Where in the World is Toritto?

Some of you may have been wondering where Toritto has been.  Most of you haven’t seen me reading lately.

Well regular readers know I was in New York three weeks ago for the funeral of my Aunt.

I flew back to Florida two weeks ago yesterday and posted the following day.

That night, thanks to the inside of a germ incubating aircraft I was sick as the proverbial dog.

Nauseous.  Acid reflux.  Aches.  Pains.  A hacking dry cough.  Stuffy head.  I must say  the old man was down for the proverbial count.  I spent the better part of a week in my recliner living on chicken soup, over the counter cold medicines and Alka Selzer.

I was in no mood for writing or reading.  Just sleep.

Having no fever and not overly congested I waited for the airplane disease to pass.

It did and I am now fully recovered.

This weekend is Easter – my holiday.

My girls and family are coming (one arriving tonight) and Clark will be here Sunday.  I am hosting 15 or so.  As usual I cook nothing.  I call the caterer.

I will be back next week  to catch up on my reading and post some recent thoughts.

Happy Easter!  Best regards from Florida.

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Thinking of Michael on his Birthday

Michael 1975 – 1985

Thinking of Michael today on what might have been his 44th birthday.

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these;  It might have been!”

She sits beneath a massive oak
in the Garden of Noble Women
Garden of the Promise
for those who have borne the burden
yet never heard the word.

He never walked.
He never fed himself
He never saw the light
or heard a sound.
He never said the Word.

And when he died she buried him amidst her tears
in the Lands of the Lord Calvert
on the road to Padonia.
Now she sits in the quiet of a Summer’s day
waiting for the Promise to be fulfilled.

On the horizon
a kite and a little boy
running o’er the meadow
sun lit mop top hair
dancing in the breeze

part running, part falling toward her
little fingers of his left hand
leading the way
reaching for her
running like little boys run flying a kite.

And as she rises
on young legs
she moves toward him and sees the face of God
the same face, now perfect in His image.

And from his laughing face she hears the Word
the Word God promised
to those who bore the burden
yet never heard the Word.

“Mommy! Mommy!!”


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On Palm – Poem #84

The children shout
We’re here! We’re here!
See their first palm
at Florida’s border.

Bodies relaxing
under palm trees;
cooling breezes

Tall palms stand
outside of Baghdad
giving shade to weak and weary
drawing water from a well

tossing down the sheep skin bag
smiling when they hear the splash
water cold from in the earth
to slake the weak and weary’s thirst

A stranger in a stranger land
a soldier of the Western Empire
sits and watches weak and weary
camels, donkeys, palm trees, sand

while a Tampa palm he knows and loves
shades his momma in her yard
as she works and tends her garden
drawing water from a well

A donkey and a man approach;
a sudden breeze, the palm fronds clatter;
momma’s taking him to church
all dressed up in Sunday’s best

Soldier hears the high fronds chatter
as the palm trees wave and cheer
in his mind he hears “Hosanna!”
a man on a donkey drawing near

Soldier’s heard the song before
long ago and far away
remembers momma pinning palm
lovingly on his Sunday vest.


for those who have never heard the hymns of the Eastern church in Arabic

“God is with us.”


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It Ain’t Easy BeingTwo and a Half (Almost)!

Getting ready for another day!

Mommy took me to my new school!  And its right by my house so I don’t have to commute anymore!  Yay!


and play!

Then I came home and rode my bicycle before dinner!

While mommy checked her orchids.


What a day!  Time for bed!


See you Easter Poppa!

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Python Park, Florida

Captured day before yesterday, a 17.5 foot female-carrying 73 eggs, captured in the Big Cypress National Reserve.  It was a new record for the area.

Well the Great Florida Burmese Python hunt is on!  For the next 60 days our specially selected, qualified and licensed “python hunters” will hunt the invasive species in the Florida Everglades.  They are paid by the foot for each snake killed and presented to authorities, with a grand prize for the biggest snake brought in!

Now for those of you living far away from the great Sunshine State, in the quiet reaches of Northern England for example, it may come as news to you that not only do we have alligators  – we have Burmese pythons!  No need to go to Burma or you local zoo to see one!  Come to Miami and take Alligator Alley west towards Naples and stop in the Everglades!  Put on your shorts, insect repellant  and a good pair of boots,  take the wife and kiddies and walk around!  Take a fan boat ride through the glade!

Our local pythons are, as I said, an invasive specie.  They have been around since sometime in the early eighties.

Native to South Asia, the snakes first came to Florida as part of the exotic pet trade. The infestation began, officials surmise, when pets were released into the wild, either intentionally or accidentally when they may have slithered out of Miami-area pet stores after Hurricane Andrew rocked the city in 1992.  Hehe.

“Voracious, unscrupulous eaters, the snakes are decimating the state’s small mammals.  A January 2012 study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, estimated that Florida’s raccoon population had fallen 99.3 percent, opossum by 98.9 percent, and bobcat by 87.5 percent between 2003 and 2011.

State officials have since gotten quite creative in their attempt to exterminate the unwanted visitors.

They’ve enlisted the help of python-sniffing dogs, specially designed python traps and even supported turning the critters into handbags.”

“Bought you a new bag honey!”

Researchers are now using male pythons wearing radio transmitters to find breeding grounds. Once females are located they are removed with the idea of controlling the invasive species.

The Everglades has become an immense breeding ground for the Burmese python, with an estimated 150,000 of the slithering giants thriving in the warm waters, lush swamplands, and saw grasses that dominate the peninsula’s southern reach.

“There’s nothing stopping them, the native wildlife are in trouble,” Kenneth Krysko, of the Florida Museum of Natural History, told the AP last year when a 17-foot, 7-inch specimen was caught and killed. That record-setter has since been eclipsed by a 19-foot, 128-pound specimen, killed in May.

The specie has no natural enemies in Florida.

In an effort to reduce the population the State now holds an annual python hunt  It began two days ago and already over 100 of the slithering giants have been “liquidated.”

So come on all   you red neck wannabees!  Now’s your chance!

On the other hand maybe I may start a tour company for adventurous out-of-town visitors.

“Python Park!”

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Orchids and Bamboo in the Secret Garden






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Stalin’s Children – A Re-post

Joe Stalin died on March 5, 1953.  I was almost twelve years old at the time.

While such things rarely mattered to kids in middle school, then called junior high, Stalin’s death was the talk of the school yard at recess.

A few kids said “Who’s Joe Stalin?”  Most of us however knew him as the devil incarnate of the Soviet Union.  He was especially well known among those Italian kids who had socialist or communist/anarchist relatives.  Like me.

“Uncle Joe” as he was known during the war when the Soviet Union was bearing the brunt of the fighting against Hitler’s fascist armies became the evil communist again after the war was over.  By the time the Korean War broke out he was arch enemy number one in the West.

Now this is not to say or even infer that he wasn’t.  Stalin transformed the massive Russia of peasants and farmers he inherited from Lenin into a mighty industrial powerhouse and the world’s second military power, albeit at the cost of tens of millions of lives.  He was a paranoid murderous dictator of the first rank.

Stalin was born in 1879 in Gori, Georgia, the son of a cobbler and an illiterate peasant woman.  He irst practiced his craft in a village shop but later in a shoe factory in the city.  Stalin’s father died in 1891. Stalin’s mother, Ekaterina, a devoutly religious peasant sent her teenage son to the theological seminary in Tpilisi (Tiflis), Georgia, where Stalin prepared for the ministry. Shortly before his graduation, however, he was expelled in 1899 for spreading subversive views.

Stalin then joined the underground revolutionary Marxist movement in Tpilisi and his eventual rise to the leadership of the communist party of the Soviet Union is history.

“Although always depicted as a towering figure, Stalin, in fact, was fairly short. His personality was highly controversial, and it remains a mystery. Stalin was crude and cruel and, in some important ways, a primitive man. In political life he tended to be cautious and slow-moving, and his writing style was much the same. Stalin was at times, however, a clever speaker and a fierce debater. He seems to have possessed boundless energy and an amazing ability to absorb detailed knowledge.”

Stalin had two wives and three children.  The eldest, Yakov was born to Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina Svanidze in 1907.   Svanidze was, along with his mother, Stalin’s great love. They wed in 1906 and had been married only 16 months when she died of tuberculosis at age 22 while her son was still only nine months old. Her death greatly affected the future dictator – comrades, worried for his sanity, took away his revolver for fear he might put the gun to his temple. At her funeral, a grief-stricken Stalin told a friend, ‘This creature softened my heart of stone. She died and with her died my last warm feelings for humanity’.

In March 1921, Stalin’s second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, gave birth to Yasily. Their second child, Svetlana, was born five years later. In November 1932, Nadezhda, suffering from depression, shot herself. Naturally, her death affected both children who, from then on, were brought up by a succession of nannies.

And like tens of millions of others in Stalin’s Soviet Union, his children did not live happy lives.

Deprived of his father’s affections and upset by a failed romance, Yakov once tried to shoot himself. As he lay bleeding, his father scathingly remarked, ‘He can’t even shoot straight’.

Yakov joined the Red Army at the outbreak of war in the East in June 1941, serving as a lieutenant in the artillery. On the first day of the war, his father told him to ‘Go and fight’. On 16 July, within a month of the Nazi invasion, Yakov was captured and taken prisoner. Stalin considered all prisoners as traitors to the motherland and those that surrendered he demonized as ‘malicious deserters’. ‘There are no prisoners of war,’ he once said, ‘only traitors to their homeland’.

Families of PoWs, or deserters, faced the harshest consequences for the “failings” of their sons or husbands – arrest and exile.   Yakov may have been Stalin’s son but his family were not to be spared. He was married to a Jewish girl, Julia. Stalin had managed to overcome his innate anti-Semitism and grew to be quite fond of his daughter-in-law. Nonetheless, following Yakov’s capture, Julia was arrested, separated from her three-year-old daughter and sent to the gulag. After two years, Stalin sanctioned her release but she remained forever traumatized by the experience.

In 1943, Stalin was offered the chance to have his son back. The Germans had been defeated at Stalingrad and their Field Marshal, Friedrich Paulus, was taken prisoner by the Soviets, their highest-ranking capture of the war. The Germans offered a swap – von Paulus for Yakov. Stalin refused, saying, ‘I will not trade a Marshal for a Lieutenant’. As harsh it may seem, Stalin’s reasoning did contain a logic – why should his son be freed when the sons of other Soviet families suffered – ‘what would other fathers say?

On 14 April 1943, the 36-year-old Yakov died. The Germans maintained they shot him while he was trying to escape.  Other sources indicated that he died by throwing himself onto an electric fence.

Stalin’s younger son, Vasily joined an aviation school at the age of 17, despite obtaining poor grades. His father’s aides had to ensure his entry. Stalin once described Vasily as a ‘spoilt boy of average abilities’ and advised his son’s teachers to be stricter with him.

Once enrolled in the school, Vasily used his name to obtain privileges usually reserved for the most senior members. Stalin, on hearing of his son’s abuses, ordered an immediate end to his special treatment.

As a young man, Vasily continually used his name to further his career, to obtain perks and seduce women. It was a trait that his father deplored. Vasily drank to excess and, again exploiting the family name, denounced anyone he disliked or barred his way. Amazingly, he managed to graduate as a pilot. Continually drunk, he would commandeer planes and fly them while inebriated. Vasily was married twice but never managed to curtail his womanizing.

Promoted to the rank of colonel at the beginning of the war, Vasily was elevated numerous times, becoming a Major-General in 1946, a rank far beyond his ability. His drinking, loutish behaviour and intolerable temper made him both unpopular and a liability.

Vasily was frightened of no one but his father, in front of whom he was often reduced to a stammering wreck. He lived in fear of what would become of him after his father’s death believing that Stalin’s successor, whoever it may be, would ‘tear me apart’.

Sure enough, following Stalin’s death he was dismissed from the air force and arrested for ‘misappropriation of state property’ – using air force funds to finance his lavish lifestyle. He served seven years and on appealing to Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, was released in 1960. But, within a year, he was back in prison, this time for drunkenness and causing a traffic accident. Ill health secured his release within a year, but he was exiled to Kazan where he cut a lonely and rejected figure. His years of hard drinking caught up with him and he died on 19 March 1962, two days short of his 41st birthday.

Stalin’s daughter Svetlana was born on 28 February in 1926 and was undoubtedly his favorite.  Stalin was to her a loving father and called her “Birdie.” He lavished her with gifts and brought her the latest American films.

Her teenage days were marked with the war.  Once, when she was 18 years old, while setting the table for dinner in the Kremlin, she met Winston Churchill. According to “The New York Times”, they had pretty interesting conversation.

She became the darling of the nation, similar to Shirley Temple in the United States. Thousands of babies were named after her. She worked as a translator in English and literary editor. The first of five marriages she entered was with schoolmate of her brother Vasily, but she soon divorced and married Yuri Zhdanov with whom she had a daughter. Later she married Ivan Alexandrovich, a prominent Soviet scientist.

In 1962, she decided to be baptized in the Orthodox church, along with her daughter. For a while she lived in India where she got married for the fourth time, and when she was ordered to return to Russia, she immediately asked for political asylum in the United States. There she published “Twenty Letters to a friend,” a book in which she wrote about her father’s life and the Kremlin, and the book caused a sensation. Some say she earned about $2.5 million from the book.

Her fifth marriage was with William Peters in 1970 and she gave birth to a daughter, Olga. She took the name Lana Peters, which she maintained even after the divorce. From America, she traveled to Cambridge, England where her daughter was studying.

She unexpectedly returned to Moscow in 1984, where she was welcomed with enthusiasm by the government which immediately returned her USSR citizenship but she did not stay.

She settled in Wisconsin in 1992, and lived in a monastery for a short time. She died on 22 November in 2011, due to the colon cancer. In the following year, the FBI removed the label ”Classified” on the documents with information about her life in America.

And thus the unhappy lives of the children of Stalin of the USSR.  I guess Svetlana’s was the best.

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