If you're looking for an enjoyable way to enjoy a night out, you might like to consider our opinions: Reviews by Sharmini Brookes except where indicated. Editing by Rick Raubenheimer. Reviews are listed in reverse date order (newest at the top). On this page we review cultural events of all sorts but not restaurants, for which please see Restaurant reviews for Rivonia and Sunninghill, Restaurant reviews for Morningside. and Restaurant Reviews for the rest of Sandton. This is the apge of reviews from 2012. The latest one is here.
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The 2012 Reviews
Not the Fifty Shades of Grey type of love but about the kind of love that is deeper and more enduring and which rises above adversity to face the future with a determined optimism.
The actual title of this first time factional account by Bruce Clark is Love Sex Fleas God – Confessions of a stay-at-home dad and is a bit misleading as when it was thrust upon me by two avid and enthusiastic fans, I immediately thought it was a kind of self-help manual for parents and stay-at-home dads. It isn’t - and when Bruce Clark spoke to a rapt audience at the Novel Bookshop launch he confirmed that when he started writing it he found it difficult to get the hang of writing a non-fiction about a stay-at-home dad so he worked backwards and wrote about why he had become a stay-at-home dad. This makes the book far more interesting than a self-help manual for bringing up kids. It’s part novel and part autobiography. It’s about the hope he held onto as a child, about the rage he succumbed to in middle age and about the love he feels now.
The striking aspect of this book for a reader is the fluency, knowledge and sincerity of the writing of someone who is self-taught. Bruce was brought up within the orbit of Scientology; a secretive religious cult much in the news lately following the divorce of Hollywood celebrity couple Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes. Now an atheist, he warns us to keep away from it but not because of their religious beliefs as people are free to believe what they want; he berates them most for their dismissal of formal education as establishment brainwashing and his lack of proper education is one of the reasons he was unable to maintain a job and forced to become a stay-at-home dad. His wife Christine is the breadwinner and very obviously the axis of quiet stability in the relationship. There are no slushy love scenes but their committed companionship and enduring love shines through even in the one-line responses to which Christine is reduced. His attitude to his children is governed by love and the need to do his best for them rather than paying any attention to the latest expert fad and is probably the best advice parents can take from it because the basic message is that as long as you nurture your offspring with love you will do the best for them so be confident in your own abilities.
He writes well, the book is easy to read and I finished it in a day. His publisher, Umuzi Books, discovered him after an article he wrote about an alcoholic car park guard named Jack who he hated and despised for many years but became close friends after his children took a liking to him. The article was published in the Afrikaans paper called Rapport and he was commissioned to write more articles because of its success with their readership. Umuzi Books believe he is a writer to watch. As one member of the audience remarked, it is a book for South Africa because it shows that despite a disadvantaged background over which one has no control, one can make a success of one’s life because everyone can create their own future.
Cookbook: "Bitten", ISBN is 9781431700042, published by Struik Lifestyle.
Sarah Graham is a food blogger. Originally from Zimbabwe, she is a pretty blond with an incredibly slight frame for someone so interested in food, and has come to promote her cookbook bitten. at Novel Bookshop in the Hobart Grove Shopping Centre, Bryanston. She tells us she started her food blog well before Julie and Julia hit the screens; a movie about frustrated Secretary Julie Powell's attempts to escape her dead-end job by setting herself the challenging task of cooking all 524 recipes from classic French Chef Julia Child's cookbook in 365 days.
For Sarah, it all started when someone sent her a food blog called smittenkitchen.com and it stimulated her to start writing her own food blog called http://afoodieliveshere.com. She began by writing down all the recipes she knew and soon found she couldn't stop writing. Bitten by the foodwriting bug, she started posting to her blog twice a day. She heard about an American blogger who was publishing a cookbook and decided to write a proposal herself. She sent it off to two publishing companies and Random House accepted on condition she produce the finished manuscript within three months.
Her husband Rob was very supportive and gave her marks out of ten for each recipe she cooked for them. She cooked every night till ten o' clock but found she loved it. Once she cooked nine dishes in one night for a friends tasting session. Her completed manuscript was handed over in April 2011 for editing, photographs and a cover design and was due to be on sale in February 2012. The name 'bitten.' was probably inspired by the blog Smitten Kitchen which first stimulated her. The recipes are simple and easy to cook with a section on Meals for a month, Lazy Suppers and Wine Pairings. She has included her favourite recipes from five other South African bloggers - serious bloggers that she met while attending a workshop in Cape Town.
Sarah herself is an amateur and not a trained chef. Her motivation was her love of good, tasty food, her desire to produce recipes with integrity and to give people no excuse not to cook. Amidst all the excitement of her blogging and forthcoming book, her blog title was stolen and she was forced to pay R7000 to get it re-registered in her name. A group of loyal fans had come along to the bookshop. One waxed lyrical about her recipe for Roast Pork Belly and her tip about how to get really crispy crackling. Another loved the simplicity of the recipes and yet another said she had found the best tomato soup recipe on her website. I was easily persuaded to buy the book even though she shares her recipes for free on her blog and eschews commercializing her site with advertising.
More used to popcorn at the cinema, I found myself enjoying a super-sized portion at the Theatre on the Square on Friday lunchtime in the company of a trio of musicians.
Jacobus Swart, pianist, composer and conductor introduced us to his selection of ‘popcorn’ – a programme of eleven popular musical pieces including Humoreske by Dvorak, Hungarian Dance No. 5 & 6 Brahms, Salut d’Amour by Elgar and Summer Place by Max Steiner and a couple of pieces of traditional Hungarian and Russian gypsy music.
Miro Chakaryan, the Bulgarian born Concertmaster of the JPO played the violin with sweet intensity accompanied by Etienne Malan, freelance clarinettist with Jacobus Swart on piano.
A loyal and moderately sized audience of about 50 thoroughly enjoyed listening to these old favourites played with competence and joy and ending with the Italian favourite, Finiculi, Finicula. It was a nostalgic journey through my early childhood in Durban listening to radio stations like Port Natal.
As Jacobus Swart said afterwards over coffee and biscuits, music should be for entertainment and not for education. I agree with him. Art should never have a utilitarian purpose; however, music played with the same passionate fervour I witnessed this lunchtime, can win an audience for more challenging works.
The lunchtime concerts offer a wide-ranging selection of classical music works. It’s an enjoyable way to spend a Friday lunch hour – so if you work there, why not pop along. If you don’t like popcorn, there will certainly be something else on the menu below to tickle your taste buds.
FRIDAY LUNCH HOUR CLASSICAL CONCERTS
2012 Line-up at the Theatre on the Square
French violinist, Philippe Griffin
by Annalien Ball (piano)
Piano concert by Gareth Ross
Opera singer, Derek Ellis with Jacobus Swart on piano
Violetta Miljkobic (viola) and Dalene Wilson (violin)
Soweto Opera Quarto
The Goldbery Quartet with Zanta Hofmeyer, Wessel Beukes,
Morkel Combrinck and Dalene Wilson
We reserve the right to change programmes without prior notice. Contacts: 011 883 8606
This adaptation had something of the feel of Grimm’s Gothic fairytale but too many ingredients spoiled the broth.
Charlize Theron is the wicked stepmother and evil witch-Queen whose magical powers and youthful beauty can only be sustained by sucking the life out of young maids and eating their hearts. The huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is ordered to kill Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and bring her heart back to the Queen. Charlize is majestic as the haughty and beautiful Queen with an unnervingly manic stare and Kristen is the perfect Disneyesque vision of Snow White with her red lips, translucent white face and raven-black hair.
Snow White’s flight into the dark forest after discovering that the Queen has murdered her father and is intent on harming her too, is grimly captivating and just as one might have imagined it when first reading the fairytale as a child. The trees come alive, their branches transforming into writhing snakes and their trunks transmuting into monsters.
This excellent start, however, is undermined by too many intrusive motifs and there are moments of sentimentality that are a little irksome.
There is a King Kong moment when a gorilla-like monster submits to Snow White, a couple of fairies might have stepped out of Avatar and the White Hart could be Aslan from the Narnia Chronicles. The religious symbolism of good versus evil, the biting of the poisoned apple and the sacrifice of the good Snow White who rises from the dead are a bit obvious and corny.
The seven dwarves played with feisty humour by British actors Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Izzard, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and Stephen Graham raised some laughs from the packed studio audience but their fight with the army raised by Snow White against the Queen felt like watching a re-run of Lord of the Rings with the hobbit-dwarves against Charlize’s Sauron in Mordor.
The acting was superb and there are some great effects and delicious imagery but I wasn’t as moved as I may have been; the technical effects and intrusive moralizing overriding the simple chilling horror of Grimm’s original. An adaptation of Red Riding Hood I saw on TV recently, where the wolf is a werewolf, was nearer the mark.
The Raven: I say ‘more, more’.
A serial killer’s grisly murders mimic the imaginative plots of thriller writer, Edgar Allan Poe. Who is on trial here? Is it imagination itself?
The Raven, inspired by the poem of the same name and directed by V for Vendetta James McTeigue, is an imagined scenario of the events leading to the mysterious discovery of a near-dead Poe in a park in Baltimore and his eventual death in a hospital soon after.
John Cusack plays the penurious Poe, co-opted by Inspector Emmett Fields (Luke Evans), first as suspect, then as an aide to help catch the murderer on the assumption that Poe, as the writer of The Murders in the Rue Morgue, can foresee the plot before the next murder is committed. Poe is initially indignant at the idea that he or his fiction should be blamed for the actions of a psychotic madman but is forced to intervene when his beloved Emily is taken hostage by the murderer. Playing on the idea of ‘effects theory’ and ‘copycat killings’ that have led to the increasing censorship of violent films, computer games and visual art, the audience is left wondering just how entangled Poe is in these gruesome killings.
The film is shot in fast-action close-up frames – the camera taking us into and away from the gruesome detail and leaving more to our fevered imagination than what actually exists on screen. The black raven, a member of the surly crow family, looks suitably murderous. The oft-quoted line from his famous poem - ‘Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”’ resonates menacingly in the background. As the solitary occupant of the matinee showing, I was constantly moved to watch behind the caged grille of my fingers adding to the thrill and suspense of the movie as whole.
John Cusack, who I first admired in The Grifters, is brilliant as the slightly alcoholic, slightly deranged Poe. I do hope the rounding of his eyes was a temporary make-up necessity to make him look more like Poe and not due to Botox injections or plastic surgery as I prefer his natural crinkle-eyed look.
The film was enjoyably thrilling and I was somewhat surprised that I was the only occupant of the studio.
with Moya’s Trips and Trails
As a newly arrived home-comer, I think hiking is a great way to discover anew the country I left many years ago while getting acquainted with fellow South Africans and visitors to South Africa from all backgrounds.
A friend introduced me to Moya’s Trips and Trails. Not yet the holder of a drivers licence, I was pleased to discover that Moya offers shared microbus transport to the hike site for a small fee for those without transport or those who prefer not to drive themselves. The day’s trip, including lunch and transport, costs R270.00.
The meeting place in Bryanston near the Bryan Park Shopping Centre is down the road from me and very convenient. Meeting Moya for the first time, I am amazed that the person I am told is in her 60’s looks so much younger and so full of energy. Most of the regulars know one another but I am made to feel very welcome and soon feel one of the gang.
Apparently this is a smaller group than usual – 15 rather than 30. Jeng, a 24-year-old Chinese male has cycled all the way from Greenside, as although he is employed to perform the important task of introducing South African companies to Chinese investors, he is still waiting for his work permit and ID and not able to buy a car here without these documents. Seven of us pile into the microbus and arrange to meet the rest onsite.
I have driven through Magaliesburg many times on our annual family trip to the Groot Marico but have never been to the Maretlwane nature reserve. We pass through the local town of Mooinooi - a higgledy-piggledy assortment of tin and cardboard shacks, lean-to’s and a few cement-faced brick buildings; their fading pastel paints not competing with the garish and wonderfully inventive signage advertising various services from general dealers and mobile phone outlets to taxis, hairdressers and bars. I would love to take a photograph but I guess this is the romantic tourist idea of indigenous rural charm aka Alexandra McCall’s No.1 Ladies Detective series. The local South Africans feel ashamed of the lack of development and more nervous about the thought of leaving the safety of their vehicle.
Maretlwane is a nature reserve and has lodges for rent but is still relatively untouched and wild with glimpses of buck flitting across the road or in the bush alongside. Our trail is along the river and Castle Gorge with lunch laid on by Moya beside a rock pool with a waterfall.
A handful of the group chooses to hang around at the rock pool till lunchtime while the more intrepid of us complete the remainder of the hike. Moya, it seems to me, creates her paths through the thorn bush, spiders webs, grass covered gullies and down sliding rock faces more in the spirit of Burton, Speke and Livingstone than the well-signed, health and safety checked ramblers paths I am accustomed to in the UK. A couple choose to return to the lunch spot early rather than take their chances through unchartered territory. Those of us, who persevere, have some dicey moments and do a lot of bum-sliding but feel quite exhilarated. After all this is an adventure hike, not a walk in the park.
We chat and make rest stops for water and meditation. I learn that three of the sporty types in the group have titanium knee replacements and one wished he had had the sense to give up team rugby earlier on in his life while another continues to play competitive hockey; someone else has done a solo climb of Kilimanjaro and has been on a once-in-a-lifetime scientific expedition to the Antarctic while another is running an import jewellery business. A Montessori teacher speaks of clashing teaching methods and the difficulty of finding reasonably-priced accommodation close to work. Jeng and I as the newcomers to the new South Africa find common cause for complaint in the lack of public transport and the red tape. For him the palpable sense of xenophobia is puzzling seeing as he is bringing new wealth to the country. He has only been here a couple of months and it is a shame to think he may return home or go elsewhere because of the politician’s pandering to anti-Chinese sentiment.
There are some very inviting rock pools along the way but we hold on and have a refreshing pre-lunch dip at our pre-arranged stop by the waterfall - swimming in the clear cool water with tiny black fish nibbling our feet and legs; not quite the expensive fish pedicure now touted at trendy spas but pleasantly ticklish all the same. Empty water bottles are re-filled at the waterfall and Jeng says it is the tastiest water he has drunk.
We warm up lizard-like on the flat rocks roundabout while Moya lays out a perfect lunch of assorted salads, cold meats and wholesome bread. A South African family with Italian heritage offer me a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Trust the Italians to bring the perfect accompaniment; everyone else is far too health-conscious.
We arrive back in Bryanston after dark having swerved past a few potholes along the way. The muscles on my thighs are aching but I feel more invigorated and as though I have truly earned that hot bath, satisfying supper and curl-up on the sofa watching Julian Fellowes dramatization of the Titanic.
Contact Moya at Trips & Trails: email@example.com Tel 011 7065316 / 072 146 8921.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen –an act of faith or hubris?
When fisheries civil servant Fred Jones attempts to bring salmon fishing to the Yemen he begins to swim upstream; like his beloved salmon.
When I first read Paul Torday’s novel a few years ago for our book club I thought it was based on a wacky idea but made for a pleasant enough read. The news of a film based on the novel surprised me as I didn’t think it had enough content or ‘oomph’. I have been proved wrong by the light-handed and witty direction of director Lasse Hallstrom who also directed that other whimsical and successful film ‘Chocolat’.
A Yemeni sheikh loaded with money and estates in Scotland wants to bring salmon-fishing to the wadis of the desert. A government PR aide desperate for a good news story in the Middle East orders the Ministry of Fisheries to pursue this ludicrous scheme and Fred Jones, an unknown civil servant, is plucked from obscurity to lead the project with the Sheikh’s attractive female British representative.
This basic storyline is overlaid with philosophical musings about faith in the impossible dream. Making the desert habitable for salmon does seem wacky but recent developments in Abu Dhabi make me think the idea is not so ludicrous. There is certainly something inspirational in making a theoretical possibility a practical reality. ‘Have faith’ says the sheikh to a sceptical Fred. In one scene Fred is shown plodding alongside his fellow workers streaming into work – then suddenly turning around and walking against the tide rather like the way salmon swim upstream; a metaphor for his sudden realisation that he can and must change his predictable and unsatisfactory life. Perhaps we need more faith and hubris today too.
Ewan McGregor is not the first person to come to mind as the diligent but mundane fisheries scientist plodding towards his final salary pension but he pulls it off with superb acting and his usual charm; the Edinburgh Morningside accent adding to the sharp humour.
Kristin Scott Thomas is perfect as the hard-nosed PR bitch-machine to the Prime Minister and anchors what could become slushy whimsy in a realistic portrayal of the behind-the-scenes machinations of political spin that so characterized Blair’s government.
Amr Waked who plays the sheikh has the good looks of Osama bin Laden but, unlike his bête noire, this Yemeni has a pro-Western and a spiritually enlightened attitude towards people and life.
Emily Blunt plays Henrietta Chetwode-Talbot, the romantic interest.
The sardonic British humour is amusing and the 1hr 45mins passes very entertainingly.
It’s in its first week and showing at Cedar Square and Brooklyn and Rosebank till 10 May.
Young Adult grows up
A ghost writer of a soon-to-end young adult fiction series past its sell-by date is at a loose end and driven to seek out the ghosts of her past.
37-year-old Mavis Gray is a recently divorced and childless ghost writer whose hectic big city life as a minor celebrity has come to an abrupt end. Facing this sudden void evokes nostalgia for her hometown and her first love, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). She had left both for a more sophisticated world in Minneapolis desperate to escape the suffocating small-town in Minnesota where she grew up and where they still irritatingly refer to the ‘Minnie apple’. A photo of Buddy’s newly-born baby recently emailed to her inbox determines her resolve to return to a time and place when she was the most popular and most envied girl at school. She hopes to win back Buddy who she imagines must be unhappily married and just waiting for a chance to escape to the city with her - after all isn’t Buddy (her first love) the guy who will love her for what she is? But what is she really? Over the course of the film both Mavis and the audience discover who she really is and it’s not always a pretty sight.
Charlize Theron who plays Mavis Gray is the same age in real life and portrays the internal struggle of writer Diablo Cody’s character with the right balance of unappealing hard shell and mushy self delusion maintaining the audience’s sympathy through some of her vilest outpourings. Disabled classmate Matt Freehauf (comedian Patton Oswalt) was so far out of her charmed orbit that she barely recognizes him until he reminds her that he was put in his wheelchair by homophobic bullies. Their twisted relationship provides for some bitter comedy.
There is the salt taste of sad self-pity in coming to terms with a harsh reality but when Matt’s sister reminds Mavis of those qualities for which she had been envied we leave the cinema with hope – that if we dig deep and find our sense of self worth we can move forward and find a way to face the future however bleak.
Young Adult was released on 13 April in Gauteng at Rosebank and Brooklyn.
The Fat Pig, and other animals
Neil LaBute's human characters struggle to transcend their baser instincts in this well-acted tragic-comedy at Theatre on The Square in Sandton.
Playwright Neil LaBute better known for his films, 'In the Company of Men' and 'Death at a Funeral' which many found hilariously funny, is also seen as something of a misanthrope - dwelling on the darker side of humanity and prepared to shock his audience with equally foul language.
In 'Fat Pig' directed by Tamryn Spiers and produced by Lee-Anne Summers, the main character Tom (Colin Moss), a rising star in the corporate world, finds himself surprisingly attracted to Helen (Egoli's Chanelle de Jagar) a plus-sized librarian but struggles to negotiate the difficult social pressures which elevates appearances over personality and substance. Their hesitant but growing affection for each other provide some movingly tender scenes in the play. The audience is invited to sympathise with their plight but it isn't even as clear cut as that. Helen's personality is shaped by her sensitivity to other's views of her size and her continual attempts to jokingly rebuff the expected slight can be irritating while Tom's profuse apologies for constantly sticking his foot in it, is painful to witness.
Meanwhile, Tom's previous relationship with Jeannie (the svelte Lee-Ann Summers), a colleague at work, raises some questions about his attitude to women and his supposed sincerity in relation to Helen. On the other hand, Jeannie also comes across as a thin cow who feels humiliated that Tom ditched her for the Fat Pig.
Tom's workmate, Carter, (superbly played by Clayton Boyd) is someone we all love to hate, a veritable male chauvinist pig and a charmer who smoothes over his betrayals of trust as lightly as he flings insults about. Yet we learn he has a PhD casting some doubt on the superficial character he presents and in a moment of uncharacteristic soul-baring he reveals his youthful embarrassment about his mother's gross obesity. But even as we are invited to empathise, the vituperative hate with which he speaks about her makes us recoil in shock.
Like Tom we feel for Helen's plight yet are repulsed by her constant gorging and sympathise with his unwillingness to introduce her to his workmates as his 'girl'. It's easier to think oneself sincere than to be it. Many a personal column ad will prioritise the 'gsoh' tag over the 'must be good looking' tag but most of us will smirk knowingly on seeing it.
There was much laughter at the acerbic quips and gasps of mild shock at the frank language from the press-packed audience and an involuntary sob from a woman during the last scene.
In his plays, LaBute certainly holds up a mirror to society but it seems a refracted one, revealing mostly the less attractive side of humanity and no ideal to which we may hope to ascend and as one of my companions said at the end: 'I hoped it would end better than that.' Another companion absolutely loved it and I believe it's a play worth seeing.
The superb Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
In true Brit fashion, they go to India not to see India but to discover themselves and reveal a few of our own fears and insecurities in the process.
The stellar cast of this film makes ones mouth water - Tom Wilkinson, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie, Bill Nighy and Ronald Pickup; and the star of Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel, who plays the always desperate-to-please host of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Often such a starry line-up hides a flimsy script and poor film - but not in this case. I have not read Deborah Moggach’s book ‘These Foolish Things’ on which the film was based but the script was warm and witty.
The film is about a motley group of pensioners who have various reasons for making the trip to India. They meet up at Delhi Airport and the sprawling chaos of India smacks them in the face as they discover the transport to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel where they are all staying has failed to show. Forced to take the local bus on a 6 hour ride to Jaipur, they arrive to find that the luxury getaway for the elderly and beautiful is but a shabby reminder of its former palatial architecture.
We are introduced one by one to the main characters by a little scripted vignette that captures the essence of their lives in the way a skilled painter might with a few broad brushstrokes. Tom Wilkinson is the judge escaping the suffocating vision of being presented with a gold watch at yet another retirement send-off, Judi Dench is the bewildered widow who has never done anything without her husband, the indomitable Maggie Smith is the abandoned family nanny bound to a wheelchair and in search of a hip replacement faster than the good old NHS can supply and whose views on the darker-skinned races of the former British Empire shocked even the white South African audience who are more circumspect about using such language since 1994, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton are the retired couple whose marriage has been put under strain by investing all their savings in their daughter’s doomed internet start-up business, the irrepressible Celia Imrie is the glamorous granny who eschews the traditional role of babysitter to pursue her quest for an attractive and wealthy suitor and Ronald Pickup who is desperately seeking an erection.
It’s all set for a roller coaster ride of wit and whimsy illuminated by moments of tragic drama as when Tom Wilkinson as Graham reveals his severed youthful passion for an Indian boy or when Maggie Smith’s plasterboard exterior cracks just enough to glimpse the empty loneliness of a life no longer filled with another family’s children. These little moments of vulnerability never overshadow the upbeat comic tempo but do make us consider whether our own lives are as fulfilled as we imagine. We may feel tempted to step off the treadmill and embark on an equally intrepid journey – well perhaps somewhere in slightly better nick than The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Showing till April 5 at Sandton, Cedar Square and Rosebank.
"Material" is the best film we've seen in a long time: Riaad Moosa's stand-up comedy had us in stitches, contrasted with the dramatic conflict with his staid father maintaining traditional values and a family feud. The resolution was truly heartwarming. Look out for the canny granny!
Riaad is "South Africa's best Islamic comedian –possibly South Africa's only Islamic comedian! He says: "People ask me where I get my material, and I always say 'at the Oriental Plaza, where you get great deals'."
I am a freelance writer living in Bryanston having relocated from the UK.
I do a regular feature on art and culture which includes film, theatre and books as well as other cultural events and restaurants. I attend the Theatre on the Square as a media previewer and try to get to see films as often as I can. I contribute to Artspoken and recently did a review of Material, more critical than the one above.
I also attend regular bookshop talks at the Novel Book Shop in the new Hobart Grove Centre. If you know of events I should attend, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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