Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Celebrating Christopher Columbus on His Day!

If you live in the Americas, will you be celebrating or condemning Columbus Day?  It seems there are two ways of looking at that voyager who back in 1492 crossed the ocean blue!
In the United States, October 12th (and now the second Monday of October) is known as Columbus Day, a federal holiday since 1937. It was celebrated unofficially by a number of cities and states far earlier than that – some dating back to the 18th century.
I would like to think that all travelers will be giving a nod of thanks to the courage of that daring 15th century explorer who has been credited throughout history with discovering the New World.

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Christopher Columbus statue - Lisbon, Portugal
However, despite his voyage and discovery – or maybe as result of it – there are those who won’t be celebrating his arrival in the present-day Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492 for reasons best explained by History.com:

“There are three main sources of controversy involving Columbus’s interactions with the indigenous people he labeled “Indians”: the use of violence and slavery, the forced conversion of native peoples to Christianity, and the introduction of a host of new diseases that would have dramatic long-term effects on native people in the Americas.”

(Those indigenous people did introduce Columbus – and thus, the Old World -- to tobacco. In fact they gave him some of the dried leaves as a welcome, and he later learned from them how to smoke it, so in some ways maybe they got some revenge early on.)

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Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492
So now, more than 500 years later, controversy surrounds the celebration of Columbus Day in some places on the globe. . .prompted by a focus is on the treatment of the indigenous people – not the voyage of discovery.

In reality, it would be difficult to find a ‘hero’  in history who didn’t have some character or behavioral flaws shadowing their lauded contributions, wouldn’t it?  We can name several and I suspect you can as well. People aren’t perfect, plain and simple!

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Replica of one of Columbus's ships - Funchal, Madeira
The fact remains that the Italian-born Christopher Columbus had the guts to believe in himself and was able to get the Spanish king and queen to back the expedition of the trio of tiny ships (not much larger than present-day cruise ship life boats) in his attempt to find a western route to China – in 1492!

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Navigation in 1492 on left; present-day cruise ship bridge

We probably took Columbus and his courage for granted until the first time we took a repositioning cruise across that wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean a few years ago. We followed  a route similar to that of the early day sailor.

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Crossing the Atlantic - only sea and sky and our ship

The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest of the earth’s four oceans.
Its surface area is about 31,660 sq. miles (82 million sq. kilometers).
It has an an average depth of 12,881 feet (3926 meters). Its deepest point is the 
Puerto Rico Trench with a depth of 28,681 feet (8742 meters).


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Leaving Fort Lauderdale to cross the Atlantic
We’ve now crossed the Atlantic Ocean four times –  each time in large, modern cruise ships with the latest medical facilities, on-board communication and navigation equipment.  As we’ve sailed from Florida’s Fort Lauderdale, the logical side of our brains ‘know’ we will be safe.

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On the Atlantic Ocean 
Yet . .we pause as we pass that last  tip of land knowing we will see nothing but water and sky  – no birds, no ships for at least six days . . . I can’t imagine being in those tiny wooden ships that took two months to cross the Atlantic and not knowing when I would see land again.

Celebrating the Explorers

Unlike on this side of the Atlantic, we’ve seen tributes – towering statues and monuments -- to Columbus and his fellow early day explorers throughout Europe;  Lisbon, Madeira, Cadiz, Seville, Barcelona, just to name a few. The enormous tribute below, the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos) on the approach to Lisbon, Portugal honors Henry the Navigator.

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Monument to the Discoveries - Lisbon, Portugal

Post Script:
If you’ve stayed with me this long, and you hadn’t noticed, I’ve got a bee in my bonnet, and here’s why:

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Seattle Space Needle
The Seattle City Council took action this week declaring the second Monday in October (aka Columbus Day), Indigenous People’s Day. In taking the action, Seattle has joined a few other city’s who’ve shifted the day’s focus.

A Seattle council member was quoted as saying, (Columbus) “played such a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known.”

What put the bee in my bonnet was the singular focus; the condemnation of a portion of his actions without recognition of the exploration, the discovery – not even by the media who covered the council's deliberations.

I believe all historic events are most accurately told by more than one story -  if we don’t tell them all, our true history will be lost.

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Native American Totem Pole - Seattle
The Seattle council’s action brought cheers from local Native Americans while Italian Americans were insulted by it.

In reality, Washington State doesn’t recognize Columbus Day (meaning it isn’t a day off work for most).

Indigenous People’s Day is much the same; no time off, just a holiday in name only. 

Without a day off work, the day -- by either name -- will likely go unnoticed by most living  in the “New World”.




I suspect that if my maternal grandparents, who at the turn of the 20th century escaped to the “New World” from the Russian hell-hole in which they lived, were still alive, they’d be celebrating the day set aside to honor the guy credited with discovering it.

Perhaps in that sense, we all should be celebrating those early discoverers.



Linking today:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Travelers Sandbox
Weekend Travel Inspiration - Reflections En Route
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening
Travel Photo Monday - Travel Photo Discovery

47 comments:

  1. I promise you that I don't live under a rock but I was not aware of the current controversy with Columbus Day. I never celebrated or condemned it but admired the discovery and the New World that opened up. It is fascinating to realize the chain of historical events that occurred though isn't it, Jackie? It's unfortunate that the leaders in Seattle seem to miss the positive end of it from what you shared. Really good post to read and thank you :)

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    1. Mike, I can't tell you how good it was to see your name pop up in the comments! Glad you enjoyed the post today.

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  2. There are two books - 1421, The Year China Discovered the World and The Lost City of Atlantis which both provide compelling evidence for the exploration/discovery of North America well before Columbus. I actually think Columbus was way ahead of his time had had a great PR team working for him - though I'm with you on never taking for granted the difficulty in sailing across the ocean, especially 500 years ago. Interesting the present day controversy in Seattle.

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    1. Leigh, I did start to list the various New World discoverers - seems everyone discovered a bit of something different when they discovered 'it' and many discovered their section before Columbus but my word count started looking more like book than blog so I took that out. I think the most important thing is to look at what they did from the perspective of their time and not condemn them based on the present -- Columbus was rewarded by the king and queen and given 17 ships for his next voyage when he completed this one. I've seen the first book you mentioned but will look for the second - I love the mystery of the lost city of Atlantis - Thanks for commenting!

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  3. I had no idea that this was such a controversy, or that the day was being replaced with another (at least in your State and a few others). I guess the politicians, when they are condemning Columbus, forget the long history of slavery in America. Your post also made me remember that this weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada. I had totally forgotten. That shows you how long I have been away! Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

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    1. Actually, I remembered your Thanksgiving when I saw references to it while researching Columbus Day! Happy Thanksgiving! Suppose you won't be roasting a turkey like we do? ;-)

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  4. I have only recently heard an inkling that Columbus has started to be viewed in a not so positive light. As a traveler I am in awe of all early day adventurers.

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    1. That's also my take on the early day explorers, Jan. Sometimes I am surprised at the views of others and wonder if they travel, or read or are just so focused on local politics and issues that they cut off their noses to spite their faces. Thanks for visiting - and commenting; both are appreciated!

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  5. I'm a big fan of celebrating the good in everyone while acknowledging the not-so-good, and sometimes downright awful. As you said, NO ONE is perfect, not the Pope, not Mother Theresa, no one. Columbus did great things and awful things, and his treatment of the native people was culturally acceptable at that time. Unfortunately. I think it's hypocritical to be forced to focus solely on the good or bad in each other, as if they can be separated. I'll celebrate the good Columbus has done, and give thanks that we don't treat indigenous people like he did anymore.

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    1. I had a similar thought process Krista. . .seems that all the injustices to indigenous people during the 500+ intervening years can't be blamed on one man. Easier to point the finger than to look in the mirror sometimes . . .thanks for your most thoughtful comment! Have a great week -

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  6. Columbus and all the other early explorers are an inspriation to me. Just to think of all the places he was able to discover on his many voyages, including the islands in the Caribbean, is pretty mind-boggling. I was recently in Calvi, Corsica, where they claim he was born, not on the mainland of Italy. Corsica was part of the Republic of Genoa at that time, so claims he was born there are very plausible. I think I need to read a book about his voyages. Your article has inspired me to do so!

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    1. I did read about his voyages while on that first transatlantic cruise and I tell you, that was one amazing trip he took. Glad you are inspired to read more about him - I decided that I also need to spend more time reading up on those early day adventurers from Cook to Columbus. Thanks much for your informative comment - glad you also got to see the pride other places take in claiming a bit of Columbus as their own! Please come back again and continue to comment!!

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  7. Great editorial! There are always two -- or more -- stories to tell in history. By taking Columbus out of Columbus Day, the historic significance of his journey and the explorers after him are minimized at best.

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    1. Thanks Marilyn! I generally shy away from opinion pieces but sometimes I do get those 'bees in my bonnet' and will simply burble over if I don't say something. I just read in today's paper that the Italian American community is even more upset over this action in Seattle and plan to take it to the ballot box when city council elections take place. They also noted that Native Americans have a day set aside for them - the Friday after our Thanksgiving; sadly, I doubt if anyone really knew that either! Thanks for the visit and taking time to comment!

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  8. Ah - political spin! The controversy about Columbus has been brewing now for several years but I'm with you. Despite all the negatives (slavery, genocide, theft) one can't help but applaud the outright audacity and courage of the early explorers who set sail for places completely unknown!

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    1. Oh so correct Anita! You mix a bit of PC-ness with Political Spin and you've got a dilemma on your hands as the Seattle council is finding out. I am with you -- I'd give a standing ovation to those audacious explorers -- they are role models for travelers everywhere who seek to explore the unknown.

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  9. I like your worldwide photos and didn't realize that he was celebrated over in Europe, too. Very thought provoking article. Now that I've traveled so much of the world, I've realized that no one really seems to stay put. Historically, there's always been a push for a country to expand their empire, and the end results are both good and bad. I think it's human nature to want to go out and explore. Judging by sci-fi films, it's in aliens' nature, too. If it hadn't been Columbus (or one of his predecessors), someone else would have "discovered" America and started moving their people over. Indeed, what brave souls they must have been to embark on such a voyage. My kids don't have school on Monday. It's for a teacher workday, but I don't think that it's a coincidence that it falls on Columbus day.

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    1. You make a good point, Michele - if not Columbus it would have been some other explorer and at that time with each country wanting to build their empires, it certainly would have been the same sort of actions. It is easy to sit and judge and condemn based on our current acceptable behaviors but we do have to look at what was acceptable -- and in his case -- rewarded back then.

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  10. As you and the commenters have said, Jackie, it's not all good or bad -- although there certainly was a lot of the latter. The story seems to have been repeated throughout Latin America with every subsequent conquest.

    On another note, I really like that.monument to the discoveries in Portugal.

    There's a small statue of Columbus down at the port in Valparaiso, but it's rather worn looking.

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    1. Sadly the story does seem to have been repeated throughout history, Andrew and as one of the comments pointed out: Cook is said to have discovered the indigenous people of Australia but those folks point out they were never lost! ;-) Good point they make. (I love the monument in Portugal!)

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  11. This was such an interesting post. I didn't realize there was some sort of controversy too or the whole holiday/non-holiday name changing in Seattle. I knew there were some things about Columbus that were a bit controversial but you've shed some light. I enjoyed seeing the worldwide photos. I found it even more fascinating that you've done the transatlantic cruise multiple times. I love cruising but I can't even imagine being on a ship for that long with no land in sight. I have this Monday off so I'm grateful for Columbus and the indigenous people for that :)

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    1. Oh Mary, you should try an ocean crossing cruise sometime - I suspect you would love it! There is so much to do on board that the days pass so quickly that I am usually wishing there were a few more 'sea days' left before we reach land. It does give you pause as you pass that last tip of land for awhile though!

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  12. Hi Jackie,

    Yes, I heard about this controversy on the Greek national news the other day, and like you said, there are two sides to every story. It's true; great leaders and military commanders from Alexander the Great, to courageous and curious explorers, like Christopher Columbus, had many sides to them, some of them quite scary; they needed to, if they were going to conquer, discover or rule.

    A very interesting and timely post. Thank you for sharing!

    Happy weekend!

    Poppy

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    1. Poppy, you made such a good point about the personalities and behaviors of those long-ago explorers. . .they had to be like that if they planned to conquer and rule. Hadn't thought of it that way. . . Happy weekend to you! Hugs, Jackie

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  13. Interesting that you should write about this, Jackie. Just a day or so (or was it earlier today?) I heard someone on television saying that the holiday wasn't celebrated nationwide, that some states use the day to commemorate America's indigenous peoples. Until then, I had no idea that there was something called Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
    You know, if I were a member of the indigenous community, I would be very offended. There are 300+ days in the year; wouldn't it be more meaningful, more respectful that another day be set aside? America’s indigenous people deserve better than that. I find it downright insulting and very short sighted. I hate this pitting of one against the other. Why does it have to be either or, like there isn’t enough room for everyone? And if it’s a holiday in name only, why not have a separate day?
    Yes, because of Columbus, an entire sequence of events unfolded (including the decimation of indigenous peoples, the forced migration and subsequent enslavement of millions of Africans, the conversion of the economies to sugar/cotton/gold-based and the shift in the balance of economic power between the New/Old Worlds, the rise of piracy, filibustering, etc., etc.) that he, with all his vision, would never in a million years foresee. But none of this can minimize the magnitude of his accomplishments. We can recognize both Columbus and the Indigenous Peoples without sacrificing one for the other.
    Thanks for sharing this post, Jackie. I can see why you have a bee in your bonnet.
    For the record, we don't celebrate Columbus Day in Jamaica either.

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    1. Marcia, thank you for such a thoughtful response! Your observation that perhaps another day could honor Indigenous People was suggested by the Italian-American community and the Seattle City Council and the Native American community that sponsored the name change resolution had deaf ears -- the Native Americans who supported the resolution simply wanted it on the second Monday of October. (In fact that group, the Native Americans, held a march yesterday through downtown Seattle to support the signing of the resolution by the Mayor today.) On a side note, timing is everything - there was a Seahawks game going on so glad I didn't get stuck in football/protest march traffic). As I learned after writing this post, we do have a Native Americans Day (the Friday after Thanksgiving) and it has gotten little or no attention from any community around here as far as I can tell -- pretty much like Columbus Day.
      Columbus, Cook, Magellan, deGama, and even Henry the Navigator who set off the chain of explorations, not to mention the Nordic explorers and the Phoenicians had the courage to explore the unknown and in their time were rewarded for their acts (even the bad by today's standards). I wonder how history will show our generation and its acts - hopefully we've learned from past wrongs, but with actions like the City Council's that has now offended the Italian-Americans, another proud ethnic group in this area, I wonder just how much we have learned. Again thanks for your time in writing such a thoughtful piece!

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  14. Thanks for the bit of history. Your cruises across the Atlantic sound awesome. I read Susan Branch's book about her trip aboard a cruise ship going from the U.S. to England. It was a fascinating read. Have a great week!

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    1. Beth, Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment. I'll have to look for Susan Branch's book - sounds like one I would like! 'Have a great week!' to you as well~

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  15. Thank you for the History. It is a shame for sure, each to their own but in naming this any other day would be to try and forget what happened. Like most other situations we didn't live in the time, we are not responsible, however such discoveries were made and areas taken over in this way. Not that I want to put a pan in the fire, but in Canada we do the same thing. Father's Day is also named National Gay Pride Day, I believe it is the full week and in some parts almost always the time of Father's Day This could go on forever, better get while the going is good

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    1. Yes, Cindy, I do think the intent of the Seattle City Council was not in trying to share the day, but to eliminate Columbus from any sort of recognition -- which in itself shows how short-sighted and insular their vision is. . .seems to me I simply ignore days that honor people I don't care for because their past actions have made it difficult for me to celebrate them -- that might have been another, far less controversial approach to Columbus Day. . .and as Marcia above suggests, why belittle the importance of Indigenous People's Day with making them share it with the man they obviously so despise. . .

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  16. Everything has to be so politically correct these days. Let's recognize that no one is perfect and that Columbus was a product of his time and culture just as we are today. I applaud the explorers who braved unknown territory to discover what lay beyond the known world.
    Several years ago we visited El Alhambra and stood in the room where Columbus made his pitch to Ferdinand and Isabella. Experiences such as those bring history close.

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    1. Lorrie, I am with you on the travel experiences that bring history so close. . .the more we do travel and learn about history from many perspectives, the more we appreciate the early day explorers. I told Joel that from now on I will vote only for candidates who've traveled and can bring a global perspective to local government - no matter how local the government or who the person might be. Thanks much for taking the time to comment. I agree that we've swung the pendulum on Political Correctness. . .

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  17. PC has become ridiculous, to put it mildly. Love the shots, especially the one of the ship replica. Beautiful!

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    1. I so agree with your PC observation! Glad you enjoyed the photos and thanks so much for the visit and the comments! Hope to see you back again~

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  18. An enlightening post Pat. Good heavens, surely another day could have been chosen to honour the indigenous people.
    Thank you for linking to Mosaic Monday.

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    1. Yes, Judith, another day could have been picked but then the Seattle City Council wouldn't have diminished Columbus's contributions which is what I think their intent was. They were so focused on all that was bad, they couldn't see the good -- which makes me question their ability to look at present-day issues affecting this Northwest city -- I do hope they are able to look beyond a single point of view. By the way, it is Monday - so Happy Thanksgiving to all my neighbors to the North!!!

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  19. Very interesting place. Beautiful shots.

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  20. Great photos - thanks for sharing.
    Enjoy your evening.

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    1. Glenda, thanks for stopping by - hope you'll be back again soon.

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  21. I agree with Judith above, I think another day could have been chosen to honor the indigenous people.. Great post, thanks for sharing... Have a happy week!

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    1. Eileen, thanks for the visit - always appreciated. And yes, if the Indigenous People wanted a day to be recognized, I would think they would have wanted any day BUT Columbus Day. . .but they wanted it and they got it - in Seattle anyway!

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  22. Actually Columbus never set foot on our land - he landed on islands and never even knew where he was - but he began immediately to kill and/or enslave or torture the natives in that land. One day a year to honor the Indigenous people would be a nice way to say we appreciate them and detest what a horrid man Columbus was. It is sad that it is still taught in some schools - white men re-writing history to make it sound like he was a good man. I'm proud that my grandson's school is not giving students the day off for Columbus Day - we should all be so enlightened. Anyone who is against Indigenous People's day only has to look inside at their hateful bigotry.

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    1. Thanks for presenting a different perspective, Anonymous. A fellow blogger made me aware of an excellent piece about Columbus day written by a college professor, Jose Alejandro Amores, you might find it of interest and its title begins, "We are all Columbus. . ." http://thecommentarybyamoros.blogspot.com/search?q=celebrate

      As an aside, I would hope that in the future you feel comfortable in identifying yourself when writing comments here - it is okay to have a different opinion. Often times the automatic blogger spam detector will block those from "Anonymous" sources.

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  23. It is interesting how in my lifetime Columbus has changed from hero to villain in popular opinion. I can see validity on both sides of the argument.

    Your photos of the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean are mesmerizing!

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    1. Hi Pat, Thanks much for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the post and its photos. It is interesting how - as you describe - he's gone from good to bad in the eyes of many and the validity of the disagreement surrounding his actions. Hope to see you back again soon~

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