Friday, August 26, 2011

Photoless Friday (26): wanna peek behind the curtain--so to speak--at La Scala?

Opera buffs, you won't want to miss this!

Until the 31st of December, there are regular Tuesday and Thursday 3 P.M. guided visits to the workshop where they create the scenographic magic for La Scala in the ex-steelworks Ansaldo company building, via Bergognone, 34.

Reservations in advance are required, call CIVITA at +39-02.433.53.521.

Ready for the really amazing bit?

It's only E.5!


Monday, August 22, 2011

A 1930s snippet for you from Via Monti

More architectural details that make fantastic needlepoint designs!

This time it's a doorway that I snapped on via Monti on Ferragosto (August 15) of 2011, at about 11:30 A.M.

If you're interested in needlepoint and/or cross-stitch, I worked this up as a free design for your personal, non-commercial use on my blog dedicated to needlepoint, Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art:


Friday, August 19, 2011

Photoless Friday (25): Butterflies!

Hurry hurry!

Until the 30th of August at the city's principal public garden, the Giardini pubblici, you can admire more than 50 kinds of butterflies from all over the world in a special pavilion.

The main entrance to the Giardini pubblici is on Piazza Cavour; entrances also on via Palestro and Corso di Porta Venezia. I think the pavilion is just behind the Natural History Museum, and so would be closer to these latter entrances.

From Tuesday to Friday: 3:30 P.M. - 6 P.M.
Saturday and Sunday: from 10:30 A.M. til 1 P.M., then again from 2 P.M. to 6:30 P.M.

Entrance fee E.5 (children up to and including the age of 4 enter free-of-charge)

For more information:, tel. 393.513.3679

Too much excitement for one afternoon?

Recover at the "Caffè Letterario" located inside the gorgeous 15th century cloisters now housing the Teatro Grassi at the centrally located via Rovello, 2, almost at the corner of via Dante.

For more information: +39.72.333.505,


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Via Manzoni: n. 7

Our next stop on via Manzoni?
The ex-Hotel Continentale, street n. 7, at the corner of via Romagnosi....More......

Constructed in 1865 by Luigi Clerichetti, this façade trumpeted the triumph of the bank to the educated clients and passersby, inspiring trust.


Recalling the three-arched piers of ancient Roman triumphal arches, the façade offers entry past semi-hidden columns into fame, fortune, or at least a deep portico, now semi-closed with large panes of glass.

The interior of the building was heavily restructured in the 1980s to house the Banca Popolare di Bergamo, now UBI.

I took this snap with you in mind on the 29th of July, 2011, around 1-1:30 P.M., for your personal, non-commercial fun.

In the area of nn. 5 and 5/A on via Manzoni, on the other corner of via Romagnosi, where the building now sports a plaque commemorating the birth of the Italian writer Carlo Emilio Gadda, there once was the church S. Maria del Giardino (because of the green areas, whether fields belonging to the monasteries, or--after confiscation--the public gardens, just outside the medieval gate at the end of the street).


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Life insistent

Life insistent.

Snapped on Ferragosto, the 15th of August, in Largo 5° Alpini, at the corner of via Monti, at about 11:30 A.M. with you, but especially one of my favorite bloggers, in mind.

In her blog Serendipitous, Chris takes lovely pictures of her green green surroundings, and shares wonderful thoughts:


Monday, August 15, 2011

An Art Deco snippet on via V. Monti

Happy Ferragosto!

The 15th of August technically is a Catholic religious holiday in Italy--and Thank the Cosmos, because the government has just announced that all public holidays now will be celebrated on the weekends, so no more public holiday long weekends for us, sniff! sniff!--but it also is one of the most important "hinges" on which swings the Italian year.

It's one of the most beloved public holidays,...More......

...and even those stores that more and more are staying open on other holidays wouldn't give up today (unless they're in a town that lives on tourism...they'd stay open on their granny's birthday, but ya' can't blame 'em). A year without being free on Ferragosto is like a year without a vacation, at all!

So, in true Italian spirit, I pushed myself to finish in-progress projects as of yesterday.

Aaaaaaaaaaaah, I got up this morning when I wanted to, putzed around, and around 11 A.M. headed out with my trusty camera, "before it got too hot," I said to myself.

Then, Mad Dogs, Englishmen, Tourists and Me were out in the noon day sun...until 2:30 P.M. By then, I had found a shady park bench conveniently near the watchful eye of a police camera, and actually stretched out, watched the clouds, and even closed my eyes (though I don't think I dropped off), doing nothing, absolutely relaxingly nothing for about an hour...

...then I couldn't stand it any more, so I walked home.

But all along the way, I snapped shots that I'll be sharing with you.

I snapped this shot of an Art Deco architectural decoration on Via Monti with you in mind at around 11:30 A.M.

If you like needlepoint and/or cross-stitch, go to my needlepoint blog, Ars acupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art, for the free design ready to stitch for your personal, non-commercial fun:


Friday, August 12, 2011

Photoless Friday (24): for Leonardo's "Last Supper" reserve your place in advance, and, in case you didn't, some hints about how to get in, anyway

You know how it goes...your Significant Other hates to plan ahead. YOU know better, of course, but, for the sake of peace in the family, you'll "go with the flow" maybe grinding your teeth as silently as possible, but it's not worth arguing about.

Besides, you've got that penetratingly whiney "I told you so" practiced to a "T."

You get to Milan, you discover that one of the world's masterpieces, Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" is here. Even if you and S.O. are not great art fans, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to see one of the Seven Wonders of today's world, so you call.

"I'm sorry, but access is all booked up until early October. We hope you'll come see us the next time you're in Milan, thank you for calling." (click)

The NEXT time you're in Milan?

The stars and planets had to be aligned to get your S.O. to agree to come here THIS time. What to do?...More......

For the sake of complete information, here's the web site in English of the company VIVA TICKET officially entrusted with selling the tickets to see this marvel (only so many people per day, in order to limit damage to the fresco from sweating, breathing and the dust we kick up, just by walking):

The web site has a little calendar marking the days with available tours.

Don't get discouraged, though. Call anyway, they just might have last minute cancellations.

If your S.O. is the tightfisted kind, just GO anyway.

In the first place the adjoining church is a Renaissance marvel in and of itself, and has an apse the design of which is attributed to Bramante. "Who cares?," I hear you ask. You should care: he's the guy who, right after designing this apse, fled Milan just ahead of the invading French troops (their leader thought HE should be duke of Milan), made a bee line for papal Rome (popes and cardinals with bucks to spend on art and architecture commissions, he and lots of other artists of all sorts were no dummies), where he erected the little "Tempietto," considered the watershed structure for High Renaissance architecture.

In the second place, if there's only one, or two, of you, then you just might be able to squeeze into a group, or they might have last minute cancellations.

If you'd rather not traipse all the way out to the church (it's not that far, really, and the n. 16 tram stops right in front of it) not knowing whether, or not, you'll be able to get in to see the "Last Supper" (called the "Cenacolo" in Italian), then you have the option of participating in a (at E.55, a bit pricey, but worth presumes that includes all the entrance fees!) morning, or afternoon, tour of all the highlights of Milan, which includes entry into the "Last Supper."

The company AUTOSTRADALE organizes morning and afternoon tours of Milan by bus. In addition to the "Last Supper," you'll be taken to see other important highlights (some varying depending on the days and on whether you take the morning, or afternoon, tour, but always including the Sforza Castle, the Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, one of my favorite places in Milan).

Tel. +39-02.7200.1304 (if you're calling from inside Milan, start with the "02")


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Via Manzoni: n. 6 (Palazzo Brentano then Greppi)

How fun, it's time to share another view from via Manzoni with you!

Today's special guest is Palazzo Brentano then Greppi at n. 6 on the eastern side of the street...More......

Constructed in 1829 for the Brentano family (and later acquired by the Greppi), this mansion was the scene of dramatic episodes during the years leading up to Italy's (finally) successful attempts at independence.

During what the Italians (and particularly the Milanese) still call "The Five Days of Milan," those plucky Milanese citizens tossed out the official imperial Austrian troops in March of 1848 (for more info, see:

Imagine the bustling around, the jockeying for position and the prideful joy at having succeeded in freeing oneself from the empire (was it such a good idea, after all? no use askin', history ain't written with IFs). Lots of informal committees turning into more and more official (new) governmental bodies. Issues getting settled, new ones being raised. Be patient, everyone, only a few months have passed.

Then Carlo Alberto of Savoy, the duke from Piedmont to whom the Milanese had turned for military help on the battle fields scattered around, appeared in early August of that same year on the balcony of this very building. Happy grateful faces turned up to him.

Faces rapidly blank with disbelief, then literally bonkers with rage. The battles around Milan hadn't been going as well as he had hoped. Fearing worse loss (perhaps even of his own reign), he cut his losses--meaning the Milanese--signed an armistice, announced it, then literally ran for his life. Thanks only to a small handful of loyals, he barely managed to escape being torn to pieces (really) by the whiskers of his chinny chin chin (a painting by Bossoli, now in the fascinating Museo del Risorgimento in Milan, room VI, shows the scene), and the Austrians--madder than wet bees--marched firmly back into town and into control...for another ten years.

The very simple and sober Eclectic façade has a series of roundels with busts of luminaries. The only female figure--seen here on the far right--is Maria Gaetana Agnesi, born in Milan on the 16th of May, 1718, the eldest of TWENTY-ONE children of Pietro Agnesi--of a bourgeois family become rich in the cloth industry and with social-ladder-climbing stars in their eyes--and Anna Brivio, the first of his three wives.

Busy man. Busy house, in via Pantano, 1.

Very VERY intelligent and much-admired little girl home schooled (even in physics) by the best university professors (some of them ecclesiastics) of the day: spoke, read and wrote Latin fluently by the age of 9 (NINE?!), Greek by the age of 11 (I think I hate her), eventually Hebrew, German (yes, I definitely hate her) and French, too (though not Spanish...hah!...she was born just in time to miss living under the Spanish Hapsburgs).

And Italian. (Don't say, "duh!"...What we know as "Italian" was the language of the 14th century Florentines Dante and Boccaccio in an Italy in which local dialects were so diversified as to be often unintelligible one to the other. The Florentine dialect was picked up by the young Venetian boy Pietro Bembo, who fell in love with it, and, in 1525, publised "A work of prose in which one reasons over everyday language," which codified it as THE form of a cultured common language to be adopted, minus the funny accent...though, lazy as folks are, this did take only a few centuries--and television--to come about). I'll bet Agnesi also spoke Milanese.

She even published (now I'm really sure I hate her) much praised books (of an encyclopedic nature, no biggie, it's the period of the Enlightenment, after all) on philosophy and mathematics, translated into French and English, and widely in use, as well as on theology. Blow-your-socks-off amazing for a woman of that period.

Bless her heart. She wanted to be a nun.

Family social ambitions precluded that...if the little performing monkey wasn't at home, who'd come to visit Pietro, and add gloss to the family tree?

She was allowed to remain unmarried, but was kept at home, where she continued to study and keep up valued correspondence with important MEN of her day.

After her father's death in 1752, finally freeeeeeeeee!, she didn't go into a convent, after all, but devoted herself to helping the miserably poor around her (unfortunately, there was plenty for her to do). She even took them into her own home, and spent every little bit of her big inheritance helping them. Now, those High Society Milanese, who had flocked to see her perform, turned up their noses at her when she went begging for money for the poor.

In 1772, Agnesi was nominated director of the women's ward of the Pio Albergo Trivulzio, a hospice for the sick and elderly founded only a year before by Prince Antonio T. Trivulzio (the institution still exists and--paired with another--still bears his name to remember his generosity). Attempts by Pietro Verri, an important man of the day, to get her assigned an annual imperial stipend because of her scholarly and good works failed.

Having already given up the richly decorated family home for less expensive dwellings so she could continue her good works, she was nominated General Director (!) of the entire (!) Pio Albergo Trivulzio in 1783, which entitled her to a luxurious suite...that she refused. She lived in normal spaces of the institution, worked extra to pay for her room and board, did stints caring for the ill, and gave to the poor what little money she managed to save.

She died quite elderly after a brief illness in her little suite at the Trivulzio on the 9th of January in turbulent (Napoleonic) 1799--only a few decades before the Brentani-Greppi mansion was first built--and was buried, as she wished, in the Porta Romana area in a common grave with fifteen other women, who had given their lives serving others. The city of Milan has honored her with a plaque and a portrait in the "Famedio" (Milan's "Hall of Fame" at the Monumental Cemetery).

Get your gender meter out, and hunt for girls in the schools of the days of her youth, and you won't find any; if you're a woman, and you're reading this, Thank the Cosmos you were born where and when you were.

So, who occupies the mansion, now?

Since 1935, when it was restructured on the inside according to a plan by the architect Giuseppe De Finetti (1892-1951), first by the Banca Nazionale then by the adjacent Banca Commerciale Italiana.

I took these snaps on the 2nd of August, 2011, around 3:30-4 P.M.


P.S., as usual the principal art and architectural information was taken from "Milano" by the Touring Club Italiano. The (unverified) info on M.G. Agnesi comes from this text prepared by the high school professor Ambrogio Cazzaniga:

P.P.S., I was so sure that I already had written about the Gallerie d'Italia collections housed in the Palazzo Brentani (via Manzoni, 6) and Palazzo Anguissola (via Manzoni, 10), that when a friend mentioned it, I wrote back telling her 'thanks, but I did it already'...then it began to gnaw at me...had I really? Incredulous, I checked and checked and checked...zilch. (I'll keep would be such a pity to lose such pearls of wisdom....)

So, with apologies to the very nice friend, here's the link to the web site (in English!) of this interesting collection belonging to the Fondazione Cariplo and the Banca Intesa San Paolo. For the moment, only the 19th century collections are open. In 2012, they are planning on opening the 20th century section overlooking Piazza della Scala. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Photoless Friday (23): the Easy life in Milan, and more...

The pun was too good to pass up. If you are in Milan, one of the free helpful publications is...More......

...EASY MILAN ( Of the three free handy dandy publications in English available (we've talked about the other two, WHERE MILAN and MILANO MESE, before), this one is most focused on practical stuff, and so will be helpful for those living here. Its "classified ads" format, with some other paid advertising thrown in, is organized by subject, from Arts & Leisure to Worship, but not in alphabetical order [see me frown...], passing through employment opportunities along the way.

Coming to Milan to do some discount shopping? I guess if you're set on having that high end fashion brand splashed all over your clothes, you'd might as well spend 50% less (though it still escapes me, how a rinky dink not-even-very-good-quality cotton T-shirt could cost $500 and more in the first place). Here's yet another place to put on your list: NIKI, Viale Montenero, 78, not so far from centrally located Piazza 5 Giornate, tel. +39.02.546.88.55.

Summertime closures haunt the city, though, so call ahead.

Speaking of summertime closures, hungry after all that shopping? How about some Mexican food for lunch? It's already ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to find a Mexican food restaurant open for lunch in Milan (boooooooo!). Where to go?

During the year (except for August), go to Otra Vez on Viale Monte Nero, about halfway between Piazza 5 Giornate and Piazza Medaglia d'Oro. "It's August, though!," I hear you cry. Fear not. The "sister" restaurant, Cueva Maya, on Viale Monte Nero, but closer to Piazza Medaglia d'Oro, is open for lunch (but only in August).

"How IS their food?," you ask. I just had lunch at Cueva Maya a couple of days ago, and it was pretty good (coming from Southern California, where Mexican food is native, I consider myself, if not an expert, at least quite informed).

Beware of getting burritos anywhere in Milan. ALWAYS ask first, "Do you fix your burritos ahead of time, and then heat them up in the microwave?" ("Preparate in anticipo i vostri burritos e poi li riscaldate nel micronde?") If the answer is "sì" (and it probably will be), pick something else. At Cueva Maya, that "something else" interesting on the menu was a 'taco' with grilled beef, which turned out to be a thick flour tortilla heated on the grill, then folded in half around the stuffing. Wasn't anything like the tacos (with stiff deep-fried corn tortillas) I know. Turns out to be the burrito I had wanted all along, just not double folded, but I was all the happier for it.

How about the hot sauce for dipping the tortilla chips? Unlike a different (and supposedly snazzy) Mexican food restaurant I tried a few months back, at least here it seems like the tomatoes of their sauce were fresh, not canned (boooooo!), but there was too much hot pepper and not enough cilantro for my fact, you could hardly taste the cilantro at all...was it more authentically Mexican this way? Was it adjusted for Italian taste buds? I don't know. Maybe one of my gazillion (11) readers is Mexican, and will be able to answer this searing question.

How was the bill at the end of the meal? A heck of a lot for Mexican food, in my book, but not so bad for Milanese standards: E.15 for the taco (with a spoon each of refriend beans, sour cream and guacamole and a bit of greens, but I didn't go away hungry) and E.3 for the bottle of water, a whoppin' E.18 plus the E.2 tip for a grand total of E.20 ($28.20 at the current exchange rate of 1.41...OUCH! I wish I hadn't done that calculation).

Would I go back?

Now that I've seen that calculation, I'll be MUCH less tempted, until I can't resist the Mexican food bug bite any longer...maybe next year..., but in their defense, that plate was pretty darn close to what I consider good Mexican food.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Via Manzoni: generic view, then nn. 1 and 2-4

I'm very excited about today's post, as it's the first of a series I've been wanting to do for a long time.

Building by (more significant) building, I'll take you down--already chic in the seventeenth century--via Manzoni (here seen in a generic shot) stretching over the...More......

...pre-Roman Celtic settlement from the area of the first ancient Roman city gate of the age of Julius Caesar and/or Augustus in Piazza della Scala, past the area of the second ancient Roman gate located at the corner of via Manzoni and via Montenapoleone and dating to the epoch of the emperor Massimilian, to the medieval gate, Porta Nuova, at the opening of Piazza Cavour giving entry to the eighteenth and nineteenth century public gardens now filling the space (where monasteries--at least one with Early Christian origins--and their territories once were the rule) up to where the Spanish Walls of the second half of the sixteenth century went...that's quite a few jumps in history, isn't it?! (I'd say, "Cool!," but that would date me.)

If you're a history buff, for a (very) brief overview of the area, see my posts and Of course, I now have the bug to do something more meaty, but that will have to wait.

Let's get directly to the business at hand: the buildings on via Manzoni, with the even numbers on the eastern side of the street and the uneven numbers on the western side.

The enormous BCI-Banca Commerciale Italiana building has a gorgeous Beaux Arts style façade on Piazza della Scala. This enormous and purposefully magnificent bank structure was built in two phases first in the years of economic recovery after a late 19th century crash (1905-11), then as WWI allowed (1913-24). The architect was Luca Beltrami, a Milanese, who was responsible for the restoration of the Sforza Castle in Milan, and became influential nationally for the preservation and reinterpretation of historic structures for then-modern use. Recently, I've heard rumors that the bank is going to dedicate at least a part of this building to creating a museum, in order to house its extensive art collection. Sounds great! Hope it doesn't take too long.

Its façade, with modern street numbers 2 and 4, takes up the north-eastern corner of Piazza della Scala and the beginning of via Manzoni. Notice how architects of the period thought in a panoramic way about the presentation of the structure: the whole profile of the building resembles the structure of a single column, with its (here dark) base, the (here tall, white with windows) body and the capital (here, the frieze and cornice). This approach can even be seen in the earliest skyscrapers in Chicago, but I digress.

The cornice is decorated with an elaborate frieze of putti with vegetal, garland and shield motifs, with some details picked out in gold leaf. The spanking white background and the confinement of the more elaborate detail to the frieze helps to keep the over all effect from being over the top.

On the opposite side of the street, at the modern n. 1, via Manzoni, is this 1955 reconstruction of a somber Neoclassical structure dating to 1840-44 (I suspect the building suffered badly in the heavy bombings of 1943). This building is famous for having been the seat of Milanese pre-Unification revolutionaries inspired by Mazzini and belonging to the club called "Circolo dell'Unione," as well as having once housed the historic caffé Cova, now found at the corner of via S. Andrea and via Montenapoleone. As you can see, the main façade of the building on via Manzoni is graced with columns and a somber frieze of spirals and acanthus leaves. (On the far left side of the photo, you can see a glimpse of the porch of La Scala.)

There, those are our first steps down via Manzoni...more fun stuff to come!

Most of the western side of the street was shot around 1:00-1:30 P.M. on the 29th of July, 2011, while most of the eastern shots were taken around 3:30-4:00 P.M. on the 2nd of August, 2011.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bookworms, epigraphy and the luck of the (non) Irish

Us bookworms get excited about the oddest things, I admit. But let's leave that aside, for the moment, and let me set the stage, properly....More......

The fearful self-isolation then death (1447) of the last legitimate duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, followed by bloody settlings of old festering wounds, bursts of rage, backstage back-stabbings, burning archives (oddly, the tax records, too...), the ducal castle-fortress (useful to defend the city against invaders, but also to defend the dukes against the citizens) half torn down, a couple of years of brilliant hopes for citizens' self-government (well, the male, free, white and empowered, although not noble, but that's already a step ahead), then trembling and anguish at the prospect of getting gobbled up by feared powers-that-be. Appearing on the horizon, literally in shining armor, whom do we have? Good ol' Frank.

Francesco Sforza, expert general-for-hire (ahem, they're politely called "condottieri"), who just happens to be married to Bianca Visconti, the young and lovely bastard-but-legitimized-by-the-pope daughter and only direct heir (but not to overt power, no, no, no, Salic Law, you know) of dear deceased Filippo.

"I'll save you!," says Francesco. (He did.)

"I won't rebuild the castle-fortress!" (He did, actually, but had his imported fancy-pants architect, Filarete, beautify it a bit in the new Florentine Renaissance style to soften the blow.)

"In exchange, I'll be the duke!" (He wasn' of his sons finally pulled that off a couple of decades and tons o' money to the Holy Roman Emperor, later, but it's just a piece of paper, right?)

And one of his right hand men was Gaspare Vimercati, whom you also have to thank for Santa Maria delle Grazie (where, about fifty years later, Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper), another condottiere, and the proud new owner--after it had been confiscated by Sforza from its original owners (evidently of the Taverna and Secco d'Aragona families, as the family crests flanking the door attest)--of the house on the street, where the first ring of ancient Roman walls had gone, long before: via Filodrammatici, n. 1.

The gorgeous doorway from that mid-15th century period opens this message. The pointed arch and the florets help mark it as Gothic. The chubby putti climbing whimsically up the acanthus leaves along its profile could be seen as a concession to the new Florentine style and/or as Gothic, yes, Gothic...there was quite a strain of naturalism running through the Gothic style, believe it, or not.

And, luck of the (non) Irish, it has been cleaned, recently, yeah! (It was so black with accumulated grime and soot that those old photos of mine aren't even worth hunting up.)

So that's already a jump for joy.

What really made this little bookworm happy is that the photos I snapped of the epigraphy (the carved writing) came out really really well, double yeah! Francesco is flanked by and towers over...

...Julius Caesar on the viewer's left and...

...Alexander the Great on the viewer's right (no boot-licking going on here, nope, nope).

Above it all, the pinnacle with the motto - SITE - FATA - VOCANT -...and for anyone familiar with epigraphy, you'll see change in the making...tall and slender straight V-cuts with abruptly stuck on serifs, sharply squeezed "Os", a tilted bar to the "As" and "N" and little diamond, or triangular, interpuncts at mid-line. Looking forward to the Renaissance revival of Imperial style lettering, but with a wistful backward glance to the Gothic style much beloved in Milan, cross-roads between north and south of the Alps.

Oh, the things that get our little bookworm hearts a-pumping!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Lion Motif Corbel on the Palazzo dei Giureconsulti

The Palazzo dei Giureconsulti (the 16th century building for the magistrate body) has an interesting history. First off, it's one of the sides of the piazza (which used to be completely enclosed by its own walls with gates, like a little fortress) surrounding the Broletto...More......

...which deserves a later post all of its own.

I've mentioned some factoids about the Palazzo, before, in the post about the statue of St. Ambrose on its façade(, so go there for the skinny.

Here, instead, is a detail of a lion motif corbel on the façade, which I turned into a diagram for those of you, who love to do needlepoint and cross-stitch (see my Ars actupicturae stellae - Star's Needlepoint Art:

I snapped this shot on the 8th of July, 2011, at about 1:30 P.M. for your personal, non-commercial enjoyment.
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