“Dolce” Italy


We’re in the middle of a long weekend here in Rome, with a lot of people away on a short holiday. Today was supposed to be a laid-back long Sunday morning, thanks to the extra hour going off daylight-saving-time, but it didn’t work out that way. Most of us were literally shaken out of bed by the latest strong earthquake near Norcia – some 110 kilometers as the crow flies north of Rome. Shortly after, it looked like all the people in the district had scrambled out of their pyjamas and were milling around in the street or noisily crammed into the two local coffee shops, having breakfast with cornetti and watching the latest live news on the overhead TVs.

Typical antipasti

Typical antipasti

There had actually been a suspicious amount of official news in the last few weeks about most of Italy being a highly seismic area, which seems to have kept people sufficiently on their toes that they rushed out into the streets in the stricken areas as soon as this second series of quakes started a couple of days ago.


As a result, there have been no new casualties so far. So that’s something to be glad about, though thousands of people are now displaced and are being housed in hostels, hospitals and hotels along the Adriatic coast. Dozens of old villages in the Appenines have disintegrated into heaps of stones, and some mid-sized historical towns have many buildings and churches in a state of near-collapse.

And what about the future?

Californians know all about living on and near a Fault, but from what I know, there they build under basic disaster-prevention rules that tend to be enforced. Or not? On the contrary, the building and development laws here in Italy are a jungle of inadequate measures, and most of the ancient and historical buildings have rarely been reinforced. New buildings rarely conform to all safety regulations, because of corruption, cost-cutting, ignorance or a mix of all three.

Religious procession

Religious procession

In optimistic think-mode, I’d say this could be a wake-up call leading to a seachange in the culture of chaos, and hopefully get communities working together. Do away with the age-old distrust between neighbouring towns and villages that has always handicapped the nation.  In realistic think-mode, I’m not going to hold my breath.

But I’m staying optimistic anyway with these photos of Italy, because life in this country could be so  “dolce“, were it not for the quirks of nature and of humans.

.... sorbetto di limone?

…. sorbetto di limone?


All photos ©14thcountry.com



Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Environment, Italy | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

Rome update: frigo-gate and great weather


The politics of this city have been particularly distressing these last months, but we finally got a few good laughs yesterday. Papers and tweets gleefully reported the strange case of piles of old fridges left out on the streets of Rome all over town, more or less near the ubiquitous overflowing garbage cans, and left to rust and rot under the season’s alternating rainfalls and sunshine.

In the course of an interview, our Mayor was quoted as bringing it up and being very perplexed about the situation, “there are really too many of them. Seems strange to me…”. Loosely translated: “it sounds like a conspiracy against me”. The new municipal governing team is still motionless and trying to make head or tail out of what this city is all about, and local culture has always been strong on blaming things on someone else. These politicians (?) may be new and also younger on average, but culture is thicker than blood. So nobody’s going to acknowledge that their own ineptness and lack of policies so far on any issues have anything to do with the city’s increasingly worsening ills.


Huge potholes, hundreds of thousands of private sales of apartments blocked for a lack of interpretation/application of regulations, green traffic limitations in limbo, double-parkers on a rampage as nobody gets fined for anything anymore etc.

At least” frigo-gate” has spawned a wealth of good natured ribbing on Twitter and elsewhere to lighten the overall foul mood of the season. One of my favourites is “Mattresses, sofas and fridges in the streets. The Capital has become an open-air hotel – but at least it’s a 5 star hotel!”. If you’re not laughing, it means you’re either a supporter with no sense of humour, or you’re not familiar with things Italian, so just google the name of the upstart new party in power.5-star-clipart

The day after her initial accusation of a conspiracy, the Mayor retracted, as she found out – over 4 months after the fact- that the garbage collecting company discontinued the free pick-up service for large furniture and kitchen appliances last June 18.  The Mayor says nobody knows why.

Anyway, the kerfuffle caused the comedian-turned-head-of-party to fly in to succor the damsel in distress. He descended Superman-like on the venerable historical seat of the Campidoglio, the original Citadel of the earliest Romans – later re-vamped by Michelangelo – that had seen it all before, though probably nothing as arcane as a fridge conspiracy.


Apart from things humourous, another reason living in Rome is still bearable despite all the chaos, is that weather here is great. Rome is famous for its excellent weather.

The Milanese claim they’re more organized in their own fiefdom, and it’s hard to contest, but the overall greyness and drab light that envelops their buildings and streets can challenge even the most upbeat dispositions. I tried to look up “climate of Milan” and my search-engine replied there was no such thing.

If you want to go with statistics, here in Rome we have some 230 or so days a year with sunshine. Or more precisely, some 2500 hours. The fact is, today’s a rainy drag, but no worries: it’s never dark and wet and depressing for more than a day or so at a time, so tomorrow will be glorious.


Once you’ve understood that, you bear the increasingly violent climate-change downpours and resulting flashfloods and hellisher-than-usual traffic gridlocks with philosophy, knowing that the next morning will almost certainly dawn with a fantastic rosey-orangey palette of colours worthy of any Great Master.

Photos:  fridge: eBay; potholes: en.wikipedia.org;  5 stars: cliparts.co/five-stars; Rome sunrises © 14thcountry.com 

Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Humour, Italy, Opinion | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Reblogging: Feeding The Right Wolf — Vintage Sapience

I don’t often reblog, but I like this reminder that we can always choose to feed our positive  inner “wolf”:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two “wolves” inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. […]

via Feeding The Right Wolf — Vintage Sapience

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Mishmash: Rome and splashes of Puglia


The weather in Rome was lovely, but the string of beautiful late summer days finally broke this morning. No more alternating blue skies, multi-hued wild cotton flocks of sheep-like clouds piling up and blowing by with drenching showers followed by rainbows two and three deep. It’s been a glorious season, but today looks like the city’s glum administrative outlook has finally seeped into the environment.

The Eternal City’s somehow uninspiring at present. So I’ve chosen a few pictures of early August in Puglia, where sun and food and history blended more simply yet often more harmoniously than here.


The point is, Rome suffers from age-old ills, and is in particularly dire financial straits. With a new municipal council and Mayor-lady who have been in deer-in-the-headlights frozen mode ever since being voted in back in June. “No” is their only flavor of the day to date, “no” to our candidacy for the 2024 Summer Olympics, so “no” for the 2023 Rugby World Cup too. Events that could have provided opportunities to build a much needed campus for university students (an Olympic village for athletes in its first incarnation) and who knows, really drastic anti-traffic measures and changes that could have ushered in a new age of decent quality of life with few cars/more buses in this perennially gridlocked city.

Now we’ll never know.


Instead of the Olympics which are anathema to the current politicos, we were triumphantly told we would enjoy a taste of “international culture in keeping with the traditions of this Great City” (quote), as we’ll be hosting four UEFA Euro 2020  football (=soccer) matches. I’m a football fan myself, but would gladly pass. We’ve been invaded a great many times by hordes of drunken foreign fans, and some get their kicks rampaging through the historical center, throwing bottles at shop windows and savaging invaluable works of ancient architecture. So now shops in the center tend to lock down their shutters pre-emptively when it’s international football time. So much for international culture. The last degrading invasion was in February of last year. Google to believe: it was indeed beyond belief. Ms Mayor probably isn’t aware of it, as she lives in the periferia and has been quoted as saying she doesn’t read the papers much.


Our garbage emergency has reached apocalyptical levels because plants are either non-existent or on hold because of mafia-type investigations. Though Romans aren’t enthusiastic recyclers, just for organic garbage, the figure for the city is some 200 thousand tons produced each year. Of these, we send off 170 thousand tons to be composted elsewhere. Most of it is sent to the upper northeastern corner of Italy, very near the border with Austria. Total yearly bill: € 20 million. No apparent progress nor policy to deal with the stalled situation, though it’s not clear if it’s because of the ongoing corruption case against their newly appointed garbage councilwoman, or because nobody’s been willing so far to take up the vacant CEO post of the garbage company, or just because the amateurs currently in charge of our city are simply too clueless to understand the issues. The latter’s quite possible, to quote one of them “We’re here to learn.” Learn, as in school? interns?


Besides, this new party is supposed to be green-friendly, and should be moving aggressively to apply laws passed by the previous much decried administration, to ban the most polluting vehicles from the city limits as of November 1. As Italians aren’t big on car-pooling, and too avoid ramping up to an even higher level of traffic and/or social mayhem, they’ll have to rush through a complex and comprehensive plan cum effective communication, to ensure that some 140.000 suddenly carless people can get to their jobs anyway. So far, if there’s any kind of plan, it’s a well-kept secret.

So today’s finally autumnal grey and glum, it’s cold and rainy. The skies seem to have caught up with the general mood of the city.


A good time to time-travel back to Puglia…

Source for Rome garbage situation: la Repubblica Oct. 9 2016 (Cecilia Gentile)

Photos of Puglia  © 14thcountry.com


Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Italy, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

Suburban pumpkins, Harleys and a museum


Back in Rome after a couple of weeks in the USA, everything feels smaller here. Even street-art colours were more exhuberant there. Here we’re cramped for space, streets are narrower, there’s less green and above all less sky.  In the USA, the sky looked wider, high and vast, and swaths of clouds all shapes and sizes moved along all day as if on a stage.


Change in motion. At least in Illinois and Wisconsin in this late summer season.

Supermarkets are huge there. Here we have mainly foreign-owned ones that can get pretty big, but never as daunting. I was mesmerized by the pumpkin sea of orange in the entrance to the nearest supermarket, found my favourite cereal after half an hour, but then had to go back three days running before finding the peanut butter section. Don’t laugh: we all relate to comfort food from our childhood. After all, food is part of what defines the US, and not as its detractors would have it, only its junk-food.


The variety of food, basic ingredients, staples, drinks and vegetables and fruit, from fresh produce and meat to canned, pre-cooked, cooked hot and frozen, is staggering and borderline immoral when you think of things like hunger in the world? But what’s wonderful is how multi-cultural it is everywhere, you can find whatever you crave under the sun, and eat it at whatever time you choose. It’s so different here in Italy, where although Chinese and Japanese have made inroads, restaurant fare is almost always traditional Italian. Lunch and dinner times are rigidly defined, and for most Italians, meals still revolve around the concept of primo e secondo – throw in antipasto on a weekend –  and you just don’t mix basic flavours either. Snailpace, it’s starting to evolve, but don’t ever let anyone catch you having pasta as a side dish for your meat or fish.,,

I had my first experience of life in the suburbs in the USA. You’ve probably watched dozens of movies with action set along really large roads flanked by low or two-level houses with multiple garage doors and huge gardens? Well, they won’t quite prepare you for the actual feeling of ongoing space, well-manicured lawns and ponds alternating with sprawls of natural woods, and silence as the backdrop to the rhythmed purr of passing cars.


I thought I’d see lots of joggers, but I turned out to be one of the only people getting around on foot. Funny because the nearby village gym had rows of cars parked in front, and you could see people working out hard on treadmills through the windows.

Driving short and long distance is a way of life there. Here petrol is expensive.

My major gripe was with air-conditioning. It’s kept at insanely low temperatures there, and I nearly caught my death of a cold with all that Artic air blowing around. Everywhere. To hear them, the locals have incredibly low tolerance for even pleasent balmy weather.  On one hand they’re wasting energy and accelerating the onset of climate warming, on the other they’ll be extraordinarily unfit to cope with hot climes when our whole post-industrial system finally does collapse…


I was taken to places I’d never considered before. On the drive up to Wisconsin, you pass through lovely low-hill country, with lakes big and small, and occasional orchards that sell their produce directly. Though some places were touted as holiday locations, they weren’t as crowded as they get here in Italy: again, more space to spread people over.

We overnighted in Waukesha, a relatively sedate mid-sized town in Wisconsin with apparent quality of life, even though it wasn’t off the grid with its waves of Pokemon-playing children and adults running around.


I finally figured why there were so many Harley-Davidsons -they’re made in neighbouring Milwaukee that also hosts their iconic historic museum. An early evening curbside dinner in dowtown Waukesha across from vrooming Harleys and their laid-back owners was very much my idea of the US. Here In Rome, mopeds and motorcycles aren’t for leisure: aggressive riders are in attack mode as they swarm through our often lethal traffic wars.

Next day, we visited Milwaukee. I knew they made beer there – divine! But I didn’t know it also has its world-class Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava. The Spanish architect is famous for his almost impossibly airy designs of bridges and railway stations, and this building, with its opening and closing wings is a thing of beauty.


Some of his projects have been developed in Italy too, bridges in Venice and Emilia Romagna, a train station too, and a scandal-ridden sports center in Rome has been on hold for over a decade. None of these are as engineeringly ambitious as the stunning Milwaukee museum that literally tries to soar into the sky twice a day.

Have you ever had unexpected impressions visiting places that weren’t really on your bucket-list?

Photos: flower street art, sky, pumpkin stall,  suburban house, apple orchard, downtown at night ©14thcountry.com;   Milwaukee Art Museum: Onasil – Bill Badzo;  

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Rome in disarray …


Getting away from Rome from time to time is a must if you want to hold on to your sanity. You usually get back in a far lighter mood and tend to actually believe things will really change one day. Reality sets in quickly.

In what was a pretty reckless gamble, Romans voted in a new mayor last June and expected her grassroots “new” party to start cleaning up municipal ills with what was mostly wishful thinking, and no relevant prior experience.

Running a complex metropolis such as this one without any kind of track record, just on the basis of political theories and slogans was doomed to be bumpy, however well-meaning their intentions. Not surprisingly, vaguely catty – the three main competing lobbies appear to be headed by women-  party infighting started almost immediately, with added disagreements regarding the higher pay necessary to lure a number of very needed high-profile experts to join her team.


In a nutshell, after the days and days of garbage removal strikes in the smelly sweltering heat of summer, media have moved on to filling local news with pictures of the mayor’s visits to main city sites, with tales of municipal haggling as an afterthought.

Fighting cellulite

Fighting cellulite

There were also an unusual number of large fires in various city parks in the last few weeks, causes unknown. Besides, I read the bizarre news that Ms Mayor informed the press she suffers from cellulite – pre-empting their photos of her mini-skirted legs during a conference.


On a more serious note, she made good on her election promise to withdraw Rome’s candidacy for the 2024 Summer Olympics.  The whole issue of holding Olympics is highly debatable, yet consensus is that her team and party are aware they’re amateurs at the game, and petrified at realizing just how arduous simple day-to-day city corruption cleanup is going to be. Let alone revamping the bureaucracy. Thus their choice to withdraw, whatever possible benefits holding Olympics could have turned out to provide for the city.


Further disruption will follow from the resignations of five members of the new municipal management team, and the lady who was put in charge of garbage issues is in danger of being formally charged with prior misdeeds. Moreover, the heads of both the municipal transit authority and the garbage disposal company have decided to leave too.

So just about everything’s on hold, including an urgently needed overhaul of zoning and real estate laws, and thousands of would-be apartment sellers and buyers are wondering if the only way to go is the age-old … “unofficial” market way… ?

Not surprisingly, the stand-up comedian-turned-politician who launched the “new” party is keeping a low profile and avoiding the Rome political scene.

I always wonder at the fairy-tale vision people have of Rome from abroad. I’m actually in the USA right now, observing the disarray from a distance …



Summer in Rome 2016 (Spanish Steps and Rome garbage), porch in the USA: ©14thcountry.com; legs: http://www.wikihow.com; Roma logo: www-comune-roma-it.png; 

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Rome does contemporary too …


The Coliseum sounds exciting to most tourists, but when you have to deal with the illogical clogged one-way traffic lanes counter-crossed around it a couple of times a week, it loses its glamour. So when friends visit, I don’t take them there.

Rome is archeology, museums, classic sculptures, romantic bridges and piazzas and fountains and so much more, but contemporary art often gets ignored, although a number of modern art galleries were built in the last decades. The stunning Maxxi (National Museum of the 21st Century Arts) was designed by the late world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, and the attractive municipal Macro (Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome) has two branches, one in the Trieste quarter and the other in the southern Piramide/Testaccio area.

IMG_20160715_124428I chose to take a visiting relative to the former, which is located in a converted Peroni brewery. It’s hidden away in a neighbourhood that tourists don’t often go to, though it’s actually not so far from famous Villa Borghese.

The exhibit we saw – Roma Pop City 60-67 – focused on a now-retro, but previously famous epoch In which Rome maintained a visible profile on the international arts scene.

IMG_20160715_122545The gallery’s well worth a visit (so’s the other branch) if you want to tear yourself away from the classic postcard pathways of touristic Rome.  One reason for choosing it was also the rooftop restaurant that serves a delicious lunchtime buffet on weekdays. The restrooms, after all these years, are still tongue-in-cheek sci-fi worthy.


IMG_20160715_123039Rome has an uncomfortable relationship with moving ahead in terms of architecture, and except for the futuristic EUR district project launched by Mussolini in the late 1930s, you can count more recent works of modern architecture almost on the fingers of one hand.

There’s the friendly and functional Auditorium designed by Renzo Piano, a great success as it’s managed to attract young people to classical music concerts – thanks to plays and jazz it also hosts on its smaller stages and in its summer outdoor theatre. It’s on the edges of the upscale Parioli residential district, and the local residents fought its construction tooth and nail for a good decade before the project was allowed to take off. All in the name of tradition and a distaste for things modern.


The construction of Richard Meier’s beautiful museum for the Ara Pacis Augustae also had to overcome enormous resistance and bureaucratic hurdles, and “destroying it, or moving it elsewhere” was part of a candidate’s platform in the 2008 election for Mayor of Rome. Said candidate did win, but thankfully backed away from his barbarian promise. The simple white and glass building sets off the mausoleum in soft hues of light and visitors are treated to excellent educational texts and visuals that manage to interest even the children. It’s turned out to be the municipality’s star museum as a source of revenue, and the lower floor welcomes varied exhibits and events.

richard meieir.com Jubilee churchWhen the Vatican held a competition to design and build a unique new church in Rome, world-class architects presented their entries, and Richard Meier won. Yet the church ended up being relegated to a far-off suburb six miles to the east of the historical center, just inside the Ring Road. The lovely Jubilee Church seems to want to float away with its three sails, and its airy inside is a light-filled invitation to prayer or simply meditation. It also functions as a community center for the local parishioners, but tourists are few. Almost exclusively knowledgeable foreigners who appreciate modern architecture and go to the trouble to seek it out.

Most Romans I speak to have no idea it even exists.

photos: statue of horses at Roman hospital and 4 artworks from the Macro Roma Pop City exhibit: 14thcountry.com; Ara Pacis: en.arapacis.it; Jubilee Church http://www.richardmeier.com

Btw, I’m taking a two-week offline break …  a presto  🙂


Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Italy, Opinion | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Reblogging: Three Day Quote challenge: Day 3 Joy, Creativity and Money


RICHARD WAGNER on Joy, Creativity and Money.

I decided to go off the deep end, and post three quotes by Richard Wagner, the composer best known for the wrong reasons. Notorious for his anti-Semitism and for his most improbably complex opera saga “The Ring”, many people associate him exclusively with the horrors of WWII goose-stepping Nazism and/or with the trumpets and cymbal clashing Ride of the Valkyries. At most the wedding march from “Lohengrin”. Shocking to say, his documented anti-Semitism was not unusual in his time, but he’s also on record as having had a number of Jewish friends and colleagues his whole life. He wasn’t around when Nazis appropriated his music to provide a soundtrack for their Third Reich, a good 50 years after his death. Hitler was indeed made welcome at the Bayreuth Festival, but it was at the enthusiastic invitation of controversial English-born Winifred Williams, the widow of Wagner’s son Siegfried. Apparently, Wagner wasn’t even Hitler’s favourite composer, Anton Bruckner was.

What’s less well-known are his social and revolutionary ideas that got him exiled from his native Germany, the fact he owned one of the largest private libraries of his time in Europe. He notated most of his books and discussed them in his extensive correspondence. He was a prolific writer of books, poems and articles and had a deep interest in Far Eastern philosophies and music. He’s said to have been personally obnoxious and arrogant, but he was also an eclectic intellectual giant who is credited with having laid the foundations of modern theater and cinema.

Horns and cymbals to the contrary, he composed some of Western music’s most emotional and romantic music with “Tristan and Isolde”.  Many regret he never got around to writing the “Buddhist” opera he had mentioned in his diaries and letters and worked on for years. In the end though, that material morphed into the lyrical-spiritual “Parsifal”.

Michael Tanner - Bryan Magee

So here are three of his quotes:


“Joy is not in things, it is in us.”

“One supreme fact that I have discovered is that it is not willpower but fantasy imagination that creates. Imagination is the creative force. Imagination creates reality.”

And thirdly, a wise but rather funny quote, if you consider his love life, philandering, marital woes…  and financial straits:

“Divorce is one of the most financially traumatic things you can go through. Money spent on getting mad or getting even is money wasted.”


Thanks again to beeorganizedwithpamela.com for re-challenging me!

I like bending the rules, so The 3 Day Quote Challenge is now open to all!

  • post for 3 consecutive days
  • you can pick one or three quotes per day
  • challenge three different bloggers per day

Photos mine:  covers of Wagner’s “My Life” and of two books on his works – “Wagner”  by Michael Tanner 1996, – “Aspects of Wagner” by Bryan Magee 1988


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Reblogging: Three Day Quote Challenge: Day 2 “on living a good life”


“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.”

“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect to a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”

All three quotes by Anais Nin

I read Anais Nin when I was a teenager, and only remember that she opened up vistas of expanded possibilities. She was famous for her candid self-portraits and introspecting, and her 7-volume diaries were eventually published in 1966. Many early critics described her with a limiting “unconformist and feminist” label, because of the sexual innuendos in a lot of her writings (see her relationship to Henry Miller). However, her reflections sprang from the deep psychological insights of a life-long writer on a journey of self-discovery.

Thanks again to beeorganizedwithpamela for putting me in the loop.

Today I’m challenging





Shrinking or expanding life?

How about contributing one – or three – of your favourite quotes?

Rules: 1) post for three consecutive days

2) pick one or three quotes a day

3) challenge three different bloggers a day


Photos: mine

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Reblogging: Three Day Quote Challenge – Day 1 “on reading and writing”

IMG_20151217_074116 (1)

This is a reblog from December 17, 2015.  I’m in the throes of pre-vacation, so apologies for not working up the inspiration for fresh quotes – though I do stand by these!

This time round, the challenge was sent to me by Pamela at beeorganizedwithpamela: her posts offer effective and humorous tips that help me maintain some kind of control over the entropy of things material… which is a pretty tall order!

The Challenge rules:

  • post for 3 consecutive days
  • you can pick one or three quotes per day
  • challenge three different bloggers per day

This set of quotes from Doris Lessing are on “reading and writing”.

“Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.”

Anna, there’s something very arrogant about insisting on the right to be right.”

Think wrongly if you please, but in all cases, think for yourself.”

Doris Lessing is my favourite author, and her writings spanned a whole lifetime – from when she was a teenager to her death at the age of 94.

Her works are a monument to a lifetime of writing, in which she spanned all genres. Year after year I wondered why she wasn’t awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and when it finally happened in 2007, it gave rise to one of her famous quotes. Getting out of a taxi in front of her house on her way back from shopping, she found out about the prize when she was assailed by a gaggle of TV reporters. Her reaction? “Oh Christ!”.

I nominate the following for this Challenge! 

IMG_20151217_074116 (1)




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