Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Word-less Wednesday on Canada Day

I'm crazy about the way the evening sunlight filters through these huge trees at a neighbour's just up the road.
 First of all, Happy Canada Day to my compatriots. I'm not big on flag-waving in general (and I deplore, beyond measure, monuments to "Mother Canada" -- ugh!), but I do believe I scooped up the brass ring by being born here. Not happy about our currently governing party (and I don't generally discuss politics here), and we have some serious inequities and historical grievances to work on, but overall, we Canadians are very lucky.

Edited to add this late-breaking Canada Day news: I've just added a post to my reading blog -- a Canadian author's latest release, a wonderfully juicy, well-written mystery novel that's perfect for a day in the hammock.

That's it. Putting my maple leaf down now. But I'm happy to celebrate the beauty immediately around me today, especially because it gives me another excuse to share photographs. I've been walking with my camera in the morning and evening light, trying out skills I learned in a recent DSLR photography class. And as I did last Wednesday, I'm asking you to pick a favourite or two or three. I loved the feedback I got on that post.

These tiny purple flowers with the outsize stamens will soon become the shiny purple berries of my Callicarpa shrub (common name, Beautyberry!)

So hard to decide which of the MANY photos I took of these Oregon grapes against the foliage -- Love the colour contrast and the shapes.

I've started a photo file with a nascent collection of wheelbarrow photos -- they're an important component of life here on the island for many of us. We've transported so many materials here via boat and wheelbarrow.

The sky one evening here, as we hoped for rain. . .  . sadly, those clouds were just a tease. . . .

same evening, same non-productive, if beautiful, clouds

Evening sunlight casting shadows through my neighbour's gate.

This old jeep has been an island fixture for years, as has its elderly owner. Sadly, I haven't seen much of R. lately, and I'm wondering how much longer the jeep will be around. Changes...

Detail of an old rowboat left to break down in the grass at what was once a holiday resort. . . .
Two abandoned rowboats and a swathe of morning light. . .

 Again, I'd appreciate any comments about favourites or composition -- what works, what doesn't. I'm not sure how long I'll keep sharing photos on Wednesdays, but for now, the posts give me a focus for an interest I'm trying to hone. As well, they're another way of expressing my life here, which seems in keeping with the broad intentions of this blog overall. I'm trying to sort out what changes could or should be made here and how much time and energy to spend, what are the best ways to connect with you while still expressing me, etc., etc. For a while, at least, these photo posts will be part of that sorting. Hope that suits....

Meanwhile, though, we will (still, always?) have Paris. That is, I have one more Paris Eating post coming up next. There'd be a What I Wore post coming too except that all it would feature is me in a light cotton shift and Birkenstocks, day after hot day after hot day. 'Cuz I'd never show you me in a bathing suit trying to cool down in the ocean, nor me in an old pair of too-big Gap khakis and an old shirt of my husband's and an old faded pink sunhat and gardening gloves trying to (hand) water and weed before it gets too warm in the morning.  Still no rain in the forecast.

While it's here, though, I'd better do my best to enjoy the sunshine, ominous though the drought might be. So I'm off to sit in the shade with a book (Karl Ove Knausgaard's A Death in the Family -- have you read it?)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Sisters Eat in Paris, Part A . . .

Okay, this has gone on long enough, this procrastination over telling you Where and What My Sister and I Ate in Paris. After all, we were there at the beginning of May; it's more than two weeks since I posted A Tale of (Eating in) Two Cities, Part I. and promised Part II, aka the Paris post. Perhaps I've been stalling because of the inevitable anticlimax; as you'll soon see, I'm not so much offering bonnes addresses (although there will be a few of those) but rather talking a bit more generally about Serendipity and Disappointment and Getting Too Hungry While Looking for a Place to Eat.

I definitely haven't been stalling for lack of anything to say. While I've taken weeks to click on Publish, I have been steadily adding -- and adding and adding -- to the post. Indeed, the word count a few days ago was over 2000 words! I suspect that's more than most of you will stick around for, so I'm subdividing Part II of the Two Cities post, into Part II (a) and Part II (b). I'm also re-titling, as you'll see above, because the Seattle post was so long ago that Two Cities doesn't make much sense anymore.

Our first evening in Paris, Serendipity sat us down at Les Temps des Cerises in the Marais.
I'll begin Part II (a) with How to Choose a Restaurant to Meet Friends At. Because that's a big responsibility, especially if one of the friends is visiting Paris for the first time. This was the case of a friend presenting a paper at an academic conference that coincided with mine and my sister's visit. I haven't seen this friend since a conference we both attended in Fredericton several years ago, and once we realized our visits would overlap, we agreed a meal together was top priority -- the friend she traveled with, whom I'd known at grad school, was happy to join us, as was my sister.

Wanting T  to see the Paris I love, but on a budget we could both feel comfortable with, I mentally scannned the restaurants I know well enough to anticipate a suitable menu, service, comfort, all within easy reach of the visitors' hotel not far from Le Jardin des Plantes. Given how many visits Paul and I have made over the years, I feel as if this should be easy, but while I can think of a few favourites, some of these have quirks or prices or menus that might not suit everyone. As well, restaurants change, and last year we only spent two evenings in Paris, one of them with friends at a sushi restaurant (I know!). Do I really want to recommend a place and then find it's gone seriously downhill?

Way back in 2008, I wrote a series of posts on restaurants we enjoy in Paris (if you're interested, you could begin here and work your way back). We still check in on some of these and enjoy them, but it's been seven years, and change happens. Happily, when we've visited Le Petit Vatel under new ownership, we've been happy both with the continuity and with the differences. We didn't get back to Le Martignac in 2014, but we'll check it out in the fall and see if it's still a fun place to grab a very satisfying lunch in the company of mostly French speakers who work in the 'hood (I wrote about it back in 2008 as well, and we've been there almost every year since).  I'll be crossing my fingers that it hasn't met the sad fate of. . . .

Christophe's, which I would have loved to visit with friends. . . . Those of us who grabbed every opportunity to eat here have always suspected it couldn't last, but year after year after year Pater and I enjoyed wonderful meals, served by the same solemn-faced waiter (I mentioned the restaurant here, back in 2008). This year, I optimistically climbed the hill to share our find with my sister only to read the sad news on the otherwise steadfast green facade. . . Paul and I wish Geneviève every success, and we may even stop by to test La Table in the fall, but meanwhile, I won't be suggesting that friends meet me at Christophe's. Sigh....

Same green, same geometry of window lights, same white lettering, but a different font spelling out a different name. Dommage! Vous me manquez, Christophe!

Back to my dilemma, then with another question informing my decision: Is my friend's friend vegetarian? I'm not sure, and I don't know vegetarian restaurants well enough to be sure I pick something good. In the end, I decide on something that both is, and is not, typically Parisian: a Moroccan restaurant, Au P'tit Cahoua, on Boulevard Saint-Marcel. Not "French food" as many think of it, but, in fact, never having been to Morocco, it was in Paris that we first discovered the wonders of tagines and couscous and pastillas and m'choui.

In fact, until two years ago, when our friends sold their hotel, we would get our tagine fix right across the street. I've recommended that restaurant,  Le Sirocco, numerous times, and always got favourable comments from friends who've tried it. It's right around the corner from Gobelins Metro station, but Rachel and I wanted to walk, and Au P`tit Cahoua, where Pater and I had eaten with friends a few years ago, was just enough closer to make it our choice.

And what a success it turned out to be! Charming, friendly, helpful service, with menus offered in both French and English and with patient accommodation of those of us who wished to try our tongues on some new French vocabulary. We ordered an assortment platter of starters, and then each chose a different tagine -- meat, fish, veggie-based. All delicious. The big hit of the evening, though, amusingly enough, was the sweet mint tea -- particularly the way our beautiful young server poured it through its long curved spout from what seemed a surprising distance away from the table. Not a drop was spilled and whether we enjoyed the entertainment or the aeration of the drink more is not clear. We happily accepted an offer of a second pouring, though. And then as we sat and talked and talked, yes, we had one more round before stepping out into the now dark evening to hug good-bye to my friends. For my sister and I, on only our second night in Paris, delights were already unrolling: as we turned onto Rue Soufflot after wandering `round the Pantheon, I was thrilled to be able to point out La Tour Eiffel twinkling her hourly show off in the distance.

By now, I suspect, you're noticing that the photos I'm showing here scarcely seem to match the evening I'm describing, and indeed, we ate indoors at Au P'tit Cahoua, in an invitingly decorated space evocative of Morocco, rich colours and textures enveloping us. We often ended up at sidewalk tables, though. Here, generally for lunch, Serendipity came into play. In my experience, such Serendipity is not dependable, often quite capricious. Rachel and I did very well, I'd say, although there is often a point when one walker is much hungrier than the other and some articulation and negotiation is happening about what menu each is hoping for. I was generally the hungrier one, and once or twice I felt the pressure of trying to find the right spot in time to fend off my crankiness. Crankiness can land one at a table with indifferent food served by a waiter deluged with the impatient rudeness of far too many tourists. I didn't want my sister to see that side of Paris.

And generally, Serendipity served us very well. In the photo at the top of the page, you see us smiling happily, in the Marais, at Les Temps des Cerises on Rue de la Cerisaie, where arriving without reservations netted us this comfortable seat outside, a very good meal, and a waiter who offered to take our photo. I will admit that I recognized the restaurant's name from reviews, but I also studied the menu you can see on the ardoise just to the left of the photo. In other words, I didn't just plop us down and take our chances. Food is far too important to leave completely to Serendipity, and there are only so many meals to enjoy in a week.

Paul and I will be staying not too far from Les Temps des Cerises this fall, and I'm hoping to share the find with him. . . and perhaps check out the charming interior. At our sidewalk table, Rachel was especially enthusiastic about her gazpacho and my tomato croustillant was delicious, the restaurant's rendition being a layer of tomato slices drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with basil, under a thick slice of mozarella, lightly crusted and grilled, under two beautifully rolled slices of prosciutto. I wish I'd thought to take a picture of the lemon tart we shared as dessert, but honestly? That baby didn't last long enough for photo-taking. . .

Other meals Rachel and I enjoyed at restaurants that threw themselves across our path  included
Au Bourgignon du Marais on rue Français Miron where the Beet Millefeuilles was both delicious and beautifully presented, the "thousand leaves" of the usual pastry being replaced by thinly sliced beets, with thin slices of goat cheese between them.

A very nice lunch at Le Galliera restaurant, directly opposite the Palais Galliera where we'd already devoured the fabulous Jeanne Lanvin exhibit. I had a succulent starter of white asparagus followed by a well-prepared fish filet.

We had a couple of indifferent meals as well, but even then, one is eating Salade Gourmande or boudin noir while drinking rosé at a sidewalk table in Paris? For me, part of the fun of visiting Paris is the walking and wandering and following one's nose and eyes. . . Sometimes, yes, the day's direction is set by following directions to a restaurant I've read about. I'll tell you about just such a day and the restaurant that had us following directions considerably longer than we'd expected.

I'll also tell you about restaurants Paul and I followed similar directions to many years ago, addresses that yielded such good results that we return year after year. I took my sister and my nephew to two of those, and one of them we even went to a second time.

But sometimes, as I've suggested above, rather than following directions, the visitor trusts to Chance. And I have one more Serendipitous find to tell you about, one that's not your typical tourist find, but that I'll definitely be trying to make time for when Pater and I are in Paris this fall.  All of these will have to wait for Part B, though. This has gone on long enough, no? For now, though, I'd love to know how you decide where to eat when you're visiting a new city. How much do you leave to chance? How much do you prefer to research? Any good stories about the pros and cons of either approach?
Or you could answer another question I'm curious about: how are you at recommending places for friends to eat at? Are you happy to draw on past experience or do you worry you'll steer fellow diners wrong? Have you ever been given a recommendation that turned out poorly? I'd love to hear. . . As always, of course, feel free to respond to anything that strikes you in the post . . .

Friday, June 26, 2015

Five Things for a Dry, Hot Friday!

The promised Paris Eating post is almost completed, but rather than rush through to put it "live" today, I'm going with a Five Things Friday. Do tune in again soon if you want to know more about where and what my sister and I ate in Paris. In the meantime, though, Five Things. . .


I know that many of you are used to extended periods of Hot and Dry. Here on the West Coast of Canada, though, we expect temperatures of 20-22 degrees through June, with the occasional happy surprise of what kids might find to be good swimming weather. Often, June includes enough rainfall that gardens and lawns can stay green without much additional watering.

Not this year. We've had about six weeks of drought now, and there have been worrisome forest fires on the nearby mountains. My neighbour's having her roof redone today and I'm wincing every time I hear the torch. Everything's dry, dry, and more dry. It's supposed to hit 29 today, higher inland, and there's a Weather Warning posted alongside the longer-standing Fire Risk Warning. And we've been on twice-a-week, before 10, after 4 watering for a few weeks now. The government weather office forecast for the next week shows expected high temperatures of 27 to 30 degrees. No precipitation at all.

So we've been trying to do our bit to conserve water (the crude grey-water system we inherited from the previous, pre-code owners having been sadly dismantled at our reno years ago). I keep a big bowl in the kitchen sink to catch all the water that gets used washing and waiting for the right temp and emptying pots out to use for something else. A good way to see how much we generally consume.

I've also been plugging the tub when I shower. Even though I keep my showers as short as possible, I can fill this plastic watering can at least twice. . . (Lisa posted about water conservation from her Californian perspective several weeks ago).

2. What gets first dibs on all that grey water? No question that home-grown, vine-ripened tomatoes are worth toting and hauling for. Besides, these are growing right by the back steps, so we don't need to splash too far. . . Pater was so gratified to see so many promising green globes this early in the season. (all those nasturtiums surrounding, by the way, are volunteers that have sprung up from seeds left by last year's plants.)

3. I can't even imagine how much water it takes to grow watermelons, and perhaps we shouldn't be indulging. They're certainly not part of a 100-mile diet! But oh, do they scream "Summer"!

As do bright, fresh salads. For this one, I cubed a few cups of watermelon, added perhaps 1/3 cup of pitted Niçoise olives, crumbled up feta cheese (1/3 to 1/2 cup?) and sprinkled in some fresh basil (maybe 3 tablespoons, torn into small pieces). Ground some black pepper over it, then mixed it all up with a dressing made from balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Easy, delicious lunch.

4. Perhaps I'm hoping for some cooling effect from the title of Fred Vargas' latest Adamsberg mystery, Temps Glaciares (the English title will be Ice Age). That's probably too optimistic, but it is perfect for reading in the shade. Perfect in a few ways, actually, because any guilt I might feel about lazing around mid-day reading a mystery novel is assuaged by the conviction that I'm "working on my French." Win-win! If your French doesn't want to be worked on at the moment, you could check out Vargas' books in their English translation. Highly recommended!

5. The last item here might seem to be the "one of these things [that] doesn't belong," to quote a Sesame Street song, but the segue is that I've had a reprieve, because of the extended spell of hot, dry weather, in finishing the baby blanket for Fergus, born back in March. I've actually had his finished for a while, but was waiting to block it until I'd finished one for his big sister -- at 2 1/2, she's hardly a baby anymore, but everyone needs a cuddly blanket, no? Somehow, I never made one for either her or Nola, and it seemed a good time to remedy that. I'm finally ready to cast off on hers, so I got his blocked and out in the sun for a photo op. Although I don't think either of them will be snuggling up in wooly garter stitch anytime soon. . .

I'm pleased with how the blankets turned out, but I think I'm even more pleased with being able to cross another project off my list. The beginning of my retirement seems to be weighted with finishing quite a few projects that have been dragging on thanks to the ambitions of my last several years. It's good to get these tasks done and clear the space they were taking up, but I'm getting a bit impatient to start something new.  . .  . For now, though, I think I'll try to hold the line. And with my very next post, I'll be crossing off the Paris Eating post from my to-do list. . .

For now, though, I have a rendez-vous in the shade with a certain Parisian Commissaire. Talk amongst yourselves. Feel free to leave comments. . . You know I love to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Word (less, as in, fewer of them!) Wednesday

I'm (finally) almost finished another post on Paris--the one I promised in my Seattle restaurants post. I should get the new post up by Friday, but meanwhile, it's Wordless Wednesday, and I've been practising my new DSLR camera skills. At this point, that mainly consists of setting the White Balance, the ISO, and the Aperture opening, then focusing in/on a composition I think will work.

I have to get to campus and make some serious headway on clearing out my office. There are probably some pretty obvious reasons why I've been stalling on this, but I need to get it done, and the weather's cooled off just enough today to make the task more tolerable (we're crossing our fingers the promised showers will materialize although they're not going to be enough to do anything about the fire risk, currently at Red levels).

So without further chat, here are a few photographs I was pleased with . . .
Acanthus mollis, growing in the shade, hit by sunlight

California tree poppy, Romney coulterii, also in some afternoon shade

Volunteer nasturiums, volunteer fern growing in a sunny corner

Freighter in evening sun

Canada geese, evening sun, high tide, freighter

 And then a few more from this morning, Sun just barely up, cloudy skies, peace enough to settle a soul. . .
I love the colour of the seaweed on these rocks. . . 

Really hoping those clouds will get go of some wet stuff today...

So there you are: my first attempts at playing around with my camera without relying on its Automatic settings. Could you pick a favourite or three? If so, please leave a comment below and let me know which ones work. . .

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Morning, Photography and Urban Gardening...

The Introduction to Digital SLR Photography course I took this past weekend was great. I've been wanting to get beyond the Automatic features of the camera since I got it, but never seemed to find the time to learn which button did what and why I might want to turn that wheel or in which direction. In fact, curious about how long this has been the case, I took advantage of the archival function of my blog, and it turns out I've had the camera for over 7 years, it having been under the Christmas tree in 2007!
No wonder I needed to retire!
Kidding, but with a side of serious...

Just because I'm retired, though, doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to be turning out wonderful photos. In fact, while I have a head full of information about digital photography, that information was downloaded intensely, twelve hours in two days. There are files scattered all over the floor of my cranium, and someone needs to pick them up, read them, file them, and begin to figure out how to use them. Personnel are scrambling around up there as we speak, and I think I need to go lie down and let them do their work.

Kidding again, obviously, but I know I'm going to take time to figure t what I've learned and then figure out how to use it. For the meantime, I'm really pleased that I've taken a first solid step onto the big Ladder of Learning Something New. I'm also happy that a busy week in the city is behind me now. It's been fun, but tiring, and I'll probably take more care with scheduling for the next while.

Now I get to head back to the island for as quiet a week as I can manage and still get my campus office cleared out. There are unlikely to be any stellar examples of any newfound skills with my Nikon DSLR displayed here for a while.
I do, though, have some iPhone photos from city walks, and I hope you might enjoy these. We have some wonderfully dedicated garden volunteers in the neighbourhood, beautifying urban concrete through a program called Green Streets.
A meditative Happy Place under the bridge in the early morning sunshine with a laughing Buddha? That seems like a good place to begin a week from, doesn't it? happy Monday!
And if you have a minute, a couple of questions for you: What, if any, Learning Ladders have you been climbing lately? Or which would you like to?
And is volunteer urban gardening happening where hi you live? Or Community Gardens, perhaps? I think both forms are such a declaration of hope, honestly...your thoughts?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Still Busy, But It's Alright...

I am so glad I posted my muddled thoughts about the balance I'm trying to strike, newly retired, between catching up on the social life I've missed for so much of my working life and the need to stay healthy and rested. Why so glad? Because your wise, supportive, encouraging, and experienced comments reassured me that this is just part of the process and that I'm pretty normal in my adjustments to a new phase of life.
As I explained in the post and in the comments (and really, the comments are so worth the time to browse, such a rich conversation I feel privileged to host), the slightly overwhelming rhythm of Fun, Fun, and More Fun I've been partaking in lately is a pretty specific constellation of good events.
Two wonderful events had been on the calendar for months (a concert reading of our friend's new opera AND a lunch celebrating his 75th birthday and the opera launch). Then last week, my daughter accepted a standing invitation to bring the kids over for some beach time, and who would ever say No to that, but it meant I arrived in Vancouver already feeling a bit worn.
Because we'd decided to do a city week, I squeezed in two lunches with friends here, both lovely visits I've promised for months and months. And I love the variety of running routes here and the chance to cycle good distances on safe paths to interesting destinations, so the days had to make room for those jaunts. Nothing here that anyone should whine about, all these activities are restorative in some important ways, but cumulatively, they seem to be demanding I put in some serious quiet time.
So yesterday, although I did a quick morning run with my sister, I stayed in the apartment most of the day. I did have an appointment in the afternoon, but even I know I can't complain about pedicure-induced fatigue!

The busy isn't quite over. This weekend, I'm taking an intensive 2-full-days Introductory Digital Photography course. My kids gave it to me as a retirement gift, and I'm thrilled to bits about it. I'm also well aware that I will come home at 5:30 today with as much pep as a wet dish rag, and then get up and do it all again on Sunday. I don't do well with all-day all-on activities, and I hope I won't be too obviously out of sorts in my mid-afternoon Arsenic Hour. Paul's back on the island, though, so the apartment will be all mine to regroup in. a luxury, really, Just me and my Netflix.
And then next week, I've pencilled "Dolce far niente" all over my calendar (thank you for that comment, Heather, a good reminder).....
Meanwhile, If you've got access to some fresh fava beans, and you'd like to build a salad meal around them, we made this for dinner Thursday night by following the very loose recipe I set out back in this post.
If, instead, you can only find fresh cherries and get tired of eating them plain (oh, you lucky thing!), you could do what I did two nights ago: pit about 2 cups' worth (I know, but you can get a kind of Zen thing going, really, while you're splattering sticky red juice all over your kitchen), then put them in a buttered, oven-proof dish -- keep them at a single layer, preferably -- and sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, a grating of peppercorns, and a decent splash or two of balsamic vinegar. 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees, and you'll have the most wonderful topping for vanilla ice cream. Or plain yogurt, if you're of a healthier persuasion.
Let me know if you try either recipe OR if you have another simply prepared dish that takes advantage of the seasonal produce. And please feel free to chime in to the conversation about adjusting to retirement or even just about balancing Fun with Fear of Fatigue.
Happy Weekend!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Keeping Busy, Having Fun!

I'm finding it tough to find a blogging groove that works for this transitional stage of my life. While I suspect you may tire of reading my concerns about what I do and don't feel obliged to do -- those 'shoulds' Ive been mentioning in recent posts -- I also suspect that the only way to move toward a blogging pattern that will work for my retired self is to write the process rather than try to push it behind the screen. There is a screen, of course. Sometimes it's translucent, sometimes opaque. Occasionally, you might have the sense that it's completely transparent, and you're looking right into my real life. Impossible, I must remind you. If nothing else, the screen is fabricated through the twin process of selection and combination: what I pick from my "real life" and how I arrange those choices into some kind of narrative here. And, of course, that selection and combination are affected by my energy levels, time available, discernment or perception of your interest, my need to tell or desire to guard. It's a fascinating and complicated pastime.

For the moment, I've been trying to sort out how or why it is that doing some of the "people things" I've wanted to do for too long should have worn me out to telltale giant-cold sore-on-the-lip levels. And how will I moderate my social/family activities in retirement to stay healthy? Last week, my daughter and her two little ones were with us for four wonderful days and I was very happy to be able to run with the two-year old and walk and rock the two-month old. But then we followed up with travel to the city where I did a 40K cycle with my husband and then attended a concert the same evening. The following day was a marvellously convivial four-hour luncheon in a friend's garden, a gathering of 14, only four of whom we'd met before. And since then another long cycle with my husband; a quick dinner with my son's family as they passed through town on their way back home after vacation; a 13.5K run on my own; an afternoon shopping. All fun activities, play, not work. Down-time, right? 

So why the damn cold sore, which sends me a loud, clear message I ignore at my peril?

That's where I'm at today, then: thinking about how I'll sort priorities and stay healthy without work as the gate-keeper. Meanwhile, my onerous activity for the day is to meet another blogger for lunch. It's a tough life.

I'm kidding, obviously, but I do need to figure out how much wear and tear the social stuff entails and then figure out when the wear and tear is worth it, when to say "no" and how to build in the necessary recovery time. Meanwhile, for whatever reasons, Instagram has been suiting my need to connect at an energy cost I can manage. Because I've been naturally turning to IG so often, I thought I'd try blogging from BlogGo, the phone app that might let me try short-and-sweet rather than longer, perhaps more cohesive posts. And I'm throwing in a few photos I've IG'd lately ( and some I haven't), just because...

Let me know what you think. Otherwise, I'm just babbling away here on my own.
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