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Posts from October, 2013

Exploring New Jerusalem

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New and old are relative concepts in Jerusalem.  Wherever you go, in this historic city, the ‘old’ and the ‘new;’ the modern and ancient live in close proximity.  As a visitor it is sometimes difficult to sort out which is which.  There is so much history and religion embedded in every stone, wall and street that it can be a little overwhelming.

Though the Old City of Jerusalem is only 0.9 square kilometres in size, it attracts all the tourist attention.  There is another side to this town though, which is pleasantly at odds with the universal perception.  It has a good mix of ethnic and cultural attractions.  The food is just as varied while the nightlife is a big draw for the young Israelis and foreigners.

The generally accepted ‘new’ Jerusalem includes the neighbourhoods that came up during the last decades of the 1800s.  Some of these localities are Even Yisrael, the German Colony, Yemin Moshe, Me’a She’arim, Makhane Yisra’el, Nakhla’ot, Nakhalat Shiv’a, Ein Karem (an artists’ colony), Komemi’ut, Rekhavia, the Bukharian Quarter and the Ethiopian Quarter.  They are only a very short drive from downtown Jerusalem and you can cover several of them

They were built in and around ancient villages and kept the winding streets, stone houses and look and feel of the original surroundings.  Here in narrow alleys bordered by cypress groves you can sip cappuccinos at charming cafés or have brunch next to art and antique studios.  The shops of jewellers, potters and a whole lot of other artisans featuring different world traditions are interspersed with restaurants dishing out exotic and enticing Middle Eastern fare.

Oh yes!  The food in these parts is simply amazing and worth doing a tour just to get your fill and find the source of the tempting aromas that waft out as you passes by.

Escaping the ever present reminders of the world’s three great religions is almost impossible but a hike through the picturesque hills around Ein Sataf in the Jerusalem Forest and Abu Ghosh nearly accomplishes it.  Nearly but not completely because you just might find yourself amongst tourists clicking photos of each other around a spring that is reputed to be where Mary (Jesus’ mother) and Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist are supposed to have met.

Outside Old Jerusalem there are several sites related to the New Testament and Jesus.  The Mount of Olives is the site of the oldest – still in use – Jewish cemetery from the time of the Canaanites.  Apart from being the place where Jesus was arrested it offers a fantastic view of Old Jerusalem and its holy sites.  Then there is the chapel on the legendary site where Jesus is said to have ascended into heaven, the Pater Noster Church, Dominus Flevit, Garden of Gethsemane and Mary’s Tomb.

If you are into museums then New Jerusalem has a whole host – around 60 of them.  They offer Islamic Art, biblical archaeological discoveries, recreations of life from the time of Jesus and exhibitions dedicated to the holocaust and the fascinating Dead Sea Scrolls.

To name some of the museums:  The Israel Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Bloomfield Science Museum, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Rockefeller Museum, the Bible Lands Museum, the Islamic Art Museum, the Old Yishuv Court Museum, the Armenian Museum and the Museum of Italian Jewish Art.  monastery of the crossOther attractive places are the Monastery of the Cross, the Supreme Court, Ammunition Hill, the Knesset, and the Makhane Yehuda Market.

New Jerusalem’s night life is also well and kicking in the German Colony, the Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall, Nakhalat Shiv’a, Shlomtsiyon HaMalka Street, and the Russian Compound.

If you know where to go or know someone who knows and is willing to take you then you enter a wonderfully different world (beyond the religious) that offers character, history and fulfilment far from the spiritual.

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Halloween – A New Orleans Speciality

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As the days grow shorter, the nights longer and the season of mist rolls in, it is time for the ghosts, ghouls and other scary creatures to begin their annual visits through the streets of the living.  It is the time of superstitions; keeping vigil for passing spirits and performing rituals that ward off the ‘ha’ants.’  In other words it is Halloween!

Shortened from “All Hallows’ Eve,” Halloween is one of the western world’s oldest festivals.  Derived from an ancient pagan Celtic festival it was surreptitiously incorporated into the Christian Calendar.  It marks a series of special religious ceremonies to prepare the people for a feast to honour the saints – Hallowmas.

Halloween made its way to North America after the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49 drove more than two million Irish to the New World.  They brought with them Halloween and the fun and games that go along with it.  Children would play "knock-a-dolly," a prank in which they would knock on the doors of their neighbours, but run away before the door is opened.  A traditional delicacy barmbrack, a type of fruitcake, would be made and eaten.

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In the US some of the traditions underwent changes and “knock-a-dolly” morphed into “trick-or-treating” for candy.  During the 1930s the practice of dressing up as witches, scarecrows, mummies and vampires was the norm. In the 1950s decorating front yards and houses with lights and carved pumpkin lanterns became common. Get-togethers with family and friends turned into raucous parties.

Commercialisation has played a large part in many of these changes.  There is a whole industry devoted to making costumes and creating Halloween themes for children’s parties.  Halloween is now a roughly 7 billion dollar industry making it the second largest festival in the US of A.  Local department stores and businesses host parties with games for the whole family and throw in treats for kids as part of their effort to boost sales.

While Halloween is a big event all across the US (second only to Christmas when it comes to holidays), it seems to me that the city of New Orleans has imbued it with a spirit of its own.  Perhaps it has something to do with the well-earned reputation for being the most haunted city in the country.

Whatever the reasons, Halloween in New Orleans is now the second biggest party of the year after Mardi Gras. The city has turned Halloween into a weekend long festival of street parades and costume extravaganzas.  If you are in New Orleans for Halloween don’t be surprised if you bump into ghastly creatures like vampires, witches or comic superheroes of all ages, sizes and genders wandering around the streets – day and night.

There are plenty of voodoo and costume shops around so you can pick up the accessories that you need to get into your creepiest mood.  To really get into the spirit of Halloween in New Orleans you might want to start by taking one of several organised haunted tours.

These ghostly walking tours take you to spooky cemeteries and haunted houses in the Garden District and places where ghosts have been sighted and other supernatural activity reported.  They take you through the French Quarter, which boasts of being the most haunted part of the city.  In the heart of the Quarter on Royal Street is the La Laurie House, reputeduly the most haunted house in the area. This is where the monstrous Madame LaLaurie tortured and killed her slaves before fleeing to Paris. 

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New Orleans even has an Official Halloween Parade in the French Quarter, which is renowned for wild times, innovative themes and fantastic floats and costumes. This year promises to be even more visually stunning and unrestrained making New Orleans THE destination for Halloween shenanigans.

Halloween night in 2013 falls on October 31, a Thursday, so all the action will take place the preceding weekend.

See all tours in New Orleans.

 

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Native New Yorker: The Best Things to do in New York

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Here at Isango we love New York, a city that has so much going on it can feel dizzying at times trying to decide where to go and what to see. Lucky for us our new intern Christasia is from NYC and ready to share her insider tips with you!

 

Without further ado, here is the first post from our very own Native New Yorker.

 

 

“One day your life will flash right before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” This was one of the main reasons why I decided to leave the US and come to London. When in my life would I get the chance to just leave and go to another country for 15 weeks? Years from now I want to be able to look back at my undergraduate career and say: “Wow, I was brave enough to leave everyone and everything behind just to study abroad.” Fortunately, I’m sitting at this computer in London having the time of my life.

My name is Christasia Wilson and I’m a junior at Temple University. Currently I’m studying journalism, with the hopes to one day work for a fashion magazine. Coming to London wasn’t a hard transition because I went from one city to another. Originally I’m from New York but I attend school in Philadelphia.

Some of the main differences between New York and London is that pedestrians don’t have the right of way (something I learned the hard way), knowing that taking 100 pounds won’t be 100 American dollars, and I can go to clubs and pubs, which is a plus because in the United States I’m not old enough to do that.

From my time studying in London I’m hoping to come back to the States a changed person. I want to be able to step out of my box and do things I wouldn’t normally do. Actually, I’m already doing that by coming to London for 15 weeks. These next few weeks will contain life experiences that I will never forget, create friendships that will last a lifetime and most of all make me into a better person. It’s always insightful to see how other people from different cultures live – sometimes it makes you appreciate the culture you come from more, but also introduces new things from other cultures into your daily life.

Come along with me as I master the art of jaywalking, travel around the UK and Europe, but most of all as I try to track down the Royals. I’m just your average girl. A New Yorker by birth, Philadelphian because of school, and a Londoner by choice.

 

Native New Yorker:

The Best Things to do in New York

 

Whenever people tell me they’ve been to New York, most likely they’ve only been to Times Square, the Empire State Building and 34th Street. Not that these places aren’t wonderful in their own right, but there’s more to New York than the main tourist attractions. Take a trip across the Brooklyn Bridge or even a nice ferry ride to Governors Island. The best attitude to adopt when it comes to New York is accepting the fact that you’ll never see everything in New York. I have lived there all my life and it continues to amaze me. However, to make planning your trip to NYC a little bit easier, here are some of my favorite things to see and do in the City that Never Sleeps.

The High Line

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Originally a freight rail line, this park is built on the former New York railroad spur called the West Side Line. If you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon take a walk on the High Line. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenue. No fear, if you get hungry that far up, there are multiple ways to ensure your lovely stroll won’t be cut short because of a grumbling stomach. From coffee to tacos and even peach gelato you can fill yourself up and then continue to walk. Keep your eyes open for graffiti on some of the nearby buildings.

Isango Highline Park Walking Tour

Central Park

If you’re short on time and looking to see only the most important sights of the city, be sure to visit every New Yorkers backyard: Central Park. This happens to be one of my frequent places to go when I want to get away from everyone and everything. Endless opportunities of fun can be found here. Whether you’re looking for a place for a romantic date or an energetic family outing, Central Park never goes out of style. During the warm season have a picnic or play frisbee on the Great Lawn. In the winter treat yourself to a ride through the park on a horse & carriage or ice skating at Wollman Rink.

Tour Central Park with Isango

Top of the Rock: Rockefeller Building

Forget the lines at the Empire State Building and go to the Top of the Rock instead. Day or night the view of New York City is absolutely breath-taking. Enjoy the food, gift shops and the floor to ceiling windows, without all the hassle of long queues and large crowds. From experience the best time to go is early in the morning or at night when everyone from the afternoon rush has gone back to Times Square.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Building

For over 80 years the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony has been one of the most celebrated events in New York. This is the kickstart to the Christmas holiday. No matter how many people are there, you’ll still get a nice photo with the 69 to 100 foot Norway spruce tree in the background. While basking in the joy of the holiday season, take a stroll down 5th Avenue; at night all the holiday lights are lit and there are countless stores to visit for every type of shopper. It does get very crowded so prepare to maneuver your way through throngs of people.

Sullivan Bistro

This cozy bistro is tucked away in the Sullivan MacDougal Historic District. Every foodies safe haven, Sullivan offers some of the best brunch options around and it will have your mouth watering for more. I’ve been going to Sullivan Bistro for 2 years now, after stumbling upon it walking around Houston Street. My personal favorites for brunch are the Classic Pancake Breakfast and Goat’s Cheese on Toasted Brioche. Whether you’re a veggie lover or meat crazy, Sullivan Bistro caters to every taste palate.

The Village

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One one of the most interesting neighborhoods in lower Manhattan, you will never get bored down in the Village. There’s Washington Square Park, boutiques, thrift & vintage stores, the Meatpacking District, and one of the best Italian pastry shops in town Veniero’s. These are just a few of the things to see in and around the Village.

Explore Greenwich Village with Isango

Harlem

Home of the Harlem Renaissance movement, there’s more than enough to explore in Harlem. Go enjoy a show at the Apollo Theater, a place where stars such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin have performed. Explore the cultural legacy at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Do major shopping on 125th street and then finish the day off with a walk in Marcus Garvey Park or some food from one of the many restaurants in Harlem. If you want something quick and good find a Jimbo’s; breakfast is served all day and if you’re into burgers, you’ve come to the right place.  

Experience traditional gospel in Harlem

DUMBO

No, not the elephant, but the neighborhood in Brooklyn. DUMBO stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” This neighborhood is one of New York’s hidden gems. With a combination of art galleries, shops and restaurants it’s one place you’ll definitely fall in love with in Brooklyn. When in DUMBO you must go to one of the best coal brick oven pizzerias called Grimaldi’s. Stop by St. Ann’s Warehouse for a show or rent a bike to ride around Brooklyn.

Park Slope

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Still loving Brooklyn, we’ll continue on to Park Slope. From here you can see a basketball game or one of your favorite artists at Barclays Center. Go up Flatbush Avenue to one of my personal favorite sushi spots, Geido. If your appetite for Brooklyn is still not satisfied, head over to BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) for films, theater, dance, music and much more. When the shopping bug hits you, check out some of the stores off of Atlantic Avenue. Two of my favorite stores are called Beacon’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange. After all this you’ll be dying to visit Brooklyn again.

Museums

When you want some peace and quiet or are just in the mood for history check out one of the dozen museums in New York. Here are some of my favorites just to name a few.

MoMA (Museum of Modern Art)

Museum of Natural History

Science Museum

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Museum of the City of New York

Museum of Sex

El Museo del Barrio (NYC’s only Latin museum dedicated to Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Latin American art)

Last but not least the Guggenheim Museum

These are not the only museums to check out in New York. For some reason the museums listed happen to be museums that I’ve been going to all my life and each holds a special memory. On a good day there aren’t too many people around and I never get tired of the old exhibits.

Of course there is so much more to do in New York and the examples above are just a few of my favorite things. Next time you visit the Big Apple go off the beaten path and explore everything the city has to offer.

 

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Exploring Malta’s Megalithic Temples

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Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world.  It is just 316 square kilometers but it is also one of the most densely populated.  Even though it is so small the country has a disproportionate number of precious historical monuments.  It is the seat of one of the most ancient among Mediterranean cultures.

Malta’s strategically important location in the Mediterranean Sea has given it a vital place in history.  At various times it has been occupied by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and the British – all of whom have left behind architectural reminders of their presence.

Despite its long, very packed and eventful history many of Malta’s monuments have somehow managed to survive.  This is especially true of the eleven pre-historic monuments of which seven are listed as UNESCO Heritage Sites.  These remarkably well preserved structures are scattered all over the island.

Malta Megalithic TempleThe megalithic temples on Malta are among the oldest free-standing structures in the world.  They were built in three separate time periods from about 4100-3600 BC.  Unlike other similar structures around Europe these temples were not simply built and left alone.  What happened was rather evolutionary.  Each temple was refined and improved through successive building periods.  Sometime after 2500 BC the temple building stopped.

Archaeologists have divided Malta’s megalithic temple building into five periods.  However it is the latter three that produced the structures that still stand today.

The Ġgantija phase (3600–3200 BC) is the oldest of the three.  This phase takes its name from Ġgantija in Gozo.   Here you will see the figure 8 shape, the trefoil and five-apsed plans that were the blue print for later temple constructions and phases.

The Saflieni phase (3300–3000 BC) improved, developed and introduced several refinements to the Ġgantija style.

The Tarxien phase: (3150–2500 BC) is the last megalithic building phase on Malta.  It produced the most notable and finest structures.  This phase is so named because of the three lovely temples found at modern day Tarxien.  You could easily miss them because they stand in a back street of a modern built-up area with no immediately discernable entrance to mark its presence.

The Maltese temples are scattered all around the island and their construction took place over a period of two thousand years.  They have individual characteristics but all have similar important architectural layouts.

You enter through an oval forecourt, which is bordered on one side by the temple itself.  The temples generally face south.  The doorway to the temple is made up of large upright stone slabs with a massive stone lintel laid on top.  Stone slabs create a passageway leading to a central court.  There are slight variations to the layouts of course.

The temples are all unroofed.  The outer walls are generally made of hard coral limestone while a softer version is used inside, which permits sculpting and carving.  The decorations usually show animals but there are also a rich variety of patterns.

The major UNESCO Sites are:
Ta’ Ħaġrat
Ta’ Skorba
Ħaġar Qim
L-Imnajdra
Tarxien

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Touring Bathurst Island, Australia

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Bathurst IslandBathurst Island lies in Australia’s far north.  Bathurst is one of nine that make up the Tiwi Islands, which lie about 80 kilometres north of Darwin. There are two ways to get to the island either by a light aircraft or the thrice weekly ferry from Darwin.  Both transportation modes are wonderfully scenic.

You have to remember that tourism is restricted and so are visitors.  You need to get a permit to visit and even then you have to go on a pre-arranged tour with an Aboriginal guide.  You can apply for your permit online or from the office of the Tiwi Land Council on Bathurst Island.  It is far more convenient to let the tour operators organise your visit and permit.

You can do a one or two day tour of the island.  The facilities and amenities on the island are rather basic and there are no hotels or places to stay except for a couple of remote fishing lodges.  While there are food and general stores, the locals still follow the traditional fishing and hunting customs to meet their food needs.  It is an important part of their community lives. Tour operators however, do provide meals and camp-style accommodation for overnight stays.

Once on the island, the experiences are absolutely terrific. The pleasures of Bathurst Island can be placed in two distinct categorises.  One is the natural and scenic side and the other is the people.

The Aboriginal population call themselves the Tiwi, which translates to people, so saying Tiwi people is a redundancy.  One of the treats in visiting Bathurst Island is the arts and crafts of the Tiwi.  The main community is Wurrumiyanga, previously called Nguiu.

You get a first hand and close-up feel for the art and everyday life of the Tiwi.  You can watch and marvel at the artists while they work.  Their batik and silk clothes, woven bangles, vividly painted conch shells, wood carvings and pottery are splendid.  Wood carvings generally have birds that are sacred and meaningful to the Tiwi.   Some really good carvings are on display at the Mission Heritage Gallery and the Tiwi Designs Art Centre.

The Tiwi culture is rather unique.  Back in 1911, Father Gsell, a Catholic priest convinced the government to give him land on the island to build a mission.  Fortunately he did not carry out too many conversions and what has evolved is a very unusual mix of Tiwi Aboriginal traditions and customs and Christian doctrines, signs symbols and texts.

An outstanding representation of this cultural mash-up is the lovely wooden church built sometime during the 1930s.  Another is the beautifully decorated and colourful burial poles, called pukamanis that dot the countryside.  They mark burial sites and some of them are more than 10 feet tall.

The scenic part of your tour takes you along beautiful coastlines, sandy beaches, through rainforests, waterfalls and inviting rock pools where you can take a dip if you are so minded.  Some of the plants and animals are totally unique to Bathurst Island.  One of the most enduring sights is the cycad trees.  They look like a cross between ferns and palm trees, with a single thick trunk and a crown of large green feather-like leaves.  In fact the name Wurrumiyanga means “the place where cycads grow.”

I found out Bathurst is a privately owned island.  In 1978 ownership was formally handed back to the Tiwi people.  Today the island is run by the Tiwi Land Council and they have done a good job of it.

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Oktoberfest 2013

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The halls will be alive to the clink of glasses and sound of polka music!  Oktoberfest has rolled around again.  A time for binge beer drinking, when, those fateful words, "O'zapft is!" – "It's tapped!" uttered by the Mayor of Munich heralds the start to the festivities.

Despite the global economic gloom millions of people from around the world have decided to pour into Munich (and other parts of Bavaria, Germany) to take part in the world’s biggest beer guzzling party.

Oktoberfest-2013What began as a horse-race in 1810, with a bit of beer on the side, has turned into an annual bash lasting for as long as 16 or 17 days and become a Bavarian cultural thing.  It has also become the inspiration for similar events in cities across the world.

You would be justified in being puzzled about the fact that Oktoberfest begins in September.  It has a very practical reason.  October can be rather cold in Germany with the possibility of snowfall.  September is much nicer but the last weekend of the festival always ends on the first Sunday of October.

Just in case, you cannot figure out where the party is happening – head for Munich’s city centre.  The festival is held in a large open field called Theresienwiese (meaning Therese’s meadow) occupied by several brightly coloured tents.  The oldest, largest and central one is known as the Schottenhamel Tent where the traditional opening ceremony, which is the tapping of the Oktoberfest beer barrel, takes place.  Another important tent is the Hippodrom.

The Oktoberfest is not just about downing beers, there is plenty of traditional food to be had.  Here is a list of the dishes you can get your teeth into:  Hendl (chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages) along with Brezeln (pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut or Rotkohl/Blaukraut (red cabbage) along with such Bavarian delicacies as Obatzda (a spiced cheese-butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).

Besides the food (and beer) there are plenty of parades including the really impressive and colourful Costume and Riflemen’s Parade and the Gay Parade.  There are also thrilling rides, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, plenty of music and yodelling!

While all this is going on you have to watch out for those youngsters who overestimate their capacity for the festival beer.  The locals have a name for these types bierleiche – beer corpse! The beer served during Oktoberfest is at least 1 to 2 percent stronger than the usual fare.

Have a great time at the Oktoberfest in Munich!


Events Schedule

Saturday :    21.09.13    11 a.m.      A parade through Munich.
Saturday :    21.09.13    12 p.m.      Tapping of the first Oktoberfest-beer-barrel by the Munich mayor in the Schottenhamel Tent.
Sunday :    22.09.13    10 a.m.        Traditional costume parade through Munich.
Monday :    23.09.13    12.00 p.m.   Oktoberfest tour for 1200 preschool children, invited by the City of Munich. Special lunch for senior citizens in the big tents.
Tuesday :    24.09.13    12 p.m.-6 p.m.    Family day: all rides and performances cost less.
Thursday :    26.09.13    10 a.m.    Traditional religious Oktoberfest mass in the Hippodrom tent.
Sunday :    29.09.13    11 a.m.    Traditional concert of the Oktoberfest brass-bands around the Bavaria monument.
Tuesday :    01.10.13    12 p.m.-6 p.m.    Family day: all rides and performances cost less.
Thursday :    03.10.13    12 p.m.       Senior showman meeting in the Hippodrom tent.
Sunday :    06.10.13    12 p.m.    Traditional gun-salute on the steps of the Bavaria monument.


Serving Hours in the Beer Tents:
Weekdays: 10:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Weekends and Holidays: 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Daily Beer Tent Closing Time: 11:30 p.m.

Exception: "Käfer Wiesn-Schänke" and the "Wine Tent" stay open until 1:00 a.m.

 

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