Grand is in the Details

This magnificent mountain in the Peruvian Andes is Huanya Picchu.

 To me it looks like a great green ghost, its strong stone arms wrapped protectively around the ancient Incan city of  Machu Picchu .

Machu Picchu, meaning “Ancient Mountain,” was built in the 15th century, at the peak of Incan culture.  One of the greatest artistic, architectural, and land use achievements of the world, it was chosen as a World Heritage Site in 1983.

No one can say for certain, as the Incas had no written language, but it is thought to have been a royal estate, perhaps a summer retreat, or maybe a religious center.

It was so remote that the Spanish conquerors never found it, but it was by no means isolated.

It was connected to the vast Incan Empire by a royal highway called The Inca Trail, linking Machu Picchu to 25, 000 miles of roadway, the Incan version of the Internet.  Special runners called “Chasquis” traveled as far as 240K in a day to keep the king connected, or to deliver delicacies to his dinner table.  Runners could rest at stations along the way, or relay messages by tag-team.

Much of The Inca Trail survives to this day. This section leads to the Sun Gate. 

Another steep trail leading in the other direction hugged the cliffside.  This Incan drawbridge made it impossible for outsiders to invade the city…

…unless you count tourists.

The grand view was worth the walk.

Machu Picchu is surrounded on the other three sides by steep cliffs and a raging river, making it practically impregnable.

Magnificent.  Dramatic.  Ingenious. Grand.

Machu Picchu’s grandeur can be found in the details. Like the integration of natural elements into its design, shaping the city to fit into its surroundings.  Terraces not only took on the curve of the mountain, but prevented landslides and provided a hanging garden for growing crops.

Its location was a matter of sacred geography.  It was situated among mountains with religious significance to the Incas…

…and is perfectly aligned for key astronomical events.

This instrument cut into the bedrock was used for astronomical observations.

The Incans worshipped the mountains as gods, and this was reflected in their building.

Everywhere we turned, we saw natural features incorporated into the design.

Architecture mirrored nature’s design.

Walls were built around huge boulders, which remained cradled in the earth where they had slept since the mountains were born.

This did not prevent Incan engineers from using natural features to provide creature comforts, such as running water.

 

On our second visit, the clouds lifted.  We arrived in time to see the morning sun turn gray stones gold.


We tried to imagine what it might have been like to have lived there half a millennium ago…

The dry stone walls were constructed without mortar, with some stones fitted so tight a blade of grass couldn’t squeeze between them.  Even so, the ancients must’ve worked hard to keep the jungle at bay…

 …just as they do today.  There were redshirts perched on ladders, whose full time job was to keep the weeds from taking over.  

The backstairs whispered ancient secrets, but we couldn’t quite make them out.

We could only wonder at the world around us.

The flora…


And fauna.

Each one…

…a tiny miracle.

Great civilizations come and go….

…and life goes on.

As hard as we try to unlock them…

…Machu Picchu’s walls hold onto their secrets.

In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if we don’t know all the answers?

It is a privilege to be there…

…following in the footsteps….

…of the ancient ones.

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

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While we are on the subject of GRAND, I’d like to introduce you to a not-so-ancient wonder of the world.  My cousin Haskell is a little like Forest Gump, in that, after serving in World War II, followed by a lifetime of service in the Merchant Marines, I’m not kidding–he has been there and done that, and can tell you all about it in grand style.  Except for one thing.  Somehow, through all his amazing adventures, he never got around to learning to play the autoharp.  Until last June.

I love you, Haskell, and I’m so lucky to have you in my family!   Here’s to Rum and Coke, and jamming next year in Seattle, and feeling better soon!

Sky King

Last summer I traveled to the Amazon with my family.

It was one of the most remote places I’ve been to.

We visited the tiny village of El Chino…

…and did some jungle trekking.  The canopy is thick, blocking out the sky.

  But the waterways open swaths through the jungle, and are perfect for skywatching.

Sometimes a tree will break free from the jungle shadows to find its place under the sun.  You can almost hear this little tree whisper, “I WIN!”

Amazon skies can go from this…

…to this,  in minutes.

We were up by starlight to go fishing one morning, and caught this sunrise on the Tahuayo River.

The clouds are stunning, and ever changing.

But this was the most amazing cloud formation I saw over the Amazon jungle.  Look closely, and tell me it doesn’t look like….

…wait for it.

…wait for it.

…wait for it.

 …wait for it.

Thank you.  Thank you very much!

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck

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Unidentified Flying Objects

Last year my son Eli and I traveled to Turkey.  One of the highlights was Cappadocia in Eastern Anatolia, a land rich in history and natural wonders, such as ancient underground cities, and fairy chimneys.  And…So. Many. Caves.  Some were natural, but most were carved into the soft stone as houses for the inhabitants, going all the way back to the 6th century B.C.E.  They reminded me of swallows’ nests or anthills, but for people, and they were everywhere.

People are still carving caves into the stone to create habitable space, but most of them are entrepreneurs building hotel rooms for tourists eager for the experience of sleeping in a cave.

Eli and I stayed in just such a hotel, with all its rooms carved into a rocky hillside.
I expected it to be rough, cold, damp and crudely done, but travel is all about the unexpected.  Sometimes we are pleasantly surprised.  The walls had a stone-like pattern beautifully carved into the rock, it was brightly lit and tastefully decorated.  I loved the shelves and nooks carved into the walls.

The interior of this closet is stone, but the wooden frame and doors were fitted to the opening in the rock.

At first Eli and I couldn’t imagine what this nook was for, but then we figured it out.

It must have been a terrific photo op placed there just for us.

Here’s my favorite shot.

Our stay was full of unexpected surprises.  After weeks of washing things out in the sink, we splurged and sent laundry out to be done.  It came back the next day, but all my socks and underwear had gone missing.

Then we had an unexpected opportunity to fly up in a hot air balloon.  I’m uncomfortable with heights and it was expensive, but Eli really wanted to, and both my kids were mostly launched, so I surprised myself and agreed.   But the last place I expected the unexpected was in our spiffy bathroom.

One morning I entertained the notion of a relaxing bath, but quickly changed my mind…

…when I found this in the tub.

I did what anyone would have done.  I took a photo.  Oh, yeah, and then I yelled for Eli to come look.  And then I ran out looking for someone else to come see our scorpion. Terry and Wayne were on the way to breakfast when I accosted them, and dragged them into our bathroom to act as witnesses.

Here’s what we saw.

You know that joke…what’s worse than finding a worm in an apple?  (Finding half a worm.)  Well, worse than finding a scorpion in the cave where you sleep is finding nothing where there was a scorpion just a minute before.  We looked everywhere, but it was gone.  At least I had photo-documentation–stone cold proof we were rooming with a venomous creature.  As for my missing socks and underwear–it all came out in the wash…Terry’s wash, in fact.

But that night you’d better believe I was ready for anything.  I peeked under the bed, and checked my sheets before I got into bed…and I looked up just in time to see something flying through the air straight for me.

Down it came, and…

 All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

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Islands Out of Time

We set out by boat from Puno, Peru.  Our destination, the Floating Islands called the Uros.

The islands are man-made, found on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, at 12, 507 feet, and 109 miles long.

There are over 40 small islands floating in the lake, each constructed of layer upon layer of totora reeds growing in the shallows.

The Uros were pushed back into the lake when the Incas conquered the region.  They were so poor the Incas found them hardly worth taxing, but some were taken as slaves.  After the fall of the Incan Empire, the Uros traded and intermarried with the Aymara on the mainland, eventually losing their Uru language for that of the Aymara.

We were given a warm welcome by the women of the island…

…who sang us ashore.

Each island supports up to 10 families, depending upon its size.  The islands are anchored with ropes tied to stakes driven into the lake bottom.  When attacked, the Uros cut the the ropes to escape into deeper water.  When cohabitants fought, as a last resort they cut their island in half, to live separately.

Totora reeds rot quickly. New layers must constantly be added. Even so, an island lasts only about thirty years.

When we stepped onto the island, our feet sank several inches into the top layers of reeds.

Marcos, a leader on his island, explained through a translator that the white part of totora is eaten for food, and its flowers provide tea. The same reeds used to build the island are also used to build houses and boats for fishing, hunting, and trading with mainlanders.

A model of the island community shows each component, with its real life counterpart.

Canoes.

Cooking pits.

Houses and watchtowers.

And the people.

The Uros fish, and keep pigs on floating islands nearby.

They domesticated Ibis for meat…

…and eggs.

Marcos welcomed us into his home.

Living in close quarters keeps it warmer at night.  During the rainy season they sometimes use plastic tarps to keep dry.

The islands’ population dropped from 2,000 in 1997 to about 400.  The draw of city comforts is strong, especially for the younger generation. The modern world encroaches.  Solar panels provide music and television to make them more content with island life.

Tourism now provides income to purchase products available only on the mainland.

The Uros sell handicrafts made from reeds…

 

…or from materials bought on the Mainland.

It’s a delicate balance maintaining their traditional culture and making a living,

…between supporting their way of life…

…and keeping the children happy at home.

Flashy non-traditional water taxis, the Uru version of a gondola, transport tourists from island to island for a fee.

We caught a ride with Marcos.

He operates his taxi, sells his family’s handicrafts, and fishes to eke out a living for four generations of family.

A French Canadian I spoke to expressed extreme disappointment in the experience.  She found it too commercial, and felt the Uros had sold out their culture to make a buck.  But I don’t see their world or mine in such black and white terms.

Like her ancestors, that woman lives in Quebec, speaks French, and eats baguettes.  But she also eats sushi, drives a car, and works for a tech company to pay her electric bill.

Such a fine line between preserving cultural traditions while adapting to the changing world around us.  Since the beginning of time, most living things have both adapted and made the choices that put food into the mouths of their young.

The Uros are a unique and hardworking people living in a harsh climate under difficult conditions.   Doing no harm to others or the world around them…

…they have done an amazing job keeping alive a way of life that began centuries ago.

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

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Off to See the Wizard

The Motor City might be in my DNA, but at heart I’m a Needle Rat, living, working, and playing in the shadow of The Space Needle.

Scottish Australian storyteller Meg Philp and her Kiwi storytelling friend Lesley Dowding came to visit last month.

It had been too long since I’d seen Meg, my dear friend for over twenty-five years.  I’d never met Lesley, but she was a storyteller, an author, and a friend of Meg’s, and that was good enough for me.  The timing was perfect, not only for Meg to tell at the Forest Storytelling Festival in Port Angeles, but to catch the peak of autumn color.

First stop, a visit to the beach down the hill from my house, for walking and talking…and talking…and talking…

…and sharing a huckleberry sundae at Anthony’s Beach Cafe.

Lesley, Meg, and I walked back along the beach, three birds of a feather…

…watching the ferries come and go.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Aim a camera, ask someone to jump off a cliff, and she might just do it for the sake of the shot.  Meg and Lesley were such good sports!   Again…

…and again!

I presented my city to them.  We began, of course, with The Space Needle.

The view was worth the trip.

Through the protective bars we admired the paint job on the roof below the Needle.

I LOVE Seattle!

The view inside the belly of the beast was almost as good.

Then there was the Needle’s spiffy biffy.

A quick ride on the monorail took us downtown.

The First Nations permanent art collection at the Seattle Art Museum is superb.

“Going for Gold,” featured golden art objects, including ancient brocades, jewelry, even a Faberge cigarette case.

And remember that camera thing I was telling you about?

Next stop, Pike Place Market.

For lunch…

For dessert, we had LOTS of rainbow-colored eye candy.

Then we had our big night on the town.

Yes, we were off to see the Wizard.  I felt like Dorothy with my very own Yellow Brick Roadies, including my husband Thom, and brother Lew.

The Paramount Theater…

…is elegant and historic, and its patrons…

…very high class!

In our days together we also saw this…

…that…

…and the other thing.

Oh, yes…and the OTHER other thing, in an eerie dark alley, well, just spitting distance from the market.

It’s an attraction the way squirrel roadkill or a really big oozy banana slug attracts the eye, even while repulsing other senses you didn’t even know you had.

Yes, I am talking about Seattle’s own Gum Wall, fifty feet high, inches thick.

After years of scraping the wall clean, only to have the gooey gum wads mysteriously reappear that night, it was finally reclassified as a tourist attraction.  It was even voted the second germiest tourist attraction in the world, after The Blarney Stone.  Frankly, I think the Gum Wall should have won, but that’s a sticky wicket, and we won’t go there.  But I will tell you this: it was in the bowels of old Seattle that I realized Lesley and I had formed a friendship that would stick.  You do remember that camera thing I was telling you about?

Wait for it….

Wait for it…

Wait for it….

This one’s for you, Lesley.  I am proud to call you ‘Friend.’

All images and words copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck.
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Island Time

Little pockets of Britain, such as Gibraltar, can be found in the most unexpected places.

You will know them by their breakfasts.

Their mailboxes…

Their unique signage…

And their excellent thrift stores…

…which are staffed by the friendliest most helpful people, like Thelma and Kathy with a ‘K’.

In Britain, thrift shops are centrally located, often on the high street, each dedicated to a worthy cause: for the poor, cancer research, head injuries, or mental illness.  Thelma and Kathy, Hospice Shop volunteers, saw us trying on Queen Mum hats and took it upon themselves to outfit us.  Each time Kathy handed a new outfit into the fitting room, she said,  “My talents are wasted in the office!”  And we had to agree.

Our Channel Island adventure actually began with last month’s trip to Belgium.  My sister Constance and I had both enjoyed reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  While we were on that side of The Pond, we decided to visit at least one of the Channel Islands.

Jersey Island is home to the famous Jersey Cow…

…home to the famous Jersey Royal Potato…

…and home to author Roy McCarthy, who has written several books set on Jersey.  He is an expert on Jersey history, a blogging buddy of mine, and he offered to show us around.  Who wouldn’t pick Jersey?

But first, you may ask, how does Jersey, which is spitting distance from France, come to be so very English?

Back in 1066, after William the Duke of Normandy conquered England he changed his name to William the Conqueror and expanded his job description to include ‘King of England.’

The Channel Islands were a possession of Normandy long before England was, and remained so until 1214, when King John of England (aptly nicknamed ‘John Lackland’) lost Normandy to France.  The islanders picked up their marbles, cast their lot with England rather than France, and were rewarded for their loyalty with privileges other English possessions did not enjoy.  To this day they are “bailiwicks’ of England, possessions of the crown, but separate from Britain, with their own financial, legal, and judicial systems.  This, BTW, is why financial business is Jersey’s main industry, and the per capita income is much higher than in most countries.  And why, Thelma explained, the thrift stores have such great merchandise.  They can afford to wear it once to a wedding and give it away!

Roy started our tour here.  On June 28th, 1940, the Nazis preceded their occupation of the Channel Islands by bombing this harbor.  He showed us bullet holes in the stone wall from machine gun strafing and, sadly, a memorial to the dead.

Signs of the German occupation remain all over the island.  It was one of the most fortified German holdings in Europe, far out of proportion to its strategic value.  Hitler, disappointed at his failure to conquer England, took particular satisfaction in occupying the Channel Islands, and he meant to keep them at all costs.

The Jersey War Tunnels are a huge complex of underground tunnels built by the Germans during the occupation, using slave labor.  The Germans maintained a hospital there for wounded German soldiers.

The tunnels, like the history, seem to go on and on forever.  The museum established in the tunnels echoes with footsteps and voices from the past.

They pull no punches, telling both the good and the bad that occurred on the island.

At first there were only a few hundred Germans, who were told to keep relations with the natives civil.  Being stationed on Jersey was like a picnic to the Germans, with merchandise on the shop shelves to send home to their families, no bullets or bombs to dodge, and little resistance.

Below are just two of the museum mannequins that came to life and spoke in English with German accents, trying to engage us as they might have done to islanders in 1940.  He was the enemy, the occupying army, and had the power of life and death over you, and then there were the stories of Nazi brutality that had preceded the soldiers.  With all that in mind, would you respond to a German soldier if he shouted a cheery greeting to you, or could you ignore him?

Would you do his laundry if he offered you extra food rations?  What if he said your child looked like his little boy at home and offered to buy him an ice cream?

As the war proceeded, conditions worsened.  Thousands more soldiers came, as many as one German soldier for every two islanders.  Rules tightened, food and supplies grew scarce, civility waned.  Owning a radio was a crime punishable by death.  One woman was shot for rejecting the advances of a German soldier.  Other women had affairs with them, were judged harshly and called “Jerry bags” by the islanders.  Some escapes were attempted, but few were successful; those apprehended were shot or deported to Auschwitz, where most perished.  Some people sheltered fugitive slaves, shared their resources, or found other ways to resist the Nazis.   Also on exhibit were letters sent anonymously by islanders to Nazi commanders betraying their neighbors’ transgressions.  Why?  To settle old scores or to curry favor or simply for financial gain.  It happened all over Europe, but it was still sobering and sad.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that a woman is like a teabag–she never knows how strong she is until she gets into hot water.  I think that’s true, and it is in times of war and desperation when your true colors show.

The occupation of Jersey is the subject of Roy’s book, Tess of Portelet Manor.  

“In pre-war Jersey, Tess Picot is young and in love.  Living with her mother in a cottage on idyllic Portelet Common, the days are sunny and long.  But can it last? Soon the clouds of war approach and the Channel Islands are occupied by Hitler’s Nazi troops.  Tess’s heart has been broken, maybe beyond repair.  But like the cottage on the common Tess grows stronger as the long years go by.Follow Tess Picot as she battles through the harsh Occupation years, loses friends and tries to love again. Will she succeed? The journey is a remarkable one with an unexpected ending.”

We took a hike…

…and saw the raw beauty of the island.

…with stories to be discovered everywhere, from many different periods in history,

…or legends based on natural features, such as The Devil’s Hole.

All of it was pure gold.

Roy pointed out the places we had read about in his book. This was the beach Tess walked on, until the Germans mined it.

Here was the hotel where the Nazis set up their headquarters.

And here it is today, just around the corner from where my sister and I were staying.

I can’t remember whether Tess and her mum came to this pub for a pint, but we did.  It was the perfect way to top off an incredibly full day.

As our ferry pulled away,  Jersey faded into the fog, but the island’s stories and histories remain vivid, colorful, and compelling.

c2013Naomi Baltuck

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Bumbershots

In my hometown of Seattle, there are two kinds of people.  Those who carry “bumbershoots”…

…and those who don’t.

I always regarded carriers as sissies, but before we left for Europe, my sister Constance talked me into buying an umbrella, and I’m glad she did.  We had one day to explore the city of Liege…

…and one day in Paris.

It rained both days.

What are you gonna do?  As the sign says, “You are here.”

You can’t make hay while the sun don’t shine, but there’s no better time to snap bumbershots.

We decided to just relax and enjoy it, from the bus stop in front of the Guillemins train station in Liege

…to the citadel park overlooking Liege.

By the end of the day, even with our umbrellas…

…we were so saturated that we had to find our way home by map wad.

In Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the go-to place for pond sailing.

Just as we got there, the last boat was hauled out of the water…

…and wheeled off into dry dock.

But it was still perfect weather for dads…

…ducks, and little children.

Not to mention friends…

..and lovers.

After all, this was Paris.

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for The Weekly Travel Theme: Relaxing.

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Streamlined

When I told my Belgian friend Johan that my sister Constance and I would be staying in the hotel across from the Guillemins train station, he said, “You will see the most amazing train station in Belgium.”  Guillemins was near the historic heart of Liege.

I was looking forward to seeing something old and elegant, like Grand Central Station in New York.  It was not at all what I expected.

We arrived in the afternoon.  Sunlight streamed in through skylights, highlighting an amazing structure of steel, glass, and white concrete.

Our eyes were drawn by graceful lines and patterns inside and out.

It was like beaming into our own episode of Star Trek.

After a wonderful visit with our dear friends, we had to catch a very early train out of Liege.

Sleepy-eyed, we left our warm beds to board the 5:30AM train to Paris.

One glimpse of the station lighting up the darkness was enough to stir our senses and wake us up.

Night or day, Guillemins is an inspiration.

A work of art.

True, it was not what we expected.

No stained glass.

No iron grillwork

No weathered stone that echoed with footsteps from the past.

Life is a blend of new and old.  We treasure tradition, but new and unexpected can be a good thing too.

And the trains still run on time.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck
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The Inside Story

When my daughter Bea was studying at the Yiddish Book Center in Massachusetts, I went to  visit her.  We zipped down the turnpike to Old Sturbridge Village.

The village is a living museum including 59 restored buildings, a working farm and water-powered mills.  There were craftsmen…

…artisans…

…tradesmen…

 …and re-enactors.

We were invited to look through a window in time…

We saw village life as it was lived between the 1790s and the 1830s.

I enjoyed the opportunity to see the old buildings from the inside out.

 Everywhere we went there were whispers, hinting at the inside story.

Upon reflection, one thing was clear…


Just as we do today,  those people worked hard…

…fell in love…or not…

…cherished their children…

…and valued their friends.

Some things never change.

All images and words copyright Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside.

Flying South

It was our last day before our daughter Bea returned to Stanford, so we let her decide how to spend it.  Hiking was her first choice.   In Washington one must often decide—mountains or ocean?

But the trail at Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island gave us a little of both, plus some Washington State history.

The trail takes you past the historic house of Jacob and Sarah Ebey, built in the early 1850s, and the blockhouse built for protection from Native American uprisings.  (You can’t blame the indigenous people–they were there first.)

Isaac Ebey found his paradise on Whidbey.  The government was granting 640 acres to each homesteader.   Isaac convinced not only his parents, Jacob and Sarah Ebey, to come homestead on Whidbey Island, but several siblings and cousins as well.

From Jacob and Sarah’s house,  you can see Isaac Ebey’s homestead, pictured below.  He was one of the first white settlers on Whidbey Island, was the island’s prosecuting attorney, a representative of the Oregon State Legislature when Washington was still part of Oregon Territory, and he helped persuade the legislature to separate Washington from Oregon Territory.  Ebey was also a tax collector, a customs agent, and captain of the local volunteer militia.

But there was trouble in paradise.  In 1857 Native Americans–probably Haida–came to avenge the death of their chief at the hands of white men in Port Gamble.  The man they meant to kill wasn’t home, but they knew Ebey was an important man, and they knew where he lived.  They knocked on his door; when he opened it, they killed and beheaded him, taking his head as a trophy.

As we walked past Isaac’s house, I thought of his parents, wife, and children, left to grieve in paradise.

The view was heavenly.  From the bluff, we looked west to the Olympic Peninsula and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to the south was Mt. Rainier, and the Cascade Mountains were visible to the east.

We took in the smell of salt, the sparkle of sunlight on the water, the feel of the earth beneath our boots.

The trail took us to the water, and then along some of Washington’s highest coastal bluffs.

Below was the beach…

…and Peregos Lake, formed by a narrow spit covered with giant weathered drift logs.

Via switchbacks we descended the steep golden hillside to the beach….

…where we found all kinds of treasures…

…including several dead Lion’s Mane jellyfish, which we examined in detail.

Each moment has become a precious memory which I will bring out and savor as needed, like a box of fine chocolates.

Looping back toward the trailhead…

…I thought about our little chick.

Soon she would be navigating a different coastline.

For her I wished for calm waters…

…and guiding light.

I had to remind myself how lucky we are.   When the pioneers struck out on their own and bid their parents farewell, it was almost always forever.

But for every bird flying south there will be another trip north.  And for every plane flying out of Seattle, there’s another one coming home.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck.

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