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Yesterday, I got harassed online by someone saying he felt sorry for me because I had to live my life in a fairy tale. After a quick scan of this person’s Twitter page, I determined that he wasn’t conservative. Rather he was just a Negative Nelly — a type that is often found online.

I turned the harassment into a Buddhist exercise and sent him positive energy.  Then I did a mantra of positivity for all the negative people.  And then I ended up sending positive energy to the whole world.

I thought I was done with the entire thing, but my mind kept returning to the idea of fairy tales.  I like fairy tales. And rather than living in them and being trapped by them, in my book it’s okay to inhabit them and change them. It’s okay to wake up and write a different ending.

In my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mother’s and daughters (Bella Books; 2012), I write about my grandmother working in a textile factory when she was a young woman. Naturally she would have thought about fairy tales. They do connect us and inform us.  I imagine one of the primary purposes of fairy tales was to convince young girls and women that the frog would turn into a prince. All you had to do was to marry him.

In Tea Leaves, my young grandmother is inspired by the rhythms of the heddles in the textile factory to daydream and those daydreams were informed by fairy tales. As a girl, my grandmother had daydreamed about becoming an actress. She went as far as taking bit parts in a neighborhood theater company. But being an actress was a pipe dream.  As my grandmother later — repeatedly, habitually — said to my mother “Art doesn’t put food on the table.” Since she was a young girl, my mother had shown considerable artistic talent.

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But my grandmother was right. Art doesn’t usually put food on the table. But it does feed the spirit. So my grandmother worked in a factory. Even as a young young woman raised on fairy tales, she must have realized that the workers were treated badly and paid worse. At the end of her daydream, the rhythm of the heddles turned into the heavy sounds of workers marching in the streets.

My grandmother went on to become a single mother. The frog she married didn’t turn into a prince. And then he left.  She gave birth to my mother, a thwarted artist, a feminist ahead of her time, and a frustrated housewife. My mother gave birth to me. In elementary school, I briefly wanted to be an actress. In high school, I designed silkscreens.  I had a lot of pent up rage in me and I eventually became a writer. It took three generations, but we got there.  And fairy tales were part of the process.

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“Not only is dairy not ‘essential,’ factory farming, including dairy farming, is a breeding ground for disease,” the actress and vegan activist wrote in an op-ed slamming the governor’s dairy-focused Nourish New York initiative.

— Edie Falco quoted in VegNews

My partner and I have long been big fans of Edie Falco.  So when I learned that she was a vegan activist, I was elated.  When the network drama ‘Tommie” was cancelled, we were both bummed. ‘Tommie” starred Edie Falco as an out lesbian police chief in Los Angeles It was the only network drama that we watched. Then my partner observed that it must have been too much for the mainstream — an out lesbian with a bi-racial (adult) daughter.  Not that the mainstream couldn’t learn a lot from a strong female lead — but it probably was too threatening.

Becoming a vegan saved my life.  My partner followed suit, and is now a vegan too.  I became a vegan for my health but also have a strong compassion for the animals.  When I learned about the benefits of a plant-based diet on the planet, I was already sold.

I first learned about Edie Falco (who perhaps is best known for her role in The Sopranos) on The Exam Room podcast, a show on YouTube from The Physicians committee. I highly recommend the show for those who are plant-based or thinking about it.

Following is an excerpt from the VegNews article on Edie Falco:

”In a recent op-ed in the New York Daily News, award-winning actress Edie Falco—known best for her role as Carmela Soprano in The Sopranos—slammed New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s Nourish New York Initiative, a $25 million program that revolves around purchasing dairy products for distribution to food banks. “With federal funds stretched to the limit, why would the governor squander $25 million to bail out the dairy industry, which is rife with disease and cruelty?” Falco wrote. “Not only is dairy not ‘essential,’ factory farming, including dairy farming, is a breeding ground for disease. If the current pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that raising and killing animals for food is a global health risk. The current crisis originated in a meat market. Swine flu and avian flu originated on factory farms in the United States. Sweet corn, New York State’s proposed ‘official’ vegetable, never sparked a pandemic.”

Falco urged that the funding be redirected to fruit and vegetable farmers, pointing out that the consumption of dairy products has been linked to a variety of illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. “Cow’s milk is often foisted upon schoolchildren, even though it’s one of the primary causes of food allergies among kids, and millions of Americans are lactose-intolerant, including many people of color.” Falco wrote. “If we want to nourish New York and help the state’s struggling dairy farmers, Governor Cuomo can put that $25 million to better use. Let’s help dairy workers retrain for jobs making the healthy plant-based milks that consumers actually want to buy and increase the availability of nourishing vegan options in our schools and food banks.”

Here is my favorite Pride video (from The Exam Room Podcast).  It features a couple called The VeganMos.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here

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When my partner told me that Jane Goodall said that humanity had to go to a plant-based diet — or else — I became very interested.

I’ve been on a plant-based diet for health reasons since last fall. We were going toward being vegan for a few years.   My partner and I were never big meat eaters — in part because we were animal lovers.  In recent years, we found out out that cows are slaughtered for meat after they are done being milked. So, with that in mind, it wasn’t hard to go vegan.

After only a month of not eating dairy, I felt amazingly good.  Now,  nearly ten months later — of being completely vegan I still feel amazingly good (part of it, I’m sure, is due to not ingesting the suffering of animals).  Part of it is being connected to a worldwide growing community of likeminded people who have scientific evidence that a plant-based diet vastly improves people’s health.

I’m happy to hear how fast the vegan-movement is growing, but there are times that I’m perplexed that more people aren’t pursuing it.  Would people really rather be sick, than change their diets?

One very simple answer is economic — follow the money.  What companies support the media by advertising products that are bad for us? Another answer for it is that eating can be emotional, not logical. There’s even a term for it: emotional eating.

I’ll let Jane Goodall’s comments speak for themselves. The following is an excerpt from The Guardian.

 
Humanity will be “finished” if we fail to drastically change our food systems in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis, the prominent naturalist Jane Goodall has warned.  She blamed the emergence of Covid-19 on the over-exploitation of the natural worldwhich has seen forests cut down, species made extinct and natural habitats destroyed. The coronavirus is thought to have made the jump from animals to humans late last year, possibly originating in a meat market in Wuhan, China.

Intensive farming was also creating a reservoir of animal diseases that would spill over and hurt human society, said Goodall, one of the world’s foremost experts on chimpanzees and a longtime conservation campaigner, speaking alongside two European commissioners at an online event held by the campaigning group Compassion in World Farming, on Tuesday.

“We have brought this on ourselves because of our absolute disrespect for animals and the environment,” she said. “Our disrespect for wild animals and our disrespect for farmed animals has created this situation where disease can spill over to infect human beings.”

People must move away from factory farming and stop destroying natural habitats as a matter of urgency, she said, because of the threat of diseases and of climate breakdown. Factory farming is linked to the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs, which threaten human health.

“If we do not do things differently, we are finished,” she said. “We can’t go on very much longer like this.”

 
To see my UU reflection on going to a plant-based diet (given on National Pig Day) click here.

 

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Now, there’s a new one. I’m usually told that I’m going to go to hell because, I wrote THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon).

But this time, Unitarian Universalism is being accused of the “end times” that this person says that we are in. First of all, we are in changing times (not end times) and that change is based on logic and science.  It’s hard to see the suffering in the world — and I do have compassion for those suffering. But change is necessary. As my late Aunt frequently said, “the universe is always changing and so am I.”

I’ll quote part of the message I received so you will have a sense of it.

The “religion of tolerance”; “universalism” and the “unitarian world view” is a direct affront to the Christian faith: These trends proclaim that JESUS is a liar and that THE BIBLE is a fabricated lie.

My experience in being Unitarian Universalist (UU) is that I am more open to the universe. I am more tolerant — and that includes tolerance of religious traditions that in recent history were not tolerant of me.

In this context, I have become a practicing Buddhist (this is my root religion). In  Buddhism, I have learned that we are wired for disaster (fight or flight), and that we have to re-wire ourselves so that we can promote goodness toward ourselves and others.

As I have experienced it, Unitarian Universalism is a Christian faith (with a small “c”) that is secure enough to embrace all faiths. In this context, I’ve learned that all religions have something in common: the pursuit of goodness. I’ve also learned that you don’t have to be in a religion to pursue goodness.

In my UU tradition, I have not learned that Jesus is a liar or that The Bible is a fabrication.  Actually, I learned the opposite.  However, it is true that I was inspired through a “New UU” group to rewrite the Bible. That’s how THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders was born.

But that’s just me. I understand that some might be threatened by my beliefs.  But think about it — why are you threatened?

We all pray in different ways and for different things.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

 

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Several weeks ago, Len Lear interviewed me for the Arts and Entertainment section of the Chestnut Hill Local. It was an opportunity for me to talk about my novel, The Unicorn, The Mystery, which is forthcoming from Adelaide Books (New York/ Lisbon) later this year. I was interviewed about other things as well. Following are several quotes from the article and below that is a link to the full article.

Mason has another novel, “The Unicorn, the Mystery,” that will be published later this year by Adelaide Books. It was inspired by a visit Mason took several years ago to The Cloisters, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. The Cloisters has an impressive collection of art from the Middle Ages, most of it religious.

“The muse descended on me in what is commonly called ‘the unicorn room,’” said Mason. “There is a room where seven tapestries brought over from France tell a pictorial story of ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn,’ which took place in the 1500s. The tapestries tell the story of what is still called an unsolved mystery. My novel is set in an abbey in France not far from the barn in the countryside where the tapestries were discovered.”

Mason’s novel is a fictionalized solving of the mystery, in which a talking unicorn (one of the narrators) is pursued by a band of hunters. The unicorn is led along by observing birds, smelling and eating the abbey’s flowers and fruits and in pursuit of chaste maidens. (There is one in the tapestry.) At times, the unicorn speaks to other animals.

“When I went to The Cloisters, my father was still living,” said Mason. “He encouraged me to go to The Cloisters because he and my mother had been there shortly after their honeymoon in 1944. I was born about 15 years later when my parents both were in their 40s. My father died later that year after I went to The Cloisters. He was 98. I was an only child and took his death hard. After he died, I began working on ‘The Unicorn, The Mystery’”

To read the entire article, go to:
To learn more about The Unicorn, The Mystery:
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I still wonder – why would anyone want to capture me? Why didn’t they just leave me alone? Was I that important?

I’m excited to announce that my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery is being published by Adelaide Books (New York/Lisbon) later this year.

In The Unicorn, The Mystery, we meet a unicorn who tells us the story of the seven tapestries, called “The Hunt of the Unicorn” from the 1500s on display in “the unicorn room” in the Cloisters (at the westernmost tip of Manhattan), now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tapestries tell the story of what is still called an “unsolved mystery.” The story is set in an abbey in France not far from the barn in the countryside where the tapestries were discovered. Pursued by a band of hunters, the unicorn is led along by observing birds (some of them chirp in a language that the unicorn understands), smelling and eating the abbey flowers and fruits (including imbibing in fermented pomegranates), pursuing chaste maidens (there is one in the tapestry) and at times speaks to other animals such as the majestic stag.

 

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In The Unicorn, The Mystery, we also meet a young monk named Apolo who tells us his story. Once he was pure of heart, so much so that he saw the unicorn several times (most notably as a lad and then as a young monk). But when he comes to live in the abbey, he gets swept up in the politics going on around him. His betrayal starts when he tells the Priest he meets with regularly that he saw the unicorn.  The priest scoffs and says that the unicorn is both a mythical and pagan animal.  But then he suggests that if Apolo can prove the unicorn does indeed exists, that it would be worth his while. Apolo subsequently plots with the sundial wrist-band wearing Bishop who is eager to trap the unicorn to please the King. Realizing his error in betraying the unicorn, Apolo leads us through a labyrinth of the Middle Ages, including story, myth, philosophy, numerology and alchemy. Can he regain his purity and at the same time get ahead?

Three short fiction excerpts of the The Unicorn, The Mystery were shortlisted for the Adelaide Literary Award 2018 (short stories, Vol. One).

I also included some excerpts of The Unicorn, The Mystery in my talks at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia. You can watch the YouTube videos or read the text of these talks by clicking on the links below.

By the way. unicorns did exist according to the bestiaries passed down from ancient Greece and unicorns are mentioned by name in The Hebrew Bible.  They can be seen depicted in images of collections from the Middle Ages when people commonly believed in the existence of unicorns. As my monk narrator says to a skeptical priest, also his Latin teacher,

God believed in the unicorn.

Click here to find about more about the excerpts from The Unicorn, The Mystery that were shortlisted in The Adelaide Literary Award.

 

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2018/12/26/the-unicorn-the-mystery-shortlisted-for-the-adelaide-literary-award-amreading-literaryawards/

 

The following excerpts were part of my talks at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration:

A recent UU talk on origins of The Unicorn, The Mystery:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2020/05/18/you-are-the-hero-of-your-own-story-uu-amreading-magic/

Here is my debut of The Unicorn, The Mystery:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2018/05/27/the-unicorn-the-mystery-a-novel-debut-by-janet-mason-uu-amreading/

 

This excerpt is from Poetry Sunday:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2018/07/22/love-can-lead-to-goodness-reading-from-sappho-and-the-unicorn-the-mystery-poetry-sunday-a-uu-tradition/

 

This excerpt features the Egyptian cat goddess, Goddess Bastet:

 

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2018/07/01/gardening-and-the-egyptian-cat-goddess-bastet-a-novel-preview/

 

 

 

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Happy Thanks Living!

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This piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

 

Heaven is to Your Left Juliana Series: Book 4 (1956)

by Vanda

Sans Merci Press

If you dissect the word history, you will find that most of the word is story.  As for the prefix “his,” it can be replaced with any and all gender pronouns. If you look at U.S. LGBTQ history before the Stonewall Inn Rebellion in 1969, which lasted for six nights, when queers of all stripes stood up against a routine police raid and launched the modern LGBTQ movement, you’ll find it scant with invisibility – and survival – as its goal.

Reading Heaven is to Your Left, the fourth installment in the Juliana Series by Vanda (Sans Merci Press) is what prompted me to think about our history. The novel is set in 1956. The fact is that we have a history even if most of it was erased.  As a lesbian writer, I often think of the advice from the French author and pioneering lesbian-feminist thinker, Monique Wittig, who wrote, “Remember, Or, failing that, invent.”

Monique was telling us how to find our history.  In this fourth installment of The Julian Series, which can be read on its own, a lesbian love story is set against the historic backdrop of life in 1956. It is rife with specific detail of place such as snowflakes falling on your face in New York City.  It also contains just enough historic detail of that time (including the news that U.S. Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus in the mid-1950s).

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The novel tells us that at the same time, it was illegal for LGBTQ people – labelled “Queers” and not in a positive way – to exist.  The subtext of the novel tells us something more important – not only did we exist but we were part of history. When the two women return from a time in Paris to New York City, they are grappling with the reality of being blackmailed by someone who has found out about the fact that they are lovers. Juliana, who is an internationally known singing sensation, is lovers with Al, short for Alice, who has put Juliana on the map.

Vanda deftly writes about Al looking at Juliana in a passage that basically says it all:

“She moved toward the center of the stage, and my heart fluttered to the sound of her heels lightly clicking against the wood. She had her hair done up in a bouffant. And, oh, how lovely she looked in her Evan Picone pencil skirt and double-breasted blouse, the pointy collar sitting up against her neck, highlighting the short hair in back and the small silver earrings sitting delicately on her earlobes. I wanted to run up on stage and pull her into my arms and . . . She wasn’t even looking at me. I wondered if she knew I was there, but . . . No, we couldn’t risk even a careless glance among our own. The whole world had suddenly become more dangerous.”

As the story came to its inevitable conclusion, it landed on me with an emotional thud. There is a term in creative writing called an emotional reality, and this is an example of it. In my reader’s mind, Alice and Juliana existed even though they were fictional characters. On a deeper level, this means that we existed.

 

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To read Vanda’s review of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon) click here.

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This afternoon, I went to see Wild Nights With Emily and was blown away.   With a comedic actress in the lead (Molly Shannon), the movie was billed as  a comedic drama, but by the end I was stifling sobs.  It’s true that I kept thinking “poor Emily” at various places in the film, but when all was said and done, it was the sound of the eraser of history that sent me over the edge.

When it came out about two years ago, my partner and I went to see A Quiet Passion — the movie about Emily Dickinson that starred Cynthia Nixon.  While that movie was worth seeing, it erased all mention of Emily’s documented love affairs with women, especially with her sister-in-law Susan.  As I remarked after this movie, what really can be said about Emily when her sexuality is erased?

Her sexuality was crucial — in her development as a poet, in her wring and in her poems which were included in the movie.

My partner and I thought we better see the film while we could, because like all things lesbian, it probably will be dismissed and marginalized.  I do hope this time will be the exception and Wild Nights With Emily will get the acclaim it deserves.

I have long been an admirer of Emily Dickinson and have written about her love of women. Decades ago, Emily’s niece (Susan’s daughter) writing in the New Yorker decades ago described Emily as a “valiant knight” to her mother. I am reprinting a shorter piece that I wrote on Emily below.

A longer essay titled, “The American Sappho: In Pursuit of a Lesbian Emily Dickinson” that I wrote was published in the Vol. 3, Number 3 2002 edition of the Harrington Lesbian Fiction Quarterly (now out of print).

 

Emily Dickinson and I did not hit it off on the first date. That is to say that on introduction to her work, I saw her–or rather was taught to see her–as a lady like poet writing of hearts and flowers, tendrils and vines, the stuff of which had absolutely nothing to do with my life. In junior high when I came across Dickinson’s work, I was already a hell on wheels hard drinking adolescent, a product of my 1970s working class environment that put me on a collision course headed toward disaster.

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It was my love of language that got me through. I’ve often heard it said that poetry serves no purpose. Perhaps that is true if one takes a completely materialistic and emotionally bankrupt view of life. But the fact is that two lines of poetry saved my life: Shakespeare’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow/ creeps through this petty pace from day to day.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that I could recite this part of Hamlet at will, even if I was on my way to being blasted or hung over from the night before, embedded in my mind that I would have a tomorrow. A tomorrow was not a petty thing to have: a few of my friends didn’t make it.

I wonder if things could have been different, for myself and for the close-knit gang of teenage girls I hung out with. I wonder if a Lesbian reading of Emily Dickinson could have halted our self-destruction and consequently saved a few young lives. It took a few more years for me to grow up, stop drinking and come out as a Lesbian. And when I did I found myself falling head over heels in love with poetry. Emily Dickinson was someone I returned to again and again. There was something clever, yet profound, in her verses that I memorized. The lines were deeply personal, as if they had been written just for me. I found her public personae intriguing. She was portrayed as a spinster, a recluse dressed in white, the eternal virgin who had nothing to do with men.

A few more years passed and I went to visit the Dickinson homestead in Amherst Massachusetts. I was there with a group of friends, some of whom lived in the area and were just visiting her home for the first time. It was ironic really– there we were a room full of Lesbian poets listening to the tour guide’s official wrap about the cloistered and asexual Emily Dickinson, trapped in her father’s house. There was something sinister about the house, foreboding. But behind the house, in the flower garden, was a beautiful wash of colors. And as I sat in the garden, on a white wrought iron bench, I peered through a shady grove to the neighboring house. I remember it being painted in the glowing hues of peach, at once golden and pink. There was something mysterious about this house, set back as it was from the road, directly approachable from the Dickinson homestead. If I were Emily I could not have resisted its magic lure.

I found out later that this house is where Susan Huntington Dickinson lived. She was Emily’s sister-in-law, married to Emily’s brother, Austin, and she was the love of Emily Dickinson’s life. She was Muse to Emily, her intended reader, thoughtful critic and, by more than a few accounts, she was Emily’s lover. In correspondence to Susan, Emily wrote that Susan was “imagination” itself. The two women were close friends for 40 years, and they lived next door to each other for 30 of those years.

In “Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson’s Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson” (from Paris Press), the editors, Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith, point out that over the course of their lifelong friendship and love affair, Emily sent countless numbers of letters, poems and a form of writing that Emily came to call the letter poem. And on many of these letters, placed for Susan to see when she unfolded them, Emily had written her careful instructions: “Open me carefully.”

Emily Dickinson lived at the end of the Victorian-era in New England from 1830 to 1886. After her death, any mention of Susan was carefully removed from her poetry and this essential body of correspondence was neglected. Still, even with this erasure of Susan’s name, which Emily had written at the top of so many of her poems, it is obvious that they are essentially Lesbian love poems. Consider, for example, the piece that begins with the line “Her breast is fit for pearls…”

“Susan, / Her breast is fit for pearls, / But I was not a “Diver”– / Her brow is fit for thrones / But I have not a crest, / Her heart is fit for home– / I–a Sparrow–build there / Sweet of twigs and twine / My perennial nest. / —Emily”

In Victorian New England, Emily Dickinson certainly could not mention her most intimate body parts. But she did a pretty good job of using the birds and bees as metaphor: “These days of heaven bring you nearer and nearer, and every bird that sings, and every bud that blooms, does but remind me more of that garden unseen, awaiting the hand that tills it. Dear Susie, when you come, how many boundless blossoms among the silent beds!”

To separate Emily Dickinson from her Lesbian passions is a cruel and unnecessary act. Not only does it do a disservice to Emily’s poetic genius, but it also deprives her readers of a deeper comprehension of Emily and therefore of a deeper understanding of themselves. That’s what literature, at its best, does. It leads us home.

It really doesn’t matter if Emily Dickinson ever made love with a woman. (Although my guess is that she did and most likely did so rather skillfully.) What matters is that she experienced deep rending passion, that must at times, under the circumstances, have been painful.

A Lesbian reading of Emily Dickinson places her firmly in the center of her own page. When I think back on my visit to her house, I can see her clearly now, sitting down at her desk after her daily chores were done, as she smoothed the white folds of her skirt and picks up her quilled pen. As she writes, her cheeks are ablaze with longing and desire, that essential Lesbian desire.

 

Available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is also available through your local bookstore or online.

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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