Book Launch Day! Announcing…The Danger in Bohemia

So let me start off by saying: NEVER plan to be traveling on the day your book gets launched! Big mistake.

That out of the way…

TODAY IS THE DAY!

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The Danger in Bohemia has been published!

Dreamspinner Press ebook | Dreamspinner Press paperback | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | ARe

 

I can’t believe it’s here already. It has been a really crazy year–moving yet AGAIN from South Korea to the UK, starting an intense Master’s program, and seeing my first officially published novel! I’ve been running for so long that this has really smacked me in the face. If that makes sense.

Thank you to everyone at Dreamspinner Press who has been supportive of me, and to my friends and family who made this possible. I can’t say how much I appreciate everything you’ve all done for me.

I’ve had a few advanced reviews already. Here’s a small sampling!

At a Glance: Very well written, with a good pace, some surprises, and is a definite page turner.”  -http://www.thenovelapproachreviews.com/review-the-danger-in-bohemia-by-h-e-kollef/

“…the story has good bones, an interesting premise with likable characters, and a suitable bad guy. I’ll look forward to checking out something else from the author.” -https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29247246-the-danger-in-bohemia

 

 

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Hello HQ readers! Additionally, I may have accidentally purchased Communist propaganda.

Welcome to my site! I was really excited to be featured on this month’s HQ Quarterly, a fine publication back in my home state of New Jersey.

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Isn’t it nice?

 As you can see, I’m gearing up for the release of the newest book in my Paths series, Path of Pins.  The story takes place in Manhattan and Prague, and follows Kat Finnegan as she discovers that there’s more to the world–and her family–than she’d ever thought possible.  

Path of Pins launches on March 14th, but you can learn more about the series by clicking on the Paths tag below. If you’re here for more poetry (in which case I’m flattered!) try the poetry tag. 

Which brings me (kind of not really but hey, non-sequitors are fun) to the second part of today’s post: Communism. 

For those not in the know, I’m currently living & teaching English in Prague, in the Czech Republic. On my way to work this morning I ran across a used bookstore with 5 kc books for sale. Combing through, I found a couple of ancient books in English, one of which was a thin volume of O. Henry stories. I bought them both, not really looking at them too hard. I may or may not have been late for work. 

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Imagine my surprise when I take out my O. Henry book on the metro, and find this on the back:

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Yup–that’s Cyrillic script, and by my deductions, Russian. You can see that its also from 1972, when Czechoslovakia was in the throws of USSR rule. And then there’s these quotes from the preface:

“This book comprises 15 stories…which are…unknown to the broad English reading circles in the USSR.”

Ok, USSR? Check. And the audience is clearly English speakers (probably non-native) from the USSR, which would have included Czechoslovakia at the time. 

“…these stories show the grim realities of the American mode of life where the dollar rules supreme.”

Anti-capitalist, and targeting America specifically? Double check. 

“…but they all [characters] in their own way reveal the essence of bourgeouis society & the laws that govern it.”

Oooh, bringin’ out the ‘b’ word. Classy, text. Very socialist-republic of you. 

Finally, to hammer home the message:

“…if this book has awakened a new interest in the reader for [O.Henry]…hitherto known just as a brilliant humorist but not as a relentless exposer of capitalist America, the work has not been done in vain.”

Ouch. 

So, yeah. Best find ever? Best find ever. My guess is that this was circulated amongst language students as an example of a native text that was also palatable to the anti-capitalist crowd. Here’s my question now: was O.Henry a socialist? Or are his works being appropriated here? 

I don’t know but this was definitely the best thing I’ve bought in this country. Perhaps ever. It’s real history, man! 

If only the publication information wasn’t in Russian, I might be able to find out more. On the front cover it does say “Home-Reading Library.” A clue? Perhaps. 

 

The Way Old City Where I Live

Let me introduce you to Prague:
City of new-born capitalists and past echoes refusing to die
Of pale hippies
Leather skinned beggars
College buskers and old-time hands
Where dogs are treated like children
And children like jewels
While Romas in train stations or
forgotten Soviet Blocks
Steal from a system of
Tired bureaucracy
(Can you hear the bah bahs of
scapegoats ringing in your ears?)
Buses and trams branch like capillaries
Below metros link arteries
While fake cops weed out the tired the poor the huddled masses who forgot to refill their train passes
In Stare Mesto the drunk and alien make merry
On the gaslit stones of forgotten centuries
Down Wenceslas square tourists parade
Arm in arm with the lost
And hopeless homeless
Cooking meat fills the air above markets full of love-grown produce
Wicker baskets
Dark pivo in foaming glasses
The vendor sells them with a kind smile
And laughs when you try to speak czech.

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Few things are eerier than an empty airport

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Or is that more eerie? One day a student will ask me this and I wont know the answer.

I’m on my way to Germany for a few weeks and I got to Vaclav havel about two hours too soon. Ive been wandering around trying to find people with mixed success. My wing of the ‘port had one other person when I got here, and he was sleeping on top of a bed of plastic bags. Not helping the eerie factor.

Airport questions :
Is dufry a clever blending of “duty free?”
Or is there someone out there with the last name dufry who just happened to dream of opening a chain of high quality duty free shops?

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Who greenlit this ad? It looks silly.

How many cars do they actually sell by putting cars on display in the airport?

There are no bagels. Where fore art the bagels?

It is so much nicer to check in at European airports. Not really a question, more a complaint about amurikah.

Finally, why am I here so damn early?

Other thoughts:

I’ve watched the sunrise from plenty of airports and car windows. At some point all these early morning journeys blend into one. The hours between 3 and 5 are close together; they are a time bubble where the fabric is thin and years mush into one big blob. Now I am 23 traveling to Germany; now I am 11 , on my way to Greece; 22 and racing to my grandfather’s funeral; 19 and driving to the cape, my mom asleep next to me.I have seen this sun rise before.

Final question : duty free beckerovka. Good idea? Great idea?

Someone call Kevin Costner…

…’cause Prague’s about to become the sequel to Waterworld.

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Seriously though.

There is a ton of flooding here, half the metros are closed, and it is. Still. Raining.

We’re hoping that the worst of it has passed, and that we’ll start to see things calm down in the next few days. Only time will tell I guess. Still, it’s not so bad- we’re safe, and I got most of the day off to finish my work & try and figure out how the heck to get to classes tomorrow. I think in the long run this is going to be very irritating.

Here’s a bit more perspective:

ToaletyOn the left, you see the Toalety a month ago. On the right, the Toalety today.

Stay safe and dry, everyone!

 

Floods!

So there is some moderate flooding in Prague right now. 8 metro stations closed, some places have been evacuated, and everyone is very wet. I was just trolling an online Czech newspaper for info on the floods when I caught sight of this image:

iDNES.cz - News you can trust

He looked kind of familiar, and then I remembered that in the winter I’d snapped this photo:

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So yeah. That’s how high the Vltava has risen. Intriguing!

Also, I feel bad for our poor bald statue. Good luck, buddy.

 

New Short Story: The Black Angels of Prague

Brand new, unedited short story! And it only took me, what, 3 months to come out with new material? -_0 speaking of which yes Path of Pins is still in the works. I think you’re gonna like it. Projected release date is December 2013*

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Prague is filled with blackened angels.

You don’t always notice them, at least not at first. The parts of Prague filled with office buildings and McDonalds are relatively mundane at street level. It’s only when you look up that you see the army of dark statues staring down at you from rooftops and balconies. They loom, these angels, and if you could find one with a friendly face I’d be very surprised. They look as if they have been transposed from a particularly sad cemetery and seem not to guard Prague so much as to watch it. What they are watching for is anybody’s guess.

Though perhaps it is less watching and more waiting. At least, that’s the sense I got after I saw them move.

Right before it happened I was walking down Narodni Trida, just past the National Theatre. I had only recently begun my first teaching job, and it was very late, and after three hours of steady Czech drinking I was also a little drunk. My fellow teachers and I had been celebrating a colleague’s retirement and subsequent move to one of the shittier areas of the city. Most of the road was still closed from a gas main explosion the previous week, and on the left great swaths of scaffolding and metal pipes (construction, not explosion) climbed up the Theatre’s walls. Loose police tape was sent fluttering by the wind to trail sadly through the cobblestones.

It began to snow, great, fat flakes that landed on my nose and melted down the back of my neck. As I had every day since I moved to Prague, I looked up into the silence, the fumes and vapors of the night mixing with fresh snow and the smell of motor oil. My angel leaned over a building ledge far above my head; it was of the weeping-woman variety, with pleading arms outstretched to someone just out of reach and a golden crown of laurel leaves on her head. It was faintly reminiscent of a monster I’d once seen on a TV show, though sad instead of menacing. Every time I passed her it seemed as if she was calling out to me. Tonight, that sense was especially strong.

I watched the snow gather on her extended arms, and imagined how cold it must be on top of the building at the highest point of exposure. There was movement; and then a wet flurry as the snow that had gathered on the statue fell around me. Some of it fell in my eyes, blinding me. I heard a sound like stone grinding on stone, and when I had cleared my eyes and looked up my statue was gone. The only proof that it had ever leaned out from the building was the melting snow caught on my shoulders and in my hair.

I was suddenly, acutely aware of the statues ringing the buildings around me. There was another flurry, like the sound of rushing wings; and then heavy whumps as piles of snow hit the road around me. I blinked, and the once-crowded ledges and crooks of the buildings around me were empty. I was left standing in a ring of piled snow.

I heard a noise like a sigh behind my back. I turned to see the weeping woman standing behind me, one arm folded across her chest, the other extended, palm reaching out to me. Her face was a mask of perfect sadness, and it felt as if her stone eyes were seeing something beyond me. I stepped forward and reached for her hand, not knowing why but unable to resist the impulse. Before I touched her the air filled with the sound of rushing wings, and she was gone.

There was flash of movement down the alleyway to my left; I ran towards it, slipping and sliding in the snow. I crashed into the brick (remember: a little drunk) and saw the hint of stone at the end of the alley, as if the stone were fluid, as if it swirled like a lady’s skirts around the corner of the brick.

I ran towards that glimpse of the angel, and then I was in the back alleys of Prague; dark, brick places of shadow and grime. The snow thickened as it fell from the sky, at times blinding me, at others catching in my throat and choking me as I slipped and slid through brick arches and around rubbish bins. Always my blackened angel was just ahead of me. And then the alley opened up, and I was in the open air once more, panting in the snowy streets, each exhale rising like mushroom clouds before my face.

Ahead was a dark cemetery. It was old fashioned and ornate, filled with tombs that jutted out of the gathering snow like granite monoliths. The gate swung open, making an eerie squeaking noise in the snow. There was a deep scar in the snow before me, the kind of track that something heavy would make as it dragged across the ground. It led into the cemetery. Slowly, I followed.

A subconscious force warned me to be careful. In the distance I could hear the chimes of the Prague Orloj as it marked midnight. Somewhere, a tourist was clutching a mug of hot wine, watching the disappointing puppet show that had been added to the clock.

I crept further into the cemetery, which was dimly lit by the street lights and reflected gleam from the constant buildings. The path was easy to follow, and soon the world was crowded with heavy tombstones and granite crosses. In a few places I saw more depressions in the snow as if something heavy had disappeared very, very quickly.

The alcohol that had dulled my fear was wearing off. I increasingly began to wonder what the hell I was doing, but the cold drove me on. Ahead, a small clearing appeared through the curtain of snow. In the center stood my still-weeping stone angel, right arm folded against her chest, her golden crown faded in the dull light. She had a granite finger to her lips and was staring at me. I opened my mouth to say something that would have broken that terrible silence—

There was a crash. I stumbled and fell in a pile of wet snow behind a large tombstone, hiding the clearing from view. The silence was shattered by the vicious grinding of stone and then a muffled thud, followed by more grinding, more thuds. Whatever protection the booze had given me was gone, replaced with the kind of terror that numbs you and holds you still, a survival mechanism, I’m sure, leftover from the time when monsters hunted us in the dark.

As quickly as it had began the grinding sound ceased, replaced with a silence made worse by the heavy snow. I listened to it, feeling it press down on me—suffocated by the whispers that floated just below what a human could hear. The last of my courage (or the last of the booze) reared its head, and I managed to look up over the ledge of the tombstone. The gap that led to the clearing was almost obscured now, clouded by a wall of stone. They stood in a circle, dozens of them, dark and formidable: An aesthetic Christ with a crown of golden thorns; a mother cradling a dead child to her breast; a winged virgin wrapped in tattered scraps of cloth; a martyr with bloody furrows carved into his bearded cheeks; and so on, a black, unmoving circle, empty gaze trained on the weeping woman in the center. I could just see her through a gap between Jesus and his winged martyrs. She was still holding a finger to her lips and staring.

The sense of menace increased. I sat up, felt the unreasonable urge to call out rising in my throat. A disembodied voice—old, full of stone and dust —whispered in my ear.

Shhhh, and then, Come. 

The menace reached a peak. I stood to the chorus of living stone that filled the heavy air with the sounds of thunder, or boulders crashing at the base of a mountain. I squeezed through the gap in the angels, bruising my shoulders on Christ’s outstretched arms and the tips of the angel’s wings, and found myself in the center of them. Now that I was closer I could see real tears falling from my stone woman’s eyes. The marks of sadness on her face grew more pronounced. It was a kind of knowing sorrow; she had the face of the mother and the wife and the sister of the dead.

The silent whisper grew louder, till it brushed against my skin like a living thing. It roared in my ears as I stumbled forward and put my hand in hers.

Her skin was smooth, and cold as ice; and as I touched her, there was a great sigh of relief. The whisper stopped; for one endless moment, there was complete silence, a stillness I had never known and will never know again, as the world stopped to witness my hand in hers and the angels in the snow.

Something—a gust of wind, or a hand on my back—shoved me into the angel. I caught my footing a moment too late. I felt the stone weaken, and falter, and then the angel crumbled beneath me, collapsing in a pile of black stone dust on the snow.

The whispering began again. There was another shove at my back, and I was kneeling in the snow, my hands wrist deep into the pile of dust that had once been my angel. In the center of the pile something gleamed harsh and gold in the dark. I reached towards it, brushing away the stone dust to reveal my angel’s laurel leaf crown. The whispers rose, becoming a roar in my ears; and I reached out and brushed my fingers against the gold.

A violent cold seized me, and I snatched my hands back before I understood what had happened. Around me, the angels had crept closer, moving while I wasn’t looking. A hundred dead eyes stared down at me, urging me forward, screaming silently for me to pick up the laurel crown. Why? Why would they—I looked down at my hands, to where the pain was the worst, and saw that the tips of my fingers had turned to granite everywhere they had brushed the crown.

Animalistic panic suddenly freed me from whatever spell they had cast. There was a last remaining gap between the statues—a small arch beneath the brushing wings of two angels. Clutching my stone fingers, I threw myself at it, feeling the stone closing in just as I emerged on the other side. There was a wrench—they had caught the sleeve of my jacket—I screamed and yanked myself free, losing the jacket in the process.

After that it was a blur. Most vivid was the moment I emerged into the public square. The clock was again striking the hour, and the few people who were around gave me cautious looks and quickly moved away. Time melts a bit then, and the next thing I knew I was at home, slamming the door to my tiny apartment shut behind me. I dove into my bedroom and wrapped my cheap comforter around my shoulders, sitting against the head of the bed, where I stayed until the morning. When I woke all my fingers were returned to normal, except for the ring finger—the promise finger.

A few days later I returned to the cemetery (in broad daylight, and armed with a water bottle of holy water I’d stolen from one of the hundreds of churches in Prague). There was nothing out of place. In my absence the snow had settled over everything, turning it into a uniformed white. A little bit of searching found my jacket, half buried in the snow, the sleeves ripped and useless.

I re-entered the clearing, not sure what I would find. There was no trace of the weeping angel or her golden crown, for which I was thankful. I decided to put it behind me as either a strange foreign adventure or the result of too much Czech beer. I don’t think my sanity could have taken it otherwise.

The tip of my ring finger is still grey and rough. When people ask, I say it’s a callous from working in my garden, or around the house, or whatever excuse sounds the most plausible. They never guess the truth. Most of the time, I don’t try and tell them.

*date is very, very tentative. Just fyi. 

Witch Burning Night & May Day

So! Spring is a great time to be in Prague, especially for the past few days. Despite the yucky weather, Prague has been hopping with events as people catch spring fever.

Last night, April 30th, was the yearly Witch Burning Night (or WBN as I, the lazy blogger, will now be calling it). WBN is a night that celebrates the burning of all the witches in Prague- better known as the Inquisition, or, to some, religious persecution.

Or maybe they just love Monty Python?

There’s also the possibility that WBN comes from Beltane, a pagan festival meant to celebrate the end of winter and the return of the sun. Personally, I lean towards this explanation, as it dovetails with what many of my students have said to me.

WBN is celebrated by making bonfires in parks. There is music, and food, and a lot of women dressed up like witches. Which, if you think about it, is kind of like asking to be set on fire. We didn’t see any witches burned last night but we DID listen to some excellent Czech folk music, and there was a bonfire. And a bunch of dudes roasting sausages.

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Today, the first of May, is also a holiday in Prague. There are a couple of angles to this celebration.  May 1st is Labor Day, which means that most businesses are closed. WOO HOO NO WORK! *ahem* There is also a student component to the holiday that I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I did see a pretty sweet student parade today, which included, among other things, a giant dildo, a wheelbarrow full of beer, and about 20 people chanting “Allen Ginsburg!”

May 1st also celebrates luuuuuurve. According to lore, women in Prague must be kissed underneath the cherry blossoms in order to stay beautiful for the rest of the year. However, I’ve also heard that women will die within 12 months if they are not kissed. Ladies: You should probably go make out now, just to be safe.

English Class

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I teach English to a politician in Prague.

I rarely get to see him- he almost always cancels his lessons- but when I do its always an odd experience. He is a small, quiet man who looks a lot like Mr. Rogers and a little like a mouse. I’ve never seen him without a sweater vest. He has a slight hunch, thin, bird-like limbs, and likes to talk about his grandkids.

His office is filled with ornate Victorian furniture, on which are piled reams of paper and stacks of Czech folklore magazines. In one corner a live palm tree has grown so large it touches the ceiling. An outstretched frond is draped over the fluorescent lights that hang overhead. Its lower leaves spill over onto the dozen other potted plants that carpet the floor. Beside it is a wrought iron candle stand that comes up to my waist. The metal is shaped like a skeletal tree in winter. Inside a scattering of globular white candles have been impaled on the iron branches.

I imagine the room in the dark, with those flickering lights dancing strangely over the encroaching jungle in the corner. It makes me think of Lord of the Flies- of a little boy hiding behind a desk, dirt smeared on his face, the fire lighting his eyes so they gleam like a cat’s.

A beautiful dark painting is overwhelmed by the gilt frame that explodes around it. Leaves and golden roses pop from the wood in a truly hideous display. It looks like it would stain my fingers with glitter if I tried to touch it. I don’t.

We always sit in the corner, in squat chairs of dark wood and poison green velvet. The cushions sink a good two inches when you sit. They are stiff, but soft. There is a round table, complete with lace doily and winged, snarling lions carved into the legs. A blind cherub stares at me from just under the lip of the table. His wings stretch out along the wood until they blend with the lion manes. Then the display cabinet in the corner, 7 feet high, equally dark and ornate.

He told me once that everything in the room is an original. I wonder. Is he a collector? Or  is there something sinister lurking here? There were open boxes of dishes sitting by the door on my way in. Fine china peeked out of straw and newspaper. More to add to his collection?

He was outside the room when I wrote most of this, speaking to “visitors from a very important company.” If they are the same men I saw when waiting outside his office- swarthy, suited, one enormously fat, one comically small, and one especially vacant looking man built like a brick shit house- then I have to wonder. Maybe it was the frank discussion of communism and corruption I had with my 7 AM student that had me wanting to pull out the ‘M’ word. Maybe it was the expression on the fat one’s face- dour discontent, mixed with arrogance and a kind of surly confidence. Maybe I’m just paranoid.

Or bored. 45 minutes is a long time to sit alone in an empty office.

Presented without comment.

“This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!”

Last night I had a dream that I went shopping for clothes, and as a bonus I received a free refrigerator from the clothing company. I brought it home and put it next to the 5000 k fridge we bought from Ikea. Vanessa, Liam and I looked at the fridge, then each other, and had a cartoonish “oh the irony!” chuckle.

(if you’re confused as to why this is funny, read this post. Or maybe I’m just not funny, in which case reading the post won’t help at all.)

In other news! Last weekend I went back to Vienna to pick up my visa. I am almost officially legal! I mean, I am. There are just a few more bureaucratic hoops to jump through. But!!! I have the damn thing, and I’m staying till at least September. I mean, hopefully for another year, but you never know. Shit happens. 

Now, some Vienna pictures:

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Look! A confessional!

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Some fancy church stuff. They were big on gold & purple in old-timey Vienna.

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Why yes, that is a dead guy! I’m not sure who it is, but there is totally a skeleton in there, and they put armor and fake wings on him so he must be important.

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Bored, cold, and hungry, I wandered into this empty church. Suddenly organ music started playing. It was very pretty, and kind of comforting, till I looked up and saw a bunch of demon statues staring down at me.

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A super old-timey car. Does it remind anyone else of Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail?

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St. Stephens got all dolled up for the evening.

Otherwise, life goes on.

I’ve been a bit sick, but that didn’t stop me from going out (a little) this weekend. Overall it was a pretty relaxing couple of days, which, after the last few weeks, I definitely needed.

WARNING: YOU MAY BE ABOUT TO EXPERIENCE EXTREME JEALOUSY

Last night we met up with a friend at a local bar called The Big Lebowski. And yes, it is named after the movie. The Big Lebowski was smoke free, and had pay-what-you-want drinks. They also had really delicious white russians, which is nothing less than you’d expect.

The bar is actually a tiny little house. I doubt it would pass any kind of safety inspection- the ‘bar’ is a tiny room downstairs, and then you climb a rickety staircase to the second, open floor. I had trouble navigating the stairs in heels when I was sober. I imagine that it’s much more difficult when you’re drunk.

The second floor was kind of strange, with low ceilings and doorways and a curiously uneven floor. I wasn’t sure if our waiter was extremely tall or if the cartoonish proportions of the room just made him look it. I was also a little afraid that the floor would collapse beneath us, but it didn’t, so that’s fine. The walls had pictures from old movies (Forest Gump, the Godfather, etc) and there was even an old VHS video camera. Overall, I really liked it. As Vanessa pointed out, it was a little like being in a 50’s diner. A dirty, faded diner.

There was just one problem: the floor was bare. I really think a rug would have tied the room together.

Big Lebowski - bar, čajovna, kavárna, vinárna - Praha 3 - Welcome

Random music time! I made a wee tiny playlist on youtube. Check it out if you’re looking for some new music, or you’re bored, or you’d like to judge me for my taste in music.

And now, I’m going to go eat some lunch because I’m huuuungry. To conclude this post, here is a picture of a hot dog with  breasts:

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