Bali – Life in Technicolor!

 

When I practiced interior design, I told clients that their homes should reflect who they were (private persona) and how they wanted to be perceived by others (public persona). We spent significant time discussing this and often who they felt they were inside differed vastly from how they wished to be seen.

Personally, I wanted my home to tell the world how sophisticated I was. My mother modeled flawless manners: setting a proper table even for breakfast, insisting that I learn piano and listen to classical music when I much preferred playing guitar with my dad. Her need to look perfect to the world lodged in my psyche.

As an adult that ingrained training dictated appearances. The color palette in both the clothing I wore, and the furnishings I chose, blended a dazzling array of – you guessed it – neutrals. The absence of color was chic and classy. The only divergence from the black, white, beige theme was a red brocade jacket pulled out of mothballs at Christmastime.

I brought that aesthetic with me when I moved to Bali. The first thing I noticed after the two thousand shades of green, was the Balinese’ flagrant disregard for subtlety in their attire. Bali style was as far from neutral as Minnesota winter was from tropical paradise.

Layered patterns in bold, clashing colors challenged my tightly held conceptions of what worked and what most decidedly didn’t.

I searched the entire island to find quiet earth tones for accent pillows and cushion covers, but Bali would not be subdued. I settled for a dignified combo of black, rust, and avocado. Now, six years later, in response to a growing community of permanent Western customers, gray, taupe, and putty batiks and ikat fabrics abound, all those lifeless non-colors that no self-respecting Balinese person would ever want.

As the years passed I was unaware of my continental drift away from ‘safe.’ The change came so slowly I didn’t notice when the vanilla person hiding behind beige, went missing.

Upon reflection, blame settled on the Bali Blue Bed. When that precious antique handcrafted half a century ago by Ketut’s father for his growing family became my most cherished possession, my relationship with color began to expand.

Tentatively I added a little china to carry the emerging theme into the kitchen.Not long after the new dishes brightened up the far end of my quarters, I discovered skirts. Until that time, capris had covered my lower half, white ones, black ones, and of course non-threatening beige. I don’t remember when the first flowy, legless clothing crept into my closet but I remember the color: hot coral!

I loved flouncing around Ubud with naked legs! Breezes reached all those previously confined areas and I was so much cooler underneath! Soon the mid-length pants occupied a drawer that never got opened and the closet was full of skirts: blue, green, some with birds, others with flowers. Loose-fitting tops were the natural accompaniment and they came in various shades of bright. So the wardrobe morphed along with the house.

On the way back from the supermarket one afternoon, the bead shop lady greeted me on the sidewalk. Next thing I knew I was the proud and somewhat surprised owner of an enormous beaded basket!I’d ordered one that was half the size but when I had gone to the shop a month later to pick it up, the dear lady apologized. “So sorry, Ibu, but no small now, only this kind.” Evidently the current shipment of imported rattan baskets from Java that the woman used as a base for her beadwork, had only come in large.

As so often happened to me here, the Universe conspired to give me my heart’s desire. I’d lusted after the monster baskets so why had I ordered a small one? I knew the answer to that as well as I knew the reflection in the mirror. It was a lie as old as I was, instilled in the subconscious where it reared it’s ugly head from time to time when I wasn’t vigilant.

Thankfully, the ‘you don’t deserve such abundance’ story was overridden. I hugged the prize to my heart as the happy woman gave me a lift home on the back of her motorbike.

Then the heron came home to roost on top of the bookshelf.
It was a similar story with an interesting twist. I’d passed the bird in a shop window, stopped to look, decided it was unrefined, folksy even, and continued on. I did that several times over the next few days. Curiosity finally forced me inside to ask the price. Expensive. I left. Several weeks went by. Upon rearranging a few things in my house, a space opened up where none had existed before. The memory of that colorful creature popped into mind. I can’t explain why or how, but by the time I arrived at the shop, desire burned in me with all the passion of first love! Now every time I look at the stately bird, I smile and wonder how I could possibly have thought him provincial.

When the pillows and mattress cover on the the Bali Blue Bed recently grew too faded to tolerate, I went shopping. It was a shocking pink batik boasting mythical birds with glorious chartreuse tails that captivated me first. There followed a shimmering array of metallics for accents and a purple, orange, red geometric weave for back pillows. Handwoven eggplant colored fabric became the grounded base for all that whimsy.

The burst of color thrilled me. I loved to nestle deep in those delicious hues and absorb their intensity, to be cradled in the very essence of myself. Then it struck me: in my non-stop, stressed-out, U.S. workaholic life, I had to surround myself with boring neutrals. It was survival.

But in my laid-back, joyful Bali life, my nervous system has re-calibrated. I thrive in an atmosphere of visual stimulation, no longer living a schizophrenic existence. Who I am is on display for all to see in bold designs and brilliant hues. My house validates me the way insipid neutrals never could.

I’ve even ratcheted up the intensity in my clothing. The new temple outfit for the ultra important Hindu ceremonies I’m frequently invited to, is a hunting-jacket-orange kebaya with a fuschia sash over a hot pink-yellow-blue-etc. etc. sarong! And it just feels right.

Why did it take so long to come to this, to embrace the complex, colorful person hidden  somewhere inside? The answers have to do with fear, with the need to fit in, with concern about the perceptions of others, with self-denial, with…nevermind. Needless to say, the list of reasons is long. But the realization that all are now in past tense is sheer delight! I’ve burst the confines of conformity and traded suffocating sophistication for my technicolor Bali life.

Hiking the Amalfi Coast in Cute Shoes

Today I unlocked the blue gate and headed west on Via Roma, past Angela’s shop and Sandulli’s tower. Past Via Miglina – the farthest point I’ve been on foot in this direction – and kept going.

When Nicola took me to the winery I’d cranked my neck back and forth ooooing and ahhhhing as one magnificent scene after another sped by too fast.

So I set out today with no other purpose than to photograph this stretch of the coast for as far as I could walk and still walk back.

The road hugs the cliffs. I never lost sight of the sea…except in the tunnels…

There isn’t much of a margin for error. I hugged the side and flattened myself against the wall if two cars tried to pass next to me.

I’d just cleared one tunnel and could see the next across a ‘sunken’ village. It isn’t really sunken – just another fisherman’s inlet.

I marvel at the engineering of these soaring bridges.

Can you see them – Roman soldiers crossing on horseback, armor flashing in the sun, banners waving, lances piercing the sky?

That’s a strange-looking rock formation…from a distance (above) and up close (below).

So much of the architecture seems free-form, whimsical almost. It has to be to cling to the irregular edges of rock cliffs.

A plunge to turquoise waters far, far below.

I love the stucco and I love the stone! I love the cliffs and I love the sea!

Still not crazy about tunnels…but I’m getting better!

During the 10th-11th centuries, Praiano was the summer residence of the doges of the Duchy of Amalfi. I have to believe that some of these grand structures were once royal homes.

Italy has fjords. Who knew? This one is called Fiordo di Furore (Fjord of Fury) and it doesn’t look anything like the fjords I sailed on in Norway. But according to the Oxford Dictionary definition: a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, it fits.

A stoplight! I just happened to arrive as all the testosterone you could wish for came roaring to a stop to wait for the green light!

There are two types of towers built on outcroppings of rock along the coast. The round ones came first. They were strictly watchtowers. If danger was approaching by sea a huge fire was lit so the people of the town could assemble, or run, or whatever they needed to do back then.

The square towers, like this one, came later. They housed artillery actually used to shoot at enemy invaders.

Notice the church sitting high on the ridge.

I’d reached the Grotta Dello Smeraldo, the Emerald Grotto.

Across the street from the steps leading down – which I’ll save for another day – was a ceramics showroom. This is a far different quality product than I’ve seen in the little souvenir shops. I drooled for a while. It’s probably a good thing the shop was closed.

Did I mention everything was closed? Sunday morning, of course. Although knowing what I know now I expect maybe they’re all closed Monday through Saturday, too! Many of these places won’t see the light of day until April or May when tourists again begin to flock to the beaches.

I checked the clock and the map. It had taken me 1.5 hours to walk 2.25 miles stopping every other step to take a picture. Hopefully I’d get home in half the time. I was getting hungry.

Plus, my ballet flats do great in town on the steps, but this highway hiking – I should have worn the New Balance shoes I brought along for just this purpose. What was I thinking?

Actually, I know exactly what I was thinking. These are cuter. Oh, Sherry!

As I started back I realized the road sloped very gently downward. I’d been walking uphill the entire way and hadn’t realized it.

The water was on my left for the return and I saw things I’d missed going the opposite direction.

All along the coastal road outcroppings of rock like this one, hang over the highway. An elaborate net system is used to hold them in place. Nicola told me rock slides still happen and when they do, the road may be impassable for days.

Arches. They’re everywhere in Italy, and here’s why. From study.com: The Roman arch was the foundation of Rome’s architectural mastery and massive expanse of building projects across the ancient world. It allowed the Romans to make bigger buildings, longer roads, and better aqueducts. The Roman arch is the ancestor of modern architecture.

Now this…this must have been a royal residence at some time. I want to believe it!

Only one more tunnel after this one. That’s Praiano in the distance.

And on the other side of the tunnel, Paulo Sandulli’s tower. I’m almost home!

I read the news every day so I know in some ways this exquisite experience is a make-believe bubble. Yet I’m grateful, so grateful to be here. To see the beauty and share it. To feel the utter joy of being alive. I don’t want to send more doom and gloom into the ether. There’s an overabundance of that already. I believe we need to do our part to alleviate suffering wherever we can. But still we must celebrate what can be celebrated and not feel guilty about doing so.

As though to put an exclamation point on a perfect day, the leftovers of sunset on the other side of the mountain hung for a few breathless moments in the eastern sky. A benediction.

Path of the Gods – Let's Talk About Legs

I pity night owls. Really, I do. To miss a masterpiece that lasts moments then is gone seems like a terrible waste. I think that’s why I’m obsessed with photographing the sunrise. I wake up at 5:00, make coffee, then sit, and sip, and wait. The fiery splendor this morning dazzled me.

Today is day twenty of this fabulous Italian adventure and I have a plan. A dot on the map indicates Sentiero degli Dei Praiano – Path of the Gods. I want to go to the dot. I’ve been told from that point it’s another 2000 steps up to the actual trail. Today, the dot. Tomorrow…?

I chart my course. Fortunately, even though I don’t have data here, if I add the route to my phone’s home screen and turn on location it tracks me. It’s essential in this maze of unmarked paths and stairs.

But before we get on our way, lets talk for a minute about legs. I’ve always had muscular calves, embarrassingly muscular. A gym teacher in high school told me I had legs like a Roman gladiator. Not what a pubescent teen wants to hear.

I do a lot of walking so I’ve maintained leg-strength as I’ve aged. But let me be perfectly clear about Praiano. If you have weak knees, weak hips, weak thighs, weak lungs, weak heart, or a weak mind, don’t bother. Strong calves are not enough. Good intentions are not enough. Determination will get you far, but not far enough.

My limits were tested today.

It began innocently. I took the trail I discovered the other night coming home from the bus stop. The slope upward connected to a road that took me to Tutto per Tutti market but cut off half the steps I normally climb to get there.

I passed Tutto per Tutti and took the next switchback up to La Moressa, the restaurant where I had pizza a few nights ago. There was a narrow stairway to the left. I stopped to check my location. That was it.

Up, up, up. Panting and winded, I rounded a corner. San Luca church rose high above me, white against the cloudless sky.

The next time I saw the church it was below me, its backdrop now the brilliant blue sea.

At one point I wondered, imagined, that this MUST BE the 2000 steps to the trail, and when I got to the end I would BE ON the Path of the Gods. The thought motivated me to press on.

At the top I once again checked the map. Still another vertical line to ascend.

In a few more strides I was standing at the base of a flight so long and steep I couldn’t see the top. I almost turned around. But, Sherry, I told myself, this is the last leg. At the end of this you may be on The Path. I charged onward. (Charged may be an overstatement.)

My heart pounded. My thighs burned. My calves were fine.

At the top I collapsed against the rock wall to catch my breath and saw the sign.

I moved up close and read the small print. Another 1 hour 30 minutes of steps and trails to the actual Path of the Gods.

At that point I may have taken one of the names of those gods in vain. There was nothing else there, not a vendor selling bottled water. Not a ‘last stop for coffee’ shop. Not a ‘take your instagram photo here’ posting. Nothing but rock walls and more and more and more stairs.

I photographed the sign, sucked air into my lungs, blew it out long and slow, and started down.

And down…

And down…

Finally, just ahead was the welcome entrance to Tutto per Tutti. Buongiorno said the two men who own the place. They smiled as I walked in. They know me now.

Buiongiorno. I smiled too, picked up a basket, and selected my groceries as though I’d been shopping there all my life.

Emmental Bavarese cheese, carrots, tomatoes, a red onion, bananas, apples, strawberries, canned lentils and chocolate covered orange slices.

That’s $18.20 in US dollars

Of course there were still the 228 steps down to Via Roma. And 112 steps up to my house carrying a heavier pack. After what I’d just accomplished, it felt like nothing.

Old Vines, Exquisite Wines – Tenuta San Francesco at last!

I felt like I was back in Bali when I saw the terraces…almost.

We left the coast and climbed into the Lattari mountain range. It’s cold enough up here for trees to drop their leaves but warm enough for grass to stay green. Nicola had his phone tuned in to Google maps but still asked locals for directions a few times.

I’d originally thought I’d take the bus from Praiano to Tramonti and walk from the station to the winery. Had I done that, I may still have been walking. Our trail through the mountains reminded me of the last lines in a poem by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The story of my life.

Four people watched us expectantly as we approached the winery. It was the tour group waiting for me.

Sophia, the daughter of one of the owners of Tenuta San Francesco, was our guide. The three gentlemen were from Brazil and I was the lone American.

Sophia is a teacher. She was brilliant, speaking Spanish to the Brazilians, English to me, and Italian to anyone else. She explained we would do a tour of the vineyards then have our tasting, was that all right? We agreed, three Si(s) and a Yes.

I’d been awed by the elegant pergolas spiderwebbing the mountainsides as we’d driven through this area. I asked about them. The framework is chestnut wood, Sophia said, and workers use willow twigs to tie branches to the beams. She explained that willow is organic material and deteriorates. When that happens, it takes four months for experienced knot tiers to replace all the bindings on the vineyard’s thirty acres of vines.

We were standing under the spreading branches of a vine that was over 500 years old. Sophia told us when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, volcanic ash created perfect soil conditions for grapes. And when phylloxera, a type of aphid that attacks the roots of grapevines raged throughout Europe, many originals were lost.

The infestation began when plants carrying the phylloxera aphid were brought from North America in the late 1800s. What followed changed the wine industry in most of the world. Since only vines from North America were immune, in order to preserve and perpetuate the varieties of grapes throughout Europe and other countries (even Australia) original vines had to be spliced onto plants with roots imported from North America.

But because volcanic soil resists phylloxera the vines of Tenuta San Francesco were protected and survived. In a few other areas of the world where similar conditions exist, original vines remain, some over 2000 years old.

She explained that the quality of wine from the rare Tintore grape, which is the variety produced by the original vines of Tenuta, is some of the world’s finest. But the yield from old vines is not large so supply is limited. It’s considered a boutique wine.

The branches from this twisted, ancient specimen create a network overhead covering an area the size of a toddler’s playground. Gardens are planted underneath. Sophia pointed out a plot of fava beans sprouting just behind us.

The vineyard tour completed, we headed inside.

Buildings in Italy seem like they’ve existed for all time. I’ve never been comfortable around glass and steel. Give me rocks, timber, crumbling plaster and I feel at home. There’s a sense of being grounded in antiquity, a connection with the past that I felt as I walked through those doors.

“How old is this cave?” I asked as we entered.

“It has been in the family since the 1700s,” Sophia replied. Sleek steel and electronics against three hundred year old stones jarred me in an exciting way, a bit like waking up to the mechanical hum of a drone peering in my bedroom window in Bali at six a.m. (Don’t laugh, it happened!)

The winery logo was stamped on barrels lining the walls. Sophia showed us how it can be read as a T for Tenuta, and an F for Francesco. She also explained this type of cross was used by the Knights Templar. The designer added a stylized bunch of grapes at the bottom. Classy.

Information continued to flow. Whites are prepared and aged in the steel vats. Reds start there then are transferred after many months to wooden barrels where they age for two years before being bottled. Red wines, we learned, can handle the wood undertones. Whites cannot.

When we were saturated with Sophia’s knowledge to the point of overwhelm, she said, “Would you like to taste?”

She didn’t have to ask twice. We followed her into a sunlit area where our table waited.

Sophia’s mother was preparing food for us.

Gaetano Bove, the man I met in the cafe who invited me to tour his vineyard, introduced the first wine, Per Eva, which he’d named for Eva, his wife.

Sophia’s mother set plates in front of us. “Winter salad,” she said. Fresh goat cheese, warm potatoes mixed with olives and onion, and tomatoes with chucks of hearty farmer’s bread. Silken crispness of Per Eva, like spring rain, enhanced the subtle flavors of the salad and softened the onion’s sharp surprise.

Before we emptied our glasses of per Eva, Gaetano was pouring Turmiento, the winery’s organic red.

I’ve only tasted a few organic wines and wouldn’t go out of my way to find them again. Turmiento was an exception. If you know organic restaurant owners who import wine, recommend this one. It’s rich, warm, and it paired brilliantly with the dark farmer’s bread, pecorino cheese, and sliced salami that had just appeared on our table.

Gaetano radiated love for his craft. As he brought out our third wine he mentioned famous people who had visited the winery, among them Justin Timberlake and his wife, actress Jessica Biel.

Then, as our glasses swirled with liquid of the deepest, richest crimson, Signor Bove told us he’d recently gone to France to attend a meeting of top international wine makers. He’d taken E’ Iss, the red, made from the ancient pre-phylloxera vines. Each of the fifteen attendees had brought their specialties, some bottles selling wholesale for as much as 25,000 euro ($27,000 USD). They did a blind tasting, he said and shook his head. “Mine was better. And only thirty euro per bottle.”

We sipped, and sighed a collective, “Ahhhhh.” I thought Turmiento would be my favorite. It was smooth, seductive. But it turns out E’ Iss was like the difference between the boy you date on the sly and the one you bring home to meet Mom and Dad. I brought E’ Iss home.

Which, by the way, was no small feat. When the food was eaten and the wine was drunk, I said goodbyes and Gaetano drove me as far as Maori, the coastal town where he has a veterinary practice, and dropped me in the square. From there I’d catch the bus to Praiano.

Nicola had instructed me on the finer points of navigating the bus system. I had to buy a ticket before I got on, and he suspected in Maori I could only buy a ticket to Amalfi. I would need to buy another in Amalfi to get to Praiano.

I found a helpful person by this playground who pointed the direction to the Tabacci shop where I could purchase my first ticket. I set out. It only took two more queries to locate the tiny place.

Ticket in my pocket, I started back to where I’d seen people waiting in bus shelters. “Where do I catch the bus?” I asked a street vendor tending her cart. The woman took me by the arm and steered me to the side of the road and pointed.

“To Praiano?” I asked, just to make sure.

“No,” she said, and pointed to the opposite side of the street.

It was a twenty minute wait. I boarded, took a window seat, and snapped photos all the way. If you scroll through fast, you’ll get a feel for the wild twists and turns of the fabulous coastal road.

Then we were in Almalfi with another ticket I had to hunt, kill, and drag home! I asked for directions and was shown the newspaper shop across the street.

Done.

A bus with no driver idled nearby. The sign above its front window said Sorrento. I asked a man if this bus stopped in Praiano. He didn’t know. Then I heard, “Yes. To Praiano.” A face with a neatly trimmed gray beard and mustache nodded at me from the front seat. Gratefully I boarded, inserted my ticket and turned to walk toward the back. The bearded old man patted the empty spot beside him.

“I can sit here?” I asked. He nodded.

Within a few minutes the driver appeared and another gut churning ride commenced, but this time I had a seat companion. “You speak English,” I said.

He nodded. “I speak three languages, French, English, and Dutch. You know pork?” he asked.

It seemed a strange question. “You mean pig?”

“Yes, pork. In French pork say this.” A strange, pig-like grunt erupted from his mouth. “In Dutch pork say this.” The intonation was different but still unquestionably porcine. “And in English…”

To say I was happy when we reached Praiano would be an understatement. Still, I was grateful when Signor Pork reached across me to ring the bell for my stop or we would have sailed right by.

By now it was dark. I stood alone at the corner where deserted Via Umberto heads uphill and Via Roma, with more traffic, is a straight, level shot to my blue gate. I poked around in my memory trying to bring up the map of Via Umberto. Without data on my phone I couldn’t request Google’s help. Dressed all in black I’d be invisible on the busy Via Roma, narrow and without sidewalks…

I started up Via Umberto knowing with the certainty of experience that somewhere there would be a staircase going back down. After about 150 meters (apx. two city blocks) a footpath veered off to the right at a serious downhill slope. It was beautifully lighted so I took it. A few hundred yards later I knew exactly where I was. The stairs that take me from Tutto per Tutti to my house were right there.

I just want to say to senior women, men too, if you’ve ever dreamed of solo travel, if your feet sometimes itch and your eyes long to gaze on something other than your own backyard, do it now.

No matter what creams, dyes, or wrinkle retardants we use, we don’t get any younger, and time doesn’t wait.

2/20/2020 Only Comes Once

There’s a lot going on in my head. There often is, but my thoughts are taking a detour from the usual these days. It’s little wonder. Italy isn’t Bali. Praiano isn’t Ubud. A change of scene opens up mental space to imagine.

The timing is perfect. December ends the twelve-month cycle on the Gregorian calendar but Pisces, February 20 – March 20, marks the wrap-up of the solar year. Tomorrow, 2/20/2020, the sun enters the sign of the fish to complete the last thirty days of its journey through the zodiac.

For months my friends have been muttering about feeling unfocused and edgy, as though they’re waiting for something without a clue to what that something might be.

I’ve felt the same.

Of course, turning seventy has a certain shock value. Even though I knew for 365 days that I was sixty-nine, and I’ve known for much longer than that how to count, actually becoming seventy years old surprised me. It compelled me to look back at my life and ask, “What have I accomplished?” And to look ahead and say, “What’s next?”

I’m happy with the past. That’s a good thing because it’s too late to change it and I wouldn’t if I could. It made me who I am.

But this moment in time feels pivotal, like stepping out of one reality and entering another that’s cleaner, clearer, and shorter than what’s gone before.

On my terrace, gazing at the vast horizon where water and sky collide sometimes with no line of demarcation to indicate where one begins and the other ends – breathing air salty and moist – hearing the lilt and staccato of a language I don’t understand but am growing to love – lifting my face to be kissed by the sun, it suddenly doesn’t matter that I don’t know what lies ahead.

I’m filled with a sense of release, letting go of everything I don’t want to carry with me into this new cycle that’s about to begin. It feels like a time of rest and patience. Of slowing down the outer world and focusing within. Of making new choices.

As I wrote that last line, butterflies came to life in my stomach and my arms sprouted goosebumps.

Making new choices…

Tomorrow, to give special attention to 2/20/2020, I’m choosing to accept Sig. Gaetano Bove’s invitation to visit Tunata San Francesco, the winery he co-owns with three associates.

Whether I write about the experience immediately or at some future date will depend upon how enthusiastically I taste the samples on offer.

Image result for happy face emoji

Welcome back, Pisces, it’s been a long eleven months!

Cooking in Italy – I Love You Felicia!

It was a three-hour meal. A three-hour, gourmet, how many courses I don’t know, Italian, homemade meal. Thank you Felicia. I love you Felicia.

I was told to come at twelve o’clock. I’d been to the house a week ago for a brief introduction but Nicola sent a picture of the doorway to ensure I would find it again.

I was certain it was somewhere on the same stairway that I travel almost every day. Ten minutes should be plenty of time to get there. I labored to the top passing many doors but not THAT door. I must have missed it…how? Impossible! Back down. Still no door. Back up to the top. Breathing hard. No internet. Cannot call for help. Panic. Maybe it wasn’t this stairway.

It wasn’t.

At 11:58 I found the right stairway. At 11:59 I found the door.

Nicola greeted me and I followed him to the kitchen where Felicia was already hard at work. Moist air, heavy with the scents of Italy, wrapped around me like a mother’s hug. Then Felicia gave me the real thing with the two-cheeks kiss that is customary here and cooking class began.

First it was totano – a variety of squid caught in the rocky depths close to the coast. Nicola explained the totano found near the shore are red, but those caught farther out to sea where the bottom is sandy are white and the flavor isn’t as good. These, he said, were red ones.

Fresh from the frying pan into the mouth. Hot and…oh, my! The flesh was delicate, so tender and sweet. “How many totano does it take to make all this?” I asked. Nicola translated my question. Felicia opened the fridge and pulled out a monster.

“Grande!” I said, backing up a few steps. They laughed.

Nicola had to run an errand. Suddenly Felicia and I were on our own to navigate the language as best we could. I connected to her internet and brought up Google Translate. I’d come prepared with a list of questions, first in English so I’d know what I was asking, then in Italian so I could practice the language.

It was great. She got every question immediately, even though I stumbled and bumbled and massacred the words. Her answers were long, emphatic, emotional – even Google couldn’t follow. Nonetheless, we managed, and had good laughs in the process.

When the last tentacled leg of squid had been fried, I was moved out of the kitchen to a table on the terrace set for four and told to sit. The plate of crispy totano was set in front of me followed by a bowl of buffalo mozzarella, then salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, bread, and wine.

Mangiare, my hostess said. I started to ask if others were coming but she interrupted. Mangiare! Mangiare! and disappeared into the kitchen. Like it or not, I was to eat regardless of three empty chairs awaiting other guests.

I nibbled on a leg of squid. Love that stuff. Helped myself to one of the smaller balls of mozzarella and a strip of prosciutto savoring the contrast of the salty meat with creamy cheese. Every so often Felicia made an appearance to re-issue her command, Mangiare, mangiare!

When I couldn’t mangiare another bite, I ventured back into the kitchen.

Tomato sauce bubbled on the stove. I asked her what ingredients she’d used. Pomodoro, olio, acciuga, origano, basilico, acqua. She ticked them off on her fingers. I’ve been grocery shopping often enough now to know all of the words except acciuga. She spelled as I typed and up popped anchovies. Is that the mystery ingredient that makes Italian tomato sauce a culinary triumph?

I pointed to another pot. Melanzana, she said but this time didn’t let me Google it. She went to the refrigerator and pulled out an eggplant then motioned me to the windowsill. Mozzarella, parmigiano, and pecorino cheeses waited in majolica bowls.

Basilico, she said, laughed, and flung open the window.

Basil doesn’t get any fresher than that.

It was time for pasta. As she poured it into the kettle I asked what kind it was. Scialatielli, she said. I’d never heard of it. She showed me the label.

I decided to throw in a few more questions while the pasta cooked. “Where did you meet Rafaele,” I asked. She looked confused. I tried again. “Where did you meet your husband?” I understood the word for school in her answer and the sparkle in her eyes told me the rest.

“Did he chase you?” Oh, the laughter.

“All the way from the school to the sea,” she said, motioning the trajectory down the mountainside with a sweep of her arms.

“What did Rafaele do for work?” Again she looked confused. “Rafaele, your husband,” I said.

If I thought she’d laughed before, this time tears squirted from her eyes. I double-checked the the word for husband. It appeared correct. When she was finally able to speak, she said, “Rafaele is my brother. Gaetano is my husband.”

I was shocked to my toenails. I thought the old man sitting with his walker was her father. Come to find out, she’s seventy-nine and he’s eighty but he broke both hips this year and is housebound. She takes care of him.

“I’m sorry, Felicia. That’s hard.” She agreed.

Just then Nicola returned from his trip to Positano and joined us. Out came the pasta, biscotti, and wine. The empty chairs were filled and we had our translator back.

I’d been a wee bit skittish about the anchovies – I’m not a fan. But they did their job. The pasta was magnificent.

When I was certain I couldn’t eat another morsel, out came Felicia with an enormous bowl of fresh fruit, chiacchiere, and a pineapple upside-down cake.

The slab of cake she cut for me could have served four people. But did I eat it? You better believe I did, then drank the little cup of Neapolitano mocha espresso which guaranteed I would stay awake to finish this post even in a food coma!

Image result for napolitano mocha espresso]

What an amazing day. What special people. What spectacular food. “Now you can go home to Bali and make this dinner for all your friends,” Nicola said as I bid them farewell.

You know what, friends? Don’t hold your breath!

She's Old But She Likes Chocolate

So, we’ll go no more a roving
   So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
   And the moon be still as bright…

Lord Byron’s poem, sung like none other by Leonard Cohen, is probably descriptive of my feelings about roaming the ink-black stairways of Praiano after dark. Once was a scary thrill. Twice won’t be necessary. Not when there are sunrises like this, and days bathed in gold.

As luck would have it, this February has been unseasonably warm and sunny for Praiano – a walker’s dream. And I am, dear friends, a walker! Not the White Walker Game of Thrones type – just an ordinary, past-middle-age-but-still-young-at-heart woman who loves to walk. And today I’m taking you with me to the Piazza San Gennaro where I hope to see the inside of the church with the beautiful blue dome that has captivated me since I arrived.

But before I go, I want a bit of background. The Encyclopedia Britannica says: Saint Januarius, Italian San Gennaro, (died 305?, Pozzuoli, Italy; feast day September 19), bishop of Benevento and patron saint of Naples. He is believed to have been martyred during the persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian in 305. His fame rests on the relic, allegedly his blood, which is kept in a glass vial in the Naples Cathedral. Of solid substance, it liquefies 18 times each year. While no natural explanation has been given, the phenomenon has been tested frequently and seems genuine.

Until today I didn’t know there was a saint for my birthday month. Nice. I mapped my route and was off .

The photo hasn’t been touched-up. That water is really as turquoise as it looks. But it’s a lot farther down than it appears and diving is not recommended.

As soon as I could, I abandoned Via Roma and ducked into Via Rezzola, a series of stairs and pathways for pedestrians only. I passed one. I could tell he was a local man by the way he said Buongiorno with a nod and the curl of sound around the o-r-n followed by the slightest lift on the ‘o’ at the end. I’m becoming a connoisseur of this melodic language.

Of the paths I’ve trod so far, this one is the prettiest. Bright painted ceramic pots line the wall. I love this depiction of my sun sign, Capricorn, the sea goat.

It was unmarred tranquility until I heard something coming toward me that sounded like children beating on wooden bowls. It wasn’t children. This time I didn’t miss my opportunity.

There were four of these lovely creatures. I think they’re mules, longer manes, nicer tails, more shapely legs. They’re the only vehicles allowed – the only vehicles that can do steps without assistance. They’re the haulers, essential for any construction that happens on these cliffs.

And then I was in the Piazza. Two young boys were using the massive square as a playground. A couple sat on the side sharing a picnic.

I walked the circumference then sat in the sun, watching.

There are three entrances to the church: the doors in the middle and one on either side. Nobody was going in or out and the metal gate was closed. A woman, beautifully dressed in a fuschia coat and scarf, with a crown of white hair, walked in my direction. She smiled, “Buongiorno,” she nodded then said something that must have been wonderful if I’d been able to understand.

Mi dispiace, non parlo Italiano, I said. I’d practiced all morning to get that down. If I learn nothing else I need to at least be able to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.”

My new friend walked over to me and beamed. “It is beautiful day, no?” she said.

We talked.

No, you don’t understand…we TALKED. Together. Communicated. She owns the hotel by this square and interacts with guests so she speaks English.

Over the course of conversation I asked her if the church was open to visitors. She said of course, I could just walk in. It was always open. Had I not met her, I wouldn’t have gone inside.

Thank you beautiful lady in the fuschia coat.

The interior of the Church of Saint Januarius did not disappoint.

Image result for the tile floor of san gennaro church
The tile work on the floor is spectacular.

There were people praying so I didn’t take pictures of the Rococo and Renaissance style art, sculptures, niches, and stations of the cross. But one stood out: a woman serving her breasts on a plate. I found a picture on the internet. The one in the church was similar to this:

Image result for Renaissance painting of woman serving her breasts on a tray

I looked her up. She’s St. Agatha, patron saint of rape victims, breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, and (her name is) invoked against fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna.

Church bells pealed as I left the square.

I took the road uphill to Tutto per Tutti with a quick detour to check out Che Bonta. It was open! I spoke to Claudio, actually, Claudio spoke to me, holding his hands cupped together in front of him the way professionals in the service industry often do.

He explained it was only their second day so the menu, which was on the chalkboard in front of us, had the specials. He apologized there were only eight options. But I could also order off the regular menu which he produced for my perusal. I’m guessing there were at least another fifty possibilities there – pizza, pasta, panuozzi, antipasti, salads, and a dessert of the day. Oh, and they deliver…

Claudio, Claudio – you rock my world – you and the lady in the fuschia coat.

Tutto per Tutti was closed.

But Centro Market was open and I needed chocolate. Tomorrow at noon I will go to Felicia’s house to watch her cook. What a privilege to spend time with an Italian family. The chocolate is a hostess gift. I asked Nicola if she likes wine. “Not so much,” he said. “She’s old. But she likes chocolate.”

What does being old have to do with liking or not liking wine? I didn’t ask. I’m quite certain I’m older than she is and I have no problem with wine.

I found assorted chocolates. Here they are, wrapped and ready. That’s the Che Bonta takaway menu. And the Rosamundi is my latest wine-tasting trial. It passed – I couldn’t wait for 5:00. I think that rule is only known to Minnesotans. The rest of the world tends to pour a glass whenever they want.

I’m a quick learner.

How-to Guide for Loving Food

After the blast of insight – the revelation about food that has now been playing with my head for over twenty-four hours – I felt compelled to spend the day at home. Life-changing information can be overwhelming and the question, Where do I start? begged an answer.

The morning held a promise of warmth and I envisioned sunbathing on the terrace – fully clothed of course, it’s not THAT warm – while allowing random thoughts to morph into an action plan, a ‘how to’ guide for loving food.

I took The School of Essential Ingredients, with me to a lounge chair and immersed myself in its pages. The sky was a cloudless blue bowl and the sun soaked gently into my bones.

I skimmed chapters, looking for clues. How do I do this? How do I go from food averse to food lover?

The first hint came on page 45:

If you think about it, she went on, every time we prepare food we interrupt a life cycle. We pull up a carrot or kill a crab – or maybe just stop the mold that’s growing on a wedge of cheese. We make meals with those ingredients and in doing so we give life to something else. It’s a basic equation, and if we pretend it doesn’t exist, we’re likely to miss the other important lesson, which is to give respect… So we start there.

So we start there.

When I imagined the life cycles I’d interrupted by eating pizza last night – and tiramisu – and wine…I felt a little ill. Then there was the banana this morning. Those were alive once. Vital, vegetable beings. A pig had been sacrificed to make the pepperoni sausage I’d enjoyed earlier in the day. The life-force within those ingredients had been transferred to me.

Acknowledging the obvious, which hadn’t been obvious until now, had an affect. I doubted I would ever eat anything again without the thought-flash that lives were lost to provide this meal and respect should be shown because of that fact. But show respect how?

Some people pray before eating. That was the routine growing up. GodblessthisfoodinJesusnameamen. Did it make me respect the gift of food? No. In Balinese Hinduism, there are ceremonies honoring plants, and rituals performed before taking animal life. It’s a beautiful way of showing respect in that culture.

Neither of those would work for me.

I kept reading. On page 115 I found another profound thought:

…every meal you eat, you eat time — the weeks it takes to ripen a tomato, the years to grow a fig tree. And every meal you cook is time out of your day…

Cooking had seemed a monumental waste of time. I resented having to peel potatoes and wait for them to boil. They were knobby, awkward to handle, and covered with gritty soil. They left a residue of sandy earth in the sink so it wasn’t just about peeling a potato, it included the necessity of cleaning the sink.

Fruit was my friend. Slice and eat. Done. Only minutes of prep…seconds…then I could get on to more pressing things. I suddenly felt a weight of guilt for dismissing the months it took for the potato to become mature and the mere minutes it cost me to prepare it. A few paragraphs later I was confronted by that very thought:

Antonia made celebrations of things he had always dismissed as moments to be rushed through on the way to something more important. Being around her he found even everyday experiences were deeper, nuanced satisfaction and awareness slipped in between the layers of life like love notes hidden in the pages of a textbook.

Like love notes hidden in the pages of a textbook. Yes! That’s the feeling I have to capture. That’s how I want to relate to food – with a thrilling rush of excitement – like finding an unexpected love note from the only one who matters.

I schedule time for yoga, meditation, and writing. From now on I will set aside time for food. The white chocolate covered fig I’m planning to eat in a few minutes took over two months to ripen. The tree it grew on was five years old before it could produce fruit. I owe that fig my time. Even if no prep is required, I need to stop, acknowledge the energy transfer that is about to happen, and experience every bite with gratitude and respect for the sacrifice of a life.

I confess I had no idea where this article was going when I started writing it. I’d found the excerpts today while skimming through the book, but they felt random and disconnected. Somehow in processing my questions in this post, I’ve gotten closer to finding answers that work for me.

Now onward to the respectful, exciting enjoyment of eating my fig!

Food is Not a Four-Letter Word

I heard a rumor. A pizza restaurant reopened for the season just above Tutto per Tutti market.

I waited until noon, then grabbed my jacket and – did I say above the market – the market that is 228 steps above me?

I’ve learned to do twenty steps then rest. Twenty more then rest. That way I make it to the top without exciting my heart to the point of beating itself right out of my chest!

I ascended and found the road that took me higher. At the top was La Moressa, a white-washed cafe with tables overlooking the sea. I went inside and greeted the man behind the counter.

“You’re open,” I said.

“Yes, the door is open,” he replied.

“Do you have pizza?”

“Yes, we have.”

“I’ve been waiting for days to have pizza. Everything is closed. I’m so excited! May I see a menu?”

“Yes, Signora, but perhaps you will come back. We don’t serve until five.”

I’m not dismayed. I’ve found a restaurant that serves pizza and it will be open tonight at five. I don’t have to go through any tunnels. It’s literally directly over my head. I’ll be there!

On my way down I stopped at Tutto per Tutti. I wanted pepperoni. It’s a meat I recognize.

I had big plans for this sausage…

…and the oven I’d yet to touch.

Has a pan ever been watched so closely? Was the heat actually on? Patience paid off. Soon the cheese was bubbling and turning a light caramel color. I sat down to an open-faced sandwich fit for angels: focaccia bread base, tomato sauce laced with juicy chunks of green and black olives, thinly sliced pepperoni, fresh tomatoes, and buffalo mozzarella.

I took my plate and wine to the terrace.

The flavors romanced my tongue. I groaned with pleasure licking my greasy tomato-stained fingers. The Remole Toscana provided a perfect balance of bold yet subtle support to the rich meal.

Then, holding true to my latest intention (which you’ll hear about shortly) I opened the package of white chocolate covered figs, poured a little more wine, and exponentially upped the ecstacy factor.

Warm Mediterranean sun and lapping waves, birdcalls, soft breezes, felt like all the dreams I’ve ever dreamed of paradise.

So what’s going on with the sudden focus on FOOD? Sit back. It’s a story.

Several months ago I was gifted an astrological reading. But this wasn’t an ordinary birthchart recap. This one centered around Ceres, an asteroid that represents food, nurturing, relationships, and all the phases of a woman’s life.

It was, as readings should be, affirming, uplifting, and had ah-ha moments that astounded me. Beauty, the practitioner said, played a huge role in my life. But the planet Saturn maintained a strong presence which indicated starvation.

Starvation, she continued, can be other than food. Neglect by parents, not enough approval, not enough love are all forms of starvation as understood by this reading. It may also indicate harsh dieting. Fasts. Self-inflicted restrictions around what is eaten, how much, and when. What she said resonated.

At the end of our session she summarized. I had a healthy relationship with food. I didn’t live to eat, I ate to live. I wasn’t ruled by food nor did I use it for comfort, distraction, or as a substitute for pleasure. I had low expectations for food unlike much in our modern culture, she said.

I felt pretty good about myself after the reading. I’d basically been given a green light to keep doing what I was doing.

When I landed in Italy, on the shelf in my house was a book: The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. It was the only one in English besides a guidebook.

Strange title, I thought. It will either be superbly boring or, with a title like that, quirky.

About one-third of the way through I started getting uncomfortable.

At the half-way point awareness lights were flickering on.

I cried at the end, something I haven’t done with a book for a very long time. Yes, the characters were intelligently and lovingly portrayed. Yes, the writing was beautiful to the point, almost, of poetry. Yes, the story was compelling and the plot nicely resolved. But that’s not what brought me to tears.

In contrast to the author’s voluptuous, tantalizing, reverent treatment of food I saw my starvation.

But it went far beyond that. The connections were heartbreakingly clear. My hostility toward food had drifted over everything in my life and cast shadows where sunlight should have been. I’d held myself too tightly for true intimacy. I was far too regimented to let loose and love. I hated to grocery shop, hated to cook…and, Play? What was that?

I remember my mother coming to visit me at one point in my mid twenties. She opened the refrigerator to a lone head of lettuce. Turning a worried frown toward me she asked, “Honey, what do you eat?”

“Lettuce…?” I shrugged.

Since moving to Bali eight years ago, I’ve been happy. Insanely happy. Food has become more interesting and I’ve developed an obsession for nachos, probably because good ones are next to impossible to find. A cafe in the rice fields has amazing black rice pudding and coconut gelato. I order it with Vietnamese coffee.

But after reading Essential Ingredients, I’ve gained a broader perspective. Food is life, and if I want to experience all life has to offer, I need to radically change my relationship to food. I want to invite food to take its honored place in my life. I want to take time to prepare delicious meals and then to eat mindfully, submerged in flavors and textures and the joy of sustenance.

Is it any accident that Erica Bauermeister’s book was on my shelf? That I’ve come to Italy to gain clarity for the path ahead? That food would show up as a central issue in a place where food and love go hand-in-hand? And that I’d be so ready?

Ah! The magic. The synchronicity.

Ahhhhh! Italy!

So…before you ask…yes. I went back to La Messaro tonight and had a PIZZA!!!!!

Gorgonzola and walnuts. With wine. And tiramisu for dessert.

And then…

I walked home. Down all those stairs. In the dark!

It got darker

and darker

and darker

until there was no light at all. Yikes!

A Hot Tango With Heartthrob

It was an absolutely stellar morning.

After 880 stairsteps yesterday – that was the actual count – my body said, Please! Not again! So I gave myself a slow start, basked in rays on the terrace, did my nails.

But it was just too beautiful, and the forecast for tomorrow said rain. ‘Listen up, body.’ I had to be firm. ‘We’ve got to take advantage of this glorious sunshine. We’ll stay on flat road – no stairs – I promise.’

What a bare-faced lie! Simply getting out of my house and to the street requires 224 steps – 112 down and, upon return, 112 back up again. But I seemed to have forgotten that – was busy thinking about tiramisu and another chat with Piccoletto.

So off I went with a plan. First stop, Alimentari Ripoli gourmet grocery to buy a Valentine treat for tomorrow. Then tiramisu and coffee. Then to Angela’s shop to check the bus schedule. I’m strategizing for the winery tour. Angela sells bus tickets.

I’ve mentioned how sleepy Praiano is right now and how many places (most) are closed for the season. I’m also discovering that open ones tend to shut down for a few hours mid-afternoon.

The grocery store, even though its website said it was open, wasn’t. And Piccoletto’s cafe, come to find out, is closed on Thursdays. Today was Thursday.

Cafe Novanta Quattro of Americano coffee and croissant fame, was open. The drop-dead-gorgeous silver-haired owner, aka Heartthrob, remembered me with a huge smile and hearty Buongiorno! The cafe suddenly felt like family. I ordered my Americano then pointed to a miniature pie dusted with powdered sugar.

“What’s inside this one?”

“Cream vanilla and cherries,” he said.

“Yes, please.”

I’d forgotten customers at this order-at-the-counter establishment pay after the dining experience.

My host reminded me. “You sit. I bring.”

I scurried away, chose a table outside in the sun and took off my coat, it was that warm. The treat arrived.

I have many definitions of happiness, but an Americano and this cream cherry tart is the current one. Heartthrob caught me mid-orgasm. “It’s okay?” he asked.

“It’s magnifico! Where do you buy your pastries?”

“I make them, signora.”

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. My heart was dancing a hot tango, and not alone.

I savoured every morsel then sat for a while, daydreaming. A woman arrived. Young. Dark-haired. Gorgeous. She nodded, acknowledging my presence so I asked her if she spoke English. She shrugged. Poco, she said.

From a great distance in time and memory, the phrase, poco a poco, floated to mind. Somehow I knew it meant little by little. So…she could speak a little English. Encouraged, I asked if she lived in Praiano.

“No. Sorrento.”

“What do you do there? Do you have a job?”

“Ingenere,” she said. Uh-oh. That one was not rising to the surface. She saw my vacant look, murmured, “Un momento,” and grabbed her phone. In seconds she showed me the English: engineer.

I would have loved to know what kind of engineer, but just then a man joined her and staccato conversation commenced. I pulled on my coat and went to the counter to pay. “Grazie and caio,” I said, a woman of few words, few Italian words, that is. I’d used them all.

It was a gentle slope downhill to Angela’s shop. By then I’d decided it was time for another bottle of wine, white this time. Something crisp and tart. Two reds in a row are utter decadence.

There was her doorway and what do you suppose?

Closed.

I turned around and went home, the steps weren’t that bad, waited two hours then tried again.

Open.

I found a white that looked intriguing then asked Angela about the bus schedule from Trimonte. You would have to have been there. It was one of those Abbott and Costello, Who’s on first, what’s on second type exchanges, partly because of the language. Correction. All because of the language. I got absolutely nowhere and left laughing, more confused than when I’d arrived.

Who cares if I end up in Trimonte, have a fabulous tour, taste spectacular wines, and there’s no bus back to Praiano? That’s all part of this extraordinary adventure, isn’t it.

The Wild-Haired Women of Paulo Sandulli

Paulo Sandulli creates art in an 800-year-old medieval tower.

Assiola was built as a defense lookout in 1270 when Praiano had a thriving silk industry and marauding pirates were a constant threat.

The curious round structure was the first thing I noticed from my terrace when I arrived. You really can’t miss it. I Googled: Tower in Praiano, and Signore Sandulli’s name popped up. I read about this multi-talented artist and knew I had to meet him.

Today I did.

The rugged approach was challenging after the 2,966,843 steps down from the street. I exaggerate, but not much. It’s rumored that Sandulli has goats. I didn’t see them, but the terrain would suit.

The door to the studio was open. He motioned me in. Oh, please converse in English, I prayed.

He did so with eloquence.

As one would expect, the circular space was a visual cornucopia. Sandulli has been working his magic here for thirty years. Right now he’s madly pumping out product preparing for the summer onslaught of tourists who flock to buy his pieces.

“Do you ever get tired of creating?” I asked, wondering how anyone could maintain that level of productivity over such a span of time. He raised his eyebrows, no doubt surprised at my cheeky question, looked around to ensure we were alone, then nodded the affirmative.

He was obviously able to power through whatever boredom might plague him. The room, bursting with torsos and busts, attested to that. He told me the figure beside him with glasses was a likeness of his father. I could see the resemblance.

On shelves and tabletops were rows of women sporting hair in a riot of colors. “Sponges,” he said. He removed one elegant lady’s updo and handed it to me. It was light as cotton balls.

For the next hour, the master himself treated me to a personal tour of his studio – a workplace magical and enthralling.

He excels in every medium: clay, oils, watercolor, acrylics. I paged through reams of charcoal sketches that prefaced his creations.

Unfinished busts sat drying, works in progress, and the blue box in the background is his kiln.

Mermaids cavorted in bathtubs…

Scantily dressed teams played tennis…

Nudes rode sea creatures. He told me the name of this fish…grouper maybe?

And in their private glass case, a group of fishermen played cards.

Sandulli’s muse Eleonora, “…was born in a tower overlooking the sea not very different from this one,” he said of the Aragonese princess, who in 1473 sealed a dynastic union by becoming the wife of the Duke of Ferrara. A picture of her hangs on the wall.

Paulo’s process is a study in economy and brilliance. He has only a few molds he uses for the chest and hip portions of the body. Then he attaches the head and limbs and assigns different positions to make each character a unique individual. For those that ride sea creatures, the hips spread wide for stradling broad backs. On some he attaches a mermaid’s tail.

It’s similar with the busts. The basic head is the same, but while the clay is still malleable he varies the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and gives each one a personality.

The terracotta figures are flamboyant and fun. But Paulo’s paintings tell deeper stories.

As my visit drew to a close, I thanked him for sharing his time and he grew contemplative. “This tower was used to defend Praiano from people who would have destroyed her,” he said. “With my paintings I also wish to defend this place. Make a record for future generations before it is lost.”

It’s a noble cause. Thank you, Signore Paulo Sandulli. I wish you well.

Oh, and by the way, please keep that painting for me, You know the one. I’ll be back.

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