Wednesday, September 16, 2015



We all know martial arts, as practiced in the Far East, as being centuries old and also constantly evolving, as any form of art does. We're also pretty familiar with Kung Fu—mostly from Jackie Chan movies; which is an entertaining way to learn about how things to “Not Try At Home, Kiddies.” Judo is a much more recent art, which translates as “The Gentle Way” and was developed in Japan in 1882.  Aikido, however is even more recent than that.
The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (b.1883) made the study of Budo (warriorship) his life's work. He was a figure of great renown who traveled all over Japan, studying under great masters of many arts. His diligence and discipline in the mastery of sword and staff brought him students from far and wide, though he was more deeply interested in the study of the spiritual world than anything else.

[Morihei Ueshiba, Founder]

Upon returning from the Russo-Japanese war in 1905, he moved to a small house located on a mountain outside his home village. He lived there and studied intensely, spending his days training his body and spending his nights in prayer.

At age 36, he met his spiritual teacher, Onisaburo Deguchi, and eventually at in the spring of 1925 at age 42 proclaimed that he had a “divine vision.”  At that moment nature's process became clear and he knew that the purpose of Budo was the protection of all living things.  

Ueshiba is known to have said:
"Budo is not felling the opponent by force; nor is it a tool to lead the world into destruction by arms. True Budo is to accept the spirit of the universe, keep the peace of the world, correctly produce, protect and cultivate all beings in nature.”

Morihei Ueshiba retired to the countryside in 1942 at age 59, and spent the last years of his life in deep prayer and teaching aikido as a way to reconcile the world.

[Jet, in black Hakama, instructing 3 of the more junior students.]

Aikido’s founder ultimately understood the harmony and power of the creative process from which all things evolve. His art was the art of the empty hand, staff and sword; his creative way was Budo.
I, as a westerner, and having spent very little time in Asia, can only dimly conceive of what Morihei Ueshiba was trying to convey. I do understand from years and years of trying to master the viola the idea of underlying concepts which are to be ingrained into your very fiber, but these concepts in music are not generally seeming at odds with one another, such as using force versus keeping the peace.

[Jet, reading from the son's founder, before warming up for the day's lesson.]

I do believe Aikido contains one of those “everything that rises must converge” concepts that scientists, philosophers and theologians talk about, something like, “When you reach the pinnacle of a discipline, that would seem to be at complete variance with another, for instance, Mathematics, or Astrophysics, you become one with the Universe, or “see God.”
The very Catholic Southern author Flannery O'Connor uses this as a theme in many of her short stories, beginning with the aptly named “EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE”. While her stories often point to man’s shortcomings and greed, she balances this with characters who are seeking something better than just the every-day materialism that she saw around her. I believe that statement to be true and it is why people strive so hard to learn every bit that they can regarding the world around them, in an attempt to unify the concrete things that they can see and touch with the spiritual things and they can’t see or touch, but feel to be true.

I do believe Aikido contains one of those “everything that rises must converge” concepts that scientists, philosophers and theologians talk about, something like, “When you reach the pinnacle of a discipline, that would seem to be at complete variance with another, for instance, Mathematics, or Astrophysics, you become one with the Universe, or “see God.”
The very Catholic Southern author Flannery O'Connor uses this as a theme in many of her short stories, beginning with the aptly named “EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE”. While her stories often point to man’s shortcomings and greed, she balances this with characters who are seeking something better than just the every-day materialism that she saw around her. wrote of this in many of her short stories. I believe that short, concise title of one of her short stories to be true and it is why people strive so hard to learn every bit that they can regarding the world around them, in an attempt to unify the concrete things that they can see and touch with the spiritual things and they can’t see or touch, but feel to be true.

So… to try and learn more about Aikido, I went along to an Aikido class that my friend Jet taught on Thursday night and found out quite a lot by watching her teach.


Each lesson begins with a formal greeting and finishes with a formal closing. For the greeting, Jet adopts a “seiza” (formal seated) posture and bows facing the front, with the students behind her, doing the same. She turns to face the class and chants “Onegai shimasu!” and the students echo her.

[This is the "Shomen" or the upper seat of the Dojo. My fine picture-taking skills are once more in force. You cannot see the picture of the founder, but you can see the practice weapons on either side. This place is clean, airy, and smells of cedar and is delightful. I could have perched here in my corner for a week.]
Jet asks the class what do they think “Onegai shimasu” may mean. A shrug, a guess, an answer. She laughs and explains it means, “Please train with me!” It’s apparent they’ve gone over this before.

I should mention that this is a mixed-level class. Some students are very new, some are black belts, some are kids, and there is a mixture of adults as well. Jet’s told me she’s passionate about teaching the children and showing them an entirely new way to look at life, and it shows. She's at ease with these kids and they respond to her (actually, she's wonderful with everyone).
She takes a book out of her Hakama (the wide skirted black pants worn over the bottom of the gi—the uniform) and explains that today's reading is from the founder's son. The students all gather round her and she proceeds to read.
At this juncture, I should explain that the mat space in the Dojo takes up almost the entire room. I have taken off my shoes, as required in the Dojo, and am sitting quietly in the corner, observing. As I am not a student, I did not ask permission to step upon the mat. The room is big and hollow-sounding and I can’t hear the reading well, so during the five minutes that she reads to her students, I took a few minutes to play "tourist," and look around.
The smell is already familiar to me. When I traveled to Japan and discovered Japanese bathhouses and tatami mats in our hotel rooms, they were the most wonderful, clean-smelling things ever. This smell is the same and it is wonderful. Now and then, a student appears from another room and waits quietly on a small carpet, for Jet's permission to step up onto the mat itself. This is all done quietly and with Jet's welcoming smile, as she reads.
I carefully inspect the Shomen; the upper seat, or the shrine, which houses the picture of the founder and “the spirit of Aikido.” It is beautiful. All of the students' practice swords are lined up carefully and you can see that everything in this Dojo is lovingly and carefully tended.
Jet is done with her reading and briskly gets to her feet; her students follow. It is time to begin warming up and they do so with sets of jumping jacks, crunches, and a couple of sets of other things I didn't really recognize. All of these were to limber up for something else I had never seen and was totally delighted with when I did.
This was a series of exercises that began with large, sweeping movements of the arms and hands, back and forth, with the knees slightly bent, and feet slightly set wider than the shoulders. Throughout the entire process, it looked as though the people, led by Jet, were moving as one (they had obviously done this many, many times).  They appeared to pour water on first their heads, and then shoulders. The source of this “water” was the stream they were standing in, and they had to cup the water in their hands for each successive dousing and it was one of the most lyrical and beautiful things I have ever seen. They worked their stretching exercises from each leg, to knee, and finally sat in the “stream” and worked over every toe on each foot. What a marvelous way to warm up.

Now that everyone was thoroughly warm, it was time to begin practicing some Aikido moves.
Ai – Harmony, unity; to be in accord with or to join.
Ki – Spirit; life force or universal creative energy.
Do – The way or the path.
Jet demonstrated several moves with uke Alan Abelson (who by the way received his black belt two weekends ago during the Dojo’s umbrella organization(ASU)’s Regional Testing Seminar. YAY ALAN!!).

[Everyone, working on the exercises demonstrated by Jet and her uke. (Uke: “One who receives, or one being thrown.”)]
After the demonstrations, both Jet and Alan would pair off with several of the students (kohai; junior student and sempai; senior student) and go through each move, making sure both parties were very clear on the actions and movements, follow through, take-down, force, and release. It was fascinating. I am almost certain I have the sequences wrong, but the concept is clear.

As the students worked through their various exercises, they treated one another with the greatest respect and they also seemed to have a lot of fun doing what they were doing. There was a woman there around my age, who told me afterward she was taking Aikido “just to do be able to it!”
The kids were going through their movements and would work with one another or another adult. There was great concentration shown on the parts of these children. They were having fun—and learning, too.

[Alan, pairing off with a much smaller student, helping him. A joy to watch them both!]

[Here, Jet and Alan go through a flurry of moves, after she carefully describes what they are going to be doing. There is no sound, because I'm on my Smartphone with the sound turned off; typical me.]
When the hour had ended, there was a formal closing followed by an informal meeting up by the Shomen, with all of the students gathered in a circle. The feeling of inclusion for all during the entire lesson was apparent and I had the sense that these people were really part of a coherent group.
[End of class, with Jet smiling!]
Aikido has so many interesting things about it, I don’t think I couldn’t pick any one thing that was most appealing. It has a flavor of Zen Buddhism and the idea of living calmly and living a “centered” life (not in the ego-centric way) but just being in the “now”(as in the Zen hotdog vendor and the guy who says, “Make me one with everything”).
This encounter was also appealing in this world of over-stimulation, over-medication and over-complication. We forget that there are simpler and nobler truths that have nothing to do with us. While we may be out trying to save the world, or get the latest iPhone or pretending Kanye West does in fact, make sense, people like Julie ‘Jet’ Tollen and the Dojo co-founders Guy Hagen and Don Ellingsworth are busy running a little school, making better people for the future.
I have provided links to the website, which contains their contact information. If you are at all intrigued, I urge you to give them a call. They are happy, friendly folks and fun to be around. That is saying something coming from the one of the world's worst curmudgeons!
[I just thought the floor was pretty, too!]

Friday, September 11, 2015


This is the 14th year since the horrific events of September 11, 2001, I thought I would take a moment and write about things that have changed personally, rather than globally. This is actually the 4th time I have posted the main body of this post describing the events from my perspective. But since so very much has changed in ways I never expected, I thought it might be interesting (well, to me at any rate) to go over some of the particulars.

On the day of September 11, 2001, I was married, to He Who Shall Not Be Named (Well, why the hell not! His name is Bill Nunnally and he is a despicable liar, philanderer, works at - the CEO Teri Saunders, though well-meaning, but  clueless, may yet come to realize Bill is not good for her, nor her organization - and he will undoubtedly come to a sad and lonely end, based on his previous behavior). I was also still sighted and able to drive. I worked at Verizon but played viola and violin and traveled all over the Southeast of Florida. We had just bought 2 acres of prime land and were putting a house on that land. My mother was still alive. I still had all of my pets; Trotsky, Boots, Rusty and Eric. There was no reason to believe that anything would change.

Then, in May of 2002, my mother died. I had noticed shortly before her death, that I was having a bit of a problem with swelling feet and although I could see, my brain was registering 2 of everything, but in typical Mary fashion, I ignored all of that. I settled her affairs and came back to Tampa and thought that things would go as they always had, but my husband had other ideas. He decided that he wanted to “save” the world, I guess, so he quit his high-dollar job and got a Bachelor of Science in Social Work and went back to working at 9.00 an hour jobs. Meanwhile, I noticed I was having trouble with my breathing and I was going blind. The rest, they say is history.

I cannot say if I had not gone through all of that if I would be the person I am today. I know I am compassionate. I am also brave, and tough as hell and honest. I had to go through all of that shit to get here. Is it fair? Most certainly not; something I helped obtain is not being shared with me, but it's only things we're talking about, not values. I can say, that there is limitless love and compassion in dealing with those less fortunate than I and that is beyond price. I've also learned that we cannot allow ourselves to get caught up into “situational ethics.” That is pure, unmitigated horseshit. It's either right, or it's wrong.

Requiem in Time of War” by Ärvo Part is actually a very personal piece of music, and was written in honor of Benjamin Britten. I've cited it many times, but will set it aside for now. Although, the section I cite is so powerful, it is deeply personal, and the tragedy that occurred on 9/11, was felt globally. I have many Muslim friends who mourn this. What human would not? Any faith is based on principles of doing right, and in any cosmology, it is generally a given that the universe is infinite, therefore, we can allow for infinite faiths, as long as we're not bashing each other over the head about God.

Samuel Barber, who was an American composer originally wrote a string quartet, that contains the famous “Adagio for Strings.” It is used in time of mourning, and for music nerds, has a most interesting notation, not 4/4, but 8/8. It is heart-breaking and I have played it many, many times. It never fails to move me, but it is tragedy on a larger scale than that of Part's. The quartet itself was written in 1936, but the Adagio is the most frequently played movement, and generally with huge string orchestras.

Leonard Bernstein conducting; this is probably the best rendition and one of the finest performances I have ever heard. Naturally, I've played it countless times and adore this piece.

When I first started this, I wasn’t sure I would post it, it seemed too personal and maybe banal, but it is heartfelt and events of this scope can make us remember again why we cherish life, love and each other, even after all these years. Also, it had nothing to do with homelessness. Well, maybe figuratively; if you think about it long enough, maybe we are all rootless. I still feel the dystonia of that event and as if I’ve lost my already somewhat tenuous anchor as a citizen to this country. Maybe with all the events from September 11, 2001 until now, I just feel betrayed.

Since this was first posted, two years ago, again much has changed. Jim died on May 13th, 2015, 10 days after I finished playing Shostakovich's “Fifth Symphony” for Big Orchestra, and he slipped into his final coma exactly 13 years to the day I was in Kingman, AZ, arranging my mother's funeral. In a supreme act of selfishness, my then-husband, who was supposed to help me, left me there to return to Tampa. I drove through 10 states by myself, in my mother's truck, with a trailer, and her cat and dog. It took me a week. Upon my return, the first thing my ex did was present me with an invoice for his plane ticket from Tampa to Phoenix. I knew firmly what his priorities were at that time; what had been suspected was confirmed and I saw little reason to try and be any sort of confidante or comfort to him in any regard. Any words from him, were then mitigated by his actions.

But, this is not just an indictment of him, but an indictment of mankind and our world in general. As I've learned to do less with more, I've become stronger. As I've learned to question my own motives and agenda and bring myself to task, I've become more compassionate and forgiving.

The ultimate test was in helping Jim die in May. It wasn't just listening to someone who really wasn't there anymore, because he had moments of lucidity and I listened carefully for them; he was a wise and kind and generous man, and knew I was worth the care and attention, as does any human being. We responded to one another and appreciated the gifts and also the flaws that we both brought to the relationship. We had our disagreements, but there was never resentment, only forgiveness. I learned so much from him, as I did my mother.

And so, this is in a way a memoriam to him as well, as to my mom. For anyone who has ever lost anyone, you know that there is just never enough time. Today, on September 11, 2015, we hear of a new horror; the falling of a crane into a mosque in Mecca in preparation for the hajj. I am so very sorry for those victims and their families as well. My prayers go out to them.

In a way, this is a sort of re-post. I’ve left some of the original material from last year’s post, “Untitled,” including some of the events that occurred on September 11,2001, but have included some new; too much has happened since then, in my life and in the world around us. My writing style has changed somewhat as well, which is to be expected, I guess.

Below, is the original post that I published on September 11, 2011. This blog is over 4 years old now; unreal. What was to be a blog about a bunch of idiots in a homeless shelter, turned into an oddyssey. I am currently working on a book of the original posts, which will come out as an e-book, probably sometime after NaNoWriMo 2015. Peace and love to all; hug your loved ones and tell them you love them.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 I was working at Verizon, in the Southeast Region Tech Center, up around North Tampa. I worked in the complex that houses the CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team) for the entire southeast region. I was also just home from a quick junket to teach a software application class developed in-house by Verizon and our fabulous in-house Software Development department, or whatever we called ourselves back in the day.

By 2001, I had worn many hats at Verizon; platform support/network support specialist (fancy babble for “reset idiots’ Unix, IBM 5250 and Win passwords,”) Lotus Notes support (which should have been run on an OS/2 platform, hence the constant garble of WinNotes Email, and effed up Data Bases) and managed to supervise 95 floor technicians, who on any given day, were “hosting” giant “parties” of “Doom” and hoping I wouldn’t hear/see their multi-player raids. I caught them occasionally, but far be it from me to bitch and report. They got a lash with a wet noodle, unless I was in-game on my work computer, then they got ignored. Just kidding, but I am a Clan Elder in Runescape. . . never mind.

I had kicked around in PC Support and Mainframe Support at Verizon and IBM and was driving around the Southeast, playing gigs and fixing customer’s computer bullshit from my hotel rooms at night. No wonder my marriage collapsed. I had gotten bored and stale with Tech Support and was offered a position in Development/Implementation. Much more fun was to be had installing and teaching classes in our software at various Verizon-type places for about a year before the Trade Center attack.

On the Wednesday before the planes hit the World Trade Center, I had flown over them at sunset, courtesy of Delta Airlines and Verizon. I had just finished a 3 day teaching gig at the old Bell Labs up just north of Boston, Massachusetts. I remember the Towers; clear, lambent and vivid still. They were molten gold and bronze. Coppers and greens glinted off the glass surfaces. The argent light made them appear almost live and to move as we flew over them.  They looked to be so permanent and so monumental. I thought they would be there always. I was given a gift from God that day. Beautiful and breathtaking they were and of course later, heart-breaking. I was flying home to Verizon to the Tech Data Center where I was based.

The following Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was on driving to our Tech Data Center to teach a teleconference via Communications Bridge. You know, the “conference” call where twenty-five people all get on a phone call and holler at one another for four-hour stints at once to “learn” the newest, hottest application of bug patches from Development. Some are playing rap in the background, some are eating their lunches. Most are anywhere on their PCs but where I have asked them to be, so they can “follow along” with the gibberish I’m trying to impart.

I left my house in Central Tampa at about 20 minutes to 9 that morning. It’s about 20 to 25 minutes from the Verizon Tech Center. As I was motoring up Nebraska Avenue, I turned on 970 WFLA. I tended to listen to talk radio when I drove, because I play so much music. The morning show is good; local personalities. I avoid Rush, Glenn (shame on Tampa for giving him a boost) but I love the morning folks.

I tuned in on the middle of an interview with some guy who was living less than six blocks from the WTC. I just caught the end about the plane hitting one tower. I thought, “Geeze, those poor towers. Flown into again? Bad luck, yadda-yadda.” In truth, I can’t remember specifics, but that was my general feeling. Then I heard this huge roar and people screaming. The radio interviewer lost his composure and the guy being interviewed was completely hysterical. Then, the radio feed was lost. I knew we were under attack.

I hit the accelerator and went from 30 to 90 in less than two minutes. I ran red lights. There were sirens, but I never saw police, never saw fire trucks. I dodged other motorists, missing them I’m sure, by inches. I had to get to Verizon and in my Center before they shut it down. I parked in Visitor Parking and grabbed Wolf out of my back seat. It had taken me about seven minutes from the time I heard the second tower impact while on Nebraska Avenue to get to work in North Tampa. Wolf, or rather his case, weighs a ton. I schlepped viola and self up the drive and got to the walkway. The damn doors were closing. I took off my heels and sprinted. Squeaked just into the main area and ran up to the third floor, my lair. My cubby hole sat above all the Mainframes and Communications hardware for the Southeast, that were housed on the first and second floors. Wondered if we were a target.
We had huge plasma monitors covering two walls in a room that houses about 150 people. This place was never quiet. I could always hear the phones, people talking on Bridge calls, technicians asking questions, laughing and brainstorming. The hardware guys would be lugging stuff around, installing and un-installing stuff and adding to the din. This center is a hub for all sorts of telecommunications support, not just in the Continental U.S., but in Europe, Central America and parts of the Pacific.

It was always a noisy mess, but I loved the noisy mess part of it, as much as anything else in the job. The Center was funereal on that day. No phones ringing, no conversations, no hardware being shunted around. There were probably 80 or 90 people just standing, watching the monitors. The Towers were still standing. No one spoke. No one moved. I stood beside my boss, Kat Torres. An aside; Kat was the first person I met at IBM. I went to Verizon about two years after she left IBM for Verizon to work. Kat is my dear, dear friend. I am god-mother to her daughter. She and I stood there silent, crying. I have no idea how many hours we stood side by side. We left only to try and contact our loved ones.

The class was never officially canceled. I rescheduled a new time for the following Tuesday, but it would be almost a month before I gathered my people for another one. There were seven people from Verizon on the roof or roofs that day. I do not know the specifics, but I do know that some of the lines and routers continued to emit “handshakes” for a long time after that day. We could trace their IP signatures via the mainframes. I am not a hardware person. My expertise lies in software and networking, so I am unfamiliar with why this would be so. I used to monitor the transmittals regularly until they ceased. Why, I don’t know, but I felt compelled to see them, to make sure they were there. Maybe I hoped that against all reason, the people were still there. Most certainly I was mourning; for all of us and dreading what I knew we were going to become.

For us to go from that time to this and look back is probably no more compelling than looking back at any great national tragedy. There are still things that beg the question “why?” Since then and now, our new marches into Folly, Iraq, and Afghanistan, that Graveyard of Empires and countless other Geo-political messes, we’ve had the so-called small disasters, the Aurora shootings, American Nazis killing Sikhs and countless other hatreds. The casual and not so casual cruelties, the fanatical hatred, vitriol, spite and venom that we spew and use to cause destruction just baffles me. I can think of no reason to justify any of this. Not political ideology, religion, patrimony; none of it is justified.

This is one of those days when I feel unable to state or sum up with any clarity how it can be overcome. The only thing I can do, as my own small confuse-a-what self, is to do what I’ve been doing. Go on my way. Doing what I do. Sow my confusion, along with my bit of hope, love, inspiration, caring and laughter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


NOTE: In light of last month's post, I had intended to write on something else, and had already written this one, but was waiting for the appropriate time to post it. But some intervening things occurred, so I pulled out the "duty" post. More on this development at the end.

In the course of our daily lives, I think most of us try to learn something new, or pick up an oddity here and there, but to have something come to light that has been so blatantly disregarded and ignored, and by my own country, the United States just seems, well, outlandish. Such is the case of the “Teardrop Monument” that was given to the U. S. in 2006, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, by President Vladimir Putin and the Russian people in acknowledgment of the terror and sorrow the United States and the world suffered on that day in 2001. I should note here that twenty-six Russians also died on that day, in the WTC.

The statue is 100 feet high, and you can see Manhattan in the background; this was by design of the sculptor, as it is the first thing you see upon entering into the harbor, before the Statue of Liberty, even.

Why am I writing about this now? Because it was never acknowledged; never reported in the press. I never knew the monument existed until today, nearly nine years after it was installed and dedicated and I am appalled that we, as a country, never expressed our appreciation towards the Russians, our wrote about it in our press. We never said anything publicly to them, nor did we reach out to them in our time of sorrow, and say, “yes, we are one in this”, but then, we're great at doing that. Lest we appear weak, or stoop down to what? Our inferiors? There is nothing inferior about the Russians and I do not understand why it was never announced in the press, or the ceremony aired on t.v. But, I do understand the mindset of our politicians.

Around the base of the statue is every name of a person who died on 9/11.

We have become the world's bullies. We have become small-minded and we no longer give credit where credit is due. This is nothing that is part of any one administration, but over time has become part of the entire institution of foreign policy. Take Ukraine. I do know that there are U. S. soldiers on the ground there now, in an "advisory capacity", but to what purpose, who can say. This sets a hugely dangerous precedent, because once you have feet on terra firma, it's not too far from shedding blood on one side or the other; it's de facto. Either unintentionally, accidentally, or by provocation, someone gets hurt, and then, we get drawn in. That is pretty much how we got pulled into Viet Nam, Tonkin Gulf (an entire fabrication, later admitted by Robert MacNamara and General William Westmoreland) not withstanding.

Yes, there was a lot of territory-gobbling going on over the centuries, and there are historically sound reasons for every case. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a threat to Russia when the Tsars took the territory in the years between 1654 and 1917. Lenin annexed Western Ukraine after it lost during the Ukraine-Soviet Civil War. Stalin annexed that part of Ukraine that was lost in World War II and Khruschev annexed the Crimea because Turkey was an ally and part of NATO, although it was considered an "administrative gesture".

This map speaks for itself; most of the Ukrainian-only speakers are in the west; the Russian-only are in the east. But that doesn't tell the whole story, Between each region, there are very nebulously drawn lines, where for generations, people have gone back and forth. What they hate and despise one day, will be loved dearly the next. One of the most astonishing things to me is this: in any conflict that is regional, or in the case of a Civil War, you have the greatest number of atrocities. Is it perhaps because the combatants are so much like one another? It's one of the reasons the Scots can't get their own house in order.

The problem with Ukraine is this: one minute, one batch of Ukrainians are pro-Russian. Next week, they're burning Putin effigies in their front yards. This is more of a territorial dispute, or tribal and cannot be “overseen” by outsiders. In Mariupol, right now, for instance, one patch of folks are being shelled, but they literally have no clue if it's the pro- or anti- Russian or Ukrainian forces. After centuries of to-ing and fro-ing and inter-marrying, they don't even know. We DO. NOT. BELONG. THERE. PERIOD.

The stepping stones and memorials carved lovingly by sculptor Zulpar Tsereteli in the walkway that surrounds the monument.

The other thing is this: Russia is a proud, tough country; etched in blood and determination. They did not survive and win World War II, just because we cobbled up Lend-Lease and gave them a phony garden-hose in the form of uniforms and what-nots. They had the guts and the balls to survive by doing things like, swimming the Donets River, with two people and one rifle to land in Stalingrad and fight what seemingly was a  lost cause, and at the end of it, what had been a charming city of 500,000, was nothing more that a pile of rubble and ash, with 1,500 starving civilians, and 900,000 German soldiers who surrendered, under the command of their General, Heinz Guderian. It was the turning point of a vicious, vicious war, and the Russians still fought on offensively for another two and a half years.

In Stalingrad alone, the fight went on in buildings, on floors of buildings, from room to room, to try and determine the winner. Stalin dug in, and with his Red Army and their certainty that they could not lose THIS battle, or the war would be lost, they fought on through the deadly winter. It was hardly worth mentioning that there was no “city” left, it was a battle to the death between two foes and the blood flowed. The Russians took full advantage of psychological warfare in using snipers and death came from nowhere to the German, when it was least expected; smoking a cigaret or taking a leak. The Wehrmacht ground itself against an iron foe that would not budge and the German Army finally relented; exhausted, spent, humiliated and would never again advance in the East.

The body count for both military and civilians and death camp victims has been estimated as high as 55,000,000, while American casualties run about 458,000, so, when the Russians come to give us a statue acknowledging our pain, don't you think they know a little something about it?

I know there's an old-style Menshevik lurking around somewhere in me. I do so love these old Soviet-style prints from the war. They were churned out by the thousands in the USSR in the Great Patriotic War as it's called in Russia, but this particular one comes from a Russian game I play, and no, it's not Tanki, Jeremy. :D

It was around the day of, or maybe the day after 9/11, I was watching the reactions from other people around the world, and they talked to this elderly man in Krasnya Ploshad, or Red Square and he was crying. There were flowers everywhere; it seemed the entire floor of Red Square must be covered in them, as people came to show their respects. The man was talking and crying. He had fought against Hitler and he couldn't believe that the evil had not been vanquished. I was so moved by him and by his outpouring of grief for what had been an old foe. Surely, we had patched up those differences. I remembered the time I had seen a wing of the RAF sit down to dinner with a wing of the German Luftwaffe they'd flown against; my father called me to tell me about it and thought it was wonderful. If they could let bygones be bygones, so should we, I thought.

Rather like the Viet Nam War Memorial, Zulpar Tsereteli, placed a plaque at the foot of his monument with the name of every person who died on 9/11. 

Yet, the recent events in Ukraine and the discovery of this lovely Monument given to us in a a spirit of love and empathy, has gone completely unnoticed or remarked on by the American public. The sculptor, Zulpar Tsereteli designed it and chose the spot in Bayonne, NJ, where several of the victims' families lived and where it can be viewed with Manhattan in the background. The man also paid for it with money from his own pocket and donations from Russian people. Ironically, the first thing people will see now, when entering the United States by sea, is this “Teardrop Monument” and then the Statue of Liberty. Although the placement is intentional and understandable, I still fail to understand, why we never acknowledged this beautiful gift; an expression of shared grief.

Loss of any kind is hard; the Russians have had it inflicted on them and, to be fair, under the regime of Stalin, they dealt with the internal struggles of purges and red-baiting, but they were human. I remember reading an auto-biography by some Soviet scientist who survived Stalin's purges, and one of his quotes stuck with me; “We used to bitch about the s.o.b., but we were kinda sad when he died.” I thought, “spoken like a real trouper!” Andre Gromyko and Eduard Shverdnadze, among several others managed to survive Stalin and write their memoirs. Whether or not they meant them to be, there is some hilarity in their words.

People are people. Everywhere. We must never forget that. When we demonize a group of people, or just generalize them, we make them less than human, thus they are less deserving of our kindness, generosity, or thanks when they make a gesture so humane. What must they think of us? Years ago on a visit there, one suitcase contained nothing but small items to hand out to people I met. Small make-up cases for women, soap and cologne for men. The simplest gestures and the merest attempt to even try and communicate in Russian brought delight, which is not the case in other countries that I've traveled in. I ended up leaving the suitcase behind; the Cold War was still on, and there was really not much I could bring home. Years later, I've ended up with Matryushka nesting dolls, old USSR flags, and icons galore, from friends who never forgot.

I was not going to write about this, but some things come up, and I had this stored away, for a rainy day, so I decided to go ahead and post it. After the passing of Jim, I may have mentioned that he had at one time been incarcerated. I have been on the committee of the FAC here in Florida, trying to help ex-felons re-adjust to coming back out into society. Through them, I was asked to help situate a wonderful young lady who has paid her dues and is coming back out into the world. This left me with less time than I would have liked to prepare for #IWSG, but that is okay. This will do. I will be writing of my new roommate, Lexi and her adventures. A couple of things about her; she's much more musically talented than I am and she has a family that loves her very much! I expect she will do well out here and she's paid her debt to society. Hell, we all make mistakes and we all deserve a second chance!

As for writing; I'm getting some done. I'm trying to put my book together, "Homeless Chronicles in Tampa" that explains how I went from having a home out in the country to managing to lose two houses and end up in a homeless shelter. The symphony season started today and we tore through "Scheherazade" like we'd all played it a million times. It stands to reason that we haven't, but it's a huge favorite with kids growing up, I guess. It was certainly one of my favorites! Stay tuned!