Seasons in Basilicata: A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village

( 4 )

Overview

Award-winning travel writer and illustrator, David Yeadon embarks with his wife, Anne on an exploration of the "lost word" of Basilicata, in the arch of Italy's boot. What is intended as a brief sojourn turns into an intriguing residency in the ancient hill village of Aliano, where Carlo Levi, author of the world-renowned memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli, was imprisoned by Mussolini for anti-Fascist activities. As the Yeadons become immersed in Aliano's rich tapestry of people, traditions, and festivals, reveling ...

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Overview

Award-winning travel writer and illustrator, David Yeadon embarks with his wife, Anne on an exploration of the "lost word" of Basilicata, in the arch of Italy's boot. What is intended as a brief sojourn turns into an intriguing residency in the ancient hill village of Aliano, where Carlo Levi, author of the world-renowned memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli, was imprisoned by Mussolini for anti-Fascist activities. As the Yeadons become immersed in Aliano's rich tapestry of people, traditions, and festivals, reveling in the rituals and rhythms of the grape and olive harvests, the culinary delights, and other peculiarities of place, they discover that much of the pagan strangeness that Carlo Levi and other notable authors revealed still lurks beneath the beguiling surface of Basilicata.

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Editorial Reviews

Kathy Balog
“Yeadon leaves you pleasantly stuffed, slightly intoxicated and feeling warmer for the company.”
Dolores Derrickson
“One of the best travel writers in the world.”
Ann Geracimos
“This is a true traveler…who can make the most innocent encounter a memorable experience.”
June Sawyers
“Wonderful account”
Pamela Paul
“Leave it to Yeadon to choose one of the country’s most overlooked provinces.”
David Citino
“A compelling book...that comes close to re-creating the place and the man.”
Paul Carbray
“Delightful, with the odd twist to eerie.”
Albany Times Union
“A warm welcome to a balcony view of Aliano.”
Publishers Weekly
Intrigued by Carlo Levi's book on life in the Italian province of Basilicata, Christ Stopped at Eboli, the author and his wife, Anne, decided to live for a year in Aliano, the village where Levi was kept under house arrest by Mussolini for seven months in 1935-1936. In Levi's day, Basilicata, situated in the instep of Italy's "boot," was a place of poverty. Unlike Levi, however, British travel writer Yeadon (The World's Secret Places) was there to "live happily with Anne, learning, and generally have a spanking good time dining on all those gorgeous porky products and homemade olive oil and wines and wild game and pasta galore." In his entertaining book, he describes how he did just that, renting an apartment with a terrace overlooking the village square, making friends who enjoyed serving him sumptuous meals, learning how wine and olive oil are made and investigating the local superstitions. He tries to find out from the older inhabitants what life was like in the 1930s, but they are reluctant to talk about it, claiming that they are better off than they were. But Yeadon doesn't dig too deeply: finding it hard to reconcile his experiences with Levi's bleak portrayal of conditions in Basilicata, Yeadon concentrates instead on the comradeship and good food. Illus. (July) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
These two offerings could very well encourage tourists to seek the road less traveled. Virgile's Vineyard is the amusing and very personal account of Moon's adventures in the wine country of the Languedoc region of France and his efforts to restore a rundown house he inherited. Various characters weave their way through his life, but none is quite like Virgile Joly, a vineyard caretaker who becomes a major factor in Moon's efforts to salvage his olive and grape plants. Of course, we get an intimate glimpse into the everyday life of the colorful Languedoc and the lives of the equally colorful characters who inhabit it. A love of Italian hill towns those remote, walled-in places that are the devil to get to brought Yeadon and his wife to the Basilicata region, located in the arch of the Italian boot. An accomplished travel writer and skilled artist, Yeadon sketches rather than describes his adventures, infusing them with a warmth and personality that no photograph could capture. The Yeadons soon discover that residents of Italian hill towns enjoy their remoteness almost to a point of being wary of outsiders; once the couple accepts the limitations of life there, however, and the somewhat pagan practices of the inhabitants, they are warmly received, and the reader is left to bask in the incredible beauty of rural Italy. Both books would make great additions to a public library's travel section since they go beyond the typical attractions to focus on areas that are generally overlooked in tourist itineraries. Joseph L. Carlson, Allan Hancock Coll., Lompoc, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The off-the-path travel author (Lost Worlds, 1993, etc.) spends a ripe year in the boot of Italy. Yeadon takes readers into the heart and ways of Aliano, an old hilltop village in the region known as Basilicata, way down south. Not quite as "remarkably unexplored" as Yeadon would have it-the settlement can trace its roots back to the sixth-century b.c.-it's still a wild place, not without its pagan aspects, full of the unexpected, the troubling, the wonderful. What was that howl he heard when the moon was full, that rustling in the deserted rooms of a rain-racked ghost town, and who was that ancient woman who got his broken-down car to start one night by a laying of hands on the motor? For insights into the mysteries of the place, Yeadon turns frequently to the writings of Carlo Levi, the anti-fascist author of Christ Stopped at Eboli, who was sent into internal exile in Aliano by Mussolini. But he also consults a fine company of locals, from the maker of excellent bricks to the seller of excellent sardines and the men and women with a hand for cooking. They tell him stories, they explain a widow's obligations, they usher him, haltingly, into the archaic and animistic. Yeadon will visit, and describe in leisurely detail, cave dwellings, a cathedral from the 13th century, and a handful of improbable hilltop villages; he will eat wild-boar stew, and he will find a town "still mysterious and elusively tied to a darker age and deeper pagani touchstones of knowledge and belief." Remarkably, for Yeadon is practically defined by his restlessness, Aliano makes him sit awhile and feed his many interior selves. More fine work from a stylish and cultured writer with a hungry, open curiosity, a knackfor compressing without diminishing, and an unfettered love for life and serendipity. (46 line drawings)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060531119
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/5/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 734,851
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

David Yeadon is the author of Seasons in Basilicata and the bestselling National Geographic Guide to the World's Secret Places. He has written, illustrated, and designed more than twenty books about traveling around the world. He lives with his wife, Anne, in Mohegan Lake, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Seasons in Basilicata
A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village

Chapter One

The Lure of Levi

This is a closed world, shrouded in black veils, bloody and earthy— that other world where the peasants live and which no one can enter without a magic key . . . Here there is no definite boundary between the world of human beings and that of animals and even monsters. And there are many strange creatures here who have a dual nature . . . everything is bound up in natural magic . . . and a subterranean deity, black with shadows of the bowels of the earth . . .

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli

Some say his coffin is full of rocks.

It lies deep in the heavy clay soil at the edge of the cemetery in Aliano. The cemetery is at the highest point of the village, on a watershed ridge above the Sauro and Agri Valleys. The views from there across the eroded calanchi canyons, which seem to be melting like cake frosting into the scrubby and scraggly olive orchards far below, are the finest in the village. And Carlo Levi's grave has the best view of all, west across the calanchi, the muscular outlines of the Pollino range and, on a clear spring day, the massive bulk of the Calabrian massif.

The grave site has recently been rebuilt with a simple two-walled enclosure overlooking a deep gorge, but the headstone remains the same as before, bearing its simple inscription: Carlo Levi 12.11.1902-4.1.1975.

Others say his actual remains are in Rome, jealously guarded by a lover. His nephew, Giovani Levi, who lives in Venice, is vague about the whole matter and prefers to discuss the impact of hisuncle's books and political career on the Mezzogiorno, "Land of the Midday Sun," that wild region dismissed by refined, affluent northerners as "the South" (with the usual complacent smirk) or, more offensively, "the land of the terroni" (peasants). As with everything involving Carlo Levi, opinions are divided, sometimes dramatically, ferociously. But all that will be revealed later.

For the moment Anne and I are sitting in the shade of a line of pine trees by Levi's grave, watching hawks float on the spirals in the heat of the "sacred time," the afternoon siesta. We're thinking about the life of this man who worked so arduously on behalf of his "beloved peasants," attempting to eradicate the centuries-old inequities of a harsh feudal system and create conditions conducive to human dignity and new economic progress in the South.

We're remembering his most famous book, Christ Stopped at Eboli—first published in English in 1947—and its impact on us both when we first read it years ago. One reviewer described it as "an unforgettable journey into the dark, ancient and richly human ethos of Southern Italy." Others saw deeper, more holistic nuances. An eminent European sociologist even suggested that the primitive elements Levi discovered here reflected "the deepest, darkest parts of the Soul of our World"—elements also dramatically reflected in Francesco Rosi's famous 1978 film of the book, featuring Italian heartthrob Gian Maria Volentè as Levi and Irene Pappas as his witch-housekeeper, Giulia Venere (Mango).

Levi wrote his masterwork following his confino, his house arrest in the remote Basilicatan hill town of Aliano, where he was exiled before World War II by an irate Mussolini, il Duce, who was determined to quell Levi's rampant, antifascist activities and writings. Almost sixty years later Levi's book, translated into thirty-seven languages, continues to provide insights into this wild region, located in the instep of Italy's "boot." Still mysterious and elusively tied to a darker age and deeper pagani touchstones of knowledge and belief, the region is relatively unchanged by the country's overreaching Catholic influence.

A true Renaissance man—physician, philosopher, artist, writer, inspired speaker, and later a senator in the Italian government— Levi was born in Turin on November 29, 1902, into an affluent, talented, and respected Jewish family. He graduated in medicine at the early age of twenty-two. That same year, he exhibited his artwork at the Biennale of Venice and began his vociferous antifascist activities, with the Giustizia e Libertà movement, which ultimately condemned him as a "threat to national security." He was sentenced to five years confino in one of Italy's wildest regions, a term that was reduced to seven months (from October 3, 1935, to May 20, 1936), following Mussolini's conquest of Ethiopia.

Those less impressed by Carlo Levi's political values and writings often refer dismissively to Christ Stopped at Eboli as a "novel," implying that much of the dark, bleak, primitive, sempre miseria ("always misery") peasant world in Aliano he describes—a world "which no one can enter without a magic key"—is largely fictitious. To some, it is either a figment of a vehemently antifascist, prounderclass imagination or, according to other cynics, a masterful work of mystical fantasy.

Prior to our time in Aliano and other places in a region that once harbored a host of strident socialist critics, the plight of Mezzogiorno peasants was regarded as beneath the dignity of national politicians to investigate and certainly never to acknowledge. One of the most outspoken "revolutionaries" was Rocco Scotellaro, a close friend of Levi's, who appeared in redheaded rhetorical fury in many of Levi's Aliano-period paintings. As a poet and ultimately the mayor (sindico) of Tricarico, Scotellaro used his verses and vision as powerful instruments for social and economic emancipation. Similarly, in the village of Tursi to the Southeast, Albino Pierro, a renowned poet who wrote in the local Arab-tinged dialect and was once a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, was also a reformist for the sperduti ("the forgotten people").

Levi saw himself primarily as a physician and a painter, and certainly never claimed to be a poet. However, both his art and his eloquent prose paint an intriguing and almost poetical portrait of Aliano, his place of exile in 1935-1936, the most strident era of the Mussolini fascist dictatorship. And there is no doubt, based upon our own time there, that Levi's descriptions of the setting and mood of the village of Aliano could not be bettered. Certainly not by me.

Here's a brief collage of Levi's impressions from his worldfamous book, which, as one critic suggested, became "the symbol of many other dire realities in our divided world today." That thought... Seasons in Basilicata
A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village
. Copyright © by David Yeadon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Read More Show Less

First Chapter

Seasons in Basilicata
A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village

Chapter One: The Lure of Levi

This is a closed world, shrouded in black veils, bloody and earthy— that other world where the peasants live and which no one can enter without a magic key . . . Here there is no definite boundary between the world of human beings and that of animals and even monsters. And there are many strange creatures here who have a dual nature . . . everything is bound up in natural magic . . . and a subterranean deity, black with shadows of the bowels of the earth . . .

Carlo Levi, Christ Stopped at Eboli

Some say his coffin is full of rocks.

It lies deep in the heavy clay soil at the edge of the cemetery in Aliano. The cemetery is at the highest point of the village, on a watershed ridge above the Sauro and Agri Valleys. The views from there across the eroded calanchi canyons, which seem to be melting like cake frosting into the scrubby and scraggly olive orchards far below, are the finest in the village. And Carlo Levi's grave has the best view of all, west across the calanchi, the muscular outlines of the Pollino range and, on a clear spring day, the massive bulk of the Calabrian massif.

The grave site has recently been rebuilt with a simple two-walled enclosure overlooking a deep gorge, but the headstone remains the same as before, bearing its simple inscription: Carlo Levi 12.11.1902–4.1.1975.

Others say his actual remains are in Rome, jealously guarded by a lover. His nephew, Giovani Levi, who lives in Venice, is vague about the whole matter and prefers to discuss the impact of his uncle's books and political career on the Mezzogiorno, "Land of the Midday Sun," that wild region dismissed by refined, affluent northerners as "the South" (with the usual complacent smirk) or, more offensively, "the land of the terroni" (peasants). As with everything involving Carlo Levi, opinions are divided, sometimes dramatically, ferociously. But all that will be revealed later.

For the moment Anne and I are sitting in the shade of a line of pine trees by Levi's grave, watching hawks float on the spirals in the heat of the "sacred time," the afternoon siesta. We're thinking about the life of this man who worked so arduously on behalf of his "beloved peasants," attempting to eradicate the centuries-old inequities of a harsh feudal system and create conditions conducive to human dignity and new economic progress in the South.

We're remembering his most famous book, Christ Stopped at Eboli—first published in English in 1947—and its impact on us both when we first read it years ago. One reviewer described it as "an unforgettable journey into the dark, ancient and richly human ethos of Southern Italy." Others saw deeper, more holistic nuances. An eminent European sociologist even suggested that the primitive elements Levi discovered here reflected "the deepest, darkest parts of the Soul of our World"—elements also dramatically reflected in Francesco Rosi's famous 1978 film of the book, featuring Italian heartthrob Gian Maria Volentè as Levi and Irene Pappas as his witch-housekeeper, Giulia Venere (Mango).

Levi wrote his masterwork following his confino, his house arrest in the remote Basilicatan hill town of Aliano, where he was exiled before World War II by an irate Mussolini, il Duce, who was determined to quell Levi's rampant, antifascist activities and writings. Almost sixty years later Levi's book, translated into thirty-seven languages, continues to provide insights into this wild region, located in the instep of Italy's "boot." Still mysterious and elusively tied to a darker age and deeper pagani touchstones of knowledge and belief, the region is relatively unchanged by the country's overreaching Catholic influence.

A true Renaissance man—physician, philosopher, artist, writer, inspired speaker, and later a senator in the Italian government— Levi was born in Turin on November 29, 1902, into an affluent, talented, and respected Jewish family. He graduated in medicine at the early age of twenty-two. That same year, he exhibited his artwork at the Biennale of Venice and began his vociferous antifascist activities, with the Giustizia e Libertà movement, which ultimately condemned him as a "threat to national security." He was sentenced to five years confino in one of Italy's wildest regions, a term that was reduced to seven months (from October 3, 1935, to May 20, 1936), following Mussolini's conquest of Ethiopia.

Those less impressed by Carlo Levi's political values and writings often refer dismissively to Christ Stopped at Eboli as a "novel," implying that much of the dark, bleak, primitive, sempre miseria ("always misery") peasant world in Aliano he describes—a world "which no one can enter without a magic key"—is largely fictitious. To some, it is either a figment of a vehemently antifascist, prounderclass imagination or, according to other cynics, a masterful work of mystical fantasy.

Prior to our time in Aliano and other places in a region that once harbored a host of strident socialist critics, the plight of Mezzogiorno peasants was regarded as beneath the dignity of national politicians to investigate and certainly never to acknowledge. One of the most outspoken "revolutionaries" was Rocco Scotellaro, a close friend of Levi's, who appeared in redheaded rhetorical fury in many of Levi's Aliano-period paintings. As a poet and ultimately the mayor (sindico) of Tricarico, Scotellaro used his verses and vision as powerful instruments for social and economic emancipation. Similarly, in the village of Tursi to the Southeast, Albino Pierro, a renowned poet who wrote in the local Arab-tinged dialect and was once a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, was also a reformist for the sperduti ("the forgotten people").

Levi saw himself primarily as a physician and a painter, and certainly never claimed to be a poet. However, both his art and his eloquent prose paint an intriguing and almost poetical portrait of Aliano, his place of exile in 1935–1936, the most strident era of the Mussolini fascist dictatorship. And there is no doubt, based upon our own time there, that Levi's descriptions of the setting and mood of the village of Aliano could not be bettered. Certainly not by me.

Here's a brief collage of Levi's impressions from his worldfamous book, which, as one critic suggested, became "the symbol of many other dire realities in our divided world today." That thought... Seasons in Basilicata
A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village
. Copyright © by David Yeadon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Introduction

Award-winning travel writer and illustrator David Yeadon embarks with his wife, Anne, on an exploration of the wild, mountainous "lost world" of Basilicata, in the arch of Italy's boot. What is intended as a brief sojourn turns into a much longer and far more intriguing residency across the seasons. The Yeadons make a home in the ancient and alluring hill village of Aliano, where Carlo Levi, author of the world-renowned memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli, was imprisoned by Mussolini during World War II for anti-Fascist activities.

The Yeadons become immersed in Aliano's rich tapestry of people, traditions, and festivals, reveling in the rituals and rhythms of the grape and olive harvests, the unique culinary delights of the region, and other enticing peculiarities of place. At the same time, they discover that much of the pagan strangeness that Carlo Levi and other notable authors revealed still lurks beneath the beguiling surface of Basilicata. Evocative illustrations and richly colorful, often humorous tales of life in the hill village form the framework for Seasons in Basilicata.

Topics for Discussion

  1. In his Seasons in Basilicata, David Yeadon has explored one of the wildest and least-known regions of Southern Italy. While many writers have celebrated the sophisticated charms of Northern Italy, why do you think the author selected Basilicata for his "seasons in" sojourn?

  2. Carlo Levi, author of the world-renowned Christ Stopped at Eboli (1937), enabled the author to observe and understand many of the pagan characteristics of Basilicata. Would these be an enticing element in your own explorations of such regions and why?

  3. The author has always illustrated his own travel books (20 and still counting). To what degree do you think the illustrations in Seasons in Basilicata enhance the book and increase the visual appeal of this wild region?

  4. Yeadon's travel books have invariably focused on 'hidden corners,' 'secret places,' and 'lost worlds' around the globe and Basilicata is the latest of his 'finds.' Do you think it's appealing to draw attention to such elusive places or should they be left relatively unexplored, and undisturbed?

  5. After almost three decades as an 'earth gypsy' travel writer the author believes that outer 'lost-worlds' exploration is a key metaphor for equally intriguing and revelationary inner exploration of our own hidden 'multi-selves.' Do you share this concept and if so, which events in the book seem to reflect and reinforce this philosophy?

  6. Southern Italian 'Slow Food' cuisine features significantly in Seasons in Basilicata. Do you feel this is reflected in the broader lifeways and daily rhythms of the local villagers and if so, in which specific activities and events?

  7. The author is a Yorkshireman born in a region of England renowned for its ironic, tongue-in-cheek humor. Do you feel this is reflected in his writings?

  8. Although the book is written primarily for an 'armchair-traveler' audience, do the author's descriptions and experiences in Basilicata make the region appealing as an actual destination particularly for 'cultural-travelers' or seekers of unusual and 'strange' destinations?

  9. Matera, Basilicata's unique 'cave-city,' was until its recent designation by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, considered by many to be an embarrassing reminder of past conditions of dire peasant-poverty in Southern Italy. There was even a local movement to eradicate all traces of this heritage. Do you feel it is important to retain and enhance such unique places and why?

About the author

David Yeadon was born in Yorkshire, England, and has lived in the United States for twenty-five years, writing and illustrating more than twenty travel books, including National Geographic's The World's Secret Places. Yeadon is also a regular contributor to many major travel magazines. He and his wife, Anne, live in upstate New York, Italy, and Japan.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2013

    I read this book years ago after reading "Christ Stopped at

    I read this book years ago after reading "Christ Stopped at Eboli" and I enjoyed it very much. We have just returned from a two week trip to Southern Italy to visit the town where my father in law grew up (Guardia Perticara) and took a side trip to Aliano and other towns listed in Yeadon's book. I have just finished reading "Seasons in Basilicata" for the second time and enjoyed this reading even more after viewing his apartment terrace and other locations mentioned in the book. It gives a good picture of the area and its people, a good description of the foods and an accurate review of Azienda Agrituristica Difesa d'Ischia. I envy David the year living in the area and getting to know the people.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2004

    Seasons in Basilicata: A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village

    Veteran travel writer David Yeadon (The Way of the Wanderer; Discover Your True Self through Travel) follows his inner gypsy on serendipitous jaunts across the Southern Italian region of Basilicata, where he and his wife, Anne, also a writer, decide to spend a leisurely year getting to know the people, architecture, and way of life in some of the country¿s most remote settlements (research on the life of famous writer and native son Carlo Levi -- whose classic work, Christ Stopped at Eboli, raised public awareness of the plight of peasants living in Southern Italy during the war -- is the author¿s thinly veiled excuse for the prolonged stay). Equal parts personal travel log and cultural geography (the region is known for harboring centuries-old beliefs in witches and enchantments) the book will delight armchair and bipedal travelers alike. Not quite a tourist, yet neither a dispassionate tour guide, David Yeadon comes across as a distant relative visiting the folks on holiday. And then there is the food. Adept at engaging locals in conversation, the author and his wife are frequently invited into the homes of neighbors to participate in the preparation of many home cooked meals featuring Southern Italian regional cuisine. Yeadon¿s illustrations of people and places provide visual cues in an otherwise engaging volume. A good companion to the conventional travel guidebook.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2004

    Seasons in Basilicata: A Year in a Southern Italian Hill Village

    Veteran journalistic travel writer David Yeadon (The Way of the Wanderer; Discover Your True Self through Travel) follows his inner gypsy on serendipitous jaunts across the Southern Italian region of Basilicata, where he and his wife, Anne, also a writer, spend one leisurely year getting to know the people, architecture, and way of life in some of the country¿s most remote settlements (research on the life of the famous writer and native son Carlo Levi -- whose classic work, Christ Stopped at Eboli, raised public awareness of the plight of peasants living in Southern Italy -- is the author¿s thinly veiled excuse for the prolonged stay). Equal parts personal travel log and cultural anthropology (the region is known for harboring centuries-old beliefs in witches and enchantments) the book will delight armchair and bipedal travelers alike. Neither a tourist nor a dispassionate tour guide, David Yeadon comes across as a distant relative visiting the folks for a spell. And then there is the food. Adept at engaging the locals in conversation, the author and his wife are frequently invited into the homes of neighbors to participate in the preparation of many home cooked meals featuring Southern Italian regional cuisine. Yeadon¿s illustrations of people and places provide visual cues in this thoroughly engaging volume. A good companion to the conventional travel guidebook.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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