Passport to Poconos – Celebrating “La Verbena” in Spain

June midsummer night. Everyone everywhere celebrates. I am in Barcelona visiting my mother. Here midsummer night is called “la verbena de San Juan” (St. John’s Eve) and is one of the biggest, most raucous holidays in Spain. Firecrackers sound everywhere and bonfires light up the sky like the whole city is burning. Dogs and cats cover from the noise and smoke. It’s the eve of St John’s the Baptize birthday, six months before Jesus. Early Christians adapted it from pagan holidays before and brought along the tradition of fires and all night long festivals.

I remember some of these celebrations when I was younger. If you were smart and could afford it, you fled the city for these two days while every kid old enough to hold a match lit off endless firecrackers. My friend Rosa, an emergency coordinator for 911, says that every year kids get burned and get fingers blown off. This year she told me they had over 250 serious emergency calls. “We stop counting the calls for drunks” she says, “It’s thousands in a night like that”.

I wish the firecrackers were outlawed everywhere. What lunacy allows them to be banned for sale to Pennsylvanians but sold to out-of-staters? Is it okay for New Jersey and New York kids to get their fingers blown off?

If not for the explosives, la verbena could be a wonderful holiday in Barcelona. Everyone goes to the street at night and celebrates with music, cava (Catalan champagne), coca (a layered pastry typical for this holiday), and bonfires. An old friend told me that in past years, people would use the convenience of block party bonfires to throw away their old furniture.

Most people head to the beach for the biggest party of the year. No rock concert ever attracted as many people as this night on Barcelona’s beach.

This year I took my husband to the beach. At first he was in shock with all the noise of the firecrackers. “I feel we’re in the middle of Iraq,” he said. It was past midnight and people of every age and ethnicity, from teens to families, gathered around tents, sleeping bags, picnic boxes, and strollers. We passed a coffee shop with tables and chairs outside and a crowd of senior citizens dancing. Terraces were decorated with strings of confetti and balloons.

By morning the firecrackers had subsided. Barcelona slept late, like a midsummer version of New Year’s Day. We got up, took the train south, and joined friends at a small beach town that has a great restaurant specializing in rice dishes. While most people were recovering from ‘la verbena’ hangovers, we were having rice paella. Separated from a summer storm by big glass windows overlooking the beach. All the friendly waiters wore t-shirts saying, “Rice to Meet You.”

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:


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Passport to Poconos – The King and I

America has never had a king so our celebrity scandals are limited to celebrities such as the Kardashians. But in Spain, we have the royals to give us breathless headlines.

Last week the King of Spain abdicated in favor of his son, Felipe. Felipe is mid-forties, good looking, and educated. By contrast, his father, Juan Carlos has been the subject of rumors about numerous affairs and a high life style. All this while the country was suffering from an economical crisis. Juan Carlos´s daughter, Cristina, is married to a man about to go on trail for larceny. So it may be a good time to step down.  It wasn’t always this way, which is why many people still respect the king.

I remember my father telling us about his childhood, when the Spanish Civil War started. The country was divided by opposing armies. Where you were when the war started was where you stayed until it ended. My grandmother had taken her young sons to visit her family in a village in Aragon, a region between Madrid and Barcelona. My grandfather stayed in Barcelona. Then family could not travel home for three years. My father and his family and everybody from that era suffered, both because of the enforced separations, and because of the lack of food. My father, like people from his generation, was obsessed by food. He always had to have a full fridge.

The winner of the war was General Franco, a dictator who governed the country as  “His Excellency the Head of State.” It lasted almost forty years. I remember how fearful everyone was about following the rules. When Franco died in 1975, he named his successor to be King Juan Carlos I, from the Bourbon dynasty.  But rather than continue like Franco, this king believed in democracy. With new freedoms, people went to the other extreme; nudity was introduced in magazine and movies. Freedom after all those years of oppression was a breath of fresh air.

Panic returned in 1981 when the military tried to take power again. The king saved democracy by coming on TV in his military uniform, showing he was the real commander, and announcing that he stood for democracy. So that is why people still love him.

But TV and social media now expose all the petty scandals and hidden lives of the royal family that could be kept secret before. I think the time of kings being brave leaders is over. In Spain, many people now are asking for a referendum so that they can decide if they want to continue with the Monarchy (whom we support with their taxes), or a Republic.

These thoughts make me appreciate how hard the framers of the US constitution worked to create our nation. Everybody worked hard to create this country. It’s not perfect, but we still need and want to believe in the American Dream.

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:

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Passport to Poconos – Following your Dreams

Last month was graduation day at ESU. I had already received my diploma in the mail after I completed my BA degree last December.  I remember a comment made by a classmate:  “I’m about to graduate so now I’ll get paid more.” I wanted to ask him what made him think that, but I just looked at him and wished him good luck.

I remember, when I was younger, how it was to go through school and college, being in a safe, predictable world where I knew what was coming next. Then, one day you graduate and you’re left on your own to deal with the larger world.

In my early twenties in Spain, I studied Public Relations. My father wanted me to be a lawyer or study for a ‘prestigious’ profession. My mother wanted me to keep staying in college where I could meet the ‘right’ man; preferably a lawyer or a doctor. I always had a creative mind and wanted to be a writer and a journalist. But in high school I chose to enjoy myself and studying wasn’t part of that. I missed journalism school by half a point on the entrance exam.

After I graduated I found my own apartment, a job, and became independent. My mother was upset, “why do you want to leave home?” she asked. “Don’t we treat you well?”  In Latin countries the sense of family and of being together is very strong. Traditionally, girls were supposed to live at home until they married; many men did too. Now in Spain, many young people stay at home simply because they can’t afford to leave.

I didn’t go back to school until years later when I saw I had lost track of my dreams through many years in a corporate world. A world where, ultimately, I realized I didn’t belong. The last straw was a job at a New York TV station where I worked sixty hours a week and was replaced when the boss’s favorite needed a bigger budget for her new assistant.

That’s when I realized my passion for writing had followed me to the US and it was time to follow it. At first it took the form of emails to friends about my adventures in my new country. It wasn’t until I went back to college at ESU that I found the discipline to make writing and broadcasting my new career.

What I learned is: do what you need to do but don’t forget your dreams. Do what you must do to earn a living and get by, but don’t forget all your passions and your talents. When they day comes that you see the path to them, take it. If you feel excited it’s the right path!


Christina´s radio show with a Latin flavor is every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM on Pocono 96.7. Tu Voz con Christina. Email:

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Passport to Poconos – Un Road House con Sabor a USA

La semana pasada viví mi primera experiencia en un lugar de comidas nuevo, al menos para mí.

Mi esposo me dice que estos lugares se encuentran por lo general en las carreteras, lejos de los pueblos y típicamente sirven cócteles y un menú limitado. Se llaman “roadhouses”, En España no tenemos nada que se parezca. Por lo general, los restaurantes y bares se encuentran cerca del centro de la ciudad. No hay nada como esas luces que te dan la bienvenida en el medio de la noche en carreteras sinuosas. A veces sus carteles titilan con bulbos de luces pequeños que se mueven y sus ventanas siempre lucen brillantes pero misteriosas. Los lugareños conocen bien estos lugares pero los extraños raramente paran.

En España, recuerdo haberlos visto en películas americanas.  Son esos lugares donde Humphrey Bogart conoce la chica o donde Marlon Brando estaciona su Harley.

“Tenemos que ir, tienen una pizza sensacional y tragos baratos” nos dice nuestra amiga Karen. Lo revisé en línea y me di cuenta que tenemos que ir a cenar temprano para llegar a tiempo y comer antes de que cierren.

El lugar se parecía exactamente a una cabaña rústica de los tiempos de pioneros y era muy viva. Había dos personas tocando música de los años 60 en vivo y una pizarra al final de la habitación donde tenías que escribir tu nombre y número personas para una reservación. Nuestro grupo se pudo entremeter en el bar y escuchar la música mientras esperábamos que nos llamen.

Finalmente, alguien gritó nuestro nombre por encima de la música y nos sentamos. El ambiente del bar era tan alegre con la música y todos conversando que no estaba segura si quería pasar al comedor. Estaba decorado con luces de Navidad, las cuales dejaban todo el año, era lo suficientemente tranquilo para hablar e incluso más cálido y amigable que en el bar.

Nuestra mesera tenía una actitud amigable como si nos conociera por años. “La pizza es nuestra especialidad” nos dijo y “por un dólar adicional, pueden ordenar un tamaño más grande” agregó. Sobre el mantel de papel puso los platos de plástico, los cuales habían sido usados tanto tiempo que hizo que los diseños se borraran. Repartimos los platos eligiendo aquellos que tenían el “dibujo borroso” favorito. Fue parte de la diversión. Cuando vino la pizza, la cortamos y la comimos con las manos.

Pienso que estaba más rica así o quizás fue la espontaneidad de toda la experiencia. Nunca viví algo así en España o New York. Fue una experiencia divertida y casual con buena pizza y gente amistosa. No veo las horas de llevar a mis amigos de España, cuando vengan a visitarme. Estoy segura de que ellos sentirán que esto es una experiencia americana real. “The roadhouse”, hecha en los Estados Unidos!

El show de radio de Christina con sabor latino se transmite todos los domingos a las 8:00 A.M por Pocono 96.7. Tu Voz con Christina. Correo electrónico:


Traducción por Celia Elizabelar:








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Passport to Poconos – Street Food and Cultures

The good weather has awakened my senses to one of the things that I enjoy more in the US: discovering authentic food from around the world from street vendors. “I want a frankfurter.” This is the first thing my friend Cristina said when she arrived to New York last week. “Why would you want that?” I asked. “The typical thing I do when I arrive in the US is eat street food; a frankfurter and a slice of pizza.”. It’s what you see in the movies. “But it’s called hot dog here (perrito caliente in Spanish),” I told her. In Spain it’s called a frankfurter because the sausage came originally from Frankfurt, Germany.

In Spain there is no street food, you are supposed to eat in a restaurant or a bar or at home but never in the street: it is not considered polite. A restaurant is more formal. A bar is where you can get a coffee, a drink or a sandwich or a snack (like tapas), but that’s not “eating”. Eating is having a full meal in a restaurant or at home. If you have a sandwich for lunch, you didn’t eat. When we go to Spain, my husband insists in having his sandwich. “I can’t eat so many big meals,” he says.

The first time I had street food was a hot dog in New York when I was a tourist. I loved the freedom and informality of siting in the park while eating with my hands. This is one of the best things of being in the US, the freedom to do things like eating with your hands, in public, without being judged! I have discovered some of the best food from around the world is on street trucks in the US. When visiting friends in Los Angeles we found the best breakfast burritos on the trucks set up to serve Hispanic laborers and gardeners in Beverly Hills.

Our friends were appalled. Why do you want to eat that? We can take you to a great Mexican restaurant.” “These are the best burritos this side of the border,” my husband replied. The California Mexican food trucks have their own name in Spanglish. They are called “Loncheros,” because they serve lunch.

A few years ago we started a tradition with some friends of eating food of a different country whenever we met. There are a few rules: “It has to be authentic, cheap and we can’t repeat countries”. So far we have gone through sixteen countries without having had to travel beyond the perimeter of New York City. However In the Poconos is where I have discovered some of the best Hispanic foods. Not on trucks, but in restaurants and homes of friends. That is a story for another day!

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:



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Passport to Poconos -The Subway Experience

After adjusting to living in the wide open spaces of the Poconos, surrounded by nature, going to the City and taking the subway is a whole new alien experience. What once was familiar in my life become strange.

I never gave subways a second thought until now, when I realize that subways have their own special subculture.

In Barcelona, my original hometown, it is modern and clean, with easy to follow routes and stops. When I first went to New York, I was surprised by the dirt and decaying stations as well as the rats running along the tracks. The signs in the New York City are confusing. If you don´t know about local and express trains you can stop on the wrong one and wind up in Harlem or the Bronx in just a few stops. Everybody jokes about the messages from the conductor. ¨ What did he say?¨. It suddenly seems like everyone in the car is hard of hearing.

In Barcelona it’s different. Last time I was riding the subway there, I heard a voice of the driver coming through the speakers, “Beware of the woman at the right front door of the first car, grip your hand bags.”  I was in shock.  I didn’t realize the driver could view cameras of the whole train and was telling us he had spotted a pickpocket.

As modern as the subway is in Barcelona, there is also an epidemic of pickpocketing that the police can´t seem to stop. I tell whoever goes, “It’s a beautiful town but keep an extra tight hold of your wallet if you want to have a good experience”

The offenders are rarely from Spain. The open borders of the European Union have made it difficult to control who is where.

In New York the subway is quite another experience. I’ve always felt safe there. It is a New York adventure. I’m fascinated how New Yorkers squeeze at rush hour to get in. And no matter how crowded, they are deep in thought or listening to their I Pods or reading their e-books. The tourists are in awe of everything and nothing seems to bother them. They always smile, chat animatedly with each other and consult their maps.

Then there are the beggars that come through looking for money or food. It makes me sad. I don’t know what to do. It’s not easy to beg and sometimes it’s about real poverty.  I carry $1 bills and help when I can. Last time I didn’t have cash but I had a snack to offer.  It was gratefully accepted.  There are also the musicians and singers who either make my journey more fun or make me want to scream for them to stop.Going back to the Poconos, I feel free again. My space and nature and fresh air!

Christina´s radio show with a Latin flavor is every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM on Pocono 96.7. Tu Voz con Christina. Email:

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Passport to Poconos – Motoristas Hispanos en los Poconos

Querido amigo,

Una de las mejores cosas acerca de la cultura latina es la cercanía de la gente. Siempre encontramos la forma de compartir algo y estar juntos. Aquí se encuentra uno de los grupos que trajeron y pensaron sobre su amor por las motocicletas.

Un sábado a la mañana mientras esperaba mi turno para ingresar a Perkins, vi gente con ropa de motociclistas: jeans, botas y chalecos negros con un montón de insignias bordadas e incluso la palabra LAMA, lo cual significa Asociación de Motocicletas Latinoamericana. En el momento que escuché ̈Latino ̈ en los Poconos, pensé que era la oportunidad para conocer a alguien relacionado con mi cultura y de habla hispana. Les comenté de mi programa de radio semanal a los motociclistas y se entusiasmaron para visitarme. Me enteré que su grupo organiza muchos eventos comunitarios pero que ninguno recibió una invitación a un show de radio.

“Soy un Nuyorikan” dijo Jay, conocido como “El Jefe”, el vicepresidente del grupo (refiriéndose a sus raíces portorriqueñas, nació y se crió en Nueva York). Así es como ellos se identifican. “Somos una asociación de motociclistas humanistas internacionales”, me dijo Roberto y le pregunté “Qué significa”. Siempre pensé que los motociclistas eran individuos difíciles que ha hacían rugir sus motores en las rutas y se negaban a dejarte pasar en la carretera.

Robert (Presidente) y Jay se refirieron a sus miembros como “hermanos” y “hermanas” y acentuaron sus valores de familia. Me contaron sobre los eventos que apoyan en la comunidad como así también sobre la beca para estudiantes. Les pregunté si uno tenía que ser latino para pertenecer al grupo y me respondieron que no era necesario. Roberto respondió: “Lo que necesitas es tener una moto de 650 cc y ser aceptado por el “Chapter” (es como ello les llaman a sus clubes) después del período de prueba. También hay mujeres a quienes les llamamos “Damas” y aceptamos todas las nacionalidades, raza, sexo, edad. Nuestra asociación recibe a todos los que comparten nuestros valores”.

Detrás del aspecto de motorista, encontré gente amable y encantadora dispuesta a compartir su amor por el motociclismo y el trabajo humanitario en la comunidad.

Les pregunté cómo se siente manejar una motocicleta de 650 cc y me respondió que no lo podía describir, pero que es lo mismo que siente un perro cuando pone su cabeza fuera de la ventana de un auto en movimiento.
Con toda la conversación sobre las buenas obras y becas, supongo que montar motocicletas siempre va a ser un sentimiento espectacular de libertad en la carretera. Las autopistas sinuosas de los Poconos son perfectas para los motociclistas, además de tener lugares de descanso para los motociclistas como el Minisink Hotel para que los motociclistas se aseguren de hidratarse bien.

Quiero sentir aquel viento. Me voy a poner mi ropa de cuero y unir al grupo. Me puedo visualizar como acompañante en una gran motocicleta y sentir la brisa del verano en mi cabello…

Más información sobre LAMA:
Show de radio de Christina con sabor latino todos los domingos a las 8:00 AM en Pocono 96.7. Tu Voz con Christina. Email:


Traducción: Celia Elizabelar:

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Passport to Poconos – Loving Mom Across Miles

I tell my mother in our weekly phone call, “I love you mother, with all my heart. You are constantly in my thoughts. I hear your laughter. I wear your perfume and the smell reminds me of you.” “Really?” she asks. Her thrill and laughter is contagious. I have reached her soul and we have finally connected. Since I moved to the States, I am continually worried about her: an aging widow with a progressive fragile mind.

I am grateful that my brother is devoted to her.  He is her constant caregiver. When I visit, I feel like a stranger intruding. When I first moved away, she was more lucid, opinionated and demanding.  She filled me with guilt for being so far away in her old age. She had always been there for us.

She was our shelter, giving us unconditional love and each day, after school, taking us for a ‘merienda’, an afternoon snack. We drank hot chocolate with whipped cream  (called Suizo in Spain) and ate croissants. These are some of the memories I cherish.

I never understood why she didn’t pursue her artistic talents or why she hid her true age. Being older than my father filled her with guilt. I found out about that by accident when I was ten years old. We were on a vacation. I was looking at her passport and found her age. I was convinced there was a mistake. But it wasn’t. Later in her life she admitted always felt ‘less’ for marrying a man six years her junior. It was then when I felt a I had missed a big part of who she really was.

She met my father in Germany where they were both learning the language. They married in Turkey, where her family was temporarily living, and settled in his home country, Spain. She never adjusted to life in Spain and never learned the language properly. She remained an outcast, attached to her old language and customs. After my father died it became more isolating. But she was a brave woman who wanted to marry for love and become a mother. She succeeded in both. My parents were always for each other, during the ups and downs of life.

I don’t try to puzzle anymore about all the questions that will remain unanswered about my mother. Though she hears me in our weekly conversations, she no longer can comprehend my questions or give me answers. I’m grateful to still have her although sometimes I wonder if she knows who I am.  When I show her my love and kindness on the phone, she’s happy and giggly. Happy Mother’s Day, mother, thank you for giving me the gift of life and shaping who I am. I´ll love you forever.


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Passport to Poconos – Descubriendo Nuevas Culturas Hispanas

Los Poconos tiene una nueva revista, Latino Espectacular. Nació en Allentown 15 años atrás a raíz de la energía y dedicación de Isa Pereyra, una mujer dominicana, quien sintió que todos los hispanos eran su gente, donde el español era su lengua madre y podría seguir una carrera en la televisión, radio y con una revista. Ella lleva a cabo estas tres actividades muy bien.
Latino Espectacular se puede encontrar aquí en el condado de Monroe, ya que Isa encontró a Sylvia Piserchio, una mujer de negocios exitosa de Ecuador, quien hace 25 años que vive en los Poconos. No hace mucho tiempo, junto a Gil Coronado conocí a ambas en Allentown. Gil es un amigo que preserva los orígenes mexicanos de sus padres y apoya la comunidad hispana, al mismo tiempo que trabaja conmigo en el programa de radio 96.7 FM. Gil es un empresario de CILA, su propia companía que apoya a artistas emergentes.

Isa nos llevó a todos a comer y bailar en un club dominicano en Allentown. Ahí es donde descubrí el alma de los dominicanos. Ellos se mueven al ritmo de la música y saben las canciones más populares de su país de memoria. ¨Esta gente bella, respiran la música que es parte de su alma y su cultura¨ (especialmente bachata y merengue, los más populares), pensé.
Aquella noche Isa me contó sobre su vida y sus tres hijos a quienes ella crió sola. ¨He actuado desde que era una niña, necesitaba crear arte y juntar a la gente¨, me dijo.

Isa y Sylvia se conocen hace mucho tiempo, pero hace sólo un mes Sylvia finalmente le dijo a Isa: ¨Llegó el momento de introducir nuestra revista a los Poconos. Definitivamente, hay un mercado para la revista¨.
En un mes, ellas la armaron y la edición de los Poconos se distribuyó por primera vez. Estas dos mujeres tuvieron una idea,la desarrollaron y un mes más tarde la hicieron realidad.

Los hispanos y su pasión por contribuir al entendimiento entre las diferentes nacionalidades de habla hispana es algo que sólo he visto en este país, especialmente en los Poconos. Isa y Sylvia, así como mis amigos de FLECHA aúnan sus esfuerzos para preservar una cultura en común.
Desde que mi show de radio en español comenzó hace dos años, primero en español con la radio WESS y ahora en inglés en la Pocono 96.7, he estado a disposición de la comunidad hispana en donde he escuchado un mensaje constante: ¨ No hay suficiente para nosotros aquí, queremos más¨. Bueno, ahora hay más: esta columna cada semana en el Pocono Record ( traducido al español en mi blog), Latino Spectacular Magazine y el programa de radio“Tu Voz con Christina”. La región de los Poconos posee una comunidad rica de diversas culturas que crecen mejor y florecen porque ellas comparten entre ellas.

Traducción por Celia Elizabelar (

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Passport to Poconos – Adjusting is Necessary


Speaking with my friend Mari, who moved to the Poconos from Spain over twenty years ago, I asked her what was the hardest thing to adjust to?  “Driving”, she said without doubt, “I came from a city where I could walk around the corner and buy what I needed. And now if I forget something on my shopping list, I have to drive all the way back.”

My friend Bea told me that the hardest thing for her was the change in measurements: “From Celsius to Fahrenheit for the weather. Let´s see, double it and subtract 32, or is it add 32? And when I go shopping,” she continues “I have to change from kilograms to pounds.”

Thinking about it, I would say “yes” to all the minor inconveniences, but there are things I love too. I love all the seasons. You can see how nature is transformed. In the spring it seems to happen minute by minute. Spain has no equivalent to the feeling of spring in the Northeast United States. And with spring comes the beginning of the growing season and of life.

When I moved to the Poconos I had never seen a vegetable outside the supermarket. Now I go to Josie Porter Farm, shop at the Stroudsburg Farmers Market and get my fresh eggs from Jeff the egg man. My summer sweet corn comes direct from the farmer in Cherry Valley, and I wait for fall to buy a peck of tomatoes for next to nothing to make marinara sauce for the year.

It´s funny that I always liked to cook but never had any curiosity about where the ingredients actually came from. Now I get in my car and go to find them. None of this came naturally. I refused to see the bounty that was around me for the first two years after I moved here. Then one day I touched bottom and I realized that nothing was going to happen if I didn’t do something about it. I had to embrace my environment and learn all the good things it could offer.

I had to accept that my car was now an essential part of my life. It could take me places and open up worlds. I started taking classes at ESU, got my degree and started my radio program. The best part has been meeting wonderful people along the way.

I still go into New York City and still love the pace and rhythm but I also realize that in the city, most things are given to us and we take them for granted.

The Poconos opened new doors for me and made me push myself from my comfort zone, and by the way, I’m still afraid of bears!

Christina´s radio show with a Latin flavor is every Sunday morning at 8:00 AM on Pocono 96.7. Tu Voz con Christina. Email:

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    Christina Luna Zabih

    Christina comes from a background in public relations and sales in Barcelona, Spain. She immigrated to New York and quickly became a segment producer at Telemundo TV– covering local events in the Hispanic community for the daily morning magazine ... Read Full
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