The Botany of Desire: lowest A Plant's-Eye online View of the World online

The Botany of Desire: lowest A Plant's-Eye online View of the World online

The Botany of Desire: lowest A Plant's-Eye online View of the World online
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The book that helped make Michael Pollan, the New York Times bestselling author of How to Change Your MindCooked and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, one of the most trusted food experts in America

Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?

From The New Yorker

Apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. This sounds, perhaps, like a Dutch shopping list, but it''s really a quick index to the subjects of Pollan''s new book. One day, while working in his garden, the author began to wonder how his role as a sower of seeds differed from that of the bumblebee that was pollinating a nearby apple tree; his musings inspired these tales of botanical transformation. Pollan explores the ways in which four common crops have enjoyed and suffered the very best and worst of human intentions: how apples spread westward with American settlers, how the stock of tulips has soared and crashed, how the potency of marijuana has been exalted even as the plants have been miniaturized, and how potatoes have been turned into a cog in the genetic-industrial complex. The result is a wry, informed pastoral.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Review

“Pollan shines a light on our own nature as well as on our implication in the natural world.”
—The New York Times

“[Pollan] has a wide-ranging intellect, an eager grasp of evolutionary biology and a subversive streak that helps him to root out some wonderfully counterintuitive points. His prose both shimmers and snaps, and he has a knack for finding perfect quotes in the oddest places.... Best of all, Pollan really loves plants.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“A wry, informed pastoral.”
—The New Yorker

“We can give no higher praise to the work of this superb science writer/ reporter than to say that his new book is as exciting as any you’ll read.”
—Entertainment Weekly

“A whimsical, literary romp through man’s perpetually frustrating and always unpredictable relationship with nature.”
—Los Angeles Times

About the Author

Michael Pollan is the author of seven books, including  Cooked: The Natural History of Transformation, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, and  The Omnivore’s Dilemma. A longtime contributor to  The New York Times, he is also the Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2010,  Time magazine named him one of the one hundred most influential people in the world.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1
Desire: Sweetness
Plant: The Apple

(Malus domestica)

If you happened to find yourself on the banks of the Ohio River on a particular afternoon in the spring of 1806—somewhere just to the north of Wheeling, West Virginia, say—you would probably have noticed a strange makeshift craft drifting lazily down the river. At the time, this particular stretch of the Ohio, wide and brown and bounded on both sides by steep shoulders of land thick with oaks and hickories, fairly boiled with river traffic, as a ramshackle armada of keelboats and barges ferried settlers from the comparative civilization of Pennsylvania to the wilderness of the Northwest Territory.

The peculiar craft you’d have caught sight of that afternoon consisted of a pair of hollowed-out logs that had been lashed together to form a rough catamaran, a sort of canoe plus sidecar. In one of the dugouts lounged the figure of a skinny man of about thirty, who may or may not have been wearing a burlap coffee sack for a shirt and a tin pot for a hat. According to the man in Jefferson County who deemed the scene worth recording, the fellow in the canoe appeared to be snoozing without a care in the world, evidently trusting in the river to take him wherever it was he wanted to go. The other hull, his sidecar, was riding low in the water under the weight of a small mountain of seeds that had been carefully blanketed with moss and mud to keep them from drying out in the sun.

The fellow snoozing in the canoe was John Chapman, already well known to people in Ohio by his nickname: Johnny Appleseed. He was on his way to Marietta, where the Muskingum River pokes a big hole into the Ohio’s northern bank, pointing straight into the heart of the Northwest Territory. Chapman’s plan was to plant a tree nursery along one of that river’s as-yet-unsettled tributaries, which drain the fertile, thickly forested hills of central Ohio as far north as Mansfield. In all likelihood, Chapman was coming from Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania, to which he returned each year to collect apple seeds, separating them out from the fragrant mounds of pomace that rose by the back door of every cider mill. A single bushel of apple seeds would have been enough to plant more than three hundred thousand trees; there’s no way of telling how many bushels of seed Chapman had in tow that day, but it’s safe to say his catamaran was bearing several whole orchards into the wilderness.

The image of John Chapman and his heap of apple seeds riding together down the Ohio has stayed with me since I first came across it a few years ago in an out-of-print biography. The scene, for me, has the resonance of myth—a myth about how plants and people learned to use each other, each doing for the other things they could not do for themselves, in the bargain changing each other and improving their common lot.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote that “it is remarkable how closely the history of the apple tree is connected with that of man,” and much of the American chapter of that story can be teased out of Chapman’s story. It’s the story of how pioneers like him helped domesticate the frontier by seeding it with Old World plants. “Exotics,” we’re apt to call these species today in disparagement, yet without them the American wilderness might never have become a home. What did the apple get in return? A golden age: untold new varieties and half a world of new habitat.

As an emblem of the marriage between people and plants, the design of Chapman’s peculiar craft strikes me as just right, implying as it does a relation of parity and reciprocal exchange between its two passengers. More than most of us do, Chapman seems to have had a knack for looking at the world from the plants’ point of view—“pomocentrically,” you might say. He understood he was working for the apples as much as they were working for him. Perhaps that’s why he sometimes likened himself to a bumblebee, and why he would rig up his boat the way he did. Instead of towing his shipment of seeds behind him, Chapman lashed the two hulls together so they would travel down the river side by side.

We give ourselves altogether too much credit in our dealings with other species. Even the power over nature that domestication supposedly represents is overstated. It takes two to perform that particular dance, after all, and plenty of plants and animals have elected to sit it out. Try as they might, people have never been able to domesticate the oak tree, whose highly nutritious acorns remain far too bitter for humans to eat. Evidently the oak has such a satisfactory arrangement with the squirrel—which obligingly forgets where it has buried every fourth acorn or so (admittedly, the estimate is Beatrix Potter’s)—that the tree has never needed to enter into any kind of formal arrangement with us.

The apple has been far more eager to do business with humans, and perhaps nowhere more so than in America. Like generations of other immigrants before and after, the apple has made itself at home here. In fact, the apple did such a convincing job of this that most of us wrongly assume the plant is a native. (Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, who knew a thing or two about natural history, called it “the American fruit.”) Yet there is a sense—a biological, not just metaphorical sense—in which this is, or has become, true, for the apple transformed itself when it came to America. Bringing boatloads of seed onto the frontier, Johnny Appleseed had a lot to do with that process, but so did the apple itself. No mere passenger or dependent, the apple is the hero of its own story.

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Top reviews from the United States

John P. Jones III
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A sense of wonder…
Reviewed in the United States on September 3, 2018
Thanks to a bit of trans-generational intellectual “pollination,” via the son of a friend from Atlanta who once owned a restaurant and had a passion for food, I was introduced to Michael Pollan’s work “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” a decade ago, which I have read and reviewed on... See more
Thanks to a bit of trans-generational intellectual “pollination,” via the son of a friend from Atlanta who once owned a restaurant and had a passion for food, I was introduced to Michael Pollan’s work “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” a decade ago, which I have read and reviewed on Amazon. Most regrettably, I had not read a second of his works until now. The man has a lot to say; and says it all too well. It is a case of “all the news NOT repeating itself,” to invert one of John Prine’s laments.

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” published in 2007, is subtitled: “A Natural History of Four Meals.” The number “four” is also operative in “The Botany of Desire,” which was published in 2002. It is the story of four plants: apples, tulips, cannabis and potatoes. Reflecting the theme of the title, there are four human desires that are associated with these plants: sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control, respectively.

Early in the book Pollan teasingly throws out the idea that perhaps the classic view: “People cultivate plants” should be inverted. For sure, Pollan does not fall off some “New Age talk-to-the-plants” cliff (and they will talk back) but posits a sound argument that without a conscious effort, plants evolve to utilize humans and animals to make up for their lack of mobility. His introduction is entitled: “The Human Bumblebee.”

Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan) means “father of the apple.” From the surrounding area the apple spread throughout the world, in part, aided by John Chapman, an American folklore hero more famously called: “Johnny Appleseed.” Pollan traveled to eastern Ohio, which, in 1806, was once the American frontier, and attempted to sort out the man from the myth, providing many an illuminating insight. Among those insights: apples were planted not for eating, but for drinking… in fermented form, and it was Prohibition that forced the apple growers to concoct the marketing slogan: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Tulips originated in Turkey. An Austrian Ambassador to the Court of Suleyman the Magnificent in Constantinople served as the “bumblebee” in this case, bringing tulip bulbs back to Europe, where they spread to Holland and fueled one of the more famous financial “bubbles,” ironically among normally staid Calvinists, in the 17th Century. A “holy grail” among tulip cultivators is a black tulip since black occurs so infrequently in the living plant world. The grail is still elusive but Pollan is proud of his dark maroon one.

Cannabis is associated with the desire for intoxication. Hidden in plain sight, as Pollan says, is the chronic problem with mind-altering substances that are abused: “toxic.” Pollan provides a brilliant exposition on this perennial flashpoint of America’s cultural wars. Anslinger, and “Reefer Madness” make the obligatory cameo appearance. Much more instructive was the update from the ‘60’s, in terms of how marijuana is raised and cultivated in the United States, and the pendulum swinging back and forth towards legalization (written in 2002, he does not anticipate its legalization in neighboring Colorado, or a handful of other states). He has justified concerns about the two “errant” plants in his backyard, noting under federal asset forfeiture laws that if a case was brought: “The People of Connecticut v. Michael Pollan’s Garden”, his land could become the property of the New Milford Police Department. Pollan introduced me to Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli scientist who isolated the chemically active component: THC. The author provides a BRILLIANT description of “plain-ol’” vanilla ice cream as experienced in an altered state of consciousness, and questions whether, chemically there is a difference between the chemically-aided version and that induced by meditation, fasting, and other methods. Indeed, there is a “sense of wonder,” as Pollan says, about seeing things fresh and anew, as a child might, that can make a trip worthwhile, so all the news does not repeat itself.

Potatoes are the subject of the last chapter, starting their journey from their historic epicenter high in the Andes and brought back to Europe by the conquering Spaniards. They may have been introduced into Ireland by a shipwreck from the Spanish armada in 1588, providing a godsend to a starving people where other crops would not readily grow. A “godsend” until the famine of the 1840’s caused a reduction by half of Ireland’s population (through starvation and emigration). The dangers of an agricultural “monoculture.” Pollan visits the headquarters of Monsanto in St. Louis, which is doing so much to introduce the entire world to the “intellectual property” of patented genes and seeds and goes off to Idaho to describe its implementation.

Indicative of Pollan’s outlook and writing style is the following quote concerning his visit to the St. Louis Monsanto headquarters, and his meeting with Dave Hjelle, the company’s director of regulatory affairs: “Dave Hjelle is a disarmingly candid man, and before we finished our lunch he uttered two words that I never thought I’d hear for the lips of a corporate executive, except perhaps in a bad movie. I’d assumed these two words had been scrupulously expunged from the corporate vocabulary many years ago, during a previous paradigm long since discredited, but Dave Hjelle proved me wrong: ‘TRUST US’.”

To see anew, and act anew, and the catalyst can come from a book: 6-stars for Pollan’s many, many fine insights.
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FCRichelieu
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting, but disorganised
Reviewed in the United States on May 26, 2019
It was some years ago that I read the author''s "Omnivore''s Dilemma" and watched the documentary series based on his book "Cooked". I have been impressed by both these works. It is, therefore, with great expectation that I picked up his "Botany of Desire". I am fascinated... See more
It was some years ago that I read the author''s "Omnivore''s Dilemma" and watched the documentary series based on his book "Cooked". I have been impressed by both these works. It is, therefore, with great expectation that I picked up his "Botany of Desire". I am fascinated by the idea that plants are in effect subjects in attracting us (objects) to help them propagate, when we may think that we are taking the initiative to domesticate them.

Taking apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes, the author looks at how these plants pander to our desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. In doing so, he takes the reader on an interesting journey through history, civilisation, capitalism, and technological advancement.

There are, nevertheless, a few aspects in the author''s style of writing that I feel are not reader friendly. The book consists of very long chapters which are not organised under any subheadings that would help the reader to follow his train of thought. Indeed he often jumps from one idea to another in a rather disorganised manner. There is a theme that he comes back to throughout his book--that of Apollonian order vs Dionysian diversity. However, he harps on this theme so often that the idea quickly loses its initial freshness to the reader.

In all, interesting stuff though rather disorganised.
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Ken Kardash
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
the unbearable lightness of pistil-gazing
Reviewed in the United States on November 11, 2018
Don’t get me wrong, I love Michael Pollan’s work. Especially his writing style, which takes full flight here: the way he interweaves stories, facts and speculation, all the while using only the most masterfully crafted sentences. And like his later masterpieces, you cannot... See more
Don’t get me wrong, I love Michael Pollan’s work. Especially his writing style, which takes full flight here: the way he interweaves stories, facts and speculation, all the while using only the most masterfully crafted sentences. And like his later masterpieces, you cannot come away from it without some new ideas about the plants we consume. What bothers me is that the central conceit underlying this work here. He uses the apple, tulip, marijuana and potato plants to illustrate his theory that they have coevolved with our desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and order, respectively. Trouble is, this theory seems to be pulled out of thin air, perhaps in the haze from the marijuana he has gardened. He generously offers to remove our blinders of anthropocentrism to reveal how these wily plants have evolved to cultivate us as their caretakers. By ignoring the fact that their traits were all deliberately selected from nature by our preexisting desires, his concept of coevolution seems not just ironic, but ridiculous. While waxing philosophic on the beauty of tulips, he even goes to far as to suggest he has discovered the meaning of life. If that’s not breathless enough for you, his relentless fascination with metaphor gets to be a bit much. The word itself seems to appear on every second page. It’s as if he is honing his writing skills here, waiting for them to collide with the subject of nutrition that will make his career later. Enjoy those books first, and unlike me, don’t go back to this one expecting more of the same.
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Rachel N. W.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
It will leave you wanting more.
Reviewed in the United States on June 9, 2015
A story of four plants and four human motivations, Pollan draws them together with wit. I consumed this book in a short time, taking to work to read in my spare moments. I don''t often get wrapped up so deeply in books, but this one grabbed me. There are source citations for... See more
A story of four plants and four human motivations, Pollan draws them together with wit. I consumed this book in a short time, taking to work to read in my spare moments. I don''t often get wrapped up so deeply in books, but this one grabbed me. There are source citations for a great many of his assertions, which was also fantastic. If you are interested in evolution, plants, human nature, marijuana, flowers, industrial food, organic gardening; there will be something to carry you through this story and speak to your interest. The writing is engaging and flows with ease from one subject to the next. It refers back to previous chapters and thoughts expressed, without wandering aimlessly in thought.

A great little read that will provoke thought and discussion. It will leave you wanting more.
33 people found this helpful
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Elva L.
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
like a nerdy friend at a party
Reviewed in the United States on December 21, 2012
- this book is split into 4 parts, and each examines a special relationship between a plant and the human race: - tulips and the pursuit of beauty, apples and the pursuit of sweetness, marijuana and the pursuit of intoxication, and potatoes and the pursuit of a... See more
- this book is split into 4 parts, and each examines a special relationship between a plant and the human race:

- tulips and the pursuit of beauty, apples and the pursuit of sweetness, marijuana and the pursuit of intoxication, and potatoes and the pursuit of a staple crop

- pollan moves from his experiences as a casual gardener, an intent breeder, an accidental discoverer, as an observer, a reader, a researcher to information he uncovered in histories, annals and journals seamlessly; in other words, he can tell you about his afternoon spent tending his tulip patch and the Dutch tulip mania in one continuous, endlessly entertaining flow

- the set up of the book is concise and well considered

- pollan''s writing style is approachably anecdotal, but the book is in fact backed up with a lot of science

- for people who find his views on what to eat "political" or antagonizing, please still give this book a chance. I know vegans have used his other works to preach, and it put me off reading Pollan for a long time... but I am glad I gave this book a chance
34 people found this helpful
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Barry J.
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The required headline for a piece of TOTALLY required reading
Reviewed in the United States on October 29, 2020
Apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. Read this book and learn a bunch about all of them - stuff it’s likely you didn’t know. That is very cool all by itself, but you also get to learn how all of them are connected to us humans - in ways that are open and obvious, but... See more
Apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. Read this book and learn a bunch about all of them - stuff it’s likely you didn’t know. That is very cool all by itself, but you also get to learn how all of them are connected to us humans - in ways that are open and obvious, but simultaneously as unknown to us as the mysteries of the universe.
This is a spectacularly interesting read, and has enough intellectual oomph to forever change the way you look at life on earth. Took me several weeks over the breakfast table to finish, but taking it a bite at a time (so to speak) worked well. Zowie :-)
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Eric Jacobson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Great read
Reviewed in the United States on November 8, 2018
This is truly one of the most interesting books I''ve ever read about a subject I''d never before thought much about -- our relationship with the plants that feed us and make out lives possible and enjoyable. On top of that, it''s very well written and frequently quite... See more
This is truly one of the most interesting books I''ve ever read about a subject I''d never before thought much about -- our relationship with the plants that feed us and make out lives possible and enjoyable. On top of that, it''s very well written and frequently quite amusing. Use Amazon''s "Look Inside" feature and see for yourself what an excellent read this book is.
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Hambone
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Close to brilliant as a literary essay about nature. But, like most literary essays, blemished by BS
Reviewed in the United States on July 6, 2018
If it weren''t flawed by what is at times 101 level superficial background knowledge (i.e. China roses were not the first repeat blooming roses to enter Europe, and many species repeat); sly political advocacy that takes advantage of the bond he builds with his readers; his... See more
If it weren''t flawed by what is at times 101 level superficial background knowledge (i.e. China roses were not the first repeat blooming roses to enter Europe, and many species repeat); sly political advocacy that takes advantage of the bond he builds with his readers; his tendency to belittle people who disagree with him to make himself look more clever than he really is by false contrast; his banal, annoying college freshman-like reiteration of Nietzsche and Apollo vs Dionysus; and his unreliability as a narrator (he claims to dislike pot, which he later has to acknowledge is not exactly true...a dishonest rhetorical trick to try to persuade others to his side)....if it weren''t for those things this would be a perfect book. As one reviewer called it, a pastoral poem for our age on par with Virgil. Too bad Pollan didn''t have an editor willing to do the right thing and cut this down by half.

Nevertheless, this is a great read though you can definitely skim some parts as he says the same things over and over, adding nothing new.
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Lady Fancifull
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Desire for beauty, sustenance, and intoxication - a meditation on plants and man,
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 20, 2010
This is the second book by Michael Pollan that I''ve read within a week (the excellent In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating: An Eater''s Manifesto being the other) He has the most magical, open mind; the ability to take the everyday and look...See more
This is the second book by Michael Pollan that I''ve read within a week (the excellent In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating: An Eater''s Manifesto being the other) He has the most magical, open mind; the ability to take the everyday and look at it like a true artist - thus forcing the reader to look anew at his/her own everyday. Here, he looks at four plant species whose development and spread has been closely linked with Homo sapiens - the apple, the tulip, the cannabis plant and the potato, and considers the evolutionary advantage from the plant perspective. The book uncovers history, folk-law, economics, politics and much more. Pollan delivers much fascinating information and has the lightest and most passionately engaged of writing styles. He is a wonderful raconteur. I read this book with a wider and wider smile, thoroughly delighted and enchanted. This book reminded me in many ways of Anatomy of a Rose: The Secret Life of Flowers by Sharman Apt Russell. Both authors have the ability to be fascinatingly informative whilst simultanously managing charm, entertainment, profound thought and beauty. Both effortlessly illustrate Blake''s: To see a world in a grain of sand And A heaven In a Wild Flower Hold Infinity In the Palm of Your Hand And eternity in an hour They are writers who can take the mundane, and open it to deep meaning, philosophical complexity and education A small factual teaser from the tulip section - the most prized and valuable tulips were those variegated by fine filagrees of crimson patterning upon the primary colour base. But this was caused by the presence of a virus, so over time, plants grown from bulblets broken off from the ''parent'' bulb would grow weaker and weaker - so increasing the rarity and fabulous cost of the prized variety. The evolutionary gainer from mans'' ''meddling'', not the tulip, but the virus, which we disseminated!
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Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Amazing!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 13, 2017
I picked up this book from the library at my university. I kept having the extend the loan of the book because i never wanted to give it back. However, I took it back and bought one of my own i was enjoying it that much. Pollan is clearly a beautiful writer, with...See more
I picked up this book from the library at my university. I kept having the extend the loan of the book because i never wanted to give it back. However, I took it back and bought one of my own i was enjoying it that much. Pollan is clearly a beautiful writer, with encapsulating expressions and way of describing things. I built a great awareness of Pollan as a person, as a gardener, as well as his and other speculations of certain plants. It is one of the best books ive read in a very, very long time. I actually read the whole thing, which is a first for me with books! Definitely recommend this to anyone.
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TommyMthom
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This book is very interesting, but does not live ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 9, 2015
This book is very interesting, but does not live up to its description. If you want to find out a lot about the history in the US of potatoes, tulips, apples, cannabis then go for it
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lucy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I really loved reading this book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 26, 2016
I really loved reading this book... Lots of interesting points and it was fun to discover things I didn''t know about such well known plants. I enjoyed the narration, personal and humerous at times!
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Martha Blount
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
... book - thanks for sending another copy - very good service from this seller - thank you
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 18, 2015
Interesting and informative book - thanks for sending another copy - very good service from this seller - thank you !
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