Ballerina Misty Copeland Recreates the Poses of Edgar Degas’ Ballet Dancers

“I am a man of motion,” tragic modernist ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky wrote in his famous Diary, “I am feeling through flesh…. I am God in a body.” Nijinsky suffered the unfortunate onset of schizophrenia after his career ended, but in his lucid moments, he writes of the greatest pain of his illness—to never dance again. A degree of his obsessive devotion seems intrinsic to ballet.

Misty Copeland, who titled her autobiography Life in Motion, thinks so. “All dancers are control freaks a bit,” she says. “We just want to be in control of ourselves and our bodies. That’s just what the ballet structure, I think, kind of puts inside of you. If I’m put in a situation where I am not really sure what’s going to happen, it can be overwhelming. I get a bit anxious.” As Nijinsky did, Copeland is also “forcing people to look at ballet through a more contemporary lens,” writes Stephen Mooallem in Harper’s Bazaar.

Copeland has been candid about her struggles on the way to becoming the first African American woman named a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, including coping with depression, a leg-injury, body-image issues, and childhood poverty. She is also “in the midst of the most illuminating pas de deux with pop culture for a classical dancer since Mikhail Baryshnikov went toe-to-toe with Gregory Hines in White Nights” (a reference that may be lost on younger readers, but trust me, this was huge).




Like another modernist artist, Edgar Degas, Copeland has revolutionized the image of the ballet dancer. Degas’ ballet paintings, “which the artist began creating in the late 1860s and continued making until the years before his death, in 1917, were infused with a very modern sensibility. Instead of idealized visions of delicate creatures pirouetting onstage, he offered images of young girls congregating, practicing, laboring, dancing, training….” He showed the unglamorous life and work behind the costumed pageantry, that is.

Photographers Ken Browar and Deborah Ory envisioned Copeland as several of Degas’ dancers, posing her in couture dresses in recreations of some of his famous paintings and sculptures. The photographs are part of their NYC Dance Project, in partnership with Harper’s Bazaar. As Kottke points out, conflating the histories of Copeland and Degas’ dancers raises some questions. Degas’ had contempt for women, especially his Parisian subjects, who danced in a sordid world in which “sex work" between teenage dancers and older men "was a part of a ballerina’s reality,” writes author Julia Fiore (as it was too in Nijinsky’s day).

This context may unsettle our viewing, but the images also show Copeland in full control of Degas’ scenes, though that's not the way it felt, she says. “It was interesting to be on shoot and to not have the freedom to just create like in normally do with my body. Trying to re-create what Degas did was really difficult.” Instead, she embodied his figures as herself. “I see a great affinity between Degas’s dancers and Misty,” says Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. “She has knocked aside a long-standing music-box stereotype of the ballerina and replaced it with a thoroughly modern, multicultural image of presence and power.”

See more of Copeland’s Degas recreations at Harper’s Bazaar.

via Kottke

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Watch the Serpentine Dance, Created by the Pioneering Dancer Loie Fuller, Performed in an 1897 Film by the Lumière Brothers

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When Edward Gorey Designed Book Covers for Classic Novels: See His Ironic-Gothic Take on Dickens, Conrad, Poe & More

Twenty years after his death, it's cooler than ever to like Edward Gorey. This is evidenced not just by the frequent posting of his intensively crosshatched, Victorian- and Edwardian-period-inflected, grimly comic art on social media, but by the number of artists who now claim him as an influence. Where, one wonders, did they come across Gorey in the first place? Having published more than a hundred books in his lifetime (if often in small runs from obscure presses), he certainly put the work out there to be found.

But it was the much more well-known books of other writers like Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, and Herman Melville that first propagated Gorey's sensibility of, as The New York Times' Steven Kurutz puts it, "camp-macabre, ironic-gothic or dark-whimsy."




Gorey designed the covers for these books and others between 1953 to 1960, when he worked at the art department of publishers Doubleday Anchor. He had been tasked specifically with their new series of paperbacks meant to be "serious," as opposed to the abundance of cheap, lowbrow, and often salaciously packaged novels that had inspired the term "pulp fiction."

Of the first 200 titles in this series, says Goreyography, "about a fourth of these have line drawn covers by Gorey." Even when other artists (the lineup of whom included Leonard Baskin, Milton Glaser, Philippe Julian, and Andy Warhol) drew the illustration, "Gorey then designed the finished product lending a uniform appearance to the whole line." You can see a variety of Gorey's Doubleday Anchor paperback covers at Lithub, the most Goreyesque of which (such as Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent at the top of the post) not only bear his illustrations but contain nothing not drawn by Gorey, text and colophon included.

"When these covers first appeared against the backdrop of mass-market covers in general," according to Goreyography, "they were hailed as 'modern' and 'arty.' Print magazine praised 'a feeling of unity... a quality of their own.'" The end of Gorey's time at Doubleday didn't mean the end of his work on others' books: in the 1970s, for example, he contributed suitably eerie cover and interior art to John Bellairs' young-adult novel The House with a Clock in Its Walls and five of the sequels that would follow it. It was in Bellairs' books that I first encountered the visions of Edward Gorey. More than a few readers of my generation and the generations since could say the same — and also that we've been pleasurably haunted by them ever since.

See more covers over at Lithub.

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The Best of the Edward Gorey Envelope Art Contest

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

What Is a “Blerd?” Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #56 Discusses Nerd Culture and Race with The Second City’s Anthony LeBlanc

The Interim Executive Producer of The Second City joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the scope of black nerd-dom: what nerdy properties provide to those who feel "othered," using sci-fi to talk about race, Black Panther and other heroes, afrofuturism, black anime fans, Star Trek, Key & Peele, Get Out vs. Us, and more.

A few articles you might enjoy:

Some relevant videos and podcasts:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

The Strange Costumes of the Plague Doctors Who Treated 17th Century Victims of the Bubonic Plague

In the 17th and 18th centuries, what we know of as The Age of Enlightenment or early modernity, Europeans traversed the globe and returned to publish travel accounts that cast the natives they encountered as childlike beings, destitute savages, or literal monsters. Unable to make sense of alien languages and cultures, they mistook everything they saw.

Meanwhile, the bubonic plague swept Europe, and plague doctors wandered towns and countryside in a “fanciful-looking costume [that] typically consisted of a head-to-toe leather or wax-canvas garment,” writes the Public Domain Review, “large crystal glasses; and a long snout or bird beak, containing aromatic spices (such as camphor, mint, cloves, and myrrh), dried flowers (such as roses or carnations), or a vinegar sponge.”

Moreover, the plague doctor—as you can see from illustrations of this bizarre character—also carried with him a wand, “with which to issue instructions,” one scholar writes, “such as ordering disease-stricken houses filled with spiders or toads ‘to absorb the air’ and commanding the infected to inhale ‘bottled wind’ or take urine baths, purgatives, or stimulants.” The wand was also used to forcefully fend off patients.




Visiting travelers from elsewhere might be justified in thinking the plague doctor represented some strange, primitive religious custom: perhaps a monstrous—and mostly ineffective—exorcism ritual. The “early-modern hazmat suit” is perfectly reasonable, of course, if you understand the reigning theory of “miasmas,” which posited that disease is spread through “bad air.” Not entirely wrong, as our current masked existences show, but in the case of the plague, miasma theory was only very partially explanatory.

Which is to say the costume wasn’t entirely useless. “The ankle-length gown and herb-filled beak… would also have offered some protection against germs,” especially since its herbs were sometimes lit on fire and allowed to smolder, sending billowing smoke from the plague doctor’s face. (The satirical engraving above from 1700 mocks this practice.) “The appearance of one of these human-sized birds on a doorstep could only mean that death was near.”

This particular design has been credited to a French doctor, Charles de Lorme, said to have invented it in 1619. “De Lorme thought the beak shape of the mask would give the air sufficient time to be suffused by the protective herbs before it hit the plague doctors’ nostrils and lungs.” Often mistaken for Medieval or Renaissance garb, the plague doctor costume is, in fact, a modern piece of kit.

Much has been made of the bird mask, but as one skeptical history writer has effectively shown, there are good reasons to doubt the widespread adoption of the beak. It may have been a rarity; most plague doctors probably wore what would look to us today like Klan robes and hoods. All the more reason for plague doctor costumes to seem shocking once again, as a British teen discovered when he decided in May to dress the part of the classic beaked figure. (Residents found it “terrifying” and police offered stern “words of advice.”)

No matter how widespread the beak was historically, its iconic status as part of the plague doctor costume remains inscribed in art and culture. “The look was so iconic in Italy that the ‘plague doctor’ became a staple of Italian commedia dell’arte and carnival celebrations,” Erin Blakemore writes at National Geographic. Given the associations a more authentic costume would evoke, no one seems to be clamoring to replace beaked masks with pointed hoods in representations of plague doctors. The beak also symbolically conveys an important fact about plague doctors: they were not healers—they were mostly witnesses of death.

Few of their remedies had any effect. Rather, on the government’s payroll, plague doctors—often second or third-rate practitioners attempting to build a career—recorded demographic data, witnessed wills, and performed autopsies. They were like weird avian aliens come to observe the customs of a continent’s dying population, appearing in what came to be widely understood as the “costume of death,” as the illustration above puts it. See more representations of the plague doctor costume at the Public Domain Review.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How John Woo Makes His Intense Action Scenes: A Video Essay

The world does not lack action movies, but well-made ones have for most of cinema history been few and far between. Despite long understanding that action sells, Hollywood seldom manages to get the most out of the genre's master craftsmen. Hence the excitement in the early 1990s when fans of Hong Kong gangster pictures learned that John Woo, that country's preeminent action auteur, was coming stateside. His streak of Hong Kong hits at that point included A Better TomorrowThe KillerBullet in the Head, and Hard Boiled, most of which starred no less an action icon than Chow Yun-fat. For Woo's American debut Hard Target, starring a Belgian muscleman called Jean-Claude Van Damme, it would prove a hard act to follow.

Hard Target, Evan Puschak (better known as the Nerdwriter) drily puts it in the video essay above, is "not quite a masterpiece." Woo "battled a mediocre script, studio pressure, and a star who couldn't really act," and then "the studio re-edited a lot of the movie to get an R rating, and to make it more palatable for American moviegoers, diluting Woo's signature style in the process."




But despite being a weak spot in Woo's filmography, it makes for an illuminating case study in his cinematic style. Puschak calls its action scenes "absurdly creative" in a way that has "grown more impressive over time": in them Woo employs slow motion — a signature technique "he weaves it into his highly kinetic sequences like an expert composer" — and other forms of time dilation to "heighten the experience of impact."

Like most action movies, Hard Target offers a great many impacts: punches, kicks, improbable leaps, gunshots, and explosions aplenty. Under Woo's direction they feel even more plentiful than they are, given that he "often repeats things two or three times so that the impact has an echoing effect." Yet unlike in run-of-the mill examples of the genre, we feel each and every one of those impacts, owing to such relatively subtle editing strategies as presenting the firing of a gun and the bullet hitting its target as "two distinct moments." (Several such gunshots, as Puschak shows us using deleted footage, were among the studio-mangled sequences.) "This is unlike any traditional films in the States," Woo later said of Hard Target's disappointing performance, "so the audience didn’t understand what’s going on with these techniques." More than a quarter-century later, Western audiences have more of a grasp of Woo's cinematic language, but few other filmmakers have come close to mastering it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Dessert Recipes of Iconic Thinkers: Emily Dickinson’s Coconut Cake, George Orwell’s Christmas Pudding, Alice B. Toklas’ Hashish Fudge & More

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Of all the desserts to attain cultural relevance over the past century, can any hope to touch Alice B. Toklas' famous hashish fudge? Calling for such ingredients as black peppercorns, shelled almonds, dried figs, and most vital of all Cannabis sativa, the recipe first appeared in 1954's The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. (Toklas would read the recipe aloud on the radio in the early 1960s, a time when the fudge's key ingredient had become an object of much more intense public interest.) More than a how-to on Toklas' favorite dishes, the book is also a kind of memoir, including recollections of her life with Gertrude Stein — herself the author of the ostensible Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.

This puts us in the realm of serious literature where sweets, you might assume, are scarcely to be found. But baking constituted a part of the creative process of no less a literary mind than Emily Dickinson, whose handwritten recipe for coconut cake appears above.




That same sheet of a paper's reverse side, which you can see in our earlier post about it, bears the first lines of her poem "The Things that never can come back, are several." Dickinson also, as we've previously posted here on Open Culture, had her very own recipes for gingerbread, donuts, and something requiring five pounds of raisins called "black cake."

It may seem obvious that women like Toklas and Dickinson, born and raised in the 19th century, would have been expected to learn this sort of thing. But a fair few of the literary men of generations past knew something of their way around the kitchen as well. George Orwell, for instance, wrote an essay on "British cookery," early in which he states that "in general, British people prefer sweet things to spicy things." While describing "sweet dishes and confectionery – cakes, puddings, jams, biscuits and sweet sauces" as the "glory of British cookery," he admits that "the national addiction to sugar has not done the British palate any good." And so he includes the recipe for a Christmas pudding which, subtle by that standard, calls for only half a pound of the stuff.

Born a generation after Orwell, Roald Dahl made no secret of his own sugar-addicted British palate. In his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Dahl had "dazzled young readers with visions of Cavity-Filling Caramels, Everlasting Gobstoppers, and snozzberry-flavored wallpaper," writes Open Culture's own Ayun Halliday. But his own candy of choice was "the more pedestrian Kit-Kat bar. In addition to savoring one daily (a luxury little Charlie Bucket could but dream of, prior to winning that most golden of tickets) he invented a frozen confection called 'Kit-Kat Pudding,'" whose simple recipe is as follows: "Stack as many Kit-Kats as you like into a tower, using whipped cream for mortar, then shove the entire thing into the freezer, and leave it there until solid."

If you're looking for a slightly more challenging dessert that still comes with a cultural figure's imprimatur, you might give Normal Rockwell's favorite oatmeal cookies a try. Going deeper into American history, we've also got Thomas Jefferson's recipe for ice cream, the taste for which he picked up while living in France in the 1780s. That same country's cuisine also inspired Ernest Hemingway's fruit pie, meant for summer-camping with one's pals: "If your pals are Frenchmen," Hemingway adds, "they will kiss you." Alas, if anyone has determined the exact recipe for the most famous dessert in all of French literature, Marcel Proust's memory-triggering madeleines, they haven't released it to the hungry public.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

When We All Have Pocket Telephones (1923)

From England's Daily Mirror (January 23, 1923).

Find more timely predictions in the Relateds below.

via Neil Gaiman

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The Wine Windows of Renaissance Florence Dispense Wine Safely Again During COVID-19

Everything old is new again and Tuscany’s buchette del vino—wine windows—are definitely rolling with the times.

As Lisa Harvey earlier reported in Atlas Obscurabuchette del vino became a thing in 1559, shortly after Cosimo I de’ Medici decreed that Florence-dwelling vineyard owners could bypass taverns and wine merchants to sell their product directly to the public. Wealthy wine families eager to pay less in taxes quickly figured out a workaround that would allow them to take advantage of the edict without requiring them to actually open their palace doors to the rabble:

Anyone on the street could use the wooden or metal knocker ... and rap on a wine window during its open hours. A well-respected, well-paid servant, called a cantiniere and trained in properly preserving wine, stood on the other side. The cantiniere would open the little door, take the customer’s empty straw-bottomed flask and their payment, refill the bottle down in the cantina (wine cellar), and hand it back out to the customer on the street.

Seventy years further on, these literal holes-in-the-walls served as a means of contactless delivery for post-Renaissance Italians in need of a drink as the second plague pandemic raged.

Scholar Francesco Rondinelli (1589-1665) detailed some of the extra sanitation measures put in place in the early 1630s:

A metal payment collection scoop replaced hand-to-hand exchange

Immediate vinegar disinfection of all collected coins

No exchange of empty flasks brought from home

Customers who insisted on bringing their own reusable bottles could do self-serve refills via a metal tube, to protect the essential worker on the other side of the window.

Sound familiar?

After centuries of use, the windows died out, falling victim to flood, WWII bombings, family relocations, and architectural renovation.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has definitely played a major role in putting wine windows back on the public’s radar, but Babae, a casual year-old restaurant gets credit for being the first to reactivate a disused buchetta del vino for its intended purpose, selling glasses of red for a single hour each day starting in August 2019.

Now several other authentic buchette have returned to service, with menus expanded to accommodate servings of ice cream and coffee.

Given this success, perhaps they’ll take a cue from Japan’s 4.6 million vending machines, and begin dispensing an even wider array of items.

They may even take a page from the past, and send some of the money they take in back out, along with food and yes—wine—to sustain needy members of the community.

The Buchette del Vino Associazi Culturale currently lists 146 active and inactive wine windows in Florence and the surrounding regions, accompanying their findings with photos and articles of historical relevance.

Via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Classic Punk Rock Sketches from Saturday Night Live, Courtesy of Fred Armisen

Comedian Fred Armisen is best known for his years on Saturday Night Live, his eight seasons of surreal sketch comedy (with Carrie Brownstein) on Portlandia, and his unnerving command of regional accents and impressions. True fans also know that for much of his career he’s also been a musician, primarily a drummer, since college. Starting in high school, he’s been in various bands, including Trenchmouth, the Blue Man Group, and sometimes sitting in with Seth Meyers' house band.

So the above skit from SNL is fun because Armisen gets to indulge his love of punk music. It’s a basic set-up, a 40-something groom and his best buds “getting the band back together” to play one more song at a wedding. But here the band used to be a political punk band along the lines of Fear, The Dead Kennedys, and Suicidal Tendencies, and the anti-Reagan lyrics (you too, Alexander Haig, you fascist!) have been preserved in amber.

Like most SNL sketches it unfolds kind of how you expect (and just kinda…ends), but man, this must have been fun to shoot. And yes, that’s the Foo Fighters/Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on drums.

If that skit was a tribute to American punk, then this other one is a nod to the Sex Pistols and the steady rightward drift of John Lydon. Armisen plays lead singer Ian Rubbish (you know, of Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros) whose lyrics decry and attack everything…except for Margaret Thatcher. The Queen? She’s useless (and other words we can’t write on Open Culture), but Maggie? Ian has a soft spot.

This 2013 skit came shortly after Thatcher died and Americans were treated to videos of some Britons (not all, but *a lot*) celebrating her death much as you would the death of Hitler or Mussolini. Goodbye, good riddance, and let me know where she’s located so we can pee on her grave. That sorta thing. And if that’s where you’re at, you might find the turn this sketch takes a bit too nice. But kudos to ex-Pistol Steve Jones for turning up and doing the Rutles-like thing. There’s even a nice parody of the infamous Bill Grundy interview.

(Bonus info: Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros played some actual shows.)

Armisen had another crack, by the way, at the reunion joke. In Season 8 of Portlandia, the “Band Reunion” skit brought together Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), and Brendan Canty (Fugazi) to bring back Armisen’s character’s band “Riot Spray” and record one more time. (Brownstein only figures a bit in the skit, but her reaction is priceless). The humor is just a little bit more mellow, a bit more empathetic, and hurts just that little bit more.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

The Golden Age of Berlin Comes to Life in the Classic, Avant-Garde Film, Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927)

The rediscovery of Berlin began thirty years ago this November, with the demolition of the wall that had long divided the city's western and eastern halves. Specifically, the Berlin Wall had stood since 1961, meaning the younger generation of West and East Berliners had no memory of their city's being whole. In another sense, the same could be said of their parents' generation, who saw nearly a third of Berlin destroyed in the Second World War. Only the most venerable Berliners would have remembered the social and industrial golden age the undivided city enjoyed back in the 1920s — an age exhilaratingly presented in the film Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis.

An early example of the silent-era "city symphonies" that showed off the capitals of the world on film (several of which you can watch here on Open Culture), Berlin takes the viewer along streets and waterways, through parks, onto trains and elevators, on roller coasters, and into factories, building sites, cabarets, and skies. Shot over a year and compressed into less than an hour, this avant-garde documentary captures the experience of Berlin in the 1920s — or rather it captures, in that mightily industrial age, experience at the intersection of human and machine. Director Walther Ruttmann "charts the movements of crowds of children, workers, swimmers, rowers, and so on," writes Popmatters' Chadwick Jenkins, "but only occasionally focuses on a person as an individual. Moreover, many of the most striking scenes in the film avoid the intrusion of people altogether, concentrating instead on the operation of mechanical devices."

Absent explanatory narration or title cards, the film invites a variety of readings. Chadwick sees it as "the defamatory dehumanization of the human, the derogation of human autonomy and dominion over a world of indifferent matter, a reduction of the divine spark in humankind to the status of another mere thing." This same quality drove away one of Ruttmann's key collaborators on Berlin, the writer Carl Mayer. Ruttmann, for his part, described his own motivation as "the idea of making something out of life, of creating a symphonic film out of the millions of energies that comprise the life of a big city."

A primary interest in movement itself is perhaps to be expected from a filmmaker who had previously distinguished himself as an abstract animator. (What his later work as an assistant to Leni Riefenstahl on Triumph of the Will indicates is another matter.) But if Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis "dehumanizes," writes Jenkins, it does so as a deliberate artistic strategy to show that "the city is more than its various components, including its human components," and to "provide an insight into the emergent qualities that make a city what it is, beyond being a mere composite of the elements within its geographical boundaries," however those boundaries get drawn and redrawn over time.

Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.





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