Posts Tagged ‘beauty’

Yoga and Hiking in Sun-Kissed Sicily

April 23, 2018

Yes, our yoga and hiking retreat in sun-kissed Sicily will be taking place very soon.  I am excited about this yoga retreat coming up and wanted to include some of the trip’s highlights!

Temperatures look to be in the 70s for the week ahead. Many of my readers know that this is not the first time I am offering a retreat in lovely Sicily and that this will not be the last time I will be offering a retreat in Sicily.  I love this island, its history, the sunshine, the warmth of the people, the sea, the landscape, the food, and the Italian language and the dialect.  I love doing yoga at the villa, outdoors, looking out at the sea.

On arrival day, we will be greeted by this lovely family of caretakers of Piero’s villa (photo below). They are originally from Mauritius, have lived in Sicily for many years, and they make sure we are well cared for during our week on this magical Mediterranean island, the pearl of Italy, Sicily.

The Bangaroo family: Darwin (son), Sheemee (daughter), Luckshmee (mother), Narain (father)


Retreat participants will be impressed by the inviting villa with its breathtaking views of the Ionian sea and Mt. Etna.  This is the view we enjoy as we do yoga. I have taken so many photos of this view.  It is different every morning and evening.

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On arrival day, we’ll unwind with a yoga session of deep stretching and relaxation.  Weather permitting, our sessions are held out on the lawn overlooking the most fabulous yoga setting I have ever experienced in my life.  All week, our yoga session themes will vary.  During shavasana, I will pepper the relaxing imagery with Italian words and the yoga retreat participants will be lulled into a deep transcendental state of being.



And sometimes, we will go a little crazy with our yoga creativity!


Yes, we will spend time on the road, en route to various hiking trails.  We are certain to pass field of wildflowers. Spring in Sicily is green!


On Sunday, May 6 we will travel to Piazza Armerina and the nearby Caltagirone.  In Piazza Armerina, we will visit the famous mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with our guide and archaeologist, Serena.  I visited this incredible site long ago, when I was 16 years old. I have always wanted to go back. And I am finally going back! 

More on Villa Romana del Casale LINK

Thirty minutes drive is Caltagirone, a town known for its ceramic arts and for the town’s famous 142 ceramic Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte built in 1608.  Those who like, will climb this staircase with me and we will all have time to walk around the town. There are various festivals throughout the year when the ceramic staircase is covered in flowers or in candles. Ceramic Staircase

On Monday, May 7, we will visit the historical nature reserve of Vendicari. In the past we have gone on archaeological tours and birding in Vendicari.  We will certainly see the many birds nesting here as well as the archaeological sites as we hike to Sicily’s most beautiful beach, which also happens to be a part of the protected nature reserve, Calamosche Beach.   I can’t wait to do yoga on this beach!

Flamingos of Vendicari as seen through my scope:

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photo below taken in Vendicari:Untitled Design

Tuesday, May 8, we will go on a long day trip Mt. Etna, where we will hike, if it is safe to do so.  It is about an hour and a half drive from our villa. Mount Etna was known to the Romans by its Latin name Aetna.  The Sicilians call it Mungibeddru, which translates to “beautiful mountain”.  It is an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily. The name Etna comes from the Greek Aitne, from aithō, “I burn.”

Some facts about Mount Etna:

  • It is Europe’s tallest volcano and one of the most active in the world.
  • Mount Etna stands at 10,810 feet tall
  • Since 2001, Mount Etna has erupted every year except 2007. The last major eruption was in 1992.
  • The circumference of Mount Etna is 93 miles (over twice the size of Mount Vesuvius).
  • There is snow present on the volcano year round.
  • The soil surrounding the volcano is very fertile. 3/4 of Sicily’s crops are grown near the volcano.
  • The biggest recorded eruption was on March 8, 1669. The lava reached Catania.  At least 20,000 people died.
  • “Another myth surrounding Mount Etna is that the Roman God of fire, Vulcan, used the base of the mountain for metalworking. As God of fire, he was considered as the manufacturer of art, arms, iron and armour, amongst other items. In this mythology, it is thought that Vulcan married Venus, the goddess of love and beauty after being promised a wife by Jupiter. At the base of Mount Etna, Vulcan built a blacksmiths, where he would beat red-hot metal whenever he found out that Venus had been unfaithful, causing an eruption.”

The photo below was taken by our hiking guide in March.  We will enter the park from Schiena del’Asino, which translates to “Spine of the Donkey” and take this trail for our hike.  Years ago, I went on a day trip to Etna.  At sea level, the day was warm enough for swimming in the sea, but up on the mountain, the wind whipped and chilled our bodies as we held our wind breakers tightly around us.


After our hike on Mount Etna, we will head over to Taormina where we will have some free time to roam around this ancient Greek city.  We will have time to see the Greek Theater ruins and the romantic piazzas overlooking the sea and the butterfly-shaped beach below.

On Wednesday, May 9, we will visit the Baroque town of Noto and hike in the nearby Cava Carosello.  While on the hike, we will do yoga at this lovely spot photographed below by our trekking company, Siracusa Trekking:


On Thursday, May 10, we will go on an Archaeological-trekking tour in Pantalica (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with archaeologist, Alessandro. Pantalica.  This is a place where ancient man lived and died in nature, a necropolis with honeycombed tombs dotting the sides of the trail. We will  have yoga at the ruins at sunset.

More information on Pantalica

Photo below Pantalica in March:

Pantalica (1)After yoga, we will head to the medieval town of Palazzolo Acreide where we will have dinner in a restaurant owned by two brothers by the last name of Gallo. They believe they are related to me, but I don’t think so because my father shortened our family name from “Brunogallo” to “Gallo” when he immigrated to America in the late 1950s…but you never know.

More on Palazzolo Acreide

On Friday, May 11, we will hike the nearby Plemmirio Nature Preserve where we will also have a peaceful and rejuvenating yoga session out in nature.  Later on, we will visit the colorful market of Ortigia and have free time to walk around on our own.

Link of Plemmirio Nature Preserve

I love this photo below. I saw this young woman texting on the side of this ancient cathedral in Ortigia.  The ancient and the modern side by side.  The cathedral was built over the Greek Temple of Athena. The temple pillars, dating back to 5th century BC, form the bone-like structure of the cathedral.  The open spaces between the pillars were filled in with stone to form an enclosed house of worship. The girl below is sitting on the original stairs of the Greek temple.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of my favorite cathedrals in Italy:


Follow us on our Sicilian yoga and hiking adventures by checking back in on my blog post.  Namaste, Fran


Chiseled Town

January 10, 2018

We have been in Mamallapuram, also known as Mahaballipuram, for the past two heavenly days. With much reluctance we have to move on today. This going to another city brings a slight amount of dread (why must we leave the comfortable known, this elegant seaside hotel, the gentle breeze, the happy flocks of friendly South Indians?). However, moving on also invites an element of excitement because the India experience is one grand surprise after another. Just when we think nothing can surpass a given meal or a given temple or a given historical site, we are served up another unimaginable delight!

By Indian standards Mahaballipuram is a small town with a population of 8000 people. Back in 2001, my first visit here, the town was a quiet gem and, as I walked around, all I could hear was the consistent pleasant clink-clink-clink of stone masons and sculptors chiseling and chipping away at slabs of local granite. The sculptors’s hut-studios lined the streets and the artists magically rendered rock into statues of Ganesha and Shiva. Clearly, it seemed the chiseling artist’s job is to release the trapped bulls, monkeys, tortoises, and deities from the stones.

Today the town is bustling with masses of pilgrims visiting the temples and other holy sites of this town, but it is still charming as ever. Below are photos and descriptions of this wonderful town with its UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Monolithic Stone Temples carved from the existing granite. These 1,400 year old stone-sculpted temples are on the shore and vulnerable to tsunamis and rising sea levels.





The temple is surrounded by many bulls. The sculpted bulls were all found in the sea and you can see how eroded they are. The details of the faces are missing in these bulls. No one knows how old they are ( they pre-date this 1,400 year-old temple), exactly how many temples have been washed out or taken over by the sea, or what other treasures remain buried at sea.



Our lively guide for the day, Stalin. Presumably, his parents were communists and gave him this name.


Arjuna’s Penance below. Here, my fellow Catholic- raised readers, penance refers to “meditation”, a profound meditation Arjuna took on to seek wisdom and answers to difficult questions ( perhaps I can write more in this later). This incredible bas relief is carved into the immense live stone wall.




Beautiful little girl


My yoga Challenge continues I’m on day 46! Only 10 more days to go.


And, always a delight to lead my fellow yogis in yoga practice  yesterday, we had “International Yoga Day”. The lifeguard joined us, as did a French woman and a very lovely Irani-British woman.


Krishna’s Butterball. Krishna loves butter so this extraordinary rock, sitting seemingly precariously on the side of a steep hill, is named with Krishna in mind. Scientists cannot explain how the boulder got there.


A New Christmas Song

December 16, 2017

a stream of consciousness flows from my brain to my fingers to the keyboard to the computer screen

my typing fingers are ants scrambling frantically, trying desperately to preserve their lives as a stream of Raid jets forth from a blue can held in the hands of a myrmecophobic person…i’m channeling my mother and her fear of ants..she even used the greek-derived-sicilian word to point them out “firmicoli!”

Eagle Pose at Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve

have i ever mentioned i’m a fast typist? quick-twitch muscles would have made me a competitive sprinter

but mom didn’t allow me to run competitively, said it was bad for a developing girl’s body to run, the nuns telephoned her, begged her to let me join the girls’ sprint teams, said i was the fastest of them all, but Sicilian Mamma said no and her no was a final NO

those quick-twitch muscles have a flip side, too, so that my hands contain much dexterity, flexibility, and steadiness, qualities that would have made me a good surgeon in the days before robotic surgeries

but teaching would become my vocation, my life’s work

and i am content


today’s stream of thought and my fingers bring me to a morning in seattle, a morning at starbucks, where i stopped to get a cup of coffee last week, a common enough occurrence, but this given morning was a frigid one, frost on the pavement, romantic pink-tinged mountains mocking my frozen face

on that given day, as i walked into starbucks, i saw a homeless man standing outside the coffee shop, yet another homeless man looking like all the other homeless people: cold, lost, distant-yet-present, hopeful kind eyes, trying not to look too crazed from the cold frost enveloping his hat-less head, his un-gloved hands, his dusty-dark skin telling me a kind of not-so-kind story about america the sometimes-not-so-great, a story that begs the question WHY?

i went inside the warm cozy starbucks laden with christmas decorations, my ears inundated with the same cheesy christmas tunes i’ve been hearing year after year since i was born fifty-six years ago, thinking to myself doesn’t anyone ever get tired of listening to this crap, but stopping my thoughts quickly lest anyone think i’m a grinch or a an avatar of ebenezer scrooge

and as my hands and feet thaw out while i wait in line in the warm coffee shop with the music i cannot stand, my thoughts go back to the homeless man standing outside

i order up two cups of coffee

one is for him

maybe it was the cold temperatures

maybe it was because he didn’t ask

maybe it was because we connected on some unspoken level

maybe it was because of his very humanness

maybe it was because i just lost my beautiful cousin julie to cancer and my heart was swollen with tears

maybe it was because i feel tons of guilt for not sparing yet another dime, a dollar, a couple of dollars when asked

maybe it is because i am sick of seeing tents popping up all over the city, in the parks, on the sidewalks, reminding me of being in calcutta with rick in 2001

did i know mr homeless would grab the paper cup of coffee and follow me back inside? did i ever imagine he would find a seat next to me and sit quietly?

did i ever imagine the unimaginable would happen:

he started humming and his body started rocking to the rhythm of Walking in a Winter Wonderland and then he started singing, quietly but loud enough for those of us sitting nearby to hear him

a rich baritone voice singing “in the winter we could build a snowman…”, a trained voice, one that has sung in church choirs, a man with a voice that tells a story of one life, his life, a sweet voice that melted my heart and allowed me to hear a new christmas song:

one for julie

one for julie’s children and grandchildren

one for julie’s sisters and brother and their families

one for julie’s inconsolable mother

a sweet simple song to bolster the hearts of everyone at holiday time, a time when we are especially reminded of bitter-sweet loss and fullness, all at the same time

Celebrating Winter Solstice

December 4, 2017

I know we are still days away from the Winter Solstice, but this weekend, we had our annual Winter Solstice Hatha Yoga Retreat, always held the first weekend of December.


For me, this time of year is an opportunity to seek light, a time to put up Christmas lights and light candles in the early evenings.  I also see this as a time to surround myself with light, with people of light and radiance. I did just that this weekend with the lovely retreat participants! The early evenings and long nights leading to the winter solstice give ample time for restorative yoga by candlelight, time to contemplate, rest, reflect, and renew.


Here is a passage I found on line explaining the significance of the Winter Solstice:

Embrace the return of light.

Winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky. The word solstice is derived from the Latin word solstitiumsol meaning sun and –stitium meaning stoppage. One ancient definition of solstice is “standing still sun.” Because the earth is tilted on its axis, the northern hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun during the winter solstice (on December 21 or 22), resulting in a long, dark night.

The winter solstice has carried strong symbolism for many, many years. Some refer to solstice as the rebirth of the sun—and not coincidentally Christmas celebrates the birth of the Son. Ancient cultures feared the light of the sun would not return unless they performed vigils and rituals on the solstice.

Solstice can be a magical, contemplative time—a night of spiritual reconnection and ritual. While solstice may not have gained the notoriety of Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, many people celebrate it as a deeply meaningful holiday—a time to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and gratitude for the coming light.



During the weekend retreats, we often do shared readings.  The theme this weekend was winter solstice and I love what the retreat participants shared.  Below is some of what was shared:

“Did you rise this morning
broken and hung over
with weariness and pain
and rage, tattered from waving too long in a brutal wind?
Get up, child.
Pull your bones upright.
Gather your skin and muscle into a patch of sun.
Draw breath deep into your lungs;
you will need it
for another day calls to you.
I know you ache.
I know you wish the work were done
and you
with everyone you have ever loved
were on a distant shore
safe, and unafraid.
But remember this,
tired as you are:
you are not alone.
and here
and here also
there are others weeping
and rising
and gathering their courage.
You belong to them
and they to you,
and together
we will break through
and bend the arc of justice
all the way down
into our lives.”

– Audette Fulbright Fulson


I found the following poem by Maureen Edden:

The Shortest Day

it is night when I get up each morn
I have hardly made it to the noon
before blue shadows cross the lawn
and I am looking at the moon

L1400277The following Turkish Proverb was shared:

Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light.”

And here is a good reflective poem by William Stafford:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
and following the wrong god home we may miss
           our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each
          elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

And the following two poems speak to tonight’s Super Moon.
On a night
when the moon shines as brightly as this,
the unspoken thoughts
of even the most discreet heart might be seen.
(Izumi Shikibu 10th-11th century)
All night I could not sleep
Because of the moonlight on my bed
I kept on hearing a voice calling:
Out of Nowhere, Nothing answered, “yes.”
(Tzu Yeh 3rd-6th Century)
We experienced the very bright night skies last night and the night before as the Super Moon, not quiet yet full, was lighting up the cloudy night skies.  We especially experience the brightness of the moon here at Ocean Shores, where there is little light pollution.  Today, because of the gravitational pull of the Super Moon, when we took a walk on the beach, the tide was very high, leaving very little room to walk along the shore.  You can see the long shadows cast by the noon winter sun and the narrow stretch of sand on a beach that normally has a very large span of sand.
L1400275L1400282L1400278Lucky us…Jerry gifted all of us with her freshly pressed apple juice from her apple orchard.  So GOOD!!!!  Stay healthy and hydrated, readers!  And get out there and look at the super moon tonight!


Greek Sicily

May 1, 2017

Who has time to write when in Sicily?  So photos will have to do.

And yes, the weather has suddenly turned very warm and perfect.

The Greeks left their mark here!  Sicily was a Greek Colony and has the most beautiful Greek ruins.  We spent yesterday in Siracusa with Eleonora as our guide.  Enjoy a few photos from yesterday.

A roadside shrine to Mother Mary:

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Below: Temple of Apollo.  Perhaps this was one of the most significant temples in ancient Greek times.  The pillars in the photo below are monolithic and it is short of a miracle that they are still standing because most of the area was leveled to the ground during the great earthquake of January 11, 1693. The earthquake was one of the biggest to ever hit Italy.  It destroyed at least 45 cities and killed more than 60,000 people.  Catania was hardest hit and two-thirds of the people of Catania lost their lives.  Many of the towns including Siracuse and Modica had to be completely rebuilt.


The main cathedral in Ortigia is my favorite.  It was a Greek Temple whose ancient pillars are perfectly preserved because they were filled in with walls for a church.  In the photo below, you can see the Greek Temple pillars embedded in the exterior walls.  These columns, thousands of years old,  are even more beautiful from the interior.  From Greek Temple to Mosque to Catholic Church, this cathedral is remarkable.

Perfectly preserved Greek Temple

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Our group!

Our group!

On Beauty: An Holistic Approach

May 20, 2013

This blog post is about beauty- you know, the real stuff, the kind of beauty that comes from the inside-out and wears itself on the heart, as well as on the outside (in a smile, in the eyes, on skin)…

For the last five years of his life, my father was very ill, slowly suffocating and dying from pneumoconiosis, also known as Black Lung Disease, a disease caused from long exposure to coal dust from the years he worked as a coal miner long before I was born.  Not much beauty in this picture, you would think, but my father was so beautiful (yes, this word can be applied to men!), especially during those last years!  My father could light up a room with his smile.

When my father’s discomfort was at its worst, my clever mother would ask me to play his favorite movie from 1960, It Started in Naples, starring Clark Gable and Sophia Loren.  Sometimes I would fast forward the film to the part when Sophia sings, “Tu Vou’ Fa L’Americano” (You want to be American!),  in English with her Napolitano accent!  My dad’s pain would instantly diminish as he watched Sophia do her magic on stage.  Soon he’d be grinning and asking me to REWIND the film so he could see the scene one more time!

Video clip of Sophia singing Tu Vou’ Fa L’Americano from It Started in Naples.

Oh my, with her impossibly tiny waist and exotic features, Sophia danced and acted her way into many hearts.

Sophia danced and acted her way into many hearts.

The idea for this topic on beauty came to me last September as I led a yoga retreat in Umbria, Italy.  It seemed to me all the women on the retreat were beautiful.  All of them possessed a beauty that came from the inside and wore itself perfectly on the outside.

I firmly believe that practicing YOGA is one of the biggest beauty secrets any woman or man can ever embrace.  The practice embraces a peaceful way of being and cultivates an inner happiness that shows on the skin, eyes, and face.  Wrinkles caused by smiles are much more attractive than wrinkles caused by frowns or from worry.  YOGA promotes healthy eating habits, including embracing a wholesome diet of fresh organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and legumes.  The yoga practice keeps the physical body toned and flexible, in an upright posture with a youthful spine, and it helps keep disease at bay.  YOGA keeps the lymphatic system moving and creates healthy blood circulation and a stronger immune system.  The yoga practice detoxifies and tones the vital organs so they function optimally.  Yoga clears the mind, rendering it sharp, positive, calm, and open to learning new ideas.  And the yoga practice frees the spirit, so the yoga practitioner sees that most any dream is possible to attain.  In addition to Yoga being the Fountain of Youth, I believe it is the Fountain of Beauty.

Of course, I had to interview the women at the retreat to ask them about their Beauty Secrets.  Their responses below are interspersed with photos of beautiful movie stars from the Italian cinema of the 60s:


Save your “sexy” because you are only given so much! What do I mean by that?  Don’t waste time always pulling yourself together. If you want to look your best, save it for a special occasion.  If you never do anything special, use your “sexy” now.  You are the SUBJECT, not the stuff you put on yourself.  Know your own mojo and just CARRY IT. That’s what’s sexy. That’s what lasts.

Claudia Cardinale knew her own mojo.

Claudia Cardinale knew her own mojo.

Charlie who is a hair and make-up design artist has two simple pieces of advice:

Always moisturize and Keep Your Chin Up!

Sophia was born Sofia Scicolone before changing her name to Sophia Loren.  I doubt she ever had to concern herself with saving her “sexy”.

Sophia was born Sofia Scicolone before changing her name to Sophia Loren. I doubt she ever had to concern herself with saving her “sexy”.


Drink a ton of water.  Exercise!  Go outdoors. Moisturize. Have a day to just let go.  When I garden, I put on a hat, I dig in the dirt, and I feel sexy because I am passionate about what I am doing! I dress one way for work, another for biking, and another for going out on a date.

Charming smile of Claudia Cardinale

Charming smile of Claudia Cardinale


My mom always told me that beauty is JOY, so if you do what brings you joy, you will always be beautiful! I always remember what Coco Chanel said: “When you think you are ready to leave the house, take off one accessory.” Less is more.

Isabella Rossellini: a face of pure joy!

Isabella Rossellini: a face of pure joy!


A woman can never have too much jewelry!  Don’t be afraid to wear it.  Don’t save it or wait for a special occasion. Wear it all the time.  Don’t wait for a special occasion to drink champagne.  And here is my number one beauty secret: Always wear sunscreen on your face!!  My mom always used to say to never go out with at least lipstick on.  And remember…sun or  champagne…too much of a good thing is bad.

Isabella Rosselini trying to enjoy a glass of champagne.

Isabella Rosselini trying to enjoy a glass of champagne.


When you have love in your life, you feel beautiful.  Having a smile on your face is your best accessory.  Doing yoga makes you feel beautiful inside and out.  Drink lots of water and take in good nutrition. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits.  Move your body.

Gina Lollobrigida in a shoulderstand!

Gina Lollobrigida in a semi-supported half shoulderstand!


Get your dose of vitamin D.  I used to wear heavy make up, but now I only wear make up on rare occasions.  Instead, I now let my personality shine through!

Giulitetta MasinaL perhaps one of the sweetest faces in Italian cinema

Giulietta Masina: perhaps one of the sweetest faces in Italian cinema


If I had to do it all over again, I would never ever sit in the sun!

Ok, so Anita Eckberg is not Italian, but her stunning beauty prompted Fellini to cast her in La Dolce Vita.

Ok, so Anita Eckberg is not Italian, but her stunning beauty prompted Fellini to cast her in La Dolce Vita.


Live a stress-free life. Sunscreen is the number one beauty secret.  Physical maintenance is a life style!  Keep in touch with the people in your life whom you love and tell them how much they mean to you because it makes you a happier person.  Laughter makes you beautiful.


Be in nature as often as you can! Cultivate your friendships.  Moisturize three times a day.  Use Evian spray on your face and be optimistic.

Gina Lollobrigida

Gina Lollobrigida


You have to go into yourself and find out what makes you happy and try to have as much fun as you can in life.  This approach gives you a very positive outlook in life.  Be nice to other people and everything will shine out.  If it makes you happy to have plastic surgery…do it.  Be brave in life!  It’s very simple. Just do what you like and you will build up good energy and this is the key to beauty:  happiness!  Moisturizer helps on the outside.  Do things that give you confidence.  Beauty comes from the inside.

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