Tag Archives: Himalayas

Tempelhof Airport _ Statement III _ and a Thank You

Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, famous for its use during the Berlin Airlift of 1948, has been preserved and converted into a public park,
virtually unchanged in its landscape from when it was a functional airport.
It is an amazing public resource and a rare expansiveness in an urban setting; it reminds me of a mini-version of the American Great Plains
with the unobstructed views, open sky and flat, flat, flatness.
This was quite a contrast to the drama of the Himalayas
and the decoction of crowdedness and chaos
I experienced throughout India.

Samuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great CircleSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great CircleSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great CircleSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great CircleSamuel Nigro, Berlin, Tempelhof, Great Circle

During my three months in Berlin, I took to riding my bike around Tempelhof Airport almost everyday, coasting over the gentle rise and fall of terrain, up and down the runways and around and around the grounds without touching the handlebars for long, extended periods, and this free flow wandering in wide open space helped spur on my thoughts for Statement III, a piece of writing
I promised to publish in a previous post when I arrived in Berlin from India, in June 2014. 

However, Statement III still eludes me.

Below are five rough drafts. The first four are links to previous posts on this blog:

1. How to break a stone – in five easy steps.

2.a) Love G.I.T. – part I
2.b) Love G.I.T. – part II

3. Heutegesternmorgenwelt – a series:

a) Bread, Granite and Heutegesternmorgenwelt
b) Heutegesternmorgenwelt Resolved (Three Birds of Different Orders)
c) To Walk, To Mime … (Heutegesternmorgenwelt REDUX)

4.a) Three Stones from Three Cities – part 1
4.b) Three Stones from Three Cities – part 2

and

The fifth is a new attempt and a product of my Tempelhof Airport bike riding:

5. The Great Circle (Statement III – a rough draft):

As a young boy, I often imagined a line extending perpendicular from my direction of travel, going all the way around the planet and coming back perpendicularly to my other side, creating a giant ring around the globe, a Great Circle in the parlance of geometry, and, by definition, always concentric with the earth. Part of the excitement was to imagine the ring in its entirety, and go further and imagine that this Great Circle was attached to me, was me, and would move effortlessly with me, around and around our planet, hugging the surface of the earth in whatever way I could imagine. What it saw, I saw – what it felt, I felt – what it experienced, I experienced the same.

I varied the properties of this line by imagining it as different fantasy materials of varying thicknesses and flexibilities – so, I determined when it remained ridged, ignoring all the complexity of the planet and sweeping out perfect arcs of perfect circles and shaving the globe to a perfect sphere; or, I would loosen it up so it moved over only a specific topology like the hard earth crust or then include other objects and mold itself around just animals, or just people, just trees, plants, insects, just homes, buildings, structures; or, I’d make it so thin, so malleable that it conformed to different degrees of detail, zipping over complicated surfaces, effortlessly, conforming to every nook and crag, every flake, scale and leaf, every pebble, glop and glump, tuft, tassel and clump, every marble or toy, every detail and deeper, deeper detail still, sometimes skimming over water, sometimes conforming to every ripple, sometimes hugging the land and descending to the bottom of every depression, every lake, ocean and stream, every pool, every puddle, every bowl of soup, every cup of hot chocolate, every glass half empty or glass half full. As a boy, I figured that in principle my line could even conform down to the microscopic level, and this made me dizzy, as did interior spaces – they were difficult to imagine, too. Nevertheless, even knowing this abstract geometry existed and as I played to maintain harmonious and fluid motion between my mind and The Great Circle, I imagined being everywhere, always, at the same time: a total impossibility, and fun while it lasted, because …

By the age of 12 or so, I forgot about this thought exercise, this fantasy, really, and moved on: life demanded it. Life got more complicated, thinking complex – strategic designs varied with more teachers, more rules, more guidance; more religion, more grist for agreement and quests for influence, more ideology, more ingredience. Yet, my ability for abstraction both grew and became more focused, more refined. I mean: ‘x’ taking the place of a number in an equation is quite abstract; the tangent of ‘x’ even more so. In short, life and school and communication got more specific in its content and demanding in the way one must, inevitably, engage – and thinking about what was in my immediate purlieu began to dominate.

This Great Circle, this thought experiment, represents a framework of wonder and inquiry of a young boy, a method of investigation, a mode of thinking about his surroundings, an epistemological stance, if you will. I am now using a different method that includes a visual and physical manipulation of material, which marries this curiosity of the boy with all that he was taught and with all that he experienced along with the specific theme of breaking and placing stone, its movement and action, their opposites and the many gradations in between – which now serves as my present framework of discovery and of wonder and inquiry.

With the highlighting of these 5 rough drafts of Statement III, I need to shift my attention
away from this blog and the Internet machine for a while
and devote more concentrated time and effort in other, deeper directions – specifically, toward the work I furthered in India,
Cairns – Shards – Pieces – and, as this work proceeds,
Statement III will inevitably evolve.

I’m not disappearing from this digital land but my intention is to not post on this blog for a while and … well … I’ll let you know what’s next. Its brewing.
Sign up for my newsletter, because then you will be sure
to stay current. 

Thank you for your readership.

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Intimidating, Humbling, Awesome – The Himalayas

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I think it is obvious why someone whose main artistic material is stone would want to see the highest mountain range in the world. The images don’t do justice, even though I’ve included quite a few. There is much I can say about this trek, and I also have other personal reasons to hike the Himalayas; however, intimidating, humbling, awesome sums it up and I won’t write much more about this publically for now, because this requires more time, reflection and thought. Oh … and yes, that is a stray dog, which followed us up the mountain and back down for two and a half days.

We hiked up to 13,200 ft. to Gomukh and the Gangotri Glacier, the traditional (or, more precisely, primary) source of the Ganga and one of the largest glaciers in the Himalayas. The glacier is melting, and it is melting, in part, because of Human induced Climate Change. I saw this occurring, but don’t take my word for it: this receding glacier has been well documented since the late 1700’s. Significantly, the rate of melt has increased dramatically since around 1990’s.

snSamuel Nigro, India, Gangotri, trek

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North. Higher. That is your direction.

In Uttarkashi, I meet a trekker guide who drives me to Gangotri and then guides me into the mountains to Gaumuhk and the Gangotri Glacier, one of the major sources of the Ganga and filled with spiritual significance for Hindus.

Samuel Nigro, India, Gangotri, trek Samuel Nigro, India, Gangotri, trek Samuel Nigro, India, Gangotri, trek Samuel Nigro, India, Gangotri, trek

It takes about 4 hours to drive from Uttarkashi to Gangotri along a road that is in need of repair from the massive flood that took place last year. At places it was slow going and rough. Gangotri is a very important city for Hinduism and thousands of Indian pilgrims visit the town during the summer months, because there is a temple that houses the goddess Ganga. During the winter (or the coldest 6 months of the year) the town is abandoned and “Ma Ganga” is moved to a safer temple way down the valley. We arrive in Gangotri on perhaps the most important day of the year: the unlocking of the temple and the placing of “Ma Ganga” in her home for the summer. It is an auspicious time, and there are many pilgrims and all the important military, political and religious people are there. Gangotri is at 11,000 ft.

We arrive and the ceremony has already begun.

sn Samuel Nigro, India, Gangotri, trekSamuel Nigro, India, Gangotri, trek 07 gangotri

In the first image, two men prop up a structure that is like a make shift stretcher, which is adorned with fabric and symbolic objects. My guide is visibly excited and explains:

Look. Look. There is a local god.

He points at the two men dancing with the stretcher on their shoulders.

He is dancing himself. People are not moving him. The God is moving the people … automatically it is moving.

I respond: “OK.”

The stretcher dancing goes on for about 30 minutes and the dancers are replaced every so often. A drummer keeps the rhythm going. Concurrently, other dancers start to encircle the stretcher carrying various symbolic objects, of which I recognize a few. There is Shiva’s Trident (which I have always thought looks conspicuously like the Trident of Poseidon, but this is an issue for a different time and a more focused discussion), and there is Rama’s Bow. There is even something that looks like a large and elongated dradle, but I know it is not. I’m not sure what it is.

A man screams, opposite me, on the outer edge of the circle of people who are watching the spectacle. He begins to gyrate and shake and move his arms wildly from side to side. Now, let’s be clear: I like to dance and I have had my own bouts of loony dancing over the years but like to think I keep the out-of-control, wild possession stuff to a minimum. His movements are not that extraordinary in that he wasn’t pushing the limits of what the body is capable of. I’ve seen all sorts of dancing at various techno clubs; but when I see this sort of dancing at a club or anywhere, I keep my distance. He inches forward and enters the Hindu Mosh-pit. He is the one in tan pants and the black and green sweater with white horizontal lines in the images above. After the stretcher dancers leave, the dancers carrying the objects and the black and green sweater flailing man continue, and, then, a woman enters. She is wearing a red sari and a pinkish-rust colored button down sweater in the images. She is elegant and engages with the other dancers and creates embracing motions and huddles and such. I mention both of them because they seemed out of place to me; so, I ask my guide.

The man in the black and green sweater. Is he part of the ceremony? or is he just dancing on his own?

 No, he’s not part of it.

Well, then is it crazy, drugs or religion that got him out there?

Oh, no, no, no … He became moved by a spirit. It wasn’t him dancing.

and that woman who suddenly joined in? (I point)

He looks and ponders, “Oh, her? Yes, She was taken possession by a local deity.”

I respond: “OK”

 The dancing ends and then the ceremony continues at the entrance of the temple with singing, chanting, lustrations of various types, as everyone waits for the doors to be unlocked and Ma Ganga placed inside so they can enter for more ceremony and prayer. I feel like I am at the heart of Hinduism.

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Traveling North: a summary – part 2 of 2

Today, I am in Uttarkashi, that is – Kashi of the north (Kashi being the Hindu name for Varanasi). Both cities are on the Ganga and both are important Hindu pilgrimage sites. Uttarkashi is much smaller, more like a mountain way station, and it has an important Shiva temple with a Shiva Linga carved in situ. I’m staying for a few days with friends of Kriti Gallery, midway up the mountainside (about 5,500 ft) from the town, while I put together a trek deeper into the Himalayas to the Gangotri glacier, the source of the Ganga. More on this when I get back from the trek. The real point of this post is about getting to Uttarkashi, which was not straightforward. I begin:

I leave Varanasi on April 14th, 2014 on a train to Jaipur, first class, and it was easy-peasy compared to my first Indian train trip and now that I’ve had a number of other experiences buying tickets and taking trains to see quarries and to travel deeper south and to get back to Varanasi (each episode, btw, could easily be a short story, but I will only say that coconuts can be refreshing in the midday South Indian sun, especially when they are a heart felt gift from a man who hardly speaks English but who understands what you are doing. My suggestion is to just have one coconut, not three, esp. before you get on a 45-hour train trip north to Varanasi … or, at least, watch what you eat afterwards. No more on this, at least for the blog); so, taking the overnight train, First Class AC, from Varanasi to Jaipur is as smooth as it gets. You may think I am now an intrepid Indian Traveler … um … barely … getting around India is like a puzzle where none of the pieces truly fit together. That’s right: a multitude of possibilities, but rarely do they mesh. You can spent more money for easier transport, but even then, you have to contend with roads and connections, both of which … themselves … pieces of the puzzle. I get ahead of myself:

Back in December a friend from NYC put me in FB touch with her friend, Katie, who was living in Jaipur and studying Hindi and who will start her PhD program in the fall to research a specific type of traditional art form in Bihar, an impoverished state east of Varanasi. As it turns out, we know quite a few people in common and for months, we were wondering/trying to meet up. Then, I suddenly left for Bangalor, which changed all my plans. So, I was heading to Jaipur to visit her and to take a side trip she put together to Udaipur, both cities in Rajasthan, and both located between the latitudinal lines of Delhi and Varanasi, read not very far north.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into much detail about this trip, except to say Katie booked a local class train, an 8-hour day trip, to Udiapur. This is the most basic seating class on an Indian train and we were the only westerners, and it was totally manageable – no problem – and cheap. I appreciated the fact that Katie spoke Hindi because it made some things easier and gave a different kind of access and comfort to the trip; like, for example, she gave me confidence to eat – read: select! – street and train food … again many stories and I just need more time to write them all down. Here are a few pics from our travels:

Samuel Nigro, India, JaipurSamuel Nigro, India, JaipurSamuel Nigro, India, JaipurSamuel Nigro, India, JaipurSamuel Nigro, India, JaipurSamuel Nigro, India, UdaipurSamuel Nigro, India, UdaipurSamuel Nigro, India, UdaipurSamuel Nigro, India, UdaipurSamuel Nigro, India, UdaipurSamuel Nigro, India, Udaipur

I get edgy and anxious in Udaipur: “Wait a minute? What am I doing?” “Head North. Get Higher. Himalayas!” So, I research my itinerary while in Udiapur and for ways to get north, but couldn’t find a train ticket on such short notice. I had a place to stay waiting for me in Uttarkashi, but, like I said, traveling in India is a puzzle and when you get further north there are fewer trains and this was the season for people to travel this direction to beat the heat. So instead, I found a connecting bus to Haridwar. A few days later, Katie and I take the 8 hr local, day train back to Jaipur, which arrives at 9:30 pm and my bus leaves at 11 pm. We have a typical Indian (meaning, indirect and longer than it needs to be) auto-tuktuk experience getting to the bus stop, and it looks like … “wow, what did I get myself into” …

Samuel Nigro, India, Jaipur

The pic really doesn’t do it justice, and I need you to know that, for this journey north at least, I was not in the “picture-taking-Oooh-let’s-document-every-facet-of-this-new-and-interesting-experience” mode.

Katie is sweet: “look, if you don’t want to do this, you can stay at my place and figure out another way in the morning.”

I brainstorm out loud.

She continues: “I know other people who have taken these buses … it can be done …”

I express qualms – I demur – I wonder.

Katie explains: “See, I would never ride these buses being a woman. You’re a man and it should be fine. But, listen, it’s only 12 hours, you have a sleeper ticket. So, you’ll sleep most of the way and then you’re there …”

I grasp for resolution – I swallow my misgivings: “I’ll take the bus … and I’ll text you.”

Katie: “Ok. Just remember: if the bus gets here and you don’t want to do this, just come to my place. No need to call. Just come”

“Thanks. Ok.”

The bus is two hours late. It arrives at 1 am and there is nothing easy about it. I get on and it is … er …

Samuel NIgro, India, Jaipur

… this ride is raw, raw, and – I mean – raw. I mean: hot, bumpy, crowed, chaos. Commerce stored in the isles with families – children! – sleeping on top of it. All seats taken. Nowhere for me to step even to get in! much less get to the back to climb up into the tiny loft enclosed by glass (“it just couldn’t be safety glass. no way,” I think), which is a sorry excuse for a place to sleep. I have to carry my over-packed luggage filled with rocks from Bangalore, an angle grinder I picked up in Varanasi, a super sophisticated water-filtration system from America, three different ways to start a fire, an over-stuffed first-aid kit, two hard drives, a video camera, laptop, a whistle, magnifying glass, tiger balm, lip balm, rope (you always need rope), pens, paper, a P.G. Wodehouse novel, a Shiva scarf, a tube of sunscreen, a small bottle of Listerine, a toothbrush, floss, nail clippers, compass and my five juggling balls to name a few items – and, yes, I have too much crap; my bags are too heavy, and I am probably a bit loopy. It doesn’t matter anyway, because I’m not getting any of this stuff out during the trip because I have to jam my bags into the sleeper compartment with me because there is no space anywhere, and this means I sleep curled up in the fetal position for the night. Oh, did I mention, no bathrooms on the bus?

Samuel Nigro, India, Jaipur

I would not have been surprised to see a pet chicken or monkey riding with us. I certainly stick out, but I don’t care. I just want to get to Haridwar alive. The euphemistically titled “sleeper compartment” is dirty – no, just horrid. I am smushed into a moving vitrine. Each side, interior and exterior, has two sliding glass doors. Opening one half means you expose half of your coffin-sized compartment to either the interior chaos or the exterior dilapidation zipping by.

This makes for a convenient exit – easy, quick – whether you wanted to or not, since these glass, death-trap doors slowly inch open due to the vibrations of the bus. The most moveable one is the interior door by my feet, exposing the bag containing my CPU to a precipitous end and the potential braining of a sleeping child. A few times every hour, I need to open the other door closer to my head so I can reach out and push the moving door shut. There was no handle to move it and no latch to keep it shut, broken. What I mean by convenient is that I could open the compartment to the exterior and just roll out if I so choose and no one would even know.

Over the years, when I listen to my female friends describe their personal experiences that they face as women, I inevitably wonder about my sisters, and now my nieces, in comparable situations; and, as I’ve gathered these stories and experiences from my female friends and when I think of situations where being male or female makes a quantifiable difference in outcomes, my inevitable question is: how would my sisters, and now my nieces, deal with this situation; and, how would I counsel them?

With respect to this sleeper bus: No obscenity way would I suggest my sisters or nieces to ride this bus alone.
Katie’s instinct is correct. No obscenity-filled, foul-word way!

Ok – enough of this. You get the point. Moving on …
I arrive in Haridwar the next afternoon:

Samuel Nigro, India, Haridwar

Haridware is on the Ganga and another major Hindu pilgrimage site. The river looks much cleaner than in Varanasi (Kashi). I give myself the day to recoup, do a little recon and hop on a local bus the next day to Rishikesh. This bus is not the same as the sleeper-trip from Jaipur to Haridwar. Sisters, nieces, girlfriends – if you want some adventure – no problem, ride away. It is local and not too bad mainly because it just takes an hour and I have a seat, a decent road. It would have been miserable to stand, however, which some did. Again, I’m the only westerner. I arrive further up the Ganga in Rishikesh, not sure how long I will stay, but think a couple of days:

Samuel Nigro, India, RishikeshSamuel Nigro, India, RishikeshSamuel Nigro, India, RishikeshSamuel Nigro, India, Rishikesh

Rishikesh is touristy and much of the place caters towards tourists and yoga practitioners, most of whom, as far as I can tell, are westerners. But once you look past this you see why people settle here, it is calm, inviting, peaceful, beautiful. The Ganga, like in Haridwar is clean and large, fast, powerful – a sight to see. I decide I will definitely stay more than a few days, if for no other reason but to find the best way to Uttarkashi (again, further up the Ganga, closer to its source), which is not far, but I want to make it easier on myself. Time is clicking on. Rishikesh is higher and considered in the Himalayas, but I know there is much more to see of these mountains.

I explore. I meet people. Drink ersatz coffee. The place is chill and easy going and one can’t ignore all the ashrams and yoga centers everywhere, and the many westerners, mainly women (but there are some men in baggy pants and flip flops), with yoga mats.

I am moved not just by the mountains, but also by this kind of dedication to and the mastery of the body that yoga develops. I simply can’t ignore the well-outlined areas of the longer version of the iliac crest everywhere and observe the harmonious workings between the lateral rotator groups and its hidden piriformis muscle in peak condition with the long, slender workings of the fusiform psoas major muscle, along with perfectly aligned spines. I catch the occasional glimpse of a smoothly executed sartorius movement, and occipital lobes flowing beautifully into well-primped cricoid areas are common. I am moved to contemplate the structural utility of the hyoid bone and to ponder the elusive, but ever-present ucipital mapilary. Yup: I think I will definitely stay here for a while. I meet a woman for dinner with her yoga instructor and the three of us talk about the possibilities and benefits of me taking a few yoga classes. I go back to my hotel thinking: “You know, you are here. Yoga is the thing to do. Hmm – Why not take a class or two?” The draw to stay is strong.

However, I am half-heartedly intent on leaving the next morning. My plan is to wake up at 5-ish, get to the bus station (an ordeal I won’t flesh out), and take the earliest possible bus to Uttarkashi, but – “you know” – my schedule is flexible. I go to bed thinking of the ucipital mapilary.

“Maybe, you will stay here for a while longer … what’s the harm?”

I didn’t bother to set an alarm. I need sleep and wake up at the amazingly late hour of 6 am (see last post about my recent inability to sleep past 4 ish), and not really sure what I am going to do. My stuff is everywhere; I brush my teeth; eat some bananas – and as I do those odd nick-nacky, hilly-bo-billy things one does as one slowly wakes up and formulates a plan and routine for the day, my mind wanders …

[… and the story of the Odyssey fills my thoughts … and Odysseus … he survived 10 years of total war with the Trojans … not to shabby … he’s cunning, wily, smart … well that his reputation, anyway … at the end of the day he was not just a soldier, but a leader in his own right … took 10 years to get home with tribulation after tribulation … Huh, now that’s a journey … archetypal, really …]

These thoughts are all in the background, like muzak, as I shuffle some papers, turn on my i-phone, eat another banana … my mind wanders again …

 [… all the trials Odysseus goes through to get home … Huh … he looses many men … Cyclops eats scores … he gets a lover, too, who keeps him on her island and almost prevents him from getting home for real, just because of her beauty … He doesn’t want to leave … Hmm, sounds good … forgot her name … Uh … nope – it’s Calypso … and, that episode where some of his sailors get greedy and are turned into pigs … sucks to be them, but Odysseus survives it all … wasn’t he an expert archer, also? … I bet he could juggle, too …]

Again, this is barely at the conscious level; not hard thinking, mind you … it’s like white noise. My brain continues:

[… Odysseus learning about those Sirens from somewhere … how did he know what they were about … I forget … they were beautiful women – I remember that – who with their song and soothing words and promises of eternal bliss lull sailors to their death by ship buffetted against rock … Whoa … how did Odysseus get out of that one … I forget …]

 I basically ignore this unconscious dialogue as I refold a t-shirt and push down the cuticle of my littlest, pinky toe. Next, I’m in front of the bathroom mirror making SpongeBob SquarePants faces and then move on to my best Billy Idol sneer, both sides … an image rushes forward:

[… it is of Odysseus and he is about to break free from the ropes that bind him to his ship’s mast so he doesn’t steer it toward the beautiful calls of the Sirens and certain death and the ear plugs of a few of the sailors have been dislodged; they are distracted; they hear the Siren’s call and can’t help themselves and begin to row the ship towards the music …]

I lose the Billy Idol impression, and purse my lips, furrow my brow, looking at myself in the mirror …

[… Odysseus yells, screams, a battle cry, a call of fury … Right in my face.]

My conscious mind finally makes the connection: “Oh my god! I need to go”

You need to go.

I need to go. I need to go. I need to go.

North. Higher. That is your direction.

I throw everything into my luggage, and think: “Ugh … your late, everything is a mess and you still have all this stuff – stuff, stuff and more stuff.”

Man, I have way too much stuff … Forget about my well laid plans to mail this crap home and make me and my luggage more mobile, forget about the writing and work you where going to do here in Rishikesh. I need to get on that bus to Uttarkashi, pronto… The message is clear: I half-get, half-formulate a vision of being trapped by the yoga-siren song of Rishikesh and my brain turning to cauliflower, becoming a vegan, wearing baggy pants, and becoming so flexible that I’m able to administer my own proctology exam with my metatarsi.

I’m out the door: pay the hotel bill – a fair price, because I negotiated days before; get outside and find someone to cart my luggage through the cobbled streets and across the river to the auto-tuktuk – pay too much, but have to go; got a tuktuk to take me to the bus station (there are several. “Where you go?” “Bus station, Uttarkashi” “OK”) – pay too much, but have to get there … and I do.

The bus stall is a far cry from the Shangri-La of touristy Rishikesh. The next bus for Uttarkashi leaves at 10 am – good and early – I made it with … er … 2 hours before it leaves.!?. Doesn’t matter: at least, I am out of range of the yoga classes. I have my ticket and I’ll be in Uttarkashi in … er …

“Quick question, how long is the bus trip to Uttarkashi”

“7-8 hours”

“You’re kidding?! A travel agent told me it was 3 …?! … and, but – it’s not that far …”

“They are mountain roads and not very good ones. Steep. Many been washed away. Bus goes only about 20 km/hr”

“Ugh …”

Turns out, the bus is doable, but crowded and just crowded and cramped and long. Hats off to the driver, though, because the bus was rickety and creaky and he navigated those sinuous mountain roads with aplomb. I arrive in Uttarkashi at 6 pm. No question – I’m in the Himalayas, now.

Samuel Nigro, India, Uttarkashi

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