visits on art, design, architecture and literature

Category: literature

Madrid_ Lorenzo Rodriguez, April 29, 2020

                               “The ability to understand and share feelings of another…”,
                                                                                          Lorenzo Rodriguez,  Madrid 


 photo @Lorenzo Rodriguez, Madrid, April 29, 2020


                                       Very early this morning I received this letter essay from my dear friend Lorenzo Rodriguez, a citizen of the world, quarantined in Madrid, a successful man in his profession in the investment world, with a great  passion in contemporary art and literature;  Directly from my desk, no editing or corrections. (Munich, Venetia Kapernekas)


The month is March in the year 2020, it sounds like I am starting a science fiction story, although it feels like I am living in one at this moment. The corona virus has become a part of history, in particular my history. It was not by choice but rather it was put upon me and the world with no permission or even a warning. Its origins are not so important, that time has passed as it is now part of the global landscape. I think about how something so small as a molecule could wreck so much havoc. I am 57 years old and have lived through and seen so much. Going back as far as I can remember, to events that were shaping the world, most of those were forged by human endeavors. The television brought these great feats into our living room. So for me, it starts with landing a man on the moon. The vivid pictures are imprinted in my memory, the grainy images and the crackling voices of that event that changed the world. As child it was a remarkable time,  my brothers and I would gather around the television, religiously as live feeds from the moon were projected magically. I think that the entire human race was awakened to the possibility that anything was possible. We as human had achieved a sense of immortality or at least the illusion that we could control our own destiny. Maybe it was this event that allowed me to see a future that had no boundaries.  

As time moved forward, world events would unfold as a testament to both the wonder and tragedy. It was clear that human existence could not only achieve ongoing progress but could also plunge itself into endless sorrow and destruction. If I had to name the the achievements most of these would include science, technology, medicine, infrastructure, agriculture and of course the longevity of the human race. The antithesis of this would be wars which would range from Vietnam all the way to Bosnia and continue to the Middle East. We became used to these tragedies as, once again social media would bring these far off conflicts into our daily life instantaneously. In some sense our tolerance for these events became somewhat immune to the terror. 

However their were events that would begin to shape me personally, as they began to include people that were close to me. They were no longer stories of far off places with names and faces that had very little to do with me. The first would be the Tsunami in Bali – cataclysmic wave that would consume and decimate an entire city. Unfortunately one of my oldest and dearest friends was there with his wife and two small children. He would later tell me of the horror he witnessed that day. He would describe running up a hill with his two children in his arms and his wife behind him as the desperately moved to higher ground. It was unimaginable for me to comprehend what he went through. Later they would make movies to try and at least portray the magnitude of this natural tragedy. For me this was the beginning of an awaking that despite our growing sense of immunity, maybe we are not so safe and not so out of reach from nature’s wrath. 

The second would be incited by the human touch and would demonstrate the true nature of our depravity. That is of course would be September 11th. I was living in New York and would experience not only the devastation of a city but also a country. It was one of those moments that shaped my very existence and has remained not only as a scar but ghost that still haunts me. We have all seen the image that flashed across every media outlet worldwide. However, to have lived there and experience the trauma firsthand was something I am still not able to articulate. Though just an attempt, all of my senses would be to the point of being compounded. The visual would be only the beginning as my olfactory would begin to absorb the flesh and metal that became the scent of the city. The blare of constant sirens and the occasional explosive would immediately push my thoughts to another attack. I would be reminded, the loss of a group of firefighters whom were a part of my life and local community. They would all perish in the blink of an eye. 

Yet here I am. I have been under self quarantine in Madrid for several weeks now. This situation has given me time to reflect and to consider many things. I have had on going dialogue with friends, clients and associates. My network is quite extensive, that is to say it not only spans continents but also demographics, incomes, occupations even intellect. That is a ambiguous word intellect -, those with higher education and others that have learned through life experience. Currently we are all sharing the same fate, whether in self quarantine or about to enter self-quarantine. This corona virus had unexpected consequences. We have all been thrust into this new paradigm, a seemingly alternative universe. Times of sickness require us to stay put, to hunker down. I have had to reflect on not only myself but also the world and society that is part of my community. The personal changes that have occurred these past weeks. Being isolated in one place over a long period of time does not happen often. Times of sickness require us to stay in bed and are usually accompanied by a mix of medicine, fever and doctors. However for many, circumstances in this case are quite the opposite. We are being told to just isolate, not leave the house or apt. There is nothing forcing me to do this other than the fear of contracting the virus . 

I am writing these thoughts because I am part of this theater in which the entire planet has set the stage for either actors or extras within a global drama. It might be for the first time in my life I am beginning to understand that we are all part of this, that this virus has made this all inclusive. It doesn’t matter the color of our skin, the demographics, the language we speak or the neighborhood we live in. Its doesn’t discriminate in its sexual preference or our beliefs. It actually has become the great equalizer, it has in a strange way united us as human beings. Its like a alien landed on the planet and has declared war on all of us, just as in the movie “War of the Worlds”by H.G Wells, but now it has appeared as a molecule. 

During this quarantine time the first thing I did was order books. I started with SPQR The History of the Roman Empire. A fascinating book on the rise of Rome from obscurity. It carried me through the history of how this great empire came to be. As I read this it became clear that the issues that faced these ancient people are the same issues we are facing today. You have to put this into context as well, Rome at is peak was a million people. There was no other city that even came close to the population of Rome. In fact, close to a million people died in the colosseum alone. What became clear to me is as society becomes more advance, it simultaneously falls progressively more victim to over population, immigration, sanitation, disease as well as social unrest. The division between the haves and have nots always seems to widen and, in the end, is one of the reasons for it collapse. As I sit here in quarantine I see that not much has changed. 

The next book I read was a story about the immigration of a family from Vietnam to Hartford Connecticut. The title of the book in itself is so moving,“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous “. Quite apropos for the moment we are currently in. The book is almost a letter to the mother from the main character. It is a an accurate account of the hardships immigrants face when coming to America. Being first generation Mexican American the book resonated with me and reminds me of stories my father told me when he first came to the United States. One of the most striking themes of the book is how all the immigrants, from the Hispanics working the farms, to the Asians doing manicures and pedicures and even working class Americans all share the same fate. They are forgotten and the ones with a small voice. It is also the class struggle of big pharmaceutical that places opioids in these communities and completely devastated them. The addictions turned small towns into dens of despair with no way out but prison or death. I was moved to tears as the story of hope seems so far removed from these communities. Yet the writer was able to escape well those around him would disappear into the landscape. The question for myself is how did I escape from my social class that most of my friends remain? I often think that it was books and stories that gave me a glimpse of something that was far beyond my reach, yet at the same time I saw possibilities. 

The final book I completed was the story of Churchill and the bombing of Britain. The title was “The Splendid and the Vile”. Is it a coincidence that I am reading a book about one of the most devastating moments of history of the 20th century? I understood World War II quite well, however I really was not able to comprehend the onslaught of Nazi Germany on the cities and people of the United Kingdom. The odds that were completely stacked against them as a nation. They were entirely alone and the rest of Europe had already fallen to Germany. The United States was not interested in global politics, in fact the slogan, America First was the theme and isolationist led the charge. What the UK had was Churchill and his unending focus and will to press ahead. The premise of the book is about leadership in a time of crisis. Churchill had the ability to garner support in the most dire circumstances. His honesty and empathy was the shining beacon that guided a country to eventual victory. He would always begin by telling the truth no matter how difficult it was. It was imperative to him that the population understand that the current situation was not good, in fact it looked quite grim if not hopeless. The next part of his speech would be to consider the possibilities, to look at what we do have and how we can improve to better the chances of survival. His uncanny ability to mobilize his staff and the industry of the country was remarkable. Finally he would speak about all of the United Kingdom being part of one community and also history itself. That together they would withstand the tyranny and if it cost them everything then so be it. He was able to lead and invigorate everyone, from the working class to the high minded. Yes this would be their finest hour ! 

Words seem to define and express the moments and emotions we are currently feeling. I find myself strong, yet fragile, happy yet a moment away from despair. Tears fill my eyes over the slightest story or image flashing across the television. It’s if my entire being has been tampered with, the strings that were firm and well tuned have become somewhat out of balance. Reading these books it has occurred to me that human existence continues to falter and simultaneously excel. Nature reminds us that though it may appear that we are superior, educated and cultured these traits are only fragments of the entire story. One of the reasons I am writing this “essay” or “narrative” is because a dear friend of mine said that when this is over, we will return to the way we were. Humankind’s  need for conformity and consistency is much more bound to us than the premise of change. I am not certain of this, I feel the very fabric of my existence is slowly splintered and is beginning to unravel. I believe that something inherently has shifted and I will be unable to return to the life that I once had. It has dawned on me that experience both positive and tragic begin to alter our sense of reality. That is not to say that most people may just fall back into the life that they lived regardless of the circumstance that we currently face. Maybe the old idea of free will and determinism is much more relevant. I am trying to grapple with this on a daily basis. My idea of freedom has been fractured, blown apart and redefined. Being incarcerated for over a month you start to see yourself in a different light. Physically the changes are subtle, the measures of these are only the length of our hair and the color of your skin. Grooming and dressing slowly evaporates, the need for that is no longer relevant. Recently, I attended a  video conference call for work, I urgently combed my hair, shaved and tried to present myself professionally. Ironically, from waist down I was wearing shorts, no shoes or socks. 

This past month I have been on WhatsApp, WeChat, Skype, BlueJean, Zoom, FaceTime as well as on the phone. My parents who are 88 and 86 years old live outside of Chicago. Last year I gave my mother my old iPad and also put WhatsApp on her cell phone. Luckily my mother who is incredibly resourceful learned to use these apps in spite of her age and lack of technological prowess. This has been the only way to physically see them and check on them. I can hear their voices and see if they were showing symptoms. I was also able to send them information on how to live in this time of social distancing. It is hard to imagine how excruciating it would be not to have this technology and being so far away. I speak to my mother often, she just tells me about her day and what she is doing. Her appreciation for these calls is evident as each ends with a sigh and tear. For my parents this isolation took sometime for them to realize that it would not end anytime soon and that they are very susceptible to the virus. However, they are selfless and only encourage me to be strong and to always be hopeful. The appreciation that I have for them and the time that they have left has become so crystalized. It has occurred to me that I am very lucky and that everyday is somewhat a gift that has been bestowed upon me. In this confinement I find comfort in the uncertainty. 

There have been so many conversations with friends its hard to find a place to start. They all began with the questions; How are you? Where are you? My friends are located across the globe, New York, London, Paris, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Rome, Madrid, Los Angeles, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Washington DC, Houston, Austin, Tokyo, Osaka, Charlotte, Miami, Big Sur, Seattle, Stockholm, Milan, Mexico City, Guadalajara, São Paulo, Moscow, Rio, Bonifacio, Zurich, Athens, Sevilla, Williamsburg, Venice, Sydney, Greenwich, Darian, Mallorca, Ibiza, Hamburg, Berlin, Istanbul, Dallas, Antwerp, Brussels, Clinton, Oswego, Naperville, Frankfurt, and Philadelphia. If I am forgetting someplace, its probably due to my emotional state. We discussed the virus and the impact it was having on our personal lives as well as our community. Assurances were made that we were all taking every precaution and that we would let each other know if any issues would arise. The love and affection that I felt was sometimes overwhelming. Their were moments that I would weep uncontrollably knowing that I was blessed to have such friends as part of my life. The backgrounds vary, from artist, entrepreneurs, bankers, tech, porters, chefs, restaurant owners, doctors, writers, drivers, curators, art dealers, furniture sales, architects, moms, hotel owners, hairstylist, jobbers, dads, grandparents,  designers, translators, contractors, lawyers, screenwriters, waiters, chauffeurs, salespersons, teachers, professors, economist, researchers, motivational speakers, bloggers, and the list goes on and on. I wanted to show that no matter what we do and where we are, all of us are bound by this human existence. Now, at this time we also share the same fate, as the pandemic has become the thread that has woven this pattern. 

Throughout this past month, conversation with friends has been some of the most illuminating times of my life. The spectrum has been wide with respect to cause, blame, effect, outcome and possible resolution. These conversation have sometimes been quite heated. Anger and rage directed to China as the main cause for the current state of affairs. I have been quite surprised by some of the language and xenophobic words used towards that country. Yes, the virus originated in China and that the government didn’t inform the world in a timely manner. What concerns me is that the vernacular used and the  detrimental consequence not only to people of Chinese origin but also to Asians in general. Unfortunately, humans tend to categorize ethnic groups into clusters. Americans especially have a tendency to define race in order to identify origin. I know this first hand being Mexican American. How many forms did I  fill out describing my ethnic background. The terms Hispanic or Latin or other. When we begin to put identity on diseases we fall into a perilous place. That is why scientists are careful not to label them as ethnic designation. 

Recently I watched a comedian and social commentator rant about why we shouldn’t call it the CHINESE VIRUS. He went on to describe other viral outbreaks;  West Nile, correct me if I am wrong is that an ethnic group,  Zika from the forest, Ebola from the Ebola river, but if I am not mistaken they are not countries or ethnic group but rather a region. The whopper, which he should have taken a history lesson, the Spanish Flu as that did not originate in Spain. Cause which then transforms to blame. There is a fine line which can be perilous. The history of the Japanese Americans during the Second World War is an example. Its understandable as it creates an enemy that we can see, identify and label. Its very difficult to blame a molecule or a virus. I think it’s important that we are cognizant of the consequence of words and labels. We have seen too often the detrimental effects it can have. I have often tried to diffuse these conversations and try to focus on the problem at hand. I think we are far beyond the position of blame. Our world is in turmoil and the enemy is the virus. So if the enemy is the virus the army must be the scientist and health care workers who are on the front lines of this so called war. I am often amazed at the compassion and fearlessness these health care workers take on a daily basis. The world has come together to try and find a solution to this dilemma. The great thing about scientists and science is they don’t see borders, countries or even language as a barrier. To them the problem lies solely with the molecule and how to stop it. Watching the news its astounding seeing cooperation of governments around the world not only to share information, data and research but additionally provide medical supplies as needed. Madrid, where I am currently under quarantine, every evening at 8:00 pm the windows are open and the city claps and shouts. Its not of anger or distress, but of praise to the sanitation workers that are daily disinfecting the city streets and making sure that city remains hopeful. I too have participated reaching outward from the window with my arms outstretched clapping and applauding. You can hear the echos of so many hands together in unison as well as sirens and music. I find this moment quite moving and almost ephemeral, we cant see each other but we share this feeling of gratitude as well as unity. 

The effect that virus has caused seems to be endless. I could start with the health issues that lay before us. The magnitude of the social displacement has been unimaginable. The world has suddenly stopped other than the typing of the keys on-computers and cell phones. Socially we have been asked to separate and stay inside. I cannot remember in my entire life this being so wide spread. Yes their have been storms, tornados and even hurricanes that required diligence and shelter. Yet this has taken us to another level. The effect of this for me is both a blessing and a curse. I found this quote the other day by Gabriel Garcia Marquez “ ….time was not passing…it was turning in a circle…” it was taken from the book One Hundred Years of Solitude. I find both the quote and the title of the book appropriate if not prophetic. Time is not passing the way that is use to, it is moving in a foreign way. We are not able to discern its true direction. We are in solitude, some actually alone in their homes others alone in their thoughts. How long will this timelessness endure? 

Personally and professionally my life has had an abrupt change. My work which included me getting on an airplane at least 2 to 3 times a week has comes to a standstill. Interaction with my clients is solely via emails or video chats. However, there seems to be a greater connection to some of them. As we are all in this uncertain time the need for trust and confidence becomes so much more important. In addition there is more intimacy in the nuances of our conversations. We speak about investment opportunities not as just a numerical exercise, but also what impact it will have on our respected countries, and even sometimes families. I can’t recall ever having these types of conversations in the 20 years I have been doing this. I am working on a deal that is closely tied to the underclass in Los Angeles. The urgency of this project has also come into light by several of my investors. They feel that something needs to be done to help during this crisis. I often wonder why now, why at this time do we now feel this urgency? 

Personally my passion is contemporary art. For the last three decades I have travelled across continents to see and experience art. My closest friends are artists, dealers, collectors and curators. The art world has always presented itself to me as an alternative to not only my profession but also a sanctuary for my emotions as well as my critical understanding of the world l live in.  It has given me countless measures of pleasure as well as hope. That is not to say that the art world has not been disrupted and chastened before. This time it feels different and much more systemic. Maybe because the art world has expanded in leaps and bounds these past 10 years that it felt that it was part of this new boundless world. As in all things it may have reached it’s zenith and has become part of the devastation that the virus has placed on all things. I know that it will reinvent itself and adapt and hopefully for the better. What I am certain of is that it will endure not for the financial or economic reasons. I believe that part of it will continue as wealth will maintain its presence. I do believe that the idea of art will be a reflection of this time and the time to come. I have been asked many time why art is so important to you? In short, there was a time when I studied theology. I was a believer which is the catch word used by ‘Christians’.  I went to seminary and my life and belief was centered around this idea of faith. However over time, and after extensive education I eventually lost that belief.  I realized after studying theology, sociology, anthropology and so many ideas. It soon occurred to me that many have come and gone and others adapt and change.  Empires have also risen and fallen with remnants somehow continue but the days of their glory has long passed. What has remained is always the art. It finds its way as a testament of the human experience. Even when man has laid waste to itself, the art rears it head in the most unlikely way. This for me is very comforting as my time here is so limited. So I am not so concerned about how this will impact the art world, as in the end it will always find a way. 

As I write this essay it has occurred to me that the overall effect of this pandemic is that it has required all humans to stop and think even for a moment. The silence sometimes is deafening as for this brief moment all of us are at least aware that something has happened. Nature is acutely aware as the pollution has stopped, and the waters are clear. Even the animals that were so reclusive have appeared in our cities and towns. Its springtime and the flowers are blooming as nature reminds us that this is the season of renewal. I have gotten so me photos sent to me of flowers and trees and green fields. No more images of parties, gallery openings or even cities. If feel like people are much more aware of nature which also requires time. What I don’t want to negate is that there are many that don’t have the privilege or luxury to stop and listen.  What has emerged so clearly is the indifference and injustice that our society has created. As someone very dear to me said society is broken and unfortunately it took a pandemic to shine the spotlight on something that has been simmering for a long time. I received an email from a friend of mine in London who quoted a statistic to me about Chicago and the number of fatalities in the African American neighborhoods versus the deaths due to the virus. I was quite upset as these neighborhoods on the West side of the city have been plagued with violence and gun related mortality for years. However, it was only noticed in respect to a pandemic sweeping across the states. The stark reality of this became clear to me when a map of the virus was enhanced of New York City. The city includes 5 boroughs ( Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island and Manhattan) Manhattan being the most recognized and the wealthiest. The remainder are working class neighborhoods that hold every ethnic group across the city. They say you can take the A line and travel across the globe. The colors showed the areas with the highest level of the pandemic. Darker colors highlighted the outbreak as hot spots. The darkest colors were the lowest income zip codes with the lighter ones mostly in Manhattan except for Harlem and Washington Heights. I am sure this repeats itself in places like Chicago, Detroit, New Orlean, Miami and other major cities.  I think about these neighborhoods and the people who live there. They work two maybe three jobs to cover living expense and keep food on the table. A friend said many send their children to school to make sure they get one nutritious meal at lunch time as money can be tight. However they don’t complain nor do they have time to think about the virus. This reality is what most Americans face and this income gap is only growing. I was recently in Iowa before the virus lock down in the Midwest. I was with an old friend who grew up in one of these American towns. He drove me around telling me about how the farms were the back bone of the economy. Family farms that had been run for generations. Now most of corporate farms, you can tell by the machinery in front of the barns, brand new equipment. Also the lights are off in farmhouse properties. We also drove through the town which was empty and boarded up. He told me that it was a great town always busy with people. Then Walmart came. They warned the citizens of the town not to shop there as it would destroy the community. However the low prices and quantity of goods was irresistible. So slowly the entire town closed it shops and soon it was empty. Then came the opioids which would be the nail in the coffin. My friend said this story repeats itself all along the banks of the Mississippi where all these towns use to thrive. I think that something is inherently wrong with our society and the virus is a symptom of the sickness. I believe we deeply care about our country as well as its citizens but is that enough? 

The world is in lockdown mode and quarantines are part of the social, political and daily lifestyle across the globe. Economies have come to a standstill and unemployment has skyrocketed. For many this is a spiral with an outcome of  instability. Social unrest is growing especially in the United States where the average family has $400 dollars for emergencies. People are feeling desperate as governments try to grapple with the virus spreading and economies shrinking. It’s a daily battle that doesn’t seem to be letting up. I know that I will be able to weather the storm as well as many of my friends and peers. You see we are part of that  generation who learned to adapt as well as save. Adversity has always been a part of my life personally. My parents didn’t have money to spend and with that they instilled a strong work ethic of self reliance. The motto being “ you don’t work you don’t eat and if you don’t ask you don’t get”. Everything was a struggle, if we wanted something we had to find a way. So this ideology  strengthened my resolve to always be ready for the worst case scenario. The irony is my parents are retired living on a fixed income with their savings a little else. My twin brother, unfortunately is part of the paycheck to paycheck society. He works extremely hard but has little to show for it. In addition he must pay child support as well as keep himself above water. So I ask myself how does this happen? Why him and not me? It occurred to me that most of the people I grew up with are similar situations. Hard working, honest and admirable people who just cant seem to get a break. Yet my world is completely different, even in the crisis we face today. I know that I will be fine and that in the end not much financially or lifestyle will change for me. Yet I feel a sense of despair as well as embarrassment. To achieved what my parents wanted for me, success, independence and freedom from the burden of class struggle. 

All this being said what will be the outcome of all this? How then shall we live? I just started reading “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. I find the words profound and articulate. The idea of responsibility to society but also to oneself. It talks about being a citizen and how that defines the person. Of course he was talking about being a citizen of Rome, however the same applies to a citizen of humanity. To examine our responsibility to our community, family and country. The idea that nature will runs it course is somewhat comforting. “Time is a river, a violent current of events, glimpsed once and already carried past us, and another follows and is gone.” This pandemic will eventually end or come to some sort of resolution. Either a vaccine or inhibitor will be created. Yet the impact will linger and its effect continues to define the present as well as the future. I hope with all sincerity that society has come to understand that we are all part of the same. As human beings we are all exposed to the possibility of this virus but also to the aftermath of its destruction. The question that rings constantly in my consciousness is have we heard and are we listening? Humanity is sitting on the razors edge, slowly inching it way trying to stay balanced and at the same time avoiding the blades sting. How we manage this moving forward is the question. As individuals we must choose and decide what this means for us as well as our community. That community is our friends, coworkers, family as well as the strangers who walk among us. I know that the geopolitical and economic outcomes will be decided between governments. Those outcomes we have very little say in that decision process. To be honest governments have failed us in these times. Their inability on a global basis to consider individuals and the actual effect it has has on them is overshadowed by political agendas and economic rhetoric. The voice of the people have long been drowned out by money and power. I was never a proponent that change comes from speeches or sweeping policies. Those tend to get lost in the excitement that soon becomes bogged down in technocratic gibberish. However, I do believe in the individual and the community. The opportunity to shape our own life and those around us. This idea is organic and grows from within itself. It may not be glamorous or exhibit to the  world how advanced society is. Yet it is personal and effects people immediately. It gives us the opportunity to feel and understand each other and hopefully broaden are perception of the world around us. This is not a political agenda or a ideology that requires a label. Its neither right nor left or even center. It’s a personal choice that requires a bit of compassion and empathy. That word that I hope will define all of us moving forward into this unknown future. “The ability to understand and share feelings of another”. The corona virus has left its mark on history this is certain. Yet at the same time has given us, you and me a opportunity to also be affected by its outcome. There is a hope here that I believe can have a much deeper and profound impact on humanity and society. This can be remembered as a new beginning.  

                                                       Lorenzo Rodriguez, Madrid, April 29, 2020, 8 am

“Stories and Reflections” Axel Vervoordt and Michael James Gardner


Last spring during a beautiful dinner given by Fergus McCaffrey gallery, New York, as of the historic exhibition Gutai (1953-1959)  I met the writer Michael  James Gardner.  Our evening conversation was on his new publication, a memoir co-written with Axel Vervoordt,  “Stories and Reflections”, published by Flammarion (p hardback, 312 pages).  Axel Vervoordt, Belgian designer and famous curator whose taste and knowledge for rare and beautiful antiques, in modern art, furnishings, and pottery is astonishing.  Michael James Gardner is an American writer and Axel’s son in law.   I was delighted when I received the following afternoon my own copy signed by both authors.

To make this book. we began with a list that Axel made that included one hundred moments from his fascinating life. During a period of time that lasted many weeks, we met as often as we could, Axel started to tell me his stories and I learned many things that I never knew.  In the months that followed, as I listened to the recordings of the time we spent together, it became clear that many of the one hundred moments were connected…One thing leads to another. One story contains many…(Acknowledgements, Stories, and Reflections)


Needless to say that ‘Stories and Reflections”  was my companion through the summer during quiet hot afternoons in the Mediterranean and busy travel time as  the stories  unveiled and weaved in an extraordinary way, from discovering Japanese Gutai art, the decades-long series of exhibitions at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice; the  wonderful insights gained from artists, such as Cy Twombly, Anish Capoor..   By permission from Michael James Gardner, I chose three stories and photos to share here.

Cy Twombly and a Change of Heart 

photo©Jan Liegeois, published in “Stories and Reflections”


One of the last times I saw Cy was at TEFAF. He was interested in an ancient artifact, a Mesopotamian duck weight, circa 1500 BCE. Made of marble, such weights were used for measuring commodities traded in local villages.  He wanted to buy it, and I wanted to deliver it to his house in Italy personally. It was always difficult to reach him to make the travel arrangements. He rarely used the phone. His home in Gaeta was in a remote, hillside village on the coast between Roma and Naples. The best way to contact him was to call a local café, which he went to at the same time every day. …..in 2011, the news arrived: he had died in a hospital in Rome. In remembrance of him, I didn’t want anyone else to have the marbled duck. Today, it has a special place in the library of the castle and I think of Cy wherever I see it. (Stories and Reflections,pp. 194)


Stones and Silence 

photo©Jan Liegeois, published in  “Stories and Reflections”


“I believe stones are created by time and carry the power of the earth. Stones are like silence, slow-living animals-they have a spirit that resonates for thousand and even millions of years. 
…I believe there is a distinctive spirit in different types of stones – my practice is a reminder of that.  It’s a way of giving nobility to an earthy object that looks humble but actually has weight and meaning.”
In our workshop, I have designed floating stone tables using black Belgian slate. The creative process includes simply running my hand over the stone, not to give it the shape that I want, but to respect the shape the stone has already – like its hidden soul – and to use this as a guide in the design. Creating a patina by rubbing our hands over stone objects can be a healing process.  (Stories and Reflections, pp. 202) 


The Story of the Parquet

photo©Jan Liegeois, published in “Stories and Reflections”
While renovating the castle in the mid-1980s. I dreamed of creating a study with a beautiful floor. .. Through a referral, I heard there was something special in the north of Paris 
…A few weeks late, the parquet was delivered to the castle. It was much more beautiful than I could have expected. The designs used a mixture of walnut, rosewood, and maple to make intricate and unique shapes inspired by geometry, with expert precision……
…During that time, the craftsmen in our workshop worked hard for man months to recreate each square. On the day that the parquet was removed from the castle, we replaced the entire floor with our version, The process of producing it was the excellent technical training of our craftsmen. I consider their work to be a masterpiece. (Stories and Reflections, pp145) 


Author’s note: In the process of creating this book. I relied upon my memory of many different experiences in my life. I recounted the stories to my son-in-law in English, which is not my native language. We consulted family members and others who appear in these stories to read drafts, provide edits, or offer their own accounts of the events as we lived them. We researched facts and details when we could. I have changed the names in some cases or omitted them altogether. I occasionally left out certain details, but only when that didn’t change the purpose or emotional truth of the story and why I wanted to share these memories with you. (Axel Vervoordt)

….. you learn also from the ugliness because you either want to make it better or try to accept it. There is no beauty without ugliness. Art made me look at things differently. It opened my mind. I went on my own to England when I was 14 to buy antiques, and then I sold to my parents’ friends. I went to big, beautiful houses, and they had the most amazing art and furniture with Wellington boots out front. They lived in a casual way with beautiful things. In France and other countries, people had expensive things, but you couldn’t touch them. It was only to show riches, and I never liked that. I like things that are close to you that give you spirit. (Axel Vervoordt ” the design is here’, conversation  with Kanye West, by Chris Gardner, April 13, 2018)


“I want to give a different dimension to what I do. I don’t like that word, decorating…Rick Owens speaks with Axel Vervoordt about living in the light and what it takes to make a village.” Interview magazine, July 16, 2014)

Author’s note: The first half of the book tells more of a chronological story of Axel’s life, and the second half he really wanted to add more “reflections” and little lessons that he learned. It is more about mentorship that he received as a child and trying to pay that forward. (Michael James Gardner, May 28th, private note/email to me)

all photos©Jan Liegeois published  by permission directly by the author Michael James Gardner


Munich; a melancholic sunday afternoon reading “Το Παραμυθι της Βροχης” της Τεσυ Μπαιλα

A melancholic Sunday afternoon in Munich glancing again this marvelous book, “Το παραμυθι της βροχης” της Τεσυ Μπαιλα, εκδοσεις  Δοκιμακης.


«Μια φορά κι έναν καιρό», άρχισε να σιγοψιθυρίζει η Χριστίνα, «ήταν μια όμορφη κοπέλα. Φορούσε ένα καφέ φόρεμα και περπατούσε μόνη της σ’ ένα κάμπο. Την έλεγαν Γη. Είχε περάσει πολύς καιρός από τότε που είχε για τελευταία φορά καρπίσει. Τότε που καταπράσινα χορτάρια είχαν φυτρώσει στο μακρύ της φόρεμα και κόκκινες παπαρούνες είχαν γεμίσει όλο τον ποδόγυρό της. Μέσα στη γη, κρυμμένο βρισκόταν ένα σποράκι, ένα τόσο δα σποράκι, που όμως το καημένο δεν μπορούσε να βλαστήσει. Χρειαζόταν νερό πολύ, μια γερή κατεβασιά νερού που θα πλημμύριζε το χώμα της γης και θα το έκανε να ζήσει. Ένα περαστικό συννεφάκι άκουσε το παράπονό του. Στάθηκε πάνω από το χώμα και το ρώτησε γιατί κλαίει. Το σποράκι τού είπε τι συνέβαινε. Με λίγο νερό θα μπορούσε να γίνει ένα κατακόκκινο λουλούδι και να στόλιζε τη Γη. “Και γι αυτό στενοχωριέσαι;” το ρώτησε το συννεφάκι. “Περίμενε και θα δεις”. Έβαλε τα δυνατά του το σύννεφο να κλάψει, σφίχτηκε, ξανασφίχτηκε, φούσκωσε τα μάγουλά του, κόντεψε να σκάσει, μα τίποτα δεν κατάφερε. “Τα βλέπεις;” είπε το σποράκι. “Τίποτα δε γίνεται”. Μάταια προσπαθούσε για ώρα το σύννεφο. Δεν κατάφερνε να κλάψει. Άρχισε να θυμάται πράγματα που είχε δει από ψηλά και το είχαν στενοχωρήσει, μήπως και καταφέρουν τα δάκρυα να βρουν το δρόμο τους προς τη γη. Και πάλι τίποτα. Εκείνη την ώρα έφτασε κοντά στο σύννεφο ένα άλλο συννεφάκι. Το αδελφάκι του ήταν. Ήταν γκρίζο και με δυσκολία μπορούσε να κινηθεί στον ουρανό. “ Τι κάνεις εσύ εδώ;” ρώτησε απορημένο που τόση ώρα το έβλεπε να στέκεται εκεί αμετακίνητο. Το λευκό συννεφάκι τού εξήγησε τι συνέβαινε, του είπε για το σποράκι, του είπε για το κλάμα που δεν ερχόταν.
“Θα σε βοηθήσω εγώ”, του είπε κι άρχισε σιγά-σιγά να κλαίει με ευκολία. Το σποράκι δέχτηκε το νερό που το γκρίζο σύννεφο του χάριζε και μέσα στη δροσιά που εισχώρησε στο χώμα άρχισε να φουσκώνει, να φουσκώνει όλο και πιο πολύ, ώσπου στο τέλος έσκασε, κι ένα μικρό, πράσινο φυλλαράκι, σαν κεραία φύτρωσε στο κεφάλι του. Λίγο καιρό μετά μέσα από το χώμα ξεπετάχτηκε ένα τόσο όμορφο, κόκκινο λουλούδι που άλλο όμοιό του κανείς δεν είχε δει. Το φόρεμα της Γης είχε γεμίσει μαργαρίτες, παπαρούνες και τριαντάφυλλα αλλά όλοι μιλούσαν για το παράξενο λουλούδι που είχε φυτρώσει. Τα συννεφάκια αγκαλιασμένα στον ουρανό καμάρωναν, και το λουλούδι λικνιζόταν στον άνεμο που απαλά φυσούσε τα φύλλα του».

Από το ” παραμύθι της βροχής’ της Τέσυ Μπάιλα!


Η Τέσυ Μπάιλα κατάγεται από τις Κυκλάδες;  γεννήθηκε στον Πειραιά. Σπούδασε Ιστορία Ελληνικού Πολιτισμού και μετάφραση Λογοτεχνίας. Ασχολείται με τη φωτογραφία και ατομικές της εκθέσεις έχουν φιλοξενηθεί στο πανεπιστήμιο Gakugei της Ιαπωνίας και στην Αθήνα. Είναι συντάκτρια του λογοτεχνικού περιοδικού Κλεψύδρα. Παράλληλα δημοσιεύει δοκίμια σε εφημερίδες και περιοδικά. Κυκλοφορούν τα βιβλία της: Το πορτρέτο της σιωπής, εκδ. Έναστρον, ‘Το παραμύθι της βροχής’, εκδ. Δοκιμάκης και ‘Το μυστικό ήταν η ζάχαρη’ και “Ουίσκι μπλε’ εκδ.Ψυχογιός.


Munich;discussion at Haus der Kunst “Intolerable: Giving Offence and the Limits of Free Expression”

Haus der kunst organized on Thursday night, Feb 13th an evening panel with three leading thinkers to engage in a discussion that tried to  illuminate  critical questions.  Panelists were  Matthias Lilienthal (director of the Munich Kammerspiele from September 2015), Hito Steyerl  (filmmaker and author (born in 1966 in Munich) lives and works in Berlin) and Joachim Bernauer  (director of the Goethe-Institut’s department of culture); the moderator is Okwui Enwezor, director Haus der Kunst.

photo 2 copy

“The recent killings of journalists and police guards in the Paris offices of the satirical French magazine “Charlie Hebdo” have brought to public debate fresh appraisals of the relationship between intolerance, free expression, censorship, and the right to offend sensibilities, be they cultural or religious, political, or ideological. But there is not always an easy distinction of where to draw the limit of free speech and who has the right to impose a limit on expression, regardless of how offensive such expression may be deemed.

At the same time, questions posed by the killings in Paris can be analyzed from the view of the current conflicted state of global, multicultural societies. This issue becomes urgent, particularly when giving offence converges with intolerance under the guise of free expression. But is there a point when offensive images, expressions, and representations become intolerable? Is intolerance of certain types of expression the same as censorship of thought? Can there ever be a limitless sphere of free expression in today’s increasingly plural, multicultural, transnational, and global societies? These questions are all the more pertinent within the realm of artistic and cultural practice, particularly as they meet at the point where institutions must provide an open and unrestricted space for challenging ideas and concepts.” (haus der kunst, press release) 

more at Haus der kunst details 

Berlin & New York: lost stories by Truman Capote Are Published

This is amazing!


The news just came out and while I was reading it, I wanted to share as has been published at the New York Times but really it started here in Germany as Four of the stories, believed to have been written from 1935 to 1943, appear in German translations in Thursday’s edition of the German publication ZEITmagazin.

The  Swiss publisher, Peter Haag,  was searching for chapters of Truman Capote’s unfinished final novel last summer when he stumbled upon a different find. While poring over Capote’s writings and papers at the New York Public Library, he  discovered a collection of previously unpublished short stories and poems from Capote’s youth.

Those stories will be seen in German more than a year ahead of the scheduled release of the full collection, a dozen poems and roughly 20 stories, by Random House in English and by Kein & Aber in German. David Ebershoff, who is editing the book for Random House for a December 2015 release, said the decision to publish the four first in German was a nod to Mr. Haag’s research.

Mr. Ebershoff said in an email. “Reading the manuscripts — with his corrections and edits — is fascinating. You can literally see a young genius at work. I don’t use that word lightly, but these early stories show that Capote’s talent and way of experiencing the world was with him from a very young age.”

Even in translation, Capote’s style is immediately recognizable in the short stories, under the titles “Miss Belle Rankin,” “This Here Is From Jamie,” “Saturday Night” and “The Horror in the Swamp,” laced with his incisive attention to detail and themes of longing for love and acceptance, and the transience of life.

Capote, who died in 1984, at 59, is believed to have written these works between the time he was 11 and 19, although not all are dated.

more here http://www.zeit.de/zeit-magazin/leben/2014-10/truman-capote-erzaehlungen-roshani-haag

Mr. Capote said in 1978. ”The thing about people like me is that we always knew what we were going to do. Many people spend half their lives not knowing. But I was a very special person, and I had to have a very special life. I was not meant to work in an office or something, though I would have been successful at whatever I did. But I always knew that I wanted to be a writer and that I wanted to be rich and famous.’ (Albin Krebs on Capote at NY Times, 1984)

what Albin Krebs wrote on August 28, 1984 on Truman Capote after his death ” A Novelist of Style and Clarity”




A visit at The New Yorkr, an incredible story “Sixty Nine Days”

published at the New Yorker, July 7th, 2014

While in Maremma, Italy and indulge on my reading, I found this story “Sixty Nine Days” quite extraordinary.  It is  the ordeal of  the Chilean miners in August 2010. Hector Tobar has given an amazing inside of the mountain and the inside of all the miners being trapped and their lives.


photo by Moise Saman (published photo at The New Yorker, July 7, 2014)

….The San José Mine is situated inside a round, rocky, and lifeless mountain in the Atacama Desert, in Chile. Once every dozen years or so, a storm system sweeps across the desert, dropping a torrent of rain. When that happens, the dust turns to mud as thick as freshly poured concrete. Charles Darwin briefly passed through this corner of the Atacama in 1835. In his journal, he described the desert as “a barrier far worse than the most turbulent ocean.”

….In the early-morning hours of August 5th, two thousand feet belowground, the night shift was finishing its work. Men covered in soot and drenched in sweat gathered in one of the caverns, waiting for a truck that would take them on the forty-minute drive to the surface. During their shift, they had noted a wailing rumble in the distance—the sound of many tons of rock falling in forgotten caverns deep inside the mountain. The noise and the vibrations caused by these avalanches were transmitted through the mountain much as lightning strikes travel through the air and the ground. “The mine is weeping a lot,” the men said to one another.


a visit at New Yorker’s May 26th issue, the week fiction, Alejandro Zambra on ‘Camillo’

Alejandro Zambra, Fiction, “Camilo,” The New Yorker, May 26, 2014, p. 62

GetImage.aspx“I’m Camilo!” he shouted to me from the gate, opening his arms wide, as if we knew each other. “Your daddy’s godson.” It seemed terribly suspicious to me, like a caricature of danger, and I was nine then, already too big to fall for a trap like that. Those dark glasses, like a blind man’s, on a cloudy day. And that jean jacket, covered in sewn-on patches with the names of rock bands. “My dad’s not here,” I told him, closing the door, and I didn’t even give my father the message; I forgot.

But it turned out to be true: my father had been a close friend of Camilo’s father, Big Camilo—they’d played soccer together on the Renca team. We had photographs of the baptism, the baby crying and the adults looking solemnly into the camera. All was well for several years—my father was an engaged godfather, and he took an interest in the child—but then he and Big Camilo had a fight, and later, some months after the coup, Big Camilo was imprisoned, and after he was released he went into exile. The plan was for his wife, July, to bring Little Camilo and meet up with him in Paris, but she didn’t want to, and the marriage, in fact, ended. . . .

more here  http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2014/05/26/140526fi_fiction_zambra

visit my New Yorker recent issue at the culture desk:PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN’S GENIUS posted by Richard Brody

February 2nd, 2014 at the New Yorker

here is the best  I have read  for Philip Seymour Hoffman  loss written by Richard Brody.


“Philip Seymour Hoffman gave one of the greatest onscreen performances that anyone ever gave, in “The Master”; he won an Oscar for “Capote”; from 1991 until now, he acted in what IMDb reckons as sixty-three filmed productions; in recent years, he gathered accolades virtually every time his feet hit the boards of a stage or his face caught the light in a camera; and he began a career as a director. Today, he died, at the age of forty-six, reportedly from a drug overdose. The intimate agony—his partner lost a partner, his children lost a father, his friends lost a friend—is unspeakable except by those who knew and loved him. For those who didn’t know him personally (I never met him), the horror is inseparable from art—the love of his performances, the acknowledgment that there’s nothing more of them beside what’s in the can, and the sense that the torment and the talent are inseparable.

Work that’s only good is limited to its technique; when it’s great, a work is virtually inseparable from the artist’s life because it gives the sense of being the product of a whole life and being the absolute and total focus of that life at the time of its creation. The most depressing thing about “The Master”—in which the art of the director and the actors converged with a rare, white-hot fury from beginning to end—is, now, its basis in substance abuse. The movie begins with the traumatized, transient veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), fleeing the scene of a likely crime (his homemade alcoholic concoction killed a co-worker on a farm) to stow away on a yacht. The vessel’s owner, Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), seems, at first, merely a bombastic grandee but turns out to be the charismatic leader of a cult. What seals their bond—what transforms Freddie from a mere intruder to a suddenly necessary member of Dodd’s entourage—is the incendiary drink. Dodd’s visionary fires and rage for power are fuelled by the poisonous cocktail that Freddie provides. And Dodd’s intense, tormented, and tormenting self-control is tested all the more by the universal solvent of inhibition. His liberation and his constraint, his attempt to create dependents and his own dependency, are inseparable.

In the tension between flamboyance and rigor, between the flagrant imperatives of power and the intense self-discipline that concentrates it, Hoffman made his own prodigious, sometimes overly conspicuous theatrical prowess the very subject of the film. With terrifying speculations regarding the supreme performer’s motives, he thrust his art and his life, his public face and his sense of identity, into the balance. Plenty of great artists plumb the soul’s depths without recourse to drugs or alcohol, but it’s naïve to discount the connection between artistic ecstasies, self-surpassing exertions, uncommonly powerful desires, and altered states of consciousness.

The controversy over “The Wolf of Wall Street” also involves the allure of drugs; though the movie makes it pretty clear that the character Jordan Belfort acts monstrously under their influence, it also leaves little doubt regarding the pleasures and powers that they provide him and his cohorts. It also suggests the poison pill of imagination, the diabolical—even self-destructive—power of theatrical rhetoric, its eruption from the depths of a soul that hardly dares to consider itself. Hoffman, with his seemingly infinite range of possibilities and self-transformations, was at the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum: he couldn’t help but look at himself, from angles he had never anticipated and in aspects he might not otherwise have fathomed. Genius, whether at its most constructive or destructive, its most sublime or its most repugnant, is unnatural; Hoffman lived for great art, and it’s impossible to escape the idea that he died for it. The complete price of his nearly superhuman ability has yet to be reckoned.”

Athens; Museum of Cycladic Art; “‘Figures’ loved and idealized” illustrating poems by C.P.Cavafy


“Figures loved and idealised ..”  Illustrating poems by C.P.Cavafy

a beautiful exhibition on Thursday morning touring the Cycladic museum

«Figures loved and idealised …». Illustrating poems by C.P.Cavafy

The exhibition “Figures’ loved and idealised …Illustrating poems by C.P.Cavafy” focuses on figures that play a leading role in Cavafy’s poetry. Inspired by the verse “Voices, loved and idealized” from Cavafy’s poem Voices, the exhibition uses archaeological artefacts to illustrate a selection of poems with mythological and, especially, historical subjects, which experts believe comprise approximately one third of Cavafy’s work.

The exhibition is curated by Prof. Nicholas Chr. Stampolidis, Maria D.Tolis, Mimika Giannopoulou

 more on the exhibition 

installation shots here 

a New Yorker visit for the story; Haruki Murakami: Samsa In Love

I love Haruki Murakami for years..  this a recent short  story at the New Yorker. copyright: New Yorker

Samsa in Love 

“He woke to discover that he had undergone a metamorphosis and become Gregor Samsa.

He lay flat on his back on the bed, looking at the ceiling. It took time for his eyes to adjust to the lack of light. The ceiling seemed to be a common, everyday ceiling of the sort one might find anywhere. Once, it had been painted white, or possibly a pale cream. Years of dust and dirt, however, had given it the color of spoiled milk. It had no ornament, no defining characteristic. No argument, no message. It fulfilled its structural role but aspired to nothing further.

There was a tall window on one side of the room, to his left, but its curtain had been removed and thick boards nailed across the frame. An inch or so of space had been left between the horizontal boards, whether on purpose or not wasn’t clear; rays of morning sun shone through, casting a row of bright parallel lines on the floor. Why was the window barricaded in such a rough fashion? Was a major storm or tornado in the offing? Or was it to keep someone from getting in? Or to prevent someone (him, perhaps?) from leaving?

Still on his back, he slowly turned his head and examined the rest of the room. He could see no furniture, apart from the bed on which he lay. No chest of drawers, no desk, no chair. No painting, clock, or mirror on the walls. No lamp or light. Nor could he make out any rug or carpet on the floor. Just bare wood. The walls were covered with wallpaper of a complex design, but it was so old and faded that in the weak light it was next to impossible to make out what the design was.

The room had perhaps once served as a normal bedroom. Yet now all vestiges of human life had been stripped away. The only thing that remained was his solitary bed in the center. And it had no bedding. No sheets, no coverlet, no pillow. Just an ancient mattress.

Samsa had no idea where he was, or what he should do. All he knew was that he was now a human whose name was Gregor Samsa. And how did he know that? Perhaps someone had whispered it in his ear while he lay sleeping? But who had he been before he became Gregor Samsa? What had he been?

The moment he began contemplating that question, however, something like a black column of mosquitoes swirled up in his head. The column grew thicker and denser as it moved to a softer part of his brain, buzzing all the way. Samsa decided to stop thinking. Trying to think anything through at this point was too great a burden.

In any case, he had to learn how to move his body. He couldn’t lie there staring up at the ceiling forever. The posture left him much too vulnerable. He had no chance of surviving an attack—by predatory birds, for example. As a first step, he tried to move his fingers. There were ten of them, long things affixed to his two hands. Each was equipped with a number of joints, which made synchronizing their movements very complicated. To make matters worse, his body felt numb, as though it were immersed in a sticky, heavy liquid, so that it was difficult to send strength to his extremities.

Nevertheless, after repeated attempts and failures, by closing his eyes and focussing his mind he was able to bring his fingers more under control. Little by little, he was learning how to make them work together. As his fingers became operational, the numbness that had enveloped his body withdrew. In its place—like a dark and sinister reef revealed by a retreating tide—came an excruciating pain.

It took Samsa some time to realize that the pain was hunger. This ravenous desire for food was new to him, or at least he had no memory of experiencing anything like it. It was as if he had not had a bite to eat for a week. As if the center of his body were now a cavernous void. His bones creaked; his muscles clenched; his organs twitched.

Unable to withstand the pain any longer, Samsa put his elbows on the mattress and, bit by bit, pushed himself up. His spine emitted several low and sickening cracks in the process. My God, Samsa thought, how long have I been lying here? His body protested each move. But he struggled through, marshalling his strength, until, at last, he managed to sit up.

Samsa looked down in dismay at his naked body. How ill-formed it was! Worse than ill-formed. It possessed no means of self-defense. Smooth white skin (covered by only a perfunctory amount of hair) with fragile blue blood vessels visible through it; a soft, unprotected belly; ludicrous, impossibly shaped genitals; gangly arms and legs (just two of each!); a scrawny, breakable neck; an enormous, misshapen head with a tangle of stiff hair on its crown; two absurd ears, jutting out like a pair of seashells. Was this thing really him? Could a body so preposterous, so easy to destroy (no shell for protection, no weapons for attack), survive in the world? Why hadn’t he been turned into a fish? Or a sunflower? A fish or a sunflower made sense. More sense, anyway, than this human being, Gregor Samsa.

Steeling himself, he lowered his legs over the edge of the bed until the soles of his feet touched the floor. The unexpected cold of the bare wood made him gasp. After several failed attempts that sent him crashing to the floor, at last he was able to balance on his two feet. He stood there, bruised and sore, one hand clutching the frame of the bed for support. His head was inordinately heavy and hard to hold up. Sweat streamed from his armpits, and his genitals shrank from the stress. He had to take several deep breaths before his constricted muscles began to relax. (…)”

read the whole text at the New Yorker: newyorker.com/fiction




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