Living in rural Mallorca

Country life in an old Mallorcan finca

Making new friends in rural Mallorca

Making new friends when you move to another country can take time – especially if you choose to live in a rural location, as we did, on the island of Mallorca. But it didn’t take us long to become on nodding terms with the sheep living in the field across the lane . . .

Fortunately, my writing work has taken me all over the island over the past 11 years and I’ve met lots of people of all nationalities – some of whom have become our friends.

An adventure beckons

Recently I was contacted by a reader of this blog, who had previously commented on a few posts and emailed me for some advice about flying pets over to Mallorca. British woman Celia and her husband are soon to embark on a similar adventure to our own – but, we hope, without some of the traumas we experienced.

On one of their visits to Mallorca, in connection with the property they have bought, Celia and hubby stayed at a boutique hotel I’ve written about a few times on my other blog http://www.eatdrinksleepmallorca.com. They had a great time at Petit Hotel Son Arnau, which is run by a really lovely couple called Alex and Susan – who gave up good London careers to open their own hotel in the village of Selva, near the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tramuntana mountains. We stayed there for a night last summer and have since become friends with this welcoming couple.

Alex and Susan run Mallorca's Petit Hotel Son Arnau.

Alex and Susan – the friendly hosts at Petit Hotel Son Arnau in Selva.

On their most recent visit to Mallorca, Celia and Gordon stayed in the home of their friend in the southwest of the island, but wanted to revisit Petit Hotel Son Arnau to see Alex and Susan again and  have one of Alex’s delicious dinners there. And they invited us along too!

Like old friends

Meeting people for the first time can sometimes be awkward, but we immediately hit it off with this enthusiastic and animal-loving couple, who are going through some of the processes and emotions we went through after we’d bought our finca. They will be visiting Mallorca again in June, and we look forward to seeing them back.

So if you’re moving abroad and are concerned about being able to make friends in your new country, remember the words attributed to the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”

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Summer heat in spring on Mallorca

Boats in Porto Cristo at sunset.

Porto Cristo sunset on May 11, 2015.

Spring on rural Mallorca this year has rapidly become summer. We’re reminded that it’s actually still only spring by the singing of the nightingales in the valley throughout the night. Spain – including the Balearic Islands – is experiencing temperatures more common in July and, on the Spanish mainland, it’s set to sizzle up to 40 degrees Celsius by Thursday – when temperatures will be around 15 degrees higher than average for the time of year. Phew.

Although holidaymakers may be loving the hotter-than-average May temperatures, the early heat has had a detrimental effect on our house-and-garden maintenance schedule. It’s too hot to paint the shutters, or do some repairs involving cementing.

Fortunately, between our last visitors and the next ones – my dad and his younger brother, arriving on Thursday – The Boss had time to bushwhack the field. The wild flowers this year were superb, so we left them in all their glory until the heat zapped the last bit of life from them. Then it was time for The Boss to don his safety gear, fire up his bushwhacker, and get to work.

While clearing the field of the long wild grasses he’d cut down, The Boss found a nest of partridge eggs. The parents had not chosen a good location – on the ground at the base of an almond tree – and had subsequently abandoned the nest, which contained 15 cold eggs.

Abandoned ground nest of partridge eggs.

No countryside for young partridges: a nest of abandoned eggs.

We guessed the partridge parents-to-be were probably last year’s young, with little idea about choosing a great place to raise their kids. Although it was sad to see the eggs left behind, it was probably as well, given that we have seven cats that spend a lot of time in that field!

Perhaps Mr and Mrs Partridge knew what they were doing after all . . .

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A flower festival in rural Mallorca

Display in Costitx flower festival

Costitx en Flor 2015

Last Friday we fell a tiny bit in love with a small village called Costitx, in the centre of Mallorca. Relatively few visitors to the island will have heard of it, let alone visited, but many will have flown over it – the village being under one of the flight paths across Mallorca. An impressive number of visitors – mainly Mallorcans – flooded into the village on May 1st for ‘Costitx en Flor’.

Rural Mallorca from near Costitx.

Beautiful views across Mallorca’s Pla to the mountains.

We reached Costitx via a (usually) quiet country lane off the main Manacor to Inca road (between Sineu and Inca) in an area of the island known as the Pla. There’s lovely surrounding countryside and views of the UNESCO World Heritage Serra de Tramuntana. The village itself has some interesting old architecture and several beautifully restored stone townhouses. If we had to live in a village, rather than open countryside, Costitx does have its attractions . . .

The village also has a few claims to fame – and not the sort of fame associated with the likes of Magaluf, or the more genteel mountain village of Deià.

Here are a few facts you could drop into a conversation about this lesser-known part of Mallorca:

Eyes to the skies 

Costitx is home to the Observatori Astronòmic de Mallorca, opened in 1991.  Even after we’d bought our finca – but before we moved to Mallorca – we weren’t aware of its existence. I found out about it only during a BBC radio interview I did with an astronomy expert in north Oxfordshire, who told me the observatory was “very important”. The Observatory is also home to the Mallorca Planetarium.

Prehistoric treasures 

Costitx is home to three prehistoric bronze bulls’ heads found on common land in 1894. Well preserved, and part of the Balearics’ remarkable Talayotic remains, they have their 21st-century home in the Son Corró Sanctuary. One of the streets in the village is named after these Caps de Bou de Costitx.

Political heritage

In 1987, Costitx elected a mayor who became both famous and infamous. Every Mallorcan – and many non-Mallorcan island residents – will know of Maria Antònia Munar . . .

Blooming fab!

Costitx flower festival in May.

Saying it with flowers: a welcome to ‘Costitx en Flor’.

But it was last Friday’s ‘Costitx en Flor’ that wowed us. This annual flower festival sees the whole village decorated with flowers, with each street having its own themed display.

The creativity of the villagers, and hard work involved in putting this event together, are evidence of a real community spirit. We loved it and, if you’re on Mallorca next May 1st, it’s worth a visit if you appreciate flowers, handicrafts, and creativity.

Old denim jeans as flower receptacles

The street with the recycled jeans . . .

Bikes used to display flowers

The street with the bicycle and flower displays . . .

Jeans to display flowers

Jean genius.

Alternative use for an old pneumatic tyre.

Old tyres given a new lease of life.

Costitx en Flor

Streets closed to traffic – and open to floral displays.

Costitx en Flor 2015

Take a seat . . . and add flowers.

Alternative use for an old tyre.

Once a tyre . . . now a chicken.

Costitx house doorway.

In the doorway of an old townhouse in Costitx.

Old Mallorcan well outside house in Costitx.

Old well outside a Costitx house – complete with flowers in a recycled tyre.

Embroidered flowers in Costitx.

Embroidery on a big scale!

Old stone arch in Costitx.

Archway to ‘cup and saucer alley’ in Costitx.

Costitx flower festival May 1st

Anyone for a cuppa?

Costitx church.

Costitx church goes floral.

Garden plants for sale on Mallorca.

Plants for sale – for those inspired by their visit to ‘Costitx en Flor’.

 

 

 

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Pip’s rite of passage

We’ve had friends from the UK staying for eight nights at our finca in rural Mallorca and, during their time here, they have been entertained in fine style by Pip, the kitten that appeared to have been dumped just inside our main gates last September. She is the most lively and hilarious kitten I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience, and her antics never fail to make us laugh.

Tiny kitten on Mallorca

Pip on the morning after her arrival in September 2014.

Because we already had a well-established ‘family’ of outdoor feral cats and our own elderly Birman living indoors, we initially considered finding another home for her. But Pip is still with us – and delighting us with her antics on a daily basis.

During our friends’ visit, Pip’s life changed dramatically: she became an outdoor cat full-time. As much as The Boss and I might have liked to have her safely indoors every night, it’s not really practical and, as we discovered this week, it’s not what she wants.

Pip’s ‘apartment’

Until this week, she had been spending her nights in the bathroom of our guest annexe, where we set up a cat basket with blankets, a couple of cardboard boxes (because kittens just love them), her food and water dishes, litter tray, and a couple of toys. (We removed the loo roll from its holder in the early days of her occupation, after finding the whole roll unwound and totally shredded one morning; it looked like a snow scene in there).

We wanted to keep her indoors at night until she had grown to a good size, and become fully accepted by the other cats. And, of course, we had to have her sterilized before she started roaming and sharing her favours with any passing tom.

We’ve ‘put her to bed’ every evening as it’s started to get dark and she’s always been enthusiastic about entering her little ‘apartment’ for the night. In fact she’d become quite possessive about the annexe and, if either The Boss or I went to fetch something from these rooms, would race ahead of us to the door, almost like a teenager saying ‘That’s my room – keep out!’

But over the past fortnight she’s been showing less inclination to be indoors at night and more interest in being outside playing with her new ‘adopted’ siblings.

Pip’s big adventure

One night this week there was no sign of Pip at the appointed hour and, although we looked several times for her before we headed to our own bed, we didn’t see her again until the next morning, when she was waiting at the door for her breakfast – none the worse for her Big Night Out.

We have now put her basket outside under the covered terrace, in case she wants some familiar comforts, and leave our dining room window shutter open so she can curl up in the recess – one of her favourite chill-out spots.

 

Tortoiseshell kitten in window

Pip in the dining room window recess – a favourite place to watch the world go by.

Pip has shown no further interest in her former part-time home and seems to be loving her new-found independence. It was good timing actually, as my uncle will soon be making it his temporary home for his spring holiday . . . after I’ve given it a very big spring clean!

 

 

 

 

 

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Of plants and garden centres on Mallorca

Osteospermum

Osteospermum thriving in the stony soil of our garden.

I’ve just had my annual garden centre splurge, buying some plants for our finca in the Mallorcan countryside. Garden centre visits were rather more frequent when we lived in the UK, where these tempting places are also open on Sundays and offer much more than the average jardinería on Mallorca. Many of the UK versions sell decorative items for the home and garden, and have a café where you can indulge yourself in a mid-shop stop for refreshments.

In our early months of living on Mallorca, we were quite disappointed by the garden centres local to us – which were more like plant nurseries than those tempting places we knew in the UK. A favourite had been Burford Garden Centre, in the Cotswolds. Now that’s what I call a garden centre.

We did manage to find some decent plants and some helpful assistants in our local places, and were hopeful that we’d have a good show of colourful flowers later in the spring. Little did we know . . .

Dinner!

Within a week of planting our first purchases, there was nothing left to see. The rabbits – and there were many of them back then – had scoffed the lot! Since then we have become adopted by a family of feral cats (and a few feline hangers-on), and we have rarely seen any rabbits on our land. Can you blame them?

We also discovered that our land isn’t suitable for many plants, being mainly rocky and with only a shallow layer of poor-quality soil. Typical Mediterranean plants do well, but other plants struggle. Succulents, cacti, lavenders, rosemary, and osteospermum are among those plants that do well on our land.

The rabbit experience shaped our gardening habits. I started taking cuttings from existing plants, knowing that if the new plant died (or was eaten), it wouldn’t have cost us anything. Neighbours gave us ‘babies’ from their aloe veras and other succulents. I did invest in two climbing roses last year by mail order from David Austin; one quickly died, but the other is thriving.

A recommended garden centre

Now, I restrict myself to buying new plants just once a year, in the spring. A garden centre we had been using in Manacor sadly closed down recently. We’d bought our lemon tree and previous geraniums from this place, and were always impressed with the quality of the plants. Now the place sells garden furniture (and very good it looks too).

My recommendation for a good garden centre on Mallorca? It would have to be Magatzem Verd in Palma de Mallorca (just off the Via Cintura). It’s probably because the place is most like the garden centres we knew and loved back in the UK. Unusually, on Mallorca, it’s open on Sundays – although we never shop on this day of the week.

On Friday, I steered an enormous trolley around this garden centre, mentally spending a fortune on glorious colourful plants. In reality, it was just a few euros for the year’s new geraniums and herbs.

We must have saved a fortune on plant purchases since moving to Mallorca . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Of birds and beasts in Mallorca’s spring

Living in rural Mallorca and no longer having to commute into a city for work has given us more time and appreciation for the nature that surrounds us. We’re more aware of seasonal changes – and have become just a teeny bit obsessed about noting the ‘firsts’ of each season.

It’s been a good week for ‘firsts’. We went for a walk on Sunday and retraced some of our earlier steps on the Via Verde (or Via Verda as it’s known locally). This ‘green way’ is one of Spain’s network of eco-paths – conversions of disused railway line routes – and connects Manacor with the small town of Artà, in the northeast of Mallorca.

These feet were made for walking

The path opened without a great deal of fanfare in October 2014 and we began 2015 by resolving to walk the full length of some 29 km – in stages – during January. A spell of bad weather meant we didn’t finish until mid-February. But, hey ho, we did it.

Spring wildflowers on Via Verde, Mallorca

Wildflowers in abundance on the Via Verde, near Son Carrio.

Poppies on the Via Verde

Poppies on the Via Verde

The path looked very different on Sunday, with so much greenery around and swathes of wildflowers lining the route. Our latest walk gave us some ornithological sightings that were our ‘firsts’ of the season: a swallow (yes, this early) and a bee-eater.

In the past couple of days we have also seen our first tortoise of the spring, ambling through the undergrowth in an untamed part (one of many) of our land. It was Pip – the newest addition to our family of adopted felines – who discovered the creature, alerted by the rustling sounds from the foliage it was navigating its way through. A tortoise was clearly ‘the very first’ for this relentlessly inquisitive little cat, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it!

Tortie kitten in window

Inquisitive Pip seems to have heard something interesting . . .

Mediterranean tortoise, Mallorca

An early outing for this Mediterranean tortoise

The sighting was good news. Our area is a natural habitat for the Mediterranean tortoise and we’re always pleased to see them surviving. No doubt there will be coin-sized babies soon, which means we have to tread carefully when we’re out on the land.

A cyclist’s surprise

First-time visitors are always surprised to see tortoises roaming freely around. Last autumn we heard a shout from the other side of our gates and opened them to find an English Lycra-clad cyclist with a concerned expression on his face.

“Have you lost a pet tortoise?” he asked, in a broad Mancunian accent, pointing back up the lane. “Only I’ve just seen one up there.”

We explained that the creature he’d seen was a wild Mediterranean tortoise and that sightings were quite common; he beamed in surprise. It reminded us – for the zillionth time – how much we enjoy living  in the Mallorcan countryside, in the midst of nature.

Our next seasonal ‘first’? Who knows? But you can be sure we’ll be as thrilled as we are every season . . .

Read more about the ‘Via Verde’ here in my article recently published in abcMallorca magazine’s spring edition, and online:

http://www.abc-mallorca.com/via-verde/

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We choose the rural life . . . for as long as possible

Fountain in Plaza de la Reina, in Palma de Mallorca

Plaza de la Reina, Palma de Mallorca

Last weekend British broadsheet newspaper ‘The Sunday Times’ named Palma de Mallorca as the world’s best city to live in – an accolade that has since been doing the rounds of social media among those of us who know and love the city.

Although we are very happy country dwellers, on a finca in rural Mallorca, we enjoy visiting the island’s capital on a fairly regular basis. Palma is a city with a lot to offer: a rich history, wonderful architecture, museums and art galleries, theatres, excellent independent restaurants, bars, cafes, beaches, and a year-round programme of cultural and traditional events.

Casal Solleric, Palma de Mallorca

Casal Solleric in Palma de Mallorca – one of the city’s many cultural centres

“Like being in a village”

The previous owners of our finca – who have become dear friends – sold this place when its maintenance became too much for them, and now own a charming palacio apartment in the heart of Palma. They describe living there (which they do for various periods of time during the year) as “like being in a village”, because people in the local shops and other businesses always greet them like neighbours – and everything our friends need is within a short walk of their home. Their apartment is easy maintenance and they don’t need to own a car – hiring one when necessary.

Gran Hotel, Palma de Mallorca

The former Gran Hotel in Palma de Mallorca . . . another cultural centre.

These friends are older than us, and we can imagine that, in years to come, we too may wish to lighten our labour load by moving somewhere that’s easier to look after. It’s not a conversation we’ve really had in earnest yet, hoping that we have a good few years before it becomes necessary. But where would we move to?

This is certainly an issue worth bearing in mind if you’re contemplating the purchase of a finca later in life. What would you do if you could no longer physically maintain it (or afford to have someone else do it)?

Selling a rural property to move back to your home country can be an expensive business – and we have known people who have returned to the UK and regretted the move. Reinvesting in another main residence in Spain leads to some relief on the capital gains tax resulting from the original property sale – in itself a good reason to stay in Spain.

Looking ahead

Financial matters aside, we love living on Mallorca and hope that – if and when the time comes – we shall find another home somewhere on the island where we will be as happy as we are here. It could be in Palma de Mallorca – the world’s best city in which to live – but something tells me that property prices in the heart of the capital could be set to soar.

Until then, we’re happy to live in rural Mallorca and visit Palma when we choose to. As much as we love the island’s vibrant and sophisticated capital, we always say that it’s easier to find some buzz and bustle when you live in the country than it is to find some peace and space living in a city . . .

Cat napping in the sun

A nap in perfect peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moving to Mallorca? Prepare to have house guests!

Suitcase packed for holiday on Mallorca

“We’ve arrived!”

“Visitors and fish stink after three days.”  Those words were apparently spoken by the 18th-century American statesman Benjamin Franklin.  We’ve heard variations on that quote several times since we’ve lived on Mallorca, and some horror stories of house guests nobody should have to tolerate. Fortunately we’ve not had cause to use the phrase ourselves.

It’s a sure bet that if you move to Mallorca – or any other place where people like to holiday – your popularity will suddenly soar. In our first year here we had 11 lots of guests come to stay – and most of those would have experienced living with no usable electricity sockets and only the benefit of two hours’ lighting a night. Their curiosity about our new life satisfied, some of them haven’t returned!

As the years have passed, our visitor numbers have thankfully settled down to a more reasonable level. In that first summer, the guest room mattress barely had time to cool down between visitors and, although it was fun, hosting so many visitors was also more tiring than we could ever have imagined. With fewer people coming to stay these days we find ourselves looking forward more to our next visitors.

In less than four weeks we’ll be welcoming our first house guests of 2015: our great friends Duncan and Kristina. We know we’ll have a fun week, with lots of good food and excellent Mallorcan wines. Our only challenge will be fitting everything we’d like to do into our week together.

Here are a few tips – based on our experiences – about dealing with requests from people who want to come and stay:

  • If they haven’t been in touch with you for years, think carefully about their motives for wanting to visit. Cheap holiday? (Sounds suspicious, I know, but I do know someone who allowed an old out-of-touch friend to come and stay with her. The ‘friend’ used her place as a vacation station, disappearing out every day after breakfast and only reappearing at bedtime, and they spent barely any time together).
  • Keep a note of any visits on a chart – that way you can conveniently see what’s already scheduled when you receive a request.
  • Give yourself sufficient time between visits to deal with household, work, and personal matters. You’ll probably eat and drink more than usual when you have visitors, so your liver and waistline may appreciate some recovery time.
  • If you’ve not yet experienced the heat of August on Mallorca, think twice about accepting any bookings for  that month. August is for doing as little as possible!

Do you have any nightmare guest experiences to share? Go on, tell us what happened!

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From Mallorca to the UK . . .

Leaving the finca – for anything more than the occasional night away in a hotel on Mallorca – is not very practical. With eight cats – including our Birman, who lives indoors – we can’t just throw stuff into a bag and head off somewhere for a few days. It’s one of the reasons we haven’t had a proper holiday since we moved here, apart from a few days in Seville – when some kind, animal-loving friends looked after our brood a few years ago.

Hardly plane-sailing

So when my cousin’s husband died suddenly recently, I returned to the UK for the funeral alone, leaving The Boss in charge of everything at home. My blog was neglected as I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to find flights that were (a) into conveniently located airports, and (b) didn’t cost more than a week’s package holiday on Mallorca! Air links between Mallorca and the UK are woefully inadequate during the winter months, but things could improve next winter, as the Majorca Daily Bulletin has mounted quite a campaign  . . .

The disappearance of Shorty

Shorty relaxing in the largest plant pot in the garden.

Shorty relaxing in the largest plant pot in the garden.

To add to the stress of the past few weeks, Shorty – the ginger feral cat in our glaring – disappeared. He’s a very affectionate cat, who enjoys a cuddle. Or, more accurately, often demands one. He’s also very greedy and was never known to miss a meal.  When he didn’t turn up for breakfast one morning, it was strange enough. As the days passed, and my trip loomed, I began to fear the worst.

In the more densely populated UK, we would have wandered around the vicinity of our home, checking with neighbours that he hadn’t become shut in a shed or garage, or made himself at home with them. Here, where we are largely surrounded by fields, enclosed within dry-stone walls, looking for a missing cat is not so easy. We did, however, search the sides of the lanes to satisfy ourselves that he hadn’t been in a road accident.

Slimline cat returns

When I left Mallorca, The Boss promised to let me know immediately if Shorty returned, but there had been no news about him by the time I returned. But, to our great surprise and delight, the ginger one nonchalantly rocked up for breakfast on Wednesday this week – as though he’d never missed a meal.

Shorty had become somewhat barrel-like over the winter, because of his greed, and returned to us looking rather more streamlined. Where had he been? We’ll never know – but it could have been fat-cat boot camp . . .

 

 

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Manacor’s chicken roundabout

Chickens. I think I’ve previously mentioned my hankering to have a few at our finca in rural Mallorca. I’ve had a thing about chickens since I was a young teenager and we had a family holiday in North Wales, staying in a cottage on a farm. Every time I went outside, chickens would appear all around my feet, and then follow me as I explored the farm. I’ve even chosen a few names for my ‘gals’. . .

In theory, we live in a great place to keep chickens. Our land includes a large open field, where I can imagine these feathered lovelies roaming happily around, pecking at the ground. All we would need would be a safe warm home for them at night. We have no foxes on Mallorca, but we occasionally see polecats – and friends of ours had their flock devastated by one of these. So it would need to be a very secure home.

Besides the sound of contented clucking chickens, and their company when you’re outside, there’d be the benefit of a regular supply of free-range eggs. We’d probably have more than we need (I’m not keen on eating eggs and wouldn’t want The Boss to become egg-bound), but the excess would make useful thank-you gifts for those neighbours who sometimes give us some of their garden produce.

Sense beats sentiment

Alas, it’s not to be. The Boss (who is far more practical than I am) has on several occasions pointed out why keeping chickens wouldn’t be such a good idea. And he’s right on all counts – particularly the one that says free-roaming chickens and our seven feral ‘adoptee’ cats all on one finca could get messy.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

King of the coop? Some of the roundabout residents.

So, I’ve been getting my chicken fix elsewhere. On the busy ring road (the Ferrocarril) in Manacor, there’s a roundabout (Plaza de Madrid) with shrubs in the middle that’s become home to a flock of chickens. They’ve been there for ages – probably more than a year; we usually see them several times a week, and are always on the look-out for the latest flurry of fluffy chicks. These chickens rarely seem to stray away from their roundabout and the traffic doesn’t seem to bother them.

"How's our Facebook page doing?"

“How’s our Facebook page doing?”

Manacor’s famous feathered friends

We have often thought they were rather vulnerable in town, with only the shelter of some bushes to protect them. What about passing cats and canines? Sadly, on Saturday, their lack of protection was evident. We spotted four bodies and a lot of scattered feathers on the grass; the rest of the flock had survived whatever had attacked them, but it must have been a terrifying incident for them all.

I imagine we’re not the only ones who were upset to see what had happened: the citizens of Manacor have really taken their feathered neighbours to heart, and people regularly throw food onto the roundabout for them. These clucky birds even have their own Facebook page – Ses Galines de sa rotonda. When I looked just now, 2,876 people had liked it (an increase of more than 30 since I checked last Thursday). And I bet you can guess who one of them was . . .

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