Gallery Borghese and the Trevi Fountain

5-20-16

It’s day two in Rome and we’re still jet lagged but we got up early and headed 2 miles across town so as to make our reserved entry time for the Borghese Gallery.  It’s a zoo if you come later in the day, so we had chosen first thing in the morning.  We got our tickets at 8:30am and were the first two in the door when it opened at 9am.

It was worth it!   We had some of the defining works of the Baroque era, from one of the greatest private art collections in the world, now public, all to ourselves, and came away with a new appreciation for the style that so often is just over the top with too much.  That’s too much emotion, too much sentiment, too much agony, too much color, gold, movement and action and just too much stuff.  In the masterpieces we saw today it was just the right amount.  The artists wanted us to feel things, and we did.  Some were so powerful it was hard to look at them.

In the late 16th Century, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, began collecting paintings and sculpture from the greatest artists he could find, championing many young artists, including Gian Lorenzo Bernini who’s magnificent David, a self portrait at age 25, rocked the world and began the Baroque era.

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Where Michaelangelo’s David is a study in contemplation, he’s thinking of slinging that stone at Goliath, Bernini’s is in the full out, body twisted in motion, act of hurling the stone.  And he’s going to take that Giant down!  You can feel the  whole of the action and David’s determination, all in stone, more flesh than most of us.

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The next room housed the figures of Apollo and Daphne at the moment Apollo  catches her in his crazed lust, only to watch her transform into a tree, Zeus’s way of saving her. 

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It is one piece of marble that is flesh and bone, root, branch and leaf.  Recent restorers said each leaf is carved so finely that they rang like crystal when tapped.

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And in a third room was Bernini’s Rape of Proserpine.  Hades has just captured her and is about to drag her to the Underworld accompanied by the three headed dog Cerberus, and she is terrified, fighting wildly in his arms.  This one was hard to look at, the power of the action and the terror of the victim being so great.

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After two hours, all that you’re allowed in this gem of a museum, and countless more masterpieces, we headed out into the huge forested park that surrounds it for lunch.  We nearly froze to death in the chill wind, however, and made our way  quickly into the sunny warmth at an overlook of the city above the Piazza del Popolo.

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When we made it to the Trevi Fountain, we got our dose of thousands! People were jammed everywhere in front of a fountain so huge it uses a palace as a background.  Designed by Bernini, but completed by Nicola Salvi, it was a highlight of a day of Baroque and Bernini.

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We left the fountain and just as we rounded a corner in front of tbe Italian Parliament building, I heard someone call out, “Scott?” and coming g straight toward me was Suki, a lovely woman we had shared miles with on our Camino de Santiago walk in Spain last spring. Suki is a scientist from Bombay India who had lived for years in the U.S. but had returned to India more recently. What are the chances? Although, we had already shared several unplanned meetings in Spain, this was wild. So goes trail magic. It seems to happen regularly. So nice to see her again and maybe next time it will be in California or Bombay.
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It was back to our apartment and a quick nap and then an exquisite Italian meal and we were down for the count.  Rome is a lot!

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Italy 2016

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5-19-16

It’s just over a year since Katie and I began our walk of the Camino de Santiago in Spain and we’re off again on another adventure.   Today is our first day in Rome.  We’ll be in Italy for a month, Rome, Siena, Cinque Terre and finally a week of sailing the Magdalena Archipelago off the north coast of Sardinia.  At that point Katie will head back to the States and I fly to Madagascar where I’ll join a thru hike already in progress with Francis Tapon,  his wife Rejoice and my good friend Sym, “Symbiosis” Blanchard.

We’re staying in an apartment in the heart of ancient Rome and spent the day wandering streets lined with Classical ruins, Renaissance churches and modern shops and restaurants. 

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Back of the Pantheon between the buildings.

The Eternal City has lived up to its name in just the little half mile square of today’s explorations.  Incredible!

First stop was an open air market just a few blocks away to pick up fresh veggies and to drool over piles of cheeses and meats and barrels of spices. 

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Directly across the street from our apartment is the entrance to the Medieval Jewish Ghetto.  You can still get kosher foods there, but in the middle of this neighborhood are the ruins of Octavious’ Gate a portico with 4 entrances and huge one piece granite  columns. 

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Gate of Octavios

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Behind that is the remains of the “Theatre of Marcellus” originally a huge arch lined stadium the top of which is now rimmed with apartments. 

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Theatre Marcellus

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The huge scale of everything is amazing, all in stone and brick. 

Just up the street from the Jewish section is the Pantheon, a building I missed the first time I was in Rome 30 years ago. 

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Pantheon

Built over 2,000 years ago to honor all the Gods, it was given to the early church around 600 A.D. and remains the only Roman building still in use, now of course as a Christian church.   It is also still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world and amazingly beautiful in its harmony  of proportion, just as wide as it is tall. 

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Rain still pours through the open oculus in the center of the dome, pooling in the center of the concave marble floor to run out through small holes in the stone.  With no other windows  the huge shaft of light the oculus allows in illuminates everything inside.

Then we chased Caravaggio’s paintings from church to church.  

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Caravaggio's Madonna of Loreto. She is exquisitely human, breathtaking in her simple, beatific beauty.

It’s not just any bit of decoration these churches allowed in, many have exquisite masterpieces installed on the walls and in dark side chapels.

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Bernini's Four Rivers fountain.

The evening came on with a storm in the mix as we sat wearily at Bernini’s great Four Rivers Fountain topped with a pilfered Egyptian obelisk in the Piazza Navona.  Great drops of rain, falling sparsely but impressively,  followed us home as the lights of the shops glistened on the wet cobbles. 

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Santiago – A Day with Sym

6-5-15

Friday morning and we hit the road early in Muxia and drove back to Santiago, past the beautiful beach we’d spent the morning at yesterday and the ruined monestery overlooking it, past the hills of eucalyptus that look so much like Sonoma County in California and the little Galician towns and  villages.  The most harrowing part of it all was driving through city rush hour traffic on Medieval streets to turn in the rental car.  I only once turned the wrong way on a one way street.  We walked to our hotel and left our bags as it was too early to check in, then headed up into town to meet our friend Sym “Symbiosis” Blanchard at the Cathedral.
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Sym is a long distance hiker and a  regular on our Bay Area training hikes and a good friend who has just finished a bike ride across Portugal.  Before Portugal he hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail and prior to that, did the walk from Selma to Montgomery and over 20 shows on Broadway.  He’s headed out on Saturday to Milan to hike some of the Dolomites and spend a few weeks at the Sustainable Food Convention.  Then it will be a hike of the coast of Ireland, another section of the AT and on and on.  He won’t be back to the Bay Area till maybe November and he’s my age!  Shouldn’t he be slowing down?  In the midst of all this he fit in a day in Santiago with Katie and I.  We were blessed and priviledged to share the day with him. 

We followed a suggested sightseeing path on our local map which sent us first of all to the Cathedral, which was in use for a Pilgrim’s Mass and not open to tourists, so we walked on wandering through the maze of narrow streets where we bumped into Gwen, a woman from the Netherlands we haven’t seen since the first few days of our walk.  These connections with other pilgrims seem to happen off and on all day in Santiago. 

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The path then brought us to the Modern Art Museum, which we all appreciated, and then to a series of large garden parks on the sprawling grounds of what used to be several old monasteries.
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  It was siesta time and we all lay on the grass and fell asleep to the sounds of the birds and the lovely chatter of a group of young ladies laying on the grass nearby, their Spanish a beautiful music to our English ears.  It was so nice. 

By afternoon we had returned to the Cathedral and found no line at all to climb up into the Baroque retablo and place our hand on the marble head of St. James which sits directly behind the altar.  From the nave you can see people actually hugging the head of the Saint from behind.  Some even take selfies, their arm and cameras protruding indecorously into the apse.
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It was late afternoon on Friday by the time we finished exploring the Cathedral, and what I’d been told was that the Pilgrim’s Mass at 7:30pm on Friday was the only Mass during the week when the botafumeiro is always swung.   We could use a quiet sit at this point and we found seats in the 3rd pew of the north transept, just behind where we’d been earlier in the week and began our long restful wait.

We had an hour and a half to go so I got up and walked outside and almost immediately ran into Dave and Carolyn from Mill Valley.  I hadn’t seen them in weeks.  They’d just gotten into town and I invited them to share our pew as I thought the big censor was going to be swung.  Between Sym and Dave and Carolyn, the time went quickly.  The service, almost all in Spanish, was peaceful and lovely as it had been earlier in the week.  You never really know if the botafumeiro is going to be swung until after communion when a pack of guys in red show up and begin loosing the ropes which are tied off at the pillar on the north transcept.  Sure enough, they showed up and we got the show.  Thank you Leslie.  Before we left California, she had given us the tip to sit in the trascepts and not the nave as they swing it from one arm of the transcepts to the other.  I was able to get a rough video of it this time.  That huge, smoking, 800 pound pot was really impressive as it picked  up speed and momentum and seemed to almost buzz our heads. (I tried to post a video of the event, but haven’t got sufficient wifi. Check back in a few days or check my fb page. It’s there.)

The smell was heavenly.  The smoke was originally thought to drive out some of the diseases the hords of Medieval pilgrims brought in with them.  I’m sure it helped with the stench as well.  At this point it’s just one of the most spectacular shows offered in any Cathedral in the world. 

After mass we all went out to dinner and talked till nearly 11pm,  which is when the town is really jumping.  Walking home through the crowds of Friday night revellers was fun.  I know of no place in the US with such life after dark, as everywhere we’ve been in Spain.  New York is a close second, but here it’s not just folks who’ve gone to a show, it’s everyone, young, old and all ages in between.  
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We really started to like Santiago after today.

Muxia

6-4-15

We drove north on the coast from Cape Finisterra this morning to the little fishing town of Muxia.  Boats, harbor, cafes and beaches, what’s not to like.  It’s beautiful. 

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As our check in wasn’t till 2pm, we drove back to a little beach that sits beneath an 11th century monastery
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and spent the morning collecting shells.  Lovely stryated clam shells, oyster and scallop shells, they’re beautiful and we’re thinking of decorating a tree with them this Christmas.  
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Then to kill time we drove out to the end of the point where a light and seaman’s church stand facing the worst of the Atlantic’s fury. 
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The mists of the morning cleared and we lay on granite again for hours in the sun.  The great curved forms of the ancient exfoliating rock has left wonderful shapes and slabs.  We fell fast asleep to the sound of the waves.

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Later we explored the town and then had dinner at the hotel, a de Lolo, and finally got a paella as good as what Katie makes. But it wasn’t a paella, it was just Gallego rice and seafood.  Lots of saffron, rice and seafood,  but in a rich soupy broth that needs to be eaten with a spoon.   Paella is in fact a dish of Valencia and is made up here for the tourists as they think that’s Spanish food. Well it’s regional Spanish food and we’ve had a few and all have been lackluster, but tonight’s local Galician variant was as good as the best Valencia style version Katie makes at home.  We were so happy the chef came out and introduced herself to us.  Now were sitting at the table posting as we have no wifi in the room.

Tomorrow we drive back to Santiago and meet up with Sym Blanchard, for all you who have hiked with him at home.  He’s just finished a bike tour of Portugal and is in Santiago. Should be fun.  Sym is the best.

Love to you all.
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Finisterra

6-3-15

The “end of the earth,” that’s where we’re at tonight.  We rented a car in Santiago this morning and spent the day exploring the wonderful Galician coast, from the fishing town of Noia, to Muros, another fishing town that’s making the most of sport fishing trips and the draw of their own beautiful beaches and waterfront. 
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We had one of the best seafood salads for lunch in Muros we’ve ever had.   7 euros for a $25 salad anywhere back home.
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But the capper was lovely Finisterra itself,
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another commercial fishing town with roots back to the pagan pilgrimage to Cape Finisterra that people for eons have believed was the end of the earth.  Long before Santiago came to Iberia and became a saint, this place was holy ground.  This pilgrimage is ancient indeed.
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Finisterra Light

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A tower covered in discarded hiker clothing

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Cape Finisterra, the end of the earth.

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It felt that way to us today.  Just as the botafumeiro was a wonderful ending for our walk of the Camino, Finisterra also became a special place for us in a more personal way.   We spent much of the afternoon laying on the great granite slabs on the cliffs below the Finisterra Lighthouse and just above the furthest point of land.  Winds from both sides of the point converge on that one tip in a roiling foam that was blown out to sea as a long tail of spindrift wagging for miles. 

The sun was hot but the sea breeze cool and we lolled for hours, reflecting on what this journey has meant to us both.  Only after the fact and with a look back does it begin to be understood.  Some of it’s easy for me.  I love walking, plain and simple.  But on this walk I really came to value walking with other humans I don’t normally hike with, people from all over this beautiful planet of ours.  I really love that.  And discovering a new and so very old country and culture as is Spain.  I’ve loved that.  And adding art and architecture to “a walk in the woods.”  At home it’s about our wild places, the breathtaking beauty of our country’s wilderness.  Here it is also beautiful, but in a pastoral way, a soft way, and the art of man becomes the high point.  The stone spires here are built one shaped rock upon another in arches and ribs and glass that transforms light, and the result is also breathtaking.  And there’s the spiritual nature of this walk.  I think that is present on all the long trails I’ve hiked and is the reason for the kindness and fellowship we find everywhere we walk.  But best of all has been the way in which Katie and I have found life together on trail.  This is a first for us and it worked out well.  We’re as much in love now as when we started, and that’s not always the case on a long trail.  I’ve seen it before in my friends Little Engine and Plain Slice who married after hiking together, and Milk Sheik and Cliff Hanger, who now have two wonderful little kids.  And there are many more.  But some find it the place to end their relationships as well.  I’m glad to learn that we’re in the category of those who’ve been strengthened. 

Another best was to hear that Katie missed carrying her pack today.  Usually it takes months to really begin to miss this, and she just walked into Santiago yesterday.  It would be more typical to want to burn your pack at this point.  She’s missing it!  I can only hope there’ll be more walks in our future. 

That’s a start.  More will be revealed as awareness begins.

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0.00km marker for the pilgrimage from Cape Finisterra to Santiago. Mile one.

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The beach at the harbor in Finisterra at dusk.

Santiago de Compostela

6-2-15

We’re here!  We made it.  The six miles we had to go were short and sweet and we’ve found another wonderful Medieval city, tucked deep in the center of a thriving modern metropolis.   The outskirts weren’t bad, but the old city center is marvelous and we can’t wait to really explore it.  And we’ve completed the Camino de Santiago de Compostela!   Wooo Hooo!

Following the yellow arrows and bronze scallop shells imbedded in the granite sidewalk, we found our way to the cathedral about 10am and then wondered where our hotel was.  A woman was going into the door of the first building near the north transcept and in desperation I went up to her and showed her the name of our hotel.  She became animated and tried to give us directions in Spanish and with wild gesticulations.  When it became clear she wasn’t getting through, she closed her door and led us up a little alley nearby and personally delivered us.  The Spanish are just incredible, so warm and so helpful.  It turns out we’re about half a block from the cathedral with a room in the topmost garret of a beautifully renovated historic building.  From out our open skylight we can see the towers of the cathedral. 

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But I’ll go into more detail in a later post. 

After dropping our packs we set out for the square in front of the cathedral and almost immediately ran into our English friends, Cathy and David.  We all set out to find the Peregrino Office as people had waited 3 hours to get their Compostela yesterday afternoon.  When we got there the wait was short, but the line grew substantially in just the short time we were there.  After presenting our long and fully stamped Pilgrim Passports, the guy behind the desk put one last very official stamp on them and then filled out and presented us with a lovely Compostela, an official document recognizing that we have completed the Pilgrimage to Santiago.  Wow!  Now we’re official.

Next we went back to the cathedral and found seats in the second pew of the north transcept and with an hour and a quarter to wait for the noontime pilgrim’s mass, just enjoyed the stillness of the immense space.  We knew the 800 pound censor, the botafumeiro was going to be swung at this service and it was worth having a good spot in the church. 

The place filled fast and by shortly after 11am, there wasn’t a seat left and people began finding spots on the pillar footings or good  standing spots.  By 11:30 they had shut the doors and asked all tourists to leave.  It was a packed house.

The service was lovely, not even knowing Spanish.  The priest read off the nations of all the morning’s completions and it really warmed our hearts.  Later parts of the service were delivered in English, German, Italian, Korean and other languages. 

After communion, a whole crew of guys in red made their appearance.  They dropped the freestanding barriers to the ground, as they might be hit by the swinging censor, and loosed the ropes on the big, ornate cauldron.  The huge censor was lowered to the ground and filled with burning charcoal and insence and clouds and smoke rose around the altar.  With one guy on each of 6 or 8 ropes, the botafumeiro was raised about chest high and one fellow pulled it back as far as he could drag it and let it go.  It began its swing between the arms of the transcepts and on each swing the the rope men pulled with all their might, like pumping a swing when you were a kid, and it rose higher and higher.  At its highest, and with a tremendous speed,  it crossed the length of each arm of the building and almost hit the ceiling vaulting.  It whooshed right over our heads!  Our hearts were in our mouths as flames could be seen raging inside and great plumes of incense streamed out.  It was a tremendous spectacle, more impressive than I’d thought it would be.
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Eventually the rope men stopped pumping and the great flaming beast was allowed to swing as a slowing pendulum while the service was concluded.  The final act was by the man who had set it swinging.  When he deemed it safe, he simply grabbed hold of it and used his own body weight to swing in a full circle with it, ending its amazing movement.  unfortunately I thought I was filming the whole show, but due to technical difficulties on my part, nothing got filmed.  So the only still shots I have are when it was done with its big swing.  Oh, well.

The service felt great to both of us and put a marvelous punctuation to the end of our pilgrimage.  We’ve still got a week of time to explore more of Spain and Santiago. Tomorrow we’ll be driving to Finisterre, “the end of the earth.”

Lots more happened today, but it’ll have to be told in a subsequent post. 

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Reliquary of Saint James the Apostle

Lavacolla

6-1-15

The morning was misty and overcast.  The leaves glistened in  dew new formed.  It was a beautiful morning for walking our penultimate day on pilgrimage.   Tomorrow we hope to walk into Santiago de Compostela sometime in the morning.   I can’t believe we’ve come so far and had so much fun.

The path today was much like the past few, pastoral country lanes and ivy draped forests,

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punctuated by villages and farms that have begun to look more prosperous the closer we get to Santiago. 

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Little churches still appear in places and we passed a small, backyard lumber mill. 

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The forests have turned to eucalyptus, the monstrous blue gum towering over the native oak and chestnut. 

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They’ve been planted  primarily for pulp.  With the misty morning and the scent of euc in the air, I could have been walking in Tilden Park on a foggy, summer’s morning.

We were walking a short day today to the little town of Lavacolla, traditionally the last stop before reaching Santiago de Compostela, 6 miles further.   This is where Medieval pilgrims stopped to bathe, a sort of ritual purification before entering Santiago.  This was important because most had not bathed since they had begun their pilgrimages, weeks, months or years before.   Unlike Moslems and Jews, Medieval Christians made a point of not bathing and ridiculed those who did.  They actually believed it was unhealthy. So, this was an important ritual.  I can just imagine the aromas in those early monastic hostels.  Wow.

Needless to say, one of the delights of this long walk has been the shower every afternoon and watching the dust of the day run down that drain.  And a hot meal!  You can’t underestimate a hot meal.  It’s so nice to have one every evening.  It’s a long walk, but a nicely civilized one at this point.

We’ve stopped today at the Pazo Xan Xordo, an ancient stone home that has been turned into a lovely country inn.   It had been a very large home at one time, almost a small palace.  There are carved stone coats of arms set in the walls that are 4 feet thick and a small private chapel dedicated to the Virgin.  Inside is as impressive as the outside is grand, yet the whole place is warm. 

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And so is the proprietor who just gave us a lift to the super marcado, waited for us and then shuttled us to dinner.  The Spanish have been wonderful throughout this hike, so helpful and friendly.  It’s a lovely place to spend our last night on trail. 

Santiago de Compostela is 6 miles away.  We just spent some time looking at a large wall map of where we’ve come, France to the Western tip of Spain.  It’s been a marvelous way to get to know Spain, from the ground up, one step at a time.  Our shoes have held up and we haven’t broken down.  Tomorrow we visit a Saint.
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