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The Spirit of New Orleans

Wynton Marsalis’ tribute to the New Orleans Saints first Super Bowl victory and the Crescent City…“The Spirit of New Orleans”

Down on the Bayou where the mighty Mississippi kisses Lake Pontchartrain and spills into the Gulf of Mexico. There sits that jewel of the Southland. What the French lost to the British who gave it to the Spanish who lost it back to the French who sold it to America for….. Well, some folks say Jefferson conned Napoleon in a card game and won it for some jambalaya and a chicory coffee.

New Orleans, N’Awlins, the Crescent City, the Big Easy, the northern capitol of the Caribbean, Groove City. Man, they have things down there you wouldn’t believe. A mythic place of Mardi-Gras and mumbo, Voodoo and the moss-covered, alligator-spiked pathways of back-country swamp drained and sprinkled with gris-gris dust to house a wild, unruly population. A city with they own cuisine, they own architecture, they own music..streets with names like Dorgenois and Tchoupitoulas.

People in crazy costumes parading talkin ‘bout “throw me somethin’ mistah,” dressed like Indians chanting ‘bout “Madi,Madi-Cudifiyo,” sittin in the young twilight on the ‘poach’ of they camelback shotgun house eatin po’ boys bout to ‘make’ groceries for the crawfish ‘burl’ they gon’ have on ‘Sadday.’ They sing through horns down there you know. Yeah Padnah! Something called Jazz, started by a cornet man named Bolden. They say Bolden could play so loud the sun was scared to set. Some folks say the air is so thick down here you can eat it with a spoon.

Drummers drag rhythms in dirgey solemnity down neighborhood streets as horns moan, mock and moo. Man, hot notes echo against the sky with such weight as to be objects. Objects of sorrow so passionately played that the dead begin to cry. Then that trumpet calls and everyone falls in behind the band for a second line parade and those musicians get to hollerin and shoutin and folks get to struttin and steppin and the living let go of the dead and sorrow soon becomes laughter. In New Orleans we bury our dead above ground. 
They always walk amongst us…. but that music… It always ends happy. So when a strong rain brings angry winds howlin’ down the Mississippi or up from the Gulf, those misty winds carry the dreams of ghosts, yes, but not just the goblins of Marie Laveau the Voodoo queen, or the tortured spirits of the legendary, lascivious lovelies of Storyville sporting houses, or even the undead demons of corrupt politicians who have steeled our idealism over three colorful centuries. They also bring the spirits of Saints, of those who have lived here in quiet dignity and sanctified religiosity, of those who have raised kids in the shadow of the St. Louis Cathedral and Sundayed in Jackson Square or of the River Walk lovers holding hands… of many who have fallen in love here, proposed here, honeymooned here. Not just the howling ghouls of the frat-boy drunks on Bourbon Street, but they also bring the angels of all who have romanced in and with this beautiful land on the Delta.

Yes, the ‘haints become more famous but the Saints endure. Where were you when 85,000 people gathered in the last open seated stadium in professional football to witness John Gilliam run our very first kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown? When Tom Dempsey kicked that 63 yard field goal with half-a-right foot? When Tom Fears, Hank Stram, and Jim Mora prowled the sidelines? Were you there when Howard Stevens, Danny Abromowicz, Rickey Jackson, and Archie Manning donned the black and gold? Ahhh..those New Orleans Saints! Confined to a purgatory of their own making, looking for the fast track to hell. Maybe a brand new dome would appease the gods of football—-a Superdome.

Fathers bounced kids on their knees while explaining how we would certainly blow our 30 point halftime lead by game’s end…..and the Saints did not disappoint. Were you there when the Dome Patrol brought us to the upper chambers of purgatory in search of playoffs, playoffs..playoffs? Yes, ‘haints become famous but Saints endure. Just ask Deuce. If 4 years is a long time: (your high school years, your college days, the length of the Civil War..WWII)…then 43 years is an eternity. You ever wait for something so long that waiting for it becomes the something? You ever see grown folks put bags over their heads in public, covering up to hide from themselves like an old alcoholic who won’t admit? We can’t help it. We’re with our Saints even when we ‘aint. New Orleans people are stubborn and hate to leave home. 
Down here, people like to brag about how they handle tragedy. Epochal hurricanes like Betsy and Camille are discussed as if they’re people. “Betsy was bad but Camille, ‘Lawd Have Mercy,’ the water was up here to my neck.” Nobody brags on Katrina. She swept through here like death on a high horse. Those flood waters seemed to run all the demons, goblins, AND saints away forever. There goes old Jean Lafitte, the pirate, relocated to Houston; there goes old Jelly Roll Morton off somewhere in Memphis with that diamond still sparklin in his front tooth.

But quick to return is the unbending will and irrepressible spirit, sin-dipped in Tabasco sauce and spiced with file’ in possession of an unshakable, unbreakable soul that Louis Armstrong first announced to the entire world through a red hot trumpet, that Danny Barker broadcasted on a burnished banjo, and Sidney Bechet shouted and screamed through a scorching horn said to be a soprano saxophone. And here comes that chastened Noah’s arc of a dome rising from ignominy to become again a beacon of community. And, oh yes, they are still down here marching in those funny-named streets blowing history AND the present moment through singing horns. And people still dance with abandon, exuberance, and unbridled human feeling because that music tells ‘em “what has been may be what is, but what will be cannot possibly be known.”

We live the moment. Laissez les bon temps rouler! — Let the Good Times Roll. I think I hear that trumpet calling the children of the Who Dat Nation home—not Gabriel’s or the horns that blew down the walls of Jericho—that jazz trumpet conjuring up the spirit world with a Congo Square drum cadence. Ghosts, goblins, and ‘haints aggravate. Saints congregate. I hear them now bringing that 43 year second line to a glorious crescendo. “Who Dat Say What Dat When Us Do Dat?” It’s like waiting 43 years to hear somebody say ‘I Love You’ back. And they do. Let the tale be told ‘bout the black and gold won the Super Bowl.

And those jazzmen still play sad songs, but they always end happy…they always do.

Wynton Marsalis

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  1. Those words put tears in my eyes. You expressed every feeling I have ever had about my City. New York, L.A., Chicago and anywhere else ain’t got nothing on us!!!!!

    Deonne Thomas on Dec 17th, 2010 at 2:48pm

  2. This is the same video broadcast on CBS

    Luigi Beverelli on Mar 2nd, 2010 at 1:00pm

  3. Was the original video longer than the one posted now? I know the written version here is a lot longer and even more impressive. If I am not mistaken, when I first saw it on Superbowl Sunday, it was the complete version that is writtn here. Please clearify this for me and if so, is there a version available in its entirety? Thanks again for this Spot On tribute the Saints and our beloved city.

    Rick Sauvage on Mar 1st, 2010 at 8:06pm

  4. If that don’t bring a tear to your eye, then you ain’t got no soul.

    Peter C on Feb 27th, 2010 at 3:29pm

  5. oops! (Inspiration)

    Debbie Apple on Feb 19th, 2010 at 7:50pm

  6. Thank you Wynton! Thank you for the link Francis, Mike, and Luigi! My students were totally impressed by this poem and the video! They wrote responses to this poem and it really touched them! I didn’t have the video when I showed them the poem, and the following day I played the video… HUGE difference between the word in print and when it is spoken by Wynton Marsalis along with the visuals and music! Thank you for your inpiration!

    Debbie Apple on Feb 19th, 2010 at 7:47pm

  7. Whereyat Lil Daddy!
    Say Bruh…you make PidgeonTown proud!
    You been gone from the “country” for a minute ot two but dig this…that Uptown New Orleans spirit runs as deep in your soul as the muddy Mississippi runs the breadth of this Nation!
    Your words capture practically everything that New Orleans is, was, and ever will be! I say practically, not as a slight to your copious rhetorical skills, but rather as a paean to that part of New Orleans that no grandoliquence can ever effectively capture. And what that is, is the KNOWING of what this lil place on the river we call home is. No words come close, but the sentiments expressed when you hear Pops ask that age old question…do you know what it means…? well, Lil Falle’…when you know, you KNOW!
    Keep representin us like you do Wynton! You are appreciated, my brother! Trust me!
    Red Beans and Ricely Yours,
    Gralen Bryant Banks
    Proud Native Son of the 13th Ward! UPT for LIFE! Ya Herd Me?!

    ps. you still have that denim jumpsuit that you wore with the Creators?

    Gralen Bryant Banks on Feb 19th, 2010 at 3:16pm

  8. WOW!I did not see/hear the pre-game tribute but as I read, I can hear your lyrical voice thick with New Orleans culture, passion, & understanding. I tell people, “it is NOT incorrect english; it is a different language.” You nailed it!!! Penny Simpson Ben Franklin HS grad 1972.

    Penny Rahaim on Feb 18th, 2010 at 4:15pm

  9. click the link Frances posted right above your comment.

    mike on Feb 14th, 2010 at 9:07pm

  10. I teach 8th grade English and want to share “The Spirit of New Orleans” with my class. Where can I get a copy of Marsalis reciting this poem? We are studying different forms of poetry, and I know this will inpire my students. Can you please help me to get a copy of this? Sincerely, Debbie Apple

    Debbie Apple on Feb 14th, 2010 at 6:30pm

  11. Dear All,
    the video will be streamed live on Facebook and USTREAM.

    Luigi on Feb 12th, 2010 at 6:47am

  12. Dear all,
    the video will be online very soon.
    We’ll give you notice ASAP

    Luigi on Feb 11th, 2010 at 6:33am

  13. the first time i went to new orleans was to visit the family of my high school sweet heart. decades later it was the destination of my first cross country road trip with a friend returning home after katrina. i was surprised to see all the beads in the trees. i love this city. the intensity and the give of it. i missed the superbowl and how you represented during the game but am blessed to have just read what you wrote.

    mst from california on Feb 11th, 2010 at 4:16am

  14. Wynton, I am a liflong resident of New Orleans/Slidell. Your monolouge moved me to tears of joy, sadness and pride all within a matter of minutes. Thank you for crafting such a telling piece about our great city, culture and heritage.

    Please post a video on this site so it can be shared with all those who missed it. I have told everyone I know and many missed it. I too almost missed it when they went to commercial break after saying you were coming up. I am so greatful I didn’t – it was Epic!

    Rick Sauvage on Feb 10th, 2010 at 9:34pm

  15. Absolutely gorgeous! Had tears running down my face when I saw this before the Superbowl.

    Milana Perducci on Feb 10th, 2010 at 2:59pm

  16. I loved this, but I loved the video that aired on CBS even more. Where can I find it? Is it on YouTube?

    Stephen Moore on Feb 10th, 2010 at 11:17am

  17. Thank you for putting into words how so many of us feel about our beloved New Orleans. Those of us who have moved away know that what makes NOLA special is the spirit of all those soulful folks back home. Bless you, Wynton, for spreading the New Orleans gospel.

    Elizabeth English on Feb 10th, 2010 at 3:37am

  18. where can we see the video of this that aired before the superbowl? i LOVE it!

    erika on Feb 10th, 2010 at 2:32am

  19. I was moved beyond words when I watched this on CBS Sunday afternoon. I can’t wait until the video is released so that everyone who missed it will be able to experience what I did…

    Frances Dick on Feb 9th, 2010 at 10:23pm

  20. Thank you very much for providing the transcript to your pre-Superbowl video. I moved away from the city 7 years ago and man I just got to say your video tugged at my heart strings, brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. I can’t thank you enough Mr. Marsalis for you were able to put into words how all New Orleanians feel about their beloved city.
    May God bless you and all the good people of New Orleans.
    I know God answers prayers cause the Saints done won the Superbowl.

    mike on Feb 9th, 2010 at 9:29pm

  21. Thank you for putting into words how we feel!

    This was the spirit of New Orleans when the Saints won!

    Rebecca on Feb 9th, 2010 at 4:52pm

  22. What a masterpiece. I’m not from there, don’t live like that, just don’t relate. But I got it. Your words just slid along and took me on the ride, looking at life from the mouth of the Mississippi.

    A truly epic football game followed … and nothing within it was half as majestic. Well done, sir.

    Gene on Feb 9th, 2010 at 3:35pm

  23. The video will be published soon. Stay tuned…

    Wynton Marsalis on Feb 9th, 2010 at 1:23pm

  24. Mr. Marsalis,

    I was born and raised in Louisiana, and recently moved away a year ago. I try to explain to people the beauty of New Orleans to people, but can never do it justice. Thank you for expressing the way I feel about the city, the people, the culture, and the Saints.

    I cried twice on Sunday. Once was while watching your piece on CBS, and once when the Saints won the superbowl.

    Ali Pourian

    PS — I cannot find the video clip anywhere on the internet? Can you post it on your website? Or is there a link?

    Ali Pourian on Feb 9th, 2010 at 12:38pm

  25. Please, please, post this video online. It is an amazing video and needs to be shared with everyone.

    Saints Fan on Feb 9th, 2010 at 11:50am

  26. BRILLIANT… lyrical GENIUS… a true masterpiece. If you love New Orleans, lived in New Orleans, or have any remote feeling or connection to New Orleans, you MUST read this and share. I was profoundly touched by this piece. Desparately would also like to find the video.

    Paul Mire on Feb 9th, 2010 at 3:32am

  27. Mr. Marsalis,
    I love this poem. It is as if you looked in my soul and put into words all the emotions and love I feel for my state and my favorite city. I moved away when my husband was in the military and I was overwhelmed by how much I missed home. I guess the swamp water is thick in my veins.
    Your poem is such a great description of the love we have for our state and our city.
    I wish the video of your reading would be posted on youtube. I would love my husband to hear your reading of it, because I just can’t imagine being able to do it justice. And because the piece shown before the Super Bowl was just beautiful.
    Thank you for this amazing piece.
    Denise Holladay

    Denise Holladay on Feb 9th, 2010 at 1:44am

  28. Please put the video online. The Video was so heartfelt and captivating

    John on Feb 9th, 2010 at 12:18am

  29. Thanks Wynton. This is a classic. The riffs and rhythm of “The Spirit of New Orleans” bop like jazz in words.

    “But softly
    As the tune comes from his throat
    Mellows to a golden note.”

    Please make the video available. It’s a masterpiece! It should be in the New Orleans Jazz Museum!

    Mike Stano on Feb 9th, 2010 at 12:06am

  30. please… please… please… produce this into a video on youtube…. this is more than just amazing art and great writing… it is a part of history of the city and the state of LA. These words, with your magical music help to document the feelings of so many people who cannot come up with these words on their own. Please produce this further and share it on the internet.

    Absolutely amazing stuff.

    Frank on Feb 8th, 2010 at 11:25pm

  31. Dear Mr. Marsalis,
    Thank you. I live half a country away and as the news desensitizes us every night, your meaningful words delivered over perhaps more meaningful music connected me to your message. It is amazing what thoughtful, heartfelt truth can convey.
    Please post the video piece, it deserves to be seen by more than just the football fans who care to endure hours of pre-game. Thank you again.

    Brian W on Feb 8th, 2010 at 9:31pm

  32. Loved your piece. Truly wonderful and man what a tone on that horn!!

    David Noble on Feb 8th, 2010 at 8:29pm

  33. I’m so glad I found you. Your clip on the pregame show was….. ingenious. I felt so connected to New Orleans. I’ve grown up a Saints fan. I’m from Mobile and NO is our big sister. We go there to really celebrate the big events in our lives and feel close to our roots. The Saints are our team too. Thank you for putting it in words. It was a spiritual experience listening to you lay it out like that. Again, thank you!

    Terri Days on Feb 8th, 2010 at 4:54pm

  34. Last Night in New Orleans

    After leading the second line through Julia Street,
    feeling pied piper power, crunching heels
    on left over Mardi Gras beads,
    I danced to the Preservation Hall Band
    with my feathered parasol
    ––undulating bird with diamonds,

    took tired feet to the Carousel Bar,
    drank juleps while it revolved
    so slow I thought
    I caught sight of Capote. Born in there he claimed.

    Course, everyone wants to be born in New Orrlins
    born/reborn in da quarter, that’s why they all migrate
    there to hide, blend with thick air, jazz air, blues tappin air
    coz no-one asks you where you from, you just is.

    You someone new there.

    I went by the bistro where the piano plays itself,
    though I never believed that until I met Bogie’s girl
    one night, wearing a hat with a real flower trapped
    in a burgundy net, smelled red fish couvillion, crab boil,
    étouffée, beignets, bagass from the suga plant, passed
    Carondolet, Terpsichore, Decatur, Piety, Bud Rip’s,
    feelin like Prufrock, feelin like a smoke tendril, like
    an old ghost wandering, clingin like mist on da bayou,
    feelin like anythin cept myself.
    4 a.m.
    when Marsalis played for me, broke me,
    as I sucked down the last chicory coffee, bitter
    to shed this humid skin I’d learned to live in.

    Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

    I knewbefore I left.

    clare e. potter
    Long live the spirit of N’awlins x

    clare potter on Feb 8th, 2010 at 4:26pm

  35. Holy crap Mr. Marsalis. It isn’t enough that you play the horn like you invented it, or helped people rediscover jazz, no you have to go write one of the best pieces on a city I’ve ever read.
    In a pre-game show chock full of manipulation, synergy, product-placement, bombast, cynicism, and fakery, it was nice to find a few minutes of purity, grace and heartfelt love.

    DanOregon on Feb 8th, 2010 at 4:25pm

  36. What a wordsmith. This so captures the spirit, the mystery, the imagination of the city. Nearly 20 years have passed since my tenure there as a student, but I still know what it means to miss New Orleans. I’m surprised there’s no video of this available; soon, we can hope…?

    Colleen on Feb 8th, 2010 at 2:15pm

  37. Wynton,

    Thank you! Your words nailed Dat!

    Bob Laroussini on Feb 8th, 2010 at 2:08pm

  38. I am not from Louisiana but have visited and think of it as a “city of the world” that all should visit at least once. This poem and its accompanying music was elegant and heartfelt through and through. I would love to be able to send it out to others. It captures the essence of a vibrant, beautiful, crazy city that is like no other. Laissez les bontemp rouler pour les Saints!

    Madonna on Feb 8th, 2010 at 2:08pm

  39. Mr Marsalis,

    We would LOVE to have a copy of your monologue. It was absolutely beautiful. We have been trying to explain why we love New Orleans so dearly- Thank you for showing them.

    Cay on Feb 8th, 2010 at 1:35pm

  40. Please post the video from yesterday, I have been telling everyone what an amazing piece it is!

    cindy lashley on Feb 8th, 2010 at 12:38pm

  41. Mr. Wynton,

    From us Louisiana boys and gals who have been away from home for so long, thank you for sharing the essence of our love with our New Orleans and our Saints.

    Marcel on Feb 8th, 2010 at 12:37pm

  42. Oh my! …your words are as elegant as your music!

    Love you Wynton!

    ron bocian on Feb 8th, 2010 at 12:07pm

  43. Great art makes us appreciate the beauty and magnificence in our common struggles and loves. Thank you so much for the beauty that you give us all. I had an extra tear in my eye when I called my 83-year-old Dad after the game in stunned and joyous disbelief, remembering the days on his knee at half-time. I was also so happy to watch this with my son, to help him understand where we’re coming from. The wait is over!

    Alan on Feb 8th, 2010 at 11:07am

  44. Wynton –

    Ann Cuiellette-Walter Marr on Feb 8th, 2010 at 10:50am

  45. Wynton – The special on CBS with ‘The Spirit of New Orleans’ was very touching for many of us who have lived, played, and immersed themseles in the culture and epic history of New Orleans, Louisiana, and the gulf region. Thank you for reaching out to us and touching us with your art and helping us identify and keep those dreams alive. I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to understand and truly get those messages and a taste of what it really means to miss NO and LA. As you know, it’s much more than a game isn’t it? It’s about life’s changes and how well we play them. Speaking for many of us, I hope this segment recording will be posted for all to remember and cherish. Bless you. I’m sure Buddy and Louis are proud.

    Eddy Curtis on Feb 8th, 2010 at 10:36am

  46. Your piece should be used as the permanent introduction to Super Bowl replys! Incresible! Thank you. Please get the video posted where it can be seen by everyone.

    Jim Dantin on Feb 8th, 2010 at 9:29am

  47. Wynton, preach on, my brother – you got it right.

    Paul Klutes on Feb 8th, 2010 at 8:25am

  48. The man has spoken
    The city, it’s people and
    their music has been honoured
    And I’m touched…

    Evert-Jan Hielema on Feb 8th, 2010 at 5:22am

  49. This made me cry.
    It is beautiful.
    Thank you.

    ilea on Feb 8th, 2010 at 4:51am

  50. I was surprised when I felt a tear slip down my cheek as I listened to you today – I moved down here in 2006, everyone thought I was crazy (still do!) and I fell in love with it. Thank you for finding the words I could not to express what I love about this city!

    Jennifer on Feb 8th, 2010 at 3:19am

  51. So well said, Wynton; Your pen is as lyrical as your music.

    All the best,

    Mike on Feb 8th, 2010 at 12:06am

  52. I was blessed to visit the great city of New Orleans 8 months before Katrina. I fell in love and my heart has ached with all of you. Your performance of this piece today brought me to tears. Like others, is there someplace where we can get the video. It was awesome! Thank you!

    Carol on Feb 7th, 2010 at 11:57pm

  53. Hear hear! The video of this needs to get out there! I can’t find it anywhere.

    Brian Mattix on Feb 7th, 2010 at 11:51pm

  54. I came here looking for a video of your beautiful piece shown on the Super Bowl pre-game show and was double-blessed today when I read “The Spirit of New Orleans.” There’s defnitely more than one way to make music. You sir, have been gifted with the ability to touch souls with words that sing, and music that speaks. Carry on, dear brother, carry on!

    Sandy Duke on Feb 7th, 2010 at 9:33pm

  55. Beautifully said.

    Thank you.

    Rachel on Feb 7th, 2010 at 9:06pm

  56. Amazing! Great job composing an excellent piece of writing that really tells a story! Always loved your music! Now love your writing. Thanks for doing this!

    Robin on Feb 7th, 2010 at 8:30pm

  57. Soulful and passionated master description of a Nola’s proud son telling others…. “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans”…..
    All the best!
    Take care.

    careba on Feb 7th, 2010 at 7:16pm

  58. What a beautiful tribute..thank you, Wynton.

    Beverly on Feb 7th, 2010 at 6:58pm

  59. this is absolute greatness.

    walt on Feb 7th, 2010 at 6:52pm

  60. just saw your video version of this on the CBS pregame show, and it was incredibly moving…

    Came here looking for it to send a link to all my friends.

    Tre' Jackson on Feb 7th, 2010 at 6:45pm

  61. Beautiful, Wynton. Thank you for sharing the The Spirit of New Orleans with us. It is a blessing to have the Saints marching today. Representing to the world what the city and people are all about; heart.

    Timothy Deal on Feb 7th, 2010 at 6:33pm

  62. Hi Mr. Marsalis!

    I just watched your spot on the Superbowl pre-game show with my dad. We loved it — what a thrill to hear you play and your tribute to New Orleans. Is there a way we can get a copy of the video?
    I love your trumpet playing
    You are soooo AWESOME!!!

    Natalie Dungey on Feb 7th, 2010 at 6:33pm

  63. Mr. Marsalis,

    I’m from Louisiana and have been a fan of the Saints for as long as I’ve known what football is. My dad has been a Saints fan ever since they came into existence. I live in Seattle now and my dad flew up here so that we could spend this Super Bowl together and the both of us thank you for those words. I have never heard anybody describe what it means to be from Louisiana or a Saints fan as beautiful as what you did. Again thank you for these words, their inspiration and heart-felt feelings have touched these two old Saints fans.

    James Wooten on Feb 7th, 2010 at 5:34pm

  64. Amazing. What a great explanation of a GREAT city. Thank you.

    Mark on Feb 7th, 2010 at 5:28pm

  65. I am so proud to be a Louisianan! Thank you Wynton for putting why we love this state, New Orleans, and the Saints so beautifully!

    Jan Douglas on Feb 7th, 2010 at 5:28pm

  66. Dear Wynton,
    I am a 69 year old widow, grandma, and great grandma. You made me cry. I loved everything you said and it means so much to me. I am a resident and native of Louisiana. I grew up with everything Louisiana including for the last 44 years —-The Saints. They have brought us together and given Louisiana so much to be proud of. Win or lose, we have been given the ride of our lives. Geaux Saints.. and thanks again for the “The Spirit of Louisiana” Let us all carry that spirit on after football.

    Barbara Theriot DeJean on Feb 7th, 2010 at 5:25pm

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