A Gallery of Beauties

June 17, 2013

Everybody at a certain point harbors the desire or curiosity or simple, sheer interest to gather a collection of various things in diverse quantities, some parameters more eccentric than others. Empress Elisabeth of Austria, commonly nicknamed “Sissi“, a character to whom Madame has dedicated a plethora of posts, had her own phenomenal assortment which put together a considerable number of photos immortalizing the most beauteous women of the age. But I already wrote about it here. Yet what I didn’t know at the time when that account of her oddities was given and subsequently learned to be a crucial factor in explaining her peculiar idea of a collection refers to the strikingly similar propensity for putting together images of beautiful ladies which dominated the life of  Sissi’s uncle, King Ludwig I o Bavaria. No longer content with getting most of the pulchritudinous grand dames of the time in his bed for fleeting moments of passion, the monarch who is (in)famous for abdicating the throne following a tempestuous scandal involving his mistress, Lola Montez, determined to forever own the marvelous physical charm of these resplendent females. And thus took shape the Gallery of Beauties, the original inspiration for Empress Elisabeth’s identically themed albums.

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This chamber, wholly dedicated to the celebration of corporal attractiveness, exhibits a selection of 36 portraits ordered by Ludwig between 1827 and 1850. They were all commissioned to have the same size so as to perfectly fit in the allocated space and all feature the enchanting profiles of mid 19th century women coming from sundry social backgrounds like the German aristocracy or the European middle-class. This way, characters who otherwise never spoke in real life were forced by circumstance to keep each other company while hanging on the walls of the King’s gallery of visual splendor inside Nymphenburg Palace. So Ludwig’s sister, Sophie (between brackets: the mother of Emperor Franz of Austria, Sissi’s husband), rested alongside such notorious figures as English aristocrat Jane Digby, actress Charlotte von Hagn (a former concubine to Franz Liszt) and, inevitably, Lola Montez, quite an outrageous arrangement, given the epoch. Sort of like compelling Whistler’s Mother to face Courbet’s “Origin of the World” non-stop.

Don’t you just fancy having a place resembling this?

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Of course I’m referring to Sissi the Empress, whose 175th birthday (she would’ve been terrified by the prospect of ugliness this age implies)  we celebrate today, on Christmas Eve (Happy Holidays to you all!). Not for nothing she was called Eugénie, after the obscure patron Sainte Eugénie, commemorated on 24 December.

Between cleaning the last corner of my already ultra-sterilized flat and venturing to decorate the Christmas tree alongside a totally amateurish brother, I decided to take a moment of respite and celebrate my favorite 19th century Empress. Also, since the ‘Quote Monday” has been off for a while, why not revive it with a thematic excerpt from Sissi’s diary to compensate the shortness of the post?

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She was aware they believed her insane and actually pronounced it out loud, publicly, though I’m momentarily unable to recall the exact circumstances which lead to her uttering such audacious a line. Certainly no previous Austrian monarch ever attempted a similar bravery in facing the court. A true eccentric, this woman, and a brave one at that.

She was so interestingly dynamic I believe it’s nearly impossible not to least feel the most malnourished affinity for her and to support my conviction, here are some things I bet you didn’t know about our Sissi (and neither suspected):

  • She admired gorgeous women perhaps as much as men did, with the exception that she only, exclusively, solely accepted the company of this particular category, and even had a picture album to count her preferences (over 100 samples, which numbered beauties from Lola Montes and Maria Sophia of Bavaria to unconventional Amelie Gautreau).  To complete it, the Empress wrote the Austrian ambassadors across Europe to send her photographs of charming ladies in their vicinity, causing amusing scandals regarding the purpose of the collection.
  • She had an anchor tattoo on her shoulder to express a love for sailing never to diminish for as long as she lived. Husband Franz was reportedly displeased by the daring.
  • When catching a sea storm, she often had her attendants tie her to a fixed chair on the main deck, claiming she imitates Ulysses due to the magnetic attraction waves exerted on her… Imagine what terrible coercion subdued the ones who abode her whim but responded before the Emperor if any unfortunate incident took place.
  • To avoid fulfilling her marital duties in the detriment of much desirable traveling, Sissi encouraged Franz’s sexual affairs, especially the long-term relationship with actress Katharina Schratt, whose reputation she always protected. Rumors of their friendship enabled Kat to continue the liaison for over 30 years, as a faithful mistress and friend to the miserable Emperor.

Wasn’t hers a titillating life?

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Beauty is omnipotent. Beauty, striking or delicate (or both), lissom and cunning and sinuous in the conquering of hearts, is thus quite a stimulus for the visual senses whose function, when by its appearance employed, seems to reduce itself to that of a mere messenger of titillations. Beauty is that which can impress the most obtuse perceptiveness and with these being said, I should conclude my introductory definition, sliding to the subject: Joanna Lloyd, picture above. (Between brackets, pure serendipity lead me to her as,though of yore acquainted with Joshua Reynold’s aristocratic portraits depicting haughty dames and gents of the London Season scene,it was not until I read the “House of mirth” that I met his beauteous Mrs. Lloyd. And ironically enough, I wouldn’t have ever saw the lady in question if it weren’t for Wharton’s laudatory description within the novel…)

Now, she might not be considered exactly a stunner after today’s standards but the woman undoubtedly had a gorgeous profile and overall a certain charm about her gracious self. She’s highly refined.

Needless to add I, hunter of all things beautiful, just had to comply with my impulse and dig up her life. Surely I couldn’t refrain  making use of such fine a serendipitous ‘discovery’ . Plus, don’t you have a greater experience of a thing’s immortalized  fairness once you learn, explicitly, there was blood flowing under that epidermis?I tend to think people are getting too impersonal (from reasons I won’t take time enumerating) and the sort of insertion into one’s life I’m proposing could bring back some warm, colorful interest. Canvas is one enduring substitute of flesh, how about this?

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Anyway, returning to the topic, the following are the disappointingly few facts I managed to gather (believe it or not, if you haven’t heard of Joanna Lloyd, Google almost hasn’t either):

-she was the third daughter and coheir of John Leigh Esq. of Northcote House, Isle of Wight…

-who married, at a thin age, a Richard Bennett Lloyd from an important American family…

-moving together on the other side of the Ocean, in Maryland (there’s actually a Maryland Historical Magazine which gives a plentiful account of her life there yet cannot be found online).

-shortly before embarking for the U.S. (1775-6), she had her portrait painted by the fashionable Reynolds, who allegedly praised her attractiveness (also much appreciated, albeit not without scorn, at the Lloyds’ new home). This is the exquisite work Wharton’s character in the “House of mirth” replicates.

-the spring of the 1788’s saw her widowed and promptly remarried to a handsome  Francis Love Beckford (1764-1838), (announced by the 3rd edition of “New Lady’s Magazine  or Polite and Entertaining Companion for the fair sex”).

-naturally, she returned to British soil and from this part any information reminiscent of her earthly life passed out of my reach.

The Reynolds remains, though. Does it intrigue you as it appears to intrigue me? Why yes, why no?

A mocking Love Recipe

November 4, 2012

For today, just some brief comments on the art of deceitful courtship in the late Georgian England, all through sarcastic verses.

Recently, that is a few days ago, I’ve finally laid back and conscientiously started to tick titles from my list of movies I once, long ago, at the beginning of this horribly torrid summer, planned to see. And seen them.

Summarizing, that’s how I ended up engaging in a 6 hours marathon of French films from which “My little Princess” was by far the best and most dramatic, especially considering  (a thing I would come to find ensuing the actual watching) the script based on the real traumatic experiences of director Eva Ionesco, who, between brackets, has Romanian roots just like myself (and I’m not the patriotic type).

Naturally, a distorted vision of he life proving insufficient to my appetite, I had to do a little searching only to find a story I’m undecided whether to  classify as outrageously interesting or disturbingly sick giving its interpretable components. After omniscient Wikipedia, Eva Ionesco, now an accomplished full grown woman, was lured by her own mother in the world of pornographic pictures at a very tender age, posing in baroque-style postures most inappropriate that can easily have one’s mind fly to Lolita’s icon. Barely 11, she made the cover of Playboy October 1976 Italian issue with a nude pictorial featuring her in provocative positions on an empty terrace close to the sea, a true scandal. The Spanish edition of Penthouse also contained a selection of her photographs, all signed by Eva’s bizarre mother, Irina Ionesco. Which normally lead to a huge controversy never truly ended.

Well, it’s a bit shocking and definitely against the norms, even a devastating adventure for the influenced child yet confronting with these pictures’ aesthetic value, isn’t it still art, flagrant, indeed, but art nonetheless?

It’s one of those rare occasions when I can’t surely express an opinion.

Despite the prejudices, I utterly like a great deal of Irina’s work, including the part with Eva as leading model since it’s beautiful, arresting, a delight for the impartial eye.

Although it’s impossible to ignore the damage they produced to Eva’s immature mind, a torment she alone describes throughout the movie, culminating in the still unquenchable hate towards Irina.

No wonder she vehemently refused to meet the cause of her humiliation again after suing her for harassment. In many of the interviews preceding or following the movie she exposes only the legitimate attitude of a woman abused both morally and psychically, eager to escape an image she has never approved to show and depict her side of the drama (“the dimension of a Greek tragedy”, if we quote Eva) as revenge.

Everybody should be on Eva’s side, of course, but what’s your opinion? What is history bereft of such events?

Having been completely absorbed in a vortex of personal business and family duties and artistic urges to materialize with calculated dexterity a series of projects in charcoal on paper and long writing labors to transform a novella finished some months ago in a good novel, I admit I might’ve ignored the blog. A little. More.

So today, while browsing through albums of black-and-white photographs which recently became the number one source of inspiration for most of my drawings praying to discover a gripping portrait, a dramatic closeup, a wildly seducing cheesecake, an intriguing candid, whatever may turn in one graceful, expressive theme, I rediscovered the Cecil Beaton magic. The named Cecil Beaton being after Wikipedia’s description an English fashion&portrait photographer, diarist, painter, interior designer and an Academy Award-winning stage&costume designer for films/ theater, quite a complex, keen bisexual gentlemen if you’ll ask my rather personal opinion.Who had a high taste of fashion and an indisputably amazing eye for beauty, evidently (it’s not like one could get on the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame without the mentioned qualities – and he’d be the man to tell you that).

Since my first incursion in the monochrome world of silver-screen stars and interbellum personalities I was simply fascinated by the flawless, misty, charismatic figures depicted in the works of photographers such as E.O. Hoppé, Paul Tanqueray, Yousuf Karsh and, of course, Beaton, my special favorite.

His varied subjects,his way of capturing the perfect angle to enhance the elegance of the lucky poser, his minute decorum and the atmosphere built around it, all delicacy and smartness, have the most wonderful visual power over the viewer any age, as you can see for yourself through my compilation of Beaton’s best images.

The haughty Mademoiselle Gabrielle Chanel inside her Parisian home.

And Coco once again, wearing her signature multiple-row pearl necklace.

Now Audrey Hepburn for “My Fair Lady” in a Belle Epoque costume designed by Beaton.

A marvelous Marlene Dietrich displaying her equally splendid profile and the hands whose shape and fluidity never failed to exert a great deal of fascination to me, regardless how odd it may sound.

A Katherine Hepburn I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t recognized from the start, the set capturing my attention firstly. What I like most about this particular photograph and the artist intended to also, is this fine allusion at Kate’s qualities in the placing of Athena’s statue beside her, a goddess of great intelligence but a beauty nonetheless.

Then we have Gary Cooper, the charming Hollywood dandy…

…and a deliciously young Marlon Brando reminding me of his looks as the fiery Stanley  in “A Streetcar named Desire”.

By the way, his costar, Vivien Leigh, was captured by dearest Beaton too.

For Vogue, a few times. A coupe of times.

Middle-aged Joan Crawford in the 50’s.

One of Grace Kelly’s iconic pictures, 1954.

Following, Liz Taylor’s vixen profile a whole generation of men loved…

… and Marilyn, the fake-blonde of the century, in her avowedly favorite photo of herself, 1956, at the New York Ambassador Hotel. The assignment Beaton had taken in her that year contributed to Monro’s campaign to redefine her public image of stupid beauty or pin-up girl by exposing a rather more sophisticated part, a mature seduction the audience hadn’t suspect she was capable of, as reflected in Cecil’s work.

“Miss Marilyn Monroe calls to mind the bouquet of a fireworks display, eliciting from her awed spectators an open-mouthed chorus of ohs and ahs …” was Beaton’s description of his model.

But apart from movie stars ( recall the variety I prized at the beginning), he also made an amazing job  immortalizing the celebrated faces of high-society…

…where outrageously wealthy and equivalently unhappy heiress Barbara Hutton played a major role…

…or those of musical elite represented by Onassis’ lover, soprano Maria Callas…

…remaining not to forget the literary figures (here T.S. Eliot)…

…the prodigious painters (behold Andy Warhol)…

…the wacko Dali with enchanting Gala …

…and the political titans.

Royalty, in its turn, passed before Beaton’s objective throughout his impressive career and he had thus the opportunity to meet personally noble personages from history books, including the Queen Mother of Romania, Sita Devi of Kapurthala, Princess Margaret and the outrageous exiled couple the world never ceased to gossip about:  Edward, with his beloved Wallis.

Not to mention the Queen herself, Elisabeth II, in diverse poses of certain periods.

Guess to whom belongs Lilibet’s magnificent coronation portrait?

Decidedly, his life was a gripping adventure, traveling across Europe and beyond its margins, accessing an assortment of entourages and classes, contributing to the building of uncountable legends in publishing their photos or dressing their bodies… Between banging Fred Astaire’s elder sister, Adele, writing extensive diaries and playing some minor parts on English stages, Beaton certainly succeeded to catch a glimpse of immortality…

What do you think? Wouldn’t you just adore to interact with worldwide celebrities, style icons, geniuses?  I know I definitely would.

Editing Salome

June 26, 2012

“Ah! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now. I will bite it with my teeth as one bites a ripe fruit. Yes, I will kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan. I said it; did I not say it? I said it. Ah! I will kiss it now. But wherefore dost thou not look at me, Iokanaan? Thine eyes that were so terrible, so full of rage and scorn, are shut now. Wherefore are they shut? Open thine eyes! Lift up thine eyelids, Iokanaan! Wherefore dost thou not look at me? Art thou afraid of me, Iokanaan, that thou wilt not look at me? And thy tongue, that was like a red snake darting poison, it moves no more, it speaks no words, Iokanaan, that scarlet viper that spat its venom upon me. It is strange, is it not? How is it that the red viper stirs no longer? Thou wouldst have none of me, Iokanaan. Thou rejectedest me. Thou didst speak evil words against me. Thou didst bear thyself toward me as to a harlot, as to a woman that is a wanton, to me, Salome, daughter of Herodias, Princess of Judaea! Well, I still live, but thou art dead, and thy head belongs to me. I can do with it what I will. I can throw it to the dogs and to the birds of the air. That which the dogs leave, the birds of the air shall devour. Ah, Iokanaan, Iokanaan, thou wert the man that I loved alone among men! All other men were hateful to me. But thou wert beautiful! Thy body was a column of ivory set upon feet of silver. It was a garden full of doves and lilies of silver. It was a tower of silver decked with shields of ivory. There was nothing in the world so white as thy body. There was nothing in the world so black as thy hair. In the whole world there was nothing so red as thy mouth. Thy voice was a censer that scattered strange perfumes, and when I looked on thee I heard strange music. Ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me, Iokanaan? With the cloak of thine hands, and with the cloak of thy blasphemies thou didst hide thy face. Thou didst put upon thine eyes the covering of him who would see God. Well, thou hast seen thy God, Iokanaan, but me, me, thou didst never see me. If thou hadst seen me thou hadst loved me. I saw thee, and I loved thee. Oh, how I loved thee! I love thee yet, Iokanaan. I love only thee. I am athirst for thy beauty; I am hungry for thy body; and neither wine nor apples can appease my desire. What shall I do now, Iokanaan? Neither the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion. I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire. Ah! ah! wherefore didst thou not look at me? [She kisses the head.] Ah! I have kissed thy mouth, Iokanaan, I have kissed thy mouth. There was a bitter taste on thy lips. Was it the taste of blood? Nay; but perchance it was the taste of love. They say that love hath a bitter taste. But what matter? what matter? I have kissed thy mouth.” (Salome, Oscar Wilde)

This is the monologue from which I extracted the idea for my newest art work, a Biblical Salome bearing the foxy features of Vivien Leigh, embellished, I hope, with a sort of kokoshnik on top, and sensually holding the decapitated head of John the Baptist (Mathias Lauridsen) as to converge their lips with the smallest turning of the neck.

Alas, the outcome didn’t actually fulfill my enthusiastic expectations and I’ve found myself in the position of editing the original charcoal on paper with a series of programs meant to enhance its artistic quality, the result being the two shown images.

Personally, I find the latter most charming but I’m more interested in your opinion on it.

Which is the winner?

Piety with Sinful Eyes

June 13, 2012

My geography teacher has this very innovative way of slackening the atmosphere with a chiefly related to culture game whose target is to answer the two given questions for “a 10 [highest mark in the register] and a bar of chocolate”. Most amusing, I assure you.

SO, the reason why I informed you about his habit even if today was a stay-home-and-doze day as my high-school was closed, is because…

While I was just hanging around, laying on the sofa and thinking random subjects, one of my teacher’s premium inquiries simply popped up out of the blue and mysteriously contributed to arousing my appetite for drawing the thing implied: a modern, beauteous Pieta. (the question regarded the number of Pietas done by my favorite sculptor Michelangelo during his life, ta-dah!)

Pieta’s fine features and the simple, slightly austere head-piece which graciously covered her hair, trickling over her thin neck and further, had always drawn me to the otherwise too religious for my tastes statue. There was something in the supple waves of her veil that captured my imagination and let it drift on the velvety waters of river Arno or Tiber, by which I assumed the artist himself was inspired.

Implicitly, the dramatically dead Jesus Virgin Mary holds in her lap was definitely (in the detriment of my piety) eclipsed. But that’s a whole other story, more proper for a separate post.

The main point is that talented little me (I do tend to call myself “little”,despite my age, with a satirical tone) urged her pens and markers to set free the form of a young, alluring Snow White (haloed with tons of lace visible in the picture beneath) from the silent blank paper sheet.

Behold the result of a prolific day off:

Impressions anybody?

Well, just pardon my unpolished artistic skills and the arrogance which ultimately lead to my posting these here, but due to the whole “Snow White and the Huntsman” propaganda preceding the actual movie I have unleashed my modest charcoal +black marker on some random pieces of paper with the seen outcome of two pretty flawed drawings I just had to share…  Pride is too big a sin not to be advertised outside one’s private space. 🙂 Least in this particularity of nature I can compare with the gorgeous Evil Queen who clearly is the inspiration behind all this.  She’s, in the end, the quite sympathetic character played by beauteous Charlize Theron:  a dark seductress whom I’ve preferred to the dull heroine before “it was cool”, that is since the Disney film when I remember actually weeping after her lost pulchritude in the most quaint context, mum trying to explain how bad people are bound to perish,etc, while I only cared of her attractive shallowness. What can I say? fierce, dangerous women are my declared weakness.

So the first eccentric arrangement of marker strokes, having traits and a mimic borrowed from the muse I think I’ve previously mentioned on the sidebar, my friend Diana T., and the latter  attempt to interpret the majestic fairytale sovereign, this time almost shamelessly copying the SWATH poster, are my newest addition to the pile of unpretentious artistic creations. I’ll humbly refrain from commenting furthermore.

Opinions?

Assuming that you’re all acquainted with my peculiar infatuation with young, effeminate and excruciatingly gorgeous males, an aesthetic propensity I think I’ve previously expressed in my post about Oscar Wilde’s splendid lover, bawdy poet Bossie Douglas, my yet again developing a fascination for a historical pretty boy should not imply any trace of surprise on your behalf.

Allow me to repeat for better understanding: I have contracted, so to say, a great interest in the very foppish main character I bet you’ll also adore to this extent  if watching the really worth watching film “Stage Beauty”. In an age when, after the Greek inherited tradition, roles like Juliet’s or Desdemona’s had to be interpreted by adolescent lads (that is, until Margaret Hughes imposed herself in the domain during the Restoration), Edward Kynaston, my virtual crush, made the moast graceful lady, pretty talented and surprisingly flexible as he could play both a King and a Queen in the same act. Though this remarkable trait is omitted in the movie so to create a more intense drama, which doesn’t diminish its juiciness, Kynaston could fairly be considered an interesting person, not short of appeal and definitely not of theatrical aptitudes.

No wonder he was a high member of Rhode’s company at the Royal Cockpit, situated not far from the Whitehall Palace, thus very frequented by aristocrats. Edward’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s Henry IV brought him to join the King’s (Charles II) company.

His contemporaries, naval administrator Samuel Pepys and the actor-manager Colley Cibber prized Edward’s intriguing capacities, noting his most brilliant she-roles in renaissance productions as Ben Johnson’s “Epicoene” and John Fletcher’s “The Loyal Subject“, being clear that he was quite a sensational figure in 17th century London (he was born around 1640, commencing the acting career in his early 20’s ).

I find extraordinary the simultaneity with which he enacted characters of the two genders, like in the winter of 1660, when he filled the role of Otto in “Rollo Duke of Normandy” having played   Arthiope only the previous week. Such accurately managed shifts fascinate me; he must’ve possessed a huge imagination and a lot more psychological equilibrium to balance the characteristics of the two sexes inside him, pulling out the needed one at command, with awing credibility nonetheless.

Quotations of his coevals underline the strange ability, asserting that he had fabricated “a Complete Female Stage Beauty” who “performed his Parts so well, especially Arthiope and Aglaura” and “has since been Disputable among the Judicious, whether any Woman that succeeded him so sensibly touch’d the Audience as he” (Downes, “Roscius Anglicanus”).

He also finds appreciation in Pepys’ now notorious diary.

Saturday, 18 August, 1660     Captain Ferrers, my Lord’s Cornet, comes to us, who after dinner took me and Creed to the Cockpitt play, the first that I have had time to see since my coming from sea, “The Loyall Subject,” where one Kinaston, a boy, acted the Duke’s sister (Olympia), but made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my life, only her voice not very good. After the play done, we three went to drink, and by Captain Ferrers’ means, Kinaston and another that acted Archas, the General, came and drank with us.

Monday, 7 January, 1660/61    Saw “The Silent Woman.” The first time that ever I did see it, and it is an excellent play. Among other things here, Kinaston, the boy; had the good turn to appear in three shapes: first, as a poor woman in ordinary clothes, to please Morose; then in fine clothes, as a gallant, and in them was clearly the prettiest woman in the whole house, and lastly, as a man; and then likewise did appear the handsomest man in the house. (between brackets, I would’ve judge this way too 😉 )

Monday, 1 February, 1668/9    We find no play there; Kinaston, that did act a part therein, in abuse to Sir Charles Sedley, being last night exceedingly beaten with sticks, by two or three that assaulted him, so as he is mightily bruised, and forced to keep his bed.  (part which appears in the movie too, making me flinch as I have horror of attractive persons venturing into fights that may cause them lose their natural pulchritude; it’s nothing sadder to me than being deprived of a particularity thus addictive)

Tuesday, 2 February, 1668/9   At the King’s playhouse,  “The Heyresse,” not- withstanding Kinaston’s being beaten, is acted; and they say the King is very angry with Sir Charles Sedley for his being beaten, but he do deny it.

Tuesday, 9 February, 1668/9   Saw “The Island Princess” which I like mighty well, as an excellent play: and here we find Kinaston to be well enough to act again, which he do very well, after his beating by Sir Charles Sedley’s appointment.

A part I have further enjoyed was his travesty carriage-trips with the “Ladies of Quality” who “prided themselves in offering him a ride through Hyde-Park” just to see with their own goggled eyes the testimony of his virility… by slipping a bold hand under his many skirts. Really an awkward scene but doubtlessly pleasurable for the naughty Kynaston boy.

He did have big on and off stage success.

Even I, the girl from the future, was charmed by his ambiguous personality.

What do you think about him?

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