It’s not always easy being a vegetarian in Spain. Because I also eat fish and seafood–and I live in Barcelona, which is smack on the sea–it’s a challenge, but it’s not impossible. In Madrid, I would call it impossible. There is a big deli there, for instance, called El Museo del Jamón. Generally, all over Spain there is a general suspicion of those who do not follow the cult of the slaughtered cow and pig. That small club would include both my husband U.B. and me.
So, we greet with joy the discovery of an extraordinary Spanish dish that is not based on meat. And there is a family of soups whose ingredients have never been near a pig. The chilled soups are a refreshing thirst-quencher in the parched southern reaches of Spain’s Andalucia, where summer days can be broiling.
Everybody knows about gazpacho, the perfect chilled tomato-garlic-and-vegetable first course on a hot day, and in Spain it is as readily available in the local grocery store as orange juice. My family slugs it down right from the carton if we’re on the road, and it’s one of our daughter Stassa’s favorite after-school snacks. Still, nothing beats the homemade version, which is not difficult to make in either a blender or a food processor; recipes abound on the Internet. Crucial to its success is the crunch factor of the accouterments that you add when serving gazpacho at your table: diced green (or red) pepper and cucumber, little cubes of fresh tomato, and crispy croutons of bread that have been toasted with olive oil. I like a sprig of rosemary or basil in mine.
The other tomato-based soup that has not found the international fame of its cousin gazpacho is called salmorejo. A search for the etymology of the word led me nowhere, but it almost certainly has something to do with salt (“sal”) in spite of its being not exceedingly salty. When I plug the word salmorejo into Google translate, the English translation is…(fanfare): “Gazpacho!”
As far as I can tell (after hundreds of tastings), salmorejo, whose origins are in the Andalucian city of Córdoba, varies from its more famous cousin mostly in the inclusion of a higher proportion of bread amongst its ingredients, which renders the soup a slightly lighter shade of red, and considerably thicker, than your average bowl (or glass) of gazpacho. The ingredients list is also shorter, focusing on vine-ripened tomatoes, green olive oil, garlic and bread. It is often garnished with cubes of ham and hard boiled egg.
An unsung cousin to the red chilled soups is little known outside of Andalusia, and almost completely unheard of outside of Spain. The secret of the creamy white, refreshingly chilled ajo blanco or “white gazpacho” summer soup seems to be well guarded.
U.B. and I first discovered ajo blanco in the swank restaurant of one of Spain’s most charming paradores, a converted fourteenth-century Moorish castle in Carmona, outside of Seville. Since my lactose-tolerance is not high, I at first shied away from the white soup in spite of U.B.’s swooning response to it. Only after asking the waiter, “Que es esto?” and hearing the list of ingredients, did I dive in and become a life-long fan.
Ajo blanco is more than the sum of its parts. In fact, the ingredients at first seem to be seriously at odds with each other: Bread. Almonds. Olive oil. Grapes. Vinegar. And of course garlic (ajo).
Here is a recipe, freely adapted from a version that I found at EPICURIOUS.COM:
Toast several slices of country bread without its crusts and soak in a cup of ice water.
Toast about a dozen sliced almonds in a skillet until golden, then grind them in a processor with one clove of garlic.
Squeeze the bread dry and add it to the almond/garlic mixture, along with half a pound of seedless green grapes.
Process until smooth then put it into a bowl and mix it together with 3 Tbsp. of wine vinegar, a half cup of extra virgin olive oil and two cups of ice water.
Strain it through a sieve, forcing as much bread through as possible. Add salt and cayenne pepper, and chill well, at least one hour.
Serve the soup with freshly toasted croutons and more green seedless grapes, cut in half. I know it sounds weird, but trust me.
Once while traveling around the south of Spain, we came across a thicker, dip-like version of ajo blanco, which is usually a rather thin soup. Quite a surprise and just as yummy.
It’s well known that the French are great dog lovers, and that your pooch is welcome to enter almost any shop or restaurant that you are when you find yourself traveling with Fido in Paris. But cats? In a cafe in the tony 3rd arrondissement? Cat lovers rejoice! If your family is missing its feline member during your travels, there’s a place in France…
Le Café des Chats now has two locations in the center of Paris. The original one–which opened in 2013 in the Marais, a stone’s throw from the Centre Pompidou — proved so popular (reservations are recommended generally, and on weekends, essential) that its owners opened a second kitty emporium last autumn nearby in the 11th arrondissement, near the Place de la Bastille. Marie-Claire of the Café des Chats told me that the second neighborhood “is very different and attracts yet a wider range of cat lovers.”
The lucky cats are all rescues that are being given another chance at life in an enviable situation. While the cafe is not itself in the cat adoption business, a portion of its profits go to rescue activities. “We wanted to show how a cat from a shelter is deserving and capable of affection,” says M-C.
Les chats have pretty much free run of the place, although lunch guests are prohibited from feeding them table scraps, tempting though it may be. The cafe calls itself “un salon de thé et un restaurant,” and happily the food from its full-service kitchen is not an afterthought to the gimmick, but is absolutely delicious in a traditional Parisian way, and the management seeks out organic produce. Both restaurant locations are open for lunch and dinner, and they also serve a yummy weekend brunch. Our daughter had a croque monsieur, and her parents enjoyed a veggie-and-chevre quiche with a salad. And a bowl of cream.
Is this proof that Parisians treat their pets better than they do their children? Peut-etre. Meeooooow…
You really can live like royalty in a castle in Spain…at least for a night or two. Since the 1920s, the Spanish government has run a for-profit chain of luxury hotels which is officially called Los Paradores de Turismo de España. While the word parador literally means a “place to stop,” you will find that this hardly describes the overnight experience in many of these 94 historic convents, castles, monasteries, stately homes and other monumental buildings that spread across the Spanish countryside from Galicia to Andalucia, and beyond, to the Balearic islands.
Here are a few of my family’s favorites:
In Cardona, you can visit not only a splendid castle but also the nearby salt mines whose productivity financed it. The “Muntanya de Sal” (Salt Mountain Cultural Park) is a great family excursion underground, where you can visit the source of the all-important ingredient of seasoning and preserving foods that was once worth its weight in gold. The parador itself, which was the fortress home of the Lords of Cardona, who were wealthy salt barons since the Middle Ages, overlooks the plain of the Cardener river valleys in northern Catalunya, near the Pyrenees.
The town of Cuenca, about 140 kilometers east of Madrid in Castilla-La Mancha, boasts an elegant parador in the former convent of San Pablo. Perhaps as impressive as its rich interior is the view that greets you when you emerge from the front door: across the sixteenth-century Puente de San Pablo (Bridge of Saint Paul) is the 15th-century neighborhood known as the “hanging houses” of Cuenca. One of these gravity-defying structures houses a first rate collection of mid-century modern art in the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art (Museo de Arte Abstracto Español), part of the Juan March Foundation.
In the heart of Andalucia, the Parador de Granada, besides being a honeymoon destination for Princess Grace and Prince Ranier in 1956, sits smack in the middle of the grounds of the enchanted Alhambra. It started life as a 14th-century Moorish palace, and was a Franciscan convent before becoming a parador. Like the rest of the Alhambra (one of my favorite destinations in all of Spain), the hotel grounds are filled with trickling fountains and sweetly scented gardens of jasmine and flowers.
Not all of the renovated buildings in the system can boast of equal charms, however. While the Parador of Ronda in Andalucia sits atop a spectacular piece of real estate, hanging over the edge of the town’s famous gorge, the hotel itself is the former city hall, a building of no great distinction, save its enviable location. We also once found ourselves booked into one seaside parador near Valencia which did not have beach access and whose architecture was more like a Holiday Inn than a castle. So do your homework before making your reservation, and check with those advisor sites.
Portugal, by the way, has s similar system called the POUSADAS modeled on the Spanish example.
Okay, you can also find a swell place to stay through home rental sites, but, come on…a castle in Spain!
Falling in love is all about fateful timing: being in the right place at the right time.
Like most native New Englanders, I suspect, I’ve always enjoyed visiting Kennebunkport in the summer. (Warm days and fresh lobster on the Maine coast — how can you not swoon?) But as anyone in a relationship can tell you, it’s during life’s little storms – not under its fair skies – when love really reveals itself. Kennebunkport was walloped with a winter storm this Valentine’s Day, while me and my other-half were celebrating with an off-season weekend getaway. It could have been a disaster — but as fate would have it, it was just what we needed: a reason to slow down and soak in the sweet charm of a quintessential New England resort town. The place has a lot of heart.
If you haven’t bothered to visit Kennebunkport in its quieter season, now’s a good time. (In fact, during the weekend of Friday, March 13, the town is hosting a series of “Valentine’s Do-Over” promotions and events. More on that momentarily.) Kennebunkport in the off-season is quiet — very quiet. That’s part of the appeal, of course, though we didn’t expect it would be entering such serious hibernation mode when we checked in to the Kennebunkport Inn on Friday, February 13. As unluckiness would have it, a major winter storm – predicted to dump about two feet of snow amid hurricane-strength winds – was swiftly moving in, scheduled to hit Saturday night. The inn was ready to receive overnight lovebirds: a sparkling red “Valentine’s” tree (more tasteful than it sounds) glowed in the parlor, and a stack of souvenir pins reading “Love KPT” awaited at check-in. But several guests had already cancelled their stay, said the front desk clerk as she processed our arrival; hopefully, she added, we won’t lose power.
The good news was: if there was a place to be snowed in – it was here. The Kennebunkport Inn is part of the Kennebunkport Resort Collection, a portfolio of properties with distinct identities but a common, contemporary sheen that runs throughout. The Kennebunkport Inn is housed in a stately, rambling structure built in the 1890s but recently renovated. Our room – 214, perhaps not coincidentally for a Valentine’s getaway – had a casual elegance, as though Ralph Lauren had signed on board for an HGTV-aired interiors makeover show.
A vibrant palette of reds, white and blues made it a warm and welcoming space to nest after a filling dinner at One Dock, the inn’s restaurant and lounge housed in what feels like an ample living room. We dug in to contemporary American plates of mussels, bourbon-glazed pork belly and red wine-braised short ribs as a fireplace flickered to one side and a pianist tickled ivories to the other. After fighting Friday evening traffic out of Boston, this is just the right way to unwind.
Winter might be overstaying its welcome, but at least that allows for extended opportunity to enjoy some of New England’s snow-filled fun — and the Kennebunkport Inn can help guests make arrangements for everything from snowshoeing to sleigh rides. With a blizzard about to bear down, we weren’t in the position to take advantage. But there’s plenty to do and see even while keeping it low-key, from ducking into adorable art galleries and shops that line Dock Square (check out Minka and Abacus in particular for art, fashion accessories and gifts) to taking a sip from the area’s craft brew scene: upstairs from the Kennebunkport Brewing Company is Federal Jack’s, a casual neighborhood eatery for grabbing topnotch chowder and clam rolls alongside a pint of suds. Afterwards we took a quick drive to neighboring Kennebunk for treatments at The Spa at River’s Edge. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a spa snob, but I indulge often enough to offer strong context — and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my facial was one of the best I’ve had, period, in or outside of Boston’s higher-end Back Bay spots. (And at a predictably lower price point too, even if you add on the extra eye treatment. You should, by the way.)
By the time we slipped out of our robes and back into street clothes, the storm was starting to pick up the pace. So it was back to the Inn for a quick sip of bubbly before our dinner reservations at David’s KPT, the sleek, modern American at sibling property The Boathouse Waterfront Hotel, just across the Dock Square.
The three-minute trudge through swirling snowflakes was just long enough for a laugh before battening down in the window-lined riverside dining room that bustled with cocktailing couples (younger, compared to some of the other restaurants) for the standout meal of the weekend. The New England-inspired fare included a tender filet mignon with a perfect cauliflower-parmesan mash, skewers of citrus- and truffle-inflected shrimp and scallops, and plenty of fresh oysters from the raw bar. Outside the window, inches accumulated on a docked ship; it looked like something phantom Arctic pirates might hijack. But inside we were warm, rosy from wine and five years of Valentine’s Days. We hadn’t been counting on this interfering snowstorm, but in a world of constant digital connection – buzzing phones, rapidly refilling email inboxes – we were suddenly grateful for Mother Nature imposing upon us a moment to stop, slow down, and appreciate what was right in front of us. The timing was just right, and I found myself in love with Kennebunkport in a whole new way.
Visit DestinationKennebunkport.com to check out winter packages and special rates. Try to make it up for the “Valentine’s Do-Over” weekend on March 13-14, which also coincides with Maine Restaurant Week.
Overall impression: Go for the architecture, the inspired shopping, creative and friendly atmosphere and the trendy dining. A must in Amsterdam? The enchanted 9th Street District for its swirl of everything amazing.
I love vintage and I really love European vintage. European fashion from a previous era tells a story that more contemporary fashion rarely does. Owning the original version of a fashion moment is more inspiring to me then the “easy get” of that mass produced look today.
My favorite spot to source unique and envy inspiring pieces is Episode. Episode is a small chain, but you can’t hold that against them as they are all about budget friendly, quality merchandise that is organized with dewy decimal precision. The focus on grouping like merchandise together is a godsend when time is tight – and your husband’s patience is growing thin. Their mens collection is just as fabulous as their ladies. If you’ve never “been into vintage” or found vintage to be too much work, Episode will convert and spoil you.
HIGHLIGHTS OF MY VINTAGE BINGE:
The tuxedo jacket with tails of my dreams – €30.00 (euros) and a heavily metal grommeted ’80’s jacket done in buttery soft suede – €25.00.
Amazing fur accessories: muffs, collars, boleros, hats, scarves, gloves. Sorry PETA but I bought bags full and I certainly wasn’t alone. Everybody is buying and wearing fur in Amsterdam, and with prices that start at €10.00 and topped out at about €50.00, you can see why. The fur coats were all in the €100.00. range and would easily go for much more in the US.
An epic, embroidered lederhosen, with incredible leather braided suspenders. I am obsessed with the buttons, the pewter buckles, and the embroidery. Super flattering and completely unexpected, I can’t wait to wear this with a killer pair of high heels. At only €35.00 , I now wish I had bought more.
LAURA DOLS VINTAGE
My spirit animal has got to be the magpie. Its bad rap for attraction to shiny things hits close to home, because I too am absurdly attracted to everything that glitters – especially vintage. Indulge your inner magpie while in Amsterdam and be sure to visit Laura Dols, located in the heart of the 9th Street District. This sweet, well curated two level shop is filled with a wide range of girly party dresses that will have you feeling ready to go get flirty. Sequins, beading, and feathers embellished on silks, satins, and all varieties of polyester from the last 5 decades boast impressive quality. What did I bring back to my nest? The diaphanous, white belted dress with a subtle metallic sheen, very Kathleen Turner in “Body Heat”.
Attention all femme fatales: for unabashedly feminine lingerie, a stop at Stout is a must when visiting Amsterdam’s 9th Street District. Don’t let its unfortunate name fool you; this small but incredible boutique is for grown up ladies, who need something more stimulating than Victoria’s tired secrets. All 50 shades of exquisite underpinnings are offered and well displayed. Sexy, bold, sweet, classic, naughty…whatever your personal taste, this is an upscale shopping experience that will surprise and delight you with its wide range of European brands. I’m always impressed with their selection of beautiful bras, panties, teddies, swim wear, accessories and other items that will help you break hearts and get your groove on.
Lorena Autori, who has starred as a guest chef at Boston’s own Rialto Restaurant, offers private cooking classes in her home, which is located in an historic building in the very center of the drop-dead charming medieval hill town of San Gemini.
After we reached Lorena initially via email, she first let us choose our menu well ahead of time from a wide selection of tantalizing options. We selected things that our daughter would eat and also dishes that we felt that we could later prepare at home. Lorena was delightful to chat with while she performed wonders in her kitchen, during the very little “down time” we had…as she worked us quite hard! And had a lot of fun.
Together we whipped up some amazing delicacies, including gnocchi made from scratch (JUST the right variety of potatoes, peeled after boiling, and pushed through a ricer), a special Umbrian version of pesto, polpette di pollo (chicken croquettes), vegetarian stuffed peppers, batter-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella, and an awesome lemon cream tart. (She even contributed on her own a special local dessert that she thought our daughter would like, since there wasn’t enough time for us to bake two desserts.)
The whole cucina italiana experience with Lorena, while intense and focused for almost four hours, was an absolute delight. And then we ate! Buon appetito!
Percorsi con Gusto
Via Casventino, 4
05029 San Gemini
PRICES & AVAILIBILITY:
Umbria or Boston – PERCORSICON GUSTO
Doubting your abilities to communicate in Italian? Crack tour guide Alessandro Manciucca in San Gemini can book this for you, and arrange for a visit to a family-run winery, in a small Umbrian town.
Allessandro can be reached at www.dreavel.com
Boston in January is generally not a hot destination, but this year’s New England International Auto Show has some of the world’s finest and most exciting cars on exhibit, and is well worth the price of admission. All of the major manufacturers including Audi, Bentley and Cadillac displayed their latest offerings.
The auto industry in general is coming off one of their strongest sales periods in recent memory, which not only increases budgets to develop new vehicles, but gives auto makers greater confidence to produce more exciting vehicles.
My first stop was to the Audi display and I was not disappointed. One of the fastest growing brands in the world, Audi produces some of the best cars anywhere. This year several RS models, Audi’s premium badge, were on display including an RS5 and RS7. These vehicles feature enhanced design, larger wheels, and premium interior trim with greatly enhanced horsepower.
Audi also displayed the new S3, a high performance four door sedan with great looks and all-wheel drive, and the All Road Wagon, a great blend of style, performance and functionality.
Next was the Bentley, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini and Maserati booth. Wow, I could barely control myself when I saw a Lamborghini Aventador with its guillotine doors opened, displaying its jet fighter cockpit like interior. This is the closest thing to a race car that you can legally drive on the street and are very rare.
Parked alongside was a fleet of Bentleys, including Coupes and Convertibles. It was like Palm Beach comes to Boston. Also, making its Boston debut was a Rolls Royce Phantom Limousine, an extremely rare, $600k plus motorcar.
I then strolled over to Cadillac, General Motors Flagship Brand. On display were a pair of Escalades, new for 2015. These vehicles are based on the great success of the previous model but enhanced in all areas. They feature a more elegant design and greatly updated interiors with fine leather seating and real wood trim. I ride in these on a regular basis and can report that they are the finest, large SUV on the market.
Cadillac also displayed the newly updated CTS and ATS sedans. These cars share a similar design language and engine options. They can be equipped from mild to wild with both offering V Series engines derived from the Chevrolet Corvette.
I continued my walk and saw the latest from Mercedes (S Class Coupe), Porsche (Macan SUV), BMW (I3/I8), Mini Cooper, Chevrolet (Corvette ZO6) and Ford (Mustang GT). Also on display were new technologies from Toyota (Mirai – Hydrogen Power) and a range of diesel powered cars.
Lastly, the new Dodge Charger Hellcat with its 707 horsepower, supercharged V-8 was there in its full glory. Long live the muscle car!
The New England International Auto Show is at the Boston Convention Center in South Boston from January 15 to 19, 2015. It is by far the best way to see over 600 new cars to compare features in a low key, fun atmosphere. I mark it on my calendar every year as it is one of the hottest tickets in cold Boston in January.
Photography: Shannon Hawkins
An energetic young Dutch couple, Iris Tonies and Arnout Krediet, run an innovative art school called ESTUDIO NOMADA, located on one of the twisting stone streets in the heart of Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter.
The “nomad” studio offers workshops for individuals and families who want to spend a week or two exploring Barcelona and environs with creative local types who will show them local art destinations through the eyes of the artist. Drawing and painting classes, as well as a museum visit or two, are included in the workshop in the city. But that’s not all! The school has just opened an artist residency program in a stunning historic macia in the nearby wine country of Penedés. A day in this lovely setting, surrounded by vineyards (lunch and wine tasting included!), can be added to the workshop, which is hand-tailored for the visitor by Iris. There are stops to sketch or paint the enchanting vineyards and olive groves, along with a visit to a fantastic family-run winery. All of Spain’s cava, the champagne of Catalonia, comes from this photogenic region, an hour outside of Barcelona.
The price for this unique experience, all art materials and museum admissions included, is 50 euros per person per day in the city, and an additional 80 euros for the vineyard/art tour.
To see the lovely wine-country location, take a look at the website for Residency Mas Els Igols and be sure to check out the A.I.R. artist-in-residency.
Carrer de la Palma de Sant Just, 7
Arnout Krediet | Founder @ Estudio Nómada
Official Estudio Nómada website
Although my partner U.B. and I are both artists with a keen appreciation of art history, when our family booked a week-long visit to Umbria during our ten-year-old daughter’s spring break this year, we wanted to do something other than the typical visit to churches and art museums.
We spent a memorable morning at a Craftsman Workshop in the famous ceramics town of Deruta. You’ve no doubt seen, or bought, some of the pricey and precious plates, espresso cups or soup tureens made by the artisans of Deruta, with their traditional swirls and griffon shapes meticulously painted on glossy high-fired porcelain. When we learned that we could make our own at the authentic, no-frills ceramics studio called MAIOLICHE ARTISTICHE GORETTI, we said, “Sign us up!”We loved that it was off the beaten path of ceramic factories. The husband-and-wife team of Umberto and Vania were extremely patient with us beginners. Their passion for their craft, which has occupied them for 25 years, shone through. Umberto was delightful with our daughter Stassa, who modeled low-fire bowls, which she personalized for our dog and our cat. In the meantime U.B. and I focused on the fine art of centuries-old decoration of dinnerware. Vania made sure that we followed the rules, after we “pounced” the design with a bag of charcoal onto the unfired white plate or cup. If we put a stroke of light blue rather than a stroke of the dark blue on that wing of the griffon, she would smile and firmly let us know that, no, THIS is the right color for that feather on that wing: SEMPRE (ALWAYS)! Then she would scrape the stroke away with a sharp knife, and we would do it properly.
We thought that the €70 per person price tag for a half-day session was quite reasonable, and afterward we couldn’t resist buyingsome of the Gorettis’ own (admittedly more professional) serving dishes and bowls. But our own creations are our real treasures.
Via Vincoli 7/9
06053 Deruta PG
Tel. +39 075 971 0048
I have a confession: I owe my first glimpse of the northern lights to my terrible smoking habit. Pacing around in blast-freezer conditions, I was puffing away on my after-dinner cigarette (my face and hands progressing from cold, through stinging, to completely numb) when I happened to glance to the skies. There it was. A faint beam of eerie green light snaked overhead, curling and intensifying, then slowly unfurling into a delicate, shimmering curtain. As I watched, a second swathe of rosy pink light began to materialise. I was mesmerised. Eventually I snapped out of my trance and burst into the restaurant to share the news. A stampede for the door ensued.
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I have a dream, a dream that one day, I will be able to travel to an exotic location and spend the rest of my days shopping to my heart’s desire without paying a single dime.
Louis Vuitton offers just that, besides the last part of course (I’m still on the hunt for a working money tree).
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Picture this: You’re sitting at your local sports bar on a Wednesday night listening to the deadbeat at the end of the bar complain about corporate America and his wife’s cooking for the 3rd straight hour. The sound of clashing pool balls circulates the room as the sports commentator droning from the nearby television announces that yes, Tom Brady missed his target yet again and the bartender shoots you another glare for reasons that you still don’t understand. It’s dark. It’s dank. It’s downright miserable.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Not if you live around Cambridge, at least.
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Human beings were built to swim. In fact, the only things preventing us from living in the water are our lack of gills and the prospect of never being able to watch television again. So, to make up for not being born with a shark fin and webbed feet, we have developed other ways to enjoy the endless oceans, some of which are not so normal.
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The current economy is stuck in a real-life Catch 22: while the need for a vacation is increasing due to the rising stress caused by the cut-throat nature of the job market, the costs of embarking on such escapes are steadily moving out of reach. With all work and no play, Americans today are becoming high-strung and harder to deal with. Like New Yorkers in the winter, we’re all turning into snappy, stressed-out, soul-sucking monsters.
So here’s a solution. Staycations, as they’ve come to be called, are defined as “a period in which an individual or family stays and relaxes at home, possibly taking day trips to area attractions.”* Staycations give you the reprise that you need to stay sane without completely draining your wallet. So book a week off, toss out your business phone and give some of these Staycation ideas a try.
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