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» WE LOOK LIKE THE TYPE

Blickensderfer

Text and photos by Brian Awehali

A recent surge in interest in typewriters isn’t just about nostalgia or fetishistic hipster concerns. It’s about light, speed, focus and pleasure. It’s also about digital discontent: As our type has grown speedier and more legible, we’ve become more legible to corporations, governments and private individuals in increasingly centralized, synoptic positions. What we look at looks back, in aggregate.


Two women — one young, the other elderly and pushing an upright shopping cart — paused to look in the window of the California Typewriter Company on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley.

“Typewriters,” said the older woman, meaningfully.

“Old,” said the younger one, before glancing down at her smartphone.

It’s true; typewriters are old. But their invention, rise, and popular decline also paralleled one of the most transformative periods in modern human history. The newest typewriter in the Berkeley store, a sky-blue Olivetti Studio 46 manual built in Brazil in the early 1990s, might have been made before the younger woman was. Most are decades older, and it’s likely that many of these machines were used at some point by a woman entering the workforce for the first time, as a typist or secretary. The oldest typewriter in the store, a Smith Premier No. 2 with what look like wooden keys, was built in the startlingly retro-futuristic year of 1890, when events like the massacre of ghost dancers at Wounded Knee and the formal end of the US-Indian Wars co-existed in time with mass electrification and the appearance of the first computer — a punch card tabulator used for tallying census data.

The nostalgic and historic appeal of typewriters is easy to understand. But what’s driving the recent revival of practical interest in them? Who’s using typewriters, and why?

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» UNDER THE ETERNAL SKY: Mining Boom Gains Momentum in Mongolia

Khan Kentee Protected Area, Gorkhi-Terelj, Mongolia, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

by Brian Awehali

Nomadic herder in Gorkhi-Terelj, Mongolia, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

After spending several months in the epic clamor of industrializing China, I went to Mongolia looking for open spaces and unspoiled nature, for clean air, for hiking and horseback riding, and for nights still dark enough to terrify. In the countryside (and most of it remains countryside) the Eternal Sky held sacred by Mongolians since well before the time of Genghis Khan levitates with majesty over wide-open grassland prairie, steppe, subarctic evergreen forest, wetland, alpine tundra, mountain, and desert. It stretches above yak, goat, reindeer, camel, wolf, bear, marmot, squirrel, hawk, falcon, eagle and crane, and above some of the last traditional nomadic peoples and wild horses on Earth.

The seemingly infinite Mongolian sky also hangs over the largest mining boom on the planet.

Candlelit Ger/Yurt in Gorkhi-Terelj, Mongolia, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

On my flight from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, I sat next to a miner named Tim. Tim had a wife and two children back in Nova Scotia, with another on the way. He was trying to convince his wife to relocate to Mongolia, but she wasn’t going for it yet. So his mining career kept him away from his family as he traveled to Colorado, Nevada, Australia, and now Mongolia. Tim kept his taupe outdoorsman’s hat on for the entire flight, but I forgave him for that because he shared his Lonely Planet Mongolia and enthusiastically told me about his work at a new copper mine in the Gobi Desert.

“It’s just a camp now, but we’re investing $40 million this year alone, and when it really gets up and running, it’ll probably become the second largest city in Mongolia,” Tim told me. “It’s going to be huge.

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» THE DEFINITION OF SCARY: China’s Cancer Villages (癌症村, Aizheng Cun)

by Brian Awehali

I woke up this morning and considered going outside. Lately, I have been avoiding the outdoors here in Chengdu, in Sichuan province, because I fear the industrial haze and the cough I seem to develop whenever I spend more than a few hours out and about. There are ominous smells here: acrid metallic clouds of gas with something like formaldehyde that have me breathing as shallowly as I possibly can when I pass through them.

Despite this, last night I was reconsidering my aversion to the Chinese outdoors, wondering if I was being paranoid. Sunlight is still moderately healthy. And after all, I drink heavily filtered water, wash any fresh vegetables I buy several times (they recommend using diluted bleach as well, but I refuse to trade one poison for another), and I live, sleep, run and work out in a heavily insulated building with industrial grade air filters going 24/7.

I also drink lots of coffee, which I seem to remember reading somewhere renders me all but impervious to cancer.

But then, after my coffee, any anticarcinogenic confidence I had evaporated when I sat down to check email and a friend of mine had forwarded on a ghastly article entitled “Made in China: Cancer Villages,” by Lee Liu, from Environment Magazine. The article goes into great depth about China’s unprecedented levels of cancer and the “grow first, clean up later” approach to industrial development driven largely by the forces of economic globalization.

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» LONG LIVE THE OUTLAWS: The Great Art and Forgery of Elmyr de Hory

by Brian Awehali

Most petty crime is dull, in both motivation and execution. But I have always wished I could be a great outlaw. Consider the outlaw, and the merits of his or her avocation: the perpetration of grand, spectacular, and/or marvelous crime. A widespread and enduring fascination with outlaws, hucksters, escapists, charlatans, and rogues of various ilk has always harkened to embrace the heroic combination of focus, ingenuity, bravery, determination, and intelligence needed to rise to a level of criminal infamy.

“I love the trite mythos of the outlaw,” wrote Tom Robbins, in his comic novel, Still Life with Woodpecker. “I love the self-conscious romanticism of the outlaw. I love the black wardrobe of the outlaw…The outlaw boat sails against the flow, and I love it. Outlaws toilet where badgers toilet, and I love it. All outlaws are photogenic, and I love that…There are outlaw maps that lead to outlaw treasures, and I love those maps especially. Unwilling to wait for mankind to improve, the outlaw lives as if that day were here, and I love that most of all.

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» LISTEN TO THE BIRDS: In Praise of Captain Beefheart & His Magics

by Brian Awehali


“Listen to the birds. That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.”
– Captain Beefheart, “10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

Music can do a lot of different things. There’s music to comfort you, music to make you dance, music to make the time pass easier.

And then there’s music that whacks you upside the head, assaults you, is radically unconcerned with your comfort, and comes to get inside and change you, forever. Continue reading

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» REDEFINING PROGRESS: An Indigenous View of Industrialization & Consumption in North America

by Winona LaDuke
(from the online release of Tipping the Sacred Cow-The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt)

Rethink your geography a little bit, set aside your thinking, and try to think about North America from an indigenous perspective. In doing so, what I’d like to ask is that you think about it in terms of islands in a continent.

I live on one island, White Earth reservation. It’s thirty-six miles by thirty six miles. It’s a rather medium-sized reservation, as they go in North America. That’s one island. A little bit west of me is Pine Ridge, a slightly larger reservation. Rosebud. Blackfeet. Crow. Cheyenne. Navaho. Hopi. Some of the larger islands are further north. When you go north of the fiftieth parallel in Canada, which is somewhere a little north of Edmonton, you’ll find that the majority of the population is native. 85% of the people who live north of the fiftieth parallel in Canada are native people.

How that is perhaps best reflected is in a place called Nunavut. Northwest Territories, a couple of years ago, was split into two territories. One of those territories is now called Nunavut because the people who live there are Inuit. They are the people who are the political representatives. They are the administrators of the school boards. They are the firemen. They are the doctors, the physicians. They have a form of self-governance in Nunavut where the majority of decisions are made by Inuit people. That area, Nunavut, is, including land and water, five times the size of Texas. It is a large area of land. It is the size of the Indian sub-continent.

A Nunavut community

So perhaps for that reason alone, it is important to know something more about indigenous people…

Let me talk a little bit about indigenous thinking, because I believe that is fundamental for understanding the conflicts that exist in the world today. In the world today it is not a conflict so much between the left and right, or the communists and the capitalists, so much as it is the conflict between the indigenous and the industrial.

(This far-reaching, increasingly relevant speech Winona LaDuke gave to students at North Carolina State University in Raleigh appeared in LiP: Informed Revolt and was also included in the magazine’s anthology, Tipping the Sacred Cow, now available online in PDF form.)

Read the rest [PDF; 10 pages]

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» DANGEROUS WORDS: A Profile of Chinese Poet and People’s Historian Liao Yiwu (廖亦武)

Three months after this was written Liao Yiwu was compelled to flee China and sought asylum in Germany. He has also since released a vivid memoir of his years in detention, For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison.

interview and photos by Brian Awehali,
(translation by David Cowhig)

“Why should the government fear me?” says Liao smiling, the first day we meet, along with an interpreter and several friends at a riverside teahouse outside of Chengdu, in Sichuan province. “I’m just a guy who tells stories.”

Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武 ) in Wenjiang, Chengdu, July 2010, released under CC-by-2.0 with permission of the photographer Brian Awehali

Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武 ) in Wenjiang, Chengdu, July 2010, released under CC-by-2.0 with permission of the photographer Brian Awehali

When I was in China last year, I heard and read many colorful stories. Here’s a strictly true one: a PRC official, speaking to a visiting US official sometime in 2010, says, in somewhat condescending fashion, “We are very impressed with the gains your country has made in its short 200-year history,” to which the US official replies,  “Yes, we are very impressed with the gains of your 60-year-old country as well.”

There are, after all, people, and then there are states. There’s the massive 5,000-year-old “culture” of China, made up of many different peoples, incorporated and renegade, spread over every conceivable terrain and holding as many or more distinct and idiosyncratic beliefs and practices as they hold in common, and then there’s the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its fractious apparatus.

Beginning around 1958, under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the PRC, a roughly thirty year war was declared on the culture, traditions, infrastructure and very memory of China: temples, libraries, museums and universities were razed; millions of intellectuals, professors, specialized workers, landowners, landlords and other “liberal bourgeois elements” were imprisoned or murdered. Thirty million people—the number almost defies comprehension—starved to death after the government outlawed private farms and forced farmers in the country to send unreasonable quotas of their harvest to the cities to feed urban workers during the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to rapidly transform China into an industrial power. Compounding the stark material realities of life under Mao, during the Cultural Revolution, family members and neighbors were turned murderously against each other in series of state-directed ideological campaigns and “purges,” and official records and memories not echoing the government’s line were destroyed.

Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) was born in 1958, almost ten years after the founding of the PRC, and his often principally embattled life and many volumes of work both cast extraordinary light on the traumatic and complex collision between the Chinese people and their modern state. He’s been imprisoned and tortured for writing and distributing his poetry, and though his work has received significant international attention and acclaim, it’s also completely banned in China.

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» MADNESS & MASS SOCIETY: Pharmaceuticals, Psychiatry & the Rebellion of True Community

Hieronymus Bosch, "The Garden of Earthly Delights" detail, raven vs. mob

Brian Awehali interviews Dr. Bruce Levine

Author and clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine wants to tell you that many forms of depression, discontent, and a whole raft of diagnosed mental illness are nothing more than natural responses to the oppression of institutional society. In his book, Commonsense Rebellion, Levine contends that the vast majority of mental disorders are, to put it simply, profit-driven fabrications with no established biochemical or genetic causes. This interview with Dr. Levine was conducted several years ago for publication in LiP: Informed Revolt, but the growth of corporate pharmaceutical “solutions” to deviant behaviors has only grown since then. Dr. Levine’s newest book, Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite, (Chelsea Green, 2011) is an exploration of the political psychology of demoralization and the strategies and tactics used by oppressed peoples to gain power in the United States.

Awehali: Bruce, you’re a critic of both psychiatry—the medical science of identifying and treating mental illness with drugs—and psychology—the study of human behavior, thought, and development. Are there substantial differences between the two?

Bruce Levine: When I first started out as a psychologist in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was fairly commonplace to dissent from psychiatry—that’s why people became psychologists. They saw the pseudo-science of not only the treatments but of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) itself. Unfortunately, over the years, psychology itself has slowly aped psychiatry, and there isn’t that sharp a distinction between the two anymore. The American Psychological Association (APA)—the professional group for psychologists—now fights for prescription rights for psychologists. So I guess any psychologist who maintains a position that depression isn’t primarily an innate biochemical disease, and that the DSM is a nonscientific instrument of diagnosis, is a dissident!

I should say that back in the 1970s and 1980s, before psychiatrists had the backing of the drug companies, they had very little power. In fact, they were falling apart, as evidenced by so many movies that were making fun of them, like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—which could never come out today. But back in those days, when [psychiatrists] weren’t in bed with the drug companies and didn’t have much political power, you saw movies like that come out. Now, psychiatrists have the media power; they’re able to describe the playing field of the controversy.

Let me ask you a blunt question, first: Do you think there’s ever any basis for diagnosing someone as mentally ill?

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» THE FURTHER EVOLUTION OF WAR

by Barbara Ehrenreich
(part of the extended online release of Tipping the Sacred Cow – The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt)

Two months before a somewhat recent U.S. military invasion, I gave a presentation on war and warrior elites to a small group of sociologists. They were interested and supportive, but a bit pitying about my choice of a topic: War, they were eager to remind me, had run its course. The Cold War had ended; communism was over; there were no longer any “sides” to take. Too bad I had elected to work on a subject of only historical interest.

The conviction that war is passé, or soon to become so, has a venerable history of its own. The introduction of the gun, and after that, artillery, seemed to promise levels of destruction so costly that no state would want to risk them. After the gruesome bloodletting of the Napoleonic Wars, philosophers Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill prophesied that war would end as civilization turned, in relief, to the peaceful business of industrial production. World War I was, of course, the “war to end all wars”; a quarter-century later, the nuclear weapons developed and used in World War II seemed to doom war once and for all. Ghoulish wonks might play with scenarios for “limited nuclear war” and “flexible responses,” but anyone with sense could see that “war has been vanquished,” as Robert L. O’Connell has put it, defeated by its own weaponry.

* * *

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» RUINS OF LOS ANGELES #1: Sunken City of Graffiti, Wildflowers & Concrete

by Brian Awehali

If you head north along the Los Angeles coastline, you can find a once posh neighborhood that slid into the sea back in the 1930s. On the way, you’ll see a lot of loading cranes on the horizon, just like the ones Oakland pridesters like to wear on their hoodies and t-shirts. In fact, there are many more of these cranes in the Los Angeles harbor than there are in Oakland, where I used to live. Whatever. As far as I’m concerned, they’re either symbols of dirty transoceanic shipping that can be found in almost any port city, or they’re symbols of George Lucas’s frenzied imagination of imperial military might. Either way, it’s hard to see where pride or geographic specificity figure into it.

After the cranes, and at the end of Fermin Park, is a tall fenced gate and barricade. Past the fence, the road continues to an abrupt end, and well below that is the so-called sunken city of Los Angeles. Between a dozen and two dozen homes were destroyed in quakes and ongoing slides as the cliff here gave way. A manhole cover sits two inches from the edge of a cliff. Between several improbable palm trees, tall grass, blooming fennel and wildflowers overtake broken, wildly angled and heavily graffiti’d roads, pipes and curbs.

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» UNDER THE ETERNAL SKY: Mongolia’s Wilderness and People Threatened by Mining Boom

by Brian Awehali

An article I wrote based on my travels in Mongolia was published in Earth Island Journal, then subsequently picked up by the Guardian, and I cordially invite you, dear reader, to check it out.

Mongolia today is the least densely populated country in the world (Antarctica doesn’t count; it’s “just” a continent). It is home to a staggering array of largely untouched natural splendors, as well as some of the last traditional nomadic peoples and wild horses on earth. It’s also home to the largest mining boom in history, and despite projections that the boom is expected to triple or quadruple the size of Mongolia’s economy in the next five years, times are tough for most Mongolians, and the relationship between the country’s great natural resources and the wealth of its people is still to be determined. What’s clear is that the actual land and 3 million people of Mongolia will never be the same.

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» TRICKIER DICK DEPARTS: An Obituary for Dick Cheney

(The obituaries of most famous people are written long before the subject’s actual death! Check out Obit., a 2017 documentary about the New York Times’ Obituary desk if you don’t believe me…) 

Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney
January 30, 1941- 2012

“Principle is OK up to a certain point, but principle doesn’t do you any good if you lose,” Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney, first appointed to office by Richard Nixon, told journalist Tim Russert in 1976. And it could be argued that until his closely guarded death at his Wyoming ranch sometime last week, Cheney never did truly lose, despite bringing scandal, ethics investigations, and eventual doom to every administration he worked for. By demonstrating his loyalty to an aggressive and frequently extra-legal realpolitik intentionally divorced from the realm of ethics–and getting away with it–this avid chili lover, “stump” of a high school football player from Wyoming, who dropped out of Yale, was twice nabbed for drunk driving, and who shot rabbits, birds, a hunting partner, and other animals in his free time, became a grimacingly enduring icon of American business and politics.

“He said the presidency was like one of those giant medicine balls,” said Bruce Bradley, who hired Cheney to work at his investment firm in 1973, after Cheney left the imploding Nixon administration. “If you get ahold of it, what you do is, you keep pushing that ball and you never let the other team push back.” People who think the presidency of Donald Trump is wholly unexpected should study Cheney’s playbook! During debates arranged for the benefit of Bradley’s clients at the time, Cheney would argue forcefully that Nixon’s resignation was forced merely by his enemies’ political ploys, and not because Nixon had violated any laws or betrayed the oath of his office.

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» THE WATER UNDER THE WATER: Appearances and Realities in Chengdu

The fact that political ideologies are tangible realities is not a proof of their vitally necessary character. The bubonic plague was an extraordinarily powerful social reality, but no one would have regarded it as vitally necessary.

Wilhelm Reich

Here is a girl, standing at the end of an alleyway in Chengdu, in the Sichuan province in southwestern China.

What will she become, and what will life in the place and time she was born into allow her?

When we first made eye contact, she made a grim face, turned abruptly, and marched with purpose the other way. Then she stopped, executed a surprisingly martial turn, and stood surveying me for a pregnant moment. I waved, and she seemed not to respond at all; just stood there stone-faced, or so I thought at the time. After a moment of standing there like an absurd soldier, she vanished into the doorway of what I assume was her home.

When I got the chance to look at these pictures in more detail, I saw that there was a glimmer of a smile on her face, mostly around her eyes. I have very poor vision, and my camera, with its optical zoom, sees far better than I do.

It seems to me that the Chinese people make the best of the lives their government allows them, and this little girl is a great example of why it’s important to oppose governments and corporations, not people. The Chinese people are not to be feared or damned for the vehicle they’ve been shoved into. Their spirit in trying to advance and overcome is to be respected and admired.

This little girl’s alleyway holds several things of interest and relevance. To touch on the simplest one first, the grime is a byproduct of industry and sheer population density, and industry is, in our globally metasticized consumer culture, how people raise their standards of living. And maybe the U.S. didn’t invent it, but we sure did refine it, give it some steroids, and begin exporting it to the world on a massive scale.

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» CORRUPTION & SNOW IN ISTANBUL

Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it’s set a rolling it must increase.”
— Charles Caleb Colton

Photo EssayUnlike corruption, ethnic bigotry, national chauvinism or dubious coup attempts, snow is growing rarer in Istanbul, but one day in early 2015, it didn’t seem to interrupt the usual activities of the city’s birds, fish or fishermen. A few dogs seemed on edge, and cat sightings were rarer, but otherwise it was business as usual.

Galata Bridge fishermen on a snowy day in Istanbul. - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

I spent about two months in Turkey in the winter of 2014/15, mostly because I wanted to visit while it was still hospitable for U.S. citizens. Numerous people I spoke with in Istanbul mentioned exiled-to-the-U.S. Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and the “parallel state” he was suspected of operating within Turkey. The eerily unvarying invocation of this exact phrase made me wonder then how manufactured or propagandistic a concept it was, and later, in 2016, to what extent Erdogan was exaggerating and scapegoating real and perceived enemies in order to orchestrate a political advantage for himself while whipping up unifying enemies for the country to hate.

Galata Bridge fisherman on a snowy day in Istanbul. - (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Of course, a majority of Turks don’t need much help when it comes to being hypernationalistic and disliking other people and nations… Continue reading

» FIKRET MUALLâ: “COLORS THAT EVOKE DREAMS”

Fikret Muallâ’s statue in Moda, Kadikoy, in Istanbul. (c) Brian Awehali

Fikret Muallâ’s statue in Moda, Kadikoy, in Istanbul. (c) Brian Awehali

Photo EssayAvant-garde painter Fikret Muallâ (1904-1967) was born in Istanbul, but lived most of his life in France. Muallâ was a soul tortured by circumstance and self-abuse, but he understood his pain as a crucible for the perfection of his art, which he testified to in one of the last letters he was to write:

“In my opinion every artist should suffer hardship, anguish and hunger. Only after that should they enjoy life. After the age of fifty, people start to seek comfort and health, and to think. That is my fate. My life has passed in a struggle against poverty. Now in this quiet village I submit to living peacefully by myself waiting for the final period of my life as ordained by God. Apart from this I have no problems! No pretensions. We have seen every kind of circumstance the world has to offer, we have tasted very few of the pleasures of life. Today what is left but for my tongue to recall the past and my brush to paint?”

Fikret Muallâ’s statue in Moda, Kadikoy, in Istanbul. (c) Brian Awehali

» SCENES FROM ALICATI, TURKEY

Photo EssayAlicati is a town on the “Turkish Riviera,” and it’s a favored getaway for wealthy Europeans, especially Greeks. It’s almost certainly lovelier to me during the quiet off-season.

Shoe polisher and scooter in the off-season, Alicati, Turkey, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Shoe polisher and scooter in the off-season, Alicati, Turkey, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

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» 1500-YEAR-OLD BYZANTINE HOLE IN THE CEILING

Photo Essay

This photo, of a portal in the ceiling of one of the dim walkways that connect the first level to the second at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, strikes me as a great visual metaphor for what all of the religious and political leaders who’ve put this structure to use since about 537 C.E. have promised and exploited. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

This portal in the ceiling of one of the dim walkways that connect the first level to the second at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is as a nice metaphor for what religious and political leaders have exploited this structure for since about 537 C.E. – (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

» WISHES TO MEDUSA AT THE BASILICA CISTERN

Photo EssayThe Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı) is spooky, but would be a lot spookier if it weren’t overrun with tour groups, or if it was still full of the corpses they once stored here, before turning it into a tourist attraction with a very repetitive, endless loop of classical music for a soundtrack.

Inverted Medusa at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

Inverted Medusa at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, (c) 2016 Brian Awehali

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