdick 378).

‘Populations put on display were depicted in a variety of forms, ranging from posters t illustrated programmes, from postcards (reproduced and translated into several languages to early films, from amateur photographs to the front pages of newspapers. Visitors, readers and spectators would be fascinated by these human subjects, while at the same time being convinced by them of the ‘racial hierarchies’ central to the contemporary context of colonial expansion.’ (‘Human Zoos: The Greatest Exotic Shows in the West,’ illustration pages).

Some Sources:

Barthes, Roland. 1982. A Barthes Reader. Ed. Susan Sontag. Hill and Wang.

Baudrillard, Jean. ‘Radical Exoticism.’ Transparency of Evil. Verso.

Blanchard, Pascal, Bancel, Nicolas, Boëtsch, Gilles,  Deroo, Éric, and Lemaire, Sandrine . ‘Human Zoos: The Greatest Exotic Shows in the West.’ By 1-49.

Camus, Audrey. Her winter 2008 graduate seminar on the work of Volodine, Eric Chevillard and Pierre Senges.

Feynman, Richard. 1966. ‘The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics.’ Science 153 (3737): 699-708.

Loti, Pierre. Aziyadé. 1880s?

Obsolete Objects in the Literary Imagination: Ruins, Relics, Rarities, Rubbish, Uninhabited Places, and Hidden Treasures. (Yale P, 2006.)

Segalen, Victor. ‘Essay on Diversity.’

Audio: Joseph McElroy reading at the New School

Note: an improved-quality audio file (optimized for voice) replaced the original recording on Jan 9, 2013. — JS

Last week I traveled to New York City, to lower Manhattan, to hear Joseph McElroy read from his work. The reading took place at the New School. In attendance were the renowned translator and poet Richard Howard, as well as McElroy’s son, Boone, and his wife, artist Barbara Ellmann.

I also visited McElroy at his Tribeca apartment and spoke with him about the (then) impending election, about how his week had been since the flooding of parts of the city, about his forthcoming books, and more. I am presently preparing a summary of this exchange for publication.

Jacob & Joe
Caption: Somehow, I infiltrated the apartment of the author of Hind’s Kidnap (1969), Women and Men (1987), and numerous other of my favorite books. I found him to be generous and hospitable.

For now, enjoy the recording of McElroy’s digressively “self-interrupted” reading of his work, including excerpts from Cannonball, his “water book” which he’s wrapping up, “Canoe Repair,” “The Campaign Trail,” and a brief commentary on Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time, and Architecture.


All posts on this site about Joseph McElroy are archived here.

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Heidegger on philosophy

For the philosophy of technology seminar I’m taking, I summarised and presented a ‘lecture course’ of German philosopher Martin Heidegger,’The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics’ (published originally in 1935; from Introduction to Metaphysics, translated by G. Fried and R. Polt; New Haven: Yale, 2000; 1-54.)

Heidegger is known for the difficulty of his style. But I found much lucidity in ‘The Fundamental Question of Metaphysics.’ Without going into the rant-like and Spenglerian aspects of this piece of writing (diagnosing the spiritual decline of the West, Heidegger rails against, I quote, the darkening of the world, the flight of the gods, the destruction of the earth, the reduction of human beings to a mass, the hatred and mistrust of everything creative and free, and the preeminence of the mediocre);–and also without actually summarising what the essay is about (Heidegger begins the essay by saying that the fundamental question of metaphysics is

Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? 

;–and he then proceeds to modulate the question in such a way that it begets a teeming horde of other questions), I want to represent what I left out of my presentation in the interest of time because it doesn’t concern technology at all, but philosophy itself.

According to H., philosophy is extremely unpopular; it is a ‘leading that has no following.’ Philosophy’s essence, which is questioning, ‘questioning-ahead,’–is never embraced by the public or the masses. In fact, when philosophy becomes popular (think of Sartre’s popularity mid-century, the popularity of ‘existentialism’ on both sides of the Atlantic), it’s no longer philosophy–it’s fashion.

One would think that philosophy ought to achieve something, perhaps make aspects of existence more intelligible, render the making of choices easier. To the contrary, Heidegger informs one that: ‘philosophy never makes things easier, but only more difficult’; ‘Nothing comes of philosophy, you can’t do anything with it.’

In these formulations, Heidegger’s view of philosophy seems opposite that of American pragmatist philosophers like John Dewey and William James. There is something positively continentally decadent about this high-headedness.

And Heidegger quotes Nietzsche, where Nietzsche writes that

Philosophy means living voluntarily amid ice and mountain ranges.

The accumulation of these deadpan, clarifying remarks about philosophy’s domain and role led me to wonder whether or not some humour or irony might be intended on Heidegger’s part. I think not. I think not.

What is the point of philosophy according to Heidegger, if ‘you can’t do anything with it’?

The point of philosophy–of questioning-ahead– is that it acts on us; on our thought; on our thinking. On our Being, if you prefer. 

The questioning is not just autotelic, an end in itself. Its purpose is, rather, to alter subjectivity, change life, change lives. Like my post on Albert Borgmann of last week, this post is jagged in comparison to some other of my postings. To make no concession, I’ll leave off with a hyperbolically-inflected ponderous snippet of Heidegger’s ‘Traditional and Technological Language,’ a quote I try to understand:

Technological language is the severest and most menacing attack on what is peculiar to language:

saying as showing and as the letting-appear of what is present and what is absent, of reality in the widest sense;

The attack of the technological language on what is peculiar to language is at the same time the threat to the human being’s ownmost essence

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Thomas Jefferson, Ergonomist

Adapted from my paper “The Case for Thomas Jefferson as the Father of American Librarianship” and presented at the 6th Doctoral Symposium in Information Studies at the Université de Montréal, March 30, 2012:

Polymath of Albemarle county, Thomas Jefferson invented for his own use several ergonomic devices to reduce cumulative physical stress resultant from reading and writing. Of especial note is this ingenious revolving book-stand:

Shaped like a cube when not in use, the stand could be unfolded to hold five books simultaneously. Hinged at the top, the four vertical sides could be lifted up and angled out. A lip at the bottom of each let a book rest on the angled surface. Furthermore, the top of the cube could be tilted up to hold a fifth book directly above one of the lower books. Even when fully loaded with books, the stand could be easily revolved to let Jefferson quickly peruse multiple texts in succession.

Revolving Bookstand

Also remarkable: a portable writing desk constructed to his specifications. On the angled baize surface of this beauty, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Made of thin strips of mahogany, the desk was reduced to the minimum size and weight and produced the maximum utility of space. In addition to a folding writing board lined with green baize, it had a bookrest and a drawer with a lock for storing a supply of stationery, completed documents, ink, pens, wafers, and sand. Jefferson continued to use this desk until 1825, when he presented it to his grandson-in-law.

Portable writing desk

The Virginian statesman also devised a chair with a fully revolving base to facilitate easy interaction with print material:

Furniture for writing

Federalist William Loughton Smith ridiculed the chair in the anonymous The Pretensions of Thomas Jefferson to the Presidency Examined, writing: “Who has not heard from the Secretary of State of the praises of his wonderful Whirligig Chair, which has the miraculous quality of allowing the person seated in it to turn his head without moving his tail?”

It may be added that the debt-ridden patrician of Monticello used several different polygraphs (copying machines) during his last 14 years to make a simultaneous copy of his vast correspondence over that period, polygraphing over 5,700 correspondences.

Jefferson's Polygraph

Screen shot 2012-03-09 at 3.46.58 PM

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Sources: Bedini’s Thomas Jefferson and His Copying Machines, 1984;

Hayes’ The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson, 2008.

Final note: It just so happens that Jefferson’s ingenious chair, with its revolving base, pops up in a passage from Joseph McElroy’s second novel, Hind’s Kidnap (1969):

Maddy’s desk faced the west window, which was even wider than the south or north. In his swivel chair past and present found shape: steel and white enamel plasticompo and the button that ran the swivel won only a tense counterpoise from the truth that this chair was in idea the same swivel Thomas Jefferson invented. Viewed from an approaching helicopter, Maddy Beecher’s office, a white concrete block, perhaps like a huge clamping not just thick enough to hide its bolt, topped the rambling… (p. 53)

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Calligram: Fleur-de-lys for QC

In honor of June 24 and of my five years in Montréal, here’s a calligram I made while I was living in Westmoreland County in, Virgina and planning my escape to la belle province:


Fleur-de-lys cropped

au Québec je vais bientôt vivre

tabernacle de merde l’an dix-sept-cent-soixante-three

faut que je m’équippe des mocassins

pour toi, chère nation non-choisie

comment ça va mes bons copains

de vous connaître je suis ravi

Kateri,   Daphné,    Ghislain


métropole sulpicienne