Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 consolidated  Jan. 2011    #4 added Jan 3, '16    Box insert in item 1, Dec 20 '17, #5 Jan 24, '20, edit Aug '21,
map Aug'21, Church Sept 2021  


These are 6 items on this page. Item 1 is directly below. You may see the other 4 separately with these links  
 (2)  (Church)   (3)     (4)    (5) The blue box insert about the "Phoenecian steps" in item 1 is from December, 2017. Additionally, also see the entries:
2. Alfred Krupp on Capri;      2. Letter from Anacapri;     4. The Trail of English Forts at Anacapri;    5. Lenin in Capri.
PLUS --ADDED Aug. 2021  See this link to "Rosina, the Muse of Capri." The Church of S. Costanzo is from Sept 2021.

entry June 2003
add large photo June 2014

1. Capri

Capri. The view is due south from the Chiaia section of Naples.
The white houses on the right (west) are the town of Anacapri.
The main harbor is about 1/3 of the way in from the left.

Capri, looking down down from Monte Solaro to
the Villa Tiberius and, in the background, the tip
of the Sorrentine Peninsula.

Capri first attracted real and royal attention when Caesar Augustus dropped by in 29 B.C. He liked it so much that he traded Ischia for it. Since that time, there has been an unbroken chain of Capri admirers, from the Longobards to the Normans, Angevins, Spanish, Austrians, English and modern Italians. All this attention is understandable. Of the islands in the Bay of Naples, Capri simply has the most to offer. It is geologically spectacular, from its two high points, Monte Solaro and Monte Tiberius, rising like pillars at opposite ends of the island, to natural wonders such as the Blue Grotto and the twin rocks known as the faraglioni jutting up from the waters just off the east end of the island.

Nowhere in the Gulf of Naples or vicinity, not from any of the other islands, not even from the mountains above nearby Sorrento, will you find a view equal to that from the vantage points on Capri. (Photo, right, looks across to the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula from the Villa Fersen.) Its manmade attractions are also hard to beat: an old Saracen tower on Mt. Barbarossa, the cliffside path named via Krupp, a hermitage, a monastery, and the most serene chairlift you will find anywhere, leading from the town of Anacapri up to the top of Monte Solaro. Additionally, you can hike, hang-glide, scuba-dive, go down in a submarine, shop till you drop, and then relax with all the other "beautiful people" at an open-air cafe in one of the most famous squares of its kind in the world. So, even if, unlike Tiberius, you never get to "relax with equal application into secret indulgences and immoral pastimes," you can still rely on having a good time if you follow some simple rules. 

First, pronounce it CAH-pri, not cuh-PRI. This is essential to the enjoyment of your stay, since this common tourist mispronunciation of the name of the island sounds just like a local dialect expression meaning, "Please, I would like to give you some more of my money." 

Next, if you have the time—and if you haven't, maybe you shouldn't go—enjoy a ferry trip from the main port downtown, at least one-way. Hydrofoils are great, but so are open-air sea trips. In the warm summer months, you can also take a marvelous detour by ferry over to Sorrento and then back to Naples. If you have a choice, go on a week-day, not a week-end, although in the peak season, there may not be much difference. Fortunately, since the island is virtually a web of footpaths, you will be free to take advantage of the fact that most tourists don't really like to walk. You can find solitude on Capri, even in the high season. 

Prepare an itinerary that says:

(a) Blue Grotto   (b) The Villa of Tiberius   (c) The Villa of Axel Munthe   (d) Monte Solaro   (e) afternoon free for shopping

Then take a small hammer, which you should always keep with you for such occasions, and rap yourself soundly in the skull to cure yourself of the notion that it is possible to do it all in one day. Relax.

The "Natural Arch"

ivide the island, for touring purposes, into two parts, and then decide on one or the other for your visit. The two parts are Capri and Anacapri. Capri includes the delightful little main square in the town of Capri, itself, and everything leading out towards the eastern height of the island and the villa of Tiberius. It might also include going down the via Krupp pathway (named for Alfred Krupp) to the north side of the island and the Marina Piccola (small harbor).

The Anacapri side of the tour includes the town of Anacapri, itself (quaint and less frequented than its famous sister town) and Monte Solaro, accessible on foot or by chair lift. If you feeling particularly energetic, you can walk from the main port to Anacapri up the so-called "Phoenician Steps" (see box directly below). You might add a third part to your trip: the sea. Take a trip into the Blue Grotto, or take a trip around the entire island. Also, undersea sightseeing is available via a small submarine!

box added Dec 2017 

iking the Phoenecian Steps

  As you approach Capri from Naples the island looks like what you see at the very top of this page. The only houses generally visible are those of the town of Anacapri, the white specks on the right side of the island, about halfway up to the highest point on the island, Mt. Solaro (589 meters / 1770 feet). The main tourist destination on the island is the town of Capri, itself, over on the left side of the island, about one-third of the way in from the east (left) end. The town itself is not visible from the sea because it's hidden by the terrain. When you land at the main port, the Marina Grande, almost everyone will angle over to the cable car to ride up to the town of Capri and the famous main square, which Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (spoiler alert!) said looks like "a bad movie set built by German tourists". He said it, not me. There is a road that connects the two towns; the Capri-Anacapri Province Road was built in 1874 and is 2.4 km long. It was a brilliant feat of engineering and will scare the daylights out of you since much of it was cut right into the cliff-face, itself. If you sit on the right as you go up, you can't see the road on the right or the guard rail (that thing that has all the dents in it!) and you are sure you are about to fly off into space. Don't worry, what can happen?...can happen...can happen...

If you really want to try flying off into space, look at the image directly above. It faces north, the Naples side of the island, but you can't really see it from the boat as you come in. The squiggle angling up from the lower left corner of the image to the Capri-Anacapri Province Road is the Scala fenicia, the so-called Phoenician Steps, so-called because recent archeology says they were built by the Greeks, not the Phoenecians. The steps continue down out of the lower-left corner of the image to the main harbor where you disembarked. To find the lower entrance to that pathway, let the tourists go over to the cable-car at the harbor. You, you fool, go right and along the road named via Marina grande. You'll hug the beach for a stretch, then make a couple of turns as the road starts to climb. At a small soccer field there will be a path leading off to the right, aptly marked as la Scala fenicia. Off you go. There are over 900 steps. The first part is a modest incline and then you're at the zig-zag squiggle. It's more than steep; it's almost vertical in parts. The path is now well-maintained. If you are in very good shape, you can probably do the whole thing, harbor to the Province Road in an hour. If you're a flabby middle-aged couch potato, take it easy. Seriously. Enjoy the walk because it's spectacular. Give yourself a couple of hours.  If When you reach the top, you have two choices: go up onto the road and finish the walk into the main square of Anacapri where you'll find a lovely chair-lift up to Monte Solaro (yes, you can walk that, too, but don't) or two, go under the Province Road, where the steps continue on up to the villa of Axel Munthe. You can visit that or walk into Anacapri. Nice going.

I was joking about "flying off into space." You don't really fly.

The "Faraglioni"           

No private vehicles may be taken over to Capri (except for residents), but there are taxis and buses available from the port to virtually every part of the island accessible by wheel. Capri, however, is truly made for walking. When you disembark, avoid the temptation to follow the crowd over to the cable car that takes you right up to the main square in the center of the town of Capri. Take the steps; they start a little bit past the cable-car entrance. They are moderately strenuous, but provide a first-class view of the picturesque houses, small gardens and paths that abound on Capri. If you plan to go to Tiberius' Villa Jovis, the only way is to walk from the main square, so you may wish to save yourself for that. At the Anacapri end, treat yourself to the chairlift up and then hike down, taking in the view and the mountain air.

Frequent ferry and hydrofoil service is available to Capri from Naples, from both the main port and the nearby harbor of Mergellina. Additionally, you can get to Capri from Sorrento. If you are truly crazy, you can get a helicopter from Capodichino airport in Naples.

entry Mar. 2003
2. Capri 

View towards the "other end" of Capri—
Monte Solaro and Anacapri.

monte solaro imageLike the game that children and poets play, called "What do you see in that cloud?" there's an experiment in visual perception in which you look at an apparently random jumble of light and shadow, and try to pick out a figure—perhaps a human face or an animal—"hidden" in the picture. You can examine it for hours in vain, then the next day glance at it casually and have it spring out at you like a jack-in-the-box. Then, you might blink your eyes, look again—and it's gone. 

Capri is like that. I have been looking at her profile daily for many years from across the bay in Naples. "Her," because many claim to see the head of a woman in the profile of Monte Solaro. Her hair is flowing down to rest on the waters and her face is raised heavenward as she stares off into space, perhaps playing her own games with the clouds drifting overhead. Sometimes I see her, sometimes I don't. Perhaps it is good that she is not always there at my beck and call. 

But, whether or not I manage to catch that glimpse of her, whenever I need a long walk and peace and quiet, she —the island— is always there. Strange, you say, to think of Capri in terms of solitude? Is this not the Isle of Pleasure, boasting centuries of tales and descriptions of lurid Hedonism? And even if you aren't a sinner, is there not an almost obligatory hustle and bustle forced upon the visitor? How do you find the peace and quiet. 

Walk. It's amazing how long it took me to realize that. I was staring at Capri from a short distance offshore and I remember seeing for the hundredth and yet the first time the houses that dot the isle. I then realized that I had no idea how all the people who live in those houses get about when, except on a few principle roads, there is virtually no motorized traffic at all. I set off to find out, and I discovered an extensive network of trails, spun like a web over the island.

The Castle of Barbarossa is dead center  (photo, above left)
you see in the patch of green below the clouds that  shroud
 Monte Solaro in the photo.

I have walked up from the Marina Grande to the top of Monte Solaro in the midst of the tourist season and had the entire trail to myself. I've hiked up to the old monastery, now called the "castle of Barbarossa" (image, right) and practiced the trombone, much to the amusement of the wildlife. (In the late
1800s it housed ateliers of foreign artists such as John Singer Sargent. (More on that story at this entry on "Rosina, the muse of Capri.)

I've wandered down from the top of Monte Solaro to the small observatory and to the church that commands the heights overlooking the town of Capri, itself. I've hiked down the steps from Villa Fersen to the sea and had a secluded bath in the sea, again at the height of summer with not a soul in sight. Up to the villa of infamous Tiberius, down to the Natural Arch, over to the red bunker that Malaparte called "home," down the via Krupp, and simply nowhere in particular along the trails around Anacapri —the variations are endless. Here's the best map ever!
  by Austrian "artistic cartographer, Heinrich C. Berann (1915-1999)

The Church of San Costanzo  (Constantius)

San Costanzo is the patron saint of Capri. Many references to San Costanzo in the area refer to Mt. Costanzo above Massa Lubrense almost at the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula directly across from Capri and is very visible from the island. This is the actual church on Capri. It is a "monument church" and was the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Capri from 987–1560. We don't know exact date of construction, but it is one of the oldest churches on Capri. It might date to the 5th century, as it appears to be built on the ruins of a Roman building from the Late Republican period that had eight columns and two apses. Or it might be from between the 9th and the 12th centuries. An early church certainly existed when the Diocese of Capri was created in 987. Whatever the church looked like when it was built, it was completely revamped into a Byzantine church with a plan in the form of a Greek cross. Originally it was  dedicated to San Severino and only after the death of San Costanzo in the 7th century was it renamed. There were major renovations in 1330 when Count Giacomo Arcucci added a chancel in the typical Gothic style.

In 1775 the building was greatly weakened by the removal of three Numidian marble columns for use as flooring in the
royal chapel of the Palace of Caserta. Other damage occurred in 1928 the priest's house was built, as the front porch
was demolished and the facade altered. Restructuring from 1932 to 1935, gave the church its present look. In 1990, renovation revealed a Roman opus signinum floor and a section of brick wall from the fifth century. It is not clear if these were part of the church or of an earlier building. The church is on via della Marina Grande almost directly above the main port of Capri. The road winds a lot, but you'll get there. If you look above it from the angle of the image (above), you see the great cliff that separates the Capri side of the island from its sister community, Anacapri.


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entry Sept. 2003
3. Capri (3),  WWII September 1943 armistice

newspaper July 6, 1943I called up Herman the other day to see if had attended last week’s ceremony commemorating the Anglo-American invasion at Salerno. It took place 60 years ago and Herman, who is now 87 years old, was part of it. He told me that he hadn’t attended, though he had spoken with some members of the US 36th infantry who had stopped by to say hello to him in Sorrento. The ceremony in Salerno was marked by some counter-demonstrations by those who feel that remembering anything at all to do with war and violence is a bad thing, even when it’s on behalf of the good guys.

September 1943 was turbulent and confusing for Italians. The nation surrendered to the Allies on September 8,* at which point Pietro Badoglio, who had succeeded the deposed Mussolini as head-of-state in July, 1943 (newspaper headline, photo) declared that the war would now continue on the side of the Allies and against the Germans and Italian Fascists. That plunged Italy into a civil war. 

*[Technically, the armistice was made public on September 8. The actual surrender was a week earlier on September 3, 1943. It is called the Armistice of Cassibile (after the town in Sicily where the armistice was signed). The armistice was between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allies. It was signed at a conference of generals from both sides in an Allied military camp at Cassibile. The armistice was approved by both King Victor Emmanuel III and Italian Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio. The armistice stipulated the surrender of Italy to the Allies.]

The armistice of September 8 provided a strange episode —amusing in hindsight— having to do with the Isle of Capri. There were about 2500 members of the Italian Armed Forces on Capri at the time of the armistice. Obviously, they were now all part of the Allied command at war with their old allies, the Germans. 

Part of the terms of the armistice required the Italian naval contingent on Capri to move to Palermo, in Sicily. The Italian commander was unable to comply with the order because there simply wasn’t enough fuel left to run the ships that far. He sent a motorboat over to the Gulf of Salerno to advise the Allied commander of the situation; that is, the Italian forces on Capri weren’t making any sort of a Fascist last stand on Capri, nor were they refusing to surrender. They just had no fuel for the ships.

Accordingly, on September 12, an Allied ship showed up at Capri to check out the situation. The Allied commander then—for reasons that are as obscure as they are silly—demanded a separate “unconditional surrender… [from] the Commanding Officer of the Axis Armed Forces on the Islands [sic] of Capri.” (The Allied commander may have been counting the Faraglioni, those two beautiful rocks 100 yards off shore, as separate islands.)

In a true Laurel and Hardy finish to the episode, the surrender document —written in both English and Italian—was signed improperly. The Allied officer signed on the wrong side of the page, leaving the Italian no choice but to sign in the space reserved for the name of General Eisenhower.

[Herman, the gentleman mentioned in the first paragraph, has in these pages an Oral History of WW2. Click here to read that.]

added Jan 3, 2015

4. Capri 4         Project Baseline, Marevivo and the Blue Grotto on Capri                          

The Blue Grotto                   

Project Baseline has it origins in the 1990s during explorations of the underwater cave system in northern Florida at Wakulla Spring in the USA. Baseline has grown into a world-wide organization whose stated goals are

To document the health and vitality of the world's underwater environments; to increase public awareness of the health and threat to the world's underwater environments; and to facilitate political action that improves and protects the health of the world's underwater environments.

In June of 2015, the volunteers of Project Baseline announced a new collaboration with an important Italian association of environmental marine biology called "Marevivo, the only association in Italy that maintains a special department tasked with handling scuba diving activities in support of the management and monitoring of the marine protected areas." Marevivo has existed since 1985 and has its national headquarters on a barge moored on the Tiber river in the center of Rome (image, left). Marevivo is... association that promotes research, monitoring and environmental disclosure through many activities throughout the Italian national territory [ well as...] cooperating with international entities working for conservation and environmental protection of marine environments.

[photo directly above from Marevivo]

The organization has regional and provincial offices throughout Italy and municipal offices in Campania in Vico Equense, Capri and two on Ischia.

Besides cleaning up and maintaining the seas of Italy, Marevivo is interested in restoring some of the cultural history of Italian seas. Part of this effort concerns the restoration of the Blue Grotto (top picture, above right) on Capri as it was in Roman Times. We know that the Emperor Tiberius used the grotto as his personal swimming hole and as a nymphaeum, a marine temple dedicated to the water nymphs. The sea cave is presumed to have been an underwater appendage of the Augustan-Tiberian surface villa called Gradola, now in ruins. (The surface villa was partially excavated in the 19th century by the eccentric American Confederate Colonel John Clay MacKowen. He found capitals, fragments of statues, columns, and flooring, some of which he moved to his Casa Rossa in Anacapri, a current tourist attraction.) Also presumed, but as yet unconfirmed, is the existence of a internal passageway from Gradola down into the grotto. During the reign of Tiberius the grotto was decorated with several statues; as well, there were resting areas within the grotto at spots around the perimeter of the water. (The grotto no doubt remained known to locals during the long intervening centuries, but it was not “rediscovered”—that is, by foreign tourist—until the early 1800s.) Merevivo promotes an active environmentalist program among school children—EXACTLY what all of Italy needs—in the form of the "Guardian Dolphins" (with all due respect, you can forget Disney's Junior Woodchucks!—these kids are the real deal). There are about 600 school kids on Capri and Ischia, prowling their watery environs, picking up and cleaning up and trying to convince their elders to "pack out what you pack in."

Three statues of the Roman sea gods Neptune and Triton were recovered from the floor of the grotto in 1964 and are now on display at the above mentioned Casa Rossa in Anacapri (image, right). Also, in 2009, seven bases of statues were recovered from the grotto floor at a depth of 150 meters (492 feet). This suggests the presence of additional Roman artifacts. Indeed, the recovered statuary lends credence to an account by Roman historian Pliny the Elder (23 A.D. - 79 A.D.), who described the sea cave and the presence of a statue of the sea-god, Triton, playing a conch shell. Marevivo plans to restore the Blue Grotto to its imperial splendor by placing identical copies of the statues where they originally stood in the grotto. This project is being carried out in collaboration with the archaeological superintendency of Pompeii. Rosalba Giugni, president of Marevivo has said that "A preliminary underwater investigation has revealed several statue bases which might possibly hint to sculptures lying nearby."

That is an ambitious plan. I have no idea of recent progress. The superintendency for the “archaeological site” of Capri is dedicated to surface structures, as far as I can tell. If there is any actual work in progress, they are playing it very close to the vest —a buoyancy control device, I imagine.

[see also this related period postcard]

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contributed on Jan. 23, 2020    

Luciano Mangiafico

In the gardens of Capri, the Giardini di Augusto, overlooking the sea and the famous Capri faraglioni, there is a monument to Vladimir Lenin, put up in 1970 on the centenary of his birth. Sculpted by Giacomo Manzù, the stele consists of three 15-foot-high blocks of marble with the middle one bearing, carved in relief, the likeness of Lenin’s face and the inscription, A Lenin Capri (image, right).
(photo of Lenin, left, is from 1916)

What was Lenin,
the future dictator of the proletariat, doing here on the island of la dolce vita and frivolity? Believe or not, he visited Capri twice and enjoyed the relaxed pace of life just as much as anyone else.

The familiar name "Lenin" is actually a revolutionary nom de guerre, a pseudonym adopted by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (1870–1924), head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. He adopted the name "Lenin" in 1901. He first visited Russian writer Maxim Gorky in Capri on April of 1908, staying until April 30. Gorki was an exile from Imperial Russia and had arrived in Naples by ship in October 1906 with his lover, Maria, after a disastrous attempt to raise money in New York. He leased a residence in Capri and stayed until 1913. Gorky (1868–1936) had a considerable literary reputation and was a five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in literature. In his time on Capri, Gorky received, besides Lenin, a number of figures of the future (1917) Bolshevik Revolution, many of them in exile, like himself. Gorky hosted them in the "Villa Behring", the burgundy-colored building (image, below, right).

            Maxim Gorky
Gorky also directed and funded from the
"Villa Behring" a school to teach Russian expatriates the theory and practices of revolutionary Socialism. Gorky had wanted Lenin to visit Capri to see if a quarrel over political theory between Lenin and the teachers at the Capri school could be settled. Lenin did not want to go and had written to Gorky that he saw no point to the trip since he did not believe that he could ever be convinced of the ideas of Gorky’s socialist friends on the island. Eventually, though, he decided to go, telling Gorky that he would come, but only if there was no talk of philosophy or religion. Fat chance!

The doctrinal quarrel between Lenin and the Russian Socialists in Capri was twofold: first, Gorky and his friends followed the philosophy of Austrian philosopher Ernest Mach, essentially one that fused religion and revolution! They saw Marxism as a form of religion, in which the "divine being" was collective humanity, itself. You could channel religious zeal (rather than
Lenin's so-called "scientific" Marxism) into the revolution. Religion plus Revolution was a theme that Gorky had developed in his novel Confession (1908). That mixture of religion and politics did not sit well with Lenin. He held that workers were not to be trusted as an independent revolutionary cultural force. The workers were useful only if organized into cadres of the Party as revolutionary foot-soldiers, tightly controlled and led, of course, by himself. The other aspect of the quarrel, obviously important for Lenin, involved his claim to be the uncontested leader of the movement and the one who controlled the purse strings.

Getting ready for the trip south, Lenin started to teach himself Italian. He travelled by train from Geneva to Milan and then down the peninsula through Florence. Being a Roman history buff from childhood, he stopped off in Rome for a few hours, enough for a walk from the rail station to the Capitoline Hill and the Forum, before boarding the night train to Naples.

While in Capri, Lenin stayed with Gorky and was happy that Gorky had given him, the honored guest, a bedroom with a splendid view of the sea. He saw the tourist sites on the island, including the ruins of Emperor Tiberius' Villa Jovis. He enjoyed Scialatelli alla Ciamurra (a local dish of pasta with an olive and anchovy sauce) and
totani e patate, a dish of squid cooked with potatoes. And he drank the local white wine. One night at dinner, someone played a trick on Lenin and yelled, “Police!” Lenin rose from the table and started to move and then realized it was a joke. The only security police officer in Capri knew who Lenin was, of course, and where he was staying but had been told just to keep an eye on Lenin and not arrest him, since the government wanted to avoid an international incident.

Lenin also went fishing with the local fishermen Francesco and Giovanni Spadaro and gained a nickname, "Drin-Drin", hung on him by the brothers as they tried to explain that fish tugged on the line after biting, and the "twang" sound was like a telephone ring. Lenin liked that so much that he happily kept repeating "drin-drin". Giovanni Spadaro thought that Lenin’s happy laughter was a sign that at heart he was a good man with a sense of humor, one who joked around by asking Gorky all the time, “Hey, hasn't the Tsar caught you yet?”

Lenin’s wife remembered his description of his first stay in Capri and wrote that Gorky’s house was always filled with people playing chess or going boating. Lenin never talked much about politics, but raved about the scenery and the local wine. Gorky remembered that Lenin was relaxed and cheerful, interested in everyone and everything and was very kind to people. Lenin left Capri on the last day of April, and Gorky went with him to Naples. They visited Pompeii and climbed Mt. Vesuvius, and then Lenin left for Geneva. He returned to Capri a second time by ship from Marseilles, staying for two weeks in June and July of 1910. He again stayed with Gorky and more or less did the same things he had done earlier. He played chess with the same people, disapproved of the
curriculum at their socialist party school, went fishing with the Spadaro brothers, and in the evenings listened to Neapolitan and Russian songs sung by a local tenor, who one night sang to the future dictator of the proletariat, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Lenin! God Save the Czar. He then returned to France and by late July, had joined his wife Nadya and her mother Elizabeth on the beaches of the Bay of Biscay.

1. Fischer, Louis. The Life of Lenin. New York: Harpers & Row Publishers, 1964
2. Rappaport, Helen. Conspirator: Lenin in Exile. New York: Basic Books, 2010
3. Sangiuliano, Gennaro. Scacco allo zar. 1908-1910: Lenin a Capri, Genesi della Rivoluzione. Milan: Mondadori, 2012.
4. Tamborra, Angelo. Esuli Russi in Italia dal 1905 al 1917. Bari: Laterza, 1977
5. Troyat, Henry. Gorky - A Biography. New York: Crown Publishers, 1989
6. Wolfe, Bertram D. Three Who Made A Revolution. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955
7. Yedlin, Tova. Maxim Gorky: a political biography.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999.

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