Catalogue


The view from the Vysotka : a portrait of Russia today through one of Moscow's most famous addresses /
Anne Nivat ; translated from the French by Frances E. Forte.
edition
1st U.S. ed.
imprint
New York : St. Martin's Press, c2004.
description
xxvi, 228 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
ISBN
031232278X
format(s)
Book
Holdings
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Anne Nivat's previous book, Chienne de Guerre, won the Albert Londres prize, France's highest award for journalism. She has been the Moscow correspondent for the newspaper Liberation and is currently working on a book on Central Asia. She lives in Moscow
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
Chapter One Central Section B, Main Lobby: Zoya and Lida, Attendants Push hard on the heavy, glazed glass outer door. It swings open dramatically, narrowly missing a buttress. You're in a small unadorned vestibule that traps the frigid outside air and provides a brush mat to scrape muddy ice off your boots. Turn to the right (access to the left is temporarily blocked) and pass through two more high doors, which also resist. Here, finally, is the cavernous main lobby-the domain of the building attendants. Zoya and Lida sit authoritatively behind a wobbly table, lists of the residents and their telephone numbers close at hand, as well as an orange plastic Soviet-era radio. Various envelopes are arranged neatly before the women. Against the adjacent wall is a large worn-out divan, also orange, an incongruous presence in this immense and solemn hall. "Lida Nikolayevna knows the names of all the children in the building. Me, I'm satisfied with the names of the dogs," jokes Zoya. "That's because there are a lot fewer children than dogs," Lida clarifies, amused. She is petite and pretty, even at sixty-five years old. Her hair is pulled up in a perfectly coiffed chignon, but her knit pullover is a bit out of style. "It dates back to the Soviet Union," she says apologetically. She's the sort of person who takes great care with all her tasks. With her spectacles, Zoya has the air of a strict grandmother. These two women team up to work a twenty-four-hour shift. There are eight building attendants in all in the Taganka vysotka, one man and seven women, of whom three live in the building. The main lobby is the command center of the building. Through the partly open door of the dispatching department a lot of technical equipment can be seen. Someone monitors it continuously. "That's the computer," explains a housekeeper in the process of dusting the hall. The tall silhouette of a soldier wearing a camouflage uniform and leather boots appears in the hall. He shoots a quick glance and makes a barely perceptible nod at Zoya and Lida, sitting at s20the attendants' table. They know him. Though doing his military service, he also performs odd jobs for one of the residents. He is allowed to proceed toward the elevator without stopping, as is normally required. The staff meeting in the dispatching center ends at around eleven o'clock. Today Nina Andreevna, seventy, is one of the housekeepers who clean the elevators. During the heyday of the new skyscraper, she served as a uniformed elevator operator. She used to sit on a jump seat and press the floor number buttons, a function that has not existed since the elevators were automated. Today's meeting has made her nervous. "I'm seeing a computer for the first time in my life," she tells her two colleagues and friends. "No, no, not a computer with games, a computer that does everything on the keyboard that we used to do manually on the control panel. Well, it seemed to be very simple. They showed us what to push on, and how to make the mouse work! We're giving it a try anyway. I am as tired as an Olympic champion after the race." She sets herself down behind the attendants' table. "Are you familiar with these new gadgets? If I forget to press on a button, the computer tells me ... or rather, it writes to me-on the screen! Now that's progress." She crumples and squeezes hard on the dust rag lying in her lap. Seventy-five-year-old Zinaida Leontievna, the second elevator attendant, also hangs around to chat after the same computer training session. Her face has a defeated expression. "I don't understand how that thing works. I'm going to have to quit this job. I just can't do it." Lida gasps. Zinaida is one of the pillars of this vysotka, having worked in the skyscraper since it first opened fifty years ago. She greets everyone by their first name and patronym, their father's
First Chapter
Chapter One
Central Section B, Main Lobby: Zoya and Lida, Attendants


Push hard on the heavy, glazed glass outer door. It swings open dramatically, narrowly missing a buttress. You're in a small unadorned vestibule that traps the frigid outside air and provides a brush mat to scrape muddy ice off your boots. Turn to the right (access to the left is temporarily blocked) and pass through two more high doors, which also resist. Here, finally, is the cavernous main lobby-the domain of the building attendants.

Zoya and Lida sit authoritatively behind a wobbly table, lists of the residents and their telephone numbers close at hand, as well as an orange plastic Soviet-era radio. Various envelopes are arranged neatly before the women. Against the adjacent wall is a large worn-out divan, also orange, an incongruous presence in this immense and solemn hall.

"Lida Nikolayevna knows the names of all the children in the building. Me, I'm satisfied with the names of the dogs," jokes Zoya.

"That's because there are a lot fewer children than dogs," Lida clarifies, amused. She is petite and pretty, even at sixty-five years old. Her hair is pulled up in a perfectly coiffed chignon, but her knit pullover is a bit out of style.

"It dates back to the Soviet Union," she says apologetically. She's the sort of person who takes great care with all her tasks. With her spectacles, Zoya has the air of a strict grandmother. These two women team up to work a twenty-four-hour shift. There are eight building attendants in all in the Taganka vysotka, one man and seven women, of whom three live in the building.

The main lobby is the command center of the building. Through the partly open door of the dispatching department a lot of technical equipment can be seen. Someone monitors it continuously.

"That's the computer," explains a housekeeper in the process of dusting the hall.

The tall silhouette of a soldier wearing a camouflage uniform and leather boots appears in the hall. He shoots a quick glance and makes a barely perceptible nod at Zoya and Lida, sitting at s20the attendants' table. They know him. Though doing his military service, he also performs odd jobs for one of the residents. He is allowed to proceed toward the elevator without stopping, as is normally required.

The staff meeting in the dispatching center ends at around eleven o'clock. Today Nina Andreevna, seventy, is one of the housekeepers who clean the elevators. During the heyday of the new skyscraper, she served as a uniformed elevator operator. She used to sit on a jump seat and press the floor number buttons, a function that has not existed since the elevators were automated. Today's meeting has made her nervous.

"I'm seeing a computer for the first time in my life," she tells her two colleagues and friends. "No, no, not a computer with games, a computer that does everything on the keyboard that we used to do manually on the control panel. Well, it seemed to be very simple. They showed us what to push on, and how to make the mouse work! We're giving it a try anyway. I am as tired as an Olympic champion after the race."

She sets herself down behind the attendants' table.

"Are you familiar with these new gadgets? If I forget to press on a button, the computer tells me ... or rather, it writes to me-on the screen! Now that's progress."

She crumples and squeezes hard on the dust rag lying in her lap.

Seventy-five-year-old Zinaida Leontievna, the second elevator attendant, also hangs around to chat after the same computer training session. Her face has a defeated expression.

"I don't understand how that thing works. I'm going to have to quit this job. I just can't do it."

Lida gasps. Zinaida is one of the pillars of this vysotka, having worked in the skyscraper since it first opened fifty years ago. She greets everyone by their first name and patronym, their father's given name, the customary and respectful mode of address in Russian. This house is these women's universe. Zinaida even lodged in dormitories reserved for technical service personnel for forty-eight years, until she was finally granted her own two-room apartment in a low-rent suburban apartment building two years ago. A woman of small stature and round face, with large, coarse hands that handle the broom skillfully, Zinaida sweeps the floor day and night. She has carelessly pulled on a long smock, which is a bit bunched up over woolen hose. Her gray hair is cut straight and held back by a headband. The only vanity that she allows herself is a pair of earrings. Freckles are scattered across her drab face, brightened up by sparkling large blue-gray eyes. This morning, however, they have lost their twinkle. On the verge of tears, she casts a tender look at the old-fashioned instrument panel, with orderly levers and switches of white and red, which she will no longer be using.

The nostalgic reverie is broken when a young woman strides past them and toward the elevators at a determined pace. Lida and Zoya shout together: "Hey there, young lady! Which apartment are you going to?"

The young woman stops in her tracks, turns, and tells them. Lida pounces on the orange telephone to announce the visitor, who waits for permission to proceed.

By noontime, nothing is left on the hall table except copies of the Times of Eurasia, a publication of the Eurasian Party of Russia, a somewhat mysterious sociopolitical organization of emigrants from Central Asia. The bulletins are spread out like cookies and offered free of charge. Two young Caucasian-looking men arrive to present an invitation marked: "Hand Deliver in Person." It is addressed to the actress Klara Luchko. People from the Caucusus Mountains in the Muslim regions south of Russia are often discriminated against in Moscow and all the Christian, European areas of Russia, in part because of their darker skin and Muslim religion and terrorist activities related to their fight for independence from Russia. Lida decides not to let them wander around the residential floors and calls the actress to inform her that some messengers have arrived. The line is busy. Lida suggests that the two men wait on the orange divan. They will be allowed to go upstairs a little later.

Lida takes her tea break in a kitchenette off the entranceway.

"I wish I could close my eyes and open them to find we have returned to the Soviet Union. All countries have bad features. In the USSR we had to line up for everything, that's true, but the food wasn't so expensive!"

She sighs. After working for forty years, she has had to become a concierge here in order to survive. When can she hope to retire? The sad fact is that she has no one to count on but herself.

"Here contact with people is pleasant enough," she says.

Still, making the commute once every four days between Ironmongers Quay and her suburban apartment is very difficult. She would have much preferred to continue working at her previous employer, Gosstandard, a government bureaucracy in charge of certifying technical standards, where she spent thirty years. From the sixteen floors of the office tower this agency used to occupy, they're down to only one. The rest were rented by commercial firms at fair market prices.

"If only we had taken the best parts of the West, instead of choosing the worst!"

While Lida savors her cup of tea with toast and jam, Zoya brings some cookies just given to her by a resident.

There are fewer comings and goings now. The telephone is silent. An elderly resident joins the attendants, settling herself on one of the four chairs around their table. She removes two ten-ruble notes (worth about thirty-five cents each) from her pocket and gives them to Lida "for the month of February." Although the residents pay thirty rubles (about one dollar) per month for monitoring of the building, they also give an additional tip.

"Only twenty rubles, and she didn't give anything in January," Lida complains after the old lady leaves. "Even though her daughter is in Germany, she could still pay more!"

Twenty-three-year-old Natasha passes by. She pauses for a moment to chat with Zoya and Lida. A first cousin of Julia, wife of the singer-songwriter Willy Tokarev, whom we will meet later, Natasha recently arrived from Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, to look for work in the capital. She is a bookkeeper by training and has been working as the building's chief dispatcher since yesterday, keeping track of the maintenance staff as they handle repairs and scheduling tasks. The new computer doesn't intimidate her.

"So far, I don't know my way around the city at all, so I need to get used to it. I am here to make enough money to pay for the education of my younger brother, who wants to practice judo at a professional level. He seems to have the talent," she explains timidly. "In Krasnoyarsk, it is very difficult to find work, and even so, I would earn much less than here."

An unknown woman approaches them, lugging a bulky sack on wheels. One by one, she begins to remove women's tailored suits made of wool and cotton from her voluminous bag and spreads them out for display on the attendants' table. She's a Russian who chose to live in Riga (Latvia) when her husband, an ex-Soviet soldier formerly based in Estonia, found himself without work after the independence of that republic in 1991.

"Find me customers, please," she implores.

Her prices are fairly high: 2,500 rubles (about eighty-five dollars) for a suit, at least a thousand rubles more than Zoya's and Lida's monthly salary. Nevertheless, Lida cannot restrain herself from holding one of the skirts up against her waist. It's much too short, though the real problem is that Lida cannot afford it. Zoya, however, seems genuinely tempted.

Late in the afternoon, Sofia Perovskaya, president of the Owners' Association, informs the ladies that around 8:00 P.M. there will be a meeting of about fifty garage owners in the Veterans' Conference Room. Tenants or not, the attendees will have to pass before the professional scrutiny of Zoya and Lida.

Just as that gathering is getting started, the actor Anatoly Borisovich returns from a concert.

"May I use your telephone for a moment?" he asks them timidly.

Zoya and Lida know he cannot make some calls from his apartment because his wife watches him so closely. Lida is used to his asking, which happens frequently.

"I pity Anatoly Borisovich. His wife is really nasty." Lida lets him make his call.

Florian Fenner, a German man who lives on the ninth floor, arrives with a box of Swiss chocolates in his hand and offers it to the delighted guardians.

"Are they really better than Russian chocolates?" Lida asks, opening the box to find out for herself.

An American resident stops by to warn the ladies that he will be hosting a party in his apartment this evening. He hopes that his guests will be allowed to pass through. He massacres the Russian language and has difficulty understanding Lida and Zoya's reply that there will not be any problem. Lida is amused by his grammatical stumbles.

A messenger girl delivers an envelope and sits down to gossip for a moment. Lida asks what her monthly salary is for this kind of work.

"One hundred dollars," she responds. Lida's face assumes a dreamy look.

Zoya has already gone to lie down in the small sleeping quarters near their workstation. Following their arrangement, she rests from 10:00 P.M. to 3:00 A.M.; then she takes over from Lida. The woman from Riga comes back, carrying suits under her arms.

Zoya wakes up. She pulls out a pair of dressy shoes and the key to the Concorde Room, formerly an elegant ballroom, now used for meetings and special functions. Equipped with a mirror, it will serve as a dressing room. Lida stays at her post, though she is dying to watch Zoya try on her first suit.

A few minutes later, Zoya steps out a new woman. The dark blue skirt fits as if custom-made for her, and although her white collar is frayed, she still looks rather elegant. She faces Lida and waits for her opinion.

Lida is speechless, which Zoya takes as a compliment. She really wants this outfit, which becomes her more than it would the others. Would the lady from Riga let her borrow the blue suit so she could show it to her husband?

"Yes, yes, I'll come back tomorrow." She's sure of a sale.

Just then, a tenant and her twenty-two-year-old daughter pass by. A second opinion! They huddle together in front of the mirror. In spite of the late hour and public setting, the central concourse has been transformed into a boutique atmosphere.

Lida goes back to her lonely night watch.


Chapter Two
Wing VK, Entryway 9: Sofia Perovskaya, President Of The Owners' Association


She is one of the vysotka's veterans, queen of the old comrades. In a bulky green pullover sweater and matching rabbit fur hat, which she is never without, Sofia Perovskaya, former engineer, is the great-grandniece and namesake of a member of the revolutionary committee that made the decision to assassinate Czar Alexander III and was executed for it. She recalls the words of her father, who, until the advent of perestroika, had occupied the post of vice president of Gosplan of the "Soviet Socialist Federal Republic of Russia," as she still makes a point of calling it. Under Communist Party guidance, the state planning committee, Gosplan (acronym for Gosudarstvennyy Planovy Komitet), was primarily responsible for creating and monitoring the Soviet Union's economic plans.

"He always repeated: First the social need, then the private interests. Today's leaders of Russia have long since tossed this slogan into the trash heap."

Sofia Perovskaya, still a dedicated Communist, remains faithful to those principles.


Copyright © 2002 by Librairie Arthème Fayard
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2004-01-12:
Nivat, a prize-winning French journalist (Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya), offers a rare glimpse into a cross-section of Moscow citizens, all of whom reside in a vysotka (one of seven skyscrapers built under Stalin) on Ironmongers Quay. During the 1950s, the vysotkas were constructed in the center of the city to satisfy Stalin's vision of a new Soviet society. Built by zeks (political prisoners), the vysotkas were architectural giants designed with vast marble-walled lobbies, high ceilings and equipped with restaurants, movie theaters and shops. Apartments in the vysotka, where the author currently lives, were originally allocated by the state to creative artists and other elite Russians of whom Stalin approved, but the social upheaval since perestroika has changed the makeup of the residents. Privatization was permitted and many of the original tenants sold or rented out their apartments. Through Nivat's skillful interviews with selected occupants, textured images of Moscow life emerge. A German banker recounts his current achievements as a capitalist in Russia, and an elderly former ballerina with the Bolshoi looks back on her career. In a revealing conversation, descendants of the merciless Bolshevik who founded the KGB try to justify his actions. Galia, the former wife of poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (who wrote about the massacre of Ukrainian Jews in Babi Yar), recalls the discrimination she suffered because she is a Jew. In this historical gem, Nivat points out that state subsidies to the vysotkas have been severely reduced, leading to deterioration in repairs and services for older residents, while newer, wealthier tenants undertake their own apartment renovations. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2004-03-15:
Completed less than a year before Stalin's death in 1953, the Vysotka is one of the seven skyscrapers that the dictator built with forced labor on Moscow's Ironmongers Quay. The original residents were chosen from the artistic, technological, and political personalities of the day. Under the Soviet system, they paid little or no rent and maintained the right to live in the Vysotka and to pass on their apartments to their children. A former Fulbright Fellow at Harvard's Russian Research Ctr., the French-born Nivat (Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya) lives at this famous address. For this book, she interviewed her fellow residents, a mix of the original tenants, descendants of original tenants, and the new guard, made up of young entrepreneurs and foreign investors. Her conversations confirm three things: life under Stalin was as brutal as academics have documented, Russia today is as chaotic and schizophrenic as the West imagines, and the original occupants, as well as their descendants, pine for the old days but are coming to grips with the new Russian reality. Within this microcosm of modern Russia, the author concludes, "Everyone under twenty-five is the best off because they have never known anything else." Long on anecdotes and short on research, this is nonetheless a reliable and readable snapshot of modern Russia. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, January 2004
Booklist, February 2004
Library Journal, March 2004
Globe & Mail, July 2004
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Summaries
Back Cover Copy
Praise forChienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya "In the best tradition of the bravest war correspondents, Nivat puts her readers on the ground in this mountainous Chechen terrain, and into the company of Chechens and Russians who conduct the mindless violence there. No one who reads this vivid, engaging book will ever get the Chechen wars or the people who fight them." ---Robert G. Kaiser, author ofRussia: The People and the PowerandWhy Gorbachev Happened: His Triumphs and His Failure "Not just a woman of courage but a journalist of special insight and daring, Nivat opens our eyes to a truly ugly war. Her report is exceptional, revelatory, bringing Chechnya dramatically close at hand. I'm not sure war coverage comes any better." ---Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University "Anne Nivat managed to travel unofficially with Chechen rebels, and her writing in LibÉration led to antiwar protests in Paris. But few foreign reporters have been able to match that accomplishment." ---Owen Matthews,Brill's Content "With her deep understanding of Russia's peoples and languages, [Nivat] has fully grasped and powerfully portrayed the human, as well as inhuman, aspects of a ruinous conflict that continues to torment its victims and trouble the peace of the world." ---Michael Kaufman
Back Cover Copy
Praise for Chienne de Guerre: A Woman Reporter Behind the Lines of the War in Chechnya "In the best tradition of the bravest war correspondents, Nivat puts her readers on the ground in this mountainous Chechen terrain, and into the company of Chechens and Russians who conduct the mindless violence there. No one who reads this vivid, engaging book will ever get the Chechen wars or the people who fight them." ---Robert G. Kaiser, author of Russia: The People and the Power and Why Gorbachev Happened: His Triumphs and His Failure "Not just a woman of courage but a journalist of special insight and daring, Nivat opens our eyes to a truly ugly war. Her report is exceptional, revelatory, bringing Chechnya dramatically close at hand. I'm not sure war coverage comes any better." ---Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University "Anne Nivat managed to travel unofficially with Chechen rebels, and her writing in Lib ration led to antiwar protests in Paris. But few foreign reporters have been able to match that accomplishment." ---Owen Matthews, Brill's Content "With her deep understanding of Russia's peoples and languages, [Nivat] has fully grasped and powerfully portrayed the human, as well as inhuman, aspects of a ruinous conflict that continues to torment its victims and trouble the peace of the world." ---Michael Kaufman
Main Description
Completed shortly before Joseph Stalin's death in 1953, the vysotkii, or "sky houses," still dominate the Moscow skyline today. Seven in all, they were the Soviet answer to the American skyscraper, transforming the Soviet capital from a feudal backwater into the city of the future. With their soaring towers and gothic architectural details, the vysotkas were intended to be enduring monuments to the workers state and to the glories of Communism-though they were built on the backs of slave laborers and, initially, the prerogative only of the Soviet elite. Now these imposing giants lie on the fault line between a world that has vanished and one still emerging from its ruins. When she moved to Moscow several years ago, journalist and Russia expert Anne Nivat settled into one of the vysotkas, the one that happens to overlook the Kremlin. She became fascinated by the building and learned everything she could about its history. As she got to know her neighbors and fellow tenants, Nivat discovered that they included some of the building's original inhabitants or their descendants, hand-chosen by Stalin and his henchman Lavrenti Beria (arrested and executed for high treason shortly after Stalin's death)-KGB operatives, Bolshoi ballerinas, and artists of Soviet agitprop. Living side by side with them were representatives of the "new Russia"---entrepreneurs, foreign investors, and oligarchs; as any Moscow real estate agent will tell you, Stalin-era buildings in today's market are some of the most coveted addresses in the city. By means of this decaying but still elegant Soviet icon, Nivat gives us a way of grasping the complexities of a country struggling to come to terms with its past and define its future. She allows the tenants of her vysotka to speak for themselves, to offer their perspectives on where Russia has been and where it is going. Some are keenly nostalgic for the days when the State dictated life. Others have prospered in the confusion that has reigned since the Evil Empire's fall and look to a market-driven economy to guide Russia to the Promised Land. Still others fall someplace between the two, anxious but hopeful, longing for yet also fearful of change. Taken together, the portraits of the vysotka's inhabitants provide a panorama of Russia today. The View from the Vysotka shows us life from the inside, evoking both the forces that have swept through this vast and fascinating nation over the course of the last half-century, as well as a n0 building that has managed to endure them.
Table of Contents
Prefacep. xi
The Elegant Giant
Central Section B, Main Lobby: Zoya and Lida, Attendantsp. 3
Wing VK, Entryway 9: Sofia Perovskaya, President of the Owners' Associationp. 11
Central Section, Main Lobby: "Concorde Center"--Larissa Nikolayevna, Directorp. 21
Central Section, Ground Level, Dance Studio: Valentina Ivanovna's Chorusp. 27
Wing VK, Ground Level: The Illusion Cinemap. 37
Wings A, V, and VK: The Shopsp. 45
The Apartment Museums
Central Section, Fourteenth Floor: The Trubnikov and Bulichiov Familiesp. 59
Central Section, Twelfth Floor: Anatoly and Irina Borisovichp. 67
Wing V, Entryway 3, Sixth Floor: Nikita and Alla Bogoslovskyp. 79
Central Section, Seventeenth Floor: Vladimir and Anya Kossytkinp. 87
Central Section, Sixth Floor: Felix and Antonina Dzerjinskyp. 97
Central Section, Seventh Floor: Klara Luchko, Actressp. 111
Wing VK, Entryway 9, Sixth Floor: Raisa Struchkovap. 121
Central Section, Twenty-Second Floor: Galia Yevtushenkop. 127
Wing V, Entryway 6, Fifth Floor: Galina Arbuzova and Her Husband, Vladimir Jelyeznikovp. 139
Wing V, Entryway 8, Fifth Floor: Vassily and Maya Aksionov; Wing V, Entryway 4, Eighth Floor: Andrey and Zoya Voznesenskyp. 145
Wing V, Entryway 1, Fifth Floor: Vassily Valeriusp. 153
Renovations
Central Section, Fifteenth Floor: Wing VK, Former Technical Department; Central Section, Twelfth Floor: Three Businessmenp. 165
Central Section, Twelfth Floor: Irene Commeaup. 179
Central Section, Ninth Floor: Florian Fennerp. 191
Wing A, Entryway 9, Third Floor: Willy and Julia Tokarevp. 201
Wing A, Entryway 7, Fourth Floor: Elena Andreevap. 211
Conclusionp. 223
Acknowledgmentsp. 227
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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