Mid-December

In only a couple more days we will reach the shortest day of the year and then the days will begin to lengthen again – having closed the curtains around 4.30 today, I’m looking forward to a little more daylight once the festive season is over!!

But since that’s where we still are, let’s enjoy the moment -

16. On the table – is a small hand-thrown dish I bought at a farm shop a couple of years ago. Since it’s the season of nuts and mandarines, as well as candles, and we all tend to gather around the table, there is always a bit of peel, shell or match to put aside and I collect it in here for periodical emptying. IMG_404317. Triangles – not a shape I really “do” (it’s curves and geometric for me!) but who’s to say a triangle can’t have a curve?! IMG_4013Stein-am-Rhein is a very pretty mediaeval town I’ve mentioned here before, and fittingly, it has a mediaeval Christmas market in St. George’s monastery yard – there were many cloaked figures (LARPs? Re-enactors?) and a good choice of furs, carved goods, leather items, clothing and jewellery to be had, some ironwork and a fortune teller… This is on the way out into the town, the “lemon-tree house”.IMG_4009Our weather was simply gorgeous, far too warm for the season but easily enticing us to wander down along the Rhine and sit on a bench soaking in the sunshine! I loved this little house and must investigate what it was originally used for, perhaps something to do with customs? IMG_4021 IMG_4019Up above the little town is the castle of Hohenklingen – http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burg_Hohenklingen in German because sadly, there isn’t much about it in English. Briefly, it sits 200 m above the town and as it’s never been seriously attacked, it still looks as it did from 1200 to 1422… Its position has meant it’s been strategically important for all of its history, from the original wooden tower, through the Thirty Years’ War to helping to defend Zurich and including WWII. IMG_4024Last but not least, as we wandered back towards the railway station (and not this miniature one!) IMG_4015we passed the local cinema… IMG_402618. 15 Years ago – ooh, my goodness! 15 years ago we had a young family with three girls aged between 4-15 and lived in a large and rambling house. It wasn’t exactly a farmhouse, as it had belonged to the village vet, who was considered a Herr Doktor, who went in for luxuries like electricity, parquet floors and central heating – as well as a telephone. It seems he was a little excentric, but he was obviously respected in the village and we were told that he carried out his duties by horse and trap until he retired, which we worked out must have been in the ’60s or ’70s! Older people in the village tended to come to the back door, as this was the official entrance to the vet’s and they had often been sent along as children to fetch him – it didn’t even occur to them to come to the front door and ring the bell, which sometimes startled us at first! This included the midwife from a smaller village up above ours, who checked on me daily for a couple of weeks after I’d had my last daughter. She was in her 70s, very brisk and efficient and had brought her only son up single-handedly after she was widowed very young – a most imposing, matronlike lady!

IMG_2005It was a nice house for a family and we had lots of space and invested a lot in the garden, however it was also a lot to deal with and we were quite relieved when we moved to a smaller place. In the meantime, the roof has been replaced and has solar panels on the other side, and a hedge, too, has been removed, so you can actually see the house from the road! Still, happy memories!

 

Falling into obscurity – and some art

These days, we tend not to assume that Switzerland is the “land of the Switzers”, partly because that sounds a bit silly, somehow. However, nobody should be laughed at if they did think this – it turns out that one of the legends about the origin of the name is one of those “fighting brothers” stories, and the immigrant Alemann who won the fight got to name the land they were occupying – Suit, or Swit, they say his name was. See! Not far to Suittersland and Switzerland, then…

Swit must have lived a long time ago, before even the Romans came over the Alps, and his little piece of paradise was a small, fairly flat valley deep among some very high mountains (literally the things myths are made of – the Mythen) but with easy access to two lakes as well, the smaller Lauernzer and the much larger Lake Lucerne, which has fingers clamped along several valleys, so making transport and commerce fairly easy.

Now, of course, we know that this tiny canton was one of the first, founding cantons (along with Uri and Unterwalden) and that its flag is the basis of our country’s flag – SchwyzHowever, I was surprised to find that it was quite difficult to actually find out much about the village of Schwyz itself apart from some standard information, but as ever in this country, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of interest in the history of it, how it grew, why there are some very elegant 19th century properties or even why the hugely dominating St. Martin’s church is so incredibly enormous. Only that it all burned down in the 17th century and had to be rebuilt. After most of the villagers had died of the plague a few years earlier. The fact that it is a village – 14000 inhabitants these days – rather than a town is already a little puzzling, since it’s the capital of the canton (though there are other cantons where this is the case, e.g. Appenzell) and it has an elaborate painted town hall that holds extremely important documents, like those which show how Switzerland was founded in 1291! Schwyz_Hauptplatz

Which leads me to one of the oldest, if not the oldest, building I could find, the Archive Tower. Built in the 13th century, or even as early as 1200, it doesn’t seem to have been used for defence for very long and was soon given over as a prison and treasury, plastered over, made to look more modern, a separate staircase built on and finally in the 1930s, taken back to bare stone – and then pretty much left to it. It’s now tucked in behind other buildings… Foto_ArchivturmSchwyz_-_Haus_Bethlehem

Apparently, the Bet(h)lehem house is also famed for its age, celebrated as the oldest wooden house in Europe and dating to around 1287. It looks very much like any other old house in the area, partly plastered foundations and weathered old wood exterior. It doesn’t look as if anyone is very interested in it, either. (Though it is part of the Ital Reding museum in a large 17th century house and I will try to visit when it’s open in the summer months.) The original village of Schwyz is squashed and huddled, despite open areas, while all through and around it there have grown late 20th and early 21st century concrete boxes, both for commercial and residential use. If the church wasn’t so domineering, you might not notice you’d actually driven through the middle of Schwyz, which grows seamlessly into several other villages these days, but try as I might, I could not find any old photographs or lithographs of how Schwyz looked up to the mid-20th century (since it probably looked much the same for several hundred years!). This little picture doesn’t do it  justice, and the massiveness of the church doesn’t come over, either, though otherwise it looks much the same as in 1890… Schwyz 1890Somehow, I feel a bit sorry for Schwyz. So important and yet so obscure. The canton is a rich one with land in extremely lucrative places where taxes are low and the proportion of millionaires very high, but right in the very heart of it, where Switzerland began, is a quiet, sleepy little place without much sense of its history or value (except to a lucky few, I suppose, who will have a tiny historical society somewhere!), and which can’t really compete – even that monster of a church is dwarfed by the world-famous monasterial one at Einsiedeln (also canton Schwyz)…

In all the years I have lived here, I stopped in Schwyz for the first time today. It was nearly the last day of a lovely little exhibition of modern paper cuts – and really, a very fitting location for a craft that seems as quintessentially Swiss as could possibly be… Wild und Wald

Ueli Hauswirth – Wild und Wald

The exhibition is now moving on to the Château de Prangins for the rest of the spring and summer; this craft has a very popular tradition in the Pays d’Enhaut area of the Suisse Romande. 

Those interested in the craft may already know that paper-cutting is quite the trend – check out http://www.designsponge.com/2013/02/25-amazing-papercut-artists.html or google Rob Ryan paper cuts…Mind-boggling!

 

3rd Advent – Regensburg

Sorry I dropped off my blogging schedule there – let’s just say there were a couple of days you could describe as “Poorly in Advent” and leave it at that! All better, now, anyway.

And then the pleasure of a weekend in Regensburg, an extremely pretty mediaeval town we’d never visited before. It’s the capital of the Oberpfalz, a region in Bavaria, north of Munich and only a couple of hours away from Prague, too. As it lies on the Danube river, it’s been an important settlement since the iron age. The Romans were there, too, of course, and since the middle ages it’s been the seat of the Bishop of Regensburg and has been a significant trading post with Venice, Paris and Kiev – international connections since the year dot…! IMG_2323IMG_2325IMG_2343

Famous for it’s well-preserved mediaeval town centre alongside the Danube, it’s also known for its Christmas markets and this was the main reason we travelled during Advent for our first visit. We’re lucky enough to have friends who live in Regensburg and who were willing to be generous with their time to show us round the best places! IMG_2346

A very traditional Swabian meal of Maultaschen (comparable to large ravioli), served in bouillon, and potato salad met us on our arrival, accompanied by copious amounts of red wine –  we weren’t tired and hungry for long and spent a late evening over our meal at our friends’ beautiful home, with plenty of good music (always!!). Such hospitable hosts! IMG_2290IMG_2284

Energies replenished, we set off on Saturday, well booted, hatted and mittened, to investigate a special Christmas market held in the grounds of the Princes of Thurn and Taxis’ castle. We’ve been to a lot of lovely Advent markets but this one is probably the nicest we’ve seen so far, with the castle’s park making it feel as if it were set in woodland, yet the elegance of the baroque building, lots of fire torches set up, fire baskets to warm your hands (and feet!) over and some more original stands than perhaps is usual. The decor was very natural and many of the goods on offer were original and handmade, as well as some less common food specialities – we came away with Christmas spiced honey, for example, and there was marvellous jewellery made out of cutlery! Now we know what to do with the family silver if it’s ever in the way LOL. IMG_2277IMG_2279IMG_2280

After some pretty potent Glühwein, we continued on through the old town, admiring the pretty buildings and lots of lovely decorative architectural details. Many of the old streets have Christmas lights and you can’t get lost because each has a different design! Despite the fortunes of war, there are very few gaps in the long runs of old buildings and the 13th century cathedral towers above the whole town with it’s lacy Gothic spires. A stone bridge crosses the Danube and has done so since the 12th century – it’s a forerunner of and predates the Charles bridge in Prague – on huge stone pediments, below enormous buildings that show how rich the town was, partly due to the salt trade. IMG_2344

Throughout the town there are several picturesque Advent markets, lots of intriguing shops and places to eat and drink all kinds of specialities. I can certainly understand why Regensburg has such a good reputation and is such a popular place to visit at this time of year, though I’m sure it’s gorgeous all the year round. The markets aren’t as big or overwhelming as Munich or Nürnberg, it’s a more cosy and personal feeling here. IMG_2347

Our meanderings were punctuated by stops for snacks and coffee and crowned by a delicious traditional Bavarian meal at a real old-fashioned inn, the Bischofshof, again beautifully decorated and with excellent food and service – just the thing to lull you into contentment after a chilly, rosy, seasonal day outdoors on the markets. Quite delicious. If you can then follow that up with an evening spent lounging and chatting, with more great music, with people who are on the same wavelength: what more could we want?! Our hosts’ children earned our compliments for being so patient and uncomplaining while taking us around their home town all day long – wow :)IMG_2294IMG_2359IMG_2360

A short tour of the Danube ports by car on a cold and drizzly Sunday morning followed by raising our glasses to another meal made by our lovely hosts and it was time to head off to the station for our return journey by train. The pleasure of the weekend and the company stayed with us all the way home and won’t be forgotten for a long time. On the contrary, I think it’s very likely to be “au revoir, Regensburg“!

IMG_2366With architecture like this and the patrician towers throughout town, no wonder Regensburg is known as the Tuscany of the North!

 

 

Acqua Alta a la Svizzera

Well now, that was entertaining!

While I certainly take the severity of the flooding in Germany and the Czech Republic seriously and sympathise with the destruction that it has caused, it was quite an education to see how the Swiss dealt with this last weekend’s heavy flooding of pretty much all waterways.IMG_1549

After weeks of rain, the bout we had last week must, despite the icy temperatures and even snowfall above 1200 metres, have brought a lot of spring waters down with it, and from Thursday night onwards, flood warnings were everywhere in central Europe as streams and rivers rose and rose, threatening to overflow and swamp cellars and streets in any of the towns and villages on their shore.

By Saturday morning, the more mountainous areas of Switzerland had released so much water into the valleys that the Thur and Murg rivers no longer converged, but simply flowed into each other, both having burst their banks… IMG_1583IMG_1551On the other side of the bridge we were standing on, the Thur was almost triple its usual width, having taken in the water meadows on either side. IMG_1561That is actually the water meadow – the river is on the right…!IMG_1563At this particular point, a fireman on either side of the road made sure that nobody attempted to take the riverside paths. All our firemen are volunteers who had been up all night in shifts to pump out cellars and stand watch at strategic points along the rivers, on call in case of any emergency – the chap we spoke to said someone had driven a chopper motorbike across a semi-submerged wooden bridge. Some people! Although there were quite a few people there to see the flooding, there was no panic, no over-excitement and no exaggerated control – several cars had parked along the roadside and as long as they didn’t obstruct traffic, the police who stopped by while we were there made nothing of it nor did they try to distribute any kind of ticket. The atmosphere was relaxed, businesslike and friendly. Nobody worried about all the logs being carried along on the flood waters to the Rhine – they will all be fished out at Schaffhausen by the latest, as there is filtering equipment fitted there (necessary because the Rhinefalls are at Neuhausen!).

We decided to drive on to Stein-am-Rhein, a very pretty little mediaeval town on the Rhine, almost at the German border. The sky had been lightening as we stood on the Thur bridge and by the time we reached Stein, there was even some sun. To my surprise, where the Thur and Murg had been a murky brown brew, the Rhine was crystal clear as it rippled along happily, unlike the rush of the flood waters from the smaller rivers. IMG_1565Here, the water was about 3 feet higher than usual – and just to the right of this photo is the main bridge into town, which delineates the change from the Untersee (Lake Constance) to the River Rhine, which flows through the lake and emerges here. As we watched, one of the pleasure boats went under the bridge – it just fit, and the reason it did was another fact that made us chuckle about the efficient Swiss: the top of the cockpit (where the captain stands) folds down so that when the water is high, it can still get through to Schaffhausen! It takes a good 2-3 metres off the total height of the boat. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of it.

Stein-am-Rhein is no stranger to flooding, as these plaques show – IMG_1576IMG_1581 – but this time, there is no need to be concerned, all is contained!

A popular tourist destination, the little town is famous for its painted houses and intact centre, so even if it had still been raining, I suspect there would have been just as many people there! If you do ever go, there are lots of little boutiques and shops as well as plenty of nice places to stop for coffee, cake, crêpes or a meal, either on the riverside or up in the market place! IMG_1601IMG_1569IMG_1575IMG_1594IMG_1591IMG_1596IMG_1583The astounding thing is, I drove over the Thur this morning again (Tuesday). Only 2 days after the above pictures, this is what it looks like: IMG_1621IMG_1625That’s the same tree as in the picture above (see the pink house in the background!).

Again: IMG_1564IMG_1620 In TWO days!!

Happy Valentine’s Week…

Whether you actually approve or not (and I know I’m a day late!), it’s nice to do a little heart-themed thing now and again, just as a small reminder of the love… IMG_1194February is a good excuse to get all the hearts out!

I didn’t post yesterday because I was off gallivanting in Lucerne. Again. :)

This time, I finally made it to the Rosengart Museum. I actually seem to learn more about myself and my tastes when I go to art galleries and exhibitions, and this was no exception. I still don’t like Picasso and even less his later works, of which there are plenty here. Angela Rosengart knew Picasso personally and shows a lot of his sketches in this (permanent) foundation collection. The other main contributing artist here is Paul Klee, who I suppose I ought to like, since he was actually more of a graphic artist, but I’m afraid I didn’t much like these exhibits, either.

Is it my lack of art education or an eye for art? I just don’t seem to understand the majority of modern art. I can appreciate the struggle the artists may have had to try and free themselves from the constraints of everything that had gone before and the probably quite restrictive societies they had grown up in, both regarding culture and religion, but I simply do not get the final results – and least of all, why they should appeal to the extent of being considered valuable and collectible and exhibited with reverence in a museum…

One of the ironies in this collection was that I found I vastly preferred the few impressionist paintings – not usually something I’m easily enthused by, unlike many people (I’m a Dutch masters girl and a realist!). Even the Picassos and Klees are minor works, but there are a couple of rather bland Monets, small Renoirs, two Pissarro landscapes and a rather nice Vuillard with a hint of the Japanese about it – I think that last one is my favourite of the day. However, as the works are so minor, I can’t find many pictures to include… I might go back and get a postcard and edit this post! If anyone is keen, there are also works by Braque, Matisse, Chagall, Mîro and so on. 5597What is appealing about this? Art doesn’t always have to be “pretty” but… I don’t get it.

What I really liked about the Rosengart Museum was actually the building itself. Built for the Swiss National Bank in 1924, I felt it very much had a sense of the Egypt-craze that was going on from around 1922 in architecture and design, before Art Deco took over. It’s really quite reduced and minimalist, with very pleasing proportions and beautiful materials that I found very appealing. There is lovely, delicate plasterwork on and around the ceilings  and a very nice atmosphere throughout. Completely renovated and refurbished in 2002 for its new purpose as an art gallery, it is certainly a wonderful backdrop for art generally and this collection, spanning a period of ca. 1880-1970, but with some emphasis on the early 20th century (as well as late Picasso), is perhaps a fitting one. Rosengart200508161552160.luzern_rosengart_04As is usual in Switzerland, museums have an entry fee – though this one is on the Raiffeisen programme and allows free entry if you have one of their cards. I don’t know what other good deals there may be for Swiss museums if you are visiting! 

Not even trying

I have come to the conclusion that blogging is best done with more regularity than I have been displaying, because after a month, where would I actually begin to catch up?! I promise to try and do better in future.

Suffice to say, a good chunk of that month was spent here

IMG_1082 with Snowface IMG_1076who gallumphed happily through the glittering snow, ears flying, and subsequently displayed a prodigious appetite! Scuol 3

It wasn’t all Narnia-like – but even on greyer days, it’s fun to think the Snow Queen might have been staying at this hotel IMG_1073 or may even have moved into this multi-million $ chalet with rather extraordinary garden decorations (well, for a ski resort!) IMG_1069 We had lots of nice walks and – very carefully, that bridge is HIGH – took some pictures of the Clemgia gorge (this is the River En, which becomes the Inn when it gets down the valley to Austria and goes on to flow through Innsbruck) IMG_1097 We had hot chocolate at sunset – I love the crisp outline of the mountains just after the sun has gone down, like cut-outs IMG_1086 and found a 3km ribbon of ice for skating through the snowy woodland and next to the EnIMG_1091I thought this covered bridge was an attraction, giving access from the old mountain road to the village IMG_1101and then, taking the trouble to read the history of the village, discovered that the little grey and cream stone building on the left there was the “tower” for the original bridge – and yet in those days, the river was twice as full (before the hydroelectric plant down the valley was built in the 70s), so no wonder that by destroying the bridge (multiple times), the villagers had to save themselves through the centuries: fighting off the Catholics and Protestants (the church was reconsecrated several times), the Habsburgs, the French (Napoleon’s troops) and then the Austrians again… and yet tragically, slaughter was still done and the Plague still got in, too. IMG_1099 I hadn’t seen this oven before – I would have thought keeping heat in was more of a priority than not burning the house down (sort of)… I obviously have my priorities wrong!IMG_1112 Remember this pretty square from last year? IMG_1114 Well, I found some more, different house decoration in the upper part of the village, Vi – IMG_1132IMG_1134 and learned that fish and mermaids were used for decoration because of the importance of water to be able to survive in these mountain villages: IMG_1133 Amazingly, there is little more than an hour between this IMG_1115 and this IMG_1117 Tarasp Castle is pretty imposing – although the village remained a Catholic enclave throughout all the religious toing and froing, the family died out pretty early on and it was rebuilt at the turn of the 20th century by a millionaire whose fortune had been made with mouthwash (he was the “Odol-König”!)… IMG_1123

Of course, this was ostensibly a sports holiday, and we swam in the beautiful thermal baths and walked the paths, but we did also do some sledging Scuol 6 Yes, with the dog on my lap – she can’t keep up and the icicles get between her toes, so she sits with me, ears to the wind… quite a vision, I assure you!

Incomprehensibly, the ski pistes were practically empty – we were on our own on the widest, most popular pistes, in the most gorgeous sunshine, for most of the time! IMG_1140 I’m afraid this encourages the following behaviour in snowboarders, shocking, really –  IMG_1143 though resuscitating skiers is probably worse – IMG_1147 but with a pretty good view! IMG_1146The best experience was when the weather did this IMG_1155There was a slight sprinkling of snow being blown around and it was so cold that sunlight caught each and every snowflake and made it twinkle – just as if it was snowing stars! Magic.

See, I distracted you with lots of eye-candy…clever, eh?! Back soon!

Bridging the gap… and Advent 1

They say no news is good news and everything has been fine – just really busy and intense!

IMG_0796 So a long post is probably due…!

Following my last post, my friend and I did indeed visit the Birmingham Art Gallery. The fantastic Edwardian Tea Room impressed us before we even got to the Pre-Raphaelites!

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The Art Gallery was purpose-built (though this hall probably wasn’t originally intended to be a Tea Room!) and was definitely intended to impress and show off the collections in Birmingham, of which the Pre-Raphaelites are only one, and which we simply couldn’t take in all at once. It’s obviously a matter of taste, but I did enjoy looking at the varying styles within that category and finding little details that are simply pleasing…IMG_0731IMG_0732 Isn’t this cat gorgeous?!

Although we are close to Birmingham, I have never really known the city very well and even less so since it’s all been renewed, refurbished and in many cases, utterly changed (i.e. the “new” Bullring Centre!), so I was pleased and surprised to see how grubby old canal areas have been made trendy and lively with a huge amount going on from shops and restaurants to galleries and businesses. As there was a family connection, we also visited a small gallery called the Ikon, thinking we ought to be open to some more modern forms of art… I’m afraid that is all that can be said, as we thought the exhibits more than a little strange and an understanding of “art” that clearly supercedes anything we would consider in that category! But it was interesting to see something different, nevertheless, and we were extremely impressed at how beautifully the old school building had been restored and could appreciate the juxtaposition of the 19th century brick and stonework with the modern additions of glass and steel.  IMG_0734 IMG_0736IMG_0737IMG_0740

Not long after this nice little jaunt, it was time for me to head back to Switzerland, where my family had had to manage without me for a month – unheard of! Finding everything in good order and a warm welcome, I set about preparing for my next absence :o  IMG_0811

As I knew I would be away during Advent, a time of year we all enjoy so much, it seemed to me a logical conclusion to spend the rest of November in a state of pre-Advent, including all those restorative elements such as baking, candles, decorations, downtime with tea, reading, knitting… you name it! It’s the little things like mandarines (clementines/tangerines) being available and an abundance of greenery and plants like poinsettia that make the difference, I suppose. In any case, we managed to spend a lovely three weeks of home comforts and seasonal activities to rival any other perfect Advent: wandering the pretty boutiques and Christmas markets of mediaeval towns (Stein-am-Rhein and Colmar), a little bit of non-stressful Christmas shopping, plenty of tea, cappuccino and hot chocolate, the aforementioned fruits and biscuits and then also a big dinner event with a Christmas show and another evening comedy event with a Christmas theme, plus a couple of visits to the cinema (that would be the new Bond – ace! – and Kristin Scott-Thomas’ latest offering in French – “Dans la maison” – which she does so well). I had time to see my friends for birthdays and days or evenings out or just a cup of tea and a chat, and to spend time with each of my daughters and grandchildren. My youngest daughter and I found time for a baking session (cinnamon stars!) and a couple of shopping trips in preparation for Christmas but also to feed her newfound enthusiasm (via her vocational training) for sewing… All in all a very successful and intense period of time that I thoroughly enjoyed!!

IMG_0767 This young lady is now walking… and still can’t keep still for a photo!

IMG_0784 Gallivanting with Helen in Baden – The Brown house with its collection of Impressionist paintings, interesting family history and beautiful interior IMG_0780 I thought the gardens and topiary very pretty, along with the garden furniture :)

IMG_0788 Still in Baden, one for my husband! The cold, dark day merited plenty of woollies…

IMG_0819 PERFECT weather in Colmar (Alsace, France) – I could bore you stupid with beautiful photos of the mediaeval buildings in Colmar, but thought you may not know that Auguste Bartholdi designed the New York Statue of Liberty, a miniature of which is standing on the little plinth next to him in this monument! IMG_0826IMG_0821IMG_0831IMG_0848IMG_0843IMG_0869IMG_0838…with a pike that probably doesn’t quite rival my grandad’s stuffed one…! IMG_0851Wonderful food in Colmar, too – this was an Apple Strudel that was delicious as well as beautiful!

While on the subject of food, I hasten to recommend the restaurant “Au Rendez-Vous de Chasse” of the Grand Hotel Bristol, just across from the main railway station in Colmar… Both buildings are art nouveau and retain all their turn-of-the-century style. The hotel is very nice, not overdone, and our rooms were lovely, plus the brasserie and breakfasts were excellent. The restaurant, however, is a proper posh French restaurant and my birthday menu was out of this world… http://www.grand-hotel-bristol.com/restaurant-gastronomique-colmar takes you to the website with some beautiful images of the delicious food and how it’s presented!

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