So, if you scroll about halfway down this Washington Post page…

… you get to the announcement of UD‘s talk on Charles Wright at the Georgetown branch of the DC Public Library this afternoon (1 PM, 3260 R St. NW).

Here’s how I suggest you do it on this beautiful Saturday:

The library is just down the street from the famous Dumbarton Oaks gardens, which open today at 2:00. So take in my talk, and then stroll over to the gardens.

Then I’ll let you have a late lunch of your choosing among the many cafes of Georgetown.

What’s It Like Here?

Hot. There’s a small breeze, but it’s Washington and it’s September and that means muggy. The early evening sky is beautiful. A mix of blue and gray with white clouds – it’s been a day unable to decide whether to rain, and the sky remains mixed.

UD is sitting on the edge of the Pentagon Memorial, from which there’s a large view of the gravel, the grasses, the white-flower crepe myrtles, and the winged benches jutting out of the gravel. Constant low-flying jets out of Reagan buzz the plaza. One of them was crashed just here.

I sat for ten minutes on Leslie Whittington’s bench – Whittington, her husband, and her two children, all killed. All of their names engraved on the bench.

*******************

Tears? Oh yes. Didn’t know her, but feel a kinship. My age, also a professor in Washington. I feel compelled, on these anniversaries, to imagine her last minutes.

*******************

Enormous American flags hang off the sides of the Pentagon and nearby office buildings. The evening sun lights everything up with great clarity and drama. People set flowers down on each bench. A simple gesture which feels immensely loving.

Of course I’m never adequate to these moments. People go to a lot of trouble to design and build memorials, but when you get there it’s hard to know what to do, where to walk. There are quite a few people here with me, and we drift from winged bench to winged bench, reading names, photographing bouquets…

I’m now in a corner crouching over my laptop…

I find myself thinking not of the dead but of the living… Specifically, of two students I chatted with today after class. One after my English literature seminar and the other after The Postmodern Novel. One is a sophomore, one a senior.

The sophomore is talented in many directions and loves the study of many things, and this enviable condition was lately causing him anxiety. As in: What precisely to do? His parents were artsy sorts who did poorly in life and regret their artsiness; their son has inherited both a love and a suspicion of art. He figures he should probably be a music major (piano, other instruments, theory) but what can he do with that?

I tell him that a lot of people with those degrees teach. He listens. “What if I trap myself? Here I’m told to take advantage of all my skills and interests, but what if that’s actually a dumb thing to do?” I laugh and tell him that the impulse to map out your life, a preoccupation with not making mistakes, is understandable but to my mind a mistake in itself. “Life is messy, unpredictable. Probably the best thing to do is relax and pursue what you love. GW gave you some major, whopping, scholarships: Enjoy the gift.”

The senior amused me with a description of her honors seminar on the subject of love. “By the end of the semester, I’ll have learned never to get near it.”

Have I said often enough on this blog how much UD adores many of her students? Their charm, their energy, their considered and considerable puzzlement. It maketh my heart go pit-a-pat.

UD’s just like Leopold Bloom leaving the cemetery after Paddy Dignam’s burial. Throughout the funeral and burial his mind circles all the morbid themes; exiting the gates of the cemetery he’s right back onto Molly and Milly and all.

I can’t be very much with the memorialized; I grant them parts of my mind and soul on anniversaries, but even there the business of being busily alive intrudes.

I saw the motorcycles lined up in front of the cafe…

… at 1776 G Street where I grab a salad before meeting my English lit class. The bikes were part of today’s 9/11 Ride.

After classes, UD plans to visit the Pentagon Memorial, a good place for reflection despite the big urban setting. It’s been a couple of years since she visited the Memorial; she will blog about how it looks now.

Margaret’s Nature Journal.

UD, à ce moment-là, sits drying off on her bed after a Rock Creek Trail walk that ended just as a big summer thunderstorm came up.

The walk was fine, but the big nature news today was UD‘s encounter with an Eastern American Toad as she watered her front garden (who knew she didn’t need to water?). It plopped out from a rock UD was watering around and then hunched absolutely motionless on her gray driveway. A lesser toad hand might have assumed it was a clod of mud or a piece of dog waste, but UD knew from her time with Elphaba (a toad who, years ago, took up residence on UD‘s front stoop and ate all her bugs) that this was a toad for sure. UD lifted the water hose and sprinkled the toad, which immediately hopped into UD‘s pachysandra lawn and disappeared.

Snapshots from Home

UD and her sister this afternoon in
Port Deposit, Maryland, in front of

udsisportdeposit

their grandfather Joseph Rapoport’s
department store. The store is now
a wildly successful seafood restaurant.

**********************

UD thanks her sister Frances
for taking the picture.

On a spectacular summer evening, outdoors at the Marriott Hotel…

UD finds herself surrounded by the annual American Political Science convention. She was vaguely aware Mr UD was taking part in a panel or two somewhere downtown, but it all turns out to be here, where, in an hour, we’re meeting our old friend David Mayers (who is himself giving a paper).

My first week of classes is over.

Students move me. They always have. Try walking through a beautiful campus on a mild afternoon, beautiful and thoughtful young people drifting swanlike around you, without feeling joy. My heart is fiercely protective of the younger ones, the freshmen… I have dreadful imaginings about them… Do they have friends? Are their roommates cruel or kind? Are they walking around Foggy Bottom in a devastated haze, wondering why they left LaCrosse? The idea that they’re not adrift in a swanlike way but in helpless despair upsets ol’ UD badly, and she deals with it by reminding herself that the university knocks itself out to welcome new students and surround them with friends… They’re fine, you fool… They’re out clubbing and when they’re not clubbing they’re driving to New Orleans with friends to build a Habitat for Humanity house…

You want to think everybody’s okay.

**********************

When you teach romanticism, you see in their eyes the peculiar sort of reflection that is at once about an old poem on a page and their own immediacies. This is beautiful to see. They drift into your seminar room, they settle in to their seats, and they proceed to lock onto deep themes.

UD routinely witnesses good minds at work in real time. It’s a privilege.

Hot in Foggy Bottom, But…

… cool in UD‘s office (I’m a bit overdressed for the weather, so I’ve put the air conditioning down low), where, having finished with her traditional Jesus I Can’t Connect to the Internet Help Me Computer Guys Who Live in the Basement of My Building and Make Everything That’s Wrong Right ritual (she has to visit the guys every time she returns to campus after being away for more than a month), she has now turned her attention to syllabi, introductory lectures, and textbooks.

The city’s the warm late August city, with less humidity than usual, but with huge gobs of sunshine which – now that she’s gotten over her connectivity-related annoyance – makes UD very happy.

There’s a new cushioned bench down the hall from UD‘s office; on the wall behind it a large black-lettered sign says

RESERVED FOR HISTRIONIC LANGUISHING

which, when UD caught sight of it, occasioned histrionic giggling.

On her way to the bookstore just now, to buy a copy of a course text she’s supposed to get for free but she can never be bothered to fill out the desk copy form, UD – still chortling over the languishing bench – began to sing Randy Newman’s Guilty which considering her upbeat mood is a strange choice. She loves the line It takes a whole lot of medicine / For me to pretend that I’m somebody else, and singing it in the (suddenly relocated to the basement – is everything now in a basement?) bookstore, I thought of Robin Williams, and of these two, described as doomed by self-loathing. (“A self-loathing so intense it would devour them both.”) UD read this article – about the doomed self-loathers – while getting her hair cut yesterday in preparation for looking passably respectable at the beginning of the semester (her look steadily deteriorates week by week, but she starts out okay). But she had to stop reading this article; she had stopped reading an earlier VF article and had tried this one, but she had to stop reading both of them. The first one – Marella Agnelli’s astonishingly boring account of way high-style life – simply put UD to sleep. Her disappointment with Agnelli’s total inability to evoke cosmic luxury reminded UD of this passage from Paul Fussell’s Class:

At the very top, food is usually not very good, tending, like the conversation, to a terrible blandness, a sad lack of originality and cutting edge. Throughout his pitiable book, Live a Year With a Millionaire, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney records memorable meals, and they sound like this: “Crab bisque, then chicken with ham biscuits, Bibb lettuce salad, and finally… a huge ice cream cake.”

Silver Line Instablogging…

…from UD, veteran ‘thesdan, and explorer – by way of long daily walks – of the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area. The go-go GWMA always has recently opened territory to discover, and today’s adventure is a trip on the Metro’s brand new Silver Line, which UD will take to the massive consumption complex that is Tyson’s Corner.

Tyson’s Corner. Such a quaint name – ol’ Ty and his cow herd – for Oklahoma-length horizons of shops and parking… Tyson’s Corner! Where the food court treat can sure smell sweet…

UD’s getting there early to avoid the Saturday/Back to School crowds… Supposed to rain all day, so an indoor hike seemed a clever idea…

Silver Line… The color makes the line feel special. UD wouldn’t go out of her way for a blue line; but silver – there’s a brilliancy there, a flash. Silver waves of grain…Silver grains of wheat…

Having invoked Oklahoma, UD has doomed herself to a day of Oklahoma ditties runnin’ ’round her brain. Perhaps your mind is like this: Once a song sizzles up in the brain pan, its aroma, plus variations, hangs around for hours. And since UD knows the whole score to that great musical, she’s in for a mental marathon…

The variations are about one’s mind muddying the provenance of standard wholesome boy girl thingies (Don’t throw bouquets at me) and naughty soubrette dealies (I’m just a girl who can’t say no). Oklahoma? Show Boat? Music Man?

Oh no… I’m slipping into Dolly Parton with that just a girl who can’t say no mention… Just because I’m a woman… No! Dylan! Just like a woman…

UD’s feeling strangely at sea at the moment. The train has left the close embrace of the tunnel and broken free to a daylight track along a highway.

Dreary day.

When you lose the dark walls of the interior station, all you gain are smudgy trees and new housing developments alongside cars.

*******************

Who knows why, when she left the skyway and entered Tyson’s Galleria, UD had ringing in her Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas Purcell’s O Lead Me to Some Peaceful Gloom? Maybe it’s because the part of the song that goes What glory… What glory… works well as a rhythm to accompany power walking, which is what UD has been doing for the last hour through the long burnished corridors of Galleria. All stores known and unknown to UD are here, and the Galleria is only one of two Tyson’s malls.

Our Nation’s Capital…

…instablogging from UD. It’s a reasonably pleasant summer day in DC, and UD’s walk will consist (maybe; she’s so wild and crazy and hip and bohemian that she could change her mind at any moment) of a metro trip to the United States Botanic Garden at the foot of the Capitol building.

Even at this late date UD remains surprised at her interest in gardens and gardening; her mother was a serious and accomplished gardener, yet UD showed zero interest in the matter during her mother’s life. She’s far from knowledgeable, having read enough books and skimmed enough magazines and clicked through enough sites to have at least gotten the measure of her own big wide shady deer-infested huge-tree-menaced landscape… I mean, she doesn’t plant anything rankly stupid, like lavender or tomato… She gets that she has a shade garden. She has even done some savvy japanese things with the front of her house, if the appreciative comments she’s gotten from passersby and neighbors are sincere. But she is aware that with her amazing amount of space (her lot is both wide and long, with forest on either side) she could do any number of showy eco water-retentive things…

*****************

A quick walk from Judiciary Square metro to the National Mall (National Gallery of Art to your immediate right) has brought me to this walk’s announced target: the US Botanic Garden. UD power walked through the outside plantings, letting massive grasses and meticulous mosaic fountains flash by as she remembered to pump her arms and plant each heel hard.

Morticia-like UD likes black plants and already has some black liriope; ebony streamers pouring out of large planters caught her eye here as she sped through the federal government’s exhaustive efforts to plant-up the foot of the Capitol.

Inside the conservatory, UD kept up her pace despite the turtle-like tourists. Signs melded in odd ways (World Deserts Restrooms) as she motored along. She heard a mother say to her daughter And how do you find nourishment for yourself?

She powered up the metallic steps to the insanely lush jungle garden with piped in crazy bird songs. Everywhere she went, soft mists exhaled from the walls, and these made her and everyone else very happy – unexpected sprays on a hot day in a hothouse.

Now, finally seated, in the long Alhambra-style fountain room, UD finds that the mist and the new age music have her thinking she’s due for a facial.

****************

Okay, UD has walked from the Botanic Garden to the Navy Memorial, behind which is Teaism, where she’s enjoying the air conditioning and a ridiculous cold jasmine tea. (Tastes like nothing.) She’s now going to jump up again (after three sips) and find the closest metro. Home again, home again.

****************

Now au metro, UD reflects that the stylish and sweltering streets of DC in August are perfect if you’re in the market for a long sweaty non-boring walk. Lean left a tad and all of Mary Cassatt’s output pops off the walls; to the right is the delightfully trashy Newseum (even its name is trashy). And speaking of trash, if you take a few extra steps along Pennsylvania Avenue, you can check out whether Donald Trump’s begun redecorating the Old Post Office.

In re humanoids, the wide hot avenues of the capital are packed with them – four generations of Australians stumble along reading their maps and mopping their brows; a sad young woman in sensible flats tries to flag a cab; a half dozen infinitely trim government lawyers (probably) chat about the sheaves of paper in their hands.

Snapshots from Home.

After today’s flash flood of a summer storm was over, UD pulled on her Nike walking shoes, hitched up her jeans, and took from La Kid‘s room a stylish backpack which she filled with lipstick, antihistamines, house keys, sunglasses, a small notebook, and a pen. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. UD had set herself the goal of reaching the Howard Avenue office of the gutter company that’s going to redo l’ensemble des gouttières chez Les UDs. Once there, UD would drop off the signed contract and a check.

If no one were there (she didn’t call beforehand), she would trudge back to Garrett Park and mail the paperwork instead. The point was not to succeed in hand delivering these things; the point was to designate a walking goal.

UD, as you know, lives in leafy utopian GP, where pretty much everything around you is at a minimum nice and at a maximum marvelous. But if you follow the Knowles Avenue hill in the direction of Wheaton, you’re at shabby small-industrial Howard Avenue, where the furniture and car paint and pipes that make our GP lives so pretty tuck themselves away.

Crossing over Rock Creek, UD was startled by the water’s big rise and its thick brown quickness around trees and stones. It churned and churned and UD got a bit dizzy staring at it while trying to power walk.

Both sides of Beach Drive were closed because of the flood. One car after another tried to turn onto Beach, discovered it was closed, and veered wildly back onto Knowles. Every one of the drivers made that face, that Driver’s Annoyance face, while performing the maneuver.

Sure enough, when UD – walking at a fast clip – got to Winston’s door, it was locked. She knocked. Nothing. She called the place on her cell phone. A recording.

Fine. She put the envelope back in La Kid‘s backpack and walked home to Garrett Park.

********************

Once back in town, she found herself thinking about what so many people are thinking about today. The fate of Robin Williams. The meaning of Robin Williams. She thought. She thought. Right here, on Oxford Street, she began talking out loud to herself.

She began by quoting from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through it:

[M]y father believed that man by nature was a mess …

“Yes,” said UD to the rabbit on the lawn in front of her. “Yes, start there. We are a mess. Give us an inch and we’ll merrily fuck up for a whole mile.” She paused and looked at another rabbit. “What does life offer?” she asked. “At its best?” Not at what it is for most people – life at its worst, or life set at quiet desperation. Life at its best, in a utopia like Garrett Park, or, yet more, life on the gleaming vast deck of the Robin Williams house in Tiburon, with a view of sky, clouds, hills, a bridge, a yachty bay, and San Francisco…

Answer: Beauty. Love. Material abundance. Adulation. Friendship. Creative expression. Bar Tartine.

But Point Two, after the one about being a mess. Point Two is that no pile of goodies is high enough to obscure the fact that we have little control over events. We know that things can go wrong… will go wrong… and this wrongness will often be incredibly wrong, almost intolerably excruciatingly wrong.

All existence makes me anxious, from the smallest fly to the mysteries of the Incarnation; the whole thing is inexplicable, I most of all; to me all existence is infected, I most of all. My distress is enormous, boundless; no one knows it except God in heaven, and he will not console me….

You know. Like that. Being this way, being full of dread, is kind of hilarious, as another famous sad clown knows (read “My Philosophy,” in Getting Even). One way of talking about some forms of clinical depression is to say that this dread overtakes you and makes it impossible for you to negotiate a reasonably happy life.

“And maybe,” I said to no rabbit at all, just to the air, “maybe life as it gets good, then better, then unimaginably best, actually gets more dangerous, since it becomes that much more difficult for us to grasp and accept the truth of suffering, the facts of human fate, when the view from the deck feels so immutably glorious…”

A small blue car pulled up to UD (she was a block away from her house) and UD prepared to chat with whatever neighbor it turned out to be. But it was a stranger, a woman who looked somewhat full of dread.

“Excuse me. Are you pretty good on directions in this area?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I’m trying to get to Schuylkill Road, but Beach Drive is closed and I don’t know any other way of getting there. Can you help me?”

Right, thought UD, and if you’re here in all-roads-dead-ends-except-Strathmore Garrett Park, that means you’ve been drifting about for some time.

“Okay, well here’s what I’d do. I don’t know exactly how to get there without Beach Drive, but I know you’re not far from there when you get to the Connecticut Avenue/Knowles Avenue intersection. So I’d turn left at this light, stop at the strip mall at that intersection, go into Hardware City, and ask the guys there how to do it.”

“That’s a very good idea! Thank you!” She flashed a very big smile and drove off to the left.

For the rest of her walk UD didn’t think at all about what messes we are and how dread-full life can be. She thought about what Mr UD would say when she told him what she’d told the woman. Would he say oh no you should have told her just the opposite, drive to the right and turn onto the Rockville Pike

Or would he say – and this in fact is what he did say – well, it’s a bit non-standard but it’s actually a good idea. The woman was right. That was a very good idea.

UD Sees Her First Hemaris Thysbe…

… The Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. Very wonderful. Thought it was the smallest hummingbird I’d ever seen; then thought it was some freakish humming bee… It was bzzzzing over my head as I left the house just now to do some gardening.

I’ve trained a butterfly bush into an arch at my front doorway (very clever of me, though I’m not really sure how I did it), so as you enter and exit there’s an aromatic canopy of bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and, now, it turns out, hummingbird moths.

Margaret’s Nature Journal.

It’s mainly about dead and mangled stuff lately. A sick rabbit hunched under the daylilies while I gardened last week; its flattened remains now add a touch of gray (with skeleton) to the area it must have staggered to in front of the rhododendrons. While Les UDs dined outside last night (July/August has been shockingly low-humidity), three crazed deer came bombing out of the woods. They’d been fighting or playing or running hard. One had a loose antler hanging over its face.

Dead, mangled, and endangered: Caroline, UD‘s master-gardener neighbor, pointed out to UD that butterflies have been pretty scarce this season. UD is so thrilled by the hummingbird sightings that she hasn’t really registered the relative absence of butterflies; but yes, now that she thinks about it, there have been fewer this year. The Washington Post explains the natural and human-made reasons for the drop in number.

Les UDs usually go to their upstate New York house in August, but they seem to have decided to stay in Garrett Park, so while preparing to teach in a couple of weeks, UD can also do a lot of garden and yard work. She loves garden and yard work. She looks forward to raking leaves.

By the way: Faithful readers know UD is a serious tea drinker. She usually goes in for black fruit teas (Mariage Freres’ Marco Polo is an old favorite), but is lately giving green a try (healthier, blahblah). Predictably, they’re very weak to her dissolute palate. Plus someone who visited her at some point not long ago gave her a canister of Pu-erh tea, and she’s been sipping some of that while writing this post. It’s certainly stronger than the greens she’s been sampling… It’s black Pu-erh, after all… But there’s the same struggle with that grassy organic taste…

“Everything’s fine here! How are you?”

“Well,” replied La Kid, “everything’s fine but I’m running around getting ready to go to the Galway Races. Can you call back tomorrow?”

La Kid‘s outing gives UD an excuse to feature this poem about the event, by Yeats.

AT GALWAY RACES

Here where the course is,
Delight makes all of the one mind,
The riders upon the galloping horses,
The crowd that closes in behind:
We, too, had good attendance once,
Hearers and hearteners of the work;
Aye, horsemen for companions,
Before the merchant and the clerk
Breathed on the world with timid breath.
Sing on: somewhere at some new moon,
We’ll learn that sleeping is not death,
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
Its flesh being wild, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is,
And we find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.

So of course it’s really a complaint; and not too far off from what ol’ UD‘s always on about – it’s easier to excite people with sports events than with poetry (or, to go to the subject of universities, with the thrill of thought about poetry, or thought about anything else worth thinking about). Commercialism and bureaucracy rule now, and you can’t expect timid clerks and merchants to get a charge out of being confronted with challenging aesthetics and metaphysics… But take heart! Although we live in an unpoetic world now, sleeping isn’t death – it’s a kind of preparation, a hibernation… Because the basic truths about human beings never change – our earthy flesh is wild, and ultimately in search of the unfettered “delight” of art as much as the delight of the races.

***************

And here’s La Kid herself,

aniaedgalwayraces

with her man Ed Fitzgerald,
at the races. It looks sunny!

Beautiful No Humidity July Afternoon in ‘thesda Instablogging…

… starts here, on the second floor cafe of the Barnes and Noble. UD‘s outrageously high-functioning world whisked her here in a quiet elegant metro car, past Medical Center (the National Institutes of Health, where UD‘s father, an immunologist, spent his career) and then to Bethesda, in two minutes.

‘thesda’s churning with construction zones, most of which seem to be luxury condos. The twin buildings in progress directly facing her are The Darcy (named after Fitzwilliam?); the one she passed on her way to the bookstore is The Lauren (named after the designer?). Whether you choose Darcy or Lauren, you’ll get the same outrageous delights in exchange for your million dollars – servile waitstaff, excessively equipped gyms and pools with personal trainers available, spa beyond belief, etc. etc. It’s ‘thesda.

Now UDUD goes way back (to 1962, to be precise), when ‘thesda was the Baronet movie theater and the Hot Shoppes restaurant. Maybe a few doctors’ offices.

It’s a city now, a rich city, streets jammed with happy people and fragrant tearooms.

I wanna tell you it’s a mitzvah. I wanna tell you I’ll remember you from heaven if I go up there.

An old guy at the next table speaks.

UD drinks overpriced sparkling mineral water and thinks about the remarkable wealth of this country, and the smooth lovely technology all around her. Even the construction sites seem smooth, the teeth of their cranes silently, healthily, munching down on the old townhouses (probably built five years ago) they’re collapsing.

Now she sees the white Maplewood bus. Rita Kosofsky, mother of Eve Sedgwick and David Kosofsky, lives in one of Maplewood’s upscale retirement condos. I guess every day Maplewood residents can go to ‘thesda on the bus.

It’s a peaceful postmodern life replete with pleasures.

******************

UPDATE, Instablogging: After the cafe, UD walked the Capital Crescent Trail from downtown ‘thesda to McArthur Boulevard, and then she had Mr UD rescue her because she couldn’t make it all the way back to downtown ‘thesda. With her usual absurdity, she took the trail never having looked at a map of it, so when she saw a large building in the distance she figured it must be Friendship Heights, where she could hop on the Metro. She was nowhere near Friendship Heights, but she kept walking the trail in search of it…

Margaret’s Nature Journal

Summer in UD‘s Garrett Park woods features hummingbirds all over the butterfly bush – a bush UD cleverly placed in front of her office window, so that she can type this while watching hummingbirds (and of course butterflies).

Out back, a flicker slammed into my windows yesterday and died.

The barred owl is back in the evenings.

Goldfinches drink at my birdbaths. My neighbor claims he’s seen orioles. Maybe what I think is a finch is a yellow oriole.

Last week I encountered a box turtle alongside a path I was clearing.

I’m proud of the system of paths I’ve created through the woods around my house. The quiet, private green space (the quiet is occasionally interrupted by a train whistle) is very zen. I’ve begun experimenting a bit, this summer, with meditation, and UD‘s house, garden, and larger outdoor setting has an embarrassment of riches along those lines. All of Garrett Park is an arboretum; UD is surrounded in every direction by huge trees and overflowing gardens. Her vinca-lined paths allow her to walk in an endless loop around her own acre; for a sitting meditation, there are Adirondacks under arching honeysuckles.

*****************

Update: Forgot to mention: There’s at least one bear wandering around less than a mile from my house.

“We’re not really concerned about someone getting eaten by this bear,” [Paul Peditto from the Department of Natural Resources] said. “He’s probably traveled hundreds of miles past thousands of humans and hasn’t eaten any of them.”

Mauling, anyone?

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