Paint The Town Red

“Creo que mi comportamiento es humano.  Pero no es ni inteligente,  ni razonable.  Respeta tu tiempo en esta tierra, recuerda que Dios siempre te ha perdonado; perdona tú también.”  (Paolo Coelho, El Zahir)

Or in english…

“I believe that my behavior is human.  But it is not intelligent or reasonable.  Show some respect for your time on this earth, and know that God has always forgiven you and always will.”

I want to use my time to meet new people and to learn from them.  I want to be like this guy (please disregard the title):

 

If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone traveling in Europe, it would be to go to Barcelona, and spend days upon days  exploring all of it’s hidden secrets.  It was such a shame that we only had a day and a half there, because I know that we barely even began to scratch the surface of the wealth it had to offer. Not only is the architecture exquisite, with Gaudi’s surrealistic buildings juxtaposed to 17th century townhouses, the food superb, and the weather gorgeous, but also the diversity of people and language is fascinating.

There are very few places I have been to that have such a rich mixture of people – Catalonian, French, Indian, African, Chinese, American, Castilian, American, Swedish, Argentinean…and this is only a small sample of those I actually met and talked to.  To compare it to some more familiar cities, I would reckon that Barcelona was a conglomeration of Seattle, San Francisco and New York, but with a whitewash of class, intoxicating history, and a really good street cleaning crew.  I am enchanted and am counting down the days until I can return one day.

Rather than going to class on Thursday, the group loaded up onto a bus and we set out on our long journey up towards  the north of Spain.  It’s about a 7 hour drive from Madrid to Barcelona, and we were only going to make one major stop in a city called Zaragoza, so most of us were all dressed in our finest and most comfortable travel clothes.  It is actually rather hard to write about Zaragoza because I’m pretty sure Barcelona seduced and blinded me with some sort of witchcraft.

Pointing to Spain on a giant globe in a plaza at Zaragoza

Zaragoza is actually a major city in Spain, and I am sure that there are wonderful things to say about it, but having spent only two hours there, I reckon that I’m not the world’s most reliable judge.  We visited la Catedral de la Seo first, which in all honesty is quite stunning with its colorful tiled spires and ornate marble pillars that decorated the inside.

It’s quite unfortunate because we weren’t allowed to take pictures in there and the whole time we walked around, this nosy guard literally stood right behind me and some other girls to make sure we weren’t breaking any rules.  Seriously, the one time I put my hand down on my camera to make sure it wouldn’t bump into someone, he was literally breathing down my back to make sure I didn’t snap a picture while I was at it.  The decorations were very different from other churches we have seen.  The paintings were smoother and there were almost no reliefs inside – hardly Roman or gothic at all.  There WERE arches though, but some of them were perilously crooked.  Interesting…  The cathedral is one of the 5 largest in Spain, and I felt pretty lucky because we happened to be there right as they were doing a ceremony, and the sound acoustics were lovely.  We saw priests who sat in their confession boxes and several people actually confessing.  I think it would be interesting to be inside that little box.  Think of all the stories they hear!

Oh, this is a lovely sign inside the cathedral, with my friend Elise kindly posing to enhance the effect.  Apparently, “bla bla bla” translates as people gabbing in every language.

The cathedral is located in the Plaza del Pilar, which is also surrounded by the Basilica del Pilar, a Mozárabe church (Mozárabes were christians who converted to Islam in the 1st century), Roman walls, among other interesting sites.

these are sites that apparently exist in Zaragoza, but unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to explore

We also had time to try the famed “frutas de Aragón”, specialties of Zaragoza, which are pretty much candied/jellied fruits covered in dark chocolate.  For how much I love anything that has some form of chocolate in it, I have to say that these were not my favorite things in the world…perhaps because there was too much sickly-sweet jellied fruit and not enough chocolate.  It’s all about the ratio here, people.

In front of a random castle we found on the road in the middle of no where. Silly Romans!

Oh, I also found a huge Calzedonia shop, which, if you didn’t know, is one of my favorite stores ever because they have gorgeous tights and leggings, which I am pretty much obsessed with.  I got some polka dot and teal ones and I am definitely looking forward to colder weather to wear them.

We continued on our journey to Barcelona, making a few stops here and there at rest stations to use the bathroom and so that our bus driver could have a chance to smoke. (Did you know it’s the law here in Spain that bus drivers legally have to stop every hour and a half/two hours for 30 minutes, and can’t be on the road/contracted out for more than 12 hours a days?  Although slightly irritating sometimes, it’s definitely nice when the bus is filled with a bunch of girls who seem to always have to use the bathroom.  I can officially say that we have all also become experts at commandeering the men’s restrooms wherever we go, which gets a great deal of dirty looks from men who have to wait in a line for ONCE in their life, but definitely gets the job done.

We drove through the Desierto de Monegros (don’t ask me what it means – I couldn’t tell you) and finally entered into the land of Catalonia, where everyone speaks Catalán.  I didn’t realize how different the language was from Castilian (you’re average Spanish) and how hard it would be to read all of the signs!  Catalán is a mixture of French and Spanish, and the signs reminded me a lot of Portuguese actually, with all of the weird accents and letter combinations.

Barcelona (“barthelona”) could technically be considered the “Texas of Spain”.  As of late, they have been CALLING FOR SUCCESSION from Spain, claiming that the country is leaching off all of their prosperity.  Barcelona, like Texas, is also obnoxiously obsessed with “Barca pride”, with balconies and walkways donning Catalan flags, “It’s Better in Barcelona” shirts, and of course, no sight of anything even closely related to REAL MADRID.  Because they are so puffed up in all of their glory, they are also known for being rude and refusing to speak Spanish because heaven forbid, someone mistakes them for something other than a Catalonian.  Um…pride cycle  anyone??  According to several notable travel guides, Barcelona is the city where you are most likely to be robbed or encounter violence at night out of all of Europe.  That’s why it’s good to pretend you’re Canadian.  Or Swedish.  It’s hard to have bad feelings against people who you never hear about.

I woke up from my nap on the floor in the isle of the bus to a slight drizzle and grey sky, as well as several girls awkwardly trying to walk around me because we had pulled up to the hotel and no one had bothered to wake me up because apparently I was sleeping like a rock.  Getting checked into the hotel was quite the fiasco because apparently we had to all have our passports/copies of our passports with us to be able to stay there, but no one had told us.  Whoops. The bus driver was not the most jolly of fellows either so his addition didn’t help much.  Let’s just say things were prettttttttty intense for a few minutes, but we got through it relatively unscathed.

running past the Sagrada Familia at dusk

After being cooped up on a bus all day, I was definitely ready to get out so Kari and I took a nice 10 mile run down past the Sagrada Familia, the Torre Agbar, and down through the gothic district to the beach.  Barcelona is gorgeous at night, with the churches and towers all lit up and the chic little cafés and bars flooded with people.  Moreover, for the staggering amount of people that smoke here in Spain, there were a surprising amount of runners as well.  Interesting, right?

we made it all the way to the Mediterranean Sea! (don’t mind my creepy shiny eyes…)

Wow.  I swear if my Internet doesn’t start working, I’m going to go insane.

Anyway.

The next day, we boarded the bus and were greeted by our tour guide named Jordi/Jorge/George (Catalan/Castellano/English), who took us on a tour of the Parc Güell and la Sagrada Familia, both which were designed by Gaudi.

a view of Barcelona from the Parc Güell

I have always had a thing for abstract art, and this spectacular building completely solidified my affinity and appreciation for surrealism.  Gaudi was one intelligent man.  Not only was he ridiculously creative and talented, but he also had such a forward thinking mind, that many of his creations were not even possible to build until recently with modern-day technology.

But then again, perhaps he wasn’t such a mastermind.  Is it not the novelty, the twisted strokes and complete disregard for gravitational and architectural rules that makes him so unique?  Perhaps he was simply insane and people misinterpreted his works as genius.  (which would explain why even today, many of his sketches are impossible to build)

This is what irritates me about “modern” art.  Not necessarily the pieces from the last 100 years or so, but rather abstract art in general.

As mentioned above, I will reiterate that I love the surrealist work of Salvador Dalí, Gaudi’s architectural designs, and the mysterious black paintings of Goya.  There is something about them that send chills down my spine as I wonder about their stories.

But I hate the interpretations; the deep meanings curators and analysts often associate with art that is considered modern, abstract or difficult to understand.

Like this painting:

Apparently, it’s the depth of my soul.  Or me looking through a tunnel into the world’s dark future.  Or the extensive complexity of my love life.  Who knows?

But honestly.

Will someone please tell me why it costs more money than I have ever made in my entire life and why it’s hanging on the wall of a museum for people to travel from all corners of the earth to see?  Apparently it is a brilliant piece of work, but if you ask me, a four-year-old could have painted it.  Or an elephant.  Pretty much the same difference anyway.

Sometimes it seems to me that a group of artists, or writers, or even activists of the latest controversial topic for that matter, have found a way to start movements for things that ordinarily wouldn’t even make the front page of an elementary school’s monthly newsletter.  Just hear me out.

Say a group of semi-talented startup artists realize that they can’t compete with the works of the great masters such as Rafael and Da Vinci.  Okay, that’s understandable – most people can’t.  But…these artists are determined and want to make some good money.  So what do they do?  They start painting pictures of dots and squares and slashed brushstrokes and give it a catchy name like “abstract art”.  Then, they agree to complement each other’s art and promote it, saying that such-and-such artist is brilliant, that what’s-his-face has such an eye for imbalance, that so-and-so has unparalleled skill for seeing things that others cannot.  After a while, the general public, who would have never even glanced at these splatters of paint on perfectly good canvases, start noticing all of the self-created hype and begin to jump on the bandwagon.  “If so-and-so says it’s good, then isn’t it?”  “Can you not see the genius in this painting?” and, not wanting to appear daft although they really can’t understand what the artists are doing, “Of course!  Such meaning! If only we all had such an eye for this type of inspiration!”

And so it happens that the era of “abstract art” is born.  Although no one can understand it, no one wants to be the one to admit it so everyone goes along pretending it has meaning, declaring they can see the profoundly deep message the artist intended to give, and so the phase continues.

If you think about it, the same goes for political movements, for PETA campaigns, everything.  If someone has enough money and enough “friends” (in quotations because most likely these “friends” are simply beneficiaries who hope to achieve some sort of status by leaching onto those who look like they’re going somewhere) to facilitate enough publicity and self-promoting, eventually it will catch on just because our human nature refuses to let us sit while everyone else moves on.

But I digress.  All I’m saying is that although Gaudi’s work is undeniably amazing, you have to wonder why and how it caught on in the first place.  It’s so different from anything else in the city, and the architecture is nearly structurally impossible.  But still, it’s brilliant.

very “Dr. Seuss”

I’ve mentioned Gaudi a few times, but honestly, how much do you really know about this guy?

Yeah, that’s right.  Probably not a whole lot.  Unless you’re Seth Yeanoplos and know a ton of random facts that no one ever thinks about learning.

taken from our adventures in the BYU Bookstore in Provo, Utah

(p.s. check out his blog – he’s a super good writer.)

Antoni Gaudi was an architect, artist and designer from the late 19th-early 20th century, and almost single handedly developed the look of Barcelona.  It probably wouldn’t even be that famous if it weren’t for him.  Gaudi is famous for following nature’s patterns, refusing to be restricted by straight lines and hard angles.  He believed that buildings and structures should be designed to correspond to the natural flow and movement of how God intended the world to be.

The Parc Güell (pronounced “Parkay gwhy”) is a stunning example of Gaudi’s work.  Try sitting on the curved benches.

Although they seem slightly odd at first, they are actually extremely ingenious.  Gaudi built them in a scalloped formation (curiously similar to the outer rim of a seashell) so that when people sat, they could be facing each other to allow conversation to flow better.  Who would have thought?  He also included a ridge covered in his classic broken ceramic decoration style (he loved loved loved the look of ceramic, but because he constructed in curves, he had to use broken ceramic to follow the shape) for lumbar support.  Comfortable?  Go and see for yourself, and you won’t want to leave.  Interestingly, the detailed design of his artwork in general is where we got the word “gaudy”.  Earth shattering, I know.

Gaudi also designed custom-made furniture for those who were willing to fork out a handsome sum of money.  He would make the outer part of the chair, and then actually cast the client’s sitting body in plaster and mold the chair to them.

In the middle of this lovely scalloped plaza is an opening made completely of dirt (he was an earth lover, remember) where children would play games while their parents talked and smoked amongst themselves.  In order to prevent the plaza from caving in from the water weight of all the rain, he designed it to have about 50 HOLLOW columns below to hold it up.

A view from the side of the plaza and then one from underneath

Why were they hollow, you ask?  So the water could drain down into a cistern that was used to water the rest of the beautiful plants in the gardens.  Brilliant, I tell you.

Because Gaudi disliked the look of buttresses, which are typically used to support columns from collapsing to the side, he intentionally designed his columns to be slanted so that he could avoid the ugly buttresses altogether.  A true hipster of his generation.

straight columns were just too mainstream

see the column in the very back? I question it’s structural soundness

After the Parc Güell, we visited the Sagrada Familia, which is not only one of the most spectacular and breathtaking pieces of architecture I have ever seen, but also a site where you can find hundreds upon hundreds of Asian tourists milling about, if you’re into that sort of thing.  Funniest picture moment of the day:

Oh wait.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to snap it in time, but it was a bunch of them in a row with big cameras around their necks doing peace signs.  I now know why stereotypes exist, and I fully believe in them.

So.  Let’s begin on a little tour, shall we?

Here is the outside view:

I had two emotions when I first saw it.  The first can only be described as FLOORED.  The second was more along the lines of irritated because there were annoying cranes in all of my pictures.

The Sagrada Familia is still under construction, and is only about ¼ of the way done because of money issues.  Construction began in 1882 and has progressed at a snail’s pace because it isn’t funded by any kind of church (Catholic included) or government money.  All building and upkeep funds come from donations and tourist entrance fees.  As of late, since this is the second most visited site in Spain and visitors are charged a whopping €13 entrance fee, they have a pretty consistent income of money and it’s estimated to be finished in a mere 14 years.  It makes it hard to be annoyed with the people who worked on our kitchen for the months longer than expected, now doesn’t it?

Surprisingly enough, Gaudi was not the original architect, and not even an architect at all (which is possibly why many of his plans for the church are only recently structurally possible with modern-day technology).  He was the second designer on board, revamping the poor guy’s initial plans and taking all the fame.  See the four spires in the front?  No, Gaudi didn’t think that was quite enough.  His final plans include over twice as many spires that size, and a massive one in the middle that is topped with a gigantic cross that lights up.  Hmm…He liked shiny glass, rainbow colors, and things that lit up.  He could have designed for Barbie or Disney.

Future plans for the Sagrada Familia

Although construction began over 130 years ago, the building is surprisingly “in” with regards to the fashion world, as it follows the ombre trend quite nicely.  There is darker stone in the middle that is from Gaudi’s time (grayed by the pollution of the city), which gets progressively lighter as the work continues.

The “ombre” trend

The Sagrada Familia literally has symbolism in every aspect possible.  Even in the name.  This church isn’t named after some wealthy sponsor or a saint or anything.  This church is named after the Sacred Family, or rather, Holy Family.  But which holy family?  Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?  Or could it be God The Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?  The answer, as a matter of a fact, is both!  Since family is considered one of the most important aspects of life and the gospel in general, people believed such an amazing building should be dedicated to something so principal.

The “front” of the church, which is actually not the front at all, but rather a side (the actual front hasn’t even been built yet – they have to knock down several buildings that are built too close to the church before they can finish that part of the construction) Is a façade with depictions from the beginning of Christ’s life.  This, surprisingly enough, is considered the “life” side of the church.  Profound, I know.  It faces the east because this is where the first rays of light touches the building, just as Christ’s birth brought light to the world.

Underneath a statue of a green cypress tree, (according to the grapevine – pun intended – the trunks of cypress trees are the same width on the top as they are on the bottom, which is why this specific tree was used…to symbolize Christ being the same from the beginning to the end, from birth to death, and into eternity.  It’s also a rendition of the Tree of Life.), is a pelican guarding her young.  Pelicans are important religious symbols because when they can’t find food for their young, they feed them with their own blood, just as Christ’s blood was sacrificed for our sins.

The spires are adorned with colorful, almost cartoonish baskets of fruit denoting Mathew’s speech in the bible about being recognized by our fruits.  There is also a nativity scene, shepherds, wise men, Herod killing babies (dead babies hanging off the front of a church?  Slightly morbid, to say the least), angels, Christ as a carpenter, Him teaching people in the streets – it’s all there.  And it’s gorgeous.  It also looks like a drippy sand castle.

The inside of the Sagrada Familia is even quirkier than the outside. With the highest point of the ceiling soaring over 65 meters above, there is also a theater-like room that seats up to 300 for meetings and a chorus that lines the periphery of the ceiling to allow for some ear-shattering acoustics.

The main knave has the typical cross-shape structure, with a crucifix in the center.  The usual, NBD.  But some run-of-the-mill, gold plated, priceless altar wasn’t good enough for Gaudi.  No, in the Sagrada Familia, the crucifix is suspended in mid air covered by an umbrella-like canopy of glass, symbolizing the Holy Ghost between Christ and Heavenly Father.

Above all, at the very top of the whole display, is a triangle of gold, downward pointing scales representing Heavenly Father looking down to Christ and sending help below.  In a vertical way, (Christ on the crucifix, the Holy Ghost above that, and Heavenly Father above all), it’s the Trinity, the Holy Family in the divine sense.

And remember how the knave is cross-shaped?  On the left arm of the “cross” is a statue of Mary, and on the left is a statue of Joseph, thus completing in a horizontal sense the Holy Family on earth.  Therefore, both families in one basilica!

The basilica is lined with windows, although most have clear glass that have yet to be installed with the intended stained glass.  The finished pieces have a mixture of warm and cool colors at the bottom, symbolizing the chaotic structure of mortality, with a gorgeous burst of light at the top representing the resurrection of Christ.

The reflections upon the walls are stunning.

Several sprawling spiral staircases in the basilica represent Gaudi’s imitation of the path of leaves twirling to the ground.  The pillars and columns are of varying widths (several, once again, are not completely vertical and look like they are about to perilously topple over) and branch out at the top, as Gaudi desired to mimic a forest on the inside of the chapel.  Several of the columns are built on the top of giant stone turtles, implying strength and resistance.  Stars decorate the ceiling and are made of mirrored golden ceramics that are positioned in such a way that they catch the light from the windows and reflect it into the rest of the building.

Upon exiting the door to the other side, there is the façade that faces the west (thus receiving the last light and first darkness) that depicts the passion of Christ.  Only this time, it is not in the beautiful gothic style that matches the front.  Instead, it is a huge mix of modern and abstract art, with harsh lines and angular figures.

Many people complain about such an “ugly” façade on such an important church, but allegedly the artists didn’t really want people to like it in the first place.  (Sounds like a weak excuse to me…)  The raw-boned, cold figures portraying Christ carrying the cross, being stabbed in the side with a spear, Peter’s denial, Judas’s treason, etc. weren’t meant to please the eye.

They specifically were created with the intent to create a feeling of distaste.  On top of it all is a statue of the Flagellation of Christ, which appears to be at the point of falling onto those who stand beneath.

Christ’s cross tilts outward so that people can see it relatively straight on from either far away or standing right beneath it.  His face is also carved inward, so that the eyes follow observers as they walk by.

This side of the church also features several triangles, structures in pairs of three, as well as a square, which, if divided into four parts any directions or way, will equal 33, as three is considered the “perfect” number.

If only I could go into more of the detail.  Unfortunately, this post is already excessively long for its own good and if I don’t finish soon, I may go crazy.

So, if you ever need a tour guide for the Sagrada Familia, feel free to pay for my ticket to accompany you to Barcelona and I’ll give you a tour absolutely free out of the goodness of my own heart.

After the tour, it began to rain (yet another reason why Barcelona reminds me of Seattle) and we took a brief bus tour of the city, seeing the beach, the Olympic stadium from 1992 (I had no idea!) and the Arc de Triumph.  We were dropped off at Las Ramblas, essentially a glorified tourist trap filled with vendors, over-priced souvenirs, and even more expensive clothing, but this is where the fun all began.

some random girls we saw in a cute yellow cart thing

Kensie, Sarah and I, at first feeling slightly abandoned because all of our friends ran off, decided that it was time for an adventure.

We didn’t want to stay on the main road for long, because store after store was filled with things we couldn’t (and wouldn’t) ever buy, but we did happen to stop at a famous market called La Boquería.

I was in heaven.  It felt like we were right back in Seattle at Pike’s Place market with rows and rows of fresh fish, beautiful exotic fruit stands, shops specializing in all types of eggs, pastries, and even bananas – it had everything imaginable.  And I wanted to buy it all.

But I didn’t, don’t worry.  Although I did get some fresh coconut to snack on while we tried to wrap our brains around the absolute visual stimulation overload.

Too many temptations.

here you have an example of the most delicious calzone in my entire life.

The night before we arrived in Barcelona, I did some research and found that apparently there is a pretty good thrift and second-hand district near Las Ramblas, so the three of us decided to seek it out.  And boy did we find it!

This shop was only three feet wide!

On a small side road that was hidden from all of the usual bustle, we found store after store of eclectic goods and outdated (yet seriously tempting) clothes.  We even found a BYU jacket!

what the what???

Some delicious spinach bread too.  It was the closest thing we’ve found to spinach here in Spain so far, so we had to get it.  Plus the lady had just taken it out of the oven.

And then we walked into a small, chic little shop called “Motel” that changed our future forever.  Okay slightly hyperbolic, but you’ll understand why.

a wall in the shop

While we were looking around, trying on cute flowy dresses and digging through claw-footed bathtub filled with silk scarves, we began talking to the shopkeeper who, upon finding out that we were from the United States and spoke English, got incredibly excited.  She told us to hold on for a few minutes because she needed a favor and needed to call her brother and a few people.  Faintly sketch?  A bit.  We couldn’t really understand everything she said because she was speaking Spanish so rapidly and excitedly in her thick Catalán accent, but we were able to decipher words like “commercial”, “promotion”, and “Coca Cola”.

As it turns out, her brother was working for a production company and was right in the middle of filming a commercial for the Coca Cola Company.  They were looking for English speakers to be in part of it, and apparently three 20-year-olds who liked thrift shopping were just what they needed.

We spent the next hour and a half helping them with this commercial, which was frankly the most hilarious, random, and entertaining thing I have ever done.  It was all just so random and the guys were comical just to listen to.  Think flamboyant, artsy, hipster, horned-rimmed-glasses-tight-pants-wearing Spaniards.  Classic.

After sending them on their way with a camera full of shots of us talking, shopping, and even dancing to this:

We stopped at a delicious kabob shop (very popular here), and caught the metro home to go on a run and a swim at the beach.

Kensie had heard about a famous ice cream shop that is known for its exotic flavors like violet and blueberry, whisky, Lavender, Rose and Strawberry, etc.  After frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea for a while, contemplating skinny dipping but decided against it because of the ridiculously strong tide and the fact that there were people all over, and running through a carnival, we stopped by the ice cream shop to find it totally empty of customers but full of two beautiful argentine boys who were working there.  We stayed and talked to them for a while and ended up getting a ton of free ice cream because they kept giving us huge samples of every single flavor.  We were going to get our picture with them but unfortunately right as we were about to, a bunch of Swedish tourists walked in and took the spotlight.  What a shame.

We did get a creeper picture of them, but it wasn’t on my phone so I don’t have it yet.  It will be instagrammed for sure.

On our run back to our apartment, the three of us stopped by this eclectic little crepe place that actually looked pretty famous based on all of the newspaper clippings it was featured in posted on the walls.  We sat in there talking to the adorable old man owner who Kensie had met the night before, and he said he had a gift for us and it was on him, etc. etc.  He spoke super softly with an odd accent so we couldn’t really understand what he was saying, but he kept repeating “chupito, chupito”.  We agreed and said we would take whatever he brought us, but after looking at the menu when he left, we discovered that “chupito” is actually Spanish for a liqueur shot.  YUM.  Oh wait; we panicked because we didn’t know how we were going to get out of this one.  Luckily right before he poured us our complementary shots, we were able to stop him and he brought us orange juice (bottled, thank you very much) instead.  And little coin purses with the name of his restaurant on them.  He had us take a picture with him and told me to bring him a copy of it when I come back with my family.  This means, unfortunately, that I’m going to have to go back eventually.  Such a shame.

And thus sums up our lovely time in Barcelona.  We saw beautiful buildings, filmed a Coca Cola commercial, got free ice cream from argentine boys, and offered free shots by an old Spaniard.  I am absolutely enchanted.  And it made the 7 ½ hour drive back absolutely worth it.

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