Friday, June 26, 2015

Bolt of Lightning

Highway 52 Storm Cell - Two and a Half Minutes Lightning Strikes

JAR's so-called Bolt of Lightning* begins with a shower of contemporary fruit: that clean burst of freshness you get when you shampoo your hair with some kind or another of trendy fruit – Pomegranate? Papaya? Osmanthus? And there is also a green aspect, making the beginning smell like a more sophisticated rendition of the trendsetter (and mother of them all fruity-floral shampoos) - Calyx.


Underlining this is a murmur of tuberose, coy by comparison to the grand dames such as Carnal Flower or Fracas; but very true to form if you’ve ever smelled the true absolute: It’s got that green, mushroomy undercurrent that is a little powdery and understated yet so creamy and addictive. In addition to that - narcissus absolute, which seems to be the theme for me this year.

From there, the third stanza is that of dry woods and musks with a hint of moss.

Like the other JAR perfume I’ve experienced (Ferme tes Yeaux) it’s very dense, richly composed, and the overall direction is a bit unclear which makes it mysterious and difficult to decipher. Its apparent there is a high percentage of naturals in there. Which makes me think I should charge a lot more for, say, Treazon, which is 34% tuberose absolute… But then, I'm not an ornate jewelry designer from Paris, and my bottles are not etched with the pattern of lightning flash.

* My understanding is that this is not the name of the perfume, but rather the eponymous fragrance of the brand. In my opinion there is nothing lightning-like about it, and the only reason I used an image of lightning for this review is because I could not find photos of the bottle that were not copyrighted.


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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Old Spice

Old Spice.

My grandpa died on my 13th birthday. I was too young to understand that it was going to happen, even though he was sick for about a year prior to that. He was in his early 60s, and much too young to leave us. And even though I still feel that I know him too little, there are certain things that make me feel like I know him quite intimately. There are certain things that no matter how adults try to hide, little children notice and are able to interpret later when they grow up enough to understand what was said, or what was exchanged in glances between overprotective parents or secretive relatives. Old Spice to me is one such key to reach out to these memories and reconnect with his never-dying spirit. 

Old Spice was launched when my grandfather himself was 13 years old. Maybe he worn it for his Bar Mitzvah, though I highly doubt it: life in Israel/Palestine under British Occupation was very frugal.  My grandmother told me that back in those days, his family had only two sets of clothes - weekday work clothes, which were washed and hang to dry every night, and another white shirt of Shabbat. That's it. 

Two years later, when my grandfather was a mere 15 year old boy, World War II erupted. Assisted by his sister, the eldest in the family of boys (like myself) he forged his age to 16 so that he can join the British Army and fight the Nazis and their allies, mostly in Italy. In 1944, he joined the Jewish Brigade and continued fighting Mussolini's fascist army all the while also saving Jewish survivors and refugees who escaped the Nazis, and helped smuggle them to Israel/Palestine and other safe lands.  

Old Spice.

I doubt that there was a spare moment for dousing oneself with Old Spice in those days of war, and my grandma's recollection also does not include Old Spice until after they married. So perhaps the saying is true - and if it wasn't for Old Spice, my aunt and my mother would have never been born, and neither would me and the rest of my brothers and cousins. SmellyBlog would have never existed, along with many other things - some good ones and some not so great.  It's really hard to tell without entering a time machine, isn't it? 

But what I do know for sure is that if it wasn't for my grandfather, I would know nothing of Old Spice, or men at all. I remember his bottle of Old Spice aftershave standing in my grandparents' bathroom. I was puzzled by the ship and sails on the bottles, and what does it have to do with spice, anyway? I was just as intrigued by it as I was by my grandmother's flacon of Shalimar, whose faceted blue stopper I would look through at the now-distorted blue world... To a girl who lived in a wild village with a stepfather that looked like Blackbeard himself, and a mom who never bothered to shave her legs or armpits or anything (not that she needs to, really) - the ritual of shaving was truly an exotic thing. 

I would wonder what is that bottle made of (its opaque shiny white glass looked like porcelain to me); how to open that bottle, and years later, when I finally did - I found the scent surprisingly familiar and comforting. It reminded me of traveling to London with my grandparents and visiting ancient ships and museums. It reminded me of sharing a hotel room with them that looked just as the hotel in Charade looks like, and marvelling at how late the light is still out in the summertime. Just as it is now as I type this in another Northern city - in Canada. 

My grandpa always made a point of shaving every time before he visited us, or if we came for a visit. He was travelling a lot, and must have been deeply hurt when as a little toddler I would recoil from his face if he had as much as a day-old stubble.  For a little child this feels quite unbearably rough. He was such a considerate person that he kept this habit even though I grew up and overcame this sensitivity (to some extent...). And he continued to shave for me every time I was allowed to visit him  in the hospital, in that agonizing, tragic year in which he was fighting pancreatic cancer and I was watching my baby brother who is ten years my junior in Tel Aviv all summer. 

Years later, that very brother, who my grandmother says looks so much like my grandfather did  in his youth, inherited the Old Spice bottle from the oldest brother, who inherited it from our grandfather. My little bother was the only one who really adopted that fragrance as his own. And when he ran out, he found more in Canada when he was living with me. He was 21 years at the time, and had worn it deliberately and enthusiastically in every form available – eau de toilette, after shave, body spray, deodorant, soap, you name it. It made the whole house smell like Old Spice and when he went through the whole ritual so to speak we were both sedated by all the clove and allspice in there. 

As I write this, I occasionally sniff my wrists, which are carefully doused with Old Spice's newest packaging (which you can see in the photos). It is no longer a splash bottle, but a spray of the cheapest kind. But I still like it. The writing is all in red, and so is the boat - which is much smaller. But the bottle still manages to stay true to its opaque white design - but not it is most certainly plastic of a creamy white rather than the bluish-grey milky white of yore.  

The scent is heavy yet heavenly. Familiar yet fantastic. Comforting yet seductive. What first comes to nose is cloves and allspice. So no wonder why it's called "Old Spice", right? Mystery solved! It's also sweet and carnation-like. A true spicy-oriental of the grand type. Yet there is also something very uncomplicated about it, which makes it so wearable and delicious. For a scent so inherently associated with barbershop and masculinity, it's a bit surprising how much bouquet there is in there. Although it's hardly what I would call "floral" - there is an unmistakable rose, jasmine and carnation at the heart, which really rounds it off. It's also surprising how sweet the base is, complete with vanillin and heliotropin. Really not what we've learned to consider "masculine" in our day and age. Drugstore fragrance or not - some things are simply priceless. The smell of my grandfather is one of them.

Top notes: Orange, Lemon
Hear notes: Carnation, Geranium, Jasmine, Rose, Cinnamon, Cloves, Allspice
Base notes: Coumarin, Vanilla, Heliotropin, Musk

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Azzaro

Mª Agustina

It's been a while since I smelled the original Azzaro and it was almost as familiar as I wished. I could swear the mosses in there have been reduced. But its original, nonchalant Mediterranean charm still remains quite intact. Like Polo, it was launched in 1978, so it is no wonder this fragrance smells so familiar to me, reminding me of freshly shaven men that occasionally crossed my path as a child, and in many ways I believe this very particular scent has become a blueprint in my young memory to what "masculine" fragrances are. It may not have such an important status in North America, but in Europe - Azzaro is still the top selling fragrance for men, so my

The initial blast of lemon and lavender creates a sense of well-being and brings to mind the scents with which men of that generation would douse themselves when they wanted to come across as well-groomed and appeal to the ladies while at it. To a little girl, such scents were not unpleasant, but very foreign and to this day create in a sense the feeling of someone unfamiliar entering a space. This, of course, can be either mean a good thing or a not so good thing. But one thing is for certain: it does draw attention. 

Petitgrain supports the notion of cleanliness with its soapy quality, a mere suggestion here but gives it the unmistakable eau de cologne character. A hint of basil in juxtaposition to these citrus notes and mossy currents underneath bounces off the soapiness. It also creates the classic Mediterranean, relaxed and care-free, summery feel. There is also a hint of anise, which adds mysterious spicy accent, but mostly supports the anethole that is naturally occurring in basil leaf. 

In the heart, there is still plenty of citrus presence - but from lemongrass or citral (the characteristic lemony molecule which sells like lemon-drop and appears also in lemon verbena and many other lemon-scented herbs). And there is geranium leaf - a must for any respectable Fougère, where it adds rounded, fruity yet green freshness and more body. 

All this goodness dissipates within about 30 minutes on my skin, and is being replaced by a strange, slightly acrid balsamic-spicy note, reminiscent of steam-distilled Peru balsam essential oil and some vague spicy notes of eugenol. And for a while, this seems to dominate and all the other aspects that make Azzaro so lovable are all but gone.* But won't you worry: the oakmoss and cedarmoss will make a comeback at the dryout phase, alongside tart, almost citrusy vetiver note and a subtle musk that is reminiscent of clean, freshly-scrubbed-with-soap skin. 

Azzaro

Top notes: Lemon, Lavender, Anise
Heart notes: Petitgrain, Basil, Geranium, Lemongrass 
Base notes: Oakmoss, Cedarmoos, Musk, Vetiver 

* I am quite certain this has something to do either with my own (feminine) body chemistry, or with the reformulation. I'm quite certain this will smell a lot better on a man.

P.s. Anyone know why does the bottle have such an overwhelmingly unattractive design and unappealing, mustardy colour to boot? It seems to have nothing at all to do with the fragrance itself. 

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Polo

POLO_ARMY VERSUS STEVE COLLINS ALL STARS_24

Long time ago, in a country far away, I was a nanny in a busy household in which both parents had a career in filmmaking and production. I would show up at their place at 8:30 (which was a huge lifestyle improvement for me comparing to the first job, the year prior, which started at 8), and by 9am the parents and older brother were gone and I was left with the adorable one year old I took care of for the day.

It's a privilege to be entrusted with a child's life at such a tender age, not to mention being welcomed into a home like this and become almost like a family member; yet also a bit of an odd situation to be entering a family's daily life in a rather intimate moment - preparing for the day and saying goodbye to each other as they set off on their long day adventures. When I came in everyone were still at different stages of dressing, showering, eating breakfast and so on.

Because, not surprisingly, I was oddly interested in fragrance even back then - I will always remember certain things about their home, including the soap they used (it was Dove - which was a rather exotic thing in the early 90s in Tel Aviv - and for sure the dad brought it back from his many business trips to L.A.). There was also a bottle of Obsession in the bathroom, which he bought for his wife and she never wore (unfortunately, she's really not into perfumes whatsoever) and then there was the green bottle with a horse and a rider holding a strange long stick, clouds of which wafted every morning after the dad shaved.

Polo in the Dark

I've never worn Polo and I can't say I have an intimate connection with it, but I did remember it as smelling good. So with Fathers' Day approaching and me feeling the urge to cover some more masculine fragrances on SmellyBlog - I set on trying it out for two days in a row now. The first time it was only semi-planned: I went to the drugstore to scout for some more cheap drugstore colognes and aftershaves. But I did not find what I was hoped for (Canoe). So I remembered that odd number and decided to try it on one wrist, and Eau Sauvage on the other. The latter was unfortunately a spoiled tester (too much light, folks!) while Polo simply won my heart almost immediately.

It's strong, bold and in your face so I'm glad I was wearing it sparingly. What one smells at first is that wonderful melange of patchouli, oakmoss and honeyed-animatic civet blooming in their warmth. And there is a decidedly leathery undercurrent that makes it really intriguing (and not wanting to scrub it off even though it is rather on the strong side). There are also many other things going on but these are the ones that I immediately pick up. Then as it unfolds on the skin, more fougere-like qualities pop out. Artemisia and other herbs mingle. I read that there are also thyme, basil and marjoram in this - but I can't really pick them out. There is just an overall feeling that is both sunny and warm like the Mediterranean garrigue - but also dark and looming against the leather. There is on one side a very smooth interplay of those rather distinctive elements. It's true that they go really well together in a red pasta sauce, a stew or even on bread with olive oil; but as perfume raw materials all these herbs are rather at odds with each other when combined with so many other perfume-y materials. They just don't like to behave!

There is also pine, which gives it a very distinctively masculine aura, as if to reassure you that all that civet is not going to turn floral on you. As Polo dries down on the skin, more of the dryness that comes out, accentuating the patchouli, and less of the civet notes (which are just this close to becoming as impolite as Kouros). Virginian cedar wood comes to the fore and mellows the more animalic elements, giving them a reliable context for an alibi (just in case someone walks by and suspects them of misbehaving).

Polo (1978) is at once sweaty, carnal, earthy, dirty, fresh, sexy, bold, distinctive, unique yet unmistakably manly. But what I adore the most about Polo is the dry down. Oh, the patchouli and the oakmoss, when they mellow on the skin after hours, and there is a bit of musk to connect them and balance the tartness of oakmoss and the dirty of patchouli. Why did they stop making scents like this for guys?!

Top notes: Pine, Lavender, Bergamot, Juniper, Coriander, Cumin
Heart notes: Carnation, Geranium, Jasmine, Rose, Basil, Marjoram, Thyme
Base notes: Patchouli, Oakmoss, Civet, Leather,  Amber, Musk, Frankincense 

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

English Lather

English Leather

English Lather... No. It's not a typo. To me English Leather smells more like soap than it smells like leather. And analyzing the notes (again - what I'm smelling, not what the marketing material tells me) makes it bubble-clear why.

English Leather opens with suede-like notes of tobacco leaf and ionones, which are reminiscent of violets where they occur naturally. These are mingled with plenty of petitgrain, which soon enough takes over. Therefore, the leathery association end pretty quickly. The reason is not only this note's inherent dominant character; but also because it's more likely the actual material used here is linalyl acetate. Underneath it all there is plenty of coumarin to give it a very powdery-soapy character.  It really is more of a fresh tobacco leaf scent than a leather fragrance. Curiously, it brings to mind another violetty masculine classic, Geoffry Beene's Grey Flannel, a scent that is only one year my senior. As far as violetty masculines scents go, I find Grey Flannel cloying and overpowering, and am much more fond of English Leather. As far as tobacco-leaf fragrances, I much prefer my very own Sabotage. And as far as cheap classic drugstore scents, so far Tabac Original and Old Spice (which is next up on my to-review list) are both unsurpassable.

I don't know how English leather is supposed to smell, but I was thinking about saddle leather more than suede gloves. I have expected to be transported to the tack-room, but instead was sent straight to the shower for a scrub before I even got a chance to get dirty at all... I have a feeling its formula got scrubbed a bit since it was first created in 1949.

English Leather - Soap On A Rope

"Wear English Leather or wear nothing at all", says the box of the Soap-on-a-rope.
This daring slogan cannot be taken seriously. But it sure adds to the fun of exploring drugstore and barbershop colognes. Personally, what I'd like to wear with it on what smells like just-showered-skin is my baby-blue flannel pyjamas... I suspect it will smell more alluring and bold on a man though...


So let's move over to English Leather's Soap-on-a-Rope. That's a triple-milled white soap, stamped with the stirrup and accessorized with a white rope handle, in a sizeable length, enough to bring to mind Hitchcock's film. I am not certain what the tope is for, so can only guess that either men lose their soap bars quickly; or that they like to hang them to dry on the shower-head. I really did buy this one with someone in mind as a giftee, so I don't want to crack it open completely (plus I'm not particularly fond of milled soaps - and much prefer the artisan cold-processed ones, which can be made in much less drying formulae). I will only comment on the scent and report that it's even more cologne-like and far less reminiscent of leather, suede or anything of the like.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Matching

matchbox

There's a guy across the street in the retirement home, who must have lived a long, nicotine-rich life. He spends about half of the days asking passers by for light. And cigarettes. I gave him matches and lighters on a number of occasions, and even one of my cigars. Every time I have something for him his yellowing face lights up, he quiets down for a few minutes... and by the time I'm upstairs again I can already hear is yelling and soliciting for more tobacco.

Between Leather & Tobacco Week (May 11-15), the neighbour across the street asking for matches all the time,  and my newly found infatuation with Tabac Original - the natural course of events was to try to do matching for the latter.

"Matching this is the process of creating a replica for an existing perfume – it’s akin
to writing a symphony’s entire score by listening to a recording of it. nowadays, perfumers use a GC report to assist them in the process, but still need to rely first and foremost on their nose. matching is one of the most important skills for a perfumer, and one of the best tools to develop your composition skills, which is why you’ve been asked to create a match in many of the exercises throughout this book." (Foundation of Natural Perfumery, p. 176). 

Day at the lab

Matching is not something I do often anymore (I did a lot of it in my early perfumery days, as it's a great way to learn composition and study the classics, simultaneously). The reason I don't is because usually it's nearly impossibly to create something even remotely close because the bulk of the fragrance's personality comes from synthetics - some of which are not even naturally occurring. So it's a lost battle from the start. This is also why I refrain from providing any replication services for y custom scents.

Another great challenge of matching is to listen to your nose instead of the brain. In a way it's easier to make matching for something you don't know the name of, or anything about. This way you don't have any misconceptions about it, and that reduces the risk of the "power of suggestion" effect. With Tabac Original, for example: it's easy to assume that there is tobacco in there, and be tempted to add it in. It's in the name of the fragrance, after all! But even my keen nose cannot for the life of me detect the tiniest amount of actual tobacco notes in there. Yes, the fragrance may bring to mind tobacco because its clean, dry, woody character - but there is none of the acrid, leathery, hay-like or even violetty nuances you'll find in tobacco absolute. I'm not saying tobacco won't smell good in there. But it's just isn't there. It's almost easier to think of it as a Fougere - even though it's not that either (there is no moss that I can detect; nor coumarin, which pervades so many masculine fragrances of yore). 

Matching "Tabac Original".

With Tabac Original - it seemed possible. Most of the perceptible and characteristic ingredients, except of the synthetic "white musks" are readily available on my palette. Plus, I thought it would be fun. The "brief" so to speak was not only to make it retain the refreshing vetiver and spice character, but also to refrain from using overtly rare or costly ingredients, so it could potentially be a  "natural drugstore" fragrance of sorts...

So far I'm rather pleased with the results - which utilizes Haitian vetiver as the key component, spiced heart notes of Egyptian geranium, petitgrain and allspice; top notes of lavender, black pepper, ginger and nutmeg. I also had to use some proprietary tinctures of ambrette seeds in lieu of the musk; and ambergris tincture as well to create a bouquetting effect. In that sense I failed to make it a truly cheap fragrance. But it seemed quite necessary for the composition if I were to avoid any expensive florals (for example: I decided to forego any neroli or carnation absolute, both being prohibitively expensive). The tinctures are used in minute amounts, but I won't say either of these raw materials is a run-of-the-mill, easy to find ingredient. It does smell great, though. 

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Monday, June 08, 2015

Tabac Original

Tabac Original

Tabac Original by Mäurer & Wirtz (1959) was ignored by me for many years after I took one whiff of it in my early days, and dismissed it. I can't even remember what was it that turned me off it - but I vaguely recalled feeling it was too overbearing and just let it remain on the shelf at London Drugs while I explored and rather enjoyed other cheap thrills there.

Years have gone by, and on a long-in-the-making hunt for men's drugstore fragrances, spearheaded by the absence of Old Spice, I decided to get a bottle of this one before it might disappear. Except for that vague recollection of the scent from many years past, you could consider it a blind buy. There was no justification for this purchase except that it had the word "Tabac" in it, and I just invested over a week of my life researching and teaching the topic of tobacco fragrances to my students. I figured - if I own English Leather, I might as well get this one too.

So last week, when the above mentioned acquisition took place, I arrived home carrying as many as four masculine drugstore classics, including an 800 mL of 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser, and being $90 poorer (for all four scents combined - the latter was the most costly of the bunch, at $54; Tabac Original was another high-end purchase at $24.99; the others were Old Spice and Brut, each at just over or just below $10). But I will tell you more about those later this week, as I go through the very limited and neglected bunch of masculine scents in my fragrance collection.

Because the other scents were already familiar to me (and some, like Brut, I could even just open and smell without any trouble returning them if I change my mind) - I decided to take my chances and that very same afternoon, sprayed myself (first hesitantly, and then rather lavishly) with Tabac Original. In essence, I was simply wowed by its originality, that I was able to quickly forgive the complete absence of any representation of "Tabac". There is no tobacco to be sniffed out in this fragrance, not even after a week of wearing it pretty much daily.

The opening notes are a delicious concoction of spices that exhale confidence, polished masculinity, and are pleasant and remind yet also bold and unusual. The spices all have a woodsy-dry character, which are most befitting for a masculine fragrance: Allspice, black pepper and nutmeg are at the fore, chased after by dry ginger, and this trio comes across as warm-dry yet invigorating (no pastry association, surprisingly). There is also some lavender, hints of pine, petitgrain and other citrus notes which gives Tabac Original its freshly showered skin, soapy accent, which  provides a beautiful contrast and balance to the spices.

Tabac Original

The lavender also adds an herbaceous, masculine floral nuance. The floral aspects are subtle, but can be also felt in the heart, where you might notice the clove-like presence of carnation, more soapy neroli, hints of geranium. But mostly what's present at the heart is an overdose of vetiver - or more likely, vetiverol - the vetiver alcohol that gives it the fresh and clean, tart-yet-sweet personality that is prevalent in Haitian vetivers more than any other variety. It's woody yet also gives off an almost juicy-citrusy feel, but also is very dry and elegant. This beautiful note is slightly balanced by hints of geranium, which also contributes to its masculine, dry-fresh and never overtly sweet character (even though if you'll notice - there is a lot going on here that could have made this sweet, if the perfumer only wanted it to go that direction). There is also a fair amount of alpha isomethyl ionone - which although does not occur in nature - it echoes the naturally occurring ionones in tobacco (though I am not sure I ever actually smell tobacco in there), and gives it some dry-violet, woody-floral nuances.

As we progress towards that base notes, the woodsy notes take over. And there isn't just vetiver - there is also cedar, and minute amounts of coumarin, which hint at the underlying flavour of a fine cured tobacco leaf, there is salty element too that is only vaguely reminiscent of oakmoss (there is non on the packaging, so perhaps they are now using evernyl, which is a very light and dry-smelling synthetic which vaguely resembles atranol-free oakmoss with non of its ambers-musky-mossy richness). But what really dominates the composition at the dry down is musk. And plenty of it. What we'd call "white musk", or the same musk combination you'd smell in musk oils that are sold in various shops offering fragrance oils (and often mistaking them for essential oils). Tabac Original thankfully develops this scent only many hours in, and until then it's mostly vetiver and spice and lavender goodness. It is one of the rare occasions when I care about the top and middle notes far more than the base notes - which I feel cheapen the otherwise superb composition.

If it weren't for Tabac Original humble origins on the Pharmacy's shelf, one would think it's the latest niche release from any of your favourite houses. Which just goes to show you how far do image and marketing go. It could have easily come from another respected historical Italian pharmacy-fragrance niche line, bottled in a simple apothecary bottle with the titled etched in the glass; Or carry a British heritage about the barber great-grandfather inventing it for some royalty or another; On the other hand - if Tom Ford were to market it, there would be some closeup of his unshaven cheeks with erotic  suggestions of thick white lather, perhaps licked off by a couple of famished-looking naked models (their gender is yet to be determined). Instead we have a very humble packaging that might have seemed cutting edge and compteporary in the early 1960s, but now looks arcane yet honest:
"TABAC ORIGINAL Eau de Toilette is a modern fragrance with intensive lasting strength. Masculine, expressive, individual. A fragrance that underlines your personality" (quote taken from the back of the box for this fragrance). 

Tabac Original also comes in a variety of shaving and grooming products such as a shaving soap and an after shave (on which I can not comment meaningfully, because try as I may, my beard never develops to more than a stubble, and the moustache I sport is limited to Movember's paper touché). But a glimpse into one of those vlogs makes shaving look like a rather sensual ritual that I will look forward to in my next incarnation, in which I hope to spend my entire days lathering soap and playing with the foam for hours on end.

Top Notes: Black Pepper, Allspice, Nutmet, Ginger, Citrus, Pine
Heart Notes: Lavender, Petitgrain, Neroli, Geranium, Vetiver
Base Notes: Vetiver, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Musk 

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